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Survive, Transform, Soar! - Issue #54
How To Heal Your Nervous System:
7 Ways to Be Your Own Medicine after a Toxic Relationship
Article by: Irene Lyon, MSC in SurviveTransformSoar.com | Friday, March 23, 2018
Imperative in the process of recovering from a toxic relationship is learning to heal your nervous system. While several types of therapy can be invaluable (psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, EMDR and others), there is also much you can begin doing on your own, beginning with interoception.

Interoception is a long-lost skill in our Western cultures that involves learning to be present with your inner experiences. It is a sense beyond “the five senses” that helps you feel and understand what’s going on inside your body (physiologically). This provides invaluable information that can improve your awareness of the environment around you and aid you in decision-making.

Interoception underlies the seven steps below, which I believe to be essential for recovery from any kind of trauma—including that resulting from a long-term toxic relationship—and starting on a path of living longer, healthier and happier lives.

1 – Self-awareness & Awareness

1a. Self-awareness basics:

• Feel the pressure between you and the surface you are on (your butt on the chair; feet on the ground; back of your body against the floor if you are lying down etc.

• Let the ground support you, fully. In other words – notice if you are using extra muscles that you don’t need to be using. Are you holding in your belly, clenching your jaw or fists?

1b. Awareness basics:

• SEE. LOOK. LISTEN. (Also called orienting)

• Pause and notice your body pressure against the surface you are on WHILE seeing the world around you.
Learn to be aware of the experiences in your body.
2 – Follow your impulse

This isn’t the impulse to eat all the cookies in the cookie jar. It’s those biological impulses like going to the bathroom when nature calls, rather than waiting until you are bursting and hurting (plus passing gas and burping when needed).

Crying when the tears are present, rather than holding them in.

Laughing out loud and speaking up for yourself and your ideas.

3 – Befriend your pain and stop conquering fear

The next time a pain arises, before worrying about what it is or how to get rid of it, go back to #1 (be self-aware and see, look, listen) and just wait for a bit. Rather than trying to breathe it away, just say hello to it and see what it might want to say. What is it trying to tell you?

Same for fear. When you feel afraid, granted there isn’t a real-life threat in front of you, try to NOT contract your muscles nor try to get rid of it. Simply feel it and keep the thoughts out of the equation. When in doubt, go back to #1 (awareness + self-awareness) and #2 (follow your impulse.)

4 – Master your stress physiology

One of my favorite passages from Gabor Maté’s book, When The Body Says No – The Cost of Hidden Stress is:

“Awareness also means learning what the signs of stress are in our own bodies, how our bodies telegraph us when our minds have missed the cues. In both human and animal studies, it has been observed that the physiological stress response is a more accurate gauge of the organism’s real experience than either conscious awareness or observed behaviour.”

He goes on to quote Hans Seyle who was the seminal researcher of the human stress response:

“The pituitary is a much better judge of stress than the intellect.” Hans Selye wrote, “Yet, you can learn to recognize the danger signals fairly well if you know what to look for.”

Exactamundo. What they said.
Becoming aware of our feelings, accepting them, then allowing them--this is authenticity and authenticity brings health.
The key is to start noticing how and when your body’s stress responses (fight, flight, freeze) start to kick in. Next, make a conscious decision to feel those sensations and bodily responses (increased heart rate for fight/flight; checking out and dissociating for freeze) and allow them to happen. Then, come down (go back to #3: “Befriend your pain and stop conquering fear”).

WARNING: I make this sound easy, don’t I? It isn’t always that simple to just notice these things, feel them and let them pass.

5 – Take off your mask & be the change

Be yourself. As simple as this might sound, when we can start to take off some of the layers that we’ve built upon ourselves, we start to find a little more freedom and liberation. Our life force starts to shine through.

This is not something that can be done overnight, but it does change when we make a conscious decision to watch the habits and behaviors we have that aren’t really us. Just this act of being more true to yourself will do wonders, not just for you, but for the world as a whole.

6 – Tap into the power of “negative” emotions

I know, this is an odd one. It doesn’t mean being pessimistic or a party pooper. It means feeling into what is real and true in your environment and surrounding world.

For example, if someone you know was just diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, allow the grief and sadness (maybe even anger) to be felt and expressed, rather than pushing down those emotions and pretending everything is “OK.” Because it’s not.

(By the way, there’s no such thing as a negative emotion. We’ve just classified them like this and it’s one of the reasons we struggle so much with mental and physical health.)
The bigger picture is that what is within us is connected to everything else and contains wisdom beyond our conscious minds.
7 – See the bigger picture

The body is a mystery in many ways, but what we do know is that everything inside of us (hormones, psyche, brain, gut, immune system, etc.) is connected. Then, all of this good stuff is connected to our environment. Everything influences the other and vice versa.

In my twenty years of observation, education and practice helping others recover from and prevent chronic illness, I’ve come to see that a lot of positive change happens when we focus less on the behaviors that we want to change and more on the internal body sensations, the primal emotions, the language of the nervous system and healing the trauma that lives within all of it.

To drive this home one more time, because it’s important:
“The pituitary is a much better judge of stress than the intellect…you can learn to recognize the danger signals fairly well if you know what to look for.”

If you want to live longer, with less sickness and more vibrant energy, then it’s essential that you become well-versed in listening to these deeper signals that are coming from the stress chemistry:


The seven ways outlined above are a great starting point and I’d encourage you to give them a try. They will be instrumental in helping you heal from the wounds of a toxic relationship.
*  *  *
Irene Lyon, MSC, is a nervous system specialist and therapeutic coach with a master’s degree in research in biomedical and health sciences who teaches about nervous system health, trauma healing and neuroplasticity.
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