How to Heal Emotionally | The 5 Key Stages
Emotional healing is an ever-deepening process. However, we can often fall for the illusion that tells us, “ _one day, I will be healed._” This little controlling voice starts driving you towards perfection, taking charge of your transformations.
Undoubtedly, our society has very few accurate definitions of what a truly transformed life looks like. That makes the little “ _one day, I will be healed_” voice imagine all kinds of scenarios of wellbeing. From waking up to sun-filled mornings to craving green drinks and superfoods instead of caffeine and sugar. And, of course, days with plenty of time to workout and meditate before you skip to your dream job… and, it goes without saying that you are an “awakened” being.
You never have fits of rage, jealousy, or inconsolable grief, and never any physical pain or social isolation. In a nutshell, being “healed” is some version of “perfection”.
Ultimately, these are all illusions. What real healing is remains in the dark, unspoken—and, sadly, rarely seen. We as a society sell these illusions of wellbeing, and contain our depression and pain as the model of health. We have greatly miscalculated how deep the human capacity for emotional healing is. We underestimate the full transformation that every one of us has at our disposal, regardless of the depth of our pain.
In my book, Tools for Sanity, I wrote the formula for transformation—four essential steps that have to be taken. Every one of these steps is profoundly simple and available to each and every one of us. The steps are simple but not necessarily easy. Especially if one or two of those steps happen to land in your particular blind spot. So I want to outline the stages of healing and what that full journey looks like ––beginning to end.
My real intention here is to walk you through what is truly possible. If you understand what you can achieve, my hope is that you will be inspired to keep going.
Stage 1 – acknowledgement and willingness to find emotional healing
This sucks! I can’t live like this! It all has to change.
Here is the truth: you don’t start a real transformation until you are 100% willing to abandon the pattern that is causing your suffering. Ironically, to even begin the journey, you have to first be totally over it. Easier said than done!
Being over it feels different than wanting to be over it, as I wrote about in, A Human Dilemma. Being totally over it feels more like your whole system is echoing, “ENOUGH!”. It sounds like, “ **I’m so done with this!**”
Although we may be in searing pain, many of us actually feed off this pain. As horrible as it sounds, we all do it to some extent. Part of us wants the pain. We have built huge identities around our own “failure to thrive”.
We stay in cahoots with the pain and feed on it through a subtle unwillingness to step into deeper peace. Or we stay in cahoots with the pain because we need to remember the injustice, the lack of support, or the fighting. Be it fighting for justice, fighting for visibility or fighting for change. If you are fighting for it, or fighting it, sadly, the claws of your inner pain still have you firmly hooked. And I’m sorry to say that you are not yet ready or ripe for any real transformation. But the knowledge of this healing process is something that you can store when that time does come for you.
Being hooked by pain is super juicy, dramatic, and passionate, and it makes for awesome politics and social media stories, and even better books and movies. Nevertheless, Stage 1 only really begins when you have truly sobered up to the feeding-off-pain pattern, and are starting to see it all differently. For most humans, this happens when the pain gets so bad that they hit “rock bottom”. But for some lucky humans, it means they are just finally over it: they just can’t get hooked by the injustice or worthless or unloved parts, and instead it feels like, “ **I am so over all this mess. I am not playing. I will not engage.**”
Usually when I’m talking to someone, I can tell if there’s a real willingness for healing and transformation within five minutes. But you can too… you just don’t trust it.
In summary: only in the willingness to find another way will you find another way. And that marks the first step towards real healing.
Stage 2 – the continuation of emotional suffering
I have been at this forever, and the pain is still here. What the fuck?!? I should just die.
(Around 40% down the transformation highway.)
This is a really brutal stage; it’s super, super uncomfortable. You may enter this stage 20 minutes or 20 years into your journey. The latter would be because you’ve spent 19½ of the past 20 years a little caught in fighting for your unworthiness or fighting the injustice of your pattern. (Isn’t that the worst! “ 1 foot out, 1 foot in” I call it. Sucks!)
Regardless, ever since you entered Stage 1 (being totally “over it”), you have been changing, shifting, and transforming. But now the pain is looping back in to try and hook you again, with the most hooky voice ever: “ **I have been doing this forever, and nothing has changed!**” This is the voice of injustice, and it’s very tempting to believe in it. But this story is not true. It’s never true.
When someone tells their “I’ve been at this forever and nothing is happening” story to me, 100% of the time I can point to some change and transformation that has already occurred, because this voice shows up after you’re already 40% of the way down the road. In terms of your healing journey, 40% of your fight, your drama, your foolishness has been transformed and is behind you. 40% is a lot! But this story will make you pause, and make it really hard to see these changes.
Stage 3 – the acceptance of your emotions
It’s okay. This is life. You just gotta live with it. I can accept this, and I work to manage it. Heartbreak is required for our hearts to grow.
(Around 60% down the transformation highway.)
This is a really tricky stage because our culture and society think this is the final stage: the end of the road. So when this story starts playing in your head, the world totally agrees with it, echoing the voices in your head: “Yes, the tragedy of your patterns and life situations are big, and you have come a long, long way. Time heals, and the pain is less intense, but some part of you will never be the same… Yup, that is how life is!”
Again, this is great for books and movies—it’s like a happily-ever-after with realism and the gritty truth of the human experience.
What makes getting past this stage a little tricky is that we haven’t been real about what the healing journey really is. We fake it, and we fake the truth of what it entails. News and social media blast us with totally false, delusional storylines:
“Keep depression at bay by going for a walk every day.”
“Feeling blue? Volunteer and serve others, and that will get you out of your rut.”
“Anger is poison; forgive and get on with it.”
We as a global culture still think it’s disempowering to be an indoor gal focusing on healing, keeping journals and making daily inquiries and inventories. Therefore, very few honest and mature expressions map out the details of this journey.
When you get to this stage of healing, you understand that the pain is diminishing somewhat, and it’s okay overall. You don’t need to go for a walk, throw forgiveness at it, or make the world a better place. You’re at a powerful place. To finally accept your pain, and accept your life as it is, is very powerful stuff. This is 60% of the way towards a full transformation. There is a lot more peace in comparison to the suffering in Stage 1. But the good news is, you got a shit-ton more healing and peace coming for you if you keep going.
Stage 4 – the compassionate phase of how to heal emotionally
This is my gift. I know this is my hero journey. I get it.
(Around 90% down the transformation highway.)
This is a great place to be. There is a lot of willingness to look, and a lot of willingness to change. Your life feels very different.
Now, there is a bunch of social pressure for people to pretend to be at this stage when they’re really at Stage 2. You are still really angry and heartbroken inside, but you decide to throw a bunch of forgiveness at it as a balm to calm down, thus repressing your pain and suffering. Perhaps you are working really hard to see the other point of view, but still get triggered pretty easily and you lose it. Rage kicks up and you start the cycle over again. Maybe by throwing some forgiveness balm on it or giving it to God, you can manage to calm the fuck down… once again.
But when you are legitimately at this stage, you are in love with your anger, with your heartbreak. Not in an indulgent way, desperately hoping to be seen and heard, but in a real way: you actually like it, and you kind of want to love all over it.
At this stage, you don’t have to practice accepting or forgiving. Nobody needs to tell you or remind you to do that; it’s actually all you want to do. You kind of want to say “No” to the invites to the beach BBQs, or friends’ birthdays, or even a romantic getaway. All because you’ve got this sweet, intimate party already happening inside. You just want to sit in the bath, or on the couch, or alone in the dark, and cherish all the pain in your system—I don’t mean indulge in, I mean savor.
Weird, I know, but oh so delicious.
Almost nobody is talking about this stage. But it is a sure sign that you are near the end. It’s not THE end—there is a little bit more to go—but you don’t care, because you’ve got this sweet, sweet love going on inside. For all the juicy wounded bits, you’ve got a real tenderness flowing. That feels like peace, not pain. So who cares what is happening? Your control over how to heal emotionally likely sinks to the background. You only want to keep discovering this legitimate tenderness that is in love with everything inside of you.
Stage 5 – the exposure of reality
OMG, this wasn’t even about my beloved’s death / my health crashing / my violent childhood / cultural and systemic endorsement of sexism & racism / my awakening / ______. Nothing I thought was even true.
This, my friends, is the final stage of transformation. It is rare to see, but only because we aren’t talking about it. Our “experts” don’t know about it, mostly because they haven’t walked it directly. As I’ve mentioned, our society so loves to think the 60% mark is the finish line.
But a full transformation brings you into total dissolve of the issue, and laughing about all that drama that you thought was real. And I would wager that in only a few things – small things– have you reached this stage within your life. Ironically, you know something is totally over in your life when you suddenly know, for a fact, that none of it was what you thought it was. None of it!
You can’t fake this stage. Even reading about it sounds preposterous. I mean, of course my beloved died, of course my family is dysfunctional, of course there is huge injustice in the world. However, at this stage of how heal emotionally, you see directly through all of it.
More to the point, you can’t pretend that those old storylines that had you in such a grip are true. All you can do is laugh at yourself. And at this stage, it’s a full belly laugh. A full Buddha laughing at how the illusion seemed so real, and how you got all spun up over it.
Bonus: Stage 6 – the desire to re-transform
Wow… can I do that all over again?
This sounds pretty shocking to anyone who is in stages 1-4. But here’s the thing: getting all the way to a full transformation is ironically very simple, not easy at all, but simple. As you continue down the road in amazement of what your life is like now, you feel a deep aliveness. You feel a real hunger for all the ups and downs of life. It feels like you are so happy to be you, and to be you on planet earth.
The funny thing is that you kind of feel like you would sign up to do it all again. Because now you see that it wasn’t even true to start with. You kinda want to watch the whole thing unfold again, knowing what you know now. Like when you see a movie with a shocking twist at the end. You didn’t see it coming and the entire film turned upside down and you’re like, “ _Show it to me again! I want to see where the truth was poking out the whole time, I want to see what I missed._”
And that is the bonus stage of healing emotional pain: the part where you actually want to do all the drama, pain, suffering, and fight all over again. But this time though at a slower pace, so you can see where the truth was winking away at you the whole time!
Ironically, then, is when it is really over.
This is what is possible for you. I can promise you that each step is simple and straightforward. And everything you need is right under your ass.
But it will not be easy. These stages will challenge every single illusion you are fighting for.
But if you are ready… join us for Embodiment, the first class in my three-class series where I walk you step by step through this process.
If you haven’t read Tools for Sanity, you can get your own copy at my website.
And if you suspect that you are not even at Stage 1 yet, read Jill Blakeway’s book Energy Medicine… it will help you get there!