After a trauma, whether physical or mental, sexual or emotional, its very hard to feel safe again, even in our own skin. However leading neuroanatomists in Russia and USA have found that the right tools can speed healing and reduce symptoms for even the most traumatised of people.
And one of the most important tools is the body itself; therapeutic change can happen through the body for mind, body and spirit.
Modern medicine; both physical and mental, tend to treat each as separate from each other, cut off from and isolated from the other. We know from cutting edge new research and ancient wisdom practices that this is not true at all.
We have four brains that each serve a very different function, however they all connect, interact with and impact on each other.
- Reptillian Brain
- Limbic or Emotional Brain
- Cerebral Cortex
- Gut and body brain
And your body is critical in the treatment of the whole person, your body gives signals to guide action in therapy and recovery.
What the experience of trauma does is steal the sense of safety from a person. The first step of healing is to put that sense of safety back in place.
It’s not enough for you to feel safe in your therapist’s office, or in a place where others support you, you will naturally feel safer in such places.
The first key to recovery is to regain the resources that enable you to feel safe wherever you are, even when you’re on your own.
When you only feel safe in a particular place or with a particular person, in a specific set of circumstances, and then leave that situation or person and start feeling terrified, helpless, horrible, then you also judge yourself.
You add shame to the awful mix of emotions you’re already experiencing, as you become dependent on your particular support crutch. Making your life experience worse and adding more emotional pain on top of your trauma.
What we need to learn to do is self soothe, to not be reliant on any set of external circumstances.
It is important to first get a sense of safety, a feeling that you are being taken care of and supported,when you are alone as much as when you are with others.
When trauma happens, it separates you from your previous reality, you are a different person than the one you were before the trauma occurred. Its important to realise that this is not necessarily a bad thing, its all in how you process the event.
With every trauma, gain an understanding of its beginning, middle and end.
- The trauma – the separation from your old self is the beginning
- The middle – this is where you will find allies, mentors and enemies within your own body and mind. Depression and giving up occur at this stage.
- The end – the transformation into someone new; a deepening of emotions, a finding of the benefits. At the end you will hold a different meaning of the trauma.
In the middle, trauma keeps repeating as we relive it through our current events. Thoughts and feelings about the past traumatic event cause fear even when not necessary in our current reality. The past creates fear even when danger is long past and we continue to feel fresh fear from that past event, and we retraumatise ourselves.
One very simple, very effective way to feel safe in our bodies is what Peter Levine has called The Trauma Hug.
First start to get a sense of your aliveness, of being in your body.Do this by placing one hand on your forehead and one on your upper chest. Attend to your feeling of aliveness, notice what being alive means to your body. Feel your breath as it flows in and out, listen to the air as it moves in and out of your body. Be present to this moment and to you’re being here now. Being present is empowering, its a blessing because life is precious and its a holy thing to be alive.
Feel what goes on between your hands, one of your forehead, one on your chest – the energy flow, changes in temperature, the sameness, the differences.
Now take your hand from your forehead and out it on your belly. Sit with this until you feel a shift in energy again, until you feel flow between your hands.
Take your right hand and put it under your left arm, near your heart. Place your left hand on the opposite shoulder.
As you hold yourself, become aware of the body as your container. Bring your awareness to your container, your body, your shoulders, your thorax, all of your physical being.
The body is the container of all our sensations, all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts. Nothing is bigger than you because it is all contained within your physical limits.
All of the tumult, all of the chaos, it’s all held within your body.
The trauma feelings, the anxiety, the sense of overwhelm all lessen as you become aware they are being held within you, they are not a force outside of you that’s sweeping you up in a whirling storm.
Most people report an immediate settling of their anxiety as they become aware of their container.
I think the act of hugging yourself is soothing and comforting in itself, but awareness of the container for all of you when in trauma helps you gain your sense of safety back. Any time I use this technique, I find myself getting calmer and finding more control over my thoughts and feelings, and it generates a sense of well-being.
Try it and let me know what you experience from your trauma hug.