Alchemy Wellness SOMATIC INSIGHTS
Safety & Appreciation
As the end of the calendar year approaches, folks can get a bit flooded with envy and comparison with the “others” who seem to find gratification and belonging in going home for the holidays. If you relate to this sentiment, you may have elements of Developmental or Complex Trauma lingering from your formative years.
When we are very young, all our needs are met by people outside of ourselves. We rely on others to help us regulate our body, from the basics of eating, bathing, and temperature regulation to more subtle functions such as navigating levels of stimulation and soothing. Sharing and sculpting internal reactions to outside stress is called “co-regulation.”
Obviously, all moment to moment needs of the infant and toddler cannot be met; parents and caregivers are not super heros. There are forces in society and the larger family structure which also contribute to poor stress management. But when unmet needs become too much and/or too often, the developing child forms a Plan-B coping strategy which can become encoded as a life-long pattern. Adverse experiences that aren’t buffered by a caring adult or supportive environment can create toxic stress responses.
The ACES (Adverse Childhood Events) Study addresses this phenomenon and uncovers chilling results. A high score on an inventory of traumatic events occurring in childhood is strongly and positively correlated with nearly any type of adult onset disease. Though this knowledge is sobering, the patterns learned in childhood can be minimized or reversed.
By middle age, the “allostatic load” of decades of poor resilience to stress takes a toll on the mind and body. Luckily, the neuroplasticity of the nervous system, i.e. the ability to change the electrical wiring and linking in the brain and body, is now better understood.
I find the lyrics to “Over the Rainbow” a bitter-sweet reminder of early coping strategies as the singer describes sliding into a dream world where a sort of child’s heaven exists. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” a dream-state child bands together with personifications of heart, brains, and courage to defeat the scary lady who threatens her dog. Very telling.
Eva Cassidy’s version is heart-breaking.
While dream journeying is meaningful, I prefer the more earth-bound and embodied “Rainbow Connection.” The lyrics describe a connection to a larger force without actually leaving present time and space. It’s movie correlate, “The Muppet Movie,” portrays a spiritual journey of a frog, bear, pig, and Gonzo (who turns out to be an alien in a later movie) who accept each other as is and support each other’s creative yearnings. Belonging to a group, even of two, where you are seen and your talents encouraged is a large part of breaking trauma patterns. It’s important to remember that this group doesn’t have to be your biological family, doesn’t have to be human or even mammalian when it comes down to it. Belonging is a given as we are all part of the great universe and its creation; it’s the reminder of that fact that’s important.
Willie Nelson’s Rainbow Connection seems to illustrate this.
My references are a little silly and child-like. That’s intentional. Getting playful, curious, and child-like requires a feeling of safety which is the first step in the process. Finding safe resources for exploration and expression is key.
In the yoga tradition, Sanga is the community you form with fellow practitioners. Namaste’ is a frequent greeting, meaning “I recognize the light in you.” These are important first steps. If complex trauma is an issue, a more formal relationship to pointedly “re-wire” specific neurological patterns may be required to express the mind-body’s highest version of health.
Somatic Experiencing Practitioners are trained in the use of sensory awareness, movement impulse completion, imagination, pattern recognition, and safety in relationship to gently shift the destructive patterns which served the child within but no longer are valid coping skills.