Results from Emotional Awareness Work with the Formerly Incarcerated
I’ve been using material from my book in my work with the formerly incarcerated and I feel excited and inspired by the possibilities. I am happy to report, it’s been amazing and re-affirmed for me the power of emotional self-awareness.
From Self Doubt to Confidence
I will dive into some story and results from that work in a moment, however, I am going to share about my self-doubt piece first. As entrepreneurs and creatives, we all face doubts around taking the risk to publicly share our work, especially when it is a work of passion which we have both invested ourselves and our time. The fear that others aren’t going to appreciate our investment can be overwhelming. For myself, my greatest fear is that my offerings won’t be meaningful or useful for others. Disappointment (a form of grief) can be devastating and reinforce our feelings of “not good enough.” It’s a big risk.
When I wrote my book, I wrote it for women, because I wanted to share my story to support women to trust themselves. I spent years learning to trust myself on deeper and deeper levels. I faced the things that got in the way of self-trust. Little did I know when I wrote my book that I would be working primarily with formerly incarcerated men (a story for another blog). At first it felt like a big risk to bring material from my book into that arena.
I was afraid they wouldn’t care, that they would scoff at the ideas, that they would resist even trying, or think it too woo-woo. In addition, I worried about bringing material and processes from my personal/private work into the classroom setting in the non-profit I work in. Old fears of being not good enough and seen as being too “out there” were front and center. I decided to go for it anyway, but not immediately. Looking back, I realize there was wisdom in my hesitation. Navigating our inner experience is an art. In this case that included exploring my fears, counter-balancing the multiple messages in social media about fear and hesitation (as negatives) and mining the wisdom of my hesitation. What I realized about my hesitation after exploring it is the following:
Before I was ready to take the risk, I needed the following:
To find my footing in the work first (it took me about a year to really understand my role inside the organization).
To be in the right culture (I have a wonderful Site Director who sees my value and the value of what I have to offer).
To develop a deeper understanding of the population I work with - see the world from their point of view and experience the internal barriers they face.
These things were very important to my confidence and the adaptation of the material for the audience. It was almost a year before I started bringing the Emotional Body Map piece into my classroom, although the discussion pieces around emotions were present from the beginning. In addition, it was my first opportunity to share this material on a bigger scale. Even if it had worked for me and some of my private clients, it felt very untested. Naturally that led to some doubts, but I eventually brought the material into my classroom and I continue to adapt and hone it.
I wanted to share this with you, because self-doubt is part of being human. It has a role to play in our process to self-trust. There is no perfect in the creative process. I always wish to be vulnerable and share, so that others can do the same. You trusting you is important to me. I always wish to serve that role one way or another.
The Power of The Work
Now for the juice. I teach a four-day orientation class for participants/recipients of the organizations mission to help the formerly incarcerated find and maintain full time work. I have lots of material to cover in those four days and it is organized around a theme for each day. My Emotional Body Map work comes in on Understanding My Behavior Day (aka Behavior Day). The goal of this class is for the participants to gain the self-awareness to make better decisions for themselves which support being able to maintain a job and meet their larger life goals. I truly believe that self-awareness is the key to both transformation and success. Emotional self-awareness is a critical life skill!
I was given Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Exercises to present to the classes. I quickly realized CBT only works if the participant already has the self-awareness to apply the lessons. The truth is, our population, formerly incarcerated or not, is not encouraged to develop self-awareness, so it is very important to start there. There are a lot of elements in the curriculum for Behavior Day, including education about trauma and how the nervous system operates, which play an important role, but here in this blog, I want to focus on the Emotional Body Map exercise.
In my book I represent the emotional body as a Tree of Emotions. In my class I use that tree to explore core human emotions, the purpose of emotions and to facilitate a discussion about the physical experience of emotion. Next, we go into creating a personal Emotional Body Map. The process is to take them through a visualization, calling on them to remember an experience of the emotion and then to focus on how they experience that emotion in their body.
I start with the emotion Joy and I end with a review of Joy (I always want to bring them back to the positive experience). After they have a sense of the physical nature of each emotion, I encourage them to express their experience by drawing it on a body form. I have art materials for them to use, which includes markers, crayons, colored pencils and stickers.
Between each emotion in the exercise, I guide them through a quick breathing exercise to release the experience and to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Afterwards we have time to discuss their insights and learning, as well as share from their body maps.
I am always so amazed and inspired by these discussions as well as what they draw on their body maps. In my last presentation, one participant put a butterfly sticker on the heart area of his map for Joy. In the visualization he called up a memory of the day his daughter was born. Another participant showed clouds circling around his body and limbs, told me it felt like he was floating. Another participant had rays of yellow radiating out from his heart area. I have seen maps with jagged lines emanating the head to represent anger, or x’s in the calf area for fear and the examples are endless. Each one is very personal, and the expression of the experience can be both common and unique. Some have a harder time accessing the physical dimension and use words instead. I encourage and never judge. The ability to be in the body can be very challenging for those with a lot of trauma. I support them where they are. They also learn from each other.
Here are some of the comments I have received after the workshops:
I realize I can actually feel my emotions (this is huge for a person with trauma)
The Emotional Body Map Exercise was Dope
I learned my anger really came from my shame
I’ve done a lot of the CBT exercises in other classes and they used a tree in one of those classes for fear, but I have never seen a tree used for all the emotions and it helps me understand myself more fully.
This connected the dots for me in a way I never have been able to before.
As I present this work, I deepen my own understanding of the material I facilitate and its power. Here is what I learned about what they learn:
The tree offers a non- gender polarized way to look at and accept all human emotions. This is crucial for men who have just come out of a dangerous hyper-masculine incarceration experience and, like many men, are afraid the vulnerable emotions make them weak.
The guided parasympathetic breathing exercise allows them to experience the efficacy of one of the tools for working with emotional triggers, which they can continue to apply if they choose (I also share other tools since one-size-fits-all doesn’t work).
They learn they are more resilient and capable of being with the more challenging emotions and build emotional tolerance.
They can experience an emotion without having to “do” something about it.
They learn the role of the body in both emotions and trauma which helps reduce the hold of the inner critic, leading to self-compassion and forgiveness.
Of course, these are big claims. Deep self-awareness is not accomplished in a day or even a year, but my workshop is a good start and it gives them access to tools and possibilities. Those tools must be applied consistently to become effective. It is up to them to put the learning to use and to stay committed to their growth.
This work can be a benefit to anyone. I just happen use it with a population that is facing multiple barriers and I am both inspired and humbled by the impact. I want to inspire and support you too.
Want to experience it for yourself? It’s in my book, The Inner Tree: Discovering the Roots of Your Intuition and Overcoming Barriers to Mastering It. If you would like the guided version of all the content to deepen your intuition and/or work with your emotional body, my Inner Tree Courses Playbook with Audio and Visual Lessons is available as well. Email me for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.