Over the years I have been asked by a number of people, the process by which I have been able to heal myself from emotional trauma. I have never been able to provide a satisfying answer. I have been pondering this for some time and have been observing the process with more awareness and attention. I have also noticed the work that other people have done in their own healing of emotional hurts and I have discovered a pattern that is consistent in my own life, throughout all sorts of challenges. This pattern was followed, unconsciously, over and over again as I dealt with one aspect of my past after another. While there are as many paths to healing as there are human beings, this was pattern I discovered in me, something that helped me a great deal during my own healing. I wanted to share it here, in case it could be of help to someone else.
These five stages of emotional healing are based in an awareness. Awareness is the first step to any kind of awakening, healing, solving, creating and overcoming etc. As you read through these stages it is important to note that each one is experienced through a high level of self-awareness. Also, these stages are cycled over and over as we become more skilled at managing the stages and eventually the healing occurs in a spontaneous manner. The stages are more defined when observing them afterwards. They overlap each other and blend together. I have separated them for ease of understanding and to create a language for something that defies language and expression. Healing is a mystical, undefinable experience that is part of being human. This is an attempt to identify a process that can aid and support your own path to healing, whatever it may be.
The first stage of my emotional healing always begins when I notice that I am avoiding something. It may be that I find myself unfocused on my work, or that computer games and television shows have a little more sway over my willpower than usual. Something that I notice in myself, is the craving of food when my body is not hungry. This lets me know that some emotional issue is emerging and will need to be processed and honored. There are many ways to avoid looking inward at the challenges of healing emotional wounds and it is important to discover what your particular methods are and what avoidance looks like in your own life. As I stated in the introduction, your awareness of avoiding something is what this stage is about. I avoided looking at my emotional issues for years but I was not aware that I was avoiding the issues by reading books, talking incessantly on the phone, texting, overeating or watching too much TV. Without awareness nothing can really move forward, nothing can really change. So the first stage is awareness of avoiding something and the methods by which it is avoided. I believe that avoidance is necessary as a conditioning period, preparing me for the next stage by easing myself through gentle, gradual degrees of awareness.
The second stage is confrontation. That doesn’t mean engaging in a personal conflict with someone you believe has hurt you. Instead it is a confrontation of the emotional issue that you have been avoiding and noticing yourself avoiding. I found this stage to be a great relief. Running away can be wearying and stressful in its own way. By recognizing when I am ready to confront an emotional issue and then facing it, is the second stage of my healing. Confrontation will look different for each person. For me, sometimes I find myself having a heart to heart conversation with myself; an honest investigation of my actions, behaviors and motives of my avoidance. I often do this in the car, while driving. I will talk out loud to myself as if I am speaking with a friend. The shower is another great private place to talk it out. I find writing to be highly effective as well as doodling on a paper and letting myself draw images that come to mind. This helps me get a handle on the truth of what is going on inside of me. Another method may be looking at old photos that conjure memories where the issue is stored. This confrontation happens on its own too with simple awareness. You may notice yourself crying during a movie that wouldn’t usually elicit such strong emotions, or you may notice that some small image or item has a strong effect on your emotions or your thinking. Once you are aware that you are in the confrontational stage it is important to be able to name the issue. For example, I have had this old issue of having to go it alone. As I have worked through it and continue to do so I find it helpful to think about it as separate from me, from who I am as a person. It is my “do it alone, don’t ask for help” issue. Being able to name the issue and feeling clear about it, ends the second stage.
Staying with the Emotions
The third stage is working with emotions. Emotions are powerful movers of energy. It is the emotional stage where the real work gets done. It is often the most challenging. Be patient with yourself as you may become overwhelmed in this stage and revert back to stage one. This is perfectly normal. Stage one allows you to work back toward the strong emotions in degrees and with a level of safety and distance. Staying with the strong emotions requires a high degree of awareness because intense emotions can hijack our reasoning powers. Maintaining awareness during the emotional processing will allow you to “ride the waves” as I like to call it. I have found the work of Karla McLaren and her book, The Language of Emotions to be highly useful in navigating the intensity of the emotional stage. In her book she shows the power of our emotions to guide us through the challenges of our lives. The obstruction of emotions creates blocks in the energy system. The emotions themselves are teachers and can add greatly to our awareness of our own inner experience. They can also guide us right to the source of healing. Understanding the messages that our emotions are trying to communicate can expedite this stage dramatically. For example, McLaren writes that anger is a message about broken boundaries, sadness offers the gift of release, guilt and shame contains messages about restoring our integrity, jealousy connects us to our lack of self-regard or self-worthiness, fear intensifies and amplifies our intuition and instincts. McLaren writes warmly and with great wisdom about the power of the message our emotions offer. This can lead to profound understanding and aid in the healing process. Since discovering her work I have turned back to it again and again for guidance, gentleness and support. Staying with the strong emotions of healing doesn’t have to take a long time. Once emotions are no longer obstructed and are allowed to flow naturally the process can be over very quickly. I think of my emotions like a train ride. In stage one, I am deciding whether or not I want to ride on the train. In stage two I decide on a destination and buy my ticket. But it is stage three where the movement happens and sometimes that train ride can be a little bumpy but as long as I don’t jump out of the window I will eventually get to my destination.
Clarity and Action
After the hard work of staying with my emotions I discover a great sense of clarity, as if the clouds part and the sun comes shining through. I see so clearly and I know exactly what I need to do. This varies from issue to issue and situation to situation. But after working with the emotions, I gain the insight that allows me to know what I need to do. Sometimes the doing means talking to someone that I have a difficult relationship with, or it means de-cluttering my closet. It might show me that I need to change my behavior toward a person or I may need to separate myself from a toxic relationship. It might be something small, like drinking more water or sleeping in late on the weekends. Whatever the action is, in this stage I am absolutely clear about it. I know what I need to do and how to do it. I have the confidence to move forward with purpose toward an action or goal. To stay with the train metaphor, this stage is where you get off the train. You have arrived at your destination and the purpose of your travel. I have found this to be a very exciting stage and the action needed is not something I shy away from. I feel ready and able to accept the consequences.
Epiphany and Gratitude
The fifth and final stage of emotional healing is a spontaneous shift of perception or viewpoint. It is the “aha moment” when the world as you have always known it (regarding the issue) turns on its head. Everything looks and feels different. This stage sets everything firmly in place. Once this epiphany or shift in thinking occurs, the old way of thinking, feeling, reacting and behaving is over. This results in a release of old pain, thoughts or other hurts that have lingered and I feel lighter, freer and less encumbered. These moments have always been highly charged and incredible turning points in my life. All of us have experienced the power of having our eyes opened to a new way of seeing an old issue. The epiphany is almost always a ridiculously small event that packs a powerful transformational punch. I know for myself, once I have had the lights turned on, I have entered the “No Return” zone. This is met with enthusiasm and excitement because I don’t have to worry about falling back into the old pattern and getting stuck there. Sometimes I will revert to the old pattern but it simply doesn’t work, it is no longer effective and the power of the epiphany keeps me grounded in a different truth. I usually experience intense gratitude during this stage; gratitude for the whole, gloriously messy process that has brought me to a beautiful new understanding of myself and others. This gratitude is an important part of the closing of the process because it lays the groundwork for the next issue. Gratitude allows me to be open and willing to do more emotional healing. It heightens my awareness and sharpens my skills for another round.
Questions to Consider
- What does avoiding feel like in me?
- What is my preferred method of avoidance?
- How do I practice awareness without judgment?
- What do I do when I am ready to look at an issue?
- Are there patterns in my own life that I can discover?
- Can I name the issue I am confronting, can I separate it from me?
- What are the most consistent emotions I deal with regularly?
- What can those emotions teach me?
- What is the message these emotions are conveying?
- What does resistance of my emotions look like behaviorally?
- What does flowing emotions feel like in my body?
- Are there times in my life when I have known exactly what I needed to do?
- What were those times? What led to this clarity and willingness to act?
- Can I take a moment and remember a recent or life changing epiphany?
- Can I see how it has altered the course of my life, leading to greater change?
- What does gratitude feel like in my body?
- What kinds of thoughts are connected to gratitude?
- How does gratitude affect the quality of the healing process?
In conclusion, I want to reiterate that this process is my own experience and is in no way a definition of yours or anyone else’ healing path or experience. But I hope that my experience and this article about healing will get you thinking about your own process.