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The Theatre Of The Body




This article provides a brief overview of one of the current trends in the trauma field. I’ve collated a series of quotes that reveal shared understanding and provide some book titles that you may like to explore. Once you have read this I hope you will also go to our “Grounding Experiment” article, which contains an introduction to grounding ideas. Here you are invited to explore and experience a taste of how we can engage with the ‘Theatre Of The Body,’ ideas that may help you become more self aware and calm.

Trigger Warning

Warning: This article may contain content that could disturb some readers. If reading this story causes you distress and you need support, please call the Blue Knot Helpline on 1300 657 380 (9am-5pm AEST, 7 days). Calls that cannot be answered directly will be returned as soon as possible, so please leave a message with your phone number, and state of residence.

The Theatre of The Body

There is a groundswell of research and training available in trauma therapy and recovery. The latest research is overwhelmingly supportive of body-based therapies – we are not talking about the use of touch – rather a focus on understanding what is happening inside – bottom up – from the soles of your feet through to the crown of your head: a therapeutic movement towards exploring what you are experiencing within your body.

Many trauma survivors ignore their inner sensations, trying to neutralise unwanted sensory experiences and bracing, or isolating, themselves to cope with the world. This results in a wide variety of symptoms, which we know can be traced back to the experience of childhood trauma and abuse. For many who didn’t experience safety and security in childhood, feelings of safety within the body may have been lost or were never familiar.

“People’s inner sensory world… (where) the trauma continues to play out – in the theatre of the body” van der Kolk cited in Emerson (see end).

In talking therapy people can start to process how the world around them – certain sounds, smells and images can trigger them to feel as if the trauma is happening again. Researchers are interested in the impact of increased awareness of the sensations deep within your own body – the sensory experiences and how you may be bracing against these inner feelings using defences developed to cope with body memories and related thoughts, behaviours and actions. Research shows that working with the body improves wellbeing. Increasing physical self awareness encourages connection with the body and nurtures a sense of self which can foster a sense of inner calm.

Despite logically knowing and cognitively reasoning that the world is safe people may lack the visceral experience of a calm centred body – a deep sense of being absolutely safe. Therefore it can be challenging to reach a calm state.“Learning to tolerate and be curious about dreaded physical sensations gives people a sense of mastery… new resources, energy and capacity to take effective action.” van der Kolk cited in Emerson.

“A common denominator of all traumas is an alienation and disconnection from the body and a reduced capacity to be present in the here and now.” Peter Levine

“People who have been traumatized hold an implicit memory of traumatic events in their brains and their bodies.” Babette Rothschild

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.” Bessel van der Kolk

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