• Eve Bernfeld

The Icky Feeling


A few things lately have provoked The Icky Feeling (a name I invented in childhood and still totally use):

I gently called out a friend on facebook (an actual old friend, not just a “friend”) for a post I found to be casually misogynistic. (Icky Feeling!)


I got an email from a mentor challenging some of my business choices. (Icky Feeling!)


I asked some friends to help me spread the word about an upcoming class I’m teaching and heard…crickets. (Icky Feeling!)


The Icky Feeling is my term for a specific kind of emotional discomfort that I never thought to analyze until last week. I was enjoying a sun-break in what had been a dreary week in Portland as I walked back to my car from my class at Lewis & Clark College. Fresh in my mind was my lesson on what F.M. Alexander calls “Faulty Sensory Appreciation”—allow me to briefly take you through it.


Let’s do a little experiment:


Cross your hands (as if to pray or plead).


Now, cross them the other way (with the other thumb on top).


How does that feel?


In this particular class, answers included “Not right.” “I hate it!” And my personal favorite, “Icky!”


We do this little game to demonstrate a fundamental principle of the Alexander Technique: whatever our habit is, it will feel normal and right to us. This is true of a benign habit like hand crossing or a damaging habit like slouching. Thus interrupting an automatic pattern might not feel immediately awesome. We might encounter some resistance—it might feel not right, icky, we might hate it!


And it suddenly occurred to me as I walked that The Icky Feeling is specifically my resistance to situations where I feel emotionally vulnerable and fear that people won’t/don’t like me. Aha! Like the sun popping out from behind a cloud, I realized maybe the Icky Feeling isn’t a sign of a bad thing, but rather a sign that I’m pushing my own limits.


To use a different example, not two hours after having this revelation, my car was stolen. (Grrrrr!) After Lewis & Clark I gave a talk to nursing moms on a few simple Alexander Technique ideas to help them feel better while nursing. I left the talk feeling good about connecting with some lovely moms and seeing some adorable babies and walked back to my parking spot to find…NO CAR. I felt (and still feel) sad, frustrated, annoyed (though weirdly not as angry as I’d expect—even though I loved that car, it was worse when my stroller got stolen). But I did not feel the Icky Feeling.


No, the Icky Feeling is reserved for allowing myself to take chances and be myself, not whatever I imagine others want me to be. So rather than shrinking from it, perhaps I should welcome The Icky Feeling. Because I have wasted way too much energy in my life trying to be liked. When I take a stand, no matter how small, it feels icky, not because it’s wrong, but actually because it’s breaking a pattern that really needs to be broken.

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