“The problem I have with massage…” is not exactly the phrase I wanted to hear from a new client! (Yikes! What have I gotten myself into?!) “…is that I’m unable to verbalize when the pressure is too deep.”
“Aaaah… I can total relate! I’ve experienced this frequently myself.” (I sigh with both relief and empathy!) She went on to explain that even when the therapist invites her to speak up, she just can’t do it and ends up feeling sore for days afterward.
Many of us were not raised in an environment that supported us voicing our needs and desires. Sometimes it wasn’t safe to do so. Programming begins at a very young age, and when we receive the message that our preferences don’t matter, we might adapt by shutting down to protect ourselves. Children might learn to keep their requests quiet out of fear of upsetting the adult in charge, and choose instead a strategy of remaining silent in order to be accepted. Heartbreakingly, we might internalize the message that we don’t deserve to be comfortable or nurtured or that nobody cares what we need.
This cycle can be broken if we intervene, but many of our childhood coping mechanisms run on auto-pilot until challenged. Massage is already a tricky situation because the receiver is in a vulnerable position, both physically and emotionally. Once the relaxation response kicks in, our rational thought and speech centers are subdued. It’s easy to feel that the therapist is the authority who holds all the power, and to slip into the erroneous belief that they know what is best. We’re certainly trained to think this way by the western medicine model.
You are the authority on your body! Please remember this!
I commended this woman for her awareness and for having the courage not only to show up, but to share this with me. Given that I use a gentle pressure and am able to tune in to the nervous system’s response, I felt confident that we could successfully work together. We negotiated a new strategy in which I would ask if she’d like less pressure because she said it felt easy for her to answer “yes” if that were the case.
For the same reason, I ask if a client is feeling chilly rather than if they’re warm enough. I’ve witnessed again and again that someone will say they’re fine only to discover goose bumps moments later. Sometimes the reply is that they don’t want me to go to any trouble or to interrupt the flow. Please believe me when I say that any qualified, caring massage therapist does not want you shivering or flinching on the table!
We can all learn to be more sensitive to one anther’s needs and recognize the difficulty that many people have asking for what they want. Posing a question so that they may respond with “yes” will be helpful for those with a people pleaser coping mechanism. (There’s a lot of us out there!) I find that slowing down, listening deeply without intent to formulate a reply, and tuning in to body language is beneficial.
We can also learn to express our concerns upfront and ask for help when we have difficulty. This can be a stretch from our comfort zone for sure, but if you believe your massage therapist will not respond supportively, it’s probably a hint to find one that will. Speaking to the therapist before booking a session can shed some light on their listening skills and activating intuition can serve as a filtering process.
Massage shouldn’t hurt! (Not unless you want it to, and even then it’s debatable. That’s a discussion for another day.) I’m here to advocate for everyone everywhere to speak up for themselves and ask for what they need. If you find words are elusive in a session, try a simple “Ouch!” And if that is not respected, “STOP”. There is absolutely no need to suffer in silence on the table. Life is painful enough as it is, there’s no reason to endure more at the hands (or elbows) of a hired professional.