Sometimes, being on a journey of healing can feel endless. I often work with folks who come into my practice after having already done years or decades of various healing practices. There is sometimes a feeling of “will it ever end?” For some, the healing journey has felt like a hamster wheel of practices, therapies, processes, and uncertain outcomes. There’s often a feeling of “it’s so much work”.
When someone is lost in the fog of the journey (because let’s face it, at times it can feel endless and hard to navigate) there are a couple concepts that can bring some light along a foggy path and perhaps, provide a bit of relief.
The first is understanding the difference between explicit and implicit regulation.
In Somatic Experiencing, we differentiate between explicit and implicit regulation in this way: Explicit regulation refers to the practices that you consciously do to help your system heal and function at its best. This might include things like yoga, breathwork, meditation, stretching, and various movement and healing practices of all kinds.
Implicit regulation refers to when your system is functioning on its own in an optimal way. The breathing is organically connected, deep, and functions without any effort. Muscle tone is appropriate to what’s needed in the moment. The heart rate is appropriately moderated. Digestion functions easily and well, and the hormonal and endocrine systems are in balance. The body’s sympathetic system is activated when needed; and then it returns easily and naturally to a parasympathetic state of rest and relaxation.
It can be helpful to unpack these, because although explicit regulation practices are helpful and necessary in the process of healing, (and are certainly better than turning to unhealthy or addictive processes to cope), being in a state of having to constantly do endless practices just to feel okay is not the ultimate goal. And, it’s good to remind ourselves of that so we don’t feel endlessly stuck in the process.
In Somatic Experiencing (nervous system regulation and body-based trauma healing work), our long term goal is implicit regulation. Our endgame is a body and mind that functions effortlessly, organically, moving through cycles of energy and rest in natural and appropriate ways.
So, as we begin to heal and rewire our nervous systems, we start with explicit regulation (along with education about how our nervous systems function, which helps us to work in more specific and nuanced ways). We bring greater support and safety and capacity to the body. We may guide the body in safely feeling and re-negotiating old sensations and emotions, and help the system complete or release some old stress responses that have been “stuck” in the system. All this is leading to a long term goal of greater and greater implicit regulation, and organic healthy functioning.
It can be helpful to spell this out, because doing endless practices just to manage can be exhausting. If someone has been on the journey for a long time, it can feel overwhelming. And that’s why it’s important to differentiate between the practices that support, and the goal of a system that can self-regulate.
The second concept that is helpful in shedding some light on the journey is recognizing how our own trauma patterns show up in the journey of healing. It’s knowing that a person’s own trauma patterning is almost certainly going to play out as they go through their healing process.
We know that nervous systems which have been through trauma tend to get stuck in dysregulated patterns. A person might get stuck in fight/ flight, or in freeze, or a combination of both. Under stress, most folks have a predominant pattern of tending towards either high sympathetic or high dorsal parasympathetic.
For folks who tend to go into high sympathetic under stress, the healing journey can become an endless project. It can feel like never being able to relax or let go, because there’s always more work to do on yourself.
On the other hand, for folks who go into high dorsal parasympathetic under stress, the healing journey can feel like overwhelm. When things get stressful, there may be a feeling that it’s hopeless, nothing is working, it’s just never going to end or “I’m not really getting anywhere”.
It’s also common to bounce back and forth between these reactions, or to have a mix of the two.
Regardless of how we are wired, we can always support ourselves by bringing in more gentleness, more compassion. And, when we understand how our nervous systems and our bodies are affected by trauma on a physiological level, this can help us in being more compassionate with ourselves and seeing the bigger picture (even if just for a moment).
One thing that can be helpful is to note your typical or habitual approach. When looking through the lens of nervous system healing, one of the key benchmarks we are looking for is a new response. What’s different? How are you responding differently to stress patterns?
If you are someone who typically makes yourself into a project or feels a constant need to do more in the healing department… what would it be like to explore a softening, an acceptance, a knowing that you are absolutely perfect already and do not need to be fixed?
(Of course, it’s also true that there can be very real challenges that you might be seeking to overcome, and continuing to search for answers for. If you’ve been seeking and searching, I applaud and honor every bit of your path.) What’s helpful to look out for is when the search to “fix” yourself turns into it’s own obsession and becomes an endless drive to always need to do more.
On the other hand, if you typically go into overwhelm or a feeling of “it’s all too much,” you might find support in practices such as: listing accomplishments and successes; setting very do-able steps each day that support your own well being; and getting support to help you remember that you are not alone. The journey is not entirely on your shoulders.
And, of course, you may have a mix of responses. There is no one path, no right way to find… but if you can open to some new curiosity, a tiny bit more acceptance, a deeper level of gratitude and love towards yourself and your own journey… this curiosity plus acceptance can lead to an awareness in the moment that allows a new choice, a new perspective.
What’s your typical pattern? And how can you find a bit more grace, ease, acceptance, and compassion for yourself as you move through this life and this healing journey?