Transforming Caregiver Stress into Compassion Resilience

Somatic Resources

“If we had the strength at our disposal that we use in hindering ourselves, we would be as strong as lions“.  Elsa Gindler

Resources are made up of our strengths, competencies, abilities, skills, relationships and services that aid our self regulation, and provide a sense of self-agency, self-mastery and resilience.

My coaching pays most attention to cultivating somatic resources, because they are usually the missing link in our learning, yet are the key to sustainable change.

Somatic resources arise from our internal landscape and physical experience – our sensations, structure, posture, movements, gestures, and actions; all of which are inextricably linked with psychological capacities and beliefs. As my teacher, Wendy Palmer says, “We can’t change our mind with our mind alone”.

Some somatic resources are ‘affect regulators’ – they help us to manage our energy and widen our window of tolerance, so we can become a resilient container for greater amounts of stress and pressure. These might support a process of down-regulation – they keep us in touch with a sense of self-compassion, peacefulness and stability –  or they might support up-regulation –  they open us to receive more aliveness, joy and delight in life.

Other somatic resources foster empowerment, self-agency and mastery, especially in our relationships with others. They strengthen the actions we tend to lose under pressure, or help us build new ones, so we can take integrated, aligned, action towards our commitments and goals (such as speaking up in the face of resistance and opposition, or receiving feedback without feeling criticized or judged).

Some of our resources have been useful in the past, but now need to be gently challenged, because they no longer serve our current reality. Through coaching, we learn to compassionately observe and honour these reflexive, defensive strategies, whilst acknowledging how they limit our capacity to create a life we want. The intention is not to eliminate those resources, but to practice new ones, so that we can increase the options we have available to us, access alternative states, and be skillful with our responses when the stakes are high.

For example, many of us struggle to decline the requests other people make of us, because we have a historic action tendency towards appeasement.  It’s a powerfully embedded response for a good reason; our psychobiology adapts to ensure its safety and survival, through maintaining an attached, secure relationship with our early caregivers. But appeasement may not be serving us well in many situations in our adult life, with its different dynamics, relationships, expectations, and new roles and responsibilities.

This was the case with my client, a therapist called Theresa, who continued to say ‘yes’ to the most challenging referrals, even though she was already overcommitted at work, and desperately wanted to spend more time with her children, above all else.  She was very well practiced at prioritising the needs and concerns of others over her own, and taking responsibility for minimising their distress. This was having a deleterious effect on both her wellbeing and the most valued relationships in her life.

When resources are personal and unique to each client, they become more meaningful, more powerful and more useable, so we worked in partnership – and with lots of curiosity – to explore, the kinds of movements, sensations and postures that supported Theresa in taking a stand for her wellbeing and family relationships, and declining requests that didn’t help her fulfil on that commitment.  We want our new resources to be as compelling as our old ones, so we choose practices that co-activate all our neural networks – interoception, exteroception, movement and meaning.

By the end of our time together, Theresa had learned how to re-organize her tendency for appeasement so she could prioritise what truly mattered to her, and get her own needs met, whilst still maintaining everyone’s dignity and respect. Her sense of guilt and  over-responsibility for the emotional needs of others had diminished, and she was able to set clearer boundaries for herself in other areas of her life, especially in how she showed up in her relationships with her clients.

It is through practice of these new actions that we become transformed, because when our nervous system experiences taking a different action, our body creates new meanings for itself.   We no have the belief, for example, that ‘I don’t deserve to put my own needs first’, or ‘I am not an assertive person’.   And our original, beautiful, integrated being, our true nature, finally has the chance to shine.

 

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