My term ‘Soulful Empathy’ arises from ‘feeling and listening at a soul level’
It is like one traumatized nervous system, soma (body) starts speaking to another and you feel seen and heard and safe in a sincere and soulful way, without words. One soma resonates with another with a level of empathy that feels healing to a point that you breathe a sigh of relief and the beauty of it is you can feel this empathy for yourself over time.
Somatic empathy is what you feel when you share space with someone that you begin to feel held in an undisturbed way. It is tuning out my mind and listening as a whole body, it feels like a highly attuned quality of listening, that arises from a sacred stable space. It is listening to trauma speaking through a space that is understood beyond the body and mind.
Alexander Lohen, states that trauma impacts somatic unity, in the sense that our psychosomatic experience becomes fragmented. In normal times there is congruence between thoughts, feelings, and somatic experiences. After a traumatic event, there is incoherence between these communication systems and in our body as a whole. Our nervous system splits, shatters, freezes, and numbs to disengage from the overwhelming physical and emotional pain of the trauma. We may not feel at a physical or emotional level anymore as it is just too painful too or we can cycle through a continuous feeling overwhelmed by experiences.
Reuniting these separated parts should never be forced and a way of inviting a reunion is through soulful empathy. When left to a sacred openness, natural curiosity can arise, it is like a frightened child looking through a keyhole for an escape. That one little peep through the keyhole can lead to a whole new world of resources. Opening an organic fusion between exploring a grounding in the safety and presence of the present moment and moving forward in a more integrated way. Titrating between ‘that-was-then’ and ‘this-is-now’ as we continuously slow things down and explore one somatic experience at the time so that the nervous system can process the charge of the trauma, physically, emotionally, and energetically.
In the somatic sense, trauma is explained by Dr. Albert Wong, Director of Somatic Psychology at JFK University as ‘too much’, ‘too fast’ ‘too soon’. Stress becomes too great for our nervous system to sustain, adapt to, and cope with. Our mind, body, and emotions become completely overwhelmed and our ability to self regulate and function in life becomes difficult. It is almost like our body goes one way and our thoughts feelings and emotions go the other way. What we are left with are bodily sensations that we have no direct association with, we feel broken and shattered. This is sometimes referred to within the field of somatic psychology as fragmentation.
We become one big jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, misplaced, and displaced. Beginning to feel safe, at home, and in our bodies again is a slow and respectful journey. When you work with someone and feel deeply seen and heard by them at a level that you feel completely understood in an embodied way this is called somatic empathy. You are gently invited back to reconnect with yourself as a whole, this can feel very significant especially when you feel a resonance that feels calming and soothing between you and the other person this a deep soulful empathy.
Danial Goldman describes three kinds of empathy in terms of emotional intelligence:
‘cognitive empathy, where you know how people think, you can communicate well; emotional empathy, you know how they feel; those are great, but you can use them to manipulate people; the third kind of empathy is caring about them, and having concern’
Soulful empathy is felt by most who have suffered and traveled their own journey of healing from trauma. The journey itself can increase sensitivity, which for some may be felt as a burden or downfall to healing, and for others is accepted as a gift. If you choose to move forward with recovery one of the last stages is to offer help to others who have suffered similar circumstances and that is when this sensitivity becomes a power. Through opening to your own pain, you feel the pain of others with deep connective empathy. It is holding space with a felt sense, with your whole body, free of guarding, defensiveness, contraction, and fear. It is a touch beyond somatic empathy.
It is a feeling stronger than you can comprehend and is sometimes hard to find words for, perhaps you have unknowingly felt it already. Relief can be felt throughout your whole body as you begin to feel that your experience can be clearly seen and shared at a deeply empathic and soulful level.
When you have built up a support system that has helped you begin to cope and you begin to feel somewhat safe and stable. Your journey can be slow and steady, it may not be a straight path but you can begin equipped with resources and skills that help you feel stable, strong, and centered and when ‘you feel ready. Ideally revisiting memories comes secondary to developing skills that help you build self-awareness around your needs and how best to support and build self-management skills. A priority is to learn to recognize and dissolve emotional flashbacks, no amount of meditation or mantras, walking, and running will be effective until you still the emotional flashback in its tracks. It the equivalent of listening to the first warning of a tornado approaching, if we don’t stop it in its tracks it will continue to gather momentum, sweep you off your feet and spin you in circles until it drops you leaving you feeling shattered, physically and emotionally exhausted, confused and sometimes disorientated. Somatic empathy for oneself is a necessity during these occurrences.
Slowly but surely your communication pathways between your mind and body, your emotions and physical sensations, your internal and external world, your past and present become clear. You attune to yourself, your bodily rhythm settles and becomes less shattered and shaky and more smooth. When we speak and connect with the language of the soma (body) through somatic empathy, this becomes an honest reunion that feels safe and wholesome, and nourishing.
Inviting ourselves home through our soma is a sacred journey to all who have suffered the horrors of physical and emotional trauma and as a result of you being overpowered without consent by another human. You reclaim your right to be here without scaring yourself into freezing and when and when you do feel triggered your response is less and you recover quicker. Hence why resourcing is so important, it helps you train for troublesome times. You are worth the training, you are worth many moments of joy and peace and happiness. They say ‘the best revenge is to live well’ and although this may seem like a faraway place, little by little and one small meaningful step after another you can claim such moments, no matter how short they can become many. You have a right to be here just as much as anyone else.
Dr. Albert Wong states ‘somatic empathy heals’. I concur in my experience I have found it to be a powerful healer. It is helpful to know what you can do to help yourself feel safe in your body. To take in all that is good around you, not by just knowing but feeling it deeply. Learn what feels safe and good and cultivate this goodness and feeling of safety as often as you can.
Enjoy exploring feelings of safety and goodness and even begin to explore soulful empathy for yourself.
Love to All
Alexander Lohen, (2012) The Betrayal of The Body
Daniel Goleman PHD (2021) Sounds True Podcast with Tami Simon
Dr. Albert Wong. (2021) Somatic Approaches to Healing Trauma www.somatopia.com
John J. Pendergast, (2015) In Touch
John E. Upledger, D.O., O.M.M. (2002) SomatoEmotional Release, Deciphering the Language of Life
Roseanne Reilly DipNUR, APCST, ERYT500hr CEP
Roseanne comes from a Background of Nursing, She is an Advanced CranioSacral Therapist, Yoga Teacher and Educator and Somatic Emotional Healing Practitioner
Roseanne is Currently a Practitioner of Somatic based Healing for Trauma and Cptsd.
She provides reliable resources to support living with Trauma and Healing through Somatic Awareness, Guided Practices and one to one sessions and workshops. For Body Work Students, Practitioners and Clients