Interoception – How trauma impacts our sixth sense

Everyone is familiar with the five senses – touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing. But we actually have eight senses! The other three are proprioception (body positioning), vestibular (balance) and interoception (internal bodily sensations).

So what is interoception?

Interoception is the ability to sense what is happening in our bodies. So if you have ever felt your heart racing without taking your pulse, felt you tummy rumble when you are hungry, or felt the muscles across in your back stretch as you bend down to touch your toes, you have been using your sense of interoception.

How does trauma impact interoception?

Trauma can reduce or sometimes silence our interception. This is called dissociation. Now dissociation is very helpful in the moment trauma is experienced because it can stop us being overwhelmed by physical sensations. Sometimes clients describe this as feeling ‘out of my body’ or ‘my mind just went somewhere else’. But it can cause issues if we stay this way long-term.

No different to losing our sense of sight or hearing, a reduction or loss of our interceptive sense can make life much more difficult.

Some of the issues it can cause include:

  • Difficulties in sensing hunger and fullness signal. This can contribute to disordered eating, either under or over-eating. Some clients just never feel hungry; others never feel full.
  • Difficulties feeling pain, or, on the other side, experiencing chronic pain. Not feeling pain can mean we don’t realise when we are sick or injured, and neglect getting treatment. Or sometimes it can go the other way and we can be experiencing regular or chronic pain with no physical cause.
  • Difficulties feeling our emotions. Emotions are much more in our bodies than in our heads! You know you are afraid, not because your thoughts say, “I’m afraid”, but because the hair on the back of your neck pricks up, you feel a knot in your stomach and your heart races. So not feeling your emotions can result in difficulties regulating and expressing emotions, as well as difficulties with being empathetic to others. Further, it doesn’t just affect those emotions that are uncomfortable, it also means you miss out on those enjoyable emotions like happiness or love. This can cause feelings of nothingness or emptiness, and can lead to depression, loss of motivation, and loss of enjoyment in life generally.
  • Loss of your gut feelings or intuition - what is commonly called "the sixth sense"! They are called ‘gut feelings’ because you actually feel them in your gut! So, if you can’t feel what’s happening inside you body, you also can’t feel your gut feelings. This makes it harder to recognise unsafe situations or make decisions.

But you can get your interception back! Practices like Trauma Sensitive Yoga can help to get back in touch with your interoception.

If you would like more information, or have questions about interoception, or Trauma Sensitive Yoga, feel free to get in contact with us.

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