Somatic Experiencing: Exploring Healing Touch In Therapy
Trauma can impact every element of our lives.
Trauma often makes people feel unsafe and unlovable; it guards and shames them from other people. It makes them question their sanity, and it can make the concept of trust and vulnerability feel insurmountable.
Most of all, physical, sexual, and emotional trauma often create a perpetual loop pervasive shame. People feel a deep, tethered sense of self-loathing. They feel stuck in our own resentments and fears. They move through the days feeling anxious and uncertain.
They desperately want to forget what happened. And even if the mind is hazy and the memories are scattered, the body remembers the pain.
Somatic experiencing can provide a roadmap for trauma healing. Through learning about the connection between mind-and-body, you can champion a new perspective for inner growth.
Harnessing The Power of Touch
Research has long supported the notion that people carry trauma in their bodies. People reflect this tension through our nonverbal body language and even through physical symptoms like chronic pain, migraines, and sexual issues.
At their primal levels, humans crave physical connection. Infants bond to their mothers through caressing and holding, friends often greet one another with hugs, and lovers connect through sexual intimacy. People want to feel connected to others, and they use their bodies to express love and nurturing.
However, trauma often makes the concept of touch inherently threatening. If touch has been unsafe and unwarranted, the idea of it feels repelling. In fact, people often rebel against their own bodies. It’s as if the body has betrayed them by failing to provide protection and security.
That said, relearning a concept of touch- safe touch- can foster the trauma recovery process. Everyone craves a sense of safety. Learning how to engage and appreciate in touch can facilitate that inherent need for comfort.
The Tenants of Somatic Experiencing
Peter Levine, the founder of somatic experiencing, sought to understand why animals are traumatized by certain experiences in the same way humans are. His evidence discovered that animals identify, react, and adequately recover from real or perceived threats. They release the excess energy physically through the body (often by running, shaking, trembling, etc.). Eventually, their bodies return to familiar homeostasis.
Humans have a similar need. When they become stimulated, they also become hyperactivated. Thus, they also need to rest as part of the recovery.
However, many times, people freeze in traumatic situations. That’s because they don’t have the option to fight or flee. If they freeze, the hyperactivation can become ‘stuck’ within their bodies. When it becomes ‘stuck,’ they also essentially stay stuck with the trauma.
In other words, the nervous systems fail to return to their homeostasis. People remain in a perpetual state of arousal (feeling hypervigilant, overly sensitive, and panicky). Or, they may become closed off and guarded, which can lead to isolation and depression.
There is a powerful relationship between the mind and body. Learning how to restore the body to its natural homeostasis can help people feel more grounded and safe.
Of course, learning and appreciating new bodily sensations can feel threatening. It may seem foreign to focus on the body after years of disregarding, ignoring, or loathing it.
How It Works
Therapists may use the titration and pendulated method as part of the somatic experiencing treatment plan. In titration, the therapist guides the client through traumatic memories while assessing any changes in physical or emotional responses.
The pendulated method removes the client from homeostasis and triggers him or her into a heightened state of experiencing physical symptoms. The therapist then supports the client in returning to stable homeostasis. During this transition, the nervous system discharges itself- often through physical symptoms of crying, nausea, twitching, flushing, and shaking.
With time, clients start to feel less anxious and stressed within their bodies. They can eventually move themselves back into a state of homeostasis- even after a period of activation or arousal. This, in turn, creates a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment in life.
Somatic experiencing provides a safe and restorative opportunity for trauma healing. As the body returns to its natural state, people feel a greater sense of control and empowerment. The trauma no longer has such an influential hold on your well-being and happiness.
Have you been feeling stuck in your trauma? Are you ready to take the next step towards change? Even though it may feel frightening, therapy can help you feel safe and supported on this journey. Contact me today to learn more.