March 19th, 2019
Proclaiming your own need for healing has become — I hate to say it — just another cliché and contrived saying.
We say things like, “I’m embracing the healing process,” “I need to work on me” or “I’m trying to live my best life,” but do we mean any of it? Or maybe we mean it, but do we know what any of it means? And how do we know if we are doing any of it correctly?
The question I want you to think about is: How do you actually heal? And seriously, how do we live our best lives?
As a therapist and relationship counselor in Greenville, SC, I can say healing — and also living your best life — is based on your own perception. What is your definition of healing? Would healing mean that you never talk about your past trauma anymore? Would being healed mean you never feel those emotions again, or would it mean you forget about the experience all together?
Whatever your answers, your definition of healing is going to affect your journey to achieve it.
But here is the truth: Real, lasting healing happens when you understand what happened to you, accept that it happened to you, become aware of how the experience has affected you/your actions and, most importantly, embrace your power to shift any negative effects to positive outcomes.
I know that is a lot, isn’t it?
This is why sometimes it is easier not to heal. It is much easier not to do the work. But if you don’t deal with it on the front end, it will catch up with you on the back end. By that, I mean the pain and confusion and trauma will manifest itself into your relationships, work environments, family interactions and plain old attitude.
I recently saw a quote that said, “What we don’t repair, we repeat.” This is the No. 1 reason why healing is so important. If you do not resolve those painful experiences, the emotions do not disappear. No matter how far you stuff them inside of you. They are still there just waiting for an opportunity to come out.
What sort of opportunity? A trigger.
A trigger is a person, place, thing, action or comment that reminds you of your past experience. Once a trigger arises, you no longer see the current situation as it truly is. Once triggered you go back to feeling the pain from your past experience, you are overcome by those emotions and you react from that space.
You can see this, for example, when you are in a disagreement with your partner. They say something that reminds you of when your first love cheated on you, which was a painful experience that you never processed (you cried for about a week and then started dating someone else). But because your partner triggered you, the unprocessed feelings of betrayal, abandonment and disrespect that you felt while being cheated on comes out, and the disagreement is escalated.
It is no longer about the current situation with your current partner. You are diving into those deeply stuffed emotions, and when you do this, the disagreement is no longer fair. Fighting becomes a war zone, and your partner must fight a battle that they never started.
We know what happens then. There must be a winner and loser, but in this case, you both lose. Because in a healthy relationship you have to be on the same team with your partner..
I know in my past two blog posts, I have been going deep into childhood traumas to see how they can affect your adult relationships. But healing is not just about childhood trauma. As you can see, pain is pain, and even adult heartbreak can have residual effects in your relationships.
Because we all know heartbreak can have you in the fetal position crying for days leaving your girls no choice but to plan a intervention!
So from childhood traumas to adult heartbreak, we need to heal the healthy way.
Yes, it takes time. Yes, it means you have to face some hard stuff.
And yes — and this is big — it means you may have to admit that your partner was right when he or she said, “That argument wasn’t about me. You have some other stuff going on.” This may be the toughest one! That’s because you ignored your partner’s comments about your “issues” for so long, and now you have to swallow some pride and say, “You were right.”
But let me tell you, as not just a counselor but as someone who has gone through the healing process, it is worth it. Because once you get through it, there are no words to describe your strength, how much clarity you have about yourself and others. Those triggers that used to send you over the moon and back won’t stand a chance. Because there will be no pain inside of you to attach to it.
You see, no pain on the inside means no negative manifestation on the outside.
Does it mean you forget about those painful experiences? No, but it does mean they no longer hold you hostage. You are free of emotional breakdowns, angry outbursts and temper tantrums that leave you and others confused.
Three Harmful Ways to Heal and One Beneficial One
To explain the unhealthy ways of healing, I am going to use the scenario of a sprained ankle. This analogy will help you to understand the healing process in a practical way. Now bear with me, I am a counselor not a doctor, so I may not have all the medical processes correct!
Okay, let’s say you are playing basketball, and you sprain your ankle. You go to the doctor, and they prescribe the following:
- 1. Take your pain pills as PRN for pain
- 2. Keep your ankle wrapped up and stabilized
- 3. Don’t put any weight on it
- 4. Use the crutches to get around
- 5. Do this for eight weeks, come back and we will see how well it has healed
- 6. And absolutely no basketball!
This prescription allows you to rest your ankle, for the sprain to heal properly and for you to avoid re-injuring it down the road. Not following these instructions would have consequences. There are a few different ways to inhibit the healing process when it comes to your ankle (and your emotions). Let’s look at a few of them.
With inconsistent healing, you are back and forth between following the doctor’s directions and not following the doctor’s directions. One day you rest and the next day you don’t, which means one day you feel good and the next you are back in pain.
You start to feel like what’s the use? The doctor’s directions are not working. Finally, you stop altogether. You go back to the doctor in eight weeks, and your ankle has not healed. You still feel soreness and can’t put full pressure on it. The doctor doesn’t know what happened because you tell him you have been following the directions. “I guess we have to start the process over… another eight weeks,” he says. And so you have to start all over.
More time to heal, more time away from basketball, more pain every time you touch or put pressure on your ankle.
This happens a lot in therapy: People come and work with a therapist to develop a plan to reach their goal of healing, but because it is tough, they stop and go back and then they go forward again. Which means they are prolonging the process. They are still stuffing in the pain as well as dealing with the challenges of everyday life, which means facing triggers more often, which leads to more negative reactions. And on their next appointment, they say, “Yes, I have been doing the homework,” but they have not, which means we have to start from step 1 all over again.
Because in the healing process, there is no skipping steps, there is no flip flopping.
With this, you leave the doctor’s office thinking in your mind, “Ain’t nobody got time for eight weeks. I will do it in four and then I am done.” And for those four weeks, you follow the doctor’s instructions all the way. At the end of the fourth week, you feel better. You have tested your ankle, and no, you can’t fully run but you can walk without the crunches.
You even Google it and read other peoples’ stories of healing their sprained ankle in four weeks. So you go about your life, and then one day getting out the car, you put pressure on that ankle and you feel the worst pain ever — even worse than when you first sprained it. It literally brings tears to your eyes. You don’t know what happened. You were fine before. Why all of a sudden this pain?
Well, it’s because you rushed your healing. Because with rushed healing, it can appear that everything is okay until too much pressure is put upon your ankle (or your emotions), and it all falls apart. You call your doctor for an emergency appointment, but because she can’t see you, she recommends you go to the ER just to make sure nothing has been broken or torn and to get you something for the pain. You spend hours in the ER, and you tell the story over to another doctor.
And now what? You have months of recovery and physical therapy in your future.
This can happen in therapy as well. Someone meets with a therapist for a short period of time. They start feeling better, and they stop. And then one day out of nowhere, they are triggered — by something that is even more painful than their initial trauma. And depending on how much emotional pain the trigger caused, you may actually have to go to the ER, tell another doctor your story and face an even more intense prescription for healing.
Rushed healing may seem like a “second best” alternative to healthy healing. But rushing through the healing process creates an overwhelming amount of pain — more pain than your body is ready to process with too many triggers hitting too soon.
The healing process should never lead you to a place of emotional bombardment.
So you are playing basketball and you seriously hurt your ankle. There is pain, and swelling and you know something is wrong.
But you do not go to the doctor.
Instead, you sit in the pain. You tape it up yourself and you act like everything is okay when, in actuality, you are in pain. Take Tylenol or Advil for the pain, but nothing really relieves the ache.
You tell yourself, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor,” and “I can take care of it myself.” You push through and you manage to walk around like nothing is wrong.
Your friend who you were playing basketball with when you were hurt, asks about your ankle. You say, “Yeah, I’m good. It was just a little sprain,” and you laugh it off. But underneath you are judging your friend for not caring more. It fuels your inner dialogue of “I have to take care of myself! Nobody cares.”
You have all the resources you need to heal, but you avoid it. This can only go on for so long until the pain spreads and manifests itself in different ways.
That’s because you didn’t heal your original issue — now your knees are hurting, which triggers lower back pain. So now the pain is affecting your ability to navigate through life, which is really scary. Because you now know the process will be longer and more intensive, and you have lost so much time.
So you literally have to be forced into healing by multiple painful experiences.
This is the same with therapy. With avoidant healing, multiple things in your life must be going wrong all at the same time for you to start the process of healing. So much is going wrong that you have no choice but to begin listening to your therapist and taking their healing advice seriously.
Remember, there is no avoiding your pain or your past.
You sprain your ankle. You feel the pain, you know you can’t fix it on your own, so you go see the doctor. Don’t know what to expect, but you just hope it’s not broken. You are relieved that there is hope and a process for healing your sprained ankle. Follow the doctor’s directions — well, let’s be honest, maybe not to the T, but for the most part, you follow the plan.
You start feeling better, but because you are not as mobile as you were before, you are spending less time playing basketball, and spending more time alone. You think about your life and where you are, which is just an added bonus to the healing.
When you go to your eight-week follow-up appointment, the doctor says your ankle is healed and it’s okay for you to use the crutches less and start putting weight on it.
This is scary for you because you don’t want to hurt it again. You are fearful you will make a mistake and mess up the healing process. But you listen, and you take that first unsupported step. And it works, when you accidently jostle your foot a few days later, it is OK.
This is what is it like in therapy. When you are ready to heal the healthy way, you are open to the process. You take an active role in your therapy sessions. Yes, the therapist gives direction, but it is up to you to do the work. And once you have healed from past experiences, it can be scary to go back into a relationship because of the fear that you will make a mistake and result back to your old behaviors.
But you have to take that risk.
This healthy, active, responsive healing is the only to get back to living your life and face triggers without going back to your old ways.
So you see the importance of working with a therapist or counselor to develop a plan for healing and then to follow that plan, while dedicating time and energy to do the work that will inspire long-lasting change. You can do it, and I want you to know that it’s okay if you need support in getting to your happily ever after.
If you are ready for lasting healing, I encourage you to book a session with me. We can work together to explore your past trauma, learn how that experience has affected your life and, finally, focus on a plan for positive change and healthy healing.