Relationship is crucial to health and happiness. We are spiritually and biologically designed to be in relationship. When we do not have safe and loving relationships in our lives, we suffer.
Feeling like we belong and are connected to others is good for us; it increases resilience and reduces fear.
When we experience a felt sense of safety, our immune system is stronger; we feel inspired and motivated to move through life, love, family and relationships with more flow and ease.
When stress increases for those with early relational trauma experiences, the old, disrupted attachment wounds are awakened. With this comes deep feelings of loneliness and shame, as well as increased conflict in relationships. We separate, isolate and disengage from vulnerable and intimate connection through a false sense of protection.
What keeps us from being able to connect?
Deep inside, way down deep inside, many believe that we are not enough, that we are unworthy and inadequate.
We fear that if people really know us they would turn away, not love us or want us. They would see how bad we really are.
The core, but unconscious belief that we are lacking in some way accompanies us into relationships. This often shows up as what looks like an inflated ego as we get caught in cycles of defensiveness and fighting. But this defensiveness is more likely a broken spirit longing to be held.
The fear of intimacy stems from the fear of vulnerability and being real with our loved ones. The old wound of ‘not enough’ comes back to life and we push those who love us the most, the furthest away.
As we begin to explore this, we can ask our clients, and we can ask ourselves:
What do you not want others to see about you?
What do you most judge about yourself?
How do you treat that part of yourself?
When we hide parts of ourselves that we don’t like from others, how does that affect the relationship?
Shifting from this space of self-criticism to self-compassion is necessary in the healing of trauma.
I have found for myself and for my clients, that an understanding of why my brain returns to unhealthy and toxic patterns is necessary for me to make sustained changes toward healing.
The 3 Processes for Self-love that come in part, from the work of Tara Brach, and my own, rewire the brain for deeper connection. I know that if I can change my brain, my body follows and so too, does what I think, how I feel and what I do.
So first, the 3 processes are:
- Learning to observe your own thoughts
- Mindfully feeling your feelings
- Offering a gesture of care to your inner self
Why do these seemingly simple practices help? Really?
Because these processes move us from fight/flight/freeze/appease to Tend and Befriend. They activate the higher levels of the brain where compassion and connection to self and others, with clear thinking, are possible.
Learning to observe your own thoughts:
When we learn to observe what we think instead of becoming what we think, we can witness the power our thoughts have over us. Our thoughts can relentlessly tell us we are not good enough, repeat the messages from others about us, pull us into anxiety and fear of never being good enough.
As thoughts are repeated, the neural pathways deepen and over time those thoughts become our ‘truth’. Until we pause to think about what we are thinking about, and to observe the thoughts instead of living them out by default, we become what we think.
Learning to observe our own thoughts helps us recognize that thoughts are just thoughts. Not everything we think is true, far from it! They are just thoughts. When we practice this for an hour, or day, or week, we will quickly realize the power of our thinking mind over our life. Nobody is in our head thinking those thoughts for us today. It is just us, thinking. And if it is just us thinking, why not intentionally think something else?
But, even when we recognize that these faulty, old thoughts are just thoughts, we might still feel that something is wrong with us. This is often the case.
Mindfully feeling what you feel:
Mindfully contacting our feelings and allowing them to be just as they are is the next step. As we pay attention to what is under the self-criticism we will become aware that even our strongest feelings are temporary, and are not the whole of us. It is important to not just feel, but to become mindfully aware of what we feel.
When we can name the feelings and tap into the somatic awakening of them, we activate the left frontal cortex which diminishes the power of the limbic system. This decreases the powerful emotional reactions that can surge and keep us stuck in fight/flight/freeze/appease.
When we name fear and shame, we can breathe through them and allow them to move through us. We move toxic energy out of our body with our breath in and breath out. We can mindfully contact the fear as we breathe in love and breathe out the fear. Repeat as the surge of emotional reactivity is slowing.
The more feelings we can name the more we realize that all feelings come and go, but none of them stay. You might acknowledge “I Am Suffering”, “Everybody Suffers”, “I am not alone in my suffering”.
These awareness’s begin the return to connection and compassion. We are all living with some pain and suffering today, which leads to step 3.
Offering a gesture of care to your inner self:
This is the most crucial and most often forgotten step to our healing. To contact the realness of our own suffering, to acknowledge the grief and loss, the pain that we are feeling invites us to show that part of ourselves gestures of care. This may be a very young part of you, your little one waiting to be seen, heard, held and cared for. Not fixed, changed or analyzed, but cared for, just as we are.
Old ways of self-judgment are deeply wired, this practice takes practice to rewire the brain. Over time, as we train in these 3 steps, we begin to find a softer and more gentle part of ourselves. We experience compassion for ourselves and for others. We become more accepting and less critical. We feel more joy.
Self-compassion leads to embracing others and increased intimacy.
When we have been stuck in patterns of defensiveness for many years, our work may begin with forgiving ourselves. If early trauma has left us in anger and rage and turning on others has been the way we have protected the vulnerable parts of ourselves, developing an understanding of and forgiveness for this part of ourselves must happen before we can truly ask others for forgiveness.
Others may forgive you, but that will not bring healing until you forgive yourself, fully.
When we feel bad about ourselves, we are less connected with our heart space.
It is biologically impossible to be in a space of self-contempt and self-compassion at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.
Self-punishment plants the seeds for further acting out, not healing.
There are times that we feel out of control and cannot help how our ego takes over. Until….
We think about what we are thinking about,
Mindfully feel what we feel, and take the time and space to understand where these parts come from and how we are carrying the suffering of others as our own. And then we can
Show gestures of love and care for these wounded parts, finally.
Toxic stress and secondary trauma diminish our capacity for clear thinking and decision-making. Working in the fields of trauma and living in a traumatized world has left us in states of uncertainty and confusion. These states can often result in a decreased sense of accomplishment and self-criticism.
When we need a path out of the self-criticism and back toward self-compassion remember,
- Think about what you are thinking about
- Mindfully feel what you are feeling
- Offer gestures of compassion to all parts of yourself.
If you are interested in a wellness program for your staff connect with us here: Alvarado Group
If you are interested in coaching for yourself connect with me here: Simply Healing with Jules
Until we meet again, and we will meet again,
Blessings on our journeys, Jules