Do you feel sad, angry, ashamed, guilty or fearful. Possibly even all of the aforementioned simultaneously?
Inevitably, much of the work of any therapist concerns the difficult stuff in people’s lives. Those who feel fulfilled, happy, saying yes to life, living authentically and knowing their purpose, don’t usually feel they need to ask professionals for help. Although of course, one can always be a better version of oneself. Potentially the work is never complete. There is always scope to evolve.
Practitioners are frequently helping clients to focus a light into what’s known as ‘the shadows’, the stuff we hide away in the dark because we don’t like looking at it. It can make us feel sad, angry, ashamed, guilty or fearful. Possibly even all of the aforementioned simultaneously.
The bad news is that it’s an inevitable part of the human condition that at times ‘shit happens’.
The good news is that we don’t need to live in the mess or carry it around with us, allowing it to weigh us down, restrict and limit us for the rest of our lives.
What is it essential that we can find a safe place to examine the painful stuff without becoming re-traumatised. This examination can be challenging as it may involve letting go of the veneer of control that we paper over the cracks with. It may lead to a descent into deeply repressed parts of the unconscious mind where we hide our pain. This is why I call my work Temenos Touch, because the definition of a temenos is a protected physical and emotional space in which the transforming work of healing takes place through learning and teaching.
But why do we need to re-visit the traumas and the shit at all? Why do we need to delve into the shadows, not knowing what is there, when it might seem safer and easier to leave the skeletons locked firmly in the cupboard?
There is more and more evidence coming out from modern medicine and psychology about why it is essential to face the painful past with both our minds and our bodies.
Franz Ruppert is one of the leading psychotherapists specialising in trauma therapy. He presents a model where trauma results in a psychological split of the psyche into three parts: the traumatised self, the survival self and the healthy self.
The healthy self aspires to integration and wholeness. The survival self does everything it can to keep the traumatised part safe, which may mean refusing to look at or acknowledge the trauma, which is suppressed into the unconscious. The survival self creates a way of living which does help us to continue living, but it also keeps our psyche split and stuck in the old belief system.
In this model the healthy self and the survival self will always be in conflict: one wants to look at the pain in order for the psyche to be healed and integrated and the other wants to suppress the pain, to avoid feeling the trauma.
As Ruppert puts it ‘Attempts to bring these trauma symptoms under control without establishing the connection with the original trauma event cannot logically lead to any permanent success. The effect of an unconsidered suppression of trauma energies is more likely to exacerbate the situation for the person concerned.’
Other experts agree. Dr. Dan Siegel is currently clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. He writes, ‘Making sense of our past frees us to be present in our lives and to become the creative and active author of our own unfolding life story.’
And Stephan Hausner, who has taught the Application of Systemic Constellation Work
In more than 40 countries notes, ‘Only someone who is in harmonious agreement with the past is also free for the future. One who struggles against the past remains bound to it.’
In a nutshell that is the foundation for why we need to face our traumas through mental work. But what is becoming clear is that we also need to release the pain that is held in our bodies. This evidence derived initially from the hugely important work of Dr Candace Pert who was one of the first to explain the physiology of the mind-body link. It is now well recognised that it is not just our brains that store memories. The way every cell of our body works physically is a product of our mental and emotional experiences through life. With one sort of experience we release one set of hormones via the endocrine system, binding to the cells in a particular way and leading them to operate in a particular way. With another sort of experience we release a different set of hormones which bind to different receptors in the cells and lead them to operate in a different way. Simplistically you could say one set of emotional experiences leads to good health, the other to dis-ease.
So if we want to be in good physical, mental and emotional health, we must work with the stress and trauma that are held in the physical body, not just the mind, because it is the bodily experiences of stress that make us sick and the bodily experiences during trauma that get triggered and re-enacted – often inappropriately as in post traumatic stress disorder.
Peter Levine is an expert in the field of trauma held in the body. As he describes it, ‘In order to unravel this tangle of fear and paralysis, we must be able to voluntarily contact and experience those frightening physical sensations; we must be able to confront them long enough for them to shift and change. To resist the immediate defensive ploy of avoidance, the most potent strategy is to move toward the fear, to contact the immobility itself and to consciously explore the various sensations, textures, images and thoughts associated with any discomfort that may arise.’
And from years of experience, Levine is optimistic that bodywork is capable of providing a solution to those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, sometimes very quickly. ‘It is also possible to eliminate, sometimes instantaneously, psychosomatic, emotional and psychological symptoms that may have plagued you for decades.’
So we need to find a way of feeling safe enough to delve into the shadows if we are to re-integrate all the various parts of our selves and use our full potential. Beyond that, what may be hard to visualise at the beginning of such a journey is that if we can look at the wounds and mistakes with compassion and without fear, we may discover that they also hold lessons and gifts. If we can just be brave enough to enter the dark we may find that hidden there are our greatest insights and realisations.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. Their answers can be random and in the moment or they can be aligned with the above article. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?
I have accepted the paradox that in some ways I am not perfect – nobody is – and yet in other ways I am perfect just as I am. Self love is key to happiness and also the key to reaching out to others in compassion. We are all capable of being victims, perpetrators, rescuers. Accept all aspects of yourself, including the darker side.
I am still working on tolerance. I have had some incidents of people being really incompetent. As a lesson I need to be clearer about what I expect from others.
What have you learned to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?
I am grateful for the time and place I live in. I have so much bounty, freedom, a place to live, the opportunity to travel, health and love. I am still working to appreciate that I am getting older and my body isn’t what it used to be – although I do appreciate the wisdom that comes with the crone
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?
Currently I see my two children as my most rewarding achievements along with my two books and the Temenos Touch Training course that I am teaching. I want to spread the knowledge that I have been blessed to receive with as many people as possible, giving proof to them that we can ‘step out of the box’ and become co-creators of our reality. I still dream of traveling to many more parts of the planet, learning, experiencing – and maybe setting up a beautiful retreat centre by the ocean.
We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
My not-so-perfect ways include judgement, intolerance of rudeness and selfishness. I get annoyed with myself when I don’t live authentically – when I know what I ‘should’ do, yet don’t!
“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!) Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?”
I Love …I love my gorgeous husband, my children, the challenges I face, the teachers I encounter, my amazing friends and of course my clients. I love learning, evolving, experiencing. I love this beautiful planet that we live on. I love my life.
 Ruppert, Franz. 2012. Symbiosis & Autonomy, Symbiotic Trauma and Love Beyond Entanglements pp172-173 Steyning, UK: Green Balloon Publishing
 Siegel, Daniel J. 2010. The Mindful Therapist, A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration p.70 New York, USA: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
 Hausner, Stephan. 2011. Even if it costs me my life: Systemic Constellations and Serious Illness p.64 Santa Cruz, CA, USA: Gestalt Press, Taylor& Francis
 Pert Ph.D., Candace B. 1999. Molecules of Emotion, Why You Feel the Way You Feel. London, UK:Simon and Schuster
 Levine, Peter A. PhD. 2010. In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness p.74 Berkeley, California, USA: North Atlantic Books
 Levine, Peter A. PhD. 2010. In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness p.300 Berkeley, California, USA: North Atlantic Books