Last week’s article discussed the difference between guilt and shame. It focused on how guilt is related to a bad choice or action where shame leads us to believe there is something wrong with us. Understanding that difference can be beneficial in healing the devastating effects shame leaves behind.
But simply realizing the difference between the two isn’t the antidote itself. While it creates a better environment for healing to occur and is a great first step for improving the process, it is not what creates the healing.
This does, however, raise additional questions. What exactly does it mean to heal emotionally? What steps do we take to heal, and how do we know it has occurred?
For the last eighteen months, many people have experienced extreme events which have raised the need for a for people to heal. It is a topic being discussed on many levels among friends, talk shows and newscasts, as well as by community, religious, and political leaders. It is also one subject in which I am always ready to engage.
But each time the subject is examined, I listen intently to see if anyone provides new insights on what healing is or how it transpires. Sadly, I rarely hear any helpful advice. Even when mental health professionals are interviewed, the focus is strictly on how important it is that we heal. Stating the obvious is neither newsworthy nor enlightening.
Emotional healing – or for that matter, healing from past trauma – can be complicated. Healing implies there was an original injury, but the wound has occurred on an emotional or psychological level. This kind of damage is difficult to grasp because there is no physical evidence.
When our skin is cut or we break a bone, the injury is apparent. But damage on an emotional level is difficult to measure or describe. And worse, it’s frequently accompanied with feelings of shame, compounding and magnifying the issues. Thankfully, physical healing is a great analogy to help us understand what it means to heal.
When our skin bleeds, we know it’s healed when there is no evidence of the original injury. However, sometimes it leaves scars. The injuries will heal; the scars only remind us of the initial wound. Occasionally, an injury requires medical help while other, more severe ones cause permanent damage. That doesn’t mean healing cannot occur.
Likewise, emotional damage takes place on many levels. It would be great if our deepest wounds would be like skin abrasions and every indication of the original injury would disappear. That is rarely the case. Many of us have suffered deep, emotional wounds and some have yet to even form a scar.
When we suffer from a physical wound that causes profuse bleeding, it must be addressed or we will become gravely ill. Sadly, an emotional wound on as deep a level can continue for years. Finding a way to stop the figurative bleeding is not an easy task. Although our bodies will heal naturally, our mental capacities have not completely developed this trait. Typically, we can see or feel the progression of our physical healing. But the only one to measure the effectiveness of our emotional healing is us.
Most healing occurs when we change that mental picture of ourselves and not allow the emotional damage to constrain us. This is why shame, or having ill feelings towards ourselves, is the biggest roadblock to our own healing. When we tell ourselves we are unworthy, insignificant, or a myriad of other negative self-talk, it’s next to impossible to change the way we think about ourselves.
It would be wrong of me to say this is true in every instance or for that matter, categorize what healing is in general. Healing begins when we alter the way we perceive ourselves in those past traumas. Yes, this is easy for me to say when I haven’t walked in anyone else’s footsteps, but how else will the damage be repaired or undone?
A healing technique
One of the best techniques for healing is to stand in front of a mirror, look yourself directly in the eyes and say out loud, “I am proud of you,” “I admire you,” or “I love you.” This can be difficult and I have had clients who broke out in tears while attempting this. If it was not for added encouragement, they would not have been able to finish this task.
Utilizing this technique daily with a sincere commitment to gain confidence in yourself is sure to work. Remember, this is a practice similar to any other skill we try to enhance. If done with positive intentions, it will transform the way you think about yourself.
It’s the same reason why walks in nature, listening to music, or fun activities also have healing effects. Sometimes, these are temporary but during that time, you weren’t focused on the pain of your past traumas. The music transported your emotional state away from the stain of the injury and you sensed calm and tranquility. If you could permanently capture this feeling and never allow it to escape, it would heal you from those devastating times.
But remember, you had to allow your thoughts to change. The music was the vehicle. That’s why so many say music is healing but rather, it is the salve for the wound. It made the environment more conducive for healing. Without the music, nothing may have happened, but your mind, your thinking had to go there, with the help from the music.
Emotional healing is a diverse and complex subject. Ideas can be misheard or taken out of context. Perhaps this is why most people choose not to talk about how it’s done. But what this world has had to endure these last couple years, it’s time we all talk about what it means to heal, the steps we need to take, and how we know when it has occurred.
My thanks to S. Tsuchiya on Unsplash for the wonderful picture. I’m also thrilled to announce that the Second Edition of my first book, “Shame On Me – Healing a Life of Shame-Based Thinking” will be available soon as an e-book. It is in the final stages of formatting for various platforms. I’ll be announcing it shorty and would be honored if you were to read it. As always, if you have any questions about your healing journey, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.