Somatic Experiencing: Healing Trauma, finding resolution
Trauma can be a reality for many of us and can present differently for each person. Whether it comes in the form of anxiety or sleep issues, migraines or depression, the one commonality is that this trauma is stored in the memory of the body.
So we begin there: by gently working with the wisdom and innate knowledge of the body. By tapping into our inherent resiliency we find the key to not only symptoms and suffering, but also solutions to what might have felt inexplicable or beyond hope.
Here are some examples of how trauma may look:
- Panic and Anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Addictions of all kinds
- Eating disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Chronic pain
- Trouble paying attention
- Sense of feeling disconnected
How we can best understand how trauma both manifests and resolves is in understanding the biology of the body.
During a traumatic event the body experiences, at the cellular level, a surge of intense energy that can often stay stuck in the system. It is as though this stuck energy freezes there, taking hold of our vitality and strength and replacing it with often debilitating symptoms.
This freeze response holds the key to understanding trauma. Once aroused, our survival responses of fight or flight need to come to successful completion in order for our nervous systems to come back to a state of rest and balance.
When we are unable to complete these responses, our nervous systems become frozen. This frozen, immobilized state may look calm on the outside, but internally the state can be compared to what happens in a car when we step on the brake and the accelerator at the same time. A huge amount of energy is revving creating the symptoms of trauma.
The Somatic Experiencing approach, developed by Peter Levine, is a gentle therapy for resolving and discharging unresolved survival energies, thereby healing the symptoms of trauma.
How does Somatic Experiencing differ from other therapeutic modalities?
- SE employs awareness of body sensation to help people "renegotiate" and heal rather than re-live or re-enact trauma.
- SE's guidance of the bodily "felt sense," allows the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged.
- SE "titrates" experience, rather than evoking catharsis - which can overwhelm the regulatory mechanisms of the organism.
- SE helps eliminate pitfalls of re-traumatization and the spurious generation of "false memories".
Constellation Work and Somatic Experiencing
Some of the trauma we carry may not belong to us, but rather, to someone in our family that came before us. Often we can experience this “systemic trauma” much like a current traumatic event: it can feel as if it is ours and therefore, for us to resolve alone.
Using the Constellation work as a guide, bringing in key family members, we have the opportunity to give back what does not belong to us, including symptoms of trauma. In that way, we are not alone; the system shares the burden. Bridging those movements with the SE tools is a profound and effective way of working through long held, often confusing and debilitating, systemic trauma.