NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Coping With Emotional Distress By Using the Somatic Experiencing Technique of Pendulation to Calm Yourself

In my prior article, Global Pandemic Causes Significant Increase in Anxiety and Depression, according to the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO), there has been a 25% increase in pandemic-related anxiety and depression.  

WHO also indicates that this increase in anxiety and depression is probably just the tip of the iceberg.  

Given these circumstances, individuals who are struggling emotionally need a way to cope with these emotions, and one way to cope is using pendulation.

Using Pendulation to Cope With Emotional Distress

What is Pendulation and How Can It Help You to Cope With Emotional Distress?
Pendulation is a concept which is part of Somatic Experiencing (SE) (see my article: Mind-Body Oriented Therapy: Somatic Experiencing).

SE is a mind-body oriented therapy, developed by Dr. Peter Levine, which helps individuals to heal from trauma.

Pendulation is a useful technique to help individuals to cope with distressing emotions--like the pandemic-related emotions described in my previous article or any other type of distressing emotion, including emotions related to psychological trauma.

Similar to the pendulum on a clock, pendulation involves a shifting back and forth of emotions or body sensations.

Pendulation is Similar to the Movement of a Pendulum on a Clock

Specifically, you start by identifying the distressful emotion or bodily sensation you're experiencing and locate it in your body.  

After you notice the distressful emotion/sensation and where it's located in your body, you find a neutral or calm point in your body and you shift your awareness back and forth (or pendulate) between the distressful and calm experiences.

An Example of Pendulation
For instance, if you identified sadness as the distressful emotion and you locate the sadness as being in your throat where you feel a constriction (a welling up of tears), you sense into other parts of your body to find a calm or neutral point.  

Let's say you detect a sense of calmness in your chest.  You stay with that sense of calmness for a moment to give yourself a chance to experience it.

Then, move back to the sadness in your throat and stay with that for a moment before you go back to the calmness in your chest. 

As you keep going back and forth between the sadness and the calmness, you are pendulating between the two emotions.

As you continue to pendulate back and forth, notice what how the sadness changes.  There is usually a shift due to the integration of the two emotions.

If you have difficulty finding a calm or neutral place within yourself, you can find an external resource, like looking at a glass of water or looking out the window at a tree, and so on.

What If You're Unable to Identify the Distressful Emotion?
There are many individuals with a history of trauma who have difficulty identifying emotions, especially distressful ones.  

They might know they're struggling with a difficult emotion, but they don't know if it's anger, sadness or any other emotion.

If this sounds familiar to you, you can still use pendulation even if you can't identify the emotion.  

For instance, you might know you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, but you don't associate any particular emotion with that sensation.

Even without knowing the distressful emotion, you can still locate an area in your body where you don't feel that sinking feeling--where you feel neutral or calm.  Then, you can shift your awareness back and forth between those two areas.

If you're working with an SE therapist, over time, you can learn to identify your emotions.  This takes practice. 

Even before you learn to identify specific emotions, you can use pendulation as a self help technique between therapy sessions to calm yourself.

How Does Pendulation Facilitate Emotional Healing?
According to Dr. Levine, pendulation is a natural process that facilitates emotional healing within the nervous system.

As previously mentioned, the shifting back and forth allows for an integration of these emotions, which facilitates healing.  

Pendulation Facilitates Emotional Healing

Whereas before you might have felt stuck in your distress, after you learn pendulation, you feel more emotionally resourced.  

Over time, as you sense the integration of emotions, you gain confidence that you can cope with uncomfortable emotions and you won't get stuck in a distressed state.  

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

As a trauma therapist, I work with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.