Somatic Experiencing

Today, I had an intake for Somatic Experiencing. I’m on a waiting list for trauma therapy, but that’s 15 more weeks from now and I decided that I’m not going to sit by idly and do nothing in that time. So, I contacted an SE therapist.

We mostly talked. About dysregulation. She wanted to illustrate, by inflating a balloon, what her way of working was like. Unfortunately, the balloon she wanted to inflate to show me turned out to be broken, so she illustrated by gesturing with her hands. What can happen, in this metaphor for the body and neurological system, is that the balloon is tightly inflated. You have several options. You can stick a pin in it. It’ll do a lot of damage of course.. Or you could let go of the balloon.. And then it bounces through the room. Neither are preferable. A client collapses or goes haywire because it’s going at an inappropriate pace. Instead, she proposed, you could let our the air slowly. One bit at a time.

She illustrated the concept similarly with a collapsible ball made of K’nex or something. She showed that the system can be contracted and needs to expand slowly. It’s baby steps. The same as what my contextual therapist always repeats, it’s “working in millimetres”. This SE therapist came from a physiotherapy background and explained that the ball can only expand slowly. Some regular therapists would go too fast with clients, for example by encouraging them to express all their anger at once. In that case, the system expands wayyy too fast, and a week later will collapse again. It takes time.

I told her about my family history and how I have done some grief work. She asked me if I had done any physical work. Well, not much. Between 2007 and 2011 therapists had tried “psychomotor therapy” on me, but this was the wrong remedy at the wrong time. For me, it was like coming into your GP’s office with asthma, and getting prescribed a 12-step plan to resist the urge to cough. Maybe times have changed: 10 years have passed since I sought out my first therapist and by now, Complex PTSD and the effects of childhood neglect and abuse are more well-known. In my case, I was emotionally so stunted, so dissociated and so dysregulated, that CBT or psychomotor therapy were both pretty useless. It neither discovered the root cause, nor helped me to re-regulate. I also tried haptonomy but that therapist wasn’t a great match. Last year, I went to a haptonomist where it did click, but due to circumstances I spent the time afterwards being so dysregulated that I didn’t think of going back to her. I only thought of it now that this SE therapist asked me.

So, basically, in 2015 I finally figured out that my mom is mindblind and sought out a therapist who knew what the effects are on children when a mother has this.

She educated me on mindblindness, some of the effects on the child, and in her therapy room I could cry my eyes out at not having had parents. Instead, as a child, I had to take up the task of emotionally regulating a severely dysfunctional family, while my own nervous system was in constant overwhelm. My contextual therapist recognized earlier than I did, what intense damage my father had done. More so than my mother. But the damage is there and there’s no denying it. Now, as an adult, nobody can tell me that I chose to be the way I am. I didn’t have a choice. I am now tasked, though, with re-regulating my nervous system.

So, with the SE therapist, we talked about early childhood. She explained how a baby wants mirroring. The nervous system isn’t mature yet and so the baby looks to receive reciprocity. If this is not done properly, the effects on the nervous system are profound. I already talked once before about my volume knob. It can be explained from inadequate mirroring: the baby’s system becomes dysregulated and seeks to be mirrored, in whatever way it can. For me, I had to turn up the volume. I cried harder and harder, until my mother broke down hysterically because she didn’t know how to “make me quiet” as a baby. Also, I developed excessive talking in childhood as a way to receive some feedback, and out of terror for my father I filled the tension at home with talking, cracking jokes and intervening as much as I could to cushion all the blows.

Many mindblind mothers say what a relief it is that their children start talking, because then their children start making sense to them. This illustrates that effectively, they cannot read their children. By the time the child learns how to talk, the child has already experienced a serious deficit in mirorring and has already started developing in ways consistent with misattunement. The seeds have already been sowed to make the child’s nervous system develop in a very skewed way. Some children display ADHD behavior and start to act out, in order to receive some response! Others shut down completely, after they have exhausted all their options. What is conceived as personality disorders in adulthood, can be explained by serious misattunement in the first year of life. The brain discovers that it only gets input when acting in certain ways. For me and my brother, crying was eventually not one of them. We both ended up seriously suppressing ourselves, because crying only served to make my mother hysterically upset and make my father scream at the top of his lungs that he would fucking give us a reason to cry. Yes, there are parents who do this. So, crying was not an option. Then what was? Some children choose silence. Some children anxiously fill the silence with anything, any words that give a response. For me, this is what happened. My father very often belittled me: You just won’t keep my mouth shut, will you? But he also very thankfully abused me as a sounding board, confidante and surrogate wife/mother.

The SE therapist asked me if there was a place in my body that felt safe. No, there isn’t. Oh.. She asked me about my senses then. Since the exercise she had in mind is not one I can do yet. Do I prefer one of my senses? I started answering no. My eyes are awful (seriously high myopia), my sense of smell and taste is near absent… But then I realized that as a child, I would rely on my hearing. I had to, because I didn’t see much, which a teacher recognized when I was 4. But I could hear by the sound of footsteps who was approaching me. I would navigate traffic by listening for cars and bicycles. I remember hearing birds sing. And I remember once, when it was raining, pouring, a fucking deluge, outside the window. I remember sitting at the computer and opening the window. It didn’t matter that the floor got wet. Well, my mom minded afterwards, but in that moment I didn’t care. It was awesome. The SE therapist invited me to see if I could imagine these sounds. Afterwards, she said that if there had been some sounds in her therapy room, she would have asked me to focus on that, but since there weren’t any, she asked me to imagine them. As I sat there, I remember that when I was on holiday with a friend in secondary school, we would enter these souvenir shops, where inevitably there would be CD’s for sale with sounds of nature. I was always mesmerized by those. I don’t think I ever asked for one or bought one from my pocket money. But I really wanted one.

We talked about her way of working a bit and she asked what it would be like if she “slowed you down”. Seems like she knows that this is baby steps and recognized without me having to tell her, that I talk wayyy faster than I can feel. Going too fast is really dangerous, it can retraumatize.

I felt comfortable talking to her and have the impression that she has a good initial view of what’s going on. She, also emphasized that we would have to keep an open communication at all times. I am on a waiting list for trauma therapy and she thought it a possibility that she couldn’t offer everything I needed just in her own practice. That’s the same thing my contextual therapist also said. I need a lot more support. I’m not the first client who goes to her, however, while on a waiting list. She told me she feels confident she can help me with some reconnecting with my body and some exercises. And also when I go into the trauma therapy, I would be welcome to come to her practice now and then, this is also a usual thing for her. I asked if she would be willing to write a report once I transfer to trauma therapy. She answered that she obviously does not diagnose anyone but it would be no issue to write a report. I can also always request her files if I want to. (Of course, GDPR and all)

After an hour I was a bit overwhelmed. She also recognized this and so we said our goodbyes.

I had delayed phoning my physiotherapist for boxing therapy and I think that’s a good thing. The company doctor had warned against doing too many things at once. I’m also trying yoga, cold showers and now Somatic Experiencing. That’s quite enough for now.

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