Written by Carla Alpert
Some time ago I read about Somatic Experiencing in a Chris Kresser email and it caught my eye. The topic was about possible missing links to patients that don’t get well even though they are doing everything right around nutrition and lifestyle. With this in mind, he suggested there might be an underlying emotional component possibly trapped in the body that needed to be addressed, and Somatic Experiencing (SE) was one of the modalities he listed.
I have personally felt like I have had a missing link in my own healing, for a very long time and I’ve also often referenced feeling like something is trapped in me that I can’t put words too. So with a lot of curiosity, I began to research. Like most of you, I had no idea what Somatic Experiencing was, but with the help of what I call the “google gods” I landed on an SE site and learned about the founding father, Peter Levine. It was then that the following statement reeled me in.
. . . trauma has to do with the third survival response to a perceived life threat, which is “freeze”. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat. The Somatic Experiencing® method works to release this stored energy, and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation.
Hmmm . . .
As a Functional Medicine Health Coach I already knew a lot about how the stress response works. Stress is anything internally or externally you perceive as a threat. When you believe you’re in danger your body activates a fight or flight response to protect you, and then eventually goes back to it’s parasympathetic (rest and digest) state when the threat disappears. But chronic stress can cause a cascade of health issues from remaining in a sympathetic state (fight or flight). Being in this state over time changes the balance of your hormones, which can activate a host of issues like thyroid and adrenal dysfunction, digestion problems, sleep disturbances, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, pain and more.
Knowing all of this, I still hadn’t heard about the freeze response before and I certainly never associated trauma with anything other than an overwhelming life event like a car accident, act of violence, war, death, or long-term abuse. So I dove in full speed ahead to learn as much as I could. If I had the opportunity to help my clients and also find my own missing link, I was ready to give it a try.
I began reading Peter Levine’s book called Waking the Tiger. I found myself immersed in this book as I learned so much more about the many faces of trauma. Aside from shock trauma, there are lesser known traumas that can also cause a cascade of dysfunction and stuck energy. Early childhood trauma which can actually begin in the womb or include a difficult birth, also stems from neglect of a parent, or feeling unsafe because of constant fighting or divorce. The ACE test lists some of the adverse childhood experiences associated with early childhood trauma. Staying in the freeze mode or “playing dead” leaves a wake of suppressed energy stuck in your cells keeping that energy frozen or trapped. This in turn can be a contributing factor to physical symptoms like pain, anxiety, panic attacks, adrenal issues, gut issues, and autoimmune disease.
Doing Somatic Experiencing can help you heal and live more freely in your body and mind. The therapy works from the bottom up and not the top down. In SE, the therapist works with the client to unravel the energy in the body. So they focus on what the body is “telling you”. This happens by exploring physical sensations as they appear while your therapist guides you. During this experience it’s possible to have visualizations, memories, imaginative imagery, changes in body temperature, flushing and even light tremors or twitching as your body begins to unravel and discharge the stored trauma. Over time your reactions shift and the energy discharges leaving you feeling freer and expansive, instead of constricted.
My own experience with SE has been quite a journey. I honestly went in thinking I’d explore 1 or 2 sessions and would be something resembling bodywork like Reiki (before I learned enough to know otherwise). I certainly didn’t resonate consciously with any personal trauma and I ACTUALLY thought a Reiki-like experience was how the trapped energy was released! All this said, I still wanted to give it a try.
I’m happy to report 6 months into it, I’ve been introduced to a new side of myself—a side that reacts and lives based on what I FEEL, rather than what I THINK I SHOULD say or do. I’ve learned to put myself first rather than the needs of others and I don’t feel selfish saying that. It isn’t always easy, but learning to choose myself first is very freeing gift.
The SE experience has been a deep one, since “discharging” trapped energy can present some unfamiliar emotions or reactions at first. For me, anger was something I didn’t really know how to express or even knew lived inside me, but now I have new tools to recognize it and let it run its course. Over time, the freedom you can experience moving away from old patterns is well worth some of the discomfort it takes to get there.
So was this MY missing link? Yes, I believe a big part of it. Am I 100% healed? Well, healing to me is living with the awareness that to be human is to experience many varied emotions, periods of physical challenge as well as self-growth, throughout our life, so I believe many more layers will unravel as long as I’m breathing. But I can say that this SE experience is one that has now become part of my toolbox as I continue doing my best to be free in my body and mind to live an “awake” life.
The more I have learned about trauma, I don’t think anyone gets to escape it. I would absolutely suggest giving it a try if you think SE could help you to unravel some of the deeper layers of being human and free you up to live your healthiest and best life too.
For more information and resources on SE check out the links below: