“Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.”
The other evening, someone ran a stop sign as I was crossing into an intersection (I had the right of way) and I almost crashed into his car. We were in a residential neighborhood (just a block and a 1/2 from my home). As I came to a stop, my hands flew up and I stared at him in disbelief. In response, the stop-sign-runner threw his arms up and made faces at me. What the?! I was so disoriented by the almost-crash and his response that I didn’t know what to do. After several moments sitting in shock and blocking the road, I drove the rest of the way to my house.
Feeling scared, humiliated, and angry.
As I arrived home, I found myself in the midst of a nervous system fight response along with visions of hunting that guy down and crushing what I assumed was his precious car. These self-protective impulses and the massive energy I felt stayed with me for a long time that evening. (In case you worry I would act on those thoughts, know that I would never take steps like that unless I or someone I loved was truly in danger.)
Over the remainder of the evening, I tried to settle myself by relaxing, reading, watching a little tv but – I was still pretty amped up. My stomach was upset so I didn’t eat dinner. I briefly shared what had happened with my husband, but he was busy with a guest who was visiting that day. I did my best to cope with the stress energy that remained in my body, but was still very agitated and restless at bedtime.
I wasn’t going to be able to sleep until I released the energy that was swirling in my body.
It was too late to call a friend or work with a professional. My husband was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him even though he would have been there for me if I’d asked. Tears would help, but if you’re like me, you learned at a young age that allowing and releasing difficult emotions is a dangerous thing to do. In our house, we were punished for crying or expressing anger. I’ve worked hard to loosen the grip and suppression of feelings I perfected during my childhood, but there is still work to do on that front. One consistent workaround that helps me produce tears is watching a movie like Marly and Me. It was so late that I didn’t use this option. Besides, I’m committed to healing my nervous system organically. There’s nothing wrong with watching a movie to release tears, but that sort of coping hasn’t helped re-train or re-regulate my nervous system. So,
I called upon the tools I’ve learned in Somatic Experiencing Practitioner training along with other tools I’ve collected and offered to clients over the years:
#1 Compassion: I offered myself love and unconditional understanding for what I was feeling and thinking. I made it ok that I was so pissed at that guy and I wholeheartedly agreed with myself about what an asshole he’d been. I mean, who does that? Who almost causes an accident, then mocks and makes faces at the innocent party? Perhaps he was as shocked as I was from almost being hit by my car but that was not my problem in the moment. Job One was to offer myself space for whatever I was feeling and thinking – even the thoughts that were shocking to me. Its pretty rare that I want to “hunt someone down” but this physiological response was automatic and understandable in the face of the threat I’d experienced. Squashing responses like this isn’t helpful and it only creates a vicious cycle of stuck-ness that builds on itself.
**I’m not suggesting that you act on violent thoughts you might have when there is no real threat present. The thing to do is to be mindful of them and do your best to track the sensations in your body. I recommend that doing the work to release the associated energy of those thoughts is best when done with a professional.** See #2 for how to start working with your sensations.
#2 Sensations: I shifted my attention into my body and tracked any sensations that I noticed. Initially I found pain in my right arm and leg. This didn’t surprise me since if I was to protect myself physically I’d use my right side limbs, which are strongest, for the fight. Even though kicking and punching that guy was not something I was going to do my body had the energy for those motions ready to be released. Being mindful of the impulses I was sensing was appropriate that evening. I did not complete the impulse of punching and kicking and that’s what caused me to feel the painful sensations in my limbs. Now that the fear of threat had passed, I needed to be with my body and the sensations there while allowing the threat energy to slowly move its way out of my nervous system. The way my body processed the energy was in the form of trembling, twitching, tingling, and vibrations. I put away any thoughts of this process as weird and just let it happen. As I put my attention into other sensations I noticed they slowly dissipated and my body took spontaneous deep breaths of release. I continued being curious and went a little deeper to find the impulses underneath the anger, the humiliation, and the fear. I stayed with the impulses and as automatic movements and sensations arose, I allowed them to happen. The process of being with my body, it’s sensations and impulses brought forward images, more thoughts, and memories of past experiences. As I kept my attention on my body, tears of relief emerged. And I finally slept.
The entire process took between 30-45 minutes. I woke up free of the anger and humiliation I’d felt the night before. The desire to hunt that guy down was gone.
Before I learned about the nervous system and SE tools, an experience like this would have stuck with me for much much longer.
I’m thankful for the study and knowledge I now have (and continue to gain) which has given me the ability to give my body the gift of stress relief. I could not have done this process a few years ago. Releasing stuck stress and/or trauma energy on my own and with trained SE practitioners has created increased peace and so much more goodness in my life.
The skill I’ve gained in my training and in my personal work is a gift I can give to others with Somatic Experiencing sessions.
If you’d like to experience this type of goodness and release of stress, be sure to reach out to me. I offer a complimentary 30 minute session for new clients.