somatic experiencing

Somatic experiencing changed my life (or how I learned to be at home in my body)

It’s 7:30 at night, and this all too familiar unease sets in again. A restlessness, a feeling that whatever it is, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
Yet I stay slouched on the couch. And that’s where somatic experiencing comes in.

Over the years, I’ve turned from an avid novel-reader to an obsessive self-help devourer. I was looking for a book that would magically know a solution to my chronic immune diseases, my constant fatigue and crippling lack of self-confidence.
And I did! Reading up on trauma, I found that most books referenced Peter A. Levine and his work on somatic experiencing. Interesting!, I thought.

But I was never traumatised‘, you might say.
Think again.

Levine defines trauma as any perceived life-threatening event, either as a child or in adulthood.
These can be car accidents, the loss of loved ones, routine medical procedures or being left alone as a child, loud noises or exposure to extreme heat or cold. Pretty much everyone has experienced some kind of trauma in their lifetime.

Trauma is always unique, can be delayed, but encompasses a loss of connection from our bodies to our families and our outside world.
The key is not to analyse the origin, after all we might not even remember the triggering event. But we will certainly notice its symptoms:

  • Hyperarousal
  • Dissociation and denial (feeling spaced out)
  • Feelings of helplessness and immobility
  • Shame and lack of self-worth
  • Exaggerated or abrupt emotional responses

Some other symptoms will only show up much later:

  • Addictive behaviours (overeating, smoking, etc)
  • Panic attacks, anxiety and phobias
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to make commitments
  • Chronic pain and psychosomatic illnesses

Do you ever find that accidents just keep happening to you? You’re followed by bad luck, or keep attracting the wrong people? This is because of the human compulsion to repeat.
We feel safe with what we know. This is definitely the hardest one for me to tackle because of its unconscious nature. I end up spending so much time analysing my problems that I forget that I create problems for myself so I can worry more. I feel productive and safe worrying about all the things going wrong.

So how to get out of this vicious cycle?

  • Be comfortable trembling (this is how wild animals get over trauma)
  • Reconnect with your body (with body scans, tapping, engaging all of your senses)
  • Find a safe space in your body (to focus on when the rest of the body is aching)

Somatic experiencing has been a total game changer for me. It has done what yoga, EMDR and gratitude journals could never get close to: for the first time ever, I feel like I am getting better. Or at the very least, I am okay with not feeling good at times. I can sit with the unease and make friends with it, notice how it travels through my body and where it accumulates.

Apart from exercise (ugh), another healthy outlet for trauma energy has been art.

Check out this video I made about the positive effects of my depression and how I have learned to grow past it.

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