When Trauma and Conflict Split Us Apart: Turning Toward Healing and Shared Humanity by Rebecca Stahl, Interim Executive Director


Dear Somatic Experiencing® Community,

My heart hurts. Deeply. Since October 7, I have been asking myself what to say, how to say it, and what role Somatic Experiencing International and Somatic Experiencing generally have when horror and trauma strike. What words can possibly be a salve when war ravages and we are seeing death and pain and destruction? What words can possibly be a salve when polarization is at an all-time high, even between close friends and family?

As the interim executive director of an organization whose vision is “Transforming Lives Through Healing Trauma,” one would think I could more easily find the words. But the contrary is true. From a somatic perspective, words often fail us. Words often bring up more polarizing qualities and take us away from the depth of what we are feeling and the ability to sit with pain and watch it move. Words can distract us from our goal as SE professionals, which is to sit with ourselves and our clients with whatever shows up, without judgment. From an SE lens, it is when we can sit with the complexity of pain and begin to let it find its way out that we begin to find healing. And there may be no issue in the world that creates the level of complexity, division, and polarization as the conflict in the Middle East. And we know that polarization is not limited to this conflict; it just amplifies it.

During the past few weeks, I have felt paralyzed by fear, mobilized by wanting to do something, anything, and wishing I could run away and hide from it all. Before SE, I would have been overwhelmed by all of this. Because of SE, while it has been a lot to experience, I have also been aware of every single moment and what my nervous system is doing. And that has made these past few weeks navigable, despite being some of the most painful weeks of my life.

Said more bluntly, I cannot imagine my life these past few weeks without SE. And that is what has given me the space to finally write something – to share my thoughts about how SE can be the response when it feels like nothing else can be.

As trauma professionals, we know how trauma impacts us. It can make us see the world in stark terms. It can make us believe that the world is “us vs. them.” When we are in trauma responses, we seek safety, and we seek safety in those who we deem are like us. Everyone and everything else are potential threats. When you add social media and algorithms to the mix, this polarization and othering only increase.

Our mission at SEI is not to fuel that separation and polarization; it is to find healing and connection despite the most intense trauma. And when we are in trauma responses, that is not easy. I am horrified to admit there have been moments where I have found myself being pulled into the “us vs them” mentality. Perhaps that is the darkest part of polarization, facing the sides of ourselves we wish did not exist but where our nervous systems get pulled because of trauma and the patterns it creates. Thankfully, I have my SE practice, my SE community, and the SEI mission to always return to what I want the world to be – a place where we can all love each other deeply, hold complexity and care, and hold each other in all our conflicted humanity.

We all know that does not happen overnight. But we have SE tools to do it. It might have to begin in a titrated fashion. For just one moment, can I feel the terror and pain of “the other?” For just one moment, can I see the humanity in every single person? For just one moment, can I lean toward connection? Can I begin to unwind these patterns? The patterns from this lifetime and those of my ancestors?

I think the strongest lesson I have learned from SE is this: Trauma in our systems makes us feel as though whatever we are experiencing will never change. It will never get better. SE gives our nervous system the chance to feel something different, even for a moment. That moment may begin as only a moment, but it tells the system that shift is possible. It tells the nervous system that there is another way. And these small changes often lead to much larger shifts over time. And they are powerful. And they have the potential to shift ourselves and the world. They have the potential to unwind these deeply held patterns.

What if every single person in our community, for just a moment, felt something different than their immediate response to what is happening in this polarized environment? What if every single person in our community, for just a moment, felt the collective pain of people suffering? All people suffering? What if we sat in the pain and used our tools to pendulate to a resource? Could we begin to shift toward healing? We are not getting out of this tragedy by further inflicting pain on each other. We get out of this tragedy in seeing every single child, every person, as an extension of ourselves, our own person to protect.

My heart aches beyond measure for the lives lost, the pain caused, and the ripping apart of families, whether through death or ideology. I cannot stop death and destruction. But here at SEI, together as a community, we can feel and experience how healing happens. We can sit with our clients and give their nervous systems space to find healing. And that, in turn, can change the world. That work begins with moments. Moment by moment, we find our path toward healing.

In my years on the board and now in this role, I have been touched, deeply touched, by the care, compassion, and love that people within this community show. I firmly believe, because I have witnessed it often, that everyone who comes to the SE community comes to it because they care about people and the world. I do not question the motivation and the heart of people in this community. We may disagree about so much, but we all believe that healing is possible and that we get to it by holding the complexity, the pain, and the joy all together.

Thus, the only words I have in these moments are a return to our nervous systems, a return to healing, and a return toward the path we have all chosen to find that healing. May we all find solace in our own SE work and what we are doing with our clients. May that ripple effect make a difference in the world and help find ways to bring people toward a path of healing.

With deepest gratitude and love,

Interim Executive Director