A lot of narratives about healing focus on change. We take on goals to change how we handle the past and the present, change our circumstances, identify what is broken and fix it. Many of us believe that we are fundamentally not good enough, and if we yell at ourselves a lot, we might eventually change to become good enough. It feels terrible to be yelled at all the time, and we never seem to improve enough to make it stop.
Already deserve support
Instead, we can decide that we are already good enough, and there is always room to learn from our mistakes and keep growing. Healing can include learning new skills and letting old survival tools fade into the background. At the same time, a lot of healing is about adding resources and support rather than tearing down what is already here. We do not need to be fixed.
We do not need to change first to deserve support. We need and deserve support no matter what. It can be hard to find practitioners who offer refuge rather than fixing, especially when something inside insists on being fixed.
Place to stand
We need a place to stand to make any kind of change, a stable foundation to risk the unknown. As we feel safer and more secure, we become curious about exploring small changes, and then larger ones. Pushing ourselves to change is counterproductive. If we had everything we needed to make a change, we would be making it. We naturally hold more tightly to what we already have when we feel unsafe or threatened.
For example, when I lift a client’s arm during a bodywork session, they often reflexively stiffen and hold their arm up. If they embarrassedly tell their arm to relax, I tell them it is my job to offer their arm enough support to feel comfortable.
When I shift my hold, or let their arm rest on the table, or communicate my intentions more clearly, their arm may relax. Sometimes it has a deeper reason to stay tense, and that is okay too. The goal is to connect with how the arm is feeling right now, not to demand a change.
Energy to adapt
Change is inherently disruptive. Even if the change takes us toward what we want, it requires time and energy to adapt.
When we are coping with unexpected change, it can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us and we need to find ground under our feet. We can find support by reaching out to friends for reassurance, taking time to breathe, and noticing what is still the same in the midst of change. We can inventory the inner resources and external support we already have.
Listen to resistance
When we consider initiating a change ourselves, there is often a part that wants the change, and a part that emphatically does not. Rather than trying to power through resistance, we can pause and listen.
Listen with understanding and empathy for all parts. Slow down, and acknowledge each bit of information you receive. It might come as words, or images, or sensations, or a vague something that slowly becomes more clear. If you find yourself listening with frustration, impatience, or an agenda, that is also a part that needs to be heard.
Not-Wanting and Wanting
Sense for what, specifically, the resisting part does not want. What, specifically, is bad about that? Often this part is trying to protect you, and appreciates being heard in detail about its efforts.
Also listen to the part that does want the change. Sense for what, specifically, this part wants. What, specifically, is good about that? What does this part want you to experience in the body? Can it show you that experience right now?
After listening to both parts, the change may feel less urgent, or more clear. The parts may find they want the same things underneath their struggle. If the struggle continues, keep listening.
As we reach out for support around change, we might notice subtle (or not so subtle) signals from the people around us that say, “Don’t change. Stay just the way you are.” Our current patterns might fit neatly with theirs, like matching puzzle pieces. If we change shape, we might not fit with them anymore. The more closely enmeshed we are with someone, the harder it is to change in our own direction.
We might look around after an internal shift and wonder why we feel at odds with friends and communities that used to feel harmonious. Change has costs. As we heal and become more centered in ourselves, we may lose some relationships we valued, and need time to grieve.
Freedom to experiment
There is a turning point in healing from trauma, from learning new skills to learning to embrace exactly the way we are in the world. As we feel more solid in ourselves, we feel more freedom and flexibility to experiment and change. When we have more inner and outer resources, it is easier to take risks and try something new.
- Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin created the Wanting/Not-Wanting process. It is described briefly in The Seven Secrets to Getting Unblocked and in more detail in Radical Gentleness: The Transformation of the Inner Critic.
- Robyn Posin has advocated for Loving Yourself Unconditionally for many years.