I first heard of the beach ball metaphor while watching a video through PESI (one of my continuing education providers). Arielle Schwartz, PhD uses the beach ball metaphor to explain how we can manage our dysregulated emotions. Arielle Schwartz, PhD provides a mind-body healing exercise that can help trauma survivors process their negative emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.
I hope that you find this metaphor helpful in understanding how we can better regulate our emotions and nourish our nervous systems.
Imagining something that we don’t want to hold or feel. – This is the beach ball. We’re pushing it down and trying to hold it under water. It wants to come back up to the surface. Sometimes, we do this temporarily, called “containment,” as we run to the store or parent the kids, then return. If we’re constantly and chronically trying to hold the ball down, avoidance, at some point, it is exhausting and taxing. This can lead to causing other issues, the ball coming up and causing a splash. Then, we have to gather the ball back up and push it down.
We want to understand the dysregulated feeling or memory. We want to turn towards it. Understand the sensation and emotion in small parts, at a slower, appropriate pace, so that the ball comes to the surface without making a big splash. We have a little more control and can push it back down.
We do this therapeutically. “Pendulation” (meaning, turning towards the distress) in small, tolerable parts, taking off some pressure. Next, we pendulate from the distress and turn towards the resource. A resource can be the therapeutic relationship, or the breath, or a cue of safety (like a flower or plant in the room, or something out the window), so we oscillate between the stress and ease. We take a break, and then, check-in. The pattern is distress, then resource, distress, resource, distress, resource.
This combats the “negativity bias,” (meaning we are wired for survival and to scan our environment for threats). We need to consciously counteract this by looking for the good and nourishing our nervous system. Nourishing can look like a relationship with someone who feels safe, or our pet, who we feel connected to.