I haven’t written for a while and it’s because I needed to sit back and rest. Writing my series on trauma education, setting up a newsletter system (weeks of work, I couldn’t believe it!), then unplanned and suddenly moving into an office space of my own (lots of physical renovating) and with it all of a sudden a full private practise with a waiting list....took its toll and now that I am back online I can share what I have learnt (the hard way) as I hope it will help you (to avoid the hard way).
I just heard this story of an inlet, where a little trickle went through the thick sandbar and then over time this small trickle went bigger and bigger, turned into a slither of a stream with a stronger flow and eventually the whole inlet broke and the water rushed back into the sea.
It’s a great analogy for how therapy (and life!) works. Most of us are so desperate with our conditions that we start digging into the sandbar, starting to shuffle a wide opening with big movements. While we are working overtime and pushing ourselves beyond our capacity, it will take forever digging the inlet open that way. By the time we are a third into the big thick sandbar we will be exhausted and we will have to stop and take months to recover . We forget the bigger picture, that drawing a thin line all the way from the inlet to the ocean, allowing for this gentle trickle to go through while taking in the scenery would have a much bigger effect in the end. With the water doing the work for us. In tune with the elements around us.
Pushing ourselves outside our nervous systems capacity NEVER takes us forward. It might feel like we are getting there quicker for a short time, but that’s forgetting about the recovery time we will need along the way or afterwards. And that one is usually a lot longer than we ever could have anticipated. I know this and I teach this in my sessions and yet I still fall for it at times as I am naturally a bit impatient.
It is so tempting to “get in there” and “just do it quickly” as we have so much energy and enthusiasm and hope to begin with. Society trains us from early on to go over our limits, to ignore or not even hear that little voice which says “Enough! I need a rest!”. We are racing along as our mind has long taken over pumped with the injection of hope. It now runs the show, completely ignoring intuition that put us on the path in the first place. We are rushing onwards with great big steps, ignoring our sore muscles and massaging a cramp away while hobbling along annoyed - our goal seems to be so close in reach. But we won’t get there. The path that opened up is closed as our mind has pushed intuition out of the way along with our bodies and nervous systems needs.
A healthy nervous systems is relaxed, open, attuned, coherent and flexible. That way it can respond best to any given situation. If we have experienced trauma the nervous system contracts and the more constricted it is, the less flexible we can respond. Little things can then throw us into big chaos.
Trauma means that something happened way too fast for us to process and to cope with and so whenever we go with too much speed we are retriggering our system. Going slow is the best antidote to any trauma – the whole brain then has a chance to come online and to process what happened in small “doable” little segments. If we are however pressing on we are not helping the nervous system to de-constrict: Pushing means pushing inwards. Overriding means overriding the boundaries of what is possible. Pushing and overriding means causing the nervous system to contract further.
Overriding can be when we are saying “Yes” to something even though we’d rather say “No”; when we are staying that half hour longer with our friend who needed support, ignoring that we need our own space again; when we are pushing ourselves to clean the whole house even though we’ve had enough half way through and could just as well finish it the next day; when we are hanging out with someone thinking we should enjoy their company, but feeling tense throughout most of it; when we visit a busy place on a day where we’d rather be curled up at home – the list is endless.
I am not saying we shouldn’t challenge ourselves – there is plenty of challenges to be had without overriding our deeper needs. As a therapist I encourage my clients to listen to their needs and boundaries and I watch out that my clients don’t override by telling too much of their story, by sitting too close or too far away from me or by following an invitation by me when it’s not really serving them. Healing cannot happen in a therapy session if you are overriding (“to get there quicker”) and if you don’t feel really safe.
It has been an amazing journey getting to know my own nervous system during my Somatic Experiencing training and ever since. It has been extraordinary learning its ins and outs and I am still learning about it every day. It still stuns me that going slow and gentle can have such amazing results as I am so used to “digging in hard”. There is so much more fun to be had if we take it easy, as we can take in the scenery along the way, enjoy every little step alongside our passage, watch with awe the flow of life doing “its thing” and taking over in this unexpected “much-bigger-than-us”- way.
I am really good at following my intuition and when I become inspired I follow it no matter how scary at first. But I jump in way too quick and then run out of steam. My sensitive nervous system can’t hack that, my mind takes over and I get into a “doing mode” rather a being mode. I work harder and harder and push myself (“Almost there!”, “So close, just a bit longer!”, “ You worked so hard, don’t give up now!”) only to then requiring months of recovery.
I hope I will learn from this last time where I pushed myself way too much, renovating my new office space with lightning speed while slowly beginning to limp emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually (my guess is it will take a few more learning lessons though). I wish next time my intuition inspires me I will sit back and wait a bit longer before jumping into action and letting my mind (it doesn’t know how to stop!) take over. I will try to not override my need for breaks and allow time for the transition. I want to go with the pace my nervous system can take easily. It works so much better in the long term. Life is so much more fun if we go a bit slower.
If you like these posts, please feel free to share them. Everything I have written is copy righted and I am only requesting to give me credit for information passed on and copied. Thanks.
Should you have missed my trauma education series, just check out my Facebook page “Barbara Schmidt Counselling Somatic” or scroll back under the blog section on my web site www.counsellingsomatic.com.au and you can read these easy to understand articles on nervous systems, trauma and healing. You can also subscribe to my newsletters so you won’t miss any future posts.
Have a great day,
Mental Health Social Worker
EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner
144 Stirling Terrace, Albany &
3/55 Strickland Street, Denmark
m: 0458 234 410