Lessons From Somatic Experiencing® (SE), “a body-awareness approach to healing trauma”1
Here are some tips, drawing largely from SE, that many are finding useful, as they respond to last week’s tornado. SE is being used in communities around the world, who have experienced natural disasters such as tornados, hurricanes and tsunamis, fires, etc. It is fast becoming one of the methods of choice for working with all categories of trauma (big ‘T’ and little ‘t’ trauma).
1. Where possible, stabilize your surroundings and get out of harm’s way.
First thing’s first, make sure you are out of harm’s way. Check in with loved ones, to see that they’re okay. If possible, work with others to stabilize the surroundings so further harm can be avoided.
2. Explore the new landscape as a way to re-orient to what’s new and what’s next.
This process of re-orienting is an important way to ‘take in’ what’s happened. Take your time. In so doing, you will be more likely to act with clarity, purpose and direction as the days unfold.
3. Engage in community efforts to reorganize and heal.
Human beings are genetically wired to reach for community after a natural disaster. Let biology support your process of recovery and get involved in any local efforts towards reconstruction and recovery.
4. Trust your body’s response to the event.
Trauma occurs in the nervous system, not in the event. Like all animals, our bodies have instinctual responses to emergencies that we call fight, flight or freeze. These responses are initiated automatically, like software programs that run in the ‘hardware’ of our nervous systems. When there is no longer an emergency, this intense survival energy needs to dissipate. Social conditioning tends to disallow this process and trauma symptoms may arise as a result.
A likely key to avoiding symptoms of trauma, lies in learning how our instinctual animal bodies naturally respond to emergencies and allowing these processes to unfold and resolve.
SE was developed by asking the question, “Why are animals in the wild, though threatened routinely, rarely traumatized? By understanding the dynamic that make wild animals virtually immune to traumatic symptoms, the mystery of human trauma is revealed.”2
5. Make choices that are calming for your nerves.
And slow everything down. The process of integrating a shocking, or traumatic event takes time. So while you may think you are ready to move as quickly as you did prior to the event, your nervous system actually needs lots of time doing very little, in order to process what happened.
When possible, choose friends and activities that you find soothing. Slow, deep breathing may help alleviate anxiety. Laughter can do the same. Things that bring you a sense of peace or joy may help to stabilize your nerves in a way that helps the process of recovery.
6. Give yourself a break from viewing images of the event.
Watching repeated images of the disaster/traumatic event in the media could deepen your experience of the event and its impact. Give yourself a break.
7. Find ways to tell, or creatively express your story.
Finding ways to tell your story to a compassionate audience may be important. It’s also a good way for communities to begin the process of knitting back together after the devastation of a natural disaster. It may be a doorway for deepening an existing relationship, restoring or sparking a new one. If you don’t have ready access to people, write your story down, or express it artistically with clay, paint, markers or some other expressive medium.
8. When strong emotions are evoked, find social connections that are soothing.
Encountering the full power of nature can be an extremely humbling experience, leaving you feeling small and insignificant in the world. It can cause you to re-evaluate core belief systems and the very structure of your life. Primal emotions such as terror and rage are natural responses. Finding someone to talk to who is compassionate and trustworthy, can be helpful.
9. If you have spiritual beliefs, now is a good time to reconnect with and practice them.
Extraordinary acts of nature can shake our trust in the world. Feeling betrayed by the ‘powers that be’ (whatever your word for it) is a common response. This could be a good time to connect with your spiritual community, mentors, practices and beliefs.
10. Sometime, asking for help is the right thing to do.
As if the tornado isn’t enough to deal with. A fresh, newly traumatic experience has a way of bringing forward old, unresolved wounds. Should you choose, it could be an opportunity to heal. Working with the most recent event therapeutically can help to build the exact skills and awareness necessary for successfully healing more difficult traumas of the past. Finding someone to talk to can help.
1 Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, http://www.traumahealing.com
2. Peter Levine, “Healing the Tiger”, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA, 1997.