The practice of somatic, nervous system based trauma healing is just that… a practice!
Education is crucial, and there are many helpful techniques and tools we can use, and it’s very important to have good support, and a safe environment in which to learn. All of this is important in order to start the healing, but what happens when we have to go out into the world, or into a workplace that doesn’t feel great?
That’s where the practice part really comes in!
Because once a person has learned how to work with their system in different ways, that good work can’t just stay in the home. It has to continue out in the big, wide world, and most importantly, it has to continue in situations that are extra stressful, for it is by applying our learning and our practice in real time in such situations that we avoid adding more trauma and stress to our system.
In fact, by keeping up our practice in such non-ideal situations we can expand our capacity and enable even deeper healing.
One of the cornerstones of this work is learning to follow our biological impulses so that we may discover our authenticity, which is something that so many of us learned to repress and hide away, so that we could keep the attachment with our caregivers.
Those very caregivers were usually the ones that were telling us, in ways both verbal and not, that our authenticity was too much, too stressful, for them to handle and so we learned to shape ourselves in such a way as to be less upsetting, less stress-causing.
In short, many of us became emotional caretakers of our parents at an early age.
This is one of key foundations of early/developmental trauma – the need for attachment will always trump the need for authenticity, but they are both biological imperatives, and so the system becomes repressed, which is sensed as a life threat, and we become traumatized.
For a more in-depth explanation on why this happens, definitely check out this terrific video by Gabor Maté on the subject. I really can’t recommend this 26 minute talk enough, it’s something that everyone needs to see, so if you haven’t watched it, please do!
So, what happens when we are no longer in our safe place where it’s easier to explore our impulses and develop our authentic self? What happens if we go to a workplace every day that feels repressive or hostile?
This statement from one of the participants in my wife’s online program, the 21 Day Nervous System Tune Up, sums it up perfectly!
‘We can’t follow our impulses while working. Even if we feel awful, we have to repress our feelings in order to complete our 8-hr shift. And we must please our bosses. We must show self-confidence. Etc. It’s the last place where we can be ourselves and listen to our body. We are stuck, just like in our childhood.’
I totally get this!
I felt the same way for a long time, but now I’ve come to a different perspective. I’ve realized there is actually a lot that one can do in the workplace, even a non-ideal one, to support their continued healing.
First, on a purely practical note: if you are feeling particularly awful, it is pretty much always an option to call in sick (at least I’ve never been in a workplace or heard of one that will force people to come in if they are sick).
If you are talking about feeling emotionally awful you can still use a sick day here and there, but in the long run this isn’t a sustainable practice, so we need to look at things you can do in the workplace to take care of yourself, follow your impulses, and maintain your authenticity.
And just a note – all of the following doesn’t apply only to the workplace, you can also implement any of these ideas out in the world in general.
There are many ways to create little breaks for yourself to tune in and express. Just taking five minutes in a bathroom stall to feel your body, maybe do some Healthy Aggression work, or allow a few tears and sighs, can do wonders.
And speaking of the bathroom… There are many ways we can follow our impulses in a basic way – such as going to the bathroom when we need to and not holding it, or taking a few moments to orient out a window, or to a plant. We can use our attention to see if we are keeping up good posture throughout the day, in sitting or standing. We can drink water when we need to (usually we need a lot more than we drink!). We can take a few moments to socially engage with a co-worker, or with a customer.
All these ways of listening to and honouring our basic biological impulses and needs will do a LOT to keep us feeling better in any situation, and they will also help build the bridge to finding even deeper levels of our authenticity, which can lead to better situations.
You should know that if you are currently in a job that feels soul sucking or just unfulfilling, part of healing trauma often includes stepping into work that feels more in alignment with our purpose, and that doesn’t feel so awful or repressive. These kinds of opportunities can naturally arise as we get more comfortable in our own skin, learn to better honor our biology, and become more aware of what we really want, and who we really are. All of that is part of healing at this deep level.
Before I became a somatic trauma specialist, I worked in the food service industry for 20 years. When I was starting up my private practice, I was still spinning pizzas!
There were many days I would see a client or two during the day, and then head to the restaurant for the night, and during this time the food service work felt very oppressive and I experienced a LOT of feelings of anger, repression, and impatience, and so I am now going to pass on one of the most valuable tips I’ve ever received, that was given to me during this time by my dear mentor and colleague, Ian MacNaughton.
There is a way to shift our perspective in a bigger sense that can be very helpful, and that is by viewing our workplace, or the world at large as a purely kinetic space. It is simply a space that different energies are moving through – bumping into each other, weaving around, and creating little flashes of light and color here and there.
Your workplace, like everything, is fundamentally an energetic plane that you are moving through. It was helpful for me to see my restaurant job like this, and that all the interactions, triggers, and pressures, were actually opportunities to simply move with the energy that was presented, grow capacity, and be creative in how I could take care of myself while I was moving into the next phase of my work and life.
This works with something like a busy city too. Try visualizing the city, the blocks and buildings and people and noise as a purely kinetic space. All these things are just different forms of energy moving through space. Think about how you could use your awareness and skill to dance with that kinetic experience. It IS intense for sure, but imagine that intensity as energy or color. Visualize yourself as your own color and and energy moving through that space in flow with others.
The more we brace against intensity, the more we become afraid and tense so imagine, and practice, seeing, feeling, and moving in such a way that you are a drop of energy flowing with, and through, the surrounding energy, and you can likewise allow that surrounding energy to flow through you. When we practice sensing and moving in this way, almost any setting can transform into a landscape that pumps us up and feeds our aliveness.
If you are someone who is currently feeling stuck in a job or life that feels dull or draining, purposeless or pointless, or if the idea of moving through a crowded city fills you with terror or anxiety, and if you haven’t yet started the process of healing your unresolved trauma, consider that it might be time to start!
And how do you know if you have unresolved trauma?
If you are living a life or stuck in work or relationships that don’t feed you, that feel oppressive and boring, or toxic and dangerous, then I’m afraid it’s a guarantee.
We all have something special to offer the world, we all have our own spark, and our own unique purpose for being here. We all have the ability to live a life that is rich and full and have relationships that are fulfilling and healthy. The only reason that we may not be living that life and that purpose is, at its root, because we were, at some point, made to smother our light and our authenticity.