Somatic Experiencing Therapy
For decades, we've known that when we experience something threatening, dangerous or traumatic, our nervous systems (i.e., our brains and bodies) automatically respond with reactions meant to protect us and return us to safety. In other words, we respond to threats with either a 'fight' response,a 'flight' response, a 'freeze' response, a 'submit/fawn' response, or a 'highly-needful' response. In fact, many people have heard of these innate reactions to perceived threat or danger. And, science tells us that these have allowed humans to survive for millions of years.
Although very helpful in threatening situations, recent science also tells us that an overuse of these fight/flight/freeze/submit/high-need defensive reactions, to real or perceived threats, can cause psychological, emotional, and/or physical issues to develop. In fact, if an overwhelming event causes us to respond with 'freeze', or if we've had a lot of experience reacting to life with 'fight, flight, submit/fawn, or highly-needful' behaviours, the brain can actually get 'stuck' in these states. In other words, we find ourselves reacting to day-to-day events with one or more of these defensive / protection reactions, even when we 'logically' know we don't need to. If so, you might be noticing:
Anxiety, overwhelm, panic, frequent frustration, aggression, anger or opposition, distrust of others or of relying on others, high self-reliance, hyper-vigilance, intrusive memories, busy/racing thoughts, argumentative, high defensiveness, highly self-protective and guarded ('walls' or 'silent treatment'), difficulty focusing and
'busy mind', difficulty calming and resting,
sleep issues, strong need for control/helping/fixing/rescuing of self or
others (overt or covert), perfectionism, 'sanctimony', 'know-it-all', strong need for information and to understand many topics, compulsive thinking ahead and planning, 'intense passion', impulse control issues, need to figure things out or resolve things quickly, a sense of 'speed' or urgency about things, obsessiveness or difficulty letting things go, or suicidal thoughts.
Chronic avoidance of things, distancing emotionally or physically, difficulty starting or finishing things, avoiding topics or actively shutting down, rationalizing things away, lying when afraid, dismissiveness, apathy, excessive daydreaming, overuse of technology, putting things off, frequent distraction, commitment issues, sleeping too much, lethargy or disinterest in taking action, risky behaviours, 'bingey' behaviours, over-use of substances, addiction issues, too much 'partying', overuse of sexual behaviour, eating problems, burying self in projects to avoid true feelings/issues.
Frequent emotional numbing, feeling 'disconnected' from life and others, feeling passive, submissive, helpless, stuck, immobilized, hopeless, depressed, 'empty', chronically limited energy, discomfort 'being seen' or noticed (for positive or negative things), strong desire to 'hide' or be 'invisibile', experiences of dissociation (depersonalization or derealization), and a frequent 'deer-in-the-headlights' feeling.
Submit (Fawn) Symptoms
Submitting behaviours, approval-seeking, people-pleasing, avoiding conflict, over-concerned with the expectations/desires/needs of others, fixing or rescuing behaviours, wanting to be "liked by everyone", difficulty setting or keeping boundaries or saying 'no', fear of abandonment, 'swallowing anger', can feel like a 'doormat', feeling over-responsible for others, irrational guilt and shame.
Often 'needy', frequently seeking connection, fearful of abandonment and rejection, can be child-like and innocent but becomes angry if connection is unavailable, needs attention, strong self-focus, can feel like a victim, can feel deeply misunderstood by 'all others', often feels helpless and alone, often wants rescue of some kind, feels easily overwhelmed and ill-equipped to self-sooth, can have difficulty seeing the needs or perspectives of others, wants someone to depend on, can have 'double standards' for self and others, craves love, often struggles to be alone, feels a limited sense of Self inside, often feels younger than they are, can have a lot of rescue fantasies or fantasies involving getting attention. Can also be very appealing and 'pleasing' to get needs met from another, but can become hyperbolic or histrionic.
As a result, daily life, relationships, and meeting your goals becomes difficult.
Typically, these five protection reactions are not consciously activated - they're automatic and more physiological. Because of this, therapies that use talk, logic, reasoning, or cognitive-behavioural interventions alone may help only so much, or not at all. This is when Somatic Experiencing (SE) Therapy can be very helpful.
Through effective use of SE techniques, your habitual and 'stuck' fight, flight, freeze, submit/fawn, or highly-needful defensive reactions can begin to 'move' and release. Your brain and nervous system will process these more fully so these old responses (and the difficult events that activated them in the first place) no longer dominate your reactions to everyday life.
Moreover, you also learn how to orient much more so to your Core Self - the part of you that has felt absent a lot of the time, because your nervous system has been overusing of the above protection/defensive responses. Because of this, you'll begin responding to life feeling more:
Emotionally regulated, with an internal and consistent sense of security. You'll have a consistent inner-sense of resilience and a stable sense of Self, you'll feel comfort sharing space, time, and connection with others, and you'll navigate social/relationship requirements more consistently and easily. You'll be able to understand and meet life-expectations without frequent anxiety or anger. You'll be curious and self-reliant when navigating changing situations, and you'll feel more flexible and adaptable. You'll set healthy boundaries without irrational guilt or fear, you'll experience empathy for yourself and others, you'll consistently use good judgment, enjoy spending time alone, and you feel 'at home' with yourself. You'll also be able to experience regret and remorse but not toxic shame, and you'll enjoy taking on new challenges with curiosity and confidence. Finally, you'll be able to ask for help when needed without shame, guilt, or anxiety.
What's also great about SE Therapy is that it lets this process happen at a comfortable pace. Your nervous system can return to a more consistent state of balance gently. And, of course, this then allows you to respond to life events, your relationships, and your goals with a renewed groundedness, stability, presence, and control.