The Wolf That Chews Off Its Paw

In the movie Moonstruck, Cher meets with Nicholas Cage, the brother of her fiance, to invite him to the wedding. The brothers have had no contact because five years ago Cage’s brother distracted him at a key moment and he lost his hand in a bread-slicer. Cage was engaged at the time but his fiance broke it off because he was maimed. Cher tells him that he is a wolf. He was going to marry the wrong woman and chewed off his hand himself to prevent it.

Appropriately, he’s scared of falling in love again. Cage is moved by the interpretation. The chemistry between them is obvious. A complicated, passionate relationship begins.

Cher refers to the “bigger part of you, the part that has no words.” This part lives in all of us. In our bodies and our collective unconscious, we are connected to thousands of human ancestors and untold millions of animals and plants of all types, an unbroken evolutionary chain to the earliest beginnings of life. Carl Jung called this part of us the Self, and believed that it held the clues to living our best lives. 

The clues can be subtle however. When they’re ignored, when we override our “gut feeling,” or fail to pay enough attention to the warnings our psyche gives us, then we can get stuck in situations that feel like a betrayal of our soul. And they are. 

So how do you listen to “the bigger part of you?”

In my work as a psychotherapist, I primarily help people in three ways. 

Somatic Psychotherapy

Somatic Psychotherapy refers to using the body to help people heal from emotional, psychic wounds. We store our feelings in our body and whenever we’re hurt, our body often constricts until we work through our unresolved conflicts. We bring the body into talk therapy by practicing grounding the nervous system– focusing on the environment and the felt-sense, the internal sensations of the body. We study nonverbal communication in the form of body language and movement, as well as the symbolic message of psychosomatic illness and pain.  

Group Therapy

In a process group, members are invited to put their honest thoughts and feelings into words. So instead of polite chitchat, people get real. They share what they like and what they don’t like about the other group members and the leader. In this way, people get a sense of a deeper, truer part of themselves that they normally suppress. They also receive genuine feedback from others, something as valuable as it is hard to find.

Dreams

Dreams are the direct messages from the unconscious. Each dream comments on the conscious attitude of the dreamer, nudging us to a more balanced position. It would be interesting to see Nicholas Cage’s dreams leading up to the loss of his hand. Perhaps something could be seen in them that showed he was engaged to someone he should avoid.

You can get a taste for these three methods with a simple exercise.

Make a short list of the people in your life. Include family members, romantic partners, friends, co-workers etc.

Now go down the list and for each name, notice what happens in your body as you focus on that person. Go slowly enough to sense what changes. For some the kinesthetic reaction may be strong, for others it will be more subtle. If you go slowly enough, you’ll feel that with some people the muscles of your stomach tighten slightly, with others, you relax. Some people cause your shoulders to constrict or your breathing to get a little shallow. Other people prompt tingles in your arms or an impulse to fidget in your seat. Write down a few words describing what you notice for each person. 

Then go through the list again and wonder to yourself, if I could say anything to this person, what would I say? Write down a couple words or sentences for each person. These are thoughts and feelings that you normally hold back from saying, either because it would create conflict, or awkwardness or make you feel too vulnerable.

Finally, for each person, let yourself have a daydream. What places and activities come to mind with the person? With one person you might imagine lying together on a beach. Another might chase you menacingly. A third will share a sandwich with you in the elementary school cafeteria. Try not to generate the fantasies deliberately, but to allow them to emerge spontaneously.

If you do this, you will learn something amazing. For each person on your list, the deeper part of yourself has a unique reaction. This is always happening. In every situation we are not engaging only as our conscious personalities, but also as powerful instinctual creatures that are carrying us toward our destiny.

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