It’s not gonna help to just get ‘louder’…

10-angry_cat_1We know not through our intellect but through our experience.
 – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

For those who are very passionate about many issues and seek positive change in this world– it is a commonplace struggle to identify how to most effectively advocate for or draw attention to what we think needs to happen. Beyond global and local issues, some similar struggles play out within our personal relationships – e.g. ‘I feel like you’re not really hearing me…’

Two things immediately come to mind for me:

It doesn’t help to get ‘louder’ if one is doing that from a state of being ungrounded or over-charged.

It doesn’t help to get ‘louder’ if the audience is not in a state of receptivity.

Perhaps we could spend a little more time considering the state of our individual and collective nervous systems and how our neurobiology plays a role in why history repeats.

What if our foundational priority was to assess and attend to our own inner state? Meaning, are we genuinely embodied in a state where we are emotionally and intellectually available for engaging with others in a good way? Signs that we aren’t might be feeling stressed or anxious. Or it could be more like like frustrated, impatient, or angry. Or on the other side of things, full of fear, or a bit spacey. The sense of not really feeling much of anything at all is not a good sign either.

Any of these indicate we are already in a zone where our own nervous system has been activated to deal with some degree of subjective threat. We can’t fully engage socially when our mind-body perceives threat. Our voice tone, facial expressions, the look in our eyes, the way we breathe, our posture and more – will give us a way, even if we think we are doing a good job of ‘faking it’. Nervous systems read nervous systems really well, in micro-second increments and unconsciously.

These same things hold true for whoever is on the receiving end. Receptivity is not just an attitude. It comes from our neurobiological state – from a mind-body perspective of subjective safety.

When we are stuck on ‘high’, when our physiology perceives a threat, when everything within us is all about survival in that moment — whether speaker or listener — we can’t just talk ourselves out of it. When the body has a different opinion, it will win out every time.

The challenge comes from being part of a culture where chronic stress and occasional trauma are the norm. We don’t have many in our society that are able to access genuine ‘calm’ very often, let alone sustain it. And since our species is so adept at adapting, we are easily fooled into thinking we are calmer than we really are. The give away is how little it takes to makes us feel overwhelmed, and how challenging it is to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis.

So when we seek to be heard, when we seek to advocate or suggest positive change, the content of our message matters, but perhaps not as much as we like to think. The way the message is conveyed, via the state we are in combined with the state of the one we hope will be listening stands to receive far more attention. Sometimes our calm, grounded, heartfelt presence is influential in and of itself.

In a stressed out, traumatized world – we have a lot of work to do, and the starting place is always going to be assessing and addressing our own inner state.

For those sitting with the question, ‘how do we do this?’ — see: What is TRE?


Barbara English is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, Certified Bioenergetic Therapist and Certified TRE Level 3 Trainee with over 20 years of experience in psychotherapy. Her training has included a strong focus on Early Development and Infant Mental Health. Working from a mind-body perspective, she utilizes relational somatic methods as part of the healing process for those seeking recovery after abuse or trauma. Recognizing that current Western models of recovery are grossly inadequate for addressing the pervasiveness of traumatized societies, locally and globally, she founded Living Ubuntu in 2005 and serves as its volunteer Executive Director. She is a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow.

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