Massage Therapy: Growing New Arms

The other day I working on a woman who has chronic complaints in her extremities. As I worked, I had a deeper insight into the origins of her pain, tension and discomfort.

A Case Study: The Servers

Some people are raised to do for others. Their own independent self-expression and the meeting of their own needs, even as very young children, are de-emphasized. They learn rather to obey and serve one or both parents or other close family members.

In that case, it is common for the person to identify their limbs, which with they do their doing, with the people they are raised to serve. When it comes to their own sense of their selves, these kind of folks tend to identify as “me” only their axial system – torso, neck and head.

I recall poignantly a young woman I worked with many years ago. As I was working on her arms, she started crying. I was surprised.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

She told me that as a young girl she had broken her arm. Shortly thereafter, she was, with her family, visiting another family. After dinner, the man of that household recruited the kids to wash the dishes. To her surprise, he asked her, with a recent broken arm, to help wash the dishes.

She looked at her father for help to illuminate this man. But her father just shrugged, unassertive, and didn’t protect his child. She helped wash the dishes, in pain the whole time.

Then, while still crying, she said, “Ever since then my arms have belonged to my father. Today these arms are mine again.”

With this current client, I am emphasizing the limbs and especially the “girdles” of the shoulder and pelvis. The girdles are the outlets for self-expression through the extremities. I have high hopes for this current client that she will soon say, “These limbs are mine again.”

The Role of the Massage Therapist

Helping clients re-own parts of themselves self is an essential part of integrative healthcare. As the poet Derek Walcott said in his poem “Love After Love,”

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.