Sigmund Freud, in his early works, said that we are “first and foremost a body ego.” What he meant by that is, long before we ever have a conscious sense of self, we know ourselves through our bodily existence. Everything we know about the rhythm of relationship, and who we are as humans, happens first through our bodies. One way this happens is through what body psychotherapists call the Satisfaction Cycle.
The Satisfaction Cycle forms from developmental movements when we are babies, but it lays the foundation for satisfaction in our later lives regarding accomplishment, food, sex, and relationship. When we master each phase, we are able to sense, through our bodies, our desires and contentment. When development goes awry, we can get stuck in a phase, which can lead to addictive patterns with substances, food, or relationship problems. But we can often reclaim our sense of displaced satisfaction by giving some attention to the places where we got stuck. The five phases of the Satisfaction Cycle are:
Yield is the first phase of the Satisfaction Cycle. Yield is a state of balanced tone in the body. You’re relaxed, but alert. You’re neither collapsed nor braced. It produces a feeling of “all is right with the world.” Breathing is full and easeful. It’s the basis from which all connection develops. When not under stress, it’s where our nervous systems naturally want to be.
From a developmental point of view, yield represents trust and belonging. We come into this world fairly limp and our primary task is to allow our caregivers and environment to support us. If we’re supported, we learn to trust others and life. If we’re not, we can get into patterns of being collapsed (i.e. “why bother?”) or braced (i.e. “I have to do everything myself!”). We can also vacillate between collapsed and braced, but never really know how to replenish from letting go without losing ourselves. Yielding allows us to check in with our senses to register our relationship to food/substances, others and ourselves. Addictive cycles usually happen in the inability to yield.
Now that there’s a solid base underneath you, and your body is yielded in relationship to that base, you can begin to push. Push is the second phase of the Satisfaction Cycle. As babies, this usually first develops by propping ourselves up with our arms from a prone position and looks a little something like cobra pose in yoga. Notice what it feels like in your body to simply push with strength through your feet or hands, or to stand from sitting. There can be a lot of power in this gesture.
From a developmental perspective, this is when we assert our separate sense of selves. It’s the basis for all differentiation. This movement supports our ability to say “no,” to draw a line around what we want and don’t want. We move from a horizontal plane of merged existence to a vertical one that asserts our power, weight, and gravitas. It represents our will and will power. If we notice we have a hard time standing up for ourselves, setting boundaries, stopping when full, being impenetrable, or being taken seriously we may need to practice our push. We can practice finding our push by pushing both hands against the wall, squatting then standing, or wrestling with someone. Practicing saying “no” to smaller things helps us set boundaries with more important matters.
As we are now able to control our muscular movement by pushing off the ground or our caregivers, we begin to see the world and develop interests and desires of our own. We enter the third phase of the Satisfaction Cycle, which is reach. We begin to reach out our hand toward something we desire. To practice, reach out your hand toward something you want, or imagine you want, and notice how that gesture feels in your body.
From a developmental perspective, this movement supports our ability to say “yes” to what we want. It’s the basis of all longing. Think of a small child with arms outstretched for someone to pick her up. The desire to connect with what we want begins to move us. We use our ability to yield and push to launch ourselves toward the objects of our desires.
If we have difficulty recognizing what we want, we may need to go back and practice yield and push first. Then, when we know what we want, we may need to practice our reach. Setting up goals that are just outside our comfort zone is one way adults reach in life. This allows enough stress to feel excited and engaged, but not enough to feel overwhelmed. The ability to yield and push helps us find just the right amount of effort and tone to accomplish our reach without collapsing or bracing.
We have learned to yield, to push, and to reach for what we want. Now we enter the fourth phase of the satisfaction cycle—grasp. Once we’ve said, “yes” to something we want by reaching for it, we begin to grasp it. In babies, we usually see this as a hand grasping another person’s hand, a toy, or someone’s hair.
From a developmental perspective, this phase is about manifesting our desires and achieving our goals. It’s about claiming “this is mine.” It’s about understanding at a new level, learning the lesson, gaining knowledge. We even use this phrase colloquially, as in “I think I’ve got a grasp on it now.”
Once we have grasped onto something we want, we pull it toward us, or us toward it, in the fifth and final phase of the satisfaction cycle—the pull. Babies may start this motion by lying on their belly and bringing a toy toward themselves. Later, it may look like babies pulling themselves up on furniture to have assistance in standing.
From a developmental perspective, this action is about having what we want and wanting what we have. It’s about enjoyment. It’s being able to reflect on what just happened. It turns knowledge into wisdom by assimilating what we’ve just grasped into our template of existing understanding. The cycle filters back into a yield, where we can rest in what we have just accomplished before we begin again with another interest.
The Satisfaction Cycle and Adult Eating
Because this cycle continues to feed on itself, you can see how if we don’t know how to yield it impacts our ability to feel satisfaction. If you find yourself eating uncontrollably, abusing substances, struggling with procrastination or perfectionism, or never being able to just enjoy the company of someone without feeling panicky or checked out, you probably have a truncated Satisfaction Cycle.
On our plates, we can practice yielding by becoming present before we begin eating, allowing the chair to support our bodies. We can tune into our senses, noticing taste, color, and smells. We push through our lower half to reach for our silverware, grasp our eating utensil, scoop up our food and pull it to our mouths for consumption. At each step is a wealth of information about where we get stuck in our satisfaction cycle.
We can continue the yield by listening to our physical cues for satiation, eating and chewing mindfully enough to hear this information. We can practice our push by acknowledging and honoring when our bodies say they are satisfied, which is usually before we’re completely full. We can encourage our grasp by allowing ourselves permission to have what is on our plate when it serves our bodies. And we can practice our pull by letting ourselves truly enjoy having what we want, enjoying the contentment of a satisfied belly. Practice one thing that supports your satisfaction cycle today!
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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