Jen from Canada asked earlier this week:
Do you have any guidance on how to heal the body and mind from severe trauma?
She goes on to explain:
I experienced verbal bullying as a child continuing from grade 3 until grade 10 mostly from boys. My life was turmoil with many of the side effects of trauma including repression, self-harm, self-hate, and a loss of trust in myself and others. At 30, I’m beginning to come out of the haze and have awakened to my creativity, sensitivity, compassion, and love for myself. I’ve encountered a sort of resistance in myself as well as with other people.
This question is particularly interesting because it speaks of an emotional and psychological trauma that many of us go through to varying degrees: bullying, exclusion and rejection. In this article I will draw from my own personal knowledge and experience of how to heal from severe self-hatred through the process of inner work.
Peeling Away the First Layer of Trauma
My childhood was turbulent but not on a physical level. Among bullying, alienation and other issues at school, I also faced the rigorous fundamentalist Christian conditioning imposed by my parents, and a chronic sense of emotional abandonment within my family structure. Everything seemed to point to the fact that “I was bad,” “unworthy,” and “deserved to be punished.”
These later became my core beliefs that have been hidden in my shadow self since childhood. As a result, I too became severely depressed and even went through a period of self-destructive intentional self-harm. When you believe you are irredeemably worthless, what other direction can you take?
But the good news is that at some point during our lives most of us become aware of our patterns of self-hatred and suddenly we desire to change, like I did. This is the beginning of bliss – but also a whole load of serious inner and outer growth.
When I first became conscious of my deep-seated trauma I began slowly peeling away the external layers of self-hatred I had accumulated across many years. For the period of about 2 years I systematically purged bad habits from my life, starting from the most basic and seemingly irrelevant daily routines:
- Unhealthy snacks and main meals
- Absence of exercise
- Absence of alone time
- Toxic skin, body and hair care products
- Tight or overly baggy clothing and ill-fitted shoes
- Irregular sleeping habits
- Unnecessarily stressful people and environments
I learned that rediscovering how to take care of yourself and learning how to nurture yourself has an enormous impact on your mental and emotional well-being. For example, buying only organic, natural products for my skin made me feel beautiful and respected. Getting enough sleep every night made me feel rejuvenated and emotionally balanced. Replacing my frumpy, depressing clothing with lighter, well-fitted clothing made me feel like a changed person – at least on the outside.
This beginning stage of peeling away the first layer of self-hatred is a period of joy and restfulness: finally we can learn what it feels like to love ourselves again. But here is the reality that most people don’t like to hear and certainly don’t like to face: you must go back into the gloom once again to truly become healed.
Peeling Away the Second Layer of Trauma
Before redirecting your focus from the exterior world to the interior world, you must be well prepared. Forcing yourself to go through this inner work stage will do nothing but create more trauma, so you must feel psychologically and emotionally prepared before emerging back into the inner depths of your core wounds.
You will know when you’re ready to peel away the second layer when you feel tired of focusing on purging, replacing and enhancing your outer world. Typically you will feel a sense of boredom or restlessness – this is your soul’s desire to continue the journey of healing itself. Listen to it carefully. Many people at this point unconsciously lapse into distractions (work, status, popularity, possessions etc.) in order to avoid the gaping void that is inside.
It’s also important to note that many people avoid the process of inner work because they have grown comfortable with their misery: it provides a false sense of control and protection against further suffering. But once you are conscious of this, you can proceed with courage, feeling a sense of pride in your determination to heal yourself. Learning to respect yourself is vital at this stage, for without it, it is very easy to scamper away and get lost in the external world again.
Peeling away the second layer of trauma is primarily about going on a journey to meeting your shadow self; that part of you that has been shunned, rejected, alienated and repressed both my yourself, your parents, peers and society at large.
Not only must you ruthlessly explore the deepest sources of your pain inflicted by others with absolute honesty, but you must also ruthlessly explore the deepest sources of pain within you that are actually perpetuated by you.
For this reason exploring your core beliefs and core wound is an essential part of recovering from emotional and psychological trauma, for by actively facing that trauma, we bring it to the light of consciousness to then be healed. Otherwise, how can you find wholeness without first facing the depths of your suffering? Without undergoing this painful journey your suffering still remains unconscious, hidden away and repressed, condemned to a life of darkness.
When I first learned that one of my greatest fears was the fear of being completely alone and abandoned, my every instinct was to run away from that discovery. What a painful, desolate and terrifying experience! But only by stopping and facing this discovery face-on was I then able to freely experience my deepest fear and be liberated from it, discovering the truth of what always remains.
At this point in your journey it is necessary that you have a trusted partner, friend, counselor, guide or shaman with you to confide in. Otherwise, going through such a journey might be too straining and isolating.
The Trap of Dramatizing Your Pain
We all carry a series of stories with us about who “we” are and what we are composed of such as past memories, experiences, sensations, beliefs, assumptions, images, sounds and other mental, emotional and physical input. All of this ebbing and flowing information is formed into an identity, or ego – and we all carry one.
One of the greatest traps of recovering from trauma is the tendency to dramatize your pain. Once upon a time I used to identify as a “victim” and “black sheep” because of my experiences as a child. I would then take a strange interest in using this story to give myself a false sense of righteousness and entitlement. I really took a toxic form of pride in these identity labels.
The same can be said for all of us. When we cling to the story, “My name is ______ and I have suffered from severe trauma all my life” as though it is some badge of honor, we limit our ability to truly heal. We also limit our ability to truly experience our pain and move on with our lives.
So being conscious of the storylines we repeat over and over to ourselves and other people is imperative on the path of healing.
In the end, recovering from trauma is really a two-step process, of changing the outer and then changing the inner. But although the process is long, often complex and demanding, it is truly the most powerful and meaningful journey you can ever go on.