Finding ‘the right word’ — knowing what it is in the body — makes the difference between the kind of experience we just have to submit to and the kind of experience we can be creative with.
This is the fourth of a series of posts on the six step process of Focusing, discovered by psychotherapist and philosopher Gene Gendlin. As I stressed before, focusing is a natural human process of moving forward in life, which is not dependent on the six steps, yet they can be extremely helpful.
In the previous posts, I introduced the first three steps:
- “Clearing a Space”
- “The Felt Sense: A Sense of All of That…”
- “The Handle Word: Getting a Grip On What Your Body is Saying”
I’ll run through them briefly again. After clearing a space inside us and letting an indefinable, vague, yet precise “felt sense” of a particular problem arise in that space, we find a word which captures the quality of that “jumpiness” or “stickiness” or whatever it is, a word that seems to fit just right. We can use this word to get a kind of handle or grip on the felt sense and to call it back we lose sight of it.
The fourth step is called “resonating”. It refers to the process of inwardly checking whether that word really captures the felt sense, whether something in us, and/or in the felt sense, responds, maybe with a tiny but perceptible sense of relief, when we say it. “Ah yes, that’s it”. It is more obvious when the word is not quite right — something in us speaks right back with a sense of unquiet — “nah, that’s not right, it isn’t shiny so much as glowing…”
How do we “know” it isn’t right? This is the kind of experience that is well known to artists, the poet looking for the right word in a poem, the artist looking for the right colour, or form. This kind of inward checking feels like searching for resonance — against something in us which knows, not the whole situation, but what the next step has to be. If we get the next bit right, we can feel a kind of inside surface resonating, a physical sense of rightness, like when you suddenly catch your balance after wobbling around for a while on a narrow ledge.
In my work as a therapist I have found again and again that a major problem for many people (arising for a variety of reasons) is a lack of contact with this process. it is a common complaint, that people say they are just not sure how to make a decision, how to know what they really think, or feel, what they really want to do. it is as though they look inside and try to check if something fits or not, but they just can’t find the surface which might resonate. If this is how things are for you, then using the focusing steps, and making a habit of it, can be very effective — and step one, “clearing a space”, is probably vital.
This kind of ‘resonating’ can be done all the time, whether actually doing the focusing procedure or not. When you are deciding what to buy in a shop, what to add to the meal you are cooking, or whatever you are doing that involves a decision, you can try to check somewhere in the middle of your body, where you get emotional reactions to things, and see if it “rings true”. Does it respond “yes, that’s it” or is there a murmur of disquiet that needs to be settled by an adjustment in your choice? Sometimes when we get overwhelmed by some kind of stress we find it hard to know what we actually like or dislike, we lose a sense of direct contact with things. This is a conscious way in which we can practise, like exercising a little used muscle until it works better.
Finding ‘the right word’ — knowing what it is in the body — makes the difference between the kind of experience we just have to submit to (we can’t control our emotional reaction to things) and the kind of experience we can be creative with. Once we have the right word, something sparks and connects. We have some kind of control. It also makes us realise that language is not something artificially stuck on the top of the world, it is a part of our being on a basic level. Healing the cultural split between our ‘animal’ reactions and our ‘human’ language, being and responding as ‘all one thing’ can be very empowering, and help us to move forward in difficult situations.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by