This week I have seen a few people whose emotions seem to be out of control for them. They have a very difficult time bringing themselves into a place of relative calm. I also worked with two of them on calm place/safe place visualization which was very, very difficult for them. Both of them ended up in tears and feeling either hopeless or “traumatized” by this sense of calm. It seemed to work for all of less than 30 seconds before their feelings of hopelessness and trauma returned.
Does this sound familiar to you? Either you try meditation or your therapist or friends/family recommend you stop and breathe for a few minutes, getting yourself into a place of relative calm and you end up feeling worse? You may feel like something is wrong with you because you can’t do it without extreme reactivity in the brain and body. You may feel like nothing works; that you’ll never feel better. I explain to people that you cannot be in the fight flight mode and in calm mode at the same time. You cannot be anxious or scared and calm at the same time. So, you do something to calm the body (meditation or imagery for example) and it makes you feel worse, not better. What’s up with that?!
What would you say if I told you that you are not “broken” because of this? What would you say if I said this is actually a pretty common reaction? Sometimes when people have been through so much, they don’t understand their emotions and don’t understand what it is like to feel calm. Calm is so foreign to some people that when they focus on being calm, it stresses them out even more. Some people don’t even know what calm feels like. So you try to imagine a calm/safe place and freak out because it is so foreign to you.
The brain hasn’t developed enough to know the difference between real and perceived danger. Anything that is not normal to us is dangerous. It is a way for our brain to keep us alive. If we go through new experiences willy nilly; not worrying about what may happen, we likely won’t live very long. So anything new puts us on guard – at least a bit – until we are able to see this new thing isn’t dangerous. For people with an overactive threat (fight/flight) response, new things can throw you into full-fledged fight/flight. Thus, calm being a “new” experience will cause a feeling of panic.
What do you do about that? Where do you start with recovering yourself if you can’t get to a calm/safe place in your mind? I promise you are not completely broken. I promise you, too, can start the work towards feeling good and calm. It means you need to go a little slower. Everyone has a entry point to change. For people who end up in fight/flight so easily, I will start with grounding exercises. Grounding means staying present and taking in your environment with all your senses (and emotion). I will practice this with my clients sometimes for weeks, just getting them to notice their body in the environment. Grounding isn’t necessarily about getting into a calm place (although it often has that secondary effect). There are so many ways to do grounding. I do different grounding techniques with my clients depending on their needs.
Grounding is an amazing technique to help my clients who can’t regulate their emotions enough to do calm/safe place to start the work towards reclaiming their lives. From there, so much growth can be done. If you like the idea of grounding, but don’t like the word, choose another word…taking root for example. The purpose of grounding is to get yourself present with your current environment. Strengthening is another word you can use. Whatever word seems to fit best for you.
Are you ready to reclaim your life? Are you interested in learning some specific somatic (body) grounding techniques? Or any other grounding techniques? If meditation/imagery/calm place exercises just throws you into panic, call me (860-501-9767) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). I love seeing the progress people make starting with grounding techniques.