- Learn to identify states of threat (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) and experience more safety (stillness, play, social engagement).
- With support and containment, discharge activation and unlock bound survival energy.
- Disrupt long-term habits of hypervigilance, or constant threat detection, and hypovigilance, or dissociation into thoughts and fantasies.
- Shift unwanted behaviors like substance use, unhealthy eating, hypersexuality, perfectionism, people pleasing, and avoidance, that are used to manage state but are costly in the long run.
- Widen your window of tolerance, or ability to be with, difficult sensations and emotions.
- Discover your bodies natural ability to pendulate, or move through activation and deactivation.
- Reduce social and performance anxiety by retraining your body to detect cues of safety and to relax into emotional connection with others.
- Learn to identify and diminish shame, collapse, dissociation, and spiraling.
- Repair collapsed boundaries and develop a positive sense of self and belonging that is worth protecting.
- Uncouple fused emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that fire automatically in response to perceived threats that are no longer dangerous.
- Gain awareness of when you are reacting automatically from a place of threat versus responding with options from a place of safety.
- Move from disconnection and disregulation to feeling at home in your body and around others.
- Mobilize your full authentic vitality toward your soul’s purpose.
- Start a virtuous cycle of improvements.
- Be seen and heard
- Reorient to pleasure, joy, fun, awe, and play.
Somatic Coaching Helps With
Well this journey is about getting to healthy regulation, where we no longer identify with our symptoms but have a sense of our own unique and authentic identity. This frees up the energy we are spending on defensive and conflicting patterns and puts us in tune with our environment and others.
Here is a brief visual summary of somatic psychology. It represents my own distillation, drawing on the work of Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Deb Dana, Dan Siegel, Gabor Mate, and Judith Herman.
Your nervous system is always taking in how safe you are in an unconscious process known as neuroception. Safety is the primary survival imperative. Whether we know it or not, we develop thoughts, feelings and narratives that are based on how safe we feel. Story follows state.
Every environment, object, person, etc. carries a valence, however subtle, that causes us to feel either attracted (to safety) or repelled (by threat). This is our felt sense of intuition. Our intuition becomes stronger as we practice tuning in to it.
The word emotions comes from the Latin movere, which means to move. This captures what emotions are fundamentally for. They override our cognitive processes when information from the environment calls out to us to move or act in some way. The most important information is always how safe we are.
In order do deal with a dangerous and shifting world, our nervous system evolved three primary survival systems, the Dosal Vagal Complex (DVC), which allows us to freeze, play dead, and conserve energy, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which allows us to fight or dart away, and the Ventral Vagal Complex (VVC) which allows us to rapidly communicate safety between group members.
The footprint of these three survival systems is important as all of our emotional states originate in bodily organs and are only later interpreted by the brain. It turns out that folk sayings such as “gut feelings,” “heart connection,” “comfort food,” “moral disgust,” and “feeling sick about a decision” are more than just metaphors. Evolution opted for a distributed model where our emotions are originated in the nerve circuitry around the organs before being passed to the limbic system of the brain.
We have an impressive bundle of nerves around the digestive organs, known as the enteric nervous system, or second brain, that has the same number of neurons as an entire cat’s brain. 90% of the body’s serotonin is found in this second brain. The vagus nerve that links this enteric nervous system with the brain communicates 90% from body to brain. In other words, this ain’t no satellite office.
Add simple pendulation chart
Somatic Experiencing uses a river of life metaphor to describe the flow of experience. The inner turbulence of a river is always caused by the environment through which it flows. Cliffs and boulders will produce rapids which only become smooth when the river enters level ground. Similarly, challenging emotional states relate to challenging life events that have not yet been resolved.
An overwhelming shock or threat to our safety acts to split off part of our consciousness and memory from our own awareness, like a boulder that diverts water away from the main flow of a river. Our mind does this in order to react quickly and decisively to ensure survival, assuming that the fragmented information can be reprocessed, understood and integrated when we have returned to safety. Integration can only take place within a safe relational container, or a secure attachment, until we have internalized the sense of safety provided by a reliable caretaker. If this safe container does not exist we will use defenses, avoidances, and distractions to keep the threatening material from entering consciousness.
The split off consciousness is known as the trauma vortex. This vortex is triggered, or activated, whenever we perceive a feature related to the initial threat that overwhelmed us. In such case, we are quickly drawn back into the trauma vortex and experience similar body states of fight, flight, and freeze that were originally experienced. Without sufficient containment such as provided in good therapy, this triggering can lead to retraumatization and a strengthening of the the trauma vortex. The trauma vortex represents the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for mobilization through fight or flight, as well as the older dorsal vagal complex (DVC) of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for freeze, often described as “shut down” or “playing dead.”
Thankfully, in the river of life metaphor, there is a counterbalancing force that draws water, or unconscious material, back toward the river of conscious awareness, which is known as the healing vortex or counter vortex. The healing vortex generally represents the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest, digestion, healing, and social engagement.This vortex is experienced as calm, pleasure, vitality, “dropping in,” or “coming home” although at first it may be felt as just slightly less discomfort than usual. As you experience greater safety, you gradually gain more access to this state, which becomes an internalized home base that you can return to.
Add pendulation over time chart
As, we free our nervous systems of traumatic patterning, we return to life and start to naturally seek out social engagement. Others can also receive us more easily, as we are less armored and therefore less threatening to them.
As one begins to tune into activation and cues of safety, group dynamics become more apparent.
Focus on Trauma Superpower —> to becoming a Super Co-regulator (ultimate mammalian goal)
Chasing excitement replaced with cultivation.
Cartoon cloud fight. Disentangling and bringing loving awareness to each thread.
- Increased ability to be present with difficult experiences.
- Increased ability to respond differently.
- Improvement in boundaries.
- Decrease in shame, collapse, dissociation, spiraling.
- Wider emotional range.
- Decrease in self harming behaviors.
- Decrease in panic, rage, avoidance.
- Increased ability and desire to be in relationship.
One last message I’ve found very helpful for my own journey. Commit to a healing process that works for you and stick with it.
I am not a licensed psychotherapist and Somatic Coaching is not psychotherapy. Separate to my coaching practice, I am a Marriage and Family Therapist Trainee at the Maple Counseling Center under the supervision of Chris Meyer, PhD, Licensed Psychologist #19485.