Notice What Is Hiding In Plain Sight

A story about a woman who didn’t know why she suffered panic attacks has stuck in my head. Out for a run, she collapsed to the ground, short of breath and full of terror. It had happened over and over.*

Her therapist asked if she’d ever experienced anything traumatic.

“No,” she said.

Sometime later, she blurted out, “Once a man broke in and robbed me at gunpoint.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” the therapist asked.

“I forgot,” she said.

“You didn’t forget,” The therapist said. She explained that the woman had never allowed herself to process the emotions of that night. Instead of feeling them, she had stored them in her body. Now every time she went out for a run, her racing heart and shortness of breath triggered the thought, you are not safe. Her body panicked. And it was getting worse.

The therapist invited her to tell the story and experience the feelings again and again in that supportive environment. Every time you let the memories come and you do not die, you send your brain the message that you are safe. That a very bad thing happened to you once upon a time, but that thing is not happening now. She recommended that the woman openly share her story until her body finally registered the truth: she is safe.

Why am I telling you someone else’s story? Because that story told me mine. And maybe this one will tell you yours.

To fully know ourselves, we must be aware of what we are holding on to, and where in our bodies we are holding it. We all process emotion differently—the important thing is to actually process it. I spent twenty years in therapy, but was never asked where in my body I had felt pain.

During my own runs, I have wondered how someone as healthy as I am finds herself with a high risk breast disease such as this “radial scar.” I have three of them in my chest and they will be removed this Tuesday. The need to know how this happens stopped me in my tracks the other day to google it one more time. Localized inflammatory reaction. Chronic ischemia. Slow infarction. Something terrible had been taking place in there and it had escaped my notice altogether.

And then a friend asked what emotions I have held in my chest. Sometimes we don’t see something right in front of our face because it has always been there. Luckily, I have actually written my entire story. I’d find the trail of breadcrumbs if there was one.

I did a word search of my completed manuscript and it came up over and over.

regret tightening my chest

longing pierced my chest

my chest burned with rage

a weight settled on my chest

an ache filled my chest

As a literary device, I had totally overused it. And, until now, I didn’t realize I’ve been utilizing one spot in my body for grievance storage. In all that time, only one thing has allowed me to stop doing this. A particular technique of inquiring into painful thoughts and asking where do you feel it in your body—describe the sensations. I have always said, I feel it in my chest. That too had escaped my notice.

The Work of Byron Katie seemed absurd to me when I first heard of it. I’ve referred to it so many times you might be getting tired of it, but hang in there. I promise it’s worth it. It’s all about questioning our painful thoughts that create our emotions. If it’s my own thought, why would I question it, you might wonder. I didn’t get it either.

It can be simply explained like this. Our circumstances, of which we usually have little control, create our thoughts, the thoughts cause our emotions, our emotions shape our behavior.

Just because a thought forms, that doesn’t make it true. Unless you have done some work on this, you might assume that because you are a rational person, your thoughts must be true. I did it my whole life until I opened my mind to the idea that there are alternative ways to look at our own thoughts. Byron Katie’s “thought work” has allowed me to let go of lots of the painful ones. I feel infinitely better and I’m grateful I found it when I did. Regret for not finding this method earlier wouldn’t make sense—I just wasn’t ready. You may not be either.

If you don’t believe questioning our thoughts is worthwhile, take a second to reflect on all the nutty ideas to which people become attached. Recent presidential elections bring this to mind. Crazy or not, they are all just thoughts, it’s not who you are. You can detach from them. With the right tools, you can even release them.

Why would you want to detach from your own thoughts? If they are painful, they are harming you. That thought may be rooted in an old belief about yourself that formed from difficult circumstances. Most of mine happened in childhood when kids tend to blame themselves for the bad things that happen. After those painful thoughts take root, we don’t really have a reason to go back and question them.

All the painful thoughts I carried came from circumstances beyond my control. I took these painful thoughts through this inquiry and have found, lo and behold, they aren’t true:

To be loved, I must constantly prove myself.

It’s not okay to speak my truth.

I can’t trust anyone.

You end the work by asking, who would you be without that thought? My answer is always I would feel free. What better feeling is there?

The Work may sound a little culty to those unfamiliar, but it’s valuable work you can do on your own or with a coach.

When you question your painful thoughts and let them go, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay. And it will be, I am totally sure of it.



POWERFUL QUESTION: Where do you feel difficult emotions in your body? Have you told your story? Do you need to let go of any painful thoughts?

*It’s great writing:

** You can do the thought work of Byron Katie on your own at or with a coach. In coaching, we use additional subquestions, focusing especially on where you feel it in your body:

1. Is it true?

2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?

3. What happens to you when you believe the thought? Where do you feel it in your body?

4. Who would you be if you no longer had access to that thought? What does it feel like now?


Have you heard? I’ve started a coaching practice. This work leads to uncovering what is holding you back and how to overcome those obstacles. With the right questions, you will figure out what you might tweak to direct yourself toward what you really want. If you are interested, I invite you to send me an email to schedule a Discovery Session at

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