In our attempts to heal our past, talk therapy can lead to better understanding and coping. However, we often find the same familiar patterns playing out in our bodies, wreaking havoc with our ability to engage in life. This is because our bodies operate on a deeper level than what our cognitive brains typically have access to.
Our bodies can remember experiences where we have not felt safe or OK, leaving our nervous system on the lookout for similar situations so that we can be ready to protect ourselves next time. When our nervous system registers one of these threats we go into high alert--adrenaline pumping, ready to go--or we freeze. In the midst of such a physiological response, the body is not interested in listening to our brain's reasoning; it is only interested in responding to the sense of danger.
Talking about past trauma does not alter these physiological response patterns. The body has its own story to tell and it is demanding to be heard. I believe that true healing must involve enabling the body to tell its story--enabling the body to process, resolve, and integrate past trauma. Trauma here refers to not only horrific or life-threatening events but also to any experience that is too big for the system to fully move through and integrate at the time of the event.
It is not the event that defines the experience as trauma; it is the individual's perception of the event as a threat to safety and the way the nervous system adapts to be prepared for similar events. This then leaves us living our lives through distorted adaptations that can be triggered by the smallest of events.
However, the body knows how to tell its story if we remember how to listen! The body knows how to move through these experiences and restore itself to a healthy regulated state, enabling us to accurately assess our current safety.
There are many ways to facilitate the body moving through these old stories, including body-focused activities such as certain forms of meditation, breath work, massage, yoga and primal dance. In the realm of psychotherapy there are scientifically recognized modalities such as Peter Levine, PhD's Somatic Experiencing®.
Somatic Experiencing brings conscious awareness to the here-and-now body experience. We gently touch in to trauma while also weaving in the body's known experience of safety and connection. This engages one's inherent body wisdom to move through old body memories and enable the nervous system to restore itself to its natural pre-trauma state with the capacity to engage in life more fully, with greater flexibility and ease.
The implications of healing trauma cross over into the spiritual realm. In Trauma and Spirituality, Peter Levine talks about how surrendering to our trauma can lead to spiritual transformation. He writes, that in his experience, as "individuals mastered the traumas that had haunted them--emotionally, physically, and psychologically, unexpected 'side effects' appeared. Seemingly out of nowhere, these surprises included ecstatic joy, exquisite clarity, effortless focus, and an all-embracing sense of oneness."
Through our nervous system, we have the ability to perceive and connect with others and with our environment and, ultimately, with all that is. Therefore, as the trauma disruptions in our nervous system are healed, we are literally restoring the capacity of human potential--which I believe is unlimited. This ability to reach our potential is inherent in our being and our body is waiting to take us on the journey from trauma to transformation.
For more information contact Brigitte Clark