It’s now well understood that going slow is actually the quickest way to heal trauma. That’s why all modern trauma healing focuses on teaching how to regulate intense feelings.
The truth is that feeling is a difficult business, and if it is hard to feel, it is hard to heal. Our feeling states are often hidden, rarely simple, and sometimes scary.
The good news is that feeling is a skill that can be taught. Embodiment tools can help us develop our capacity to feel, which is incredibly useful in resolving trauma.
These ten things to remember when working to heal trauma will assist you in developing your skills and strength to help you build a strong, resilient container to hold your trauma.
1 Practice Grounding
Gestures of grounding are really important when it comes to trauma, they can help you to respond from the present moment when you feel triggered, rather than from past experiences. (For example, it can help you remember that your boss isn’t your Dad, or the person who attacked you).
These can be as simple as picking up something looking at it, to register that you know where you are, and you’re safe right now. It’s important to practice being with intense feelings in this way, in safe times. It helps you to negotiate, practice and learn how to get better at feeling your body, and how to turn down the volume on intense feelings.
2 Find health resource in your body
We have lots of health within us. Try to find things that make you feel good in your body, thoughts or ideas that make you feel more alive, people, food, places can also make this connection to health. These are health resources. Sit for a while and think about what objects make this connection for you in your life.
3 Cultivate community
Our interactions with other people are fundamental to our survival. It’s not casual, it’s actually life or death, particularly when you’re interacting with someone who has power over you, or you’re at work. Our status or acceptance from our family, our social group and the people we have to work with to survive is really important.
Many of us grew up in unsafe environments, and it’s that which triggers our defense cascades. It’s important to remember that everybody gets triggered in this way sometimes. Everybody has responses to people who have power or are potentially threatening. That’s why it’s good to talk with your friends – people you feel safe with – to share what is triggering you, and try to work it out together and practise how to respond.
I’ll be running an online course at the end of March to teach trauma healing through TRE with a community of people from all over the world – you can find out more at the end of this blog. For many people, not having to talk about their trauma, being relatively anonymous in a group setting and doing something that’s purely about finding agency and strength in your body is key to working with trauma in a positive and generative way.
4 Soothe your ‘inner guard dog’
The inner guard dog metaphor is very useful when working with trauma. When our guard dog is activated it either barks all the time or cowers in the shed. It’s very hard to talk to this inner guard dog – it likes to run, jump, fight or shut down. Having a long conversation with your guard dog won’t do much good!
However, you can train your inner guard dog, stroke your guard dog, and nourish your guard dog, so that instead of barking or cowering in the shed, it can play with the kids and only bark in the middle of the night if it needs too. When we’re in ‘guard dog’ mode, we get stuck in the quick, primitive reflexes that are underneath our cognitive abilities – we can’t think clearly. When this happens, we need to help our physiology shift out of its stuck, protective reflexes first. Or in other words…
5 Interrupt the freeze, flood and dissociation patterns as soon as you can
When you’re working to heal trauma, it’s important to learn to interrupt freezing, flooding and dissociation as quickly as you can. Put the brakes on early and give your system time to settle and integrate.
This is one of the reasons I love working with TRE (Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises) – we can go gently, and be on the look out for the signs of overwhelm (I go into each one below), so that we can go at a pace that will support self-regulation.
6 If you’re freezing, take a break and self-regulate
Freezing is a form of immobilisation. It’s one of the last ditch strategies we have in the face of overwhelming threat. It’s the sense of a loss of relationship to the body, where endorphins flood the spinal cord, and there is a ‘cutting off’ from feeling.
In a freeze response, your body might go very stiff, (especially in the hands and feet) or conversely they can go very flacid – either way there’s an altered sense of the body. You might feel cold or tingling or numb. Often the perception of your body shape changes, such as very small, far away feet, or big hands, or your belly disappears.
If this happens, it’s important to take a break from whatever trauma healing work you’re doing. Self-regulate and ground yourself and try again another day.
7 Dissociation can sometimes be confused with expanded spiritual experiences
Dissociation is often used solely to describe the conscious element of the immobilisation response. In fact, ‘freezing’ and ‘dissociation’ describe the same neurology – going really, really quiet and a sense of ‘playing dead’ is the survival strategy here. We collapse and shutdown if our threat detection systems sense an inescapable threat. So people might feel numb, or as though there’s a veil between them and the world.
The confusing part about dissociation is that it can often feel a little dreamy, and it often feels like quite a pleasant place. Sometimes it can feel terrifying, but it can also be quite floaty, which is one of the reasons why people sometimes confuse it with expanded spiritual experiences.
8 If everything is moving too quickly – you may be flooded
If you notice that everything is starting to move too quickly – it’s associated with the ‘fight-or-flight’, mobilisation response. Strong emotions, sensations, feelings or thoughts arise in quick succession. In flooding they are too overwhelming to be integrated into the present moment. You might be thinking really quickly, or have the urge to talk really quickly. Your emotions might feel out of control, or you might begin to have really fast, difficult breathing patterns.
Whenever things feel like they’re beginning to get out of control, it’s important to stop the exercises, and to take back control of the situation. Encourage yourself to slow down. Over a number of sessions learn to understand your difficult edges. Try to become more aware of the times when you start to go too quickly, because that’s when you need to stop.
9 Practice therapeutic tremors
In TRE, we actively cultivate therapeutic tremors to resolve trauma. Most people think that shaking is a bad thing. However, when we bring a quality of curiosity and playfulness, we realise that tremors can actually be an enormous agent for change in the body.
Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) – a model developed by David Berceli, which emerged from the bio-energetics tradition, uses shaking as a novel stimulus to bring ease, connection and safety to a stuck organism.
We have these old reflexes inside us – if you put your body under a little bit of stress by standing on one leg, you’d wobble and shake, and that’s normal and natural. Shaking is a fundamental feature of how the nervous system controls muscles.
We have central pattern governors – oscillatory neurons in the spinal cord. What we do in TRE is to put those into a positive feedback loop. We get people shaking in safe, easy positions and the involuntary tremors move through the body, releasing tension and generating safe feelings of connection and ease which soothe the inner guard dog.
In my upcoming course, I’ll teach about TRE and how to get practice therapeutic tremors in a safe way.
Lastly, the most important thing to remember….
10 We all have the innate ability to overcome trauma
We’re all hardwired to respond to overwhelming experiences in the same way. We contract away from danger, we run, jump, fight or shutdown. The good news is that we have evolved to respond quickly to trauma and have the innate ability to process and overcome trauma. We would not have survived as a species if this were not the case. Connecting to the body is essential to support safe, contained processing of traumatic experiences.
Please join me for a free introduction to working with therapeutic tremors to heal trauma:
Discover the Healing Power of Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®):
Awaken Powerful Primitive Somatic Reflexes with TRE to Shake Free of Trauma & Find Safety, Freedom & Joy.
Free online event with Steve Haines
Saturday 11th March, 1pm New York / 6pm London
You can register for free here.
This is a free promotional event for my upcoming 7-week online course, Shake Free of Trauma With TRE® which starts on March 28th.