A client recently shared with me an experience of pain and trauma that she had kept to herself for two years. Understandably, there was emotion that came to the surface. She had not allowed herself to think about the incident, nor cry about it. She was trying to just “let it go”.
The body does not simply “let go” of traumatic experiences. There is a process before the letting go that involves some pretty hard work. A recent study using neuroimaging gives us a clue as to why this might be.
The researchers found that as people label emotions (a critical ingredient of mindfulness), and acknowledge and make room for their emotions, activity in specific regions in the brain actually change. With the awareness of our feelings, it generates a more integrated neural response so more “evolved” cortical structures can modulate and influence our behaviours.
As my client reported the next day, after finally telling someone about her experience and recognizing her feelings about it, she felt lighter and freer. She actually experienced a felt sense of a change in her mind/body experience because the trauma was no longer stored, so to speak, in the lower cortical structures of autonomic responses.
Research in the neurosciences continues to support the mindfulness practices we use in my psychotherapy office here in Victoria, BC. They are gentle and supportive approaches which help make real changes in peoples’ lives.
October 11, 2012