This program incorporates the very best, evidence based, somatic exercises that have an extensive, proven history of impacting the brain and nervous system in order to alter your baseline to something more flexible, adaptive and resilient.
The limbic system, the amygdala (part of limbic system), the hindbrain – all instinctive/reactive parts of the brain do not respond well to being told you reject them, you are afraid of them, or that you demand they respond a certain way. They are like a dog or reptile. You can only establish an attitude or environment in which they begin to slowly feel comfortable and respond differently. In addition, we now know that the gut biome (mostly bacteria), the heart and other organs communicate to the brain as much as vice versa. For this reason, I consider most of your internal experiences and responses, experiences and responses of your “colony”, not of you as a conscious being. Therefore, NONE of these exercises are specifically built to immediately create comfort or calm because you don’t have direct control over your colony. All of these exercises are designed to establish a non-judgmental attitude, to build an intimate knowledge of your own body’s way (your colony’s way) of holding experiences and how it responds to external (things happening to you) and internal stimuli (things you remember, imagine, think). First, you will respond to what you discover with a neutral or scientific attitude of learning and later with presence, compassion and/or gratitude. You will become a leader, parent and caretaker of your colony, with such skill and calm that your brain and body will find the trust that they seek with you, instead of seeking it out in the world.
Physiological, Evidence Based Facts that Support Healing:
• Like every human being on earth, your nervous system has an innate and stubborn ability to recover from severe, intense trauma and repetitive negative experiences. Animals can have traumatizing, near death experiences weekly and recover to normalcy. The difference is that humans internalize shame of the ways in which the body dumps trauma and when humans abuse other humans, we almost always add shame and fear of healing as part of the abuse.
• Your colony, your inner child, the limbic system, the visceral bodily response, does not know the difference between what you imagine and what you experience. Every athlete, business person, elite performer, anyone who is highly successful knows that deep repetitive visualization actually changes how your brain and body perform in the moment. The truth is that it rewires your brain.
• Eye movements and other gentler forms of bilateral stimulation have been documented to reengage the areas of the brain that moderate memory, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. EMDR has also been documented to result in an increase in mass of the right hippocampus, an area of memory processing in the emotional hemisphere of the brain. A loss of mass in the right hippocampus has been noted as a correlate of chronic PTSD. The mass of the right hippocampus increased with use of EMDR and healthy blood-flow increased in the left cortex, especially the left prefrontal cortex.
Things You May Experience as You Process Intense Responses
As noted before, one of the challenges humans have in dealing with trauma, is that when it is at the hands of abusers, bullies or manipulative people, the abuse always comes with a heavy dose of shame at any self-defensive reaction. In this way, the abuser locks the victim into a cycle of abuse, response, then shame-based suppression of defensive response that leaves the victim unable to process their experience and heal. This leaves them at the mercy of the abuser. For this reason, many people who come into trauma therapy are actually defended against healthy responses that they need to heal. Here are a list of these possible healing experiences.
• Grief and crying.
• Intense anger or fantasies of harming the perpetrator.
• Intense anger or fantasies of harming self.
• Body shaking or shivering (this is particularly common with violent trauma)
• Body freezing (a coping skill when not being noticed is safer)
• A strong flush of heat from the core (dumping fight or flight energy)
• Sweating (see above)
• Dissociation or detachment
How do I Know I am Succeeding?
Psychology is an art, a philosophy, and a practice relying on anecdotal evidence as much as hard science. As set out above, I have put together a program relying, as much as possible, on documented, reliable physiological scientific truths. How do we track reliable progress for something that is so subjective, i.e. what I experience emotionally, cognitively, and somatically?
There are some reliable indicators of objective, physiological changes in how your nervous system is wired and how it will respond to stressors.
• Rapid Recovery or Reorientation after/during a triggers
◦ Life is still life, and everyone gets triggered, anxious or overwhelmed sometimes. The reason some people are ok with this is because their nervous system does not lock onto intense activation and stay there for hours, days, weeks or even months (severe PTSD locks on and can last for decades). When you have built in enough resources and skills, your nervous system will develop a flexibility and responsiveness such that even with a serious trigger, it will quickly dump the anxiety (charge) and return to an adaptive, calmer level. When this happens you are well on your way to a significantly different experience of life.
• Naturally Occurring Thoughts of Creativity and Realistic Enjoyable Solutions
◦ People believe that your cognitive experiences create your emotional state. This can be true (CBT relies on it), but I have found that what people call the mind (their conscious thoughts) tends to be driven by deeper brain and body systems of threat response. People with PTSD, anxiety or depression experience near constant thoughts with consistent themes of fear, paranoia, anger, hopelessness and suffering. They are unable to change or stop these thoughts. As you begin to internalize your resources, build resiliency and rewire your brain, you will naturally experience more positive, creative, calm thoughts. To experience this as a way of life is revolutionary. To know that you can expect this most of the time is often a massive shift for people. For example, a teacher struggling with PTSD, explains a concept and a student raises their hand and says “I don’t get it”. The teacher, struggling with an inner foundation of threat and hopelessness will immediately be overwhelmed by thoughts like “I’m a bad teacher”, “I don’t know how else to explain it” “what a stupid student, why can’t they just figure it out”. A teacher with a resilient, flexible, well resourced nervous system will experience thoughts like, “That student needs a visual”, “I’ll think it through and review it tomorrow with a different explanation” “Let me ask the student what part was confusing and I’ll explain that with more detail”. The resourced teacher doesn’t have to force themselves to think this way. A resilient, flexible, well resourced nervous system does this naturally and often, in response to almost everything!
• The ability to reminisce about past negative experiences while feeling safe now, experiencing profound compassion for self and others.
◦ A human being with an overwhelmed nervous system responds from the amygdala, a brain center that only does fear, threat assessment and responds in a very black and white manner. This means; people, jobs, experiences, loved ones can only either be neutral/meaningless or present as a threat. People who experience this, note that everything in life is either a battle or seems empty of pleasure. There is no real complexity, no creativity, no possibility or curiosity about things. All the joy as been taken out (because survival isn’t about joy). With a resilient, flexible, well resourced nervous system people can think about past suffering while feeling safe now. A far greater portion of their brain and body’s wisdom is available to them, offering complex, profound feelings, insights and connections to past, self, others, future. There is a lot to say about how people’s philosophy and attitude changes, but since this is about noting objective, measurable things – people can revisit old traumatizing experiences without overwhelm, without feeling shame, guilt or current fear. All the wonder, power and complexity of the human brain is being resourced to relate to that past experience.
• Triggers Go Away
◦ This is closely related to the above, but is much broader. A trigger is any stimulus, a smell, an experience, a taste, a look, a person, a personality style, weather, a thought, that triggers an overwhelming sense of threat and anxiety. We often are not even sure why the trigger exists and might have been separated from our memory of the event that taught our nervous system to respond that way. Thus, as we move throughout life, some people are walking through a minefield and never know when some smell or someone’s facial expression is going to result in a trauma reaction, hours, days or weeks of sleeplessness, anxiety, trying to avoid another trigger. With a resilient, flexible, well resourced nervous system, with past traumas reprocessed, traumatic responses dissipated, people begin to notice that things that used to trigger them and take hours or weeks to get over, just don’t trigger them anymore. Without cataloging someone’s triggers and measuring cortisol levels in laboratory conditions, that is about as objective as we can expect.
To summarize objective measures or indications of resiliency and adaptability.
• Rapid recovery or reorientation after/during triggers
• Naturally occurring thoughts of creativity and realistic enjoyable solutions
• The ability to reminisce about past negative experiences feeling safe now, experiencing profound compassion for self and others
• Triggers diminish in intensity or go away
Skill Set (built in the following order):
Basic Breathing – using 2-3 breathing techniques to even out our nervous system response or simply to tune into our body’s expression of thoughts, experiences, emotions (somatic).
Gendlin’s Focusing – pure non-judgmental attunement to your body’s expression of comfort, neutrality or discomfort.
Trauma Resiliency Model – a purely somatic approach that strengthens the foundation of somatic attunement through continued awareness of your somatic experiences, adding images, memory and narrative resources or body movements to which your body responds with neutral, healing or pleasant states.
Attachment Focused-EMDR – a cognitive, emotional, social, somatic approach that uses all the skills of the previous 2 approaches while specifically targeting developmental needs using images, memories and narrative resources carefully tailored to those experiences or difficult identity beliefs requiring healing. Here bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tactile or auditory simulus) is incorporated.
General Practice Trajectory and Development of Skill Sets:
• Month 1, Basic Breathing
◦ Weeks 1 & 2 basic breathing
▪ Tummy breathing
▪ 3/5/10 breathing
▪ Somatic self-hypnotic routine (My right foot is warm and heavy)
◦ Weeks 3 & 4 continued breathing, incorporate focusing skill
▪ Body Scan
• Pleasant/neutral – bring presence and gratitude (focusing)
• Unpleasant – bring presence and compassion (focusing)
• Month 2 TRM visualization/resourcing/tapping skills
◦ Noticing – “Is that pleasant, neutral or unpleasant?” “Notice that” “Just go with that”
◦ 80/20 – 80% of focus on pleasant or neutral area, 20% on unpleasant area, “just notice that”
◦ Pleasant or neutral resource: an image, memory, fiction, picture, pet, relationship, unencumbered by complications (e.g. My grandfather was a resource but he died and it makes me sad to think about him).
◦ When I happen to experience a response that is neutral or pleasant in response to breathing, images or memories, I tap it in with bilateral stimulation for 10-15 alternating taps.
• Month 3 Attachment Focused – EMDR, history taking and resource development
◦ Developmental History – what you know from conception to today.
▪ Genogram – How your experiences are situated in generational trauma and experiences of grandparents, parents, siblings to you.
▪ Identify significant experiences – what they contributed in developmental nutrition or what emotional/cognitive/developmental nutrition they lacked.
▪ Identify perseverant or pervasive identity or belief themes (e.g. it’s my fault, I’m worthless, the world is incredibly dangerous)
▪ Identify the most significant, most memorable, earliest experiences connected to those beliefs, responses or themes.
▪ Of the above, choose targets that bring the clearest somatic, emotional or cognitive discomfort/activation
▪ If memories fail (and they sometimes do) we will use somatic response alone to begin processing.
◦ Building Resources
▪ Resources are images, memories, stories, ideas, spiritual beliefs, historical characters, alternative universes, friends, imaginings that your body responds to with honesty (connection to childhood suffering) or with healing.
• If a resource is accurate to the lack, you may experience grief and anger as you begin to realize how unfair your experiences were and how starved for healthy experiences you were.
• If a resource is accurate to the lack, you may experience relief, love, resiliency, excitement, profound wisdom/thoughts as you realize what it is possible to have in your life now.
• When, with your therapist, you will use bilateral stimulation to reprocess the developmental experiences.
• Resource examples: nurturing mother, loving father, spirit guide, mentor, protector, friend, teacher, aunt, uncle (the list and its refinement depends on the emotional malnutrition of your childhood experiences and so resources must be tailored to and attuned to your specific experiences)
• Month 4, Incorporating eye movements (Formal AF-EMDR only with therapist)
◦ You will continue to practice and incorporate all of the skills you have learned, inside and outside of therapy
▪ Breathing – this is becoming second nature.
▪ Focusing – you have an intimate awareness of your body and mind and respond with non-judgment, compassion, gratitude and leadership or parenting presence.
▪ TRM and AF-EMDR imagery and resourcing.
◦ Identify a theme or experience to which you want to rewire your responses
▪ Identify response
• somatic (my stomach hurts)
• cognitive (I’m horrible)
• emotional (sadness)
• SUDS – It’s subjective, but quantify it with a scale by which you can track changes (0=bliss, 10=unbearable distress)
▪ Bring up an appropriate resource or refine/develop one that fits that developmental lack, troublesome theme or somatic response.
• Again, if a resource is accurate to the lack, you may experience grief and anger as you begin to realize how unfair your experiences were and how starved for healthy experiences you were (your brain/body revisits the traumatized memory and tells you what it was like).
• Again, if a resource is accurate to the lack, you may experience relief, love, resiliency, excitement, profound wisdom/thoughts (your brain/body revisits the traumatized memory and wires it differently or wires it to resourced parts of the brain)
• Either way, process, process, process – tapping, tappers, eye movements.
• Month 5 and Beyond
◦ Guided by your developing instincts and your therapist, you cycle through various stages, healing your body’s response to specific themes or triggers.
▪ You notice a developmental lack or troublesome theme, build a matching resource and process. You return as often as needed until you cannot seem to generate a traumatized, anxious or negative response to the content.
▪ Time for future templates and transfer to life experiences – once a target no longer elicits a troublesome response, you can construct an image or a movie of experiencing something similar in the future and build in the kind of response you would like to have. You can and should bring in the same resources to support you.
• Process with bilateral stimulation until you get very little charge from thinking about it.
• When you can, take on life challenges that mimic that past circumstance or theme and enjoy the challenge and proof that your nervous system, indeed no longer responds with intense activation or shutdown, leaving you free to pursue life’s joys and challenges unencumbered by past traumas or unhealthy learning.
• 1 Year
◦ There is evidence that to truly rewire the brain requires, at minimum, a year of consistent, repetitive, focused work. If you have worked the program and no longer feel a significant charge in response to anything (unless it is appropriate, e.g. falling over a cliff should result in some major intense fear), you should continue to utilize your skill set. Some people do this in the context of therapy, some people do it mostly on their own, with occasional check-ins and some people just move on. Regardless, trust the biology. If you work these skills and connect to them over a year’s time, you WILL see significant adaptive differences.
◦ Caveat: Don’t get caught in the idea that you need to eliminate everything that makes you anxious or uncomfortable. If you have a predisposition to feeling nervous about public speaking, you don’t have to completely eliminate your anxious response, as long as it is not blocking you from moving your life forward in the ways that you want.