There is time in any process of healing where we need to step back and resource from what we are experiencing, usually when our nervous system is in a flight/fight response. Though even those intense experiences, when held with the help of a loving friend, partner, or therapist, can be pathways to healing. Yet, much of the time our desire to get away from something we are experiencing is usually the very thing that is keeping us stuck in the uncomfortable experience. I know intimately about the hope for removal of those things in me I found objectionable. If I came upon something that was shameful, frightening, or just plan uncomfortable I scrambled to find some solution for it. I now see, this normal human response to pain, as the very source of my suffering.
I also see this with clients where the general wish is to transcend that which is painful. That they are a problem that needs to be fixed, and when we discover a cure for them all will fall into place. I haven’t seen it work that way. Of course, things change, trauma is released, perspective widens, and some stability will enter their lives, but the deep existential issues of life are not resolved. Those experiences like failure, the unfairness of life, powerlessness, chronic illness, deep attachment wounds, and painful family of origin relationships will need to be treated differently.
A tact, which is useful, involves not transcending the problems of humanness but descending into the muck of life and welcoming it home. One way of thinking of this process is imagining that these painful experiences and parts of ourselves are things which need to be welcomed home, and not just welcomed home and shoved in the basement, but given a seat at the table of our life. This is the key difference: when we are doing self-care because we believe being kind to ourselves will result in bad feelings going away, or being loving to our anxiety in hopes it will disappear, we are caught in the same cycle of avoidance. But if we can invite these objectionable parts of ourselves to the table of our life, to our inner most rooms, there is a chance deep systemic change can happen.
And that change often looks paradoxical, for example when one can say, “Wow, I really am misogynist, homophobic, scared of the dark, get joy out of seeing that person suffer,” or “yes, I truly hate myself and don’t want to treat myself well” then there is a chance for change. Speaking the truth of this human predicament in all its glory and goriness allows for the hiding to stop, the masquerading to end and a chance for liberation to begin. As long as we are trying to uphold the structures and conditioning of our ego there is not enough energy for life to harness and move through and transform us.
So the good thing is you don’t really have to do all that much, because its more about seeing what needs to be undone. What ways do you bolster yourself up when feeling insecure? Try to not do it next time, and that vulnerability or tender heart you find under the surface welcome it home. Instead of getting in that intense workout when you’re exhausted try going home and doing nothing. Like literally, just sit on the couch and maybe eat some ice cream, and welcome home the critic that arises to berate you for not being more disciplined. The basic idea is to shake up your unquestioned ideas and make your life into an experiment to discover who you really are behind all the things that you define yourself as. It takes a lot of courage to do this and may feel impossible, so be gentle, but just because something feels impossible doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying!
Karolina Walsh Psychotherapy
Providing psychotherapy, counseling, and support for grief, addictions, trauma, PTSD, relationship issues, and GLBTQIA.
“Karolina walks her talk, her ability to meet another in their capacities is sensational because she has done her own work” -Diane Israel
"An effective therapist needs to do at least two things: be compassionate and provide constructive feedback that actually changes the way people experience the world. I see many therapists who can do one or the other. I routinely watch Karolina do both..." -Patrick Weeg