Recovering from the Shock implicit in GHIA

(This is not a perfect article, but I’m publishing as is with the intent to add to and improve it later.)

Steps to recover from shock

Global High Intensity Activation might be described as a deep, subtle, and enduring state of shock.

When inquiring how to escape the intense impacts of GHIA, we can take a look at the process of recovering from intense psychological shock, which includes the following actions:

  • Rest
  • Find your way to a safe space.
  • Arrange to be able to tell your story, to be seen, heard, believed, respected and supported by one or more compassionate humans.
  • Let your body do what it wants to do, including shaking off the experience and/or completing incomplete self-protective responses.
  • Remain patient and curious as there may be layers to the experience that may take some time to be uncovered and expressed.

Shock Recovery and Somatic Experiencing®

This process of recovering from shock is really (I think) what Somatic Experiencing is designed to facilitate. Making space for the story to come from the body and for the story to come from cognition and memory, and for those two to meet and integrate and be witnessed, all of that will tend to unwind the shock and set the body system back on track.

Looking at this process of recovering from a short term emotional or physical shock – how do we apply these principles to recovering from GHIA? Can we just follow the same steps? Well, yes and no.

Challenges in shock recovery with GHIA

Let’s look at these steps and see what challenges we face in following them:

  • Rest
  • Find your way to a safe space.
  • Arrange to be able to tell your story, to be seen, heard, believed, respected and supported by one or more compassionate humans.
  • Let your body do what it wants to do, including shaking off the experience and/or completing incomplete self-protective responses.
  • Remain patient and curious as there may be layers to the experience that may take some time to be uncovered and expressed.

Rest.

For sure, some of us do this. Because our bodies won’t let us do anything else. But the rest isn’t restful. For others of us, we really don’t have the time to rest as long as it would take – and how long will it take? – to get through the subsequent steps.

Rest is certainly important, but it can be difficult to arrange for people with GHIA, for both inner and outer reasons.

And yes, we want to try to adopt a posture of rest, to be gentle with ourselves as best we can, regardless of the level of our physical activities.

Find your way to a safe place.

For a person in a good situation who has a shock trauma, this is one very important detail along the way, to find an understanding and available person. For those of us with GHIA, this is a huge piece of the path itself. 

How do we find a safe space when most people literally cannot understand us or our pain?

And when we do find someone who can understand, how do we get our bodies to cooperate, since we have had the experience repeatedly reinforced, telling us that nobody understands us and nobody is emotionally safe?

A LOT of the work is right here. Identify the safety that we DO have, past or present, from humans or animals or spirit, from real life or fiction. ANY safety that we can identify with, we want to visit and re-visit and imprint. “It is possible for me to feel safe, here is the person or place that demonstrates that truth. Let me visit that person or place in my mind every day, just to allow my body to practice the sensations of safety.” (Even if I cannot make it all the way there in my mind.)

Arrange to be able to tell your story, to be seen, heard, believed, respected, and supported by one or more compassionate humans.

First find someone who will see, hear, believe, respect, and support you.

This may correspond to finding your way to a safe place.

Next find your story

What is the story that needs to be told?

What originally happened?

If a specific and known story of trauma, loss, neglect, abandonment, or fear has never been told, then simply telling it is likely to be helpful if you feel safe and heard.

How has that original hurt informed the rest of my life?

However, many of us have already shared what we know of our historical story, perhaps even many times. What is the story that we need to tell and within which we need to be heard?

One of the elements of the Shadow Work® model is to share – with a metaphorical representation of a person who caused me suffering in the past – the impact that that past experience has had on my life from then until now and the impact that the experience continues to have on my life now. That is certainly an important part of the story that needs to be told, and it is a part that we often tend to skip over. “The past is the past, I’m here now, I need to deal with it.”

So putting words to this element can be effective and helpful: “Because of my experiences of _____ in my childhood, I have felt/acted/feared/etc. ______ and that has resulted in ______.”

Doing this, especially in the presence of an understanding and compassionate witness, can help us to let go of the sense of responsibility, guilt and shame that we tend to adopt about all of the mistakes and missteps that we perceive in our lives, past and present.

What is the shape and texture of my difficulty now and what are the accompanying emotions?

For many of us, the most potent element of healing comes when our difficult and vulnerable emotions are held and witnessed, and when we can learn how to hold and witness those emotions in ourselves for our selves without being destabilized by them.

However, we are often very skilled at hiding these emotions from ourselves, or at suppressing them the moment that they break through to the surface.

Tell your story, being seen, heard, believed, respected, and supported.

When I have a safe space and I can find pieces of my story that will benefit from being shared, perhaps finding those pieces with the support of the person or group who are providing the safe space, then it is important to tell a piece of the story and to pause with that long enough to let the telling and the witnessing impact my nervous system and my body. There may be many pieces, and it will take time.

Note that there are different options for safe spaces. A safe space could be a therapist or facilitator or it could be a 12 step or other support group, or it could be a safe enough online group where the sharing is done in writing or it could be a reliable and compassionate personal friend. This does not have to look one specific way.

Even telling your story to yourself in a mirror can be helpful – if you can feel safe, seen and supported (by yourself and by others) as you tell it.

Let your body do what it wants to do, including shaking off the experience and/or completing incomplete self-protective responses.

Feel what your body wants to do

This can be tricky, both because we are not used to doing it and because the impulses that are held in our bodies were suppressed for good reason, so we tend to automatically continue to prevent ourselves from feeling them. 

Here are some examples of things your body might want to do:

  • Run away
  • Push someone away from you or off you
  • Curl up in a tiny ball
  • Hide
  • Disappear, be invisible
  • Punch, hit, or kick someone
  • Destroy something physical
  • Look away (to the right, left, up, or down)
  • Cover your face with your hands
  • Scream
  • Hold someone or something tightly for comfort

Finding out what your body wants to do can require curiosity and patience. But if you are aware and are watching out for physical impulses, especially when you feel strong emotions, you might find some impulses that you would not otherwise have noticed.

“Hello, Body, what do you want to feel or do today? Right now?”

Many of us are habitually stuck, and the shock will tend to reinforce being physically frozen.

Just physically moving about is helpful. It’s even more helpful when we can invite and allow our body to choose the movements. Perhaps just starting to make very small slow movements here and there and looking for the body to join in and lead the movements. The Dance Improv program and other mindful group dancing programs can do a good job of supporting this particular piece of inviting the body to find its physical impulses and move through them.

Let your body follow the impulse

When you feel what your body wants to do, the movements that your body wants to make, if those movements are safe, then you can simply invite your body to make those movements. Somatic Experiencing® suggests doing the movement in super-slow motion. First, feel the impulse and imagine the movement, but don’t actually move. Feel the intention, emotions, and any other energies or qualities you can notice in your body in relation to the impulse. Then begin to move, very slowly, and feel what it is like to make that movement, to follow that impulse. New emotions or sensations may arise as you move through the small details of the movement. After making the movement slowly once or a few times, just pause and feel your body and your energy. Notice what has shifted or opened up, notice what you are feeling.

Impulse vs habit?

If you feel like yelling and screaming, or feel like crying, or feel like curling up in a ball, or feel like just walking and walking – or running and running, is it good to let yourself do that or not? How can you tell what is a good impulse to follow and what is just going around in circles through feelings and habits the same way you always do?

There is no absolute set of guidelines for making this call, but here are some things to look at.

Is this very familiar?

If the impulse is to do or express something in the same way you have done many times before, there’s a good chance that following the impulse might be satisfying in the moment but won’t actually shift anything. If it seems like you are in an old pattern, here are some things you can try:

Slow down

Find your place of witness, see yourself from the place of witness, and pause.

Look underneath

Look, feel, or sense to see if there is another layer of emotion underneath what you are actively feeling. Under anger might be fear or under sadness might be shame, for example. With gentleness and curiosity, see what you can uncover below the surface.

Offer yourself comforting touch

The emotional picture of trauma includes helplessness, overwhelm, and a lack of needed safety and support. Touch your own arm or your own face in a loving, supporting way. Let your witnessing self say to the hurt self, “I’m sorry that you are in pain, I am here.”

You might go into the familiar expression of emotion but have a slightly different experience because support is there with you. Or the feeling of support might shift the picture and other feelings or impulses might arise.

Will this make me more alive?

When you are not sure whether an impulse is a move toward healing expression or towards avoidance or habit, try asking yourself or your body, “If I follow this impulse, will that make me feel more alive? Or less alive? 

If the answer is that you will feel more alive, then pause and just feel that awareness, that sense of the possibility of more life force. Then let your body follow the impulse in slow motion, feeling the life force that comes present as you connect to your body’s movements.

Just try it, or don’t

If you still can’t determine whether an impulse is a healing movement, just use your instinct and make a choice to follow it or not. Keep your witness on board and watch what happens as you proceed to move forward following the impulse or as you move away from that impulse in another direction. Just be curious and see what you observe in yourself.

Vibrating or shaking

TRE® (Trauma Releasing Exercises) is a program that evokes shaking in the body, that can facilitate the organic shaking that the body wants to do to release stored tension. Some people find this work really helpful.

Sometimes your body will just start shaking or vibrating on its own.

If you find your body shaking, should you allow it? For how long?

Many people have experiences of vibration or shaking that seem to be related to emotions and energies in their bodies. It is always ok to allow the shaking unless there is some specific reason you are aware of why the shaking could be dangerous. Make sure you are in a physically comfortable situation with sufficient padding for parts of your body that might strike any surface.

Sometimes shaking feels really good, like something useful or healing is happening. Sometimes it feels quite uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels neutral. See how it feels, sense what your body wants. You don’t have to allow the shaking just because it is supposed to be a release. You don’t have to suppress the shaking just because it seems foolish or odd. Trust yourself and your body and do what seems right for your body for this time.

After following an impulse

After any sort of emotional or somatic work, always drink plenty of water and be gentle with yourself. Remain curious and notice what happens over the next few hours and days. You may need extra rest.

Remain patient and curious as there may be layers to the experience that may take some time to be uncovered and expressed.

While you are in the process of healing from the shock of developmental trauma, do your best to be continuously curious. Whether a lot has moved or whether everything seems stuck, observe yourself, notice how you react, how you don’t react, what your body wants, what your body rejects, where or how you might feel unexpectedly good or bad. 

There are many layers and it takes time and patience to unravel and untangle and reconstruct ourselves.

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