Making the Shift: Feeling worse vs. better, Part 1
Posted May 17 2010 12:00am
This week I’m starting a 3-part series inspired by an email I received this week from a survivor who is really working hard at healing. He brings up such a critical and crucial issue that I thought I would share my response with everyone. Since we all learn more when we share our experiences, feel free to add your ideas, too.
First, let me tell you something about the man who wrote to me. I admire his journey very much. He’s taken responsibility for facing the past and has made dedicated actions about doing so. He’s writing things out, talking things out and not shying away when the going gets tough. The payoff: he’s seeing a lessening in the severity of his PTSD symptoms. This man is making progress.
Recently, however, all of this digging into the past has brought him to a painful moment: a stark realization showing just how horrible his childhood situation was. The recognition of this has thrown him for an emotional loop. He wrote asking me to explain why we so often have to feel worse before we feel better.
The short answer: because that’s how healing progresses, in cycles, where we go up and down riding the recovery roller coaster.
The longer answer is this….
Many of us experience this sort of forward/backward phenomenon. We think we’re going about healing doing all we’re supposed to do and moving forward and then, Wham!, we find ourselves two steps back. There are a few reasons for this:
1 - When we begin the healing process we are often emotionally numb. In order to cope we have trained ourselves not to feel, or to feel less. Part of the healing process, however, is about slowly coming out of that emotional coma. This is a critical process, and yet, one for which we have no coping skills. We have to learn anew how to feel, process our feelings, and allow them to move through us. As we learn to make this shift in adjusting to emotions, we can temporarily feel overwhelmed by their intensity. It’s only natural we feel worse for a time. Think of it as growing pains. The body experiences them; so does the mind.
Making the Shift tip: When you’re feeling this sort of emotional swing:
Remember that emotions move; they are dynamic, not static. This means they are always moving through your body and eventually out of it. When you feel overwhelmed by emotion sit still and recognize the feeling. Name it. Say, “I am feeling very __________.” And then allow it. Bring all of your attention to the feeling and honor it. Stay present in it and then watch what happens: feelings cannot sustain a high level. They move; they gain intensity and then naturally lessen.
When you remain present in the emotion you learn to ride the wave and then see that rather than overwhelm you, the feeling naturally ebbs. Staying present through the process helps you learn how to recognize, feel and process. And so, even while you feel like you’re taking a step or two backward, you’re actually making progress by learning to sit, name and watch your own emotion.
Tune in next Monday for a continuation of this topic.