By: Erica Hornthal, BC-DMT, LCPC
The old cliché that time heals all wounds supposedly comes from a Greek poet around 300 B.C. who said, “Time heals all necessary evils.” This common phrase has been adopted over the centuries and is especially prominent when attempting to console grief and loss. The suggestion that the pain someone is experiencing in the present will dissipate with time, isn’t necessarily coming from a bad place, but it doesn’t acknowledge the fear, lack of control, uncertainty, and insecurity the person may be experiencing presently. To suggest that time alone, which will inevitably pass, can take away incomprehensible pain minimizes the person’s emotional experience. It can also perpetuate an individual’s feeling of being “broken” when, after so much time passes, they still don’t feel healed. Additionally, it feels like a band-aid, covering up the wound but not necessarily soothing it and certainly not treating it. Eventually, that band-aid falls off, but unfortunately, the wound can still exist physically and emotionally.
I believe that time creates distance from the trauma that created the wound; without intentional healing, the wound can still be just as raw as when it was created. And that days, months, or even years passing alone, does not heal the emotional scars imprinted on our bodies. Time alone doesn’t heal all wounds, but time spent connecting to and releasing emotions buried deep within the body does. This time in conscious, intentional healing is an everlasting practice that ultimately changes our association with the initial trauma and allows us to manage the feelings that come as time continues.
So the question becomes, how do we connect to the body? How do we release the emotions we may not even be conscious of? According to dance/movement therapist Tal Shafir, “Exploration and practice of new and unfamiliar motor patterns can help [us] experience new unaccustomed feelings.” When we open up our bodies to different ways of moving, we have the potential to release hidden, repressed, or forgotten experiences. The smallest and gentlest movement has the potential to open up parts of us that we didn’t know were there.
Before opening our bodies up to new experiences, it is vital that we meet and support the body in its current state. Connecting to the body especially when it holds pain or fear can seem overwhelming. Here are three ways to help you begin connecting to your body:
- Notice how you are moving. Ask yourself, “how am I moving?” Notice your posture, gestures, and facial expressions; any and all movement or the lack thereof. This is one gentle approach to begin witnessing, acknowledging, and befriending your body.
- Scan your body for sensations. Take an inventory of what you currently feel in your body. You may experience discomfort, unrest, pain, joy, and hunger; the options are endless and completely up to what you notice.
- Bring comfort to your body in its current state. Identify little ways to make your body more comfortable. This may be adding layers for warmth, drinking some water, taking a nap, or walking around the block. There is no right way to do this. It’s about learning to listen to the sensations of the body and meeting your basic needs.
Consider that it is possible to use movement to support, release, and express your emotions. Even for those with little to no experience, movement is a way to reset your emotional compass. The ideal scenario is to practice this and engage your body before feeling overcome by stress, as that will inhibit your ability to be present to your needs.
Identifying an emotion can be done in two ways; either by bringing awareness to an emotional experience you are currently having or by first noticing how your body feels and then naming an emotion associated with that feeling. In both cases, it is about identifying what parts of your body connect to and house different emotions. You can deepen the above experience through a more in-depth body scan by paying attention to each part of your body sequentially from head to toe. You can get creative as well and think about the color, shape, or size the emotion carries. As you uncover these different emotions and how they exist in your body, I suggest you keep a journal tracking them. Putting them down on paper not only makes them visible but keeps you out of your head—which means less attention on the mind and more focus on the body.
You might notice the emotion has a specific rhythm about it. Perhaps it’s a vibration, a pounding, a swing, or a sway. Find the rhythm and move with it. Feel free to use music to support this rhythm. Be sure that the music supports the current emotion; and not the emotion you wish to feel. This practice can be done in the comfort of your bedroom or a bathroom stall at a restaurant while you are out to dinner or on a date. I have encouraged my clients to give themselves permission to use this when they need it, not merely when it is convenient. Our emotions don’t wait for the “right” time to show up. They are always present, and when we meet them as they emerge instead of pushing them aside or pretending they don’t exist, the fear around expressing them lessens, and the ability to access them increases.
Once you have identified an emotion, access a way to express it through your body. The expression could be dancing it out or creating a posture or gesture that represents the emotion. You can draw, create music, sing, or act it out. Again, there is no right way to do it, only the “right” way for you.
With the passing of time comes the possibility of re-traumatization and triggers, another reason why the mere passing of time cannot heal trauma. Healing from trauma becomes a practice, a lifestyle, and a commitment to yourself. In whichever way you choose to take this journey, remember that movement is always an option. When we move, even in small ways, we create change in the body and mind.
Hornthal, E. (2022). Body aware: Rediscover your mind-body connection, stop feeling stuck, and improve your mental health through simple movement practices. North Atlantic Books.
Shafir, T. “Using Movement to Regulate Emotion: Neurophysiological Findings and Their Application in Psychotherapy,” Frontiers in Psychology, January 1, 2021, U.S. National Library of Medicine, accessed January 1, 2021, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01451/full
Interested in learning more about therapeutic movement practices and their applications, join Afro Flow Yoga on Wednesday, May 17th, and Friday, May 19th, at the 34th Annual Boston International Trauma Conference!
Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash