J: All right, Susan, so, the Shame. If you were to say that the actual, felt experience of this Shame was located somewhere in or around your body, where would you say that seems to be?
S: Right in my solar plexus.
J: Ah hah.
S: And it’s about the size of my fist.
J: OK. Great. And does it seem more like a solid, liquid, gas, light, energy…?
S: Well, just what I said, it seems like this little porcupine.
J: All right.
S: You know, so it’s not solid like hard, but if you would think like a little porcupine body. It’s soft, but there is substance to it.
J: Right. And with spikes.
S: Spikes, yes. It’s totally, totally all the spikes.
J: In every direction.
S: Well, it’s like if I were lying down, it’s like it would be sitting on my solar plexus.
S: So, like its little feet and tummy would be next to my body, but everything, like if anybody was going to come close, they would only feel spikes.
J: Right. All right. And what temperature does little porcupine-y thing seem to be?
S: Just body temperature. It’s like the same temperature as me.
J: Ah hah. And what color?
S: Gray. Whatever color porcupines are.
S: Kind of gray.
J: Kind of gray. A darker gray or lighter?
S: A little darker, like the dark gray spots in the fog…
J: Mm hm.
S: That color gray.
J: OK. And is it moving in any way?
J: Any force or pressure?
S: Nope. Just sitting there.
J: And if you listen internally, do you notice any inner sound?
S: Kind of whimpering. Almost like a little pain…
J: Almost like a…?
S: Like if it had a stomach ache or something. You know? Just little whimpers of pain.
J: OK. Anything else to notice about what this feels like?
S: Well, like if its little feet had claws or toenails, it’s like I can feel little, almost like little pricks.
J: So almost like little pricks. Where do you feel that?
S: On my tummy, where it’s sitting.
J: OK. And from this place, from that feeling, what seems true, or real, or important to this part of you?
S: Well, just like when you do the drawing, it’s going to be right under the edge of the steel plate, it feels like it’s the “what’s underneath.” Even though it’s on the outside of my body, it feels like it’s what’s underneath everything else that’s going on.
J: Ah. What’s its intention or perspective or attitude or belief, about you, about the world, about love?
S: It really doesn’t want to be noticed or discovered. That’s all the prickliness, the quills. It’s like, “Don’t come close to me, don’t notice me.”
J: Mm hm. OK. Anything else?
S: That seems to be the main thing.
I’m going to guess that you never expected “shame” would look like this. One of the things you learn pretty quickly doing this practice is to lay down your expectations. The words we use to point to our most private feeling experience are inadequate and clumsy. Feelingwork maps, in contrast, help to bring out the actual, felt experience lying beneath those clumsy words.
Whether you are facilitating someone else or exploring your own interior, I can’t emphasize too strongly the importance of holding the primacy of direct experience over any common (or therapeutic) language interface to that experience. The mapping process provides a more direct translation of the feeling state as it is experienced than any culturally-shaped language we have available. Trust the maps. Hold the labels loosely. Every single person, and every single feeling state within each person, is utterly unique. Support the explorer (and yourself) in maintaining an open, curious attitude to what they will discover, and hold them in a space in which they are free to generate their own unique interpretations and understandings of their experience as it emerges into more tangible awareness.
The shape of this feeling state, with its defensive spikes pointing out toward anyone who might draw close, suggests to me there is another state to be found. Every feeling state has one single function. More complex patterns come into being through the interaction of multiple states, each carrying out its individual task. Defense is one function. What is necessary to defend is a separate function. Each of these will be anchored in its own unique feeling state. I’ve noted this to myself, and will bring Susan back to it soon to discover what else might be there.