How To Heal Trauma With Felt Sense And Somatic Therapy
Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
How do felt sense and exploration during somatic therapy sessions provide me with inner peace?
Felt sense, a term coined by Eugene Gendlin, is a body-based experience, a bodily knowing. Gendlin describes it as, “not a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event.”
According to Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing, the felt sense is much like tapping into a stream that connects you with your environment and brings you to the present. By focusing on your physical sensations and your connection to the environment (for example, feeling the floor under your feet), you can become grounded and present in your body.
Another term for felt sense coming from neuroscience is interoception. Interoception refers to the sensations arising within our bodies - everything from temperature, to muscle sensation, to our “gut feelings.” Research is revealing that we should actually consider our myofascial system to be our largest sensory organ and that for every motor neuron that sends signals from our brain to our body that there are nine sensory nerves sending information back to the brain.
Sensory information coming from the body gets organized in a region of our brain called the insular cortex. The job of the insular cortex is to interpret the interoceptive data coming from the body (i.e., felt sense) and form emotions that correspond to the signals from the body. Contemporary research on somatic therapies like yoga, Somatic Experiencing, TRE, and others is suggesting that body-based somatic modalities help re-regulate our emotional system by helping to reset the emotional patterns that the insular cortex is generating from the sensory information. Pretty cool, huh?
Through this grounded presence and awareness of sensation you can start to actually engage with triggering sensations, emotions and responses to the environment or people. How you engage can vary greatly from moment to moment and person to person. By working with a somatic therapist you will be introduced to techniques and practices that can help you navigate stressors and regulate your nervous system. Through that process you will begin to increase your tolerance and gain resilience in the face of future stressors.
How does felt sense enable me to connect with my emotions in a healthy way?
Felt sense is not the act of repressing emotions. Instead, it is being with emotions, while actively maintaining grounded presence. When the ability to stay grounded with the emotion feels challenged, a Somatic Therapist will support you in regulation so that you can increase your tolerance for being with emotions. By staying with the physical sensation associated with emotion we can track how things change and study with curiosity what supports regulation.
By engaging with this process over time and with a variety of emotions and sensations you build your capacity for self-regulation. Your capacity for self-regulation is what allows you to act from an empowered place, rather than a reactive place.
How can pendulation and titration liberate me from paralysis and allow me to face difficult sensations?
Titration is the process of feeling into trauma-related distress in small incremental amounts so that the sensation does not overwhelm. When paired with pendulation over time, the sensations become less triggering and you begin to feel less affected by the trauma.
Pendulation is the practice of feeling into contraction or distress and then feeling into space or calm. By alternating between the two, you build a tolerance for the distress which paradoxically supports experiencing more expansion and peace. The key to titration and pendulation is that the pace needs to be slow so that the nervous system does not become overwhelmed.
Because contraction and expansion are a natural part of living, your ability to feel the impermanence of distress helps you become more resilient. The contracted state no longer overwhelms, allowing you to fully embrace your expansive self.
How do titration and pendulation support me as I transition out of the freeze response?
Your body calls upon the dorsal vagal aspect of the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as a freeze response) when the sympathetic response (fight or flight) can not re-establish safety. When your body moves into a freeze, all the externally directed energy of flight/fight is redirected inward. You may feel numbed to the physiological sensations, but there is a strong activation required to sustain the freeze. There is a lot of energy that goes into the freeze response, which is also why it can feel so exhausting.
When a freeze starts to thaw that physiological charge can now be felt, and it may feel uncomfortable. In some cases it can feel like panic or rage and even be retraumatizing. Because of this, thawing greatly benefits from co-regulation, titration and pendulation.
Working slowly with a Somatic Therapist and honoring the boundaries of your tolerance will allow your body to move towards regulation. With intentional practice and time, your tolerance for the sensation will start to increase and you will learn self-regulation practices that help you navigate the thaw in an empowered and self-determining manner.
Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of trauma informed therapists that specialize in applying interventions that help you heal from trauma through felt sense.
At Red Beard Somatic Therapy we create a safe holding space for you to connect with your body using titration and pendulation. Our trauma informed somatic therapists would be honored to support you. Book with us now to begin your healing journey.