The Pendulation Technique For Managing Anguish
On a daily basis, you may find yourself continually saying “I must be strong” or “I have to handle this”. This is because you constantly try to draw strength and encouragement from your deepest psychological strata. However, by doing this, you also repress your emotions. You stifle your sadness and anxiety to try and cope with everything and move forward.
As humans, we’re programmed to survive, but not so much to be happy. In fact, our brains always prioritize fighting, overcoming obstacles, and avoiding pain at all costs. This explains why it’s so difficult for you to manage your difficult emotions. They’re the kinds that, due to you not understanding and regulating them correctly, they manifest in the form of innumerable feelings of physical discomfort.
If you somatize your distress, you’re suffering from unresolved trauma. This suffering frequently occurs in the form of panic attacks, palpitations, dizziness, headaches, and musculoskeletal pain. That’s not to mention its psychological effects. Indeed, it isn’t easy to untangle the strong threads of unhealed wounds.
One psychological resource that you can apply is a technique based on somatic therapy. In fact, thanks to this fascinating tool, you can release the burden of anguish in your body
Pendulation is a technique that was developed by Peter A. Levine within the context of somatic experience therapy.
The pendulation technique
The pendulation technique is a resource developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine in the context of somatic experience therapy. Levine is one of the figures in medicine and psychology who’s contributed the most to the study and treatment of trauma. Books such as Healing Trauma (2008) and Trauma and Memory (2015), are two highly successful works of his.
Dr. Levine used to be a stress consultant for NASA. However, he’s more renowned for his work at numerous clinical centers addressing emotional pain. In fact, his therapeutic model of somatic experience is, according to research conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an effective resource for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.
His approach to dealing with trauma is based on body awareness. He claims it’s not enough to be aware and reflect on our suffering, anguish, and emotional discomfort. This is because trauma remains entrenched in the body, causing tension, panic attacks, sleep problems, etc.
The objective of the pendulation technique is to release and channel that frozen energy.
“The trauma resides in our nervous system, not in the event that originated it.”
-Peter A. Levine-
The aim of the pendulation technique
The pendulation technique aims to take the individual from a state of anguish to homeostasis or the point of calm. However, its goal isn’t only to alleviate stress or achieve a state of internal relaxation as it’s not a relaxation resource, but a healing of psychological trauma. Therefore, we must bear in mind the intimate link between body and mind.
Its goal is to focus on the difficult emotions that cling to us and learn to tolerate them, break them down, and gradually release them. Dr. Levine emphasizes the need to act sensitively, without haste. Every drop of emotional pain that hyperactivates the central nervous system must be contacted in order to heal it. This avoids the intensification of psychological trauma.
How to carry it out
On a daily basis, you feed your anguish that derives from trauma by certain mental schemas, associated emotions, and some bodily correlates that derive from said psycho-emotional state. Your body hurts because your central nervous system immobilizes you. That’s because it’s gripped by your lived experiences. Moreover, your mind remains stranded in past experiences.
The pendulation technique seeks to ‘switch’ all your negative energy from overexcitement to calm. From pain to relief. It implies regulating the physiology of the threat to bring it to a state of security. This process isn’t easy, but you must try to train your mind, brain, and body to deal with your trauma.
This is how it works:
1. When you feel anguish, try to give it space and tolerate it
Sometimes, a memory might come to you. It could be a certain stimulus, experience, or situation that activates in you the suffocating and paralyzing sting of anguish. The first stage of the pendulation technique requires that you get in touch with your emotional pain and describe it:
- Where do you feel the pain? Is it in your chest or stomach? Does it make it hard for you to breathe? Describe it.
- If you feel the anguish overwhelm you, focus only on a small portion of the pain. The idea is that you can manage this discomfort, hence it doesn’t overwhelm you and you can work on it.
- Familiarize yourself with proprioception, kinesthetic experiences, and all kinds of subjective perceptions. After all, trauma is often associated with many physical memories, such as smell, taste, sounds, etc.
2. Look for pain-free spaces in your body
Now you’ve made contact with the areas of your body gripped by discomfort, tension, or pain, become aware of the areas that aren’t causing you any problems and are calm and relaxed. For instance, perhaps part of your abdomen doesn’t hurt or maybe your hands, forehead, or neck are free from discomfort.
Scan your body in search of these harmonious regions and focus on that feeling. If you can’t find any, focus on your little finger. Find a space where nothing hurts or disturbs you and everything is calm.
3. Pendulation: switching from pain to calm
The last stage of the pendulation technique is the most interesting. It involves switching your attention from the tense and painful areas to the relaxed regions of your body. You must switch from pain to calm, from focusing on a chest or stomach that’s dominated by anxiety and anguish to the more harmonious areas of your body.
Almost without realizing it, you’ll become far more tolerant of your difficult emotions. Your trauma will thaw and release the emotional energy that was holding you back and blocking you.
Emotions such as shame, fear, or humiliation are states associated with the original trauma. They stick around for years in the form of energy in the central nervous system.
According to Dr. Peter A. Levine, we all possess innate healing powers that we can activate. Indeed, as we’ve pointed out, although we’re not programmed to be happy, but merely to survive, resilience is also an integral part of being human. And, according to somatic therapy, to heal, we can uproot ourselves from our bodies, paying attention only to our minds.
Pendulation means to switch from one dimension to another, to move from one fixed point to another, and vice versa. As such, your mind must slowly and calmly manage to tolerate emotional pain. To do this, remember, you have to place your attention on the map of your body and convince it to stop acting defensively.
Finally, you must deactivate the bodily reactions that are always mobilized and on alert so they can protect you. In fact, you need to convince your body and brain that you’re safe.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Barratt, B. B. (2013, January 10). The emergence of somatic psychology and bodymind therapy. London: Palgrave McMillan
- Payne, P., Levine, P. A., & Crane-Godreau, M. A. (2015, April 14). Corrigendum: Somatic experiencing: Using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Frontiers in Psychology
- Levine, P.A. (2013). En una voz hablada. Cómo el cuerpo libera el trauma y restaura el bienestar, Buenos Aires: Alma Lepik.
- Levine, P.A. (2013). Sanar el Trauma. Un programa pionero para restaurar la sabiduría del cuerpo, Madrid: Neo Person.