Emotional Healing involves going with the flow of your Emotions

I have just come back from kayaking on the river. The picture perfect conditions made my heart sing. The water was smooth and calm, only disrupted by the occasional waves stemming from other boats. My kayak was gliding through the water with little effort. The feeling of freedom was accentuated by the gentle splash my paddle made with each immersion in the water.

This, I thought, is like going with the flow of your emotions. Of course it is much easier when things ‘go smoothly’, when we don’t face intense emotions that create big waves in our calm waters.

Intense emotions, like big waves, can make it hard to stay upright.

 

 

They can topple us over. Literally.

 

It’s a lot harder to get back on our feet once we’ve been knocked over. I would really like to stress here, though, that our emotions are not our enemy; on the contrary, they are our friends. They are the messengers that send us information about what’s happening in our subconscious mind. Bearing in mind that over 95% of our beliefs reside in our subconscious, this is very useful information to have.

Going with the flow of your emotions, even when the going gets tough, and the waves get bigger and bigger, is the most beneficial way of relating to your emotions. Engage with them. Allow them to be. Resisting and fighting against your emotions will not make them go away. On the contrary. It will glue you to them like superglue. There is no point then in shooting the messenger. It’s like holding the postman responsible for the content of the letters he delivers. Another messenger will come along anyway, and another, and they will come more frequently and with more intensity.

The more you resist your emotions, the more frequently they will find their way into your life. If you resist anger for example, all of the sudden you might find yourself subjected to bad drivers who cut in on you, ants all of the sudden decide to build a road across your kitchen bench, then you loose your car key and you don’t have a replacement to disable your immobiliser, so your car needs to be towed and you are up for hundreds of dollars to replace the immobiliser. What’s next? Perhaps a close friend betrays you……….Or you miss out on the project at work that you hoped would be give to you. Perhaps not only were you overlooked, your colleague who knocks off work at 4 pm every day was the one who got awarded this project – your dream project that’s right up your alley. 

Emotional healing and emotional thriving require us to listen to the message our emotions carry. Paying attention to the message will lead the way to releasing suppressed emotions. In other words, emotional freedom.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Making sense of change

How to reconnect with life following emotional pain or trauma

When you are stuck in the midst of a whirlpool of unimaginable emotional pain, and the memory of suffering swirls around your head, playing the movie in front of your inner eye over and over, and the excruciating sounds of suffering echo in your ears, and all of the cells of your body are filled with your emotional pain, there appears to be nothing beyond this agonising inner pain. Emotional healing, even just feeling ‘normal’, seems out of reach. So how then do you reconnect with life, and re-build a joyful life?

I truly believe that the very first step to reconnecting with life is the desire within to do so. Something in you has to really want that for yourself. It has to be genuine. You cannot kid yourself; you cannot pretend that you want it when really you don’t. No-one can do this for you other than yourself. There is no way around this step. It has to be authentic. No-one else can truly provide you emotional support that might bring about a lasting change for you until you have made that decision for yourself.

You do not, however, have to know at that point in time HOW on earth you are going to be able to do that. The how will come; it will follow your inner decision to reach for reconnection, for a life of thriving. The pathway or pathways that will help you to make that reconnection happen for yourself will show up.

When I made my decision to choose happiness for my children and myself I was firmly caught up in despair. This was four months into Mark’s journey of his illness and trauma; at this stage he already had multiple brain surgeries, and, being unable to move, more and more things started to go wrong with his body. The outlook, according to doctors, “was bleak”. I did not know if he would live or die, there were no clear answers and the not-knowing was extremely agonising. And if he lived, would he need full care for the rest of his life? I had no answers, only despair and exhaustion. But in the middle of all this something inside me compelled me to make my decision to choose something beyond the suffering and pain, to choose happiness. I did not want my children’s happiness put on hold indefinitely, paused until one day their beloved dad might come home.

I know deep in my heart that it was this decision that I made, sitting on my couch at home in a rare moment of solitude, that made my recovery and renewal possible in the long term. And importantly, it made it possible for our children to recover from their trauma. It did not take my pain away, but it added in something else. It opened the door to tiny snippets of joy, such as when I was hugging my children, a moment, even a nanosecond, of something else.

I have therefore placed making the decision to choose a happy life for yourself, to choose emotional healing, as my first signpost. It is an inner process. And I hope that by sharing my story of recovery from trauma that I might inspire you to make that decision for yourself to dare to say yes to you.

 

In a previous post I shared the story of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms or legs. He knows despair first-hand. How did he get out of his whirlpool of despair and suffering? It seems that Nick turned his inner world around and connected for the first time in his life with the possibility that he could be happy and could contribute something to the world when his mother showed him a newspaper article on a disabled man. For the first time Nick realised that his uniqueness had a positive side to it: having no arms or legs placed him in a position where he moved people, where he speaks directly to people’s hearts. This means that Nick can have an instant heart connection with others, bypassing the formal logical brain based connection that usually is the first type of connection we have with a stranger. He is able to open people’s hearts, and that is a huge gift to give to others.

Obviously recognising and then connecting with this shift in perception of himself would have been an ongoing process for Nick that took place over a long period of time.

But there are some tangible events in Nick’s life that are proof of his incredible inner strength and optimism, evidence of his shift in perception: earlier this year, in February 2012, Nick got married to his beautiful wife Kanae. This video clip is a true testament to their incredible love story.

Nick Vujicic: emotinal healing and wellbeing despite extreme adversity

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And now Kanae and Nick are expecting their first baby! Nick could not have possibly imagined as he was growing up that he would ever become a father himself. Even in recent years, as Nick’s wish to become a father has been growing, he could not have imagined the path his life would take in meeting and getting married to Kanae and then falling pregnant early on in their marriage.

 

What is the uniqueness about you that is borne out of your personal adversity and pain? Who are you today as a result of all of your life experience, especially the challenges and painful experiences that ripped your heart open?

 

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Making sense of change

 

 

 

How do you go about Emotional Healing?

 

Let’s say you have recognised that emotional healing is crucial to your wellbeing and a contented, peaceful life. But now you are faced with the million dollar question: how do you actually go about emotional healing.

The main reason why I want to share my personal story of the traumatic illness of my late husband and my own recovery from that loss and trauma is this: I would like to plant the seed in you that emotional healing is possible. I am not saying it’s easy or smooth or fast. But it is my hope that you might open the door to possibilities.

Today as I write this article I can say that I am happier within myself than I have ever been. This inner connectedness and fulfilment does not erase my pain of loss. But the pain of loss no longer erases my happiness. The two co-exist.

I feel so strongly about sharing my story of loss, recovery and emotional healing that I am writing a memoir about it. I believe that emotional wellbeing is possible, even after experiencing trauma. It is important to be aware though that emotional healing and wellbeing is not something that happens by accident. It is an art. Even the most talented artists don’t become masters without practice. Emotional wellbeing needs to be nurtured. It needs to be given attention and input.

There are steps that you can take to consciously bring contentment, fulfilment and joy as a state of being into your life. It’s a gradual process. Immediate change bit by bit. Also, remember, you don’t have to do it on your own. Emotional support is available. This may be through friends or a professional who is trained in being able to offer guidance, care and resources. When seeking emotional support from people that are close to you, be aware that your friends and family are emotionally connected to you. If they care about you deeply, your distress may cause them distress. Also, they bring their own set of beliefs and points of view to the situation you wish to resolve, and this may present a roadblock to your own recovery. This is not necessarily the case; it very much depends on the situation and the person. Friends can be an enormous support. You just need to be aware that they are not neutral towards the situation.

I had incredible emotional support from one girlfriend in particular. Whilst my husband was in hospital, almost every day, certainly every week dramatic and often traumatic incidences happened. Because he was locked in his body, unable to move  at all, so much started to go wrong with his body. His muscles began to contract wildly causing enormous pain. I was a layperson, without any medical knowledge. I would be given snippets of information from a registrar, then other information from a specialist and yet different info from a nurse. The most disheartening thing was the negativity from many doctors with which I was confronted, causing additional and unnecessary heartache.

Here is one of many incidences. My husband had a tracheostomy[i] as he could not breathe on his own. One day I was told that he could have the tube removed. This, I was informed, involved the physiotherapist slowly weaning him off the tracheostomy tube. The process was started. One morning, the registrar made a point to see me in order to tell me that he thought the removal of the tracheostomy tube was not going well and that I should know that “your husband may never have it removed”. This was extremely distressing as my husband’s transfer from the hospital to the rehabilitation clinic was conditional upon the removal of the tube. Otherwise – where would he go?? The thought of my husband living in an aged care facility at age 42 was too much to bear. No other facility offers rehabilitation such as highly specialised physiotherapy – and with it hope for any future quality of life. I was shattered and devastated by this news that he may never have it removed. Shortly after receiving this news, the physiotherapist informed me that the weaning process was going well. (Weaning refers to the process of learning to breathe without the tube). The tube was removed.

During these distressing times which occurred regularly and frequently over the nearly eight months that my husband was locked into his body I needed someone to talk to about my despair and shattered hope. I had never experienced despair in my life before. My girlfriend was always there to listen with incredible empathy. Not that many people have the gift to offer such a level of empathy. I was fortunate to have such a good friend who showed up for me in such a caring and supportive way.

I would like to share the tools how I personally recovered and healed from my trauma. There are tangible things you can do to address your emotional wounding. Here are 7 signposts to guide your way towards emotional healing and wellbeing.

1. Decide To Be Happy
    You must decide that you really want happiness in your life.

    No-one else can make that decision for you

2. Gratitude
    Appreciate whatever is wonderful in your life, however small, every day.

3. Releasing Resistance
    This is the path to inner freedom. It takes courage & willingness to let go.

4. Accept Where You Are Right Now
    Accept all of your emotions, desires & mistakes– they require no justification.

5. Embrace Your Emotions
    Your emotions are your GPS system into your heart and subconscious

6. Have An Optimistic Attitude Towards Your Life
     An optimistic attitude means that you expect good things to happen to you

7. Forgive Others Who Have Wronged You

     Holding onto blame and anger is detrimental to your wellbeing.

     Feel the hurt or rage when it occurs appropriately to an experience – and then let it go.

 

Every journey starts with its first step. It is much easier to walk a clearly sign-posted path than to stumble aimlessly through the bush. Your emotional healing will not happen overnight but gradually. Please bear in mind that each step that you take does make a difference. Also, remember to seek emotional support. We are social beings interconnected in a tight web with others. Emotional support will ease your process of recovery.

I will be addressing each of these points separately over the coming weeks, so stay tuned.


[i] “A tracheostomy (TRA-ke-OS-to-me) is a surgically made hole that goes through the front of your neck and into your trachea (TRA-ke-ah), or windpipe. The hole is made to help you breathe.”

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/trach/

How do you deal with unwanted negative emotions?

 

What do we do when we experience unwanted negative emotions? Especially if they are intense. There are many more ‘negative emotions’ than positive emotions. Negative emotions range from mildly uncomfortable to deeply upsetting and distressing. Most of us react with fear to strong negative emotions – negative emotions can make us feel as though we are out of control, as though our emotion controls us in that moment. Feeling out of control is very scary.

When my late husband was ill, locked in his own body, unable to move or speak, I felt very much out of control. I did not know if he would live or die. My emotions were as intense as an elastic band stretched to its outermost limits. I had absolutely no idea what our future as a family would hold. I was in a continuous, never relenting state of emergency. My body was actually in a continuous fight or flight mode, which put enormous pressure on my body. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Going to the hospital for several hours each day and raising two primary school aged children who were dealing with their father’s distressing illness was a juggling act. This was an extreme situation, but life  throws many different experiences in our direction that evoke strong emotions in us. As human beings, we are emotional beings. Without emotions we wouldn’t be who we are.

I’d like to share this video of Nick Vujicic, an extra–ordinary 29 year old Australian man who was born without arms or legs. Coming to terms with his disability during school years was very difficult for Nick. He even contemplated suicide at the young age of 10. He changed the way he viewed himself after reading a newspaper article about a man with a severe disability as he  realised that he could make a difference though his uniqueness.  At only 17 Nick founded his own non-for-profit organisation called ‘Life without Limbs’.  After obtaining a university degree with a double major in accountancy and financial planning, Nick became a motivational speaker who travels the world. He addresses schools and corporate audiences.

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Don’t you think that Nick would experience some pretty intense emotions? Irrespective of his incredibly positive attitude towards life, his every day life entails struggle. He cannot brush his teeth, tie his shoelaces, go to the toilet on his own… Now sometimes that would have to be frustrating or upsetting.

What do you do if you feel an unwelcome emotion? The most beneficial way that will support your emotional wellbeing is to engage with your emotion. By this I mean, you stop (if it’s possible) and give yourself a bit of time to be aware of the emotion you are feeling. If you have the opportunity, you may wish to pay attention to your body, to notice where you hold tension. Once you have become aware of your physical reaction, and have allowed the emotion to surface, it will dissipate.

 

Here is the thing about unwelcome and frightening emotions: once you genuinely allow an emotion to express itself, that is to say you really feel that emotion, it will disappear. It is only your resistance that will lock that emotion into your body and emotional body. What is surprising in this process is that you don’t have to feel an emotion for a long time for it to go away. Most people are generally not aware of this. That moment of feeling your emotion can be very short. What matters is that you feel it without resistance. That is the key to unlocking your emotion. You allow your emotion to be. This is the path to emotional healing and genuine wellbeing.

 

 

Why Emotional Healing is crucial to our Wellbeing

True wellbeing is based on several factors. One of the most fundamental and crucial factors to building and maintaining our wellbeing is emotional healing as well as engaging with our emotions. Like the life-giving blood that pumps through everyone’s veins, the desire to be happy and well is shared by all of humanity. It doesn’t matter what gender, age, colour or nationality you are or how much money you have – a desire for happiness is the glue that connects us all.

 

 

We all have this primal longing, it is innate. Yet to achieve emotional healing and to thrive in life is not an easy task. In our modern world we are bombarded with aggression, impatience, pollution, the global financial crisis and environmental destruction. These factors evoke fearful and distressing emotions. We are worried, overworked, stressed, angry, disappointed, maybe even disillusioned and depressed.

Why am I passionate about emotional healing and emotional support? About abundant wellbeing? Because I have experienced a life-crisis that irrevocably changed my life from one moment to the next. At 42 years of age my husband became locked in his body due to illness – imprisoned in his own body for nearly 8 months unable to speak or move, yet intelligently present. I witnessed a level of suffering in my husband that no human being should ever have to endure.

Suffering is the opposite of happiness and wellbeing. I despaired at my inability to alleviate his extreme physical pain. Over time, after his death, this experience of having witnessed unspeakable suffering gave birth in me to a deep-seated desire for wellbeing and happiness – for my family and myself, and also for other people.
It is my heart-felt intention to inspire you to take action towards creating a fulfilling life, a life of thriving and not just coping. I would like to encourage you not to be complacent with a life that is ‘not too bad’. People who undergo a life-crisis often feel a call to grow from the experience, to transform. I’m saying: don’t wait for a crisis to happen until you seek not just an ok life, but an extra-ordinary life. Do it now!

You cannot experience authentic happiness, which comes  from the inside, from being connected to yourself, without engaging with your emotions. We as human beings are emotional beings. Emotions are viewed as ‘airy fairy’ in western society, not real because they are not visible like our bodies or open wounds. But they are very real. In fact, major developments in neuroscience are showing us that our emotions are biologically hardwired. That means there is a biochemical basis to our emotions which affects all of our cells and our entire physiological make-up, including such tangible systems such as the digestive system. Ignoring your emotions is like ignoring the type of food that you eat: you cannot be well and thrive in life if you identify yourself only as an intellectual being and pretend that your emotions don’t exist or don’t matter. That’s like pretending that junk food is good for you and that it has good nutritional value. Wellbeing is dependent on emotional wellbeing. This is the natural consequence of the role emotions play in our lives – both biochemically and on the level of experience.

I will write about mirror neurons soon, which are an amazing recent discovery in neuroscience. They are another proof that our emotions are part of our physiological make-up and don’t only exist in the realm of ‘intangible feelings’. What neuroscience teaches us is that our emotions and the beliefs that trigger those emotions are central to our emotional healing and wellbeing.

We Live our Lives as Stories

I have just returned from a few days camping with a community group in the southwest of Western Australia. This is a precious region of unique, breathtaking forests. Large species of Eucalyptus trees, such as the Karri, Tuart, and Marri trees, rise high into the sky. Many of these species do not grow anywhere else in the world.

“The Great Walk” is a unique group that only exists in Western Australia. Sometimes people from other states fly across to join in our bi-annual walks. This bushwalking group camps in nature, often on the land of farmers or sometimes in National parks, cooks on an open fire and goes on walks during the day. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, 10 day trips are organised by volunteers. People can come for the whole time or part of the time. The group consists of people from very different walks of life who share a love of nature. In every day life many paths would not cross, so it is an amazing opportunity to meet different types of people.

After the death of my husband this group became a haven for myself and my children, then aged 9 and 12. It has contributed significantly to our emotional healing. The Great Walk became our extended family, and some of my closest friends are from this group.

And not only the group has been an amazing emotional support, but also being in nature, away from the computer. Even our phones are out of range. Nature offers us the opportunity to ground ourselves.  What has really struck me this time is another reminder of how much loss we as people experience in our lives. Any time I spend time with any group of people, personal stories of loss and trauma are revealed. There are stories of childhood abuse, with the loss of innocence and a safe world, which casts its long shadows into adulthood and old age. Particularly hard are multiple losses. A little while ago I met a teenager who has lost her mother. The family lived on a farm. The father’s health was poor and he was unable to continue to look after the farm and the daughter. The farm had to be sold. Father and daughter had to move to the city to live with relatives. The girl not only lost her mother, but her social network and the country lifestyle she treasured.

Life confronts us with losses: death, illness, loss of our home or job or the breakdown of relationships or friendships. Despite the diversity of these losses, there are some core similarities in the ways people grieve.

The most immediate effect of any profound loss is the way it disrupts our life story.

 

We live our lives as stories. And we construct our sense of self in relation to the stories we tell about ourselves. Our stories have a distinctive ‘plot’ structure, related to the events of our lives, who reveal to us our sense of self and they also shape who we become. Our stories include a variety of characters, main characters and minor characters that come and go, who interact across time and space.

When we experience a major loss or trauma our life story is instantly disrupted. This particular story, which we expected to continue to develop, comes to a sudden end. We find ourselves in a position where we need to construct our disrupted life story anew. I liken this to building a house from scratch.

Without the experience of major loss or distress, we tend to go about our lives and often let life trickle along as it is, with some aspects going well and others perhaps not. However, we usually don’t pay much attention to the aspects that don’t go well with an attitude of “things will work out ok”. So our house only receives the absolutely minimum necessary maintenance. And even if we decide to renovate, this amounts most likely to the repainting of one room or the addition of another. People rarely undertake major renovations without a catalyst.

However, when profound loss strikes and disrupts our life story, the demolition sledgehammer comes crashing down on us and bulldozes our entire house in one big sweep. Our house lies in crumbles and needs to be rebuild from the foundations up. We can no longer sit on the fence, the fence is gone….

How can we rebuild our entire house? How can we reconstruct a new plot structure after the sweeping demolition that destroyed our life story, and with it our existing worldview?

One way of rebuilding a coherent life story is to tell and retell our story, either by writing it down or by talking to a caring listener. This narrative act will prompt the evolution of a new narrative. Our stories are a way of putting some order and meaning into our confusion. When we tell our personal story of distressing or traumatic experiences, we are attempting to find answers to the burning questions: “Why did this happen?” and “What does it mean?”

By sharing our stories with others, we seek help in finding answers. We look for other perspectives that are helpful to us in our quest to find answers. Others can’t give us answers, but they can help us to order our thoughts, to make us aware of connections we might have missed that may provide a vital piece of the puzzle we are trying to construct. Narratives, our personal stories, help us to heal emotionally and to recover from major loss.

Research has shown that sharing our feelings and stories of loss and pain with others is indeed healing. Sharing our feelings leads to improved psychological and physical health.

 

 

What is Emotional Healing?

We are multifaceted beings with many different parts that make up who we are. When these different parts – which come in many different shapes and sizes – are all whole, working together in unison, we have a life filled with abundant wellbeing and vibrant emotional health.

However, as a result of our life experiences such as loss, abuse, abandonment, ill health, injustice and relationship breakdown some parts of ourselves crack or break.

 

These wounded, shattered parts cause us deep emotional pain. And even if we ignore them, these broken parts continue to exist in our bodies. Emotional wounding is exactly the same as physical wounding, with the same consequences as a gaping physical wound that is left untreated and does not heal.

 

Neuroscience shows us that our emotions and thoughts directly influence our bodies and our physiological functioning. They call this ‘neurobiofeedback’. This means that our emotions cause chemical reactions throughout our entire body system.

In her groundbreaking book Molecules of Emotion. The Science behind Mind-Body Medicine’ (Scribner 1997), scientist Candace Pert explains in detail how our emotions influence all regulatory systems in our body. The chemicals inside our bodies are the biological language of our emotions. These chemicals form a dynamic network that reaches every cell of our bodies, thereby linking mind and body into one dynamic interconnected system.

Emotional healing requires us to get actively involved in our wellbeing.  We need to pick up our shattered pieces and re-build something new in its place. This is daunting and scary, yet it may also present an opportunity for us to grow as a person and to create something with intent that we have thought about.  We are the author of our wellbeing, and we get the chance to re-write the story.

Emotional healing means to attend to our emotional wounds, to care for ourselves lovingly and with compassion. To pick up the pieces and to make sense of what happened to us. To give our emotional health the same amount of input and attention as our physical heath and other aspects of our lives.