The Politics of Trauma

A post with a long quote from the book …really really good. It’s also instructive in terms of a somatic healing process which is really what I’ve been sharing for years though this author has articulated it with a brilliant clarity I’ve not seen before.

The below quoted text is from The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice by Staci K. Haines. It is such a wonderful articulation of the process my body is learning as I heal the brain injury following being on mind/body/soul numbing toxic pharmaceuticals for decades. Pharma silences our bodies and thus murders our spirit. Most people (“healthy” or otherwise) are hiding from their feelings one way or another. This is critical to learn as we face social injustices everywhere. We must unnumb ourselves! Those who’ve faced a lot of trauma are both more sensitive to these sensations and more overwhelmed by them.

“I know this may sound strange but so often what we are reacting to is not being able to tolerate what is happening in our own sensations, emotions and experiences. We react to get rid of the feeling, to push away the sensations, because they are associated with something intolerable, painful and uneasy.

Somatic awareness involves learning to both pay attention to, and live inside of, our sensations and aliveness. This means connecting to sensations like temperature, movement, and pressure, in an ongoing way. Through increased somatic awareness, sensations become sources of information. You can think of sensations as the foundational language of life. Overriding or numbing sensations, while a good survival strategy, leaves us disconnected from a key source of information and satisfaction. Feeling our organic aliveness lets us connect with ourselves; feel what we care about and long for; build empathy and connection with others; and feel what needs to be attended to, acted upon or healed.

There are levels to how we experience and interpret life. Sensations are the building blocks of our experiences—meaning, at the base of every internal experience is sensation. Understanding sensations as a foundational language, we can then feel emotions. For example, I may feel sad, and I can feel the sensations of pressure in my chest, warmth in my throat, and wetness in my eyes. I then experience all this as sadness. Emotions are deeply meaningful to us and can also act as guides to our commitments, connections, healing and growth.

Since many of us have needed to turn away from our sensations because of trauma and oppression, or have been trained out of paying attention to them, here are some things you can pay attention to, to feel more of them: temperatures–more warm or more cool; movement–pulsing (heart, pulses), breath (in and out), tingling, streaming, twitching; and pressure–places where you feel more contracted and places when you feel more relaxed. When you notice your sensations try and be inside of them, rather than being an outside observer.

We also have internal narratives–or stories and interpretations of the world that run through us. Some are inherited; others habitual; others have wisdom and information for us to better understand, create and navigate by. Language is a very powerful aspect of being human. Research of children born deaf shows that when we are not exposed to language early on, certain aspects of our brain do not develop (Sacks 1989). This is one reason it is important to assess deafness early, and expose deaf and hard of hearing children to sihn language. Thinking and language are also bodily phenomena, although we can often remove ourselves from our sensations through language. What I mean here is that we separate ourselves from sensations and bodily experiences by talking ourselves out of them, thus denying other information.

Lastly we also perceive others and things that are happening around us. This happens from various senses from visual and auditory to kinesthetic and sensing. When we feel our sensations and emotions we can also perceive aliveness in others, or a situation. Many of us can relate to feeling tension in a room, or between people, even when everything “looks fine.” We can also feel the effect peacefulness or ease in a person, space or in nature.

Somatic awareness invites us to attend to all of these sources of information — sensation, emotion, thinking and external perception. It asks us to learn to feel ourselves, others and the environment, at the same time. We can develop our skill to feel deeply, and assess what is needed internally and externally. We can then have conversations and take actions that serve what is needed based on what we, and others, care about.

Dissociation, minimization and numbing are normal responses to trauma, oppression, and difficult life experiences. These are all ways to remove ourselves, or aspects of ourselves, from feeling. In turn, being connected to sensation helps us bring back into contact with ourselves. It also brings us back to what we have been avoiding or protecting ourselves from. This can mean feeling physical and emotional pain that made us want to leave or numb in the first place. Thus, returning to sensing and feeling can also require support, training, and/or purposeful healing.

I know this may sound strange but so often what we are reacting to is not being able to tolerate what is happening in our own sensations, emotions and experiences. We react to get rid of the feeling, to push away the sensations, because they are associated with something intolerable, painful and uneasy. Increasing our ability to “allow for” sensations and emotions gives us more choice and decreases our reactivity.

Somatic awareness and ongoing embodiment — living inside our own body and aliveness — gives us more choice. They grow our ability to be present in more and more situations. They help us act connected to what matters to us rather than get away from something. Somatic awareness after reintroduces us to what we more care about …what’s in our hearts or our gut feelings.

A group can practice this as well, together attending to the sensations in the body and the information it brings, in our conversations, coordination, and collective action.

If you are interested in more you can purchase the book! The Politics of Trauma: Somatics, Healing, and Social Justice

More on trauma on this website.


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