Sunday, February 06, 2011

Understanding The Somatic Experience

Psychological issues will not only impact your mind, but also your body.

In fact, emotional traumas set into motion the emergency function of the sympathetic nervous system known as the "fight or flight" response. When pressed by a psychological issue, your brain will work to problem-solve, sending messages to your muscles and organs to be ready to fight the problem or flee from it.

Most times, you'll be able to work the psychological issue without great stress on your mind or body. Other times, the emotional trauma might be too overwhelming to work through. At these moments, the acute stress of the situation causes your body to hold onto the psychological wound. In essence, your body becomes the place where your trauma has been stored. These "somatic experiences" can take the form of numbness, sensations of hot or coldness, even physical pain, just to name a few. Often, the kind of body sensations you have can be quite symbolic of the trauma with which you have endured.

Somatic therapies take psychotherapy one step further by addressing the internal physical experience of the body when emtional trauma occurs. To learn more, check out Dr. Peter Levine's work in trauma psychology.

In my clinical work, and in my personal life, I always look at the literal experiences of emotional pain and also the symbolic levels of it. Body awareness and somatic experience are important aspects to consider.

Are you mind *and* body aware?


Faycin A Croud said...

I do have fibromyalgia and sciatica which of course cause chronic pain. But sometimes when I've gotten a massage a really weird memory from a long time ago will come to mind. I think I carry a lot of sadness, shame, and guilt in my body.

truenorth said...

I am certainly more aware of the mind body connection since learning of my own traumas. I am continually amazed at how my body tells me when I need to listen and if I do, I can generally relieve the pain much sooner than I might otherwise be able to. If I don't listen; oh. my. god. The pain becomes insufferable. As always, Deb, you hit me right where I needed it. :-) Peace.

Xmichra said...

Well. That was a question that was proposed to me not long ago... "your body is telling you something, are you listening?".

My sister-in-law is taking courses right now on psycosomatic therapies, and is really into it. So I have been a guinea pig for her ;)

Typically I am very open minded, so It struck me odd that once we were going through the practice of 'release' from a trauma that my body held on to (in theory) that I wasn't able to *get there*.

I just don't think the body works like that. I think the mind is a very powerful tool, and when holding onto something that was traumatic, that the brain can manifest that into other things, like illness.

Perhaps, I am too closed from this idea for it to 'work'. I don't know.

it is still very interesting though, and I wouldn't begrudge anyone from trying it out, or having it work for them. All that matters is the end result really.

Mz.Elle said...

I try to be:)
My migraines(now healed,yay!) were telling me about PTSD. It a friend to help me clue into that one though..but now I watch for things closer than I ever did before.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting, Dr. Deb. When I had a small stroke well over two years ago I dealt with the stuff I had to do immediately and got it done and there were no physical residuals blessedly. But then, almost exactly a year after it happened I went into a nasty little depression for which I had to seek some help to see me though it. And the depression, in her esteem and in my doctor's was a delayed reaction to the experience of that stroke. Thanks for this.

Angel Chasse said...

This one hits home for me, but I guess I have come to know it as a "bad thing". It bothers me that when I am having what I believe to be a purely pysical problem or pain, that if the cause is not immediately known or found in testing, I am always asked if "this could be because of stress or my depression or" ..etc. I do realize that mind and body are 100% connected, I just have not lost the knee-jerk reaction to be defensive when I say xyz is wrong with my body and because of my psychiatric history, I am asked if the problem could really stem from my mental condition.

Now that I *do* know of the connection between the mind and the pysical though, I do try to ask myself the question before it is asked of me. I am hoping that doing this helps me with handling the doctors questions without getting so defensive. I do not know how common this reaction is, but it one that I am certainly not proud of. Working on changing it :) Thanks for the post! Yet again something to get us all thinking!

Sarebear said...

I once had what can only be described as a "body memory" happen to me, and it seems to me that it is one of the types of things you meant by

"Often, the kind of body sensations you have can be quite symbolic of the trauma with which you have endured."

I don't want to have any repressed memories, but I've had several experiences, including a "blackness", not remembering most of my early and mid-childhood, as well as this body memory, that indicate that I do. I'm horrified that something bad may have happened to me. It's not hard to guess the nature of what the bad might have been. I would certainly hope nothing happened, but things indicate otherwise; things except my memory.

Dr. Deb said...

Dr. Deb said...
Dear Faycin,
It's important for us all to learn how to register our minds and bodies. They can be useful tools to gauge our well-being. My friend who is a massage therapist tells me that your experience is not unusual at all.

I'm the same way. If I don't listen to my body, it raises the volume and puts me into a crisis. I've gotten much better at listening to my body.

The brain definitely tells the body to hold trauma or illness. You may be someone who doesn't have somatic experiences. Everyone is different. I don't think you are too closed to this idea. I think you are very open-minded. It just doesn't apply to you, is all.

Maz. Elle,
I know my body triggers too. It's so helpful to be aware, right?

Mr. Write-on,
Amazing how the body remembers dates of things - and how the mind sometimes has to catch up. I remember you moving through your stroke and the emotional experiences it brought forth,. Lucky for us all, you are super-okay now!

I often get mad when professionals ask if the issue is "in your head" or related to "stress". I get defensive too. The point is for professionals to treat pain or illness whether it is in your body or mind with the respect it deserves.

Body memories can be very unnerving. Make sure that you take care of yourself if and when this happens. Also, it's so nice to see you here. Missed you!

Sarebear said...

Thanks Deb! And will do. Missed you too!

onelongjourney said...

Timely post for me as I am starting into EMDR and one of the first sessions was learning about the map of emotions and where emotions are felt in the body. It's hard work after being somewhat numb for so many years.

Dr. Deb said...

Wow, that's so wonderful that you are trying the EMDR technique. I've always wanted to be trained in it. I hope it works well for you. Keep us posted on your experience with it!

onelongjourney said...

Dr. Deb -
I think if you do a significant amount of trauma therapy, that EMDR is a good tool to be able to use as a therapist. I wish my T were trained - then I wouldn't have to go to a different T for that component. I do know the training commitment is significant though.

I had my first session - posted on my blog about it. I was disappointed, but the therapist wasn't. Have another session on Friday.