I used to describe myself as “all left-brain.” That side of me, the “need-to-know-the-why-of-things” part of my psyche, was so comfortable that I found little to no use for my right brain— or anything that came with it, like: emotions, creativity, or a sense of my body. I was very proud of this big head of mine: all its logic, its rationality, and its completely sensible ways. There I was, walking around the world in my left brain … with no body attached. About then I found out about attachment theory, learned how I fell into the avoidant attachment style continuum, and realized that having an overactive left brain was a defense mechanism and not a choice.
I was fascinated with this information and read everything I could get my hands on about attachment theory (yes, that's a left-brain function, I'm sure!). The person who I had become, my adult self, began to make a lot of sense. In my journey through the attachment theory world I learned about Somatic Experiencing® and started my training. It was there that I discovered I had a body (funny thing to discover, right?) and that my body had lots to say.
Now that we were conversing, not only did my body have a lot to say, but it was also instrumental in helping my brain to stay calm, think first, and not overreact. Amazing! I had always figured that me and my left brain had the market on self-control. I did not realize that my right brain took over whenever I was overwhelmed with stress, sometimes making me react in ways that would scare myself or others around me. Having this information was hugely valuable. It satisfied my left brain and opened up the possibility of exploring something new: a right-brain function with its deeper connection to my own physical being.
Embarking on a mission to get in touch with my body, I found a lot of wonderful techniques and wanted to become a practicing expert in all of them. I bought meditation CDs, went on many retreats, and even got a machine that measured the time in between my heartbeats— to let that hungry left-brain know just exactly how relaxed I was! Not surprisingly, I became overwhelmed with everything I was trying to learn and incorporate in my daily life.
It was then that I recalled the very simple ‘grounding technique' I learned on my first Somatic Experiencing training day. Because noticing my body was not something I had ever done before, it was not on my radar. I would forget to just notice my feet on the floor or my butt in the chair. So, how does the left brain combat such forgetfulness? I put little sticky notes all around me with just the words: FEET, BUTT, HANDS, ARMS, LEGS. They reminded me to just notice those parts of my body: where they were or what they were doing at any given moment. Each reminder only took a split second to notice and consider; so I checked in with myself quite often throughout the day.
This simple practice has allowed me to become so in tune with my body that I now notice the slightest change. However, the most amazing and valuable gift of this practice has been in times of stress. I used to react from an uninformed emotional brain and the response was not always admirable. This new, automatic, organic awareness of my body sensations— say a fast heartbeat, tight chest, or knotted stomach— gives me that extra split second to choose an appropriate response. How did I ever think I was going to get along with only half a brain?!
Author Shirley Impellizzeri, PhD is a psychologist in private practice, on her third year of Somatic Experiencing training. Her book, scheduled to release in April/May 2012 is titled: Why Can't I Change? How to Conquer Your Self-Destructive Patterns. The book shares her own journey of self-discovery while offering SE®-based exercises.