The 1st step towards healing is learning how to get out of your own way to allow what can and will come naturally. Healing happens naturally when we let it. However, most of the time, when we turn to psychotherapists who’ve been trained to work within the medical model, they guide us to spend even more time engaged in pathologizing ourselves, our families and our current and/or former partners and/or children to continue living in the problem rather than helping to guide and facilitate what comes naturally — healing.
Our defenses, which served a useful purpose when we experienced the traumas and emotional wounds in our lives, when allowed to persist beyond the situations in which they were needed also can delay and, at times, prevent us from healing. Traumas and losses happened to us. But, they don’t necessarily have to define who we are or influence how we choose to live our lives. Fear, anger, guilt and shame are natural responses when we’ve been wounded. Pain, when injury occurs, serves a positive function. However, after that injury or traumatic situation has passed, the pain from it no longer serves a positive function. The same is true for our emotional responses to emotional wounds. Letting go of our anger, fear, guilt, shame and sadness allows what’s natural — i.e., healing — to occur.
Maladaptive coping strategies can keep us stuck, preventing the natural healing process from occurring.
The most toxic emotion of all is shame. Although natural and inevitable in human experience, shame is an emotion that’s about who we are while guilt is an emotion about something we’ve done. When we’ve experienced abuse and/or neglect during childhood, it’s not uncommon to internalize the shame from having had those experiences. Yet, as children, we weren’t always the ones who were engaging in the abusive or neglectful behaviors. So, it’s essential that we let go of that shame because a) it doesn’t belong to us and b) it’s toxic and functions as fuel to compulsive behaviors people use to cope with it — e.g., alcohol and other substance misuse or abuse, relationship or sex addiction, eating disorders, workaholism, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, narcissism and, even, personality/character disorders.
Overcoming maladaptive coping strategies can be the most difficult and challenging task required to begin to allow ourselves to heal. It requires great courage to allow ourselves to experience ourselves, including our emotions, without self-medicating or compulsively engaging in our habits that, as distractions, help us to escape from our traumas and, at the same time, also to escape from ourselves and everyone else who chose to be present with us in our lives. If only self-medicating and/or compulsive behaviors worked well. They do work…temporarily…for a short time. Eventually, if we have the capacity to be honest with ourselves, we begin to realize that our maladaptive coping strategies keep us stuck in our trauma, loss and other emotional wounds. Over time, we realize that they keep us stuck on a merry-go-round of denial that repeatedly brings us right back to emotional pains that, over time, we’ve come to recognize and that have become all too familiar. If you’ve ever observed that your life has become a script that you’ve repeated over and over again, then you’ve got the insight to begin the work of recovery. Over time, we come to realize that those strategies have stopped working for us. We realize this when their byproducts jeopardize our job security, repeatedly ruin our relationships and, eventually, take a toll on our physical, emotional and spiritual health.
The first steps in overcoming those maladaptive coping strategies are we:
- begin to have compassion for ourselves
- recognize that the locus of control resides within us, which empowers us to make more positive, constructive and healthier choices and decisions
- identify where the boundaries are that enable us to stop internalizing the shame, guilt, anger, fear, etc. and, instead, direct those emotions where they belong — at the person(s) who abused, neglected and/or abandoned us
- forgive those persons for our own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being rather than identifying as victims and holding onto resentments.
Human healing far exceeds “fixing” or “solving” problems. Transformative change, drawing upon our inherent capacity to heal, usually happens when we learn how to get out of our own way.
Part of that healing journey involves realizing and embracing humility. We learn that everyone in this day and age is “at risk” in some way. Pain and suffering are inherently parts of life, as is death. If we grew up neglected by needy parents, chances are, we learned how to neglect ourselves and to meet others’ needs before attending to our own. Alcoholic and drug addicted parents teach their children to cope by misusing and abusing alcohol and/or drugs. It might not even occur to us that doing that isn’t normal. When we begin our healing journey, at first, we may not even know what “normal” or — better yet — “healthy” is or looks like.
When we begin our own healing journeys, we also show our children and others in our lives how to live safer and healthier lives. One of the ways that we do that is to share our stories of our healing journeys with each other.