One of the most healing balms we can apply in life is acceptance. Its so hard to hear at times that we need to accept painful things that have happened, most especially abuse or the failure to be protected by those we thought ‘should have’. However what has happened to us has happened and for some of us, perhaps, left deep scars or even a festering wound really as these kind of wounds have not yet formed scar tissues until a way along the journey.
I think at times we can compare our pain to an open wound. We so suffer unconsciously from what happened to us that is not yet fully known yet leaves its bloody foot prints upon us. This is where applying unconditional loving presence towards our hurting, painful or contracted places can help.
Christine Neff talks alot about the equation that heads this blog in her book on Self Compassion in the chapter on resilience. What she says, and what many Buddhist teachers teach, is that it is really our resistance to our pain or things we wish did not nor did not want to happen that causes us even more suffering in the long run. I know for myself when things don’t go well or I hit a brick wall my immediate response is to try to find a way to more through it or react, that is when I need to pause and bring my energy back deep within in order to move it in a more helpful non resistant direction. I do this a lot on the road when driving and getting stuck behind a very slow moving car. I pull back and slow myself even more in this situation. But I can also see situations in which I did not do this in my personal life and my not accepting and fighting against the certain thing I didn’t like I made things far harder for myself. That said there is a time to fight for things that are within our power to change when it would be for our own or another person’s good.
We are in the long run human and our reptilian brain does cause us to react. Christine explains in her book how we are hard wired to escape pain and predators as mammals, those defensive reactions served us well in the past but if we are reacting to being retriggered in the present all the time such responses become counter productive. In PTSD and Complex PTSD we can get frozen in those responses.
Key to understanding how and why we resist and react is the concept of experiencing emotional flashbacks or what John Lee has called age or emotional regresssion. I am the midst of writing a post on this concept. When we age regresss or flash back we are no longer in present time and we often do not recognise it. We can say things that were better not said, we can get frozen in time. We can start to try to fix or give unwarranted advice.
I am just reading a book which deals with the concept of being hijacked by what the author calls our ‘toddler brain’ this occurs when we are age regressed and triggered by some kind of cue, perhaps the harsh tone of somone’s voice or undeserved criticism.
When we are in age regression or hijacked by the toddler brain we cannot respond well and with empathy. We may not see the truth of a situation. We may lash out. We may sever friendships. Getting ourselves back in adult brain takes work for those of us who had difficult or traumatising childhoods that left us with deep attachment wounds.
When we can open to a difficult reaction in the present moment with our full awareness (one of the skills we learn when practicing mindfulness); we can be less reactive. We can practice self soothing. The adult part of us can turn toward the inner child and comfort him or her, we can take ourselves into time out in order to have that inner dialogue. We can also set boundaries with our wounded self in order to take care of him or her and not react.
Christine makes the point in her book that we are more hardwired to remember negative experiences than positive ones. I guess this is one of the ‘pinning’ aspects of trauma I spoke of in a recent post. When we are pinned to the negative sticking place we see only threat, we may be flooded emotionally or physically with a panic attack. In my own case when this happens now I remember to work to take a few deep breaths into my belly because when I pay attention to my body I realise what has happened is that I have frozen my body or stopped breathing something I had to do when trapped in the car waiting to be cut out all those years ago, something I also used to do a lot when my Mum’s energy was upsetting or troubling me. I have then learned to shift my focus and my attention to something beautiful in the surrounding environment. I will have to deal it time with things that call me stress and anguish but being mindful in the present moment means I don’t have to ‘blow them up.’
Stopping the running of negative dialogues and scripts is also a part of this process. Often when stressed or panicking if I pay attention to my inner dialogue its all about resistance, saying things to myself like “this is all too hard, all too much. shouldnt be happening” or feeling and telling myself I cannot cope. Sometimes in order to feel better all I have to do is place my attention on a task in hand that is right before me and start with that one little step instead of looking at the big picture and totally freaking out.
Doing something loving for our body is another way we can draw attention away from pain when we pinned in place and increase the flow of good chemicals such as oxytocin inside. For example when I woke this morning and push pull symptoms of PTSD began I reached for some hand cream beside the bed and gently applied it to my arms and hands. This soothing action took me into a gentle, loving, peaceful place.
Decreasing our resistance and lessening our suffering is also about opening to body sensations that may have come from our compulsive need to resist that formed over long years if we were not taught as children to engage in a positive way with challenging emotions. Burying them inside us is not helpul. For myself I know how my body has suffered from the chronic tightening that goes with repressed or denied anger I was not allowed or helped to express. Today I sometimes deliberately tighten my muscles or limbs as an excercise to help them release stress and relax and I find this exercise helps me., but this exercise is totally different to a lifetime in which we had to bite down hard on difficult emotions and experiences.
All in all there are many things we can do to deal mindfully with our pain so that it doesn’t have to turn into deeper suffering. Self compassion, mindfulness and learning to work with painful sensations, thoughts and emotions are all ways we can apply the soothing, healing balm to our wounded, contracted, hurting or fearful places.