In the previous post (Part 1), I talked about what it’s like to have completed a significant amount of Somatic Experiencing (SE) work. There’s much less constriction, more freedom of movement physically and in the mind, and less energy output to manage defending against life.
As my SE practitioner training continues, I keep re-learning and having renewed appreciation for the individual human capacity to heal traumatic stress. The way SE works aligns so beautifully with mindfulness and self-compassion approaches. It’s a “let’s wait and see” method that engages curiosity and respects the individual’s own healing mechanism, while compassionately holding space for doubting mind and other things that get in the way of attending to experience.
I was particularly struck at the most recent training by the power of the practice of tightly and actively keeping the process manageable. In SE we call this “titration”, and it’s about staying in the individual window of tolerance while working with whatever body sensations or other content (thought, emotion, image) is there. Working within the window means keeping the level of subjective distress low enough to be able to remain curious. As soon as the distress level starts to rise above tolerance, pausing is crucial, and then there are all sorts of things that can be done to slow down the speed or intensity of whatever is happening so it can come back down to manageable levels, and the client can stay present.
What is described above is a lot different than tv images and a lot of still popular thought about what happens in therapy to heal from traumatic experiences. Talk therapy (without any attention to the body’s responses) is largely unproductive for addressing the root cause of trauma, and in many cases, harmful – entrenching it even further. And many cultures have a “more is better”, self negation type of self-discipline that encourages overriding physical and emotional needs and limits. If you had coffee today, chances are you ignored a limit – your body’s energy balance – that says how much it can do today. We think nothing of ignoring these limits, along with the future costs of imbalance. Naturally, when we finally get to therapy, we’re motivated – we want to go really fast, have a big, emotional, cathartic experience, to feel like we “got something done”. We think we must feel like we’ve “worked really hard”. I am guilty of this, too!
But this last training showed me something remarkable – not exceeding capacity actually increases capacity. Every time I helped someone stay in their window of tolerance (stopped at signs of activation/nervous system arousal, and titrated or waited for their system to settle again), capacity grew, right before my eyes. With each round of titration, they got stronger. Their window of tolerance grew. And I experienced the same thing as a practice client, multiple times. I promptly took this new approach into the office and watched it work repeatedly, with every client.
We have lots of euphemisms for this idea of going slower, but I notice it’s usually only paid lip service. We don’t pause and can’t notice what happens when we do, and therefore we can’t appreciate the value of it. Sometimes we just notice some vague sense of calm or relief that seems to come after a pause, and then we go right back to mindless busyness.
Here’s your motivation to practice: in paying attention to the experience of the body, it seems to expedite the healing/growth process. But we can’t go in seeking to expedite the process because it always backfires; bypassing is always self-violence and doesn’t work. Just like in developing a self-compassion practice, in SE we attend to experience (mind, body and emotions) in a curious and respectful way that acknowledges our built-in self healing mechanism while attending to the need of our human part to be able to “keep up” with or tolerate what’s happening.
In short, healing is not about forcing ourselves to exceed our tolerance, or re-experiencing trauma. Let me know if you’d like more info about Somatic Experiencing 614.547.2187.