Massage and being vulnerable

Being vulnerable means we are making ourselves open to being hurt.  Our instinct of course is to avoid pain and protect ourselves from things that can hurt us.  We build walls.  We are cautious about who we let in through our defenses.  We are careful and safe. 

Here in the Unites States, strength is valued.  The idea of vulnerability is looked down on as a weakness.  We should be strong enough to overcome it or smart enough to avoid it, or something enough so it doesn’t affect us and hurt us.

Some people then may be hesitant at the idea of getting a massage because it may make them vulnerable.  As a massage therapist I understand you may feel vulnerable.  Because I understand it, I will do all that I can to make you feel comfortable when you come in and throughout your appointment.  You are putting yourself in my hands.  That takes a lot of trust and I am honored by that.  I don’t take it lightly.

Let’s look at a few factors that may contribute to feeling vulnerable in a massage.

Positioning – In the typical massage session, you are lying on a massage table and the therapist is standing.  A person lying down is in a more vulnerable position than one standing.  It makes defending yourself or leaving more difficult.  Additionally, during part of the massage you will be face down with your face in the face cradle, which limits your ability to see what is happening.

Clothing – again in the typical situation you will have removed most or all of your clothing and are covered with a sheet.  What you wear is always up to you. The therapist though is fully dressed.  This is not a situation we face often in our society and the clothing imbalance can make you feel vulnerable.  It also makes getting up and leaving a more of a challenge.

Body issues – almost everybody has something they are not happy about concerning their body, ranging from weight, health, scars, fitness levels, and on and on.  Allowing an issue that we usually conceal to be viewed makes us vulnerable.   Remember (according to Hollywood and advertising) we are to be in perfect health with no flaws from head to toe.  Massage therapists want to help you feel better and will make observations but not judgments of your body.  Massage can be a good way to make peace with your body and overcome the body issues you may have.

Expectations – if you are new to massage or working with a new massage therapist, you will not know as much about what to expect.  Generally most people want to do what they think they are supposed to do.  They don’t want to do something wrong and become embarrassed.  Check my web site and ask whatever questions you have over the phone or in person before your appointment begins.  Doing something new can be a bit scary (but we are supposed to be strong and not scared, remember) but with a little research and effort you can be at ease.  I want you to get great results.  That includes helping you relax so I won’t mind answering questions you have.  Almost everybody has the same small set of questions, so if there is something you are wondering about there is a good chance many others are also.

Pressure – The pressure applied should be right for you.  I don’t want your massage work to hurt.  It should be a time for you to enjoy.  You should walk out feeling great and not be in pain the next day from it.  If the pressure is not right at any time, please speak up.  I get massages also, so I know what it is like to be on the table.  You won’t hurt my feelings by telling me you would like a different amount of pressure.  It’s your body, so you know best how it feels.

Health and Anatomy – Along with teaching how to perform a safe and effective massage, massage schools also teach about the anatomy and physiology of the body.  After getting in school, I found out that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did about how bodies work.  Unless you have had similar education or more, I probably know more than you do about how the body works.  We are encouraged to respect, listen to, and take the advice of those with greater knowledge in various fields.  This knowledge inequality can be another vulnerability issue.

However, massage therapists are not doctors or nurses or chiropractors or other medical professionals.  They have much more education, knowledge, expertise, and training than a massage therapist.  There are many things that we are not allowed to do in our scope of practice, which varies by state.  Going beyond that scope could endanger your health and I will not do that.

Confidentiality – You are allowing somebody else to learn a lot about you.  They will see and touch more of you than most other people in the world.  What will they say about you to others?  Massage therapists are expected to abide by the same confidentiality standards as other medical professionals.  I will not discuss your information and what happened in your appointment unless required by law.  You can feel safe that my observations and our discussions will go no further. 

Ethics – along with confidentiality, there are a number of potential issues that may occur during your massage.  Most likely nothing unusual will happen with you, but if something does happen, part of our training included how to handle it while keeping you safe and from feeling embarrassed. 

Finally, I won’t hurt you – at least, not intentionally.  I may say something innocently that brings up a painful memory.  Sometimes touch can activate memories of something you haven’t thought about in a long time.  Since I could not possibly know about those things, it is not deliberate on my part.  I am just a massage therapist, but I have learned from my experience in life that it is better to deal with whatever is going on so you can move forward.

Being vulnerable is taking a chance.  You can exist without being vulnerable, but you will be missing out of a lot of things.  It keeps you always on the outside and not quite fully involved.  You may get hurt at times – but not by me.

Barry is a licensed Massage Therapist at Main Street Massage in Hudson, Ohio.  Find out more about him, his business, and massage at

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