“There is no greater power on earth than an idea whose time has come.”
— Victor Hugo
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is an approach developed by Peter Levine: it is geared towards trauma resolution. When an event has kicked us massively by surprise, the body and the psyche can’t integrate it. When we gear up to deal with the event but can’t fight or flee the threat, we freeze into immobility. The survival energy mobilized for the response to the threat has nowhere to go because we did not complete our fight or flight options. Then symptoms set in. It is as if we had one foot on the gas pedal, and one on the brakes at the same time! SE aims at discharging this frozen energy that is stuck in the nervous system, complete the fight/flight scenario and restore balance and self-regulation, aliveness and wholeness. This approach is centered on body awareness.
When it comes to trauma, what distinguishes us from animals is our incapacity to shake off very high levels of energy arousal. When the chased animal has successfully fooled or escaped the predator and has reintegrated its “clan”, it has the opportunity to shake and tremble to discharge the excess energy in a very natural way. Animals in the wild are routinely threatened, but seldom traumatized. They have the capacity to return to normal even after highly charged life-threatening experiences. Traumatized human beings have lost access to the capacity to use these regulatory mechanisms. Partly, because it means to let go of our control and surrender to the sometimes uncomfortable sensations. By being unable to let go of our cognitive process (our heads) and to surrender to these sensations, we think we remain in control and try to move on. But control is elusive. Our rational minds try to make sense of the events and attempt to override the natural completion process. When this happens, we get stuck in survival mode, even though the threat disappeared (a minute ago, an hour ago, a month ago, ten years ago).
“If trauma is to be transformed, we must learn not to confront it directly. If we make the mistake of confronting trauma head on, then Medusa will, true to her nature, turn us to stone.”
— Peter Levine *
Somatic Experiencing allows us to return to our wild selves to renegotiate the fight/flight options we did not get to use. It restores mobility (as opposed to the immobility of the freeze). It gives us the tools to re-knit the missing gaps of our lives and to discharge excess frozen energies. It helps us get familiar with our own body sensations: a must for this renegotiation that can succeed where talk therapy fails. SE gives us the opportunity to build a vast container to hold them. It is a gentle approach that is not re-traumatizing.
Somatic Experiencing is in constant evolution. My continuing education involves workshops centered on touch and other areas of my own interest like Pre and Perinatal trauma, Anesthesia States and Near Death Experience.
I have observed that trauma and attachment hold hands. It is not unusual to have to build a good base with a client who has suffered attachment wounding before trauma work can start. We call this ego strength in some modalities. In SE, we talk about building a container to expand the capacity to meet sensations. At one point, we work on both, side by side.
Please visit traumahealing.com to get more information about Peter Levine’s work and his original book Waking the Tiger. More of Peter Levine’s publications can also be found on the website.
* – Copyright 2010 Peter A. Levine, PhD. Used with Permission.