In my last post, I talked about a common place in the healing journey, the place of, ‘yes, but not yet’ – when we can see our patterns but not necessarily change them.
Today I want to talk about the key emotions that can arise in this space and trip us up.
It’s a paradox – that the more we learn about ourselves, and the more we learn about trauma and healing, the more we can get tangled in emotional loops.
I was 17 when I first began dieting. Soon after, I began throwing up my meals. I was a senior in high school and was feeling worried, and was convinced I needed to lose ten pounds. Purging felt like an easy solution, a way to become thinner without being hungry or feeling deprived.
At the time, if you’d asked me if I had an eating disorder – or if there was some other pain underneath my binging and purging – I would’ve insisted that the bulimia was solely about wanting to be thinner.
It took several years for me to understand that there were needs, trauma, and pain underneath my body anxiety and the overeating. And it’s been a good, long road since to nurture the safety for the pain to unwind.
I imagine that you’ve traveled a similar journey, where you’ve become more intimate with the needs and vulnerable feelings that lie underneath your overeating or other self soothing strategies.
And so begins the journey of understanding.
If you’re like most of us, once you had this knowledge, you looked for ways to heal – reading books, taking courses, doing therapy, and more.
Like a plant that bends towards the light, there’s something in us that yearns for warmth and wholeness, that longs to be free from the residue of trauma.
But as we enter into the vulnerable territory of the heart, primal emotions get activated – and they can color our desire for healing.
- We may feel frustrated by the ways we’re ‘not there yet’ or by the ways we’ve been wounded. We can feel critical or harsh towards ourselves.
- We can feel shame – especially when we face those parts in us that are still developing. We can try to ‘hurry them along’ or make our growth mistake free.
- We can feel anxious and striving, a frantic sense of, “I need to be fixed, now” – especially when we face those places that are caught in trauma and trauma defenses.
- Sometimes our problem solving parts get activated – they see the gaps, and march us forward to fix them, immediately.
I’ve felt and tried all of these things, and imagine you have, too.
I clearly remember when I saw the problem solving part of me. I was in a class with one of my mentors and was learning about the stages of emotional development.
I could clearly see that I wasn’t at the top of the ladder – emotional integration and maturity – where, in my mind, I could finally rest. So I asked, “How do you move yourself up the ladder, up the stages of emotional development?”
Ah, I wanted someone to give me the instructions, so I could hurry the process along, already! But I didn’t yet understand that development, like the growth of a plant, unfolds in its own timing, moves step by step, and can’t be rushed.
As you move through your healing journey, and as you learn about yourself, trauma, the brain, the nervous system, psychology, and healing, you’ll see more. Your eyes will be opened!
Tthe more we see, the more potential we have to be frustrated – to see that gap between where we are and where we want to be, and to feel thwarted.
Because we have more insight, we may think we ‘should’ be able to turn this insight into growth, healing and change. This can leave us homeless and psychologically restless, trying to get somewhere else, and no place of home for where we are.
Meeting our youngest, smallest selves
The developmental and healing process entails that we will come across places in us that are young, undeveloped, and unintegrated, frozen in time. We will meet our youngest, smallest selves.
The word ‘immature’ can fill us with shame, because it’s often used in a critical, scolding way – stop being so immature!
But if we look at the word itself, to be immature is not a judgment, but a description of the developmental process. It means to be developing. It means to be in process, to move through cycles, and to be alive!
I could call the seeds I planted this fall immature, as they have not yet come to bloom, or even peeked above the ground. Likewise, my broccoli plants, which have not yet produced the woody greens to eat, are also immature.
In our culture, we value the end product, the harvest and the fruit. We value growth and achievement. And so the other stages of the cycle can feel less valuable, deficient, or even wrong.
The immature, developing, pain-holding parts of our being need the safety of our protection. They need warmth, care and respect so that their buds can unfold.
Likewise, our hearts and nervous systems long for rest. It’s counterintuitive, but we find this rest when we settle into whatever stage we’re at, fully leaning into it.
Only in this ‘settling’ can we be fully supported – at this particular season and this particular stage of our lives – receiving the particular medicine and nourishment that this moment is calling for.
We are a child of every moment, mothered and cared for by the same forces that grow our broccoli plants and sunflower seeds.
Like a growing child, we need love, compassion and strength so we can see those places in us that are caught in trauma, or those places that are not yet fully ripened, and feel kindness towards all that is young.
And we need trust – not blind trust, but trust in the wisdom of our psyche, trust in our body and their holding, trust in our nervous system, and trust in the life force that holds us.
Over and over again, throughout our healing journey, we will face these vulnerable places, the gaps, the beginnings and middles, and the messy learning of growth.
And over and over again, if we can sink into them – oh, this is what’s here. May I feel kind towards what’s here – we will feel the support that holds us.
We will feel the soil that holds the seed.