The irony of mainstream healthcare in our society is that there is so much “hard” complex work with risky drugs and surgery. Even the mental health realm includes complex diagnoses and approaches. Alternative health is so much lower risk with a kind of philosophical simplicity that honors the power of the person’s innate ability to heal. Mainstream medicine has its place when quick symptomatic relief is needed or to save a life, but deeper healing, for the whole person, is found in the realm of alternative health.
In my 20 years as a psychotherapist (as a licensed clinical social worker) I have worked with and been trained in many alternative approaches. Mainstream psychology most commonly utilizes the cognitive behavioral approach, preferred by most insurance companies. It involves changing negative thought patterns. It can help people cope in the moment and can be extremely helpful in crises but the real doorway to healing the whole person is simply through the feelings. People always expect they have to “work so hard” at getting well, and yet there is power in simply sitting with a feeling and allowing it to direct your process. Your heart and your feelings will direct your healing when you quiet the mind and permit it to show you the way. It is a process of “allowing” instead of “fixing.” We are not empty mechanical machines where the most important thing to “fix” is with tools or chemicals—or “thought processes.” We are carrying the breath of life... something scientists have been trying to understand and replicate for decades. Yes, it is mysterious, but it is central to why we get up in the morning. It is where we live and breathe our “quality” of life. Thought, though important, has been extremely overvalued in our society. If we valued feelings as much, we would have a very different community. We would also be seeing the value of them to heal, intuitively. When permitted, the innate ability to heal can be tapped.
We tend to use thought to “push away” uncomfortable feelings—which we learned to do in childhood when we received negative messages about our feelings. For example, if you were strongly admonished for simply expressing anger... or even showing desire for something you wanted but couldn’t have you will begin to have guilt about desires and even frustration that goes along with not getting what you want. Most people in our society were “shamed” as a form of discipline. You learn to reject normal, healthy feelings (all feelings should never be judged, only behavior). The message you get is that you don’t have the right to feel desire or frustration, normally so much a part of us. Then, as we grow up attempting to reject them they become depression and anxiety, something painful, instead of naturally flowing desire, frustration, disappointment, or anger. Now your feelings seem to get stuck and intense. So I believe that the reason the cognitive behavioral approach is so widespread is because it is in line with that desire to reject uncomfortable feelings... most of society, has been shamed in their childhood simply because parenting is such a challenge and it doesn’t come with instructions. Parents do the best they can, but only have their own parents as models and historically, “shaming” including corporal punishment has been all too common.
That is why it is going back and ultimately accepting those feelings that were rejected in childhood that brings about deeper healing. It becomes a process of facing your pain instead of pushing it away. Pushing them away is a repetitive childhood pattern of rejecting the feelings that were hurt by your parents. That is why it falls flat of feeling you can change them. In fact, it can actually make the feeling worse, or even more stuck as if it controls you.
You will want to establish a new way of connecting to your own feelings so that you accept them. Then they become softer, lighter, and flow through instead of stagnating into something painful. Quieting the mind, and sitting with those feelings that are uncomfortable with the support and guidance of a warm, understanding therapist can lead to them becoming lighter. As you sit with the feelings like an observer, see what comes to you spontaneously. It is common for memories to arise from childhood that led to the pain in your heart. Allowing your feelings to make the connections spontaneously, without trying to analyze or figure them out is a simple yet powerful way to heal. The memories and pain need and want your attention that was not received in childhood. That is why when you stop and listen to them the important memories just pop out. Be kind and nurturing to the feeling as you focus. Then see you as a child with that very emotional discomfort you feel and attend to him or her. I strongly advise that this be done with a warm, caring psychotherapist because it may be important to experience that person’s acceptance and support in order to develop that healing kindness for yourself... as well as to help it feel safer and to be guided further.
As you connect with your painful feelings, you can then recall you as a child with the same feelings... slowly building this new connection... sometimes uncomfortable at first. Just hang out with him or her and notice your feelings and the child’s feelings. See whether you or the children are ready to make an eye-to-eye connection, being respectful to maintain a distance that is safe for both of you. After observing for a while, especially with the kindness and support of a therapist, both of you will gradually feel a bit more comfortable to communicate. Let the child know what you see without trying to change it. Validate his or her feelings including any desire for the child to maintain a safe distance from you. Express any compassion you may begin to feel. Let him or her know you see the pain and that he or she is no longer alone with it. So you go from observer of your feelings, memories, and inner child to actually connecting and communicating and building understanding, empathy and warmth to your inner child, your inner self overtime. It is a beautiful process to witness. The pain begins to dissolve as this newfound inner connection leads to self-acceptance and love. I have had the pleasure of witnessing many personal transformations with the clients who have the willingness to surrender to this process and take it as far as their feelings lead them to go... until life suddenly has that spark that was missing – feelings moving with the flow of life, released from the darkness of self-rejection.
Debra Franklin has a private practice in Granby and Hartford, CT. She also provides videoconferencing for distance work. She has twenty years of experience integrating holistic approaches including Family Constellations, Inner Childwork, and Psych K© with all ages. She also provides Inner Child Workshops, Inner Child guided CD, and a Women’s Self-Esteem Group. Check her website at progressivepsychotherapy.com for events or call (860) 413-9249 for more information.