Pendulation is a healing tool that is part of Somatic Experiencing therapy developed by Peter Levine. In my experience as a SE client working on healing PTSD, I have found that pendulation can help us with the following:
- Embodiment – Being In The Body. Pendulation helps us to gain a deeper and more intimate awareness of the body; to befriend internal states of all kinds.
- Becoming An Observer of Self. Pendulation helps us to develop the ability to be a neutral observer of even extreme emotional states.
- Making the Unconscious Conscious. Pendulation helps us to begin to be conscious of what is unconscious.
- Learning That We Are A Multitude. Pendulation helps us to gain more awareness of the complexity of our many inner states that exist together. It helps us to break out of cognitive distortions related to black and white thinking, reveals many shades of gray.
- Self-Connection. Pendulation helps us to develop connection with ourselves (self-connection) and inner connectivity between parts of self.
- Finding Goodness in Self and World. When struggling with PTSD we tend to ignore the good feelings in us. During Pendulation it can dawn on us that – although it SEEMS as if we are just one big ball of trauma – we are not 100% trauma response, but actually have many internal states all at the same time, some of them are even very peaceful, whole and intact. It helps us to understand not only that we contain goodness as well as badness but also that the world contains goodness as well as badness. This is a great moment of insight that should be reinforced and deepened by doing the exercise as many times as needed. This somatic, experiential lesson can help to break us out of the cognitive distortions that only see the negative in ourselves and in the world.
- Learning to See Resources. Pendulation helps us to identify internal and external resources.
- Learning to Receive Resources. Pendulation helps us to develop the ability to open up to, be receptive to, connect with and actually receive benefit from those resources.
- Learning Self-regulation. Pendulation helps us to build the skill of self-regulation of our PTSD symptoms; to reduce or resolve states of activation.
- Becoming Empowered to Manage Our Own Symptoms. Experiencing self-regulation can bring about the realization that we can control our emotional and physiological states, that in fact the activation is not beyond our control. This is a great insight about the potential power we can have regarding our experience of emotions and somatic symptoms as well. It helps us learn how to access our own will and how to have an internal locus of control (opposite of learned helplessness).
- Building a Flexible Nervous System. Pendulation helps us to restore natural flexibility to the nervous system; become un-stuck from experiencing only activation and immobility states and nothing else.
- Stopping The Overwhelm. According to Peter Levine, pendulation helps us transition from infinite pain —> to —> finite and manageable pain
- Bringing Safety and Security To Our Inner Child Helps Activate Exploratory Behavioral System. Pendulation helps us to re-connect, even if briefly, to a sense of the secure internal working model of attachment. When we are children, feeling secure and safe in our body and in the world comes naturally when we have a secure attachment with a parent. This becomes an internal working model of reality, and is a prerequisite for feeling a true desire to explore life (for the exploratory system to come online). If, when doing pendulation, we begin to feel naturally curious and a natural desire to explore the world, it’s a sign we have restored to some degree, at least for that moment, a feeling of internal security and safety similar to what a child feels when experiencing a secure attachment. Peter Levine says pendulation helps us to go from dread and helplessness —> to —> curiosity and exploration. This progression is also helped significantly by the relationship with the therapist. The first place I notice this is that when connecting to a resource, even tenuously, and with a therapist, I may begin feeling curious about my state of activation and immobility for the first time, rather than simply immersed in it. This is a great start. Note that although this touches into feeling more secure inside ourselves and in the world, there are complex issues related to childhood and adulthood attachment that I don’t think somatic therapies go into.
As you can see, pendulation is a great practice to do for healing from past traumas. It’s almost like a mindfulness practice, in that you sit quietly, pay attention to internal states, try to be really present and attentive, kind of like a meditation.
Thanks for reading! I wish you the best on your healing journey. And if you know more benefits to pendulation, please let me know!
Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer in Asheville, North Carolina currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.