I’m so excited to have completed phase one of Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing Trauma ReleaseTraining earlier this month. I can’t wait to bring what I’m learning into my work with Permission Sessions.
What I really love about this work is that it easily allows you to release unconscious blocks in your body that you may not even realize you had.
Somatic experiencing safely releases emotional and physical trauma in small increments without re-activating or re-living trauma.
Even though I’ve been practising this somatic work (working with the body for emotional well being) for my own healing for years, I’m always surprised by what comes up, and what I learn about myself.
In the training class, I volunteered to be a demo for the practitioner to conduct a session. I started by telling the practitioner I have chronic jaw tension and I was floored by what happened next.
Trauma may not be something you identify with – I know for years I thought trauma was for those who were in a war, a car accident or held at gun point. But after I started doing this work, it was obvious to me that trauma comes in the forms we sometimes least expect.
When you consider the definition of trauma, you can see how it happens frequently in our day to day lives:
Trauma is something that is happening too soon, too much or too fast to be able to do something about it.
Unlike wild animals, the frontal cortex in humans (the rational mind) will often intercept our bodies self-regulating responses to release trauma, and as a result trauma stays stuck in our bodies. We can get perpetually stuck in fight, flight or freeze mode, resulting in the feeling of overwhelm, anxiety or tension. Some examples that can intercept our bodies natural healing response are shame, fear, and social or cultural influences.
So it’s easy to see how un-resolved emotional or physical trauma can affect intimacy, if your body is in a perpetual state of self-protection.
For example, have you ever noticed how the threat of rejection, shame or not belonging set you into freeze, fight or flight mode?
What’s even more fascinating is how things you may NEVER think about could be affecting your well being.
Here’s an example…..
After I told the practitioner in my demo session, I had chronic jaw tension, he asked me if I had ever had braces. I told him I’d had braces twice -once when I was 14 and once when I was 20 years old.
After leading me through subtle releases, by guiding me to feel both a grounded sensation in my body while I was feeling the pain in my jaw, I could feel the tension slowly release in subtle increments. Soon, it felt like I’d been to the dentist and my cheeks felt numb.
I felt myself on the verge of crying as I was reminded of the great lengths I’d gone through to ‘perfect’ my smile including falling asleep with headaches when I had braces. I then looked around the room at the 60 pairs of eyes, all observing and taking notes on what would happen to me next.
Feeling the tenderness in my jaw, I told the practitioner how good it felt not to smile – especially while I was being observed by my classmates.
The practitioner asked me if I was expected to smile a lot.
I couldn’t even begin the count the many ways I smiled when I didn’t want to – smile for the camera – smile to make others feel good about themselves – smile because no one wants to see a grumpy face – smile to be friendly – smile to make sure everyone knows I’m ok – smile to be liked – all of these messages had become a muscle memory reflex embossed into my face.
The practitioner then asked me to look him in the eyes and say to him: “I don’t want to smile”.
I looked him directly in the eyes, calm and true to the bone, I said “I don’t want to smile”. I could feel my words land for all the times I’d been told to smile and didn’t want to.
He said, “Ah, now there’s your healthy aggression”.
That night, and for several days that followed, the tenderness remained in my jaw, and it was a constant reminder to not smile when I didn’t want to. The physcial tenderness was a benchmark reminding me to stay true to myself.
This kind of visceral resource is powerful because it gives us both the freedom to be who we really are, without compromising a kind of integrity that’s rooted in self-awareness.
And best of all, there’s nothing to ‘change’ or “improve’. The shift happens automatically, withouth even thinking about it because the body viscerally re-calibrates.
I was thinking the tension in my jaw was unexpressed anger, and I wasn’t wrong. But knowing the root of where that anger was coming from was helpful, so I could stop smiling out of reflex.
Expressing anger in my session didn’t overwhelm my system with fear that my anger would be too destructive, or that I’d be rejected or judged for expressing it. It was just neutral, raw and real.
You already know that expressing anger helps to create boundaries – finding the yes to ourselves while saying no, helps us to feel more free and at peace on our relationships and in our work. And you also know that expressing healthy aggression also keeps us from turning the anger inward against ourselves.
But how do you express your anger in a healthy way?
These are the kind of brilliant ah-has that come through when you start doing this kind of body work. Having a visceral example of how to express healthy aggression means you no longer have struggle your way through it, your body and psyche will will naturally re-calibrate back to it’s self-regulating capacity.
So if you feel tension in your body – pay attention to it. It’s trying to tell you something. And you may be surprised what it has to say!