One of the most significant consequences of relational and shock trauma is a sense of disconnection from ourselves and others that comes from an impaired capacity for emotional and physiological self-regulation. Our ability to be present to strong emotions without feeling overwhelmed is directly linked to how we were met in early life by our primary carers. Equally, our capacity for regulation of such physiological functions as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, sleep etc. can be compromised when we have been subjected to difficult life circumstances from an early age. Such dysregulation is what makes us perceive the world as unsafe, both inside and outside ourselves.
The need to feel regulated, at ease in our body and our life, is so important that when we are overwhelmed by emotions or out of control physical sensations (think high levels of anxiety or panic) we seek the regulation that we need, often at any cost. Adaptive, yet in the long run self-destructive behaviours such as addiction to substances and behaviours, are all attempts at eliciting the inner regulation that is lacking. As a consequence we can feel alienated from our own bodies and from the people around us; we feel alone and dead inside, even when we go through life as if all was well.
It is through supporting healthy ways of regulating the nervous system using somatic awareness that we can increase our resilience, therefore bringing back a sense of belonging. I cannot stress enough how important it is to focus our attention onto what Peter Levine calls the felt sense because it allows us to bypass what is the naturally hard wired "negative bias" of our brain and the fixated narratives we know so well. You have probably noticed that in our sessions together I often invite you back to feeling into your bodies even when, to begin with, we have to spend some time recognising that there are indeed sensations inside of us and that we can begin to feel safe experiencing them.
In this TedX talk by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, he explains very clearly how powerful this way of working is. When we are somatically present to a positive experience, we can bring it to life turning it into a trait of our personality, hardwired in our brain. Please, have a look at the video, several times if necessary, and begin paying attention to those experiences that give you a sense of being loved, cared for, joyful, worthy of attention and more. Do let me know what you think of it.
One last thought. Our sense of reality is not constructed in a vacuum. It is a conversation between our lived experience and the signals we get from others. This is the process through which, as babies and then children, we all begin to make sense of both the inner and outer worlds by comparing our felt senses with the reactions of those around us. This way we also learn what’s safe and not safe. It is when we feel received, held, seen and heard by an attuned other that we can begin to feel dafe with what we hold inside. It is in a safe connection with a regulated other that we can access our self-regulating mechanisms...when we feel connected, we feel alive.
'Humans carry with them an intrinsic and inalienable place of inner knowing that some call the “true self." A place that, no matter how deeply buried, can always be returned to' (Anna Holtzman)