I've got nothin' to say
The Retune Blog - 22nd September 2023
When I trained as a probation officer one of the first things we were taught was to trust our ‘gut’ instinct if we were in a situation. But, then as soon as we were to get a chance, to explore what caused that gut instinct so that we would be able to express our concern in a reasoned and defendable way.
Over the years since then I’ve increasingly read about our ‘gut’ wisdom. How our thinking, feeling and processing isn’t just an activity for our head. Sometimes we just instinctively know something. Eugene Gendlin coined a term for this; felt sense. This reflects the idea that we simply know some things through pre-verbal intuitive experiences of the body which we have yet to clearly conceptualise.
I’ve sometimes found this when working with people and in my own life. Something feels off, but it’s not quite tangible enough to verbalise. To use the words of Linkin Park’s Somewhere I Belong:
When this began I had nothin' to say and I'd get lost in the nothingness inside of me.
Sometimes talking this through helps us to clarify our thoughts and feelings:
I was confused and I let it all out to find that I'm not the only person with these things in mind.
But sometimes we can’t even begin to verbalise how we feel. This week I’ve been reading about how animals deal with trauma. I guess it’s pretty obvious that a tiger never sits down with their therapist! So what do they do, and can we learn anything from this?
Well animals tend to use a physical release mechanism known as discharge. I’ve seen this with our dog Ivy. Whenever she goes to the vet, as we approach, she begins to deal with the stress by shaking. This is a very physical way of releasing the stress she is feeling. To return to our song, it somewhat reflects the idea that:
I wanna let go of the pain I've held so long.
In the human therapy setting, there is an approach known as somatic experiencing techniques (see the book recommendation below) which taps into this through alternating between being grounded in the present and managed exposure to stress.
In a less clinical way, it’s also a good psychological complement to the chemical explanation of how exercise can help us when we feel stressed. So, perhaps we don’t always need to talk everything through. Perhaps sometimes we just need to embrace the Taylor Swift approach (to quote a different song) and shake it off.
Book of the week:
Waking the Tiger - Healing Trauma by Peter A Levine with Ann Fredrick (1997)
Grounded in observations as to how animals deal with trauma, this book offers an alternative (or perhaps more helpfully a complimentary approach) to talking therapy to deal with unresolved stress. The book begins exploring how animals process their trauma in a physical manner, finding ways to deal with ‘stuck energy’. It then builds on this looking at how humans too can use somatic experiencing techniques to replicate this form of trauma processing. This practice involves grounding, titration, pendulation and discharge as a means of becoming aware of, and working with, bodily sensations or the felt sense.