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  • Writer's pictureSam Alvis

You Are More Than A Body, But You Are Certainly No Less Than It.

It seems that we as humans aren’t quite sure what to make of our embodied selves.

Do we indulge our physical cravings and urges, or suppress any awareness of what our bodies are telling us they need? Do we adorn our flesh with beautiful clothing, accessories and tattoos that tell the story we want to tell, or do we deny any expression of individuality or the yearning for the aesthetic? Do we succumb to the limitations of our physicality and neurobiology and believe that change is unlikely and impossible, or do we seek to exert control over our bodies through sheer willpower and the “right mindset”?

While I will not pretend to provide the answers for these questions (and the plenty of related ponderings) that plague many of us, I will dare to ask the question: why is it that so many of us have inaccurate or incomplete stories of what it means to be/to have a body? Where are the stories of Truth that offer us a fuller and more hopeful story of our embodiment?

Now, now: don’t you fret. I won’t go off into a philosophical tangent (for there are many others- whose references I’ll leave at the bottom of this post- with more theological and philosophical training that are better equipped to answer these questions), I promise I will get into how in the world this relates to therapy and counseling:

One of the principles that drives my work with clients is the goal of empowering them with information and education about the impact of their neurobiology (i.e. the fancy word for “body”) on their mental health, emotions, relationships, spirituality, etc. As someone who has experienced both a significant amount of woundedness, healing, and on-going embodied suffering, I’ve had to learn a thing or two and wrestle with what it means to have a body in this world.

As such, I’ve been blessed/cursed to gain much clinical, academic, personal, and spiritual experience in this area. I’ve learned how inextricably linked our felt emotions are to our bodies (indeed, our emotions begin first as embodied neurobiological states). I’ve learned that although Christianity has far from offered the perfect example of how to live “embodied,” it actually offers the highest theological view of the body out of all of the world’s religions (case in point: Jesus literally, physically choosing to take on human flesh and become a body). And I’ve learned that so much of the daily suffering that I myself and my clients experience is connected to our nervous system’s attempt to protect us.

So what’s my point?

My point is this: when I tell my clients that there are neurobiological explanations to some of their experiences and symptoms, I often get a mixture of reactions. Initially, the response is a sigh of relief, a sense of validation and of “making sense,” maybe even for the first time in their lives. However, often the response that follows goes something along the lines of: “Well how do I change that?” or “How can I fix it?”

We feel both a sense of relief that there’s an explanation as to why we are the way we are and why we’re experiencing what we’re experiencing, yet at the same time we often feel wildly uncomfortable at the inherent dependence we have upon our bodies and our lack of control to simply “will them” to do what we want.

Indeed, this is a real, felt, tension. Literally- thinking about this makes my heart hurt and my shoulders tighten up.

It is tempting to think that we simply must succumb to our neurobiology, and that we are utterly helpless to do anything about it. Equally as tempting, is the belief that we have unlimited power to change ourselves and that with enough willpower, dedication, and the right tools, we can override our physicality.

My friends: you are more than a body, but you are certainly no less than it.

You have a beautiful mind that is capable of extraordinary things, yet that is susceptible to the brokenness of this world.

You are capable of experiencing change, but not simply through your own might and power.

You have had to suppress the needs of your physicality at times in order to survive, but the scars and marks are left on your body.

Your worth is not attached to your weight, size, height, health, or ability, yet your body inherently changes your experience in this world.

And so, if you’ve found yourself with more questions than answers at this point in the post, I have a few follow-up suggestions for you:

  • Check out some of these authors who explored the role of the body in mental health: Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Deb Dana.

  • Check out some of these authors who explored the role of the body in Christianity: Stephanie Paulsell,Thomas Ryan, Andrew Lester.

  • Reach out to a trusted friend or mentor whom you feel has a “healthy” relationship with their body. Ask their story. How did they come to learn to be with their embodiment?

If you feel as if processing some of these things in a counseling space would be your best next step, click here to schedule an initial free consultation with me to explore how I can walk with you in this journey of embodiment.


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