Picture this: For years, you’re working on yourself, doing all sorts of therapy, healing ceremonies, meditations, and other obscure practices, only to find yourself triggered by an unforeseen event and back in a rut.
You thought you figured out all your relationship issues and believed you were ready for The One, only to repeat the same patterns and end up frustrated and more self-critical than ever.
Then, on top of everything, your mind gives you unsolicited advice: I should know better by now.
When you believe that voice in your head, it’s easy to feel defeated and lose sight of the progress you’ve made in your healing journey. It’s frustrating, but you’re not alone.
Over the last seven years as an embodiment coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients. There are three main reasons that people stay stuck in their traumas — and how to become unstuck.
1. Let go of false expectations. There is no end goal.
Most people go through life working toward whatever they feel they need to have finally “made it” and “have it all together.” I’m sorry to tell you this, but you will never end up in a place where “it” is done. Every time you reach the end, you will uncover another layer of the onion. And peeling onions, as we know, will make us cry.
The first step of healing trauma is really about false expectations. We’re setting ourselves up for failure if we expect to never be triggered or fuck up ever again. The antidote for this is simply acceptance; accept that you will always be sensitive, or needy, or a little bit controlling, or immature, or whatever it is.
Welcome to the human experience! Practice acceptance and then watch what happens.
2. Stop playing the shame game.
If there is one thing that keeps trauma in your life, it’s shame. Shame is the voice that says “there is something wrong with me” or “I’m not good enough.”
Trauma is frozen energy stuck in your body. We can experience this energy as negative, paranoid, obsessive thinking. As fears and self-sabotaging narratives. As feelings of disempowerment, collapse, and de-motivation. Or as feelings of rigidity, perfectionism, and addiction.
These feelings are a manifestation of the disconnect from our core, and an identification with the frozen energy of trauma we have inside, and that may feel excruciatingly painful to us. It may, indeed, make us misinterpret our rather “innocent” symptoms and believe there is something wrong with us.
So what to do?
The key lies in the concept of “I.” When there is something fundamentally wrong with “me,” then I’m doomed for life. Because the flaw is fundamental to myself, nothing I could ever do would take me beyond the feeling of not being good enough and not belonging. That’s really a scary place to live from.
If, however, we change our perspective just a little bit, shift our focus slightly sideways, so to speak, and start perceiving our negative inner monologue as the symptoms of a wound that happened to an innocent child, a whole new dimension of feeling opens up. We can call it compassion.
Compassion allows for space between the observer and the experience. It allows us to question the ideas that our inner monologue sets forth as true: What if it’s not true that I am broken and unworthy? What if I’m okay exactly the way I am, warts and all?
It allows for regulating our fear response by breathing deeper. It allows for the courage to meet the frozen energy inside that so often feels like it is too big for us. Terrifying as it may be, when we don’t identify with that frozen energy, and instead find a resource in our acceptance and compassion for ourselves, we create space for that energy to unravel.
Which brings me to the third point:
3. Create internal safety.
Recently a client of mine asked me, “How do I know it’s safe to trust?”
The truth is you don’t know until you do. Overcoming the fear response doesn’t happen by waiting for the fear to subside before you can trust. It happens by becoming intimately familiar with the fear in your system, so you can start creating a healthy distance to it and make space for curiosity instead.
Start creating internal safety by honoring your feelings of unsafety.
The idea is that if you have always felt X and reacted with Y and the result was Z, maybe you can react differently to feeling X and see if there will be a different result.
This process of experiencing safety cannot be forced, however. That just puts pressure on yourself, and creates false expectations that lands you back in the cycle of shame.
Instead, start creating internal safety by honoring your feelings of unsafety.
It’s taken me years to acknowledge the fact that I am sensitive and that being in large groups of people overwhelms my nervous system. Only now am I starting to truly honor my need for my space when I’m in those environments, which involves saying “no” to certain interactions.
My internal narrative went from:
What’s wrong with me? Why am I feeling so insecure and small when I’m around those people? I need to force myself to be good enough by overgiving and overcaring.
I honor my sensitivity. I know it’s okay to be vulnerable and not have it all together. What do I need right now? Do I need to be in nature, or ask for support?
I feel safe because I am in touch with myself.
This has been a slow process. There is no silver bullet for building trust. There is only the willingness to explore your assumptions, to experiment, and your ability to stay in connection with yourself.
Staying in connection with yourself becomes more potent when you can express it and share it with others. That’s the true test: Can you honor your truth in the face of the other?
When we do that, we are able to change the story of “I’m not good enough” into “I feel safe because I own all of me.” This reinforces that safety comes from within ourselves.
TTrauma is a complex experience. It’s wonderful to do all that we’re doing to become more free, more embodied, more of who we are meant to be.
But on our journey toward wholeness, it’s easy to fall prey to these areas of false expectations, of shame and judgment, and of not honoring where we are.
Be gentle with yourself. You are already doing great — otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this. Celebrate each step you are making toward your wholeness.
Have you ever tried to domesticate a wild animal? It’s really like that. It took me a year to stroke the wild cat outside my house and another year to pick her up. Every time I got impatient, I stalled the process.
Healing our wounds requires the same amount of patience, dedication, compassion, and understanding toward the inner animal that is our body and nervous system.
So be gentle and celebrate each step.