Discover the courage to live wholeheartedly


From Barbara Schmidt: How the self soothing Parasympathetic Nerve develops and how patterns of worrying and over-thinking can be set up in childhood (Trauma education III):

The next addition to my dear colleague and friend Barbara Schmidt’s trauma series:

We have a nerve that helps us to calm down and to self regulate –this great “ relaxer nerve” (parasympathetic nerve) develops in babies only via its care takers: Skin contact helps it to come online and loving, tender touchhelps it to thrive – hence the importance of skin to skin contact for babies! A comforting, kind and gentle voice teaches the baby how to self sooth. When a baby is born it has a fully functioning sympathetic nerve(controls activation and arousal) and the dorsal vegal nerve (so it can go into the freeze state).

Babies in the womb depend entirely on their care givers. All they have in terms of protection is the possibility of contracting their little bodies when something traumatic and emotionally threatening happens and to shut down . When the baby responds by contractingits body, the spine then also contracts from the tailbone all the way up to the tip of the spine. The energy there can then only go up to the head. And it’s this “stuck energy” that then can creates a lifelong pattern of worrying, over-thinking and analyzing; for other people a pattern ofungrounded, dissociated spirituality and a “longing to go home” . I am personally familiar with both patterns and shifting it made a big difference in my life.

It will be important for people with this pattern to start going into the new direction of embodiment via sensing what is happening in their body – mindfulness, aware exercise , massage, tai chi and yoga are amazing tools to help a person become more embodied and mindful of inner experiences. Instead of being stuck in thinking, stressing and /or leaving the body a person can now find entirely new solutions in connection with their gut feelings – decisions will be different and more supportive when they come from a deep place of intuition.

If the sympathetic nerve is revving up and there isn’t enough parasympathetic nerve available to counter act, the arousal in a baby keeps getting higher and higher…until the dorsal vegal nervekicks in and brings the whole system into the freeze state. This is good, otherwise the arousal would get dangerously high. As mentioned in previous posts however, this shutting down works so well for the baby or young child that the young nervous system then can learn to rely on this way of being too much. Instead of living life in a gentle wavy up (sympathetic) and down (parasympathetic), the nervous system learns to zig zag treacherously up and down – stuck between sometimes manic hyperactivity and disconnected, depressed states. Living life this way is exhausting!

It is so important that a therapist won’t let you repeat and relive your whole trauma story – it would lead to your sympathetic nerve shooting up too high (and then the dorsal nerve might be the only way to bring it down again). In my therapy sessions I carefully observe a clients nervous system for signs of arousal and will respectfully interrupt a client and teach them how to settle again before they can continue to tell their story. Everything in life consists of wave length and a well organized coherent nervous system will mimic gentle ocean waves.
A good trauma session will imitate a gentle wavelike up and down of sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve – until the nervous system can learn that this way of being is so much easier on the rest of the organism.

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So far I covered “What is trauma?” ,“Freeze state that follows fight flight survival mechanis” and Reptilian, mammal and rational brain “speak” different languages”
Next week I will write about: “Corrective experience creates a new imprint in cells of our body”

Have a great day,
Counselling Somatic
Barbara Schmidt
Mental Health Social Worker, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner



Barbara Schmidt
Mental Health Social Worker
EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner
144 Stirling Terrace, Albany &
3/55 Strickland Street, Denmark

m: 0458 234 410

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Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do. - Leonardo Di Vinci

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Discover the courage to live wholeheartedly