Letter from SE™ International Board Chair Rebecca Stahl – April 2021

by | Apr 19, 2021 | About Trauma

Dear Global Somatic Experiencing Community,

As more places around the world begin to open back up, I am noticing a common theme amongst folks – they are feeling overwhelmed with the emotions coming up. I find myself wondering how Somatic Experiencing can help us make sense of this shift out of the pandemic. Had you asked me in January 2020 what a pandemic was I likely would have told you that I had no idea. Quarantine as a worldwide concept probably would have resulted in a similar confused response from me. I expect I am not alone in this.

We all can probably speak ad nauseum about pandemics now, and many of us have learned that the last one was in 1918. But how many of us talk about pandemics, particularly this one, as an externally enforced freeze response? One of the most consistent feelings people have shared with me the past year is a lack of motivation, from elementary school students to those who are retired. We know this lack of motivation is a normal freeze response to a very abnormal situation.

This pandemic-imposed freeze response is, however, shifting. You might think I want to talk about how SE can help our friends and family understand the freeze response. Instead, I think we need discuss what is underneath it.

My SE training was the first time in my life that I really understood how and why coming out of freeze opens up so many other emotions. I intrinsically knew this before, but I did not have the language for it. The graphic on this page shows what we know so well – underneath the freeze response are anger, rage, fear, and panic. As a community, we can normalize how anger, rage, fear, and panic (and so many more emotions) are normal survival responses to a very abnormal situation.

What I hear from my friends and family and see on social media and read throughout the world is a lot of blaming about how people are acting right now. I do it as well. How many times per day do I think to myself, “Why can’t [insert person’s name here] be less of a jerk?” And then, of course, there are the times where I am not at my best. How many of you have experienced something similar?

Then, that little voice in my head, and that knowing in my body reminds me – these are perfectly normal survival responses to a very abnormal situation. That little voice and that little knowing do something profound – they give me space. It is rarely a lot of space, but it is enough space. It is enough space because of the other important lesson I have learned from SE. Trauma makes our brains and nervous systems believe that life will always be this way. We come to feel like nothing will ever change. Any space, even the smallest amount of space, is enough to remind our brains and nervous systems that change is both possible and inevitable. And when I can feel that space instead of the overwhelming emotions, I find my judgment (for myself and others) can shift.

My hope is that we as the global SE community can both normalize these intense fight/flight responses as we come out of freeze and help ourselves and those around us find even 1% more space in how we respond. My hope is that we can use this knowledge we understand and know so well to look at each other and the world with more grace – toward ourselves, and each other, for these normal survival responses to a very abnormal situation. From this perspective, we can talk about behaviors without shaming. We can discuss how to be better without blaming. We can hold space for trauma responses that result in imperfect behavior.

One of the many exciting ways we are bringing this information to more people is by changing our name and logo. We are now Somatic Experiencing International with a logo that focuses on the connectivity of the world and feels like a Hoberman Sphere. Changing our name changes our intention. It means broadening the tent. It means needing to understand each other better. It also means remembering that our differences are what can bring us together, not separate us. In this time of upheaval as more countries open up and those that have been open internally consider what it means to open up externally, we have to remember that SE helps provide the tools for holding space for the reactions of the trauma of the pandemic. Our new logo’s design and symbolism can anchor us back to a state of more regulation.

I do not think any of us know exactly what life post-pandemic will look like. I do know that within this community we can support each other, globally. We can continue to show up with compassion and understanding for the intensity that may exist as we come out of the imposed freeze response on so many of us. And we can help our friends and family see what is happening through eyes and hearts of nonjudgment.

As always, if you would like to connect with us, please reach out. Our email address is listening@traumahealing.org.