Do you feel like you’re always walking on eggshells? You know, that tight, rigid feeling? Then this episode is for you. We talk about bracing patterns: what they are, what they look like, where they come from, and what to do about them.
Can we just take just a moment here and recognize a hundred and thirty one thirty episodes. That is amazing. I am like, what? What happened? Time flies so quickly and I basically have been releasing a podcast episode every single week. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever missed a week. I don’t think I have, but I, I might have missed one week, somewhere in there. 130. That’s like two and a half years. I’m just gonna honor myself for a moment here.
Today I’m hoping to keep this fairly short and concise, but I do have a lot to cover.
What is Bracing?
So today we’re gonna talk about bracing patterns. Now we don’t usually talk about it in terms of bracing, although some of you might know what I’m talking about, but what I’m really referring to, Is that feeling of when you’re like walking on eggshells, right? Like you kind of have to tense up and be quiet or small or be careful in some way.
This often happens with people who have patterns of people pleasing, or really caring how other people think about you or perceive you. I also noticed this in my clients who feel really alone or unsupported if they feel like they have to kind of do everything themselves. If you fall on the spectrum of that hyper independence, I just think that these are the type of people that this normally shows up in, but really probably for most people in general. but that’s who I’m talking to today.
So first thing is why do we brace, and then we’re gonna talk about signs that you are bracing. Because sometimes this is very unconscious, we don’t even notice it. That is totally what happened to me. Where it comes from, not just why do we brace, but like what are the early patterns of it that, that get us into a bracing pattern and then how to get out of it and it, that’s gonna be very high level. And along the way we’ll talk about some other things that I’ve learned about bracing as well.
Why do we brace?
So first of all, the reason we brace. Three reasons, which I think are really just one reason, we brace.
Number one, to prepare for impact. So like, think of like a car accident. It’s really hard if you see a car coming at you to not like grab the door. Not because you think that’s gonna help in any way, but because it’s your body bracing for impact, we brace to protect ourselves. Which kind of the same thing, right? If if there’s an incoming impact, then we want to protect. And we brace to disconnect. So that’s a little bit different, but still it’s a protective mechanism.
Signs of bracing
So we’re gonna talk more about that as we get into the details. Okay, so second thing is signs of bracing. And I wanted to cover this early because I want you to be thinking about how you do this in your life. And generally speaking, bracing really shows up as tightness in the jaw, neck and shoulder area of the body.
Tightness in the jaw and neck
This is the area, this kind of upper chest area is what we would call the thoracic inlet to be very technical about it. But it’s an area of our body where there’s a lot of bones and tissue and nerves all coming through this one area. Kind of think your neck, right, sort of the bottle of neck and it’s actually really adaptive if the nerves there that go down into our body, if there’s pain in our body then and we tighten up this neck, jaw, shoulder area where many of the nerves are running through, then we get cut off from the pain.
We don’t have to feel a pain. So in that way, I want you to just think that this is very adaptive and protective for us. So there’s a reason why we do this. It’s not bad, it’s just that for some of us, and I put myself in this bucket, we create a pattern around it, and then it’s really hard for us to sort of relax and to not feel that tightness, that tenseness, that rigidity.
It can also be just sort of a general rigidity in your body or in your life, right? So it can look like hyper-focusing. So getting really, really into one thing at a time to the exclusion of everything else. It can be kind of a, a bracing mechanism, and this is not necessarily like a body thing, but a thing we do in our life, right.
That could show up in our body as well. It can show up as intense irritability. I would say, this is probably where I was at the beginning of my healing journey when I was very first praying to God, like how? How do I find joy? Like I’ve got this amazing life and great kids and husband and community and everything, and I’m miserable.
How do I find joy? And I really realized that I was in this place of always irritable, like always snapping or yelling at the kids. Always feeling like everybody didn’t do things right. You know, that kind of feeling. So think about if you’re holding all this tenseness tightness in your body. That can lead to some irritability.
It can show up as controlling behaviors. Again, I am totally guilty here, but controlling behaviors are a type of rigidity. Like it has to be this certain way, and you have to do it this way. Whether you’re controlling yourself or attempting to control someone else or your environment, it can show up.
Over reliance on structure
Again, I’m totally guilty of this one as over-reliance on planning and structure. So if we feel really out of control, chaotic in our own body, then we are going to want our environment to give us structure. So it could look like structure in your schedule, that’s usually how I think of it. But there could be other ways of incorporating structure, like I have to follow these specific rules. I am totally guilty of that.
I have noticed as I feel like I’ve healed more, I am much more flowy in my life, less rigid and dependent on planning and structure. Now that comes at a cost because this is just a side note, but as I notice that more flowy, I also notice more resistance to just like doing things on a schedule.
So I’m kind of questioning, I’ve always thought of myself as a planner, somebody who thinks ahead, somebody who thinks about all the details, and I’m wondering if that’s not actually who I am, but it’s how I’ve always had to be in order to protect myself and to feel safe. And as I heal more and I create that safety in my body, if I need less of that planning and structure and I can be kind of more go with the flow.
Just an interesting side note, it can show up as dread if you find yourself feeling a lot of dread in your life. Dread is kind of an anticipatory. Feeling right? It’s like, Ooh, this is gonna happen and I don’t want it to. So that dread can be sort of a protective mechanism as we move towards something we don’t like or don’t want, and then just sort of a body pattern.
It can show up as shallow breath, just kind of like constantly not breathing as deeply as we could because we’re tensing up and we’re. Not giving our lungs the capacity that they could have to breathe more deeply. It can show up as isolating yourself as like holding people at arm’s length and needing a lot of space.
Because if we’re bracing and we’re always anticipating some kind of impact or danger, in order to get away from that, we might isolate ourselves or we might just need a lot more space in our lives.
And here are a few interesting things that I learned. It can show up as over giving, and I was like, what? How is that bracing? But if you are always the one to give, then you won’t ever have to be the one to be supported. And I’m gonna talk more about that, but it’s almost like a distraction from the lack of support. So if you’re always the one to give and people are never, other people are never giving you support, then you won’t ever have to feel the pain of being unsupported.
And then I alluded to this earlier, hyper independence. Hyper independence is a way to armor or protect ourselves from the potential of inadequate support. These aren’t necessarily like one causes the other, but bracing patterns show up along with co-dependency or addiction patterns.
Co-dependency and addiction
And the reason why this makes sense is because we’re always wanting to receive that co-regulation, that connection. And if we are bracing for like, oh, I’m not gonna get that connection, then we’ll find it in a different way. We’ll find it through addiction, right? We’ll get the dopamine hit from the chocolate chips or the phone scrolling or whatever.
Totally guilty. I’m not calling anyone out, but myself. And the codependency is, if I make you feel good, then you will then make me feel good. And it’s sort of like we enmesh ourselves with someone else so that we can get that connection and regulation, but then we become dependent on that and we can’t do it on our own.
So those are just some things that you might consider as you scan your own body and your own life of where bracing might show up. I did wanna just mention, I’m sure I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but when I very first started really allowing myself time and space to do more of the feeling work versus the mindset work in my life, I noticed that my neck and my shoulders were always, always tight, and so I started going on walks.
And the reason why I started going on walks was actually because another coach recommended it, like processing emotion through movement. And I realized that the reason why I didn’t want to go on walks, the reason why I was resistant to that idea was because I didn’t like feeling cold. Why don’t I like feeling cold?
Because I don’t like feeling tense cuz I’m already so tense and rigid in my body. So I decided that going for walks in the cold was a great way for me to learn to allow the cold without the tenseness. So I would go on a walk, it would be like a 20 minute walk, and the whole walk, I would notice my shoulders creeping up to my ears, notice the tenseness, and then I would just relax it.
And then about five seconds later, They’d be back up at it, my ears and I would relax. And so it was like this constant, relax your shoulders, relax your shoulders. Now it still comes up for me today, but I love how simple of an exercise that is. It’s literally going on a walk in the cold. And using that time as a way to notice the tenseness and to relax the tenseness.
I swear I do this subconsciously now and it’s so helpful. So I just wanted to go on that little tangent there.
Where does bracing come from?
Our earliest response to not feeling safe
So where does bracing come from? And I, again, I alluded to this a little bit, but bracing, this tightening against a perceived danger is the earliest response to not feeling safe. Right? So infants, it’s one of the only tools that they have to protect themselves.
They pull their legs and arms in. Like if you are holding an a newborn infant and you do the little like, wooo gonna drop you, I’m not really gonna drop you, but I’m just like bouncing you. Pretty widely that baby, their legs and arms will come in. So when in our very early moments, our infancy, when we don’t feel safety in the presence of our caregiver we will brace against how overwhelming that lack of support, that lack of safety feels. So it’s a way to disconnect. Like you are not connecting with me. And remember those infants, us as infants, infants in our lives, any infant.
They need their caregiver to regulate, to kind of calm down from a heightened, anxious, energetic space or to come up from a shutdown space, right? So if the caregiver doesn’t have the capacity to regulate, then that infant won’t feel supported that that internal felt sense of support or safety, and they will learn to brace against that.
Bracing is the beginning of active response
Bracing is the very beginning of the active response, so that that place in us, when we feel unsupported, we don’t feel safe. We feel like there’s a danger coming at us, we will naturally want to run away or to fight. So if we’re going to fight or if we’re gonna run, you just think about if I were to get up or just run right now, what would be the very first thing?
It would be some muscle tension, right? Some like, I’m gonna lift my leg up, or something like that. So that is the beginning of the active response. That is exactly the same movement we do embracing and just think of like your core really tightening. I sort of think of this image of somebody like, okay, I’m gonna fight my way out of this.
I imagine myself putting one foot in front of the other, getting into a, a stable stance and then pulling my arms up and my putting my hands into fists. And how does that feel? Tight. Right? If I can do it right now and I feel the tightness, I feel my whole body being like, okay, we gotta fight. And sort of ready to go.
Ready to move or even step back. And this also, I’m gonna try to avoid getting too technical here, but this is part of the dorsal vagal shutdown response. So infants from from birth, we have certain neural pathways that are available to us and other pathways that are not yet available that get primed and, groomed and we grow those neural pathways.
But one of the ones that’s available to us from birth is a shutdown response, a disconnection. If something, if anything is too much, it’s too hot, too much socialization, too much noise, any kind of sensory input. If it’s too much, then baby will disconnect and, and cry and maybe even fall asleep.
The Dorsal Vagal shutdown response
So this dorsal vagal shut down response. The bracing is part of that response, and the dorsal vagal nerve is the backside of the vagus nerve. It’s the part of the nerve that goes up our back and it responds to cues of danger. And so it’s the, the nerve that pulls us away from connection pulls us away from a situation and it helps us to feel shut down or frozen.
And that’s our clue if we feel shut down or frozen, that the dorsal vagal nerve has taken over. So this bracing is like a pulling back, a disconnection, um, in response to something overwhelming or something dangerous.And a lack of connection is dangerous.
The other thing I just wanted to mention here is this concept of if baby tries to look into the caregiver’s eyes and they are not met with warmth and connection, then they will learn to not be seen. So there’s a connection here with the bracing patterns and a desire to kind of hide or not be seen. And what, where that comes from is when we learn we can’t be seen or we’re not being seen. And so we’re like, okay, it’s not safe to be seen. And we’ll wrap back around to that too.
Okay. So now we know, generally speaking, why we brace, we know what it looks like and these are not all the ways it could look, but several ways it could look in our bodies and in our lives. And I’ve talked a little bit about where the bracing comes from, like why it’s adaptive. So how do we get to a place of ease instead of always be bracing, right?
Because it doesn’t feel good very temporarily. It might serve us, but to always be bracing, to be in a bracing pattern chronically doesn’t feel good. And it takes a lot of energy, right? So how do we come down from this bracing? How do we come out of this bracing? And I’m just gonna gonna kind of go over a few things.
How do we stop bracing and reach a place of ease?
Uncouple the fear from the physical sensations
The first one is to separate the fear that happens when there’s a danger or, you know, some reason to disconnect from the actual physical sensations so they kind of feed off of each other. The emotion of fear, which is typically present in these kinds of situations, and the physical sensations, that tightness that we talked about, the rigidity, those types of things in our body.
So if you’re feeling the tightness, the rigidity, you might automatically be like, “oh, I should be afraid of something.” So we wanna work to separate. There’s fear and there’s the sensations in the body, but they operate independently. So that’s the first thing.
Allow the bracing and active response to finish
The second thing is that oftentimes because bracing is the very first step to an active response, we brace, but we’re never really able to finish that active response.
So we want to support the body to allow the bracing so that the active response can be finished. That is why, as you’ve heard me talk about before on the podcast, trauma is actually like when we have this active response, this energy in our bodies, and then it gets stopped, just halted real quick and it has to go somewhere. That energy. Energy is neither made nor destroyed, right? So it has to go somewhere. It goes into the cells of our bodies and our bodies learn to hold it. But even holding that energy takes energy, right? So when we can support the body to finish the active response that was started with the bracing, and this is very much done on a subconscious level, we can discharge that energy that’s been kind of boxed up and that energy can go to other things in our lives.
That’s why I think, I feel like as I’ve been healing myself, I have more energy available. I can flow more instead of always being rigid, right? And all my energy being going toward that rigidness.
Bring breath or grounding to pendulate
The third thing is to allow your body to kind of touch in and come out. At the rate that it needs. We call this pation, right? We kind of swing from one extreme to the next, like, okay, I’m gonna let myself brace and I’m gonna follow the bracing. I’m gonna try to finish the active response. But sometimes that becomes too much.
And so then it’s like, okay, now I don’t wanna do that anymore. So we can bring breath in, we can do grounding exercises to sort of expand our capacity to be with that bracing. And so we can touch into the bracing, let it go a little further, and then come out of it and sort of rest in ground and, and feel that felt sense of support, and then go into it.
Sometimes there’s a bit of a wobble in this situation of like coming in and out, like touching it. Ooh, now that doesn’t feel good. And now coming out, oh, now that doesn’t feel good coming in, coming out. So just recognizing that it’s not like a linear experience. There’s a reason why we brace, and there’s a reason why we don’t want to brace.
And so there might be an element here of allowing it just in little doses and then coming out when it feels too much or I don’t wanna do it anymore.
Tummy time to increase sense of support and to allow collapse if necessary
And then the fourth tool or way to kind of address bracing is to spend time on your tummy, actually like an infant, because spending time on your tummy increases your sense of support. There’s actually more, you know, square inches that are touching the floor and feeling that support. And it allows us, if we need to collapse, if we’re like, oh, this is too much, it actually supports that collapse a little better than standing or sitting or other positions that we can be in.
It allows us to just kind of melt into the floor. So using tummy time, and actually one interesting thing that I learned in this journey of understanding trauma and the nervous system, is that children who crawl or walk too soon, they spend less time on their tummy and they actually are at a little bit more increased risk of trauma because they, they haven’t taken the time to feel supported.
And that’s a resource that we use. And so the fewer resources we have, the more likely we are to incur trauma. And then one last little side note is that obviously when we’re bracing, we oftentimes, because of this idea of it comes from a lack of support, a lack of felt sense of support.
Being activated while receiving support
We do it because we’re not getting the support we need. And so as we support whoever it is doing this work, as you feel into receiving more support, that can actually be quite activating. So we want to receive support, but then when we receive it, it’s new and foreign and different.
So actually the receiving of the support can make us feel tired, angry, shut down, withdrawn, all of these symptoms of bracing. We can actually brace against the very support that we want and need because it is new. So maybe expect that a little bit that. Logically, we’re like, oh, I just want support.
But if we get it, our bodies might not be used to it and can actually brace against it. Sometimes we see this as people saying, “well, nobody can support me.” Sometimes this is like when somebody gives you a hug, just like crying for no reason. You know, kind of like not wanting the hug, but also wanting the hug that that push and pull.
And this is especially true if you are usually the one that does the supporting. If you’re not used to receiving support. Receiving that support can feel very activating and then that activation can feel overwhelming and can lead down to this, this path of bracing and disconnection. So I just thought that was really fascinating when I learned about that.
Okay, so let me just summarize cuz that was a lot. Bracing patterns are basically this felt sense of like walking on eggshells or feeling unsupported and needing to support yourself. Basically do do something to compensate for the lack of support or do something to support yourself. And lots of ways this shows up in our lives, but in general, is this tightness, this rigidity either in our actual bodies or in the patterns of our lives.
Also can show up as like hyper independence or overgiving and can show up with codependency and addiction, and it comes from this earliest response, this earliest protection mechanism when we don’t receive the safety, the care, the support that we need to regulate ourselves. And how do we come out of that?
Well, we slowly increase our support. We separate fear from the physical sensations of bracing. We do what we can to allow the bracing to finish and possibly finish the active response, the fight or flight. And we allow ourselves to kind of touch into it and come out as much as we need. And we recognize that getting support can also feel triggering.
It can feel activating. So I hope that helps you understand how your body might be responding to support or lack of support and helps you understand how your body might be carrying trauma.
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If you would sign up for a free coaching session or just a, a chat, maybe a session where we don’t necessarily coach, but you can ask me questions and I can ask you questions. So if you are open and up for that I would so love to meet you. I love meeting people who are listening to my podcast and I would love to get your feedback on how this podcast can be better, how it can be more tailored to your needs.
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If you’re ready to address your own trauma with my support, go to danita bremer.com to schedule a free trauma assessment call. Until next time, go be yourself and follow the spirit. That is enough for now. And so are you.