Throughout my years in psychology practice, I have noticed there is a trend of moving people away from feeling – instead, numbing their emotions.
Crying is actually a symptom in the DSM-V. We have pathologised a human feeling! When psychiatrists and therapists witness a patient tearful too many times in session, their next conclusion is that something must be wrong and they must be medicated.
This frustrates me so much as a clinician and as a person who has done his share of work in his own personal therapy. When we are broken, we are broken open. Being broken is a starting point, not necessarily a symptom that something has gone wrong. It’s this feeling of “not good enough” that requires healing, not pushing into the basement of our subconscious – because it will come up again and again, even when we numb it!
Feel It to Heal It
It is at the point of our deepest pain and grief that we have the greatest opportunity for growth.
I find myself telling clients seeking healing from trauma over and over: “You can’t ‘get over’ it, you must ‘go through’ it.”
Yet, so many of us have been indoctrinated to think that if we spend more than a day being sad, we must have depression, or if we feel nervous a little bit longer than we’d like to we must have an anxiety disorder. Mood swings? We’re definitely bipolar!
We have been taught to not feel or express negative emotions. It’s socially acceptable to talk about how happy your weekend was, or how much fun you had on vacation – but watch the uncomfortable shifting in chairs that takes place when you open up about how you just haven’t felt like yourself lately, or when you talk about the pains or grief you may feel.
In our world of quick fixes, where we can have a conference across the world, over a computer, communicate a message in two seconds via text, or post a picture that all of our family can see instantly, we also want instant relief for our suffering.
Yet, suffering is part of the human condition. It is through experiencing our deepest sorrows, we are able to appreciate our greatest joys. But we must first be willing to sit in the muck.
“Out of the mud, grows the lotus.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Part and parcel of any addiction (food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc) is that the addict is particularly uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. However, the cure is right there for the taking.
“So what does this look like in real life?” you ask. “How do I open the wound, bring in the light, and clear out the infection that started all of this in the first place?”
How to Start the Healing Process
You start with observation, attention, with presence. You start with a still and open heart; a vulnerability that allows you to be at peace with not knowing what will happen next. You sit broken open and wait for the light to enter over time.
Brené Brown, in her TED talk about vulnerability, informs us that those who embrace vulnerability, also feel worthy of love and belonging, and connect with others, to feel courage, compassion, and connection.
The most important message in all of this is being able to create a consistent forum where you hold the space and are able to be okay with being vulnerable – to share with another who will non-judgementally work through the trauma, the childhood hurts, and vulnerability, to expose it, to walk into the dungeon where there are lots of dark things.
This could be a therapist’s office, it could be a weekly walk with a friend. It could begin as a journal entry, or as a prayer of gratitude every night that highlights the positives in life, being grateful that there are those who might simply love and accept us as we are.
Are you Willing to Sit in the Muck a While?
You set the priority to be willing to hold the space and to sit in the muck – not to be afraid of it, but to believe you are resilient enough to be able to move through it.
Maybe it starts with emotions that have no words. Maybe it starts with physical feelings, that you have to simply sit with for a while. Maybe you are lucky enough to immediately put in words where your wounds started, and it’s just floating around in your thoughts, waiting to be verbalised. Perhaps it starts with a behaviour you tend to do all of the time, that you know comes from a place of pain.
We all have experienced others telling us we are “not good enough”. Growing up, it might be that we never quite got the love and admiration we all need from our parents, from our teachers or friends. When we love something so much and don’t get that back, it leaves a narcissistic wound – “Why doesn’t someone love me?”.
It doesn’t necessarily always start with parents. It can be our first romantic relationship – but it often starts with parents, or even our perceptions of a Christian message that tells us we were “born in sin.”
I recall when I was a boy of 10 or 11, after seeing Superman on TV, I would don a towel on my back, and jump 3 metres from a tree branch, or from the roof of our 2-storey house. I just wanted to be acknowledged – “Look at me mum – I’m superman!” and my mum would say “Don’t be stupid – you will hurt yourself!” Unfortunately, without recognising this, many people will go throughout their lives trying to heal these hurts through trying to acquire other people or things, instead of searching for the answer within themselves.
The lesson in this discussion is to guide us to be willing to gently open up our wounds – the “I’m not good enough” stories, and to ask for help to have them healed.
If we have a food, drugs, alcohol, or other addiction and feel out of control, you can bet we have a wound! Instead of distracting ourselves through bad habits, addictions, unhealthy relationships, or external wants, it is time to finally allow a place to start the healing process.
A Dragon Meditation
I like to use what I call a “dragon meditation”. This has been adapted from Glenn Schiraldi’s work with US Marines in being able to deal with emotional trauma in an attempt to mitigate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When we are trying to get to a happy place in our lives, often we feel this “yank” on our legs and down we go to the bottom of a very deep well that we are trying to climb out of, desperate to reach the light at the top. What is dragging us down is what I call “Godzilla” – this dragon that keeps dragin’ us down. It’s very scary – and the last thing we wish to do is face this thing. That’s why many go for addictions such as drink, drugs (recreational as well as medicinal), gambling, sex.
However the truth is we have to face up to this dragon sooner or later – the inner fears, emotions and trauma need to be dealt with – if we are ever to find joy and peace in our lives.
Author: Dr Peter Noordink, BA, Grad Dip App Sc, PhD, MAPS.
Dr Peter Noordink is a Brisbane Psychologist with over 25 years’ experience in areas such as pain management, aged care, suicide prevention, trauma, improving self-worth, teenage issues, and helping middle aged men and women deal with the problems of midlife. He uses a very gentle approach to explore issues which are currently impacting on one’s general and psychological wellbeing.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Brown, Brené, Ph.D. Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York City, NY: Gotham.
- Long, Colleen. Psy.D. (2017). The Wound is Where the Light Enters You – The key to breaking free from food addiction and losing the weight for good. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-happiness-rx/201706/the-wound-is-where-the-light-enters-you
- Schiraldi, Glenn, Ph.D. (2011). The Complete Guide to Resilience. Resilience Training International, Ashburn.
- Soeiro, L., Ph.D. (2018). 15 Ways Manipulative People Control You, and Why They Do It – Being manipulated feels awful, until you realize what’s really going on. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/i-hear-you/201806/15-ways-manipulative-people-control-you-and-why-they-do-it
- Whitaker, Robert, Ph.D. (2010). Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, Crown Publishing.