February 17, 2015

A Gateway to Healing Trauma: Embodied Transformation

This week, I am super excited to be introducing you to Staci Haines of Generative Somatics. I have been following Staci's work for some time and her book, The Survivor's Guide to Sex, had a huge impact on me and my healing. In this two part series, Staci is going to be sharing with us some beautiful somatic techniques for healing. Enjoy!


Healing from traumatic experiences, those that break a deep sense of safety, belonging, trust or dignity, is an embodied experience.  What do we mean by embodied? I’d like to invite you to think of embodied as the “whole self and how we relate,”…not just adding the body to psychotherapy, and not even just understanding the brain better through neuroscience (although this is great!).  

Embodied includes our thinking and belief systems, our nervous system, muscular system, endocrine system, skeletal and circulatory system, our felt senses, our actions, our relatedness to others and life, our heads, hearts and guts, our identities.  All of this is embodied, or in Somatics we call it the Soma.   We are organisms, relating with other organisms. 

When we are hurt or deeply threatened though abuse, violence, certain kinds of loss, oppression or hate crimes, we automatically move into a deep set of survival reactions.  These are built in -- we didn't have to learn them -- they come with the package of being human.  

Our entire system moves into a complex set of survival responses that include: flight, fight, freeze, appease and dissociate.  All of these are deigned to take care of our safety, belonging (to love and be loved), dignity and our significance.  These later are core needs as humans.  We adapt, and adapt to survive.  

Sadly when adaptation is driven by harm or shock, or lacking love connected to safety, things get complex.  Our survival strategies become automatic, even when they don't serve our lives anymore (i.e. distrust of self and others that is generalized, giving up safety to find connection or visa verse, isolation, constant anxiety, etc.)

Below is an embodied process of transformation, we call the Arc of Transformation.  This is an overview of the aspects of healing through the Soma that are a part of embodied transformation.  By Transformation, we mean that you can take new actions, make new moves and choices, even when under pressure.  When looking at transformation and healing trauma, it means you are not “managing” your symptoms after trauma, not being driven by that hurt, rather, you have new ways to generate safety, belonging and dignity… that safety and love are re-connected, rather than split.  Most people talk about feeling lighter, like the trauma is behind them, that they are able to feel and embodied themselves, etc.


In each area of work there are somatic conversations, processes and somatic practices.  This work also integrates somatic bodywork and breath patterns.

Current shape:  This is what is currently embodied in you -- thinking, actions, emotional range, ways of relating.

Circle 1: This is a time to explore: What do you care about?  What matters to you? What do you long for?  The body usually has a different answer than the mind alone.  We form declarations for the future.  Also, this is the time to build the relevance of the Soma and begin feeling and listening deeply to the whole self and body (sensations, emotions, aliveness).

Circle 2: The embodied exploration of  “conditioned tendencies” (our embodied adaptations), of resilience, and our safety shaping.  How did you adapt to find safety, belonging and dignity?  What of this works still and what is automatic and limiting your choices?  We build new practices for safety, connection and dignity, learning embodied consent.  What deep embodied resource did you access, and how can you practice that on purpose now? 

Circle 3: Processing the historical contractions and numbness in the Soma through the body.  The body holds our history and adaptations to our experiences through contractions, numbness and physicalized patterns.  We call this body-up learning.  When the Soma opens, new information will emerge from the body, and inform the thinking and identity.  We hold that there is an inherent healing system that wants to re-harmonize…like an immune system for healing the self.  When we help the Soma open old safety contractions and numbness, this system works.  It is a very quick way to heal. 

Circle 4: Mutual connection and healing shame.  We are inherently relational.  Loving and being loved is core to our human experience, and usually the place we need to heal and grow to get good at.  Feeling ourselves and others at the same time.  Dignifying self and others simultaneously.  Where there is trauma, there is shame.  We hold a multi-phase healing shame process that includes: education (often we think things are our fault that aren’t), blending with shame, spirited commitment to dignity, centered accountability (not over or under accountable) and cultivating forgiveness (self and others).  Lastly, learning to build more connection, rather than split), when there is conflict.  Conflict as generative.

Circle 5:  Embodying new practices.  We become what we practice, we are always practicing something. Are our practices aligned with what we most care about?  In this phase our purposeful practices are more and more aligned with what we care about and who we want to be. These are embodied practices with purpose and intention behind them.

New Shape:  This is the phase of embodied transformation when you have, and are, the embodied commitments and longings you began with.  Perhaps you yearned for an ability to create intimacy with yourself and others, or for the experience of safety and connection combined, for an ability to have centered boundaries that care for you and others, or to speak and pursue what you care about…etc.  Your actions, thinking, expanded emotional capacity are more aligned with what you most care about and your values. Because we continue to grow and deepen, the “New Shape” becomes your “current shape” and we get to continue to move through the Arc.  This is an iterative process.

Lastly, another way of thinking about “embodied”, is that our human form/body is the result of 3 billion years of evolutionary wisdom.  Why would we only attend to our rational mind when we have all of that wisdom?

Join us next week when Staci will be sharing with us how to understand trauma and resilience on a somatic level!


Staci K. Haines is the founder of generative somatics, and is committed to the interdependence of personal, collective and systemic transformation.   “We are shaped by our deeply personal experiences and our social conditions.  Through embodied transformation and collective action we can move ourselves, communities and society toward what is life-affirming.  The focus of generative somatics is to bring the transformative power of somatics to serve social and environmental justice movements.”

Staci is also a founder of generationFIVE, a social justice organization whose mission is to end the sexual abuse of children within 5 generations through survivor leadership, community organizing, transformative justice approaches and movement building (www.generationFIVE.org). She has been working and organizing re: child sexual abuse prevention since 1992.

Lastly, Staci is the author of Healing Sex: A Mind Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma (Cleis 1999, 2007), a how-to book offering a somatic approach to recovery from sexual trauma and developing healthy sexual and intimate relationships. Healing Sex includes both men and women as survivors of sexual trauma, and represents people from a diversity of communities, and has both English and Spanish subtitles (www.healingsexthemovie.com).

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