I’ve just finished reading Karen Atkinson’s book about Compassionate Mindful Inquiry, which as a Mindfulness Teacher and Psychotherapist I thoroughly enjoyed. At the end of the book, Karen speaks of some useful phrases she may explore with clients, this week I wanted to blog about two of them.
Many aspects of life and our experiences past and present can trouble us. Intrusive thoughts, flashback pictures, triggering by smells, sounds or visual cues...there can be many things that we react to, from mild upset right through to re-living things that have long since ended.
Sometimes experiences can be so awful that our bodymind can’t absorb them. When this happens, we may not experience them directly, our psychological immune system may have kicked in and moved our awareness from direct experiencing to cushion us. This removal from the scene, so to speak, is called dissociation, and it’s a way of protecting ourselves when the intensity of something is just too much.
When we are dissociated, we are not feeling directly. The experience is there, but we are not in it. When this is the case, we are not able to heal our wounds, because we are essentially fragmented. There is a split between our conscious experience, and the part of our wider system which is holding the hurt.
Therapeutic work is about restoring connections. It’s about developing the capacity within ourselves to be able to safely feel what it is that we need to heal.
It’s important to know that we dissociate with good reason. There is no wisdom in charging in and insisting we directly feel that for which we are not ready. The approach is to build our internal resources first, carefully, to enable us to tolerate more without the need to dissociate, and without becoming overwhelmed. Without respect and compassion for our experience, we will not heal.
As our capacity to compassionately feel increases, our capacity to heal increases. We can connect up and integrate more and more of what has been split off, we can safely feel what it was we never go to feel, and we can lay it to rest.
There are many approaches to this healing work, including through the talking work of psychotherapy, and the trauma-focused approach of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR). If you’d like to gently explore what may be helpful for you in your healing journey, then get in touch. Online sessions are currently available.