I have the impression that more people embark on a conscious healing journey of the mind and the soul than ever before. The taboo and secrecy surrounding our mental health is slowly replaced by the idea that we need to nurture our minds not just our bodies.
Whether you are struggling with chronic stress, finding it difficult to communicate with your children, or your promotion requires a different mindset, the questions are the same when looking for external help: what does the healing journey entail and how does one choose the right person and the right method in the sea of healers, therapists, and coaches?
There is an enormous sense of relief to be able to talk about your feelings to someone who understands you, especially after having suppressed them for year or even decades. The weight of some of the shame, guilt, anger or whatever emotion you’ve been carrying around falls away slightly. This feeling is often accompanied by a sense of liveliness because here you don’t have to hide a part of who you are. It is no longer a painful secret.
Dr Jonice Webb, a psychologist specialising in childhood emotional neglect, very aptly calls these secrets our fatal flaws, as people often sacrifice their health, relationships, financial stability just to hide something that they consider unacceptable about themselves and feel others would judge just as harshly. Until a few years ago, I would have been terrified if anybody found out that I was unable to read or spell properly. Even the thought of it produced such high levels of stress that I felt I was no longer standing on the floor, instead I had a floating sensation and my face was burning up.
Your therapist will know that a substantial part of your pain is due to your perception, and once you change that and see the secret as merely one aspect of your life, you’ll be able to talk about it openly with a sense of detachment. However, they need to meet you at your emotional level: acknowledge the pain. I remember talking about my reading and learning challenges with a couple of professionals, one gave me an exercise that led to persistent headaches, and ultimately a wasted CT scan, and the other just advised me to get used to it. What they failed to appreciate or reveal to me in a way that I could understand was that the burden I was feeling wasn’t related to the dyslexia but to the idea of it being permanent, personal and pervasive. I felt hopeless.
Feeling hopeless and helpless is damaging and it can have wide ranging consequences on all aspects of your life. The psychologist and a founding father of positive psychology, Dr Martin Seligman, conducted several experiments on dogs while studying depression in the late 60s only to find that the dogs in the group that had no control over the pain of electric shock inflicted on them wouldn’t try to escape it later even when they could, they just lay on the floor whining.
When it comes to humans, we have to consider how we make sense of things in our life – our explanatory style – besides that, our reactions are fairly similar: if we learn that we have no control over a situation, we might not do anything to escape it, even if somebody urges us to do it or there would be a benefit if we did.
Your initial step will probably be a conversation about the beliefs, fears and feelings that shape your life. You might dive into questions like: Do I believe that I can change? Do I feel what is happening is my fault? Do I believe that something might be wrong with me? Is this issue a part of my life or is it my whole life? If you’re able to step back even a little bit, you might start questioning your assumptions and explore new possibilities without being threatened or overwhelmed.
The turning point in my journey was reading The Brain that Changes Itself, by the psychiatrist Norman Doidge. That was the first time I heard about the plasticity of the brain. I had thought that my cognitive abilities were fixed, so there was no use in trying to do anything. Having read his book, I challenged my previous viewpoint and I started to feel hopeful. I then dipped into meditation and was generally more open to the idea of learning differently. And although I was then able to talk about dyslexia with less desperation and shame, I still felt stuck: I couldn’t consistently build up a life that felt right. I remained anxious and fearful in most situations; chronic stress dominated my everyday life.
Seligman and his team wanted to reverse the learned helplessness observed in the dogs. They were only able to do so by picking them up and moving their legs in imitation of the movements the dogs would have to take to jump over the low partition and escape the electric shocks. This process had to be repeated a couple of times for the dogs to do it independently.
Just as the dogs needed to relearn to move out of danger at the musculoskeletal level, so do we. There are a number of methods out there that involve the body when healing, from therapeutic tremoring to yoga. My preferred tools are walking meditation and tapping. The latter one is particularly powerful because you tap on parts of your face and chest while you’re exploring your emotions.
Healing requires the mind and body working together: not just intellectual analysis and understanding but also sensing the feelings in your body. One way of learning to be more in control of your feelings is by labelling them, which is when we enter the world of emotions.
If you have spent the last three to four decades suppressing your feelings, learning to work with your emotions, rather than seeing some – such as anger, sadness, fear – as your enemies will take time. By listening to what is happening in your body, you rebuild trust and a sense of safety.
Silence is key to listening. You cannot listen to your feelings while thinking about what you should have done, could have done, must do in the future, etc. All this is distracting noise. We are prone to thinking that we could hate or discipline ourselves into change, but it doesn’t work. What does work is self-love and self-compassion.
Self-love happens in the silence of your mind when you’re neither blaming nor pitying yourself. You are accepting all aspects of who you are through love. This was the culmination of my healing journey. It was a Sunday morning; I was sitting on the sofa in the lounge quietly crying and tapping. There was a sense of relief, because I forgave myself and loved myself despite the dyslexia.
At the core, we need to be loved. What I didn’t know before is how to achieve it or what it meant, let alone how life changing self-love was. Don’t get me wrong, my journey isn’t over. I don’t live in world of permanent joy and wonder, nor would I want to. I live in a world where I have choice and control over how I manage my emotions, where I nurture my mental well-being every day.
Freedom comes with responsibilities. When you are free, you have choices; but you also need to know how to choose and how to deal with a choice that doesn’t bring you the expected results. You need to have tools. I meditate daily, use self-hypnosis, journal, write a daily gratitude list, exercise, cultivate relationships and activities that bring me joy, tap, and stop regularly to wonder at the world. Different things work for different people, but it’s important to have some tools and to use them consistently.
The embodiment facilitator, Mark Walsh advised us to find a coach who speaks a foreign language, is a long-time meditator, and has done their inner work – meaning that they are on their healing journey. Whereas Tad Hargrave, a marketing coach, said that you should work with someone who has experienced what you’re going through or something similar. It should be someone who isn’t merely a tourist in the area.
My best advice is to put your hand on your heart, focus on your breathing and decide from a place of calm. I have learned relatively recently that sometimes we think we want something, but once we analyse it and look at the inconsistencies, we realise that we need something different.
Put yourself and your needs first with kindness and compassion and you’ll make the right choice.
I would like to wish you farewell with part of the loving-kindness meditation I listen to:
May you be truly happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe from inner and outer harm.
May you care for yourself joyfully.