“My therapist told me those thoughts were ‘irrational’—which made it worse. Now I just blame myself.”
“ I’ve gone through my childhood wounds many times, but when I argue with my partner, I still behave like a five-year-old!”
It’s not as though we didn’t try—yoga, retreats, meditation, therapy. Many of us have gone to great lengths to fix, heal, and better ourselves. Through studious reading, diligent personal development work, and reflections, we often gain the necessary insights.
For instance, we start to draw the link between our present day emotional triggers and painful past experiences. We learn that we are vulnerable to criticisms because they remind us of the times our delicate young hearts were scolded harshly. We realize our insecurities in relationships have to do with the inconsistency we were forced to deal with during childhood.
We can even spot our behavioral patterns now: it turns out we are attracted to the “wrong people” because they are a replica of our painful, albeit familiar, past. We judge others because they have qualities that we were taught to reject in ourselves.
Insight alone, however, does not bring immediate relief. Often, upon these illuminating realizations, we are confronted with a painful gap between our intellectual understanding and how we continue to feel and react to events in life.
Even though in our head we know what is going on, we are still triggered by the same people, circumstances, and events. Perhaps our therapist has (unhelpfully) told us that we were “catastrophizing,” “overgeneralizing,” or “jumping to conclusions.” Our hypnotherapist has even gone back in time to undo the trauma, but it still feels like nothing is changing—not on a heart and soul level.
What makes it even worse now is that we beat ourselves up for still being affected by the “same old stuff.” We think we should be over it by now or we condemn ourselves for “playing victim.”
We live in a culture that encourages fixing things, so we desperately try to make the flaws and holes go away. We want to heal our deep relational trauma of 30 years in two hours. We want the absolute certainty that we will forever be immune to toxic relationships.
After all, isn’t that what all the affirmations, positive psychology, and therapy are all about?
If everything has been tried and nothing worked, perhaps it is time we try a different way. Rather than fighting and getting increasingly frustrated, we could think of our wounds, our emotional triggers, and our reactions all as a muddy swamp. Like with quicksand, the more we try to escape it, the more stuck we get. Reactive and agitated movements would not only get us sucked in deeper, but our movement would also expand the size of the swamp—making it even harder to reach the solid ground around it.
To get out, slowness, stillness, and patient watchfulness are the keys.
First of all, we could remind ourselves that we are no longer children, and whatever has hurt us in the past can no longer threaten us in the same way.
Knowing this, we could perhaps relax a little—soften our glare, release our grip, loosen our joints. At least the adult part of us is conscious of the fact that our wounds cease to be the giant monsters who we believed would swallow us whole.
In due course, they become more like a piece of old furniture in our home. It may be outdated and unsightly, but is of no harm to us. Our psyche wants to heal, and it will organically move toward health and wholeness if we stop getting in the way. In other words, we could allow the newfound insights to lie there in the back of our consciousness, and trust the process itself.
To stop beating ourselves up for our progress, we must also realize one thing: the idea that we could have done something different, or that we could have been better sooner is an illusion.
The truth is, we can’t change any minute sooner than we’re able. At every single given moment in our lives, we are doing the very best with what we know and what we have. All the unpleasant feelings—the resentment, depression, grief—have a reason to be there for as long as they need to. Even the addiction, the disordered eating, or the dysfunctional relationships are all serving a necessary function. They are our survival strategies; without them, we would not have been able to keep going.
Of course, we are not suggesting spiritual bypass where we pretend that depression and addictions do not exist. We can acknowledge them, see their negative consequences, even dislike them, but we ought to remember that whatever is there has a reason to be there.
Our psyche, like everything else in nature, has its wisdom. Just like how spring turns into summer, days turn into nights, we can only let go of the defenses or old survival strategies when the time is right—not a minute before or a minute after.
This approach does not equal nonaction. It just means a different approach to taking action.
Rather than forcing a particular change—based on our fears, and pressured by a sense of urgency to be rid of something—we place our focus on cultivating compassion around the mental resilience. We take care of ourselves because it is our responsibility to be a good lover, parent, and caretaker for ourselves. Think of it as tending a garden that we have been given in this one precious life. We sweep our inner temple like a diligent disciple of life, but we do not do it for a particular reward.
When we do this enough, there will come a day when our inner garden has fertile enough soil for the necessary shifts. That is when our inner child feels safe enough to let go of old strategies: when we have built enough mental agility to deal with changes, when we have new strategies to work with old wounds, when our intuition is trusted, and when we have found the connection to a power bigger than ourselves. Then, the dysfunctional behaviors will go. When they no longer belong in your system, they will be automatically discharged.
With all this in mind, the next time we read a book, attend a healing session, or gain insight from any source, we can remind ourselves that we have done our part by courageously bringing what had previously been buried to the surface. Our psyche will work its way through in its own way and in its own time, and there is nothing more that we need to do.
Think of floating, not swimming.
Think of allowing, not pushing.
Before we know it, the most needed change will arise by itself.
This might feel like a new, counterintuitive approach to healing and growing, but it may be the only way through the swampland between intellectual insight and actual change.