Is it possible to fully heal from trauma without feeling any pain? What does “healing” even mean? I attempt to address the problems with New Age Therapy and Energy Healing in my post:
One thing we can all collectively agree on is that we all hate pain and we do whatever we can do to avoid it and in the inevitable situations where we feel it accidentally, to put a bandaid on it. Our whole culture is about avoiding pain. Big business such as the pharmaceutical industry, the new age healing industry, new age spirituality, psychiatry, modern medicine, Hollywood, the entertainment industry, television programming…. our entire culture exploits our fear of feeling pain and profits off of it and not just in monetary ways.
There are two ways in which we deal with old trauma: 1) spiritual or cognitive bypass (the focus is on the mind) and 2) to feel the emotions and allow the body to relive it. (The focus here is on the heart and body). The former is for those not ready to face their memories and feelings and the latter are for those who are on a sincere quest to completely and authentically heal from the trauma. My words today are for those who represent the latter group.
This is a truth very few can deal with: For those who are sincere about authentic complete healing, the truth is you HAVE TO revisit the trauma in order to heal in a complete way. You HAVE TO go back ‘there’. We don’t get a choice. I have learned from my own healing work that it is an involuntary process. When you keep the feelings and memories buried for so long, one day people might hit a wall and that is when they no longer have a choice. The body starts to relive the trauma, the emotions start flowing… we have very little control over it. It’s a natural automated process and very few therapists will honor it. In fact, with the exception of some therapists who have done their own work, the whole industry is built to block that process while masquerading it for healing when it’s just another way we keep people from the very pain they need to feel to heal. Yes, with new-aged-based spiritual bypass therapy, people might feel better. And that’s the whole problem right there. The point is to FEEL — to feel the PAIN — not to feel better! We are a pain-avoidant-quick-fix magic-wand-seeking-oriented culture and so this is why this concept is so hard to digest.
“Most therapists cannot handle deep feelings. I once read a great quote to the effect “Most psychotherapy remains at the surface while the sharks remain asleep in the depths”. As Karen said, no one can take someone farther than they themselves have gone. A lot of therapists out there are prematurely hanging up a shingle when they haven’t done their own deep healing work. They are running from their own shadow, how can they help you stop running from yours? Bypassing, egoic posturing and overselling happens in the psychotherapy community just as much as in the New Age and Life Coaching communities.” ~Sujata PG
“Perspective shifting (a mental process) to shift our experience (an emoto-somatic process) is cognitive bypassing. A band-aid that keeps falling off.
….People may indeed feel relief but unfortunately, the imprint of trauma remains untouched. The energy of trauma cannot be released by changing the cognitive spin on it or with any other top-down approach. Once a trauma has been fully relived (THIS is the hard part!), the belief systems automatically shift. No magic wands needed”. ~Sujata PG
All too often, therapy might only be good for people who want to numb their pain or find new ways to keep it repressed while maybe shedding one or two tears.
We don’t get to decide how the body heals itself. Healing is an automated process the body does on it’s own. It’s man’s ego that gets in the way and tries to stop it. Why do we, especially therapists, try to stop this automatic sacred natural process? Here’s why: Unless you have felt your own deep sadness, your own terror, your own grief, your own rage, your own anger, your own fear, your own helplessness, your own hopelessness and your own powerlessness, you won’t be able to hold space for those who do. When a client is feeling difficult painful emotions, therapists are taught through their education to call it “retraumatization” when in reality it’s the therapist who is feeling retraumatized by their own unfelt emotions their clients are triggering. It has nothing to do with the client. This is a huge, huge problem with therapy.
Retraumatizing, occurs when we suppress our feelings as when we DO, the suppressed feelings haunt us and we become retraumatized or dissociated even to the point of leaving our own bodies.
We might be throwing the word “retraumatizing” around without knowing what it really means. Releasing emotions and the somatic expression to trauma is often mistakenly confused with “retraumatization”. This is, however, what people look like when they heal. People look like they’re in pain. They are supposed to look like they’re in pain. They are supposed to look like they are dying. Feeling feelings is supposed to be painful. It’s not just emotions that need releasing but also the body needs to discharge the freeze response (from the old wound where the freeze response was activated) and from my own experience in therapy, the majority of therapists cannot handle the body stuff or the intense emotions as they have yet to release it themselves. A therapist cannot take a client where they haven’t been themselves. An unhealed therapist will inadvertently keep their clients blocked. When a therapist gets scared of their client’s emotions, they call it “retraumatization”. But it’s not.
Old wounds are stored in the body. If the body has no release; if the body is not discharging the freeze response, nobody heals completely. That’s not my decision. That is natural law. That is biology. The only people who realize this is true are those who have lived it themselves. We are those who have regressed in our emotions, gone back ‘there’ and relived with our whole bodies. I have regressed and relived so many times over the last 20 years and I never once got “retraumatized”. That’s because I wasn’t stopping the flow. I allowed it. I did it in a safe place where I felt loved, validated and supported (this is critical!) This keeps people from becoming retraumatized. You would never have recognized me before; I have gotten so much of myself back from just allowing myself to go back ‘there’ to those dark places. The difference between how I was before and how I am now is like night and day. This had me wondering if how we heal is based on the dimension of consciousness we’re living in. Not all people are made to do this work. In some dimensions, we might need to reduce or avoid pain because we’re here for different reasons and in other dimensions we have to feel our pain in order to move past it because of our different purpose. Either way, if you are in the dimension to heal in the most complete ways (physical, spiritual, sexual, emotional), you need to stop seeing pain as something “bad”.
“In Science, we learned this the hard way that if you actually cut where a caterpillar is trying to get out of its cocoon — if you cut the cocoon away from the caterpillar, the butterfly dies because the way it actually develops is through the struggle. It is the struggle that forces the blood into the wings that develop the wings so they can actually spread them and fly. Without the struggle, they don’t become a butterfly; they just die. And that’s what happens with most people. Because most people are protected from struggle so they end up dying before they are even dead because they don’t know how to stretch their wings because they’ve never had a struggle that pushed the blood into the parts of the body in their brain and in their spirit that was required to fully develop. Sometimes we think the only way we can support people is by protecting them from pain when in reality, they need to experience the pain in order to develop.” ~Kerwin Rae
A friend of mine, Sujata PG, who is trauma-informed wrote the following comment that furthers clarifies my point:
My take on whether there is any real distinction between “”reliving the trauma” and “feeling the blocked emotions that the child felt unsafe to feel at the time the trauma occurred”. I believe they are one and the same.
Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk believes, for example, that for therapy to work there must be a “high level of arousal” for the client. Not any level of arousal, but the same level that was present during the original trauma. Well, that is just another way of saying the client has to “relive” the experience. It is not possible to replicate the original level of arousal without reliving the experience in some sense. It does not mean the client has to relive the trauma in the same traumatizing way they originally lived it, but rather they must re-experience the emotional charge of the event and then completely feel the emotions they had blocked at the time. We are after a titrated remembering of the traumatizing experience, and now, in the presence of compassionate support, to physically express the authentic emotional response to completion so that the trauma finally loses its emotional charge.
I think there are two main reasons there is a reluctance on the part of mental health professionals to use the phrase “reliving the trauma”:
1. The public has very little appetite for experiencing pain. This is because most of us do not have any experience of feeling pain in the presence of compassionate support. All we know is traumatic pain, and nobody wants to go back “there”. So essentially, it’s down to semantics that sell versus those that don’t. Truly effective trauma therapy is like open heart surgery without anaesthesia with a doctor who has excellent bedside manners heh heh … But we are a pain-averse culture and any wording that emphasizes the role of feeling pain as an unavoidable aspect of the recovery process does not sell.
2. Many popular trauma gurus claim that “reliving” is not “necessary” and in fact can be “re-traumatizing”. So any non-guru professional who publicly says that their practice involves clients “reliving the trauma” runs the risk of becoming a pariah in the mental health community. “You’re doing what? Don’t you know that’s potentially dangerous, and actually not necessary? Because hey it’s 2019 and we have so many pain-free ways to release trauma – the client doesn’t have to feel a thing, don’t you know?”. Case in point, this youtube clip of clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Heitler interviewing Marilyn van Derbur (incest survivor and author of “Miss America by Day”), who did bio-energetics therapy with Alexander Lowen. Watch how she tells Ms van Derbur something to the effect that nowadays there are newer “energy techniques” that release the freeze response without having to actually feel and express your anger. The angerphobia is breath-taking. Hats off to Ms van Derbur for responding so gracefully.”