06 Mar Have you heard of interoception?
If you haven’t, you may want to learn about it! Interoception is the “8th sense” and it may just be the missing link to helping neurodivergent (and even neurotypical) youth and adults understand their emotions, communicate about those emotions, and explore new strategies to regulate emotions. The latest research is VERY promising, and Mindsight Therapies is excited to now be teaching this curriculum!
For the last several years my passion has been helping my clients learn about emotions and learn to effectively communicate those emotions. Being able to express one’s feelings is necessary for emotional regulation. This has been helpful for some of my clients, but for many, emotions are an abstract concept that they are not able to understand. Teaching emotions has been very difficult, if not impossible. Several months ago, I discovered what I consider to be the missing link in my therapy and that is interoception!
Interoception is the sense that makes a person become aware of internal body signals like a growling stomach, racing heart, tense muscles, or a full bladder. When these body signals are noticed our brain uses them as clues to our emotions. Our senses have receptors that collect sensory information. For example, our eyes pull in all the information we “see” around us. Your eyes also may “feel” different things such as itchy, watery, dry, heavy, wide, etc. Interoception helps us to feel and interpret many important emotions such as: sadness, anxiety, pain, hunger, fullness, thirst, calm, illness, distraction, and many more based on body sensations.
Why is this important?
Interoception research has found that some people have interoception differences and this can lead to challenges in identifying exactly how one feels. Interoception differences can effect many aspects of life, including, but not limited to, self-care, body awareness, cognition, social participation, emotional regulation, and self-awareness (Mahler, 2023). These differences can be more prevalent in neurodivergent individuals. When someone has interoception differences, internal feelings may be TOO BIG or magnified, some may be TOO SMALL, very subtle, or undetected, or some may be DISTORTED which means the feelings or sensations may be unclear so the individual is not sure what they are feeling or, if they feel something, they may not know what it means because the feeling is not specific to an event or circumstance (Endow, 2019). In addition, individuals may process interoception information differently which can also cause confusion and difficulty interpreting emotions linked to specific events (Endow, 2019).
If a person does not have awareness of all these sensations in their body and the ability to interpret what those sensations mean emotional regulation can be extremely challenging. Understanding interoception is the foundation that needs to be laid before strategies can be effective. Before thinking that an individual just DOESN’T WANT to use their strategies, we must consider, CAN they, or DO they, feel/understand WHEN to use their strategies and are the strategies the right ones?
Here are a few signs an individual may have interoception differences (Mahler, 2023) :
- Difficulty knowing when hungry, full, or thirsty
- Difficulty realizing that they are sleepy
- Overly sensitive to pain or overly tolerant to pain
- Difficulty determining symptoms when feeling ill
- Difficulty understanding or recognizing emotions in self
- Difficulty recognizing emotions in others
- Difficulty identifying/noticing increasing signs of distress (before a complete meltdown)
- Difficulty using coping strategies when upset/distressed
I have been on my own journey over the last year discovering how important it is to be aware of the messages my body is sending. The therapy I was exploring was based on trauma therapy which is all tied to body awareness. I did not know it as “interoception” at the time, but I knew body awareness was needed for my neurodivergent clients to help them understand emotions. What I didn’t know was how to teach this very complex skill to my clients.
Now, thanks to a program created by Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L, called the “Interoception Curriculum” we are breaking down complicated emotions and teaching them to our clients! If you are interested in learning more or want your child to learn about interoception and emotions, contact us here.
Debbie Patterson, MA, CCC-SLP