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The Healing Vortex—Healing Emotional Pain

Image of small boy crying, mom holding up hand to indicate agreement.  Raleigh Psychotherapy, Healing vortex, counseling,Katherine Broadway

Somatic Experiencing® was developed by Dr. Peter Levine after he observed that animals in the wild do not get traumatized even thought they are faced with life threatening events everyday. They were able to shake off high levels of nervous system arousal and return to a relaxed state.

Levine pondered the question, “Why are humans unable to respond to dangerous situations in the same way?” He realized that the neocortex – the part of us that makes us most human – not only makes it possible to think and ponder deep questions, but also gives us the ability to override our instinctual response. Instead, we respond with thoughts and feelings in the mixture. We have the ability to feel and think about the frighting event and to realize our fragility and vulnerability. That's what creates the trauma that animals don't feel.

The Neocortex Allows Healing

He also realized that having the neocortex allows for healing after a painful or traumatic experience. Levine thinks about this process of fear and healing as two vortexes: the Trauma Vortex, which represents life-threatening danger and holds painful, frightening memories; and the Healing Vortex, which represents the life-affirming capacity of the human mind and holds positive memories of comfort, strength and pleasure.

The Healing Vortex is not just for Trauma survivors

Each of us has a Healing Vortex – for proof, think back to a time you had a close call or that you were hurt. Your first reaction is to feel the physical and emotional pain. At that moment you are in the Trauma Vortex. When your nervous system settles down and the pain lets up a little, the second reaction is to notice that you survived. You feel the pleasure of knowing you made it through the event. You have entered into the Healing Vortex.

Going from the painful experience to this sense of relief and pleasure, is like a child running to their mother for hugs and reassurance after being hurt. These experiences teach the child that they can get comfort and help after a painful experience. This is an early step in creating the Healing Vortex.

It's also worth noting that the Healing Vortex is not limited in scope to life-threatening events, it can be helpful when dealing with relationship stresses, office dramas, and anything else that our mind deems hurtful even if it can't physically kill us.

How we begin to build and strengthen the Healing Vortex? By spending time noticing and enjoying the good experiences in our lives. That may sound easy, but it is not. That is because the human brain is programed to look for and to dwell on the painful, negative experiences.

Dwelling on the negative events is part of our survival system

In the early days of humanity, humans were in constant danger. If they did not stay alert, a tiger or some other animal might sneak up behind them and attack. Taking time to dwell on the positive events could distract you from a threat and could get you killed or gravely wounded.

It is not so now. We are not under constant threat of wild animals or other attacks. Unfortunately, our nervous system has not caught up. It is not second nature to stop, pay attention and nurture the good experiences we have. We experience them and move on to watching for danger.

What We Pay Attention to Becomes Anchored in Our Brain

Every time we talk, or even think about something, the memory becomes stronger. Neural networks are being strengthened. Each time we are reminded of an event (positive or negative), re-tell the story, and focus on that event, it puts down another layer and strengthens that memory.

Dianne was raised in a very strict family. The expectations were high: keep a clean room, do chores on the weekends, make good grades. Most of the time she met the expectations. There was never any praise or rewards for a job will done, no pausing to enjoy what was accomplished. There was plenty of correction, being told that a chore had to be redone because it did not meet the high standards of the family. Dianne never enjoyed her abilities and accomplishments.

Her healing vortex was tiny. She needed to grow her vortex so that she could use it to feel good about herself and her life. She needed to build her healing vortex so that she would have a place of comfort to go to when she was feeling down.

Building Your Healing Vortex

Building the healing vortex requires effort and practice. Even in relation to painful experiences, you can find some positive experiences to amplify: the memory of a kind stranger or the pleasure in surviving, for example. To strengthen the healing vortex, you have to dwell on good experiences long enough to reinforce them.

Here are a few ideas that will help you build and strengthen your own Healing Vortex

When you encounter a positive moment or good feelings within your day:

1. Stop, look and listen: ​

Take time to pause and really see what is happening. Describe it to your self. What are you hearing? If others are present listen carefully to the words that are spoken. If you are alone, listen to your inner conversation and feel the positive feelings that are being created at the moment.

2. Ask yourself, “What was the best part of the experience for you?”

Did someone recognize one of your talents? What words were said to you? Were you given a compliment? Did you learn something new and it felt good?

3. What did you feel about yourself?

It maybe a fleeting moment where you catch a good feeling about yourself. Did you feel smart, strong, maybe even like a super hero for that brief moment?

4. Take an image of it:

If you have a camera, most of us do on our smart phones, take a picture that symbolized what happened for you. Ask someone else to a take a picture of you. Have a copy made and put it in a place where you see it everyday. If there is no camera available, take a snap shot in your mind, something that can remind you of this experience. An image, such as a majestic mountain or a sleek puma, might capture the positive way you feel about yourself.

5. Write it down.

Relive the event by writing down the story. This reinforces the moment by going over the story one more time, it creates one more layer to your memory. Writing is a physical activity that will cement the memory in your body and mind.

Each time you do any or all of this things, it puts another layer on your memory, making it thicker and stronger so that it will be available when you need a boost. It will strengthen you. By doing this, you are building a platform for you to stand on when you are in a sea of uncertainty and pain.

Finding your healing vortex can be difficult, I can help you. Call me at (919)-881-2001

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