Healing and Transformation
Exposure to disturbing or traumatic life events is inevitable. Following these events, most people experience uncomfortable emotions and sensations such as grief, fear, anxiety, panic, anger, or depression. Initially, it is common to brace against these disorientating emotions. This is normal and with sufficient support it is possible to successfully navigate through these vulnerable emotions. In time, hopefully we can reframe our relationship to pain and discomfort as an invitation to enter into a transformational journey awakening post traumatic growth.
“Transformation involves the ability to feel and be changed by difficult life experiences. This process affirms our capacity to heal and connects us to the universal cycles of life, death, and rebirth.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Stepping onto the Transformational Path
Often, the first step on the healing path is quite frightening. We may have developed strong defenses around our most vulnerable feelings. These protective maneuvers might push caring people away when they get too close or rely upon beliefs that we are not capable, not important enough, to live the life we really want.
We are asked to begin the process of letting go. However, it is often threatening to give up the strategies that have helped us survive all these years. Sometimes we say, “I am afraid of giving up my way of life, even if it doesn’t serve me, for I do not know who I will become.” Here is a simple story that offers a powerful metaphor:
The wind and the sun are looking below them at a man walking along a path wearing his jacket and scarf. The wind says to the sun, “I bet you that I can get the man to take off his jacket faster than you can!” Agreeing to the bet, the sun sits back and watches the wind blow and blow. The wind blows harder and harder but in response the man only buttons up his jacket and wraps his scarf tightly around him. The wind is unsuccessful; now it was the sun’s turn. The sun shines brightly and within minutes the man loosens his scarf, unbuttons his coat, and soon removes them both.
In what ways are you holding tight to your protective defenses? What support do you need to let go?
Life, Death, and Rebirth
Having let go of the protective defenses we can begin to willingly turn towards the core of the pain. With the support of a therapist familiar with trauma and the transformational journey, we can meet the shock and terror of the devastation left in the wake of trauma. On a recent hike in the mountains I came across a forest burn area and was inspired by the lush underbrush and wildflowers flourishing in the renewed soil. The natural cycles of life, death, and rebirth offer a reflection of those same cycles that occur within us.
Traumatic life experiences are overwhelming. They can strip us of our sense of safety and even our identity. Sometimes the personal and cultural stories about the event begin to define us. We can become identified with the car accident, rape, chronic illness, 9/11, the Holocaust. The event begins to shape who we are in the world. In this case, we may only see the blackened trees of the internal landscape.
Instead, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, we must trust the human capacity to be strengthened by adversity. This requires a balance between feeling the past and not allowing history to define us. When we feel safe enough, healing involves turning towards raw, painful emotions knowing that we will be changed for the better as a result. Ultimately, we can look at the event and say, this happened to me and it is over now. Our vulnerability then becomes the fertile ground from which new growth arises.
Managing unprocessed traumatic memories requires a tremendous amount of energy. Think of a beach ball in a pool. If you hold the ball underwater you must actively push and press the ball down. When we get exhausted from the effort we might let go too quickly which often results in losing control and a big splash. In our lives this might translate as an effortful “holding ourselves together” or conversely “falling apart” or having to pick up the pieces of a messy meltdown.
Successful integration of traumatic memories involves processing parts of the painful event, bit by bit. We turn overwhelming feelings into smaller more accessible chunks. This allows us to loosen our hold on the beach ball and slowly, but surely, allowing the ball to rest on the surface. Here we neither deny nor identify with the traumatic event; rather we are able to acknowledge and accept what happened. The effort previously required to keep the memories undercover emerges as freed up energy.
Coming Full Circle
Creative flow is generated when we are willing to release our painful feelings. There is often an electric feeling of both trepidation and excitement during the transformational work of healing trauma. This is often reflected in our dreams, images, metaphors, and narratives. Like a threatening snake transformed into a powerful staff, becoming the source of creativity.
The outcome of the post traumatic growth is often extraordinary. I have observed bereaved spouses and parents provide support and guidance for other families facing similar losses; a source of wisdom. In others, the wounds inspire art, poetry, or music; an alchemy of the soul.
Take a panoramic perspective. Allow yourself to hear your pain and discomfort as an invitation to enter a transformational journey. Turn towards the support of a therapist or healer familiar with trauma and the transformational journey. Trust in your capacity to be strengthened by adversity.
- Learn more about Resilience Informed Therapy
- Resilience and Transgenerational Healing
- Heal trauma, strengthen your Resilience
Looking for a mind-body approach to healing PTSD?
Connect to this post? The Complex PTSD Workbook, is now available on Amazon! Click here to check it out and increase your toolbox for healing. Whether you are a client or a therapist this book will offer a guided approach to trauma recovery.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.