The current social and political climate is poking our most sensitive wounds and hurling us—individually and collectively– into scary places. Many of us are getting stuck in old patterns we thought we were done with. Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
The good news is that we can get unstuck.
When big jolts come, our bodies automatically revert to our earliest survival patterns. We can “go there” so fast that we don’t even realize it, and we can get stuck for days or even weeks.
The reappearance of those familiar patterns means that our reptile brain’s survival arsenal of fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate has been activated.
Having a survival mode is essential, but it’s no way to live. We need to access our agency and creative power.
But how do we do that in such tumultuous times? When outrage after outrage assails us, and everyone around us is on high alert?
It’s a challenge.
Yet this time of shocks and crises can be a gift and an opportunity. It can motivate us to transform our lingering patterns of reactivity and victimhood.
Now is the perfect time to learn exactly how your body gets stuck; and to discover which “getting unstuck” tools work best for your particular temperament.
I call this process Befriending-Your-Body. I have broken it up into steps; this first article will cover steps 1. and 2.
Befriend Your Body Steps
1. Befriend Your Triggers
2. Practice Safety
3. Befriend Your Somatic Temperament
4. Create Practice Routines
5. Embody Your Routines
When life shocks us, our bodies can get stuck in repetitive movements and contractions that reflect the reptile brain’s repertoire of fight, flight, freeze, appease, and dissociate survival strategies.
From this universal reptile brain repertoire, each individual adapts their own strategies in response to the recurrent traumas they encounter.
When triggered, we automatically revert to these strategies.
These trigger responses can look like withdrawing from the world, or compulsive eating, spending, TV watching, working, or compulsive anything.
They can also look like getting depressed, numb, immobile, irritable, trying to please everyone, experiencing negative thought loops for days or weeks on end, or picking fights with others.
How to Befriend Your Triggers
The first part of befriending your triggers is to get triggered. We all do, and it is something we can make use of. At some point, we realize that we are triggered.
Befriend Your Trigger Sensations
The next part of befriending your triggers is to befriend your trigger sensations. This involves i) feeling them and ii) appreciating them.
i) Feel Your Trigger Sensations
Next, we observe ourselves, looking for the specific somatic (body) sensations that accompany our reactive (triggered) states.
These somatic cues are unique to each of us. Here are some examples of how trigger states show up in the body.
Fight responses can show up as clenching our jaw and/or fists/arms. In conversation, it can look like defensiveness, or argument.
Flight responses often show up as physically leaving the room, or our muscles subtly pulling away from a perceived threat. In conversation it can look like avoiding certain subjects.
Freeze responses can show up as silence, holding the breath, or feeling stuck or paralyzed. To others, we may seem poker-faced or extremely calm.
Appease responses often show up as smiling, submissive body language, or yielding our personal space to others.
It can look like caretaking, “making nice,” or trying to smooth things over by asking sympathetic questions or cracking jokes.
Dissociate responses can show up as “checking out” from our experience and not noticing our sensations and feelings. To others it can seem like we are “not all there.”
Dissociation can also show up as emotional detachment, forgetfulness, or a drive to “figure out” everything.
Try to notice the specific sensations present in your body when you are triggered.
What areas of your body become hot or cold? Tense or slack? Where does the energy go, out your arms, up and out of your head? Or does your energy withdraw, implode?
What places in your body contract? Does your heart suddenly feel small, or your breath tight? Do you lose awareness of your legs or back?
Let yourself be gently *curious.*
ii) Appreciate Your Tigger Sensations
Next, slow down and deliberately welcome your trigger sensations and thank them for taking care of you.
Do this for at least two of your sensations, giving them your full attention. What happens to your body’s mood when you say thank you?
Repeat these two steps over and over.
Practicing self observation and appreciation is essential groundwork for being able to calm yourself and access your creative power.
Now we want to find out how to guide our body back to calmness and safety by inviting the sensations of safety.
Try On Some Safety Practices
Somatic safety practices are designed to invite your body find a sense of safety.
You can find many somatic safety practices to try on here:
De-escalating Reactivity Practices
I recommend that you try out several practices, repeating them a few times
to discover which ones your body responds to best.
Choose Some Practices to Combine
Once you have found at least three that you like, try combining them in sequences.
Here are a few sequences to try:
(you can find instructions for these practices in the above articles and videos):
Practice Your Sequence(s)I recommend that you spend 5-20 minutes each day practicing a sequence you have chosen or one of the ones above.
Repeat frequently. Before you know it, you will get really good at your sequence, which will come in handy!
Whichever tools you pick, remember that the more often you practice, the more automatic a practice becomes.When practices start to take on a life of their own, you no longer have to think about them, you will simply find yourself automatically doing them.End of Part I
Getting Unstuck Part II:
Befriend your somatic temperament and embody your practices.