You Don’t Know

arm massage

Photo courtesy: Spavelous (found through public domain search. Image is linked to original source.)

If you have had massages before, then you may know the difference between “surface” massage and “deep tissue” massage. And if you’ve experienced “deep tissue” massage more than once, then you may, unfortunately, know the difference between “deep tissue” done right and “deep tissue” done wrong.

For those of you who haven’t experienced “deep tissue,” let me give you a little bit of a rundown… to be done right, work that reaches the deeper muscles requires a lot of warming  up on the surface and slow working the surface muscles to get them to “liquify” – get so soft and pliable, they’re almost like melted butter – so the deeper muscles can be worked, as well. It is a s-l-o-w process, when done correctly, and involves long, fluid movements once the massage therapist is into the deeper work. It requires, not only hands, but shoulders, arms, and elbows, as well. And sometimes, even knees and feet. When done correctly, deep work like this is magical, getting to muscles that you never could have imagined being worked. A skilled massage therapist can work miracles with “deep tissue” work, as long as they are willing to be patient and work with their client’s body.

When “deep tissue” work is done without the proper surface muscle warm up, or with movements that are too abrupt, this kind of work can feel like a violation. The customary pain involved with it is exacerbated and it can actually cause further injuries. A massage therapist who is not mindful of their work or is not skilled in doing this deep muscle work, can wreak havoc on a person’s body.

While I was in massage school, my instructor was demonstrating the art of stripping and extending a muscle that is shortened from overuse. It is an important skill to learn if the massage therapist is planning on being one who specializes in deep tissue massage or sports injury rehabilitation. I was not one of those massage therapists, so I didn’t really need to learn how to do it properly. However, I was a massage therapist, so my forearm muscles were overused and, therefore, that put me in the realm of one who would be getting that kind of work.

“I’m not hurting you,” he said as he ran his knuckles up my forearm.

“Yes, it DOES hurt, damn it!”

He laughed, “Oh come on! Toughen up.”

He continued the work, to finish the demonstration. I wanted to hit him really hard, square in the face. My fingers flexed uncontrollably as he pushed into the deep muscles of my forearm and slid his knuckles along my skin, leaving a trail of white and then angry red along my arm. I looked at my hand, fingers spread and bent in funny angles in rigid pain. Not hurting me?! REALLY?

It hurt like hell.

I could have withstood the pain, but this instructor told me he wasn’t hurting me and something inside me snapped at the lie.

It was the last and only time I let him demonstrate a skill on my body. Not because he wasn’t good at what he does – he’s one of the best in the State. But, because he lied to me. Because he hurt me and brushed it off as “nothing.”

I’ve thought about this experience often since that day nine years ago. I think it is, actually, one of the reasons I got out of doing massage full time – I had no idea if what I was about to do next would cause physical pain for the client. It made my massage work tentative and too light because I wasn’t willing to go deep enough to be good. His violation of me broke down a boundary and damaged something that I didn’t know how to fix.

Even though I am empathic and I can feel another’s pain, it is still going through my system and it is coming through on my pain scale. I can relate to what a person is going through based on what I experience in my body for them. It is still in my body, though, so it is tainted by my life experiences. Perhaps I have a higher pain tolerance than they do so what doesn’t effect me knocks them over. Or maybe my pain tolerance is much lower than their’s so I may be laid out flat before they even start feeling anything.

I recently spoke with a potential client (I’ll call this person, Joe, gender possibly changed to protect identity). Joe was sharing an experience that happened with his partner  (I’ll call this person, Sally, gender also possibly changed) a few days prior to our conversation. Sally experienced something Joe had done as abusive and Joe couldn’t understand why she was having a fit about it. This experience they went through together had been something they had talked about for a long time and Sally had been in agreement with it, originally.

“It was her idea to begin with,” Joe said. “I just went along with it.”

Problem was, by doing so, Joe had crossed an unforeseen boundary and had triggered cellular memories for Sally that took the entire situation into a battleground. A fight for survival and to the death. Joe was shocked by Sally’s retaliation and kept saying, “But I didn’t do anything wrong!”

It took a little bit of explaining for me to get the point across that there was no possible way for Joe to understand what had happened for Sally. Even though she had agreed, originally,  Joe had crossed a line that could never be uncrossed. When the light finally clicked on for Joe about what could have possibly happened, he was finally able to see where he needed to be accountable for his actions. That accountability is where his healing will begin and, if Sally is able to accept Joe’s accountability, then she may be able to begin healing too.

When it comes to hurting another person, you are never able to judge how much it hurts. Let me repeat that. YOU can never be the judge of how much you have hurt another person.

And, if you tell someone that you’re not hurting them, then you are causing secondary abuse to an already abusive situation. If they tell you they’re being hurt, they are being hurt. Whether you think you’re hurting them or not is not the point here. It is up to you to stop doing whatever it is that is hurting that person. You can never know the depths of pain you are inflicting on another, so believe them when they say, “Actually, that does hurt.”


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