What is Somatic Experiencing?
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a trauma healing model
In North American Culture,
we are taught how to navigate our outer world, and how to make sense of the world around us, but seldom are we taught how to navigate our inner experience (e.g. our sensations, feelings, impulses, intuitions). Because many of us have not been practicing navigating our inner experience, we have not experienced the usefulness that exists in being aware of our sensation and body states in the present moment. Said differently have not learned how to tolerate the challenges of life and to soothe ourselves back to a felt sense of safety and connection. What we discover is that our bodies contain a wealth of wisdom that can support us to heal our deepest wounding and to feel more alive. Somatic Experiencing (SE) invites us into this learning.
Consider that when listening to a friend,
we can listen to two types of stories. One is a thought-story. This is the story that our friend communicates to us with verbal speech. The other type of story is a body-story. This is the story being told through their body, such as body language, tone and rate of speech, what their eyes are doing. We can also attend to these two types of stories within our own self. That is, we can hear the thoughts in our mind and we can also listen to our own body. Our body speaks in the language of sensation. By listening to the sensations and feelings that we are experiencing in our body, we are able to listen to the story our body is telling. Sometimes this story compliments the story we are telling in our mind, and sometimes the story of the body is very different. Consider that this body story is longing to be heard and witnessed by our own self and plays an important role in our healing, self-discovery, and spiritual journey. This is part of what Somatic Experiencing offers.
The Impact of Trauma
Consider this simple definition of trauma:
Trauma is the body’s response to any experience that feels too overwhelming to stay present to, and when our body mobilizes into a survival-based self-protective response. Because of this overwhelm, the body is unable to perform a self-protective response. What fuels this self-protective response is a great amount of survival energy – think of how a wild animal behaves if it feels threatened.. its wild… It wants to fight or run. This big amount of survival energy gets “stuck” in the body, and at times is felt like an agitation, fear, “charge”, anxiety, depression.
When we feel unable to tolerate a sensation in the body,
the body will often constrict and brace, leading to tightness in our muscles and other soft tissues. At higher levels of discomfort, the autonomic nervous system will “shutdown” which can look like “depression” and be experienced as a disconnection from self, other, and the world.
Often the body-story feels too uncomfortable to feel,
and we may not be conscious, yet, of the ways in which we are disconnecting from our body. In my observation, we live in a culture of disconnection from the body and most people are required to adopt some practice or another that supports them to reconnect to it. Somatic Experiencing offers a way of reconnecting with the body, so that we can hear the sory it is telling, in a way that doesn’t lead to more overwhelm. Somatic Experiences teaches us how to tolerate what we are experiencing in the here and now in the body, and the more are become able to do this, the more alive we feel.