My Approach: Five Steps to Get Through the Places That You Struggle
People come to me in pain, struggle, stuckness, beginning to wonder if there’s some emotional component underneath the struggle, but still unable to see what it is.
Why can’t you see it? It is your life, after all, and you were there…
People have a hard time seeing life events clearly when there is unprocessed trauma. I paraphrase Gabor Mate here when I say that there is only one story, really, underneath all trauma: you had a need that wasn’t met. We can flesh this out somewhat to say, “you had a need and it wasn’t met, or someone actively harmed you, or something beyond anyone’s control happened to you.” Then you went on in your life and you made ways to cope with that trauma as best you could, but you didn’t necessarily process it enough to get clear of the lingering effects.
Some examples of this:
I know a few people who have come to Canada from intense political/war situations in their own countries. Their bodies still carry fear responses that are easily activated by things here, like helicopters, fireworks (like on July 1st), and the Victoria Day parade (which in Victoria, BC, at least, has a large military participation, so people in uniform, tanks, etc.). One of these people hides in their home or goes deep into the countryside on these loud occasions.
I have one client who could not remember huge chunks of her childhood. She was plagued with severe digestive issues and inexplicable body pain. She began to wonder if there were things that she was just unable to remember in her childhood because they had been traumatic, so she started working with psychologists and seers to find out. She is uncovering a history of intense and intentional sexual abuse by her stepfather and his father. Her forgetting was self-preservation.
One young woman I saw had had a surgery when she was less than two that had left her in the hospital for weeks. Her mom was a single mom who could not be at the hospital all the time because there were other siblings to take care of. As an adult, that young woman was feeling very lonely and could not make an intimate relationship stick. She had stopped trusting that her family would be there for her and had decided, somewhere deep inside, that she didn’t need anyone but herself.
It is exactly these ways that we made of coping that prevent us from seeing what is underneath the struggle:
We lift ourselves up and out of the experience while it is happening and stay away from the memory afterwards (psychological dissociation).
We blank out the memory. I have many clients who say they can’t remember their childhoods, or at least chunks of it. Many of these people also tell me that they don’t dream.
We override our emotions.
We use anger or isolation as protection.
Because these ways of coping are there to keep us safe, it doesn’t feel good to run in there and dismantle them when maybe we still aren’t convinced deep in the body that we are safe.
Step One - Slowing down and acknowledging
Since we usually can’t see the patterns and belief systems that are running our lives, the first step is slowing down and identifying and listing the life experiences that you have had that were difficult/traumatic, or even the chunks of time that you can’t properly remember.
It’s tempting to jump over this step and just rush right into “fixing” what you think is wrong - especially if there is pain.
We often don’t know where the root of the struggle lies so we cannot simply shift it by willpower and forcing ourselves to change.
Step Two - You were shaped by your family and your experiences
You need to see that your life experiences, especially the ones that come from family or are still unprocessed, affect you and shape your life - and your body - deeply.
It can be a huge relief to see that the tightness across your abdomen that stops you from breathing deeply when you are in the presence of someone who is expressing anger is your body still holding the compounded fear that you experienced every time your dad lost his temper, for example. Seeing it doesn’t fix it. But it might pause or interrupt the automatic fear response, and it’s a start to untangling its hold on you.
Step Three - What do you believe about yourself because of your life experiences?
This step keeps turning back to your own life experiences with kindness and curiosity so that you can digest what was indigestible at the time.
A healer helps you see these life experiences differently by bringing your conscious awareness to what you and your body made these experiences mean, and by looking at the unexpressed, unmet emotional needs that you are still carrying. A counsellor does similar work only from a different starting point.
A willingness to move closer to ourselves and beginning to find the roots of the struggle is self-love and self-connection in all of its imperfection.
Step Four - Changing how your body holds these experiences
Here we need to take the “charge” or trigger off of these experiences/memories/belief systems so that you can get closer in to your soft body. I do this by using various shamanic healing techniques and BodyTalk protocol. Some practitioners do this by using Somatic Experiencing. Many different modalities work well for this step.
Step Five - Finding joy
Repeat process until there is a sustained joy (here understood as a deep connection to the very fact of being incarnate on this Earth), a sense of rightness in body and life, and access to pleasure through the senses, even when life is going through a bad patch.