The Rewards of Somatic Experiencing

I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain the changes I notice in myself and in others as a result of somatic experiencing work. It’s difficult to convey the changes because many are visceral, felt sensations: no more perpetual tension in the pit of my stomach, or chest or shoulders, increased ability to feel touch, less tightness in the throat. Other things are more obvious: my eyebrows growing back, no need for alcohol to “unwind”, and husband noticing that I come home smiling, rather than testy and exhausted, after a long day of work. But those things don’t entirely capture how dramatic the internal shift is, and then something happened that really summed it all up…

I was in the local toy store recently with my husband, perusing opposite sides of a display with bins full of cheap pocket-sized toys. I’m always looking for stuff to use as therapeutic tools, and he’s usually up for playing with toys, so it’s a win-win. As I stood there analyzing the selection before me (playing with the toys), a hacky-sack type ball comes flying over the wall from his direction, and I reach up with my left hand and catch it, moving around to the other side to join him and return it to its bin. From the outside, it may not have seemed like a big deal, but in that moment I realized something miraculous had happened.

I am not in the habit of catching anything, let alone one-handed, left-handed, and by surprise. I think the reason I can tell you about it is that I’m in this delicious in-between place right now where I can remember the old response (deflecting, dodging, flinching, bracing, and trying to appear not to do any of that and while wilting in shame over my clumsiness) while experiencing the freedom and spontoneity of this new response. I realized a few moments after catching that ball, that this transition has been happening recently – catching things, balancing, navigating the furniture obstacles – without much thought or effort. My whole life I thought I was tragically uncoordinated, but it turned out I just had a lot of incomplete defensive responses.

I can’t even list all the changes I notice, but here are a few more: eating more appropriate portion sizes and only really for hunger, increased energy levels and stamina, more stable mood, more at ease with others – catching that ball revealed to me even more deeply what somatic experiencing work does. It enables greater responsiveness to life. When our actions are bound up in incomplete defensive responses (aka “traumatic stress”), we keep defending against life. When we don’t have so much of that stress left in the body, then it’s free to respond to life, to fully engage and to flow. This explains how, for a time, I just couldn’t understand why with all of my mindfulness practice and realization, I was still witnessing this pattern of fear and inability to fully express in life – a sort of dark cover over things. Even though I couldn’t believe in the mind’s explanations anymore, I just couldn’t feel that freedom in the way I thought I ought to be able to.

I’m increasingly able to respond to my own needs for nourishment, rest, soothing, activity, and expression in a way that I realize now, no amount of discipline or planning or practice could have achieved. There is no such thing for me anymore as trying to generate “motivation”. Life is already motivated, and it moves through me, and I get to go along for the ride as it unfolds. It’s very hard to explain what that’s like if you haven’t ever experienced it, but I think you can tell when it’s not there.

My unsolicited advice: give it all you’ve got in order to find it, because not matter how much that is, it’s worth it.

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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