Healing on a greater scale

Photo by Robert J. Morales

“For every calamity, there is always a way to heal”

Emotional healing can be filled with challenges requiring a monumental effort to overcome any difficulty and become a more empowered person. But what happens when disaster befalls an entire family, group or community? How does healing occur when so many lives have been altered in such drastic and different ways?

Tragedies often happen unexpectedly. Nature is frequently one of the perpetrators but unfortunately, many catastrophic events are plotted by perverse and malicious people. These events can threaten and terrorize just a few or devastate an entire race of people. My adopted hometown is coming up on its second anniversary of the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States and many, understandably, continue to struggle with its aftermath.

Community healing, needless to say, is more complicated than recovering on an individual basis. Since our journeys are likely different, adding more affected lives only multiplies the number of possibilities for healing to occur. There are definitely steps which can be taken to help yourself as well as the entire group to regain some semblance of overcoming any tragic event.

One of the most helpful steps is discussing it in a group setting. Expressing to others who experienced it and talking about the different mental and physical stresses you faced is very therapeutic. There is good reason for this as well. The horrific shock of the event often causes us to bottle up our thoughts, feelings and emotions; almost as though not talking about it will help us forget. However, this silence more often creates the opposite effect and makes us vulnerable, short-fused, or explosive when we feel confronted. Expressing these thoughts to others not only releases them from within, it allows others to convey their empathy and concern towards us. This confession of sorts, allows us to feel more accepted by others and more importantly, by ourselves. It’s why group therapy helps in ways that individual sessions cannot.

In showing others comfort, it also builds trust leading to a stronger community. After the shooting in Las Vegas, its professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, really stepped up and supported those affected. Admittedly, I am not a fan of professional sports but I am incredibly proud of what this team did. They visited victims in the hospital, donated blood, and so much more to help this community. Their efforts united this town in ways that will positively impact it for decades.

Often survivors go through the “why me” phase and while this is completely understandable and not a wrong thought to have, it also can be a road block to healing. There may never be a reason why any particular person survived but if you could speak to those from beyond the grave, they would no doubt encourage you to heal and live your life to the fullest. This does not mean you can’t or shouldn’t grieve for the others, it only suggests that you do your best to heal and live a full life.

Community healing involves many working together; just as in individual recovery, it takes much effort and understanding. There will be those impacted more adversely than others who need a bit more compassion and care. Working as a team, however, can ultimately heal and strengthen your community to become more victorious than could ever be imagined.

There are countless other stories of community healing. Please feel free to leave your favorite in the comments. Reading them will definitely help inspire action should you ever find yourself in one of these trying situations.

My thanks to Robert J. Morales for the beautiful picture. View more incredible pictures at his website. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Scars are a sign of strength

“Scars may be seen as signs of incredible beauty.”

Emotional healing can be a difficult and confusing issue for many. In last week’s article, we discussed how sometimes doubting our own progress can be an obstruction to healing. Understanding that your journey is unique and not dictated by any system is a great way to remain confident in your progress. There are times, however, when those wounds are deep and appear to have no remedy or cure.

A great way to understand the complexities of emotional restoration is to observe the similarities of those to physical healing. Many of us have undoubtedly had hundreds of cuts on our skin which through the years have left no sign of their original injury. Other abrasions may have taken years or decades to disappear and unpleasantly, some will always leave their mark. The same is true with emotional damage.

The greater the wound is, the more care is needed in its healing. Extreme physical wounds can leave behind large scars, amputation, or even paralysis. In similar ways, we can sustain significant injury to our emotional wellbeing. A strong possibility exists that we will never return to the person we once were but that doesn’t mean we still can’t thrive and live a victorious, happy life.

Many who bare scars from tragic events have been able to overcome those misfortunes and inspire countless others. Some even declare that if the incident had not occurred, they would never have reached the level of success they did! Even after such drastic changes to their appearances or physical capabilities, they wouldn’t allow those misfortunes to stop them from healing and being able to thrive.

The same is true for our emotional healing. We cannot undo the abuse nor wipe those events from our memories. We can, however, work to overcome them and be the best version of ourselves possible. Although it may take years coupled with a very concerted effort, we do not need to have these past abuses continually handcuff us and stop us from a productive and happy life.

The physical scars we bare can remind us of many things; the first of which is that healing occurred. Although we may not like how they look, that particular area of the skin is stronger and tougher than the other parts. They also are a constant symbol of the painful event which created the scar as well as a symbol of our victory over it. By no means is it a sign of weakness but ultimately can become a badge of honor and our strength.

Physical therapy often requires a trained kinesiologist to guide us in the most effective course of rehabilitation but remember, no matter how good that therapist is, you are the one who must do the work. The same is true with our mental healing. Simply listening to a therapist or hearing a phenomenal TED talk may inspire us, but it will take a lot of insight, introspection, and awareness for the healing to begin, occur and be sustained.

If you have any questions about your healing journey, please do not hesitate to contact me personally. I believe everyone can have the opportunity to heal and I’ll do my best to help. My thanks again to Robert J. Morales for the wonderful and very fitting picture. I look forward to your comments.

The Solitary Journey

“No one else will ever be able to predict the road ahead of you.”

Last week’s article discussed one of the basic ways for many to begin their healing journey. There are, however, multiple ways this road can take us. Addtionally, there may be multiple events which require healing that also involve different processes. Emotional healing is difficult enough without adding complications or burdens. So is there one, rock-solid method everyone can follow to overcome this struggle?

Just as we each are unique, so too are the individual paths to our healing. There is not a single road, but that doesn’t mean we must travel alone. There are those trained, committed, and passionate about helping with what is an often difficult and confusing task to overcome by ourselves. In addition, scientific studies have shown how simple acts as touching, self-expression through art, and meditation or prayer can manifest emotional healing. It is most definitely not something which needs to be fought by ourselves.

The most important aspect to keep in mind is not to allow anyone to make you feel badly about how your journey is progressing; especially yourself.

One of the challenging issues my clients face is worrying that their healing process is happening the way it’s supposed to occur. Sometimes our growth can be hindered due to a wayward thought or feeling which untimely runs through our minds and we get upset at ourselves for thinking or feeling it. This often triggers doubt and fear; potentially undoing any healing up to that point and ultimately stop it in the future as well. Fortunately, there is a remedy.

The first step is to understand that we are all individuals and every path is unique. The steps I took to succeed most likely won’t be the same as yours. How we react in these situations is influenced by many factors and each person responds differently. There is no scientific study or research that dictates every step of your own process and no one should demand otherwise. The only time intervention may be necessary is when people’s actions lead to harming others or themselves.

Random thoughts popping into our minds are precisely that. Random. They are not signals of defeat but simply signs of an active mind and condemning ourselves for having them is worse than the original thought itself. During these moments, instead of beating yourself up, tell yourself to “be okay” that it happened. You did not maliciously invite them nor even want them.

Sometimes trying to figure out “why” those things happen causes us to put too much attention on the dilemma and it entraps us in this never-ending quest to solve an unanswerable question. The antidote is to take away its relevance. In other words, don’t worry or care those thoughts occurred. This nonchalant approach removes the emphasis. You don’t even need to actively try and dismiss them. Just say to yourself, “oh well, it happened and it’s no big deal”. Believe it or not, this indifference to the problem will in turn give you tremendous power over it.

Next week we’ll be discussing more signs of healing as well as techniques to empower yourself along your journey. My thanks to Robert J. Morales for the beautiful picture. Find more of his wonderful work on his website. I look forward to your comments.

Great Expectations

“If not knowing what emotional healing is, how does one know it has occurred”?

It’s my contention that shame is a very misunderstood and undervalued topic. Likewise, is the subject of emotional healing. Try and recall the last time you actually heard good advice or for that matter, any instruction on how it should be accomplished. There can be little debate that it’s a vital key to regaining and maintaining good emotional health. So why would such a crucial issue such as emotional health be left ignored or unaddressed?

To begin, what results should take place before you believe any emotional healing has happened? What do you think ought to occur that would indicate the slightest bit of progress? When an abrasion on our skin heals, the blood coagulates and forms a scab. Eventually, the skin grows back often without leaving any trace; a clear indication that healing has taken place. There are, however, times when some wounds are deep; leaving large scars and possibly resulting in some kind of loss or amputation. This type of injury can still heal but what remains is a constant reminder of the original incident.

Fortunately, our skin has evolved to heal itself and knowing when that process occurs is unquestionably evident. Our emotions, on the other hand, have not been dealt the same fate. Since many have had little or no experience with emotional healing, it can be extremely difficult to know when or even if it has occurred at all. And just as there are countless ways for our bodies to mend, the same is true for our emotions. Thankfully, by looking at the analogies between emotional and physical healing, it can provide some very essential insights.

One of the first ways we know an injury has occurred is that it’s often accompanied by pain and bleeding. Healing means the hemorrhaging has stopped and ache has subsided; hopefully getting to the point where it’s as though the original wound never happened. Isn’t that very similar to what we want with emotional healing?

We long for that incident which caused the emotional turmoil in the first place, to have never happened. Since that is impossible, let’s discuss a technique which I have found to be extremely beneficial.

In many cases, a lot of our emotional damage is magnified because the blame we place on ourselves. That someway or somehow, we did some thing to deserve the abuse and it has now become our punishment. For many, this type of destructive reasoning can continue for years which only exacerbates the emotional devastation on our psyche. Confusion and any other shameful emotion continually amplifies the injury to the point where it seems impossible to escape.

If this sounds familiar then the next step you take may seem unbelievably simple. Forgive yourself. Yes, you read that correctly. Forgive yourself for ever thinking you deserved it. Even if you came up with a million reasons why you think it may have been warranted, stop now and forgive yourself. Shame is what forces us to hold on to negative thoughts. Forgiving ourselves begins the process of reversing those beliefs and sparks the fuse which ignites the recovery process.

Many tend to dismiss the idea of self-forgiveness. It hints of selfishness and the thought of self-forgiveness has often been viewed as egocentric or self-centered. Besides, isn’t forgiveness only for others?

Not at all.

Just as we can love or forgive others, we should also love and forgive ourselves. It is not an arrogant act but rather one of kindness and self-care. We never intended to hurt ourselves by believing the lies that our abuses were deserved, so show yourself compassion by forgiving yourself for ever thinking that they were somehow justified. This remedy may not work for everyone but with the majority of people I’ve worked with, it has been a tremendous first step!

Next week, we will look at more healing techniques but in the meantime, if you have any questions about your own situation, please feel free to contact me. I want to thank Nijwam Swargiary from Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

Hiding in plain sight

If only our faults were as plainly visible as those of others.

It will always be my contention that shame is one of the most prevalent yet least talked about issues most of us will ever face. Last week, we examined how the shame we face as adults was often intensified by the shame we experienced as children. Many, unfortunately, become so accustomed to its influence that it begins to feel like a normal and seemingly necessary part of life and if that’s the case, how will we ever learn to recognize its devastating effects?

As with anything in our lives we aim to improve, it takes a concerted effort; however, self-development is not something most of us have a natural inclination towards. Personal growth many times means discovering things about us which are not flattering and certainly not something which we’d brag about to others. In fact, discovering them can often feel so uncomfortable that at their first hint, it can send us straight to denial or avoidance. Detecting shame is even worse because not only does it raise all kinds of damaging feelings, it can leave us in a more depressive and hopeless state of mind.

Since personal development is often difficult, a good way to counter the challenge is to realize and accept that not only is it a struggle but to even embrace that struggle. What if we could learn to welcome our faults rather than dismiss them? Instead of lamenting the fact we have shortcomings, let’s appreciate that something has been revealed to us and we’ll now be empowered to overcome it and turn it into a victory.

I’ll always remember the feeling when my therapist, Dr. Shannon Smith, was finally able to help me see that my own shame was the real cause for most of my issues. I actually felt elated; almost as though a blindfold were removed from my eyes. The journey instantly became clearer and I now knew which direction I needed to head.

I am not naïve enough to believe that every time we face our own adversities that we all must react in this way only. Truthfully, there are still moments when my first reaction upon discovering them is denial or aggravation. I don’t wake up in the morning and exclaim, “I can’t wait to find out what’s wrong with me today”! However, I do come to embrace and appreciate it when I understand the extent of these issues knowing this discovery will only make me a better person.

Another challenge which shame presents, is that it manifests itself in myriad ways and emotions. It would not be beneficial to write, “The seven devastating emotions of shame” because that would terribly limit the influence it has over us. Discovering how shame impacts you individually may take a professional. I don’t know if I would have ever realized the depth of mine had it not been for Dr. Smith, but I do know that all the effort and hard work I did after that genuinely changed me and the direction of my life’s work.

Shame causes emotional wounds. While the scars they leave behind can often be deep or devastating, that doesn’t mean they can’t be healed. Our lives may never return to or have a semblance of normalcy but that doesn’t mean we can’t live a full and happy life. Next week, we will take a closer look at the healing process and how it will definitely help you on your journey. If you’re having some challenges currently and would rather not wait, please feel free to contact me directly. I’ll do what I can to help. Thank you and I look forward to your comments.