I'm fixed! EMDR, Somatic Freeze, and Early Trauma

Much to my delight, EMDR is slowly eroding some deeply held somatic patterns. I had my doubts it could work on trauma held in my body for over six decades. But in time, I am changing. I am recognizing more quickly when I’m in a freeze and learning how to disengage from it in a self-caring way.

What is somatic freeze anyway?  My somatic freeze is a state I often find myself in when I’m engaged in quiet activities. For instance, I may be reading and notice my breath is shallow and my chest and belly are hard as a wash board. I am breathing in the most shallow way possible–the way I breathed as a baby after stomach surgery for a stomach blockage to reduce the pain and discomfort. Taking a big breath hurt! How do I know this?  My breath patterns and somatic freezes tell me.

Years ago, a powerful dream came to me about this. There on the hard wood floor lay a brownish-purple, liver-like organ. I saw it through the white slats of my crib. Dead, I thought. I approached it, thinking to haul it away and throw it out, but noticed it was pulsing ever so slightly. Oh my god, I thought, it’s alive and I almost threw it away. I woke up panicked with what I’d almost done though I also felt relief.

In EMDR, I worked with this image. A wise adult self, a part of me that has become activated in my wanding sessions, picked up this organ and brought it to the baby in the crib. “Here, it’s fixed,” she said. “Put it back in.” “No,” the baby answered, “What if it isn’t?” “It is. Trust me.” Baby me, doubtful, put it back into my body. The wise part said, “I’ll help you. We’ll work on this together.”

Sure enough, every so often during the wanding, this mature, nurturing, good-mother part approached baby me: “It works, yes?” “Yes!” I cried, giving her a thumbs up. She’d leave and shortly return to ask again: “It’s working, right?” “Right!” baby me answered. In this way, I am integrating the fact that I am fixed, so there’s no need to unconsciously go into a somatic freeze in order to protect myself from pain and near death that happened decades ago.

So now, outside of therapy, when I feel myself go into somatic freeze, this wise part shows up. “You’re in one of your freezes. It’s ok,” I tell myself. Then, my body (baby me) simply relaxes. I know I’m ok and there’s nothing to fear. This mother part is non-judgmental, loving, and wholly supportive–something I didn’t get from my mother, who did her best to help me.

EMDR is helping me know at a very deep level that I am fixed and work perfectly. The freeze is old and can be let go. There’s no need to berate myself for freezing up. In fact, there’s every reason to feel compassion for myself.  EMDR is facilitating my healing journey as I steadily and certainly come home to my body.