(Guest post by my wife, Laura Forehand)
Leaving organized religion has opened up so many opportunities to heal that I wasn’t encouraged inside the church to explore. Don’t get me wrong…when I was hurting inside the church, I was offered some ideas to help relieve my suffering such as praying more, reading my bible more, fasting, or seeking Christian counseling. I definitely tried all of the above.
The thing about trauma however is that your nervous system holds onto those things that are triggering and traumatizing. Therefore, everything the church offered me as a “fix” to my trauma in fact caused more trauma. For me, the very thing that was causing my trauma was also trying to tell me how to fix it with so many messages of shame, blame, and unworthiness weaved in. If I wasn’t finding healing, it was because I wasn’t doing something “right” or “enough” when it came to the church’s prescribed healing methods.
As Karl explored his ‘dark night of the soul,’ he was introduced to focusing. He was all too happy to share his findings with me. I was definitely reluctant at first. It seemed kind of “woo woo,” and it scared me, but for the reasons you might think. It is incredibly uncomfortable to sit in your pain and acknowledge it! The body’s response to trauma is fight, flight, freeze, or fawn.
If you are anything like me, when pain or trauma rears its ugly head, I get busy! If I’m busy, I don’t have to think about or deal with the pain. However, the nervous system doesn’t forget.
The activities may keep my mind on something else, but my nervous system is just waiting until I’m done and ready to lay my head on my pillow at night when it decides to reactivate with vengeance! It got so bad that going inside, focusing, and reacquainting myself with my wounded inner child was a final effort.T
Things I learned from focusing.
I learned to be still.
Focusing forced me to sit. In order to focus properly you have to be still. The idea is to focus on what is happening inside of YOU, so during those times of stillness, I could not be doing anything else that would cause my brain to once again stuff down the pain I needed to deal with.
I learned to breathe.
That sounds a bit silly, right? Doesn’t our autonomic nervous system take care of that without us having to do anything? Sure, that’s true. However, when focusing, I am encouraged to be in touch with and regulate my breath. Breathing in through the nose, holding it at the top, and breathing out through my mouth. It is very intentional. That is the point. When we are in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode, our breathing becomes erratic. This keeps us in a state of dysregulation. Intentional, focused breathing brings you back to a state of regulation.
It is here that the healing work begins.
I learned to listen.
When we are still and controlling our breathing, we begin to listen to our body and hear what it has been trying to communicate with us. I was able, for the first time, to hear my inner child; that wounded part of me. I also heard my inner critic. Focusing, however, helps you make a shift from ignoring those parts of you to actively listening to what they are saying.
I learned to thank those parts of me.
I have to admit, this was tricky for me. For so long I had berated both my inner child for being weak and my inner critic for being such a source of pain. Focusing helped me learn to thank both of those parts of myself. I thanked my inner child for telling me how she had felt incredibly rejected all these years. I was able to “hold” her and promise her that I would no longer abandon her for my inner critic.
I learned to thank my inner critic for trying to protect me. By doing this, I was also able to regain the power that I had given over to this critical voice—power that I could now use to make decisions in my healing journey. By softening the voice of my inner critic, I began to bring healing to my inner child.
I learned to see the part and not the whole.
What I mean by this is a huge part of my healing was realizing that what was hurting or feeling was only a part of me, not all of me. Let me try to clarify.
In the depths of my church trauma, the message I would constantly send myself was, “I’m hurt!” “I’m scared!” “I’m invisible!” When we think this way, it is incredibly overwhelming because we are saying the whole person is hurt or scared, or invisible. Trying to “fix” that feels incredibly impossible.
With focusing, the language shift to “A part of me feels hurt!” “A part of me feels scared!” or “A part of me feels invisible!” When we see these things as a part, there is less shame. That part of us feels seen and heard. We can speak to where we feel it in our body and even place a hand there to bring warmth and comfort.
For me, this was huge. It no longer felt like all of me was somehow ‘defective.’ By focusing on one part of me, the healing process feels less like an all-or-nothing paradigm. It allows me to shift that tsunami of shame that typically washed over me to a part of me that was holding onto shame in my body. It is so much easier for me to have compassion for a part of me.
When “all of me” is engulfed in shame, there is nothing inside me that can offer me comfort. When a part of me is feeling shame or hurt, there is room for those other parts of me to rush in and sit with and comfort that hurt part of me.
I learned I am worth it.
Focusing is definitely a practice for me. We live in a culture where it is glorified to put yourself last and everything and everyone ahead of you. What focusing has taught me is I cannot give to others what I am unwilling to give to myself. You know when you fly, and they tell you if there is a loss of cabin pressure and the oxygen masks fall to put yours on first and THEN help your child?
There is a reason they are adamant about that. You cannot help someone else if you are unconscious from lack of oxygen. Dear reader…YOU are worth putting the oxygen mask on FIRST! It is not selfish. It is survival!
Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-looking-at-sea-while-sitting-on-beach-247314/