Your Body Has a Voice: How "Listening" Heals Trauma
Jennifer Beauvais, LMHC, BP, C-SPT
In his film, The Wisdom of Trauma, Gabor Mate asked a trauma survivor who she could talk to when she was young and experiencing the terror of abuse. She indicated she had nobody. Gabor Mate indicated directly that this was where the trauma came from.
Having nobody to help normalize or shoulder the burden, trauma gets stuck in the body as a threat-based program that silently plays on repeat until...until what? When does it stop affecting us with inexplicable anxiety and depression? When do we stop feeling as though we could be hijacked by fear or anger at any time? And If nobody listened back then, how do we provide ourselves with that healing listening process that technically should have occurred somewhere back in time? Isn't it too late?
The answer is 'No.' Communication is still the key, but "listening" might be different than you think.
It is common understanding in the world of psychology that "What we resist persists." That the first step to healing trauma is to talk to a safe person about it. Trauma often induces shame, which is like one of those 1980s Gremlins: Expose it to the light and it decays.
But Trauma takes place on a nervous system/ body level. At some point, we may find that talking doesn't do enough. Being listened to only goes so far.
This is where somatic, or body-centered techniques, come in to play. Somatic Psychotherapy, and modalities like Brainspotting and EMDR, give us the tools to listen to the voice for where the trauma is actually stored: Our bodies.
It's hard to imagine the body has a voice. If we have experienced great physical and emotional pain over the years-- which are often one and the same-- we can imagine our bodies to have voices of authoritarianism, punishment, and cruelty.
I have experienced myself, and have watched time and again as clients access the voice of their bodies and feel deep surprise and relief: Our bodies speak to us with the guileless voice of an eager to please child. This child is holding onto a story it needs to tell us, and is dancing like a they have to go to the bathroom, like they are standing barefoot on hot pavement.
Our innocent bodies hold onto stories from the age at which they occurred. They tug at us with mounting intensity-- hence the symptoms we have with trauma. Like any wound, we become inflamed if we don't clean it. Often, we curse ourselves for having these responses, rather than viewing them as the psychobiological symptoms of a cut that needs cleaning.
"Listening" means tapping in to this voice of the body through gentle mindfulness so that it can "tell" you what it saw, what it experienced. This may come in a rush of body sensations, images, temperature changes, tears, shaking, etc.
I have heard the tears shed though this connection as being "clean" emotion, or "real" tears. It is the release of the pain that started it all, from the age it was captured. Often with it comes immense compassion-- grief that your own vulnerable self had to hold such pain alone.
Your brain begins to realize the trauma is over, and though you may not forget it, you know it is done. You can go on now.
So when Gabor Mate says that trauma comes from not being listened to, I think this also means that our bodies await our mindful, neutral awareness that only we can give it.
Often, learning this skill is most effective with a safe, compassionate, trained other. Research has shown that often, greater healing occurs in the company of such a person. My goal as a therapist is to facilitate and maintain safe environments for this deep, personal listening. Please reach out if you would like to have healing conversations with your own body-mind.