Imagine we have no feelings.
Imagine we cannot sense things.
Imagine being emotionally numb.
Isn’t that scary and terrible?
To me, the word “affection”, covers our emotions, feelings, sensations, and moods. Our five senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch - are intertwined with our affections. Together, they help us interpret the world, and connect and relate with others, as well as with our inner selves.
Our senses are so important that Neil Gaiman highlighted their significance by saying “All we have to believe is our senses: the tools we use to perceive the world, our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted.”
Yet, for some people, they do not have control over these five senses, due to being born without them, ageing, sickness and even caused by some unfortunate incidents in life.
Even so, some people are still able to make full use of other remaining senses that they do possess, including the sixth sense as some have claimed to have. And some are also able to leverage today’s advancements in medical technology, thus improving their quality of life.
However, for some individuals, they “lose” some of their five senses even though they are physically able and functioning. One of my ex-client stories illustrates how this is possible.
Senses and Sensations
Mr R (name changed for client confidentiality) experienced a loss of ability to feel and use some senses due to a few traumatic events that took place back to back. These consecutive series of unfortunate incidents caused him much mental anguish which he grappled with.
Mr R, who is in his early 20s, lived with his well-to-do family as his parents and older siblings were professionals in their respective careers. Mr R was a Law student at a reputable University as well.
Unfortunately, Mr R did not manage to pass his final year examination. Ironically, those course-mates whom he had helped to prepare for the same examination, passed the vital assessment smoothly.
During our first therapy session, Mr R kept shouting in a frustrated and disappointed tone and body language, “Why me?”, “What did I do to deserve this?”, “I can see people’s eyes on my back”.
His strong skepticism and deep resentment that he failed, while those he had assisted before, succeeded in the crucial examination, drove him into a prolonged state of feeling humiliated, unjustified, and moodiness.
Shortly after, Mr R also failed his first driving test unexpectedly, and his beloved pet cat passed on suddenly.
What made the matter worse was the lack of understanding, support, empathy and compassion from Mr R’s loved ones, especially his family members and close friends. They expected Mr R to “return to study hard again”, “just retake the exam will do”, “just get over it immediately”, and “not wasting time anymore”. Mr R was not given a place, space and pace to mourn his sorrows and process his grief and loss.
In the subsequent therapy sessions, Mr R uttered such comments on his affairs and about himself, “The universe hates me”, “I personally hate myself”, “What is this happening…Is this even real…Am I real”, “I’m so done”.
Things spiraled downwards when Mr R declared, “I don’t know exactly what’s going inside my mind”, “I can’t even put in words how I’m feeling”, “I’m like a robot now”.
With such signs and behaviours, I deduced that Mr R had been exhibiting some symptoms of depersonalisation, where he experienced emotional and physical numbness on his senses and sensations, and also could no longer distinguish his thoughts and feelings if they were his or as an observer. I attributed the main causes to his profound troubles, persistent low mood, severe self-blame and difficulty in accepting the facts and truths etc.
All Making Sense
Based on my personal Case Conceptualisation, besides allowing Mr R to process his grief and loss fully, I recognised the imperative for getting Mr R to reconcile with his misfortunes, as the primary therapeutic goal.
In line with the therapeutic direction, I adopted and introduced Master Sheng Yen’s “Four Steps for Handling a Problem” to Mr R, for him to deal with his continual adversities:
• Face It (面对): Try not to deny, avoid or escape how the episodes had affected him negatively and miserably, in many ways.
• Accept It (接受): Acknowledge and recognise how the encounters had influenced his quality of life. For those things that were irreversible or unamendable, and beyond his control, embrace them.
• Handle It (处理): Try to resolve incidents that he could influence through his value-guided behaviours. Implement these needed and appropriate actions, for restoring his quality of life, with much self-compassion render to himself as well.
• Drop It (放下): When the situation was more stable, understand that some events were unrecoverable and unalterable, and he shall continue moving on with his life, with no regret and blame.
• Repeat It (重复): I added this step in the framework. If there was not much improvement, take a careful look at what had actually occurred, including his perception and interpretation of the concerned matters. With new knowledge, realisations and insights, restart the process.
It was not easy to lead and guide Mr R to go through these steps. His serious denial and stubborn refusal were an obvious and understandable defence mechanism, or even a coping mechanism, during his darkest days.
I concur with what Toba Beta emphasised, “Memories establish the past; Senses perceive the present; Imaginations shape the future.”
With much psycho-education on the “presence and future”, and therapeutic intervention on exploring his “talents and potentials”, Mr R started gaining an insight that what he had experienced were part and parcel of his “growing pains”. In a way, these helped by nurturing and cultivating him to be a more resilient, stronger and better person.
Gradually, Mr R came to terms with what had happened to him, and was able to walk out of his emotional turmoil and torment.
Come to Senses
I came to know of a great yet not so popular old song, which depicts the senses in us. I recommended this song to Mr R for his exploration and reflection.
Senses in Flight There're times in life When senses they fly From below to up high Where your feelings cannot deny No figures, no names No fences, no frames Like the incense in the air With no purpose here or there So morals retreat and the senses entreat From the dark they are lit With the fire you can't forbid No future to relate, just ventures await Hold your breath, stay awake Gladly take come what may
Maybe you're scared by the flames of red But a life without risk differs little from death Maybe it's fair for the roses to flare As the fragrance fills the air Let your soul confess
So morals retreat and the senses entreat From the dark they are lit With the fire you can't forbid No future to relate, just ventures await Hold your breath, stay awake Gladly take come what may YouTube: https://youtu.be/jpCd64DJJY8 Singer: Yu Chyi Lyrics: Yu Chyi and Mark Hansell Arranger: Tai-Ming Lee Produced in 1990 Music: The original music is in Irish Gaelic called Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómhair by Irish band Clannad in 1982 YouTube: https://youtu.be/_o_oC22fs84
“Lose your mind and come to your senses.”, as proposed by Fritz Perls, it was also an essential need for me to direct Mr R to discover and recover his five senses during the therapeutic intervention.
We spent much time, energy and resources on finding the means and ways to achieve this objective. As part of his recovery, Mr R agreed to do daily “homework”, outside the therapy room. He was requested to record his personal emotions, feelings, sensations and moods, together with the assignment too:
• See: to spot things that are rare in colour schemes, such as pink, purple, lilac, turquoise etc
• Listen: to identify the directions of dogs barking, cats purring, birds chirpings and insects noises etc
• Smell: to uncover the unfamiliar smells of scented products and materials etc
• Taste: to name the main ingredients of food and beverages consumed
• Touch: to feel the different temperatures, textures and structure of the terrain of various floor or ground materials with his barefoot
In the beginning, Mr R was struggling and demotivated by the task as he declared that he really could not tell the affections in him when using his five senses.
I reminded him the relevant lyrics of “Senses in Flight”:
Hold your breath, stay awake Gladly take come what may But a life without risk differs little from death
Mr R was continuously encouraged to explore, observe, notice, examine and investigate his environments, always being mindful of any gross or fine affections that he could identify, label and name.
As time went by, Mr R acquired more exposure and experience, and these enhanced his sensitivity and ability in expressing his affections. These capacities and capabilities strengthened the association between his cognition and behaviour gradually as well.
It was great to be updated that Mr R had decided to retake the next available final year examination. May he pass it with flying colours and be a good lawyer, serving his clients effectively and efficiently, with kindness and compassion!
You must learn to heed your senses. Humans use but a tiny percentage of theirs. They barely look, they rarely listen, they never smell, and they think that they can only experience feelings through their skin. But they talk, oh, do they talk. Michael Peter Scott
Note: As this article is mainly catered to general members of the public, the case conceptualisation, intervention formulation, discussion and terminologies used are deliberately simplified and presented for an easy reading, comprehension and relevancy.
This article is written based on Krish Phua's greatest aspiration to be a mind healer, facilitating his clients to cultivate and explore "Inside Mind Insights" for improving their Wellness, Wholeness and Wiseness.
Other articles of Krish Phua:
Sow a Seed - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/sow-a-seed
Last Man Standing - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/last-man-standing
In or Out - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/in-or-out
As It Is - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/as-it-is
Mapmakers and Travellers - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/mapmakers-and-travellers
Our Little Voice - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/our-little-voice
The Three Minds - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/the-three-minds
My First Lover - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/my-first-lover
Hurting to Heal - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/hurting-to-heal
Place . Space . Pace - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/place-space-pace
Make You YOU - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/make-you-you
Half and Double - https://www.oberdanmarianetti.com/post/half-and-double