A really strange thing happened a few years ago when my husband gave me a playful challenge — and it’s what piqued my interest in somatic experiencing.
“Race you back home,” my husband said …. and he set off running.
I share what happened next in my latest book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace. Here’s a passage:
I really wasn’t in the mood to race, but hungry from our walk and eager to get home, I agreed. So I started off to run. But for some reason I couldn’t. As I tried to accelerate, my legs turned to lead. I was unable to move any faster than a brisk walking pace. Laughing it off, I stood there watching my husband run up the hill, but deep down I was concerned.
My Introduction to Somatic Experiencing
I shared this experience with my friend Elisa, who was trained in a body-based therapy known as Somatic Experiencing, or SE. (Somatic means “of or relating to the body.”) I intuitively knew she could help me understand what was going on. When I shared the story of how I couldn’t run, she nodded with acknowledgement as if it was totally normal.
She helped me understand that my body was revealing an old trauma response of immobility. She explained that during the childhood traumatic experience I was likely unable to complete the physical movement that my body naturally wanted to do at the time, namely run the hell out of there. Instead I froze. Freezing was my brain’s way of protecting me from experiencing the enormity of the event and my inability to fight or flee. The freeze occurs when our brains secrete chemicals that numb any physical and psychological pain from a traumatic event. My inability to complete my body’s natural response could lead either to dissociation or to psychosis, which could have threatened my sanity. So the biological response of dissociation, and freezing, helped me survive.
I felt great relief hearing Elisa’s explanation of my experience and became inspired to take the next step on my healing path: to thaw my frozen state and free my body from the trauma. I would do that with the support of SE therapy. —Happy Days, Chapter 8, page 159
Meet the “Spiritual Explainer” of Somatic Experiencing
I’m deeply grateful for the gifts that SE has given me, and I wanted to open you up to this healing resource. So—in true Gabby fashion—I got to work!
I called up Dave Berger, a leader in somatic experiencing. I asked him to come on the Dear Gabby podcast to demystify the practice for you. Dave was warned: I had a million questions for him—and I wanted answers anyone can understand …
… Even people who have never heard of SE!
I’m SO glad he agreed!
Get ready. You’re going to get the most beautiful crash course in somatic experiencing today. Dave’s capacity to dive to the heart of this practice in a straightforward, compassionate way really blew me away. (He calls himself “the spiritual explainer” of SE, so I KNEW he’d be right for my audience!)
This Week’s Dear Gabby is MAJOR!
Dave created such a safe and supportive learning environment. You’ll be able to feel this beautiful vibe in our virtual classroom on Dear Gabby today!
Here are just some of the things you’ll learn :
- The surprising link between unresolved trauma and physical health (this knowledge was instrumental in healing my chronic pain)
- Signs that you might have PTSD, even if you haven’t realized it before
- Why an involuntary yawn might signal something important about your emotional state
- How to use physical movement to heal shame (this blew me away!)
- One simple thing you can do daily to calm your nervous system in seconds (you can use this at the supermarket, in therapy or at home)
And Dave and I didn’t just talk about SE …
We practiced it …
With me as the patient.
>>>>Eeeeek! This was surprisingly vulnerable.
I have to admit: Doing this live demo brought up more emotions than I thought it would. This is a deeply intimate moment in the show—but it’s also a gorgeous one. And I’m proud to say that this live demo really gives a taste of what somatic experiencing can do.
A Beautiful Heart-Opening
So many feelings came up as Dave and I worked through my chronic jaw pain. But at the end of the mini session, what I was most deeply aware of was this:
My heart had opened SO wide.
My heart was open to Dave because of his calming, gentle and personable nature. And beyond that, my heart was wide open to you, my Dear Gabby listeners … as it always has been, and always will be.
I’m thrilled that you’re here and willing to learn about this beautiful healing practice. If you feel called to try it, I pray that somatic experiencing cracks you open to a new way of being, just as it did for me.
A Bridge Back to Presence
Getting out of my head and back into my body through SE practices was a way of releasing the stuck energy that had held me back from receiving inspiration, presence and a greater connection to the energy of the Universe.
For me, SE and other body-based practices have been a bridge back to presence.
There were times in my life when I was so anxious, my body was always in fight, flight or freeze mode. I felt like there was a live wire of energy running through my system at all times.
Now I wake up every single day without anxiety.
I know what it means to feel unsafe in your body or to think that relief is far away. But I promise you this: Resolution is within your reach. And I hope this episode of Dear Gabby brings you one step closer to it.
For more on mind-body healing, check out this video:
Get More Gabby
The following are helpful resources and books I mention in the episode:
Meditation is a powerful way to calm your thoughts and your body. I’d love to send you two of my favorite meditations for free. Sign up here to have them delivered to your inbox.
In my new book, Happy Days: The Guided Path from Trauma to Profound Freedom and Inner Peace, I share the 9 spiritual and therapeutic tools that helped me survive and thrive after trauma. In Chapter 8, “Freeing What’s Frozen,” I dive into my experience with SE.
Dave Berger is a somatic psychotherapist, physical therapist and bodyworker. You can learn more about him and his diverse array of practices here.
In this episode of the podcast, I reference a video of Peter Levine, PhD, working with a war veteran to resolve a trauma-induced tic. If you’d like to watch the video, you can do so here.
To learn more about somatic experiencing, and to find a list of practitioners, visit TraumaHealing.org.
You can find additional information about somatic experiencing at SomaticExperiencing.com.
To find more support, including a trauma therapist near you, please visit this list of safety, recovery and mental health resources. I’m proud of you for being here.
Want even more support? I created the Miracle Membership to help you design a spiritual practice you can stick to—so you can feel connected, supported and inspired every day. Each week I deliver brand new workshops, guided meditations, spiritual exercises, community connection and so much more. Plus, it’s easy to access on your phone, computer or tablet. Click here to join.
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
Hi there, Gabby here, this podcast is intended to educate, inspire, and support you on your personal journey toward inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor a...
The following podcast is a Dear Media production.
Hi there, Gabby here, this podcast is intended to educate, inspire, and support you on your personal journey toward inner peace. I’m not a psychologist or a medical doctor and do not offer any professional health or medical advice. If you are suffering from a psychological or medical condition, please seek help from a qualified health professional.
Have you ever wondered why you have the same issue in relationships over and over and over again? Whether it be romantic relationships or work relationships, but like you keep showing up and it’s the same guy or it’s the same boss or it’s the same situation with a friend? Well, we have these really kind of funky relationship patterns and they stem from our childhood and they really stem from what is known as our attachment styles.
As children, whatever home we’ve been brought up in, good or bad, seemingly good. We establish an attachment bond to our parents and that attachment bond creates the type of attachment style that we will experience in all of our relationships into adult life.
So here’s the really cool news. You don’t have to be the victim of your attachment style. You don’t have to stay in the same patterns over and over. You can change your relationships with some very empowering knowledge, and that knowledge comes when you understand your attachment style.
So I created a two-minute free quiz for you to find out what your attachment style is. So you can just head over to deargabby.com/attachment to take the free two-minute quiz and learn what your style is. That’s deargabby.com/attachment.
And then this is the best part. I’ll deliver you your attachment results. And then I’m going to give you a full breakdown on how you can enhance your life so that your attachment style becomes an asset rather than a problem in your relationships. I literally give you the step-by-step guidance. You don’t want to miss this. Go to deargabby.com/attachment.
Hey there. Welcome to Dear Gabby. I’m your host Gabby Bernstein. And if you landed here, it is absolutely no accident. It means that you’re ready to feel good and manifest a life beyond your wildest dreams. Let’s get started.
Welcome back to Dear Gabby, my friends. Oh, we have such a cool show today on this show. I have such a cool opportunity to connect with people and I listen, I’m not that interested in connecting to like some celebrity or whatever. I mean, people are people. And what I want most is people who have profoundly touched and changed my life, because I know if their work has affected me, then it will absolutely benefit you.
And so today I’m introducing you to a mind-body therapy that has been extraordinary for me to establish a greater sense of presence in my physical being, in my life. To learn how to release trauma in my body, and has given me a new sense of physical and emotional freedom I never knew were possible. Because I was allowing myself to slowly follow the practices of somatic experiencing. Somatic experiencing otherwise known as SE is founded by an incredible man named Peter Levine.
And today I’m going to introduce you to one of the greatest practitioners of SE. his name is Dave Berger. He shares a beautiful overview of this practice and how it can help heal emotional wounds, regulate your nervous system and lower your stress. I just can’t emphasize enough how much this practice means to me.
And if you’re reading Happy Days, you’ve seen my introduction to SE and you’ve started to practice some of the somatic experiencing methods. And so this will be something that will really help you take this practice to the next level. So you’re going to get the most beautiful crash course in SE today. And Dave’s capacity to dive deep into the heart of this practice is so straightforward. And it’s just deeply compassionate.
And he just makes me feel so calm in his presence afterwards. I was like, Dave, can, can you be my therapist? He’s just so excellent. And I knew he would be so loving and soothing for your listening ears. And so in this episode, I mentioned Peter Levine, who is the developer of somatic experiencing and is the author of several best-selling books on trauma.
And Peter’s work has changed me on so many deep levels and has healed me and taught me and given me methods and tools that I can apply for myself, for my child. He is an amazing human angel. And I’m so grateful to have Dave on the show today to be a conduit through which his beautiful work is going to be expressed here on the show.
So if you’re really open to feeling more free in your body, feeling more present in the moment, noticing the world around you, feeling connected to everything within you and around you. Then this is a podcast you’re going to want to listen to. I talk about somatic experiencing in Happy Days if you want more and you can get your copy at deargabby.com/happy days.
Now enjoy the show and just allow yourself to relax knowing that there are beautiful practices that can help soothe you on such a deep level and practices that will change you forever. Let’s get started.
Hey Dear Gabby listeners. It’s time for a break. I want to thank you for tuning in each week to our show.
And I’m so grateful for you. So technically this is an ad break, but our partners at Calm want you to focus on yourself for a moment. Take a deep breath in and let it out. Relax your body, unclench your jaw and release any tension that might be coming up for you at this time. It’s so important for us to tune in and recenter.
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GABBY: Dave, I’m so happy that you’re here. It’s so wonderful to have the opportunity to ask you a million questions because I’m a huge fan of the work that you do. Peter Levine’s work, the work of somatic experiencing.
It is something that I believe many of my listeners may not be familiar with quite yet. So my intention for today’s show is to really allow you to be a great introduction for people to how somatic experiencing and our relationship to our body can be one of the greatest healing devices when we’re in recovery from trauma or any unresolved emotional disturbance.
And so I’m just, I’m really grateful that you’re here. I was also hoping maybe just, maybe we could do a little demo or some work with my TMJ. I really selfishly like these conversations to be, um, also by own private therapy sessions that are very not private at all. Extraordinarily public therapy sessions.
Now for the newcomer, what is SE in your words?
DAVE: Yeah, I’ll give you two little vignettes that describe why it’s hard to answer that question, but I will also answer that question.
GABBY: I’m the, um, you know, how they would call Bill Clinton like the chief explainer, right. I think I’m sort of like the chief spiritual explainer, so or, you know, therapeutic explainer. So I will do my best to translate for the crowd, for the audience, because it is hard to define these things. But first we’ll say it’s somatic experiencing is what we’re talking about, so go ahead.
DAVE: Yeah. And so I was at an open house at a counseling center once and, you know, they invited the community, referral sources, et cetera.
And one of the practitioners there came over to me with a glass of wine in her hand and it wasn’t the first glass of wine. And she said, so what is this somatic experiencing stuff? And I just simply said, it’s a way to help someone with PTSD rewire their brain.
GABBY: Great answer.
DAVE: And that worked. At the same party was a psychiatrist who basically was asking me the same thing and he has very different training.
He went to medical school, understands neurophysiology and anatomy and all these things and behavior. And so we got into a very different kind of conversation, but essentially saying the same thing. So, you know, in short form, what happens when we are under threat, when we’re under very high need situations, like I’ve got to run away from the car in front of me.
Or I’ve gotta push somebody off of me, if they’re sexually assaulting me or there’s been an earthquake, or I am confronted with antisemitism. And of course, that has a multi-generational history. My body goes into this survival strategy. Survival mode. I’m going to say something. I’m going to fight back. I’m going to run.
I’m going to do something to save myself, to protect myself, protect my young ones. Parent bear saves the cubs first. And so my body, my physiology, my, my brain needs to do something right now and that’s natural and we do it or we don’t, or we do it, but it’s insufficient or not complete. And we can tolerate or manage that for only so long before we begin to get exhausted or overcompensate long enough, our bodies begin to collapse.
We get exhausted. And so, we begin to shut down and we’re designed for that also. We’re designed to not feel because who wants to feel our bodies if it’s not going to feel okay? So there’s a whole biochemistry that goes with that neurophysiology, but ultimately that’s what it is. It’s our instinct, our need, our desire to survive and to thrive.
And when we can’t, we rely on the most basic levels of survival, which is shutting down and then we can gradually come out. But we’re not the same. We’re not thriving, we’re surviving. So we kind of get into behavioral patterns, relational dynamics that can do. It’s okay, but not really supportive or thriving.
So in SE, somatic experiencing what we’re helping people do is in a small finessed way, delicate way, re-experience, not the trauma, but touch into the health of somebody’s system. The balance where it is, where it exists, and then touch into a similarity of the physiology of the behavior of the relational dynamic that is in survival mode. Not thriving. Just touch it a little bit.
And when you said you have a million questions, I said, okay, well, we’ll do one at a time. That’s what I see is it’s a little bit at a time because that goes a really wrong way in helping shift the survival strategy, that survival energy toward easing up completing what couldn’t complete earlier, down-regulating is the fancy term we use for it.
So that we can really settle and ease up and come into the present. Really ultimately, that’s what it’s about coming into the present, being in our present operating system, instead of an old operating system, we work on updating it. And that’s what SC is about.
GABBY: I once read Peter Levine wrote that trauma is the inability to be present.
DAVE: It’s the inability to be present and it’s not a life sentence.
GABBY: Thank you. Thank you. And I can testify to that because through practices like SE and EMDR and IFS, and a lot of the spiritual practices I teach here, I am very comfortable in the present in a way that I never ever ever was before.
You know, I am a trauma survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and that I actually dissociated from for decades. I was 36 when I remembered and SE was one of the first methods that I was introduced to, for my own personal recovery journey. And it was something that I’ve come back to in many different ways and will continue to use it more and more in my own practice.
But I like how you’re referencing something that’s so important to the practice, which is this titrating in and out of the experience of what does feel safe in our body.
And then, allowing ourselves to slowly titrate in and out of these different experiences, what isn’t so comfortable and not have it be about the story, but about the physiological experience.
DAVE: Yeah. It’s the substrata of how we’re functioning is the physiological experience. Everything else on top of it is.
Which is really important, the relationships, the behaviors, and all, that’s the outer part. It’s the inner part that gets disrupted and imbalanced, and really that’s what we’re working for. And we have to do a little bit at a time. Otherwise people can get overwhelmed. when I was a kid, I’d get these Pez. Remember Pez, right?
And one tasted great, but you put two or three in your mouth and it’s not so good. And it’s the same with trauma healing. That’s a little bit goes a long way, and you’re working with somebody to come back into their body in the present. Well, that’s where they left. That’s what the association is. So you don’t want to enter somebody into their present moment body too quickly because it’ll rebound because the non-conscious works in very interesting ways.
And they’ll say, oh no, we’re not going to go there. We’re going to go there and make you not feel very good unless it’s drop by drop by drop.
GABBY: Right. And in my case, and this is for anyone who may have ever recalled a memory, I almost was, it was like the pressure cooker was lifted off the lid. You know, when you remember it was like, I went raw.
It was as if my full body went back into the memory, my emotional state, my, my conscious awareness was just like, I was so out of whack. And it was the SE that was really, it was like very clearly imperative to help get me back into my body and to do body work first to, to your point. Down-regulate because I was blown out almost, I think.
And I think that when people do that was inevitable, it was what God had in store for me. But when you touch into trauma too quickly or too fast, or you’re retraumatized because of something, this is a great first responder. SE is a great first responder.
DAVE: It’s a great first responder. It’s a great work over the long, long, haul. And it’s, isn’t it brilliant? Isn’t it really that we have this strategy to go to?
GABBY: It really is.
DAVE: It’s a brilliant strategy. And I want to de-pathologize that, it’s such an important strategy. The challenge is when we can’t come into the present and so operating from the old and then boom, something will happen. And that something, when looked at healthfully is an opportunity.
DAVE: And really, you know, the work that you do, it is an opportunity for spiritual transformation. That’s what trauma is that opportunity to be ushered in. You need to be ushered in and you can’t do it on your own to walk through that.
GABBY: And it’s, it’s a slow, steady process, but it’s, it is a spiritual process to go through a trauma recovery of any kind, because it’s a soul retrieval.
It’s the part of that part of us that left to dissociate. Was, it was a part of our spirit that just disconnected because we could not face that terror in that moment. But you know, the thing that I was really only aware of until after I remembered my trauma was that while I didn’t recall it, and it wasn’t a story in my brain, it was a story in my body for decades.
Gastrointestinal issues, TMJ, which is still lingering, you know, chronic neck pain, hip pain, sciatica. All of it was where the trauma lived until I could give voice to it and begin to heal. So that’s why we need these somatic practices.
DAVE: Yeah. We, we like to think it’s the mind and the body, but even that phrase, mind and body suggests that they’re different and they’re not, they’re different entry routes in perhaps. What is someone’s strength, right? And thought processes and physiological, but it’ll show up in all kinds of ways. And the longer the body is holding trauma experiences, the greater possibility of physical symptoms as well.
GABBY: Right. Let’s talk about that because sometimes someone has dissociated from a trauma or they’ve told themselves oh, that was when I was 10 it’s over now. And you know, or they’ve just never spoken of it and just pushed it down. Let’s talk about what happens to the body as a result of carrying that almost as if we’re reliving it on a moment-to-moment basis. Depending on, you know, how something activates us, what begins to happen to the body over time. I can speak to it personally, but I want to hear in your words.
DAVE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. In the eighties, late eighties, there was a Kaiser physician whose name I’m blanking on right now, who started looking at the relationship between early childhood trauma—adverse childhood experiences he called them.
And later medical syndromes, like cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, et cetera, and saw this almost one-to-one correlation. And so, when things are held, when the body is doing so much work, but we don’t realize it because that’s become the norm.
So we don’t realize it. It will affect every system of our body, often musculoskeletal first and eventually cardiovascular and pancreas, immune system, et cetera, et cetera. And that’s what will happen. And, if we’re lucky enough to find a practitioner or read a book or whatnot, that says you know, there may be a relationship between having been bullied at home bullied at school having had surgery at six years old and anesthesia or whatever and how you’ve navigated it bodily and emotionally we can, if someone points that out, then we have an opportunity to work with them.
Or it screams loud enough. That’s my definition of pain, physical pain, and emotional pain is it’s a call for attention. It’s a call for help.
GABBY: It’s a guide.
DAVE: It’s a guide. Exactly. But oftentimes what we do is we raise a fence around it instead of ease into it, with it so that the guide can guide us. We need a guide. We can’t do this work on our own.
GABBY: Yeah, exactly. It’s a guide to the guide.
DAVE: It’s a guide to the guide, very good, yeah.
GABBY: But you know, our body doesn’t lie. And our body is revealing to us everyday what’s happening on a subconscious level. What’s happening in a psychosomatic level and I’ve lived that and I can see it so clearly with what happened. What happened in, you know, in the gastrointestinal and my viscera, you know, just going through constant stress and the results of PTSD, which are, you know, hyper-vigilance and chronic pain as a result of that chronic stress.
Right? So just for someone who may or may not identify as having PTSD, what are some of the symptoms that they can look for? And then we’ll talk about how they can support themselves.
DAVE: It could be anxiety. It could be depression, or it can be nightmares. It can be chronic or even acute pain. It doesn’t have to be… acute pain that might not have a structural cause to it or ongoing or headaches or gastrointestinal, or finding yourself kind of very confused sometimes—out of the ordinary confused.
GABBY: Memory loss.
DAVE: Memory loss, feeling overwhelmed, all of these things, all of a sudden having daytime or nighttime flashbacks, nighttime, we call them nightmares, getting into the same sort of relational patterns over and over again, like you know it’s the fifth person, but it’s really the same marriage.
DAVE: And the behavioral looping that happens. Yeah. Yeah.
GABBY: Right. The reactivity that consistently comes up as kind of the ways that, that, that Dick Schwartz would consider this protector parts. The, you know, the protectors just keep coming back. And those parts of us that want to defend again. But what are we defending against? We’re defending against a feeling that we just don’t want to face.
DAVE: That’s right. That’s right. Because we know at some level, this is too much anguish, too agonizing for me to be ready right now. So I protect against it.
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If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen your fair share of snow this year. And often when it’s snowing, we don’t even think about our lawn. It’s usually covered in a layer of white. Well, my husband and I have been making some renovations on our home. And one major place we’ve been focusing on this year is our lawn because we’ve seen the lawn depending on the weather, either be completely brown or completely beautiful and lush and green.
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GABBY: In an SE session, the work is very slow. In terms of the physical… No, I don’t mean like the process is slow or the progress is slow, but because it could be very quick and the progress could be immediate if you have, you know, a miracle moment, but that process of the physicality and…
I was joking, but I’m not that I wanted to work on my TMJ for two reasons. You know, one to take advantage of your expertise right here and right now, and two to hopefully not, hopefully, find some relief a little bit today. And also because I want to allow my audience to see the practice in, in, and look, I’m pretty open with this crowd and I’m comfortable with what comes up.
So, but maybe we could just use a demo to express how this works.
GABBY: Yeah, we could do a little work for few minutes.
DAVE: Tell me a little bit about your TMJ and let me just say everybody has TMJ. That’s just the name of the joint, but you have TMJ pain dysfunction.
GABBY: Thank you for clarifying that. I just sort of walk around saying I have TMJ.
I can’t pronounce, I can’t totally pronounce what TMJ is, but let’s just call it like chronic tension in the jaw. And. And the clenching and at night, it’s the worst at night when I’m sleeping, it used to be bad during the day. Now it’s a lot better during the day.
DAVE: Yeah. So you’re just doing this motion with your hands when you’re talking about that. Come back to that.
And as you just bring your awareness to your TMJ, just slowly tighten your hands down and allow them to open again and allow them to open. There. There. And now rest your arms and notice what happens.
GABBY: My jaws dropped. I noticed my jaw just releasing when my hands would open.
DAVE: Yeah. And as your jaw releases, what happens down through the rest of your body?
GABBY: Shoulders dropped. My arms are at ease right now. I’ll speak in IFS language. I have a part that’s aware that that everyone’s watching or listening. So there was a little bit of that that came through. That’s not, not always helpful in these moments, but I definitely feel a weighted, a weight in my arms. Like a heaviness.
DAVE: An okay heaviness?
DAVE: And as you’re feeling all that, I notice your breathing has changed as well. It’s going down through your body more than it was a few minutes ago, as you, as you’re feeling these now, if you think about the clenching you usually have, is there a context for it? Is it as a kid or did you wear a braces or as an adult, or…
GABBY: I just got emotional. When you asked about it. I had a feeling of like, A feeling of like, ahhh! You know? Hm. Don’t go there.
DAVE: Uh-huh. Okay. And so don’t, right? There. And now notice what happens with that permission. You don’t have to go there.
GABBY: It’s a protection. This is a lot of protection.
DAVE: Uh-huh. Okay. So here’s some words to perhaps say out loud to everybody. It’s okay for me to protect myself.
GABBY: It’s okay for me to protect myself. That’s emotional too.
DAVE: Yeah there. Right? So that’s what I call very super subtle little physiological changes that are happening right now.
Right there. So if it was, you know, if we were doing typical talk therapy, right, what happened? When did it happen? Tell me more. It’s useful to get some context content, but we put that to the side and really working with your body experience. It’s holding it there. Right? So what’s happening right now?
GABBY: I mean, my breath is deepening. My jaw is not clenched. I feel a little bit of an impermissible feeling of grief, maybe in the background?
DAVE: Grief. Interesting. Okay. You can say it out loud. You don’t have to, is there a context for the grief?
GABBY: Just a sadness that I’ve been holding on for so long holding on tightly for so long.
DAVE: Yeah. That’s often what happens to this whole area of clenching the jaw. Often has to do or might have to do with… And in SE, we don’t interpret in this way, but it gives us some framework at our healthy aggression. Peter Levine would call it our vitality, our life force. We often have to bite it back. Those are lessons from young, right?
From little that over time, we interject, we take it in and we tell it. Often not consciously, we tell it to ourselves because it’s become part of our going through the world. Vitality, healthy vitality. I want another lollipop, daddy! Shut up. You can’t! Stop doing that! Because of that child, not the desire, not even the behavior, but about the child.
And so the child learns, hold back my life force. Hold back my vitality. Hold back my healthy aggression, because that’s what little children are bad, you know, I, I want to express! We’re taught not to. Right. So we bite it back.
GABBY: That’s very resonant for me. Yep.
DAVE: Okay. Yeah.
GABBY: For the listener, giving them clear breath, but yes, there’s also this visual I have of like times in my adult life when I would get really like when that healthy aggression or when aggression needed to come out. But my way of like holding it back would be, you know, clenching my fist and clenching my mouth, clenching my jaw.
DAVE: Right, right, right. And you can imagine, so people do that. And one of, you know, it’s easy to talk in terms of extremes rather than someone new. There are one of a couple of directions that people will go with that. One to eventually depressing all that energy life force. And every time it pushes up, back up, push it back down, we depress it. Depression. Another direction of that is rage and outbursts.
Yep. And that doesn’t go anywhere very useful. Right. So. So as you’re there right after then, if there are now coming to a relational dynamic with whomever, if, if I’m working with a couple or I’m working with an individual, oh, what is it you actually want to say to who, right? In the first place?
GABBY: Yeah, because for me it was definitely a pushing down. And then in my adult life, when it would come out, it would be outbursts.
GABBY: Tantrum, the tantrum that was pushed down. And it’s very resonant that there is something that needs that there’s many things that probably need to be said.
DAVE: Yeah. Yeah. And if you just think about them, what happens? Just think about saying them.
GABBY: I yawn.
DAVE: You yawn! Yeah. Which is such a nice job, such a nice breath exchange.
GABBY: I could also get tired when I start to go to titrate into some of the deeper emotional states.
DAVE: Yeah, which is a time when I might tell a client let’s just wiggle around some, right? Because that’s letting me know that is plenty.
That’s enough. We don’t want to do too much more.
GABBY: It’s like a form of dissociation and overwhelm. Is that? Yeah. So. Because you can almost like literally fall asleep. I’ve literally fallen asleep in session. Cause I was like done with you.
DAVE: You don’t want to push pain. You don’t want to fall asleep on the air, right?
GABBY: That’d be a little weird, but you know, true example, any, anything else that we would want to do in demo for this? Or, and then we can talk about it a bit.
DAVE: Well, you know, now it would be a point where if it was actually full-length time, I’d ask more about your history, right? This needs some, some framework, some context, some kind of relative degree of sequence of understanding where you’re coming from.
GABBY: What’s happening in the brain and in the body when you do the slow motion, the slow movement like we did with my hands?
DAVE: So, like when you’re doing that with your hands, it’s sort of an externalization of what’s going on internally. This contrast tightening, this tightening movement.
So I was facilitating the release part, but your eyes and through the nervous system perception, physical, physical feelings, the body, that area of your body, the jaw is picking it up as well. So it’s sort of mirroring what your hands are doing.
GABBY: It was, yeah. I felt that mirroring happening.
DAVE: And that’s sending signal into the brain and the signal is basically saying, you know, there’s another possibility here, different sensory information than I typically have. And if it’s done just right, then that new set of information is saying things don’t have to be as bad or challenging or discomforting as they have been.
There’s an, there’s another set of sensory information. So that goes into the brainstem and goes into the limbic system. The affect interpreter of sensations in the body says, oh, okay. Maybe things aren’t like what I think they are all the time. It doesn’t say them exactly that language, but that’s the thing.
And so then therefore the movement output that I need. It could be something different than what I usually do.
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GABBY: One of the things that I was able to release in my SE work was I had this sort of like tick, almost like it would come particularly at different times, you know, when things would, but I would, at times just almost, it was like as if my head was shaking, no, I would go like that.
You know? It was controllable. Like, I, I wouldn’t be like necessarily do it like on stage or something, you know, but if I was in just day-to-day life, I could just feel it, notice that, and that has gone away since my practice with SE.
DAVE: Yeah, I have Tourette syndrome and of course, it was much worse as a kid.
Never to the point where vocalizations and that sort of thing, but certainly ticks and twitches. The higher, the stress level, the greater the output, and it was with SE work that it really shifted. And the movement pattern became discernible as a context, really trying to get away from something that really changed my relationship with myself significantly and therefore with other people. If I’m under a high degree of stress response, it may show up a little bit, but generally it’s not there.
GABBY: What you said was interesting that I needed to hear was a movement pattern in direct response to what you, what you understood as trying to get away from something. For me, I could understand it as saying, almost saying no, like shaking my head, no, like that, and try and get away too, is a bit of the movement.
And so there’s the understanding of it. And then the working with it.
DAVE: That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. And we may hold some ideas or interpretation, so to speak about what the context might be, that result in these sort of behavioral patterns. And if they can come from a client or they make sense, not just cognitive, but somatic sense to a client that can really…
It shifts meaning. On YouTube, there are some videos of Peter working with a gentleman…
GABBY: With the vet, right? Yeah.
DAVE: And you’ll see this, you’ll see this in your listeners will see this.
GABBY: I’ll put the link in the show notes. It’s it was really helpful for me to watch that video. So the video of Peter Levine working with, uh, a war veteran and he had experienced obviously a tremendous amount of trauma.
And he had that tick that very similar to what I was going now. I mean, his was much more, he couldn’t manage it as well as maybe. I was able to live with it, but, and Peter worked with him with SE. It was, they uncovered that it was about, and you’ll be able to tell this story better than me, but that it was about him putting his hands up or something related to a bomb or something, hitting him.
Go ahead and tell it.
DAVE: Yeah. Yeah. Um, and IED in Iraq exactly where he’s trying to, but he couldn’t, you know, blown X number of feet away and knocked out. I mean, so he couldn’t complete that and diagnosed with all kinds of diagnoses, including Tourette’s syndrome, but it wasn’t. It was this protective response that was still looping. Because it couldn’t protect him.
GABBY: Right. So, so to, to sort of wrap this up, so it’s a neural loop almost that we get into.
DAVE: It’s a neural loop. Yeah.
GABBY: So we’ve kind of gone into so many different directions. I just think you’re so cool.
GABBY: And I really mean that, because we need to do a whole shame episode now. But if there was something that someone, so let’s say somebody is feeling super anxious, they may know about their trauma, or they may not know about their trauma.
There’s two things. I’d like to leave them with. One, we’re telling them how to find an SE therapist. That’s one thing we will do, but first, what would be one thing they could start to bring into their daily pattern, their daily practices to self-regulate and just, and calm their nervous system?
DAVE: Very easy. Very quick. Nobody has to know that you’ve just softened your tongue, allow your tongue to just ooze to the floor of your mouth. Yeah. And it changes. All the way down through the whole central channel, I call it all the way down, right through the pelvic floor. You can do it in the supermarket. You can do it in therapy.
You can do it at home. And it’s very quick to downregulate and that does change a bunch of things that are going on. As a technique.
GABBY: Yeah. If someone wants it, let me ask you one. If somebody wanted to find SE, they would go to somatic experiencing dot org, right?
DAVE: Um, traumahealing.org is website for the Somatic Experience Institute, somaticexperiencing.com is for the Ergos Institute of Somatic Education, which is Peter’s Institute now where all the master classes we teach it, we teach them out of there and community health and public workshops.
GABY: Oh, cool. So someone can find a public workshop. It’s somaticexperiencing.com. They can find trainings. Where would one be able to to look up where they could find a somatic experiencing practitioner in their area?
DAVE: There’s a directory of practitioners on the traumahealing.org website, which is the somatic experiencing was Institute, now somatic experiencing international because we really are an international organization.
GABBY: I’d like to do one of your trainings. I’m gonna, I’m gonna get through my, my ifs level one.
I’m almost there. And then I’m coming right to you. And I just, I’m so deeply grateful for this work and for the gifts it’s given me. And I want to continue to talk about it as much as I can to this community because I know so many people are suffering and don’t have words for it and don’t understand it, or don’t know why they’re physically having these experiences.
And there’s to your point though, we said, originally we experienced this trauma, but there is resolution that it’s possible to come out of it. And that’s so important for someone that’s traumatized to hear because it feels so that that feeling of relief feels so far away at times. And it’s totally possible.
DAVE: It is, it is. Yeah. It’s an opportunity.
GABBY: Yeah, you’re so wonderful. Thank you so much, David. Thank you.
DAVE: You’re very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s wonderful to meet you. Chat with, you know, the great work that you’re doing also.
GABBY: Thank you.
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