By Evan DeMarco
All of us have experienced some sort of trauma, although the type and extent can vary from person to person. Many people carry the burden of unresolved or unaddressed trauma for years, if not their whole lives—which is a frustrating and limiting way to live.
Medical practitioners have spent decades looking for methods to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, along with numerous other physical and mental trauma-related conditions. Peter A. Levine, PhD., a trauma therapist, heard the call and developed the Somatic Experiencing® (SE) method for healing trauma and other stress disorders.
Should I fight, take flight or freeze?
Humans and animals display a natural motor response to imminent threats: fight, flight and freeze. These instinctive responses are designed to protect yourself from or survive the encounter with a threat.
For example, imagine you’re camping in the woods and see a bear charging toward you. If you know your bear survival methods, your first instinct might be to charge toward them to scare them off. Then you realize that it’s a grizzly bear, so you’re tempted to try to escape—but as your options disappear, you might finally decide it’s best to play dead.
How did you make all of these decisions in a split second? Upon realizing that you’re in some kind of danger, your body automatically activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which communicates to the brain that you need to fight, flight or freeze. At the same time, your adrenal glands release adrenaline, maximizing your strength to either fight off the threat or escape from it. You’re not consciously aware, but your body is—and it’s recording this trauma to process later.
Releasing the trauma
According to Somatic Experiencing, your trauma isn’t the result of the traumatic event you experienced. Instead, trauma occurs when the unresolved freeze response causes an imbalance in your nervous system. After creating the energy to fight or flee, your body must release all that momentum through the “freeze” portion. Skipping this part of the threat response cycle causes this energy to remain trapped within you.
The Somatic Experiencing approach allows patients to complete the freeze response well after the initial trauma has occurred. Once they’ve worked through lingering freeze responses, their bodies finally release the energy and stamina their SNS created when it was triggered.
To overcome trauma using SE methods, you work to access the “body memory” of the event, rather than the details of the event itself. This is comforting for people who struggle to talk about past trauma or who experience distress when revisiting it.
How Somatic Experiencing resolves trauma
Certified Somatic Experiencing practitioners (SEP) work with you to reconnect you with the physical sensations of your traumatic experience. As you focus on your body, you become more aware of those sensations. Then you can use SE tools to release them, completing the freeze response.
- Resourcing: This technique allows the patient to create internal “resources” to make them feel safe. To create these mental resources, the patient discusses cherished memories, loved ones, favorite pastimes and other comforting touchpoints.
- Titration: Once a patient creates the resources necessary to comfort themselves, it’s time to recall the trauma’s physical sensations (rather than the event itself). As you gradually work through the titration phase, the SEP will monitor the patient’s responses. They note changes in breathing, crying, shift in tone, shaking, tensed muscles, shivering and/or clenched fists. This gradually trains the body to be less affected by the traumatic event.
- Pendulation: Also known as “looping,” pendulation helps the body regain homeostasis and balance. The patient is re-taught how to move back and forth between states of alert and calm, without trigger fight or flight. This builds a more resilient nervous system so the patient can manage future traumas appropriately.
Is SE right for you?
If you’ve had difficulty overcoming trauma through psychological approaches and talk therapy, SE may help. Unlike other approaches that prioritize memories and thoughts, SE addresses physical manifestations. This approach uncovers the habitual behavior patterns that trigger PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. By targeting these behaviors, the patient works with their SEP to mitigate these destructive behaviors.
SE uses breathwork and “moving meditations” such as yoga, tai chi and qigong, the patient’s body to ease the physical manifestations of trauma. As the patient continues this practice, they’ll have less-extreme responses to stress and trauma, with fewer long-term effects.If you’re still dealing with unresolved trauma, Somatic Experiencing can have remarkably healing effects—find a certified SEP near you. SE could be the key to a happier life after properly processing unresolved trauma.
Evan DeMarco is a leading sports medicine scientist and nutrition expert, published author, public speaker and frequent guest on television, radio, and digital platforms. He is the co-founder Complete Human (www.completehuman.com) the new multi-media platform that takes a deep dive into the areas of mind, body, soul, and planet while exploring what makes us who we are and what will make us better.