More and more as I process my childhood trauma, feeling the hurt and loss, the more I feel my parts of my brain feeling oxygenated. It feels as though the deadened parts are being revitalized. I have become aware that my breath had not been going to some parts of the brain.
I now realize I had been unconsciously holding my breath to hold in my emotions, numbing my body to any feeling. And I have been doing it a long time, over 40 years since my mother died.
As we begin healing we become aware of our internal body felt sense which was frozen due to trauma. If we feel safe and supported enough we can process these feeling without having to block the experience in our body.
Initially, it did feel uncomfortable to feel what I stopped feeling. Not just my emotions but also who I am inside – the sensations within my body. Scoliosis which was part of my persona for years now feels unnatural. With my mind map changing, my body map is trying to follow suit.
Healing and releasing those held in emotions have released the ‘being stuck in my head’ in my past. It feels slowly the record which was caught in the replay loop has moved to the next song. With that happening, I feel my breathing has become more relaxed and I can feel my energy flowing back in my body.
I now realize abuse changed how I felt about myself, my body, my relationships, and the world. What should have happened (the healthy development of a little girl) remained cut off and undeveloped.
My survival systems had been turned on hyper-aware and defensive, bracing for the next attack. This stance had become ingrained in my nervous system. And I had become oblivious of my body posture. I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath, and constricting my chest – crouching in fear. That was ME, even as an adult. All my awareness was subconsciously focussed on self-protection and survival. My body. had totally lost its inner locus of reference – my felt sense.
Trauma Messes Up Our Felt Sense
In his book Focusing, Eugene Gendlin described ‘Felt Sense as the raw, direct experiencing of the body’s feeling of a situation or memory before being clarified with words.’
However, trauma messes up this inborn body awareness we all possess. Instead, we are hyper-vigilant, hyper-alert and our bodies lose the natural sense of embodied presence.
Most often our bodies have gone into freeze, numbed with fearfulness. Either, we dissociate from our bodies or stifle our emotions by tensing various muscle groups and holding or restricting our breath. Whatever reflexive response we adopt to cope with our trauma our mind-body connection is disrupted.
Over time, we forget how to relax our bodies and lose touch with our body sense. Our feelings are stuck in a limbic loop, of survival responses. We stop living in the Now.
When our emotional right brain is stuck at the time of trauma, our body does not get the message to grow up – the result arrested development – scoliosis.
Emotions & Breath
A traumatized child instinctively controls distressing feelings by holding their breath. Children as young as 6 months have involuntary breath holding spasms when their crying does not elicit favorable responses from their caregivers.
Many of us grow up in homes where we have learned that expressing emotions can result in being ignored, punished, ridiculed or worse simply ignored. You suppress your feelings to avoid punishment and overwhelm. You do this by tensing your body and holding your breath. Literally stopping the feelings from getting out.
Gradually, as we grow up we become adept at holding our feelings by holding our breath. Whenever there is a sudden and unexpected sense of threat, the diaphragm will freeze instinctively. You tense up your body and hold your breath to prevent the feelings.
Further, if the threats in our toxic environment do not abate we become chronically stuck in our defensive breathing pattern. We instinctively block emotions or pain by constricting our primary breathing muscle (the diaphragm). This eventually constricts corresponding muscles which eventually affect our skeletal development leading to spinal misalignment.
Holding our breath to hold on to our emotions becomes an unconscious pattern – our armor. Eventually, it becomes an unconscious habit which gets incorporated into our personalities.
Protective Emotional Armor
Most armoring begins in childhood when we learn to stifle our tears or told to shut our mouths or involuntarily avert our gaze. According to Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, the founder of armoring theory our eyes are the first organ that we armor again a traumatizing environment.
This is true in my case. I now recollect shutting out the lustful gaze of my Uncle and pretending his look was benign. It was the only way to psychological feel safe.
Armoring is chronic patterns of involuntary tension in the body that numbs or blocks emotional expression, alters our perception of both our outer and the inner world.
Moreover, armoring not just alters how we view ourselves but also how we relate to the outside world. We disconnect from our felt sense – unaware of how we feel or the sensations within us.
I know I had been living as that frightened 13-year-old girl until recently. Body armoring puts a shield between our feelings and body. Our body’s kinesthetic awareness becomes blunted.
Felt Sense, Body, Situation with Gene Gendlin
Safety First – Getting Our Felt Sense Back
How do we get our sense of belonging in the body? Do start with the mind and work our way down. Or do we start with our body and work our way up.
Either way feeling safe in our environment is crucial to feeling safe in our bodies. We cannot heal from trauma if we are still in survival mode. Changing our environment may not be easy but healing cannot really happen if we continue to stay in toxic environments.
If that’s not possible find ways to mentally relax and cut off from the ongoing negative situation I find sound healing music and writing very therapeutic. You don’t have to do them concurrently. Nonetheless, listening to relaxing sounds puts one mind in the alpha-theta state. In this state, traumatic memories surface into conscious awareness without us being physiologically aroused. And writing them out helps release and integrate them into our psyche.
Mindful Action – Connecting The Mind With The Body
Another way to get into the body is to engage in mindful activities that require both hand-eye coordination, like, painting, pottery, cooking, even house-cleaning works.
For me, indulging in my new pastime of food-foraging has literally rewired my brain. It is a relaxing activity I indulge in on my way to the beach. Serependitously finding different fruits and veggies shifts me a state of pure joy. Plucking fruits requires my total focus – automatically my breath relaxes and I feel my body come alive. I am in the NOW. Fully present in my body and present in my surrounding.
Felt Sense & Scoliosis
Furthermore, the more I relax and feel safe the more I become aware of my body. I feel unease with my body – my scoliosis. It takes time for your body to release years of constriction but it is happening. Becoming aware of my discomfort — including that unnatural habit of holding my breath is part of the healing process.
Gendlin found that, without exception, the successful patient intuitively focuses inside himself on a very subtle and vague internal bodily awareness—or “felt sense”—which contains information that, if attended to or focused on, holds the key to the resolution of the problems the patient is experiencing
With my trauma healing my felt sense is kicking in. When I feel a heaviness building up within me, I take a slow deep breath and become aware of my emotions. Slowly feeling my feelings not just in my mind but also in my body.
Somatic psychotherapist Peter Levine in his book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma states that “to live without the felt sense violates the most basic experience of being alive.’
My body is slowly but surely relaxing its tightness. It does not have to constrict itself in self-protection. I can now visualize ME without my crookedness – scoliosis.
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Image Source: Pixabay
The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing – Ann Weiser Cornell
The Psychology of the Body – Elliot Greene & Barbara Goodrich-Dunn
The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment– Babette Rothschild
Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease – Robin Karr-Morse