There comes a point in working with clients when their healing process brings them to a place within themselves that they don’t easily recognize, and that place is the need to truly rest emotionally. Or to say it another way, their healing won’t really progress any further until they can learn how to rest, which means how to digest and assimilate the work that they have done up to that point while accepting what is incomplete.
In my healing program, doing our healing work begins by seeing our unconscious patterns and taking responsibility for our reactive emotions. These initial stages require us to open our hearts and identify the impact that our families and relationships have had on us – and that we have had on ourselves. That means becoming vulnerable to the truth that the painful impact of all of this has created grief in our hearts. The journey into embracing all of the emotional layers that hold our unprocessed grief is an act of courage, commitment and power. We must learn to breathe, feel new emotions, take the risk of learning the skills of healthy confrontation and setting boundaries, and then discover what it means to move forward in our lives with new self-love.
This learning process opens up many new choices that expand our ability to communicate with ourselves and each other. We learn to allow suppressed emotions to speak in healthy new ways so that we can create a personal space of honoring ourselves, of being self-empathetic and kind. Waking up from the unconscious emotional denial that holds dysfunction in our families and relationships – and the self-denial of our needs that we learn as a result – requires a kind of constant intention that becomes a new way of life. The journey from dysfunction and denial to conscious self-love and relationships is a path of action, communication, risk and discovery. We learn how to do our work with integrity and honesty, taking responsibility for our emotions and our lives.
It takes time – months, years – to get those emotional skills into a place of confidence. This pathway of becoming a whole person is dedicated to breaking the cycles of dysfunction that keep love from growing, and creating new generations of healthy people. It is big work, getting our true human education and reaching milestones of conscious adulthood.
All of that is good – working through grief to find love is amazing. Owning unconscious patterns such as self-abandonment in relationships, addictive avoidance of confrontation or dependency paralysis empowers us to grow, and start the journey into conscious adulthood. And, it is work. At times, gut-wrenchingly hard work when a wave of grief opens up and we have to let it find its voice. At other times, deeply challenging to become humble enough to see emotional weakness inside of our other strengths.
So I want to focus on one of the emotional skills that isn’t as obvious as needing to breathe, feel, communicate and honor our emotions, and that is the skill of resting.
I’m sure most of you have heard the idea that one of our greatest potential imbalances is that we have become a human “doing”, not a human being. Whether it is living in our minds as constant multi-tasking problem-solvers or being in constant goal-driven motion as an athlete, parent or workaholic, being stuck in Doing Mode is a common way of avoiding our emotional experience. It keeps us from being really present with the many layers of our inner self where all of the healing and transformation occurs. It also can keep us stuck in the idea that there is no time for our emotions – a pattern that originates in the emotional self-denial we learn in our families.
Many times, clients – even seasoned veterans – want to approach every aspect of their healing from a “now what do I do” mindset, and while there are many proactive steps to take in the healing process, there are very important times when there is nothing to do but just be with the emotional process that you’re working with. Allow me to explain.
Once our more visible triggered, reactive emotions and patterns have been identified and the core underlying story of grief that was hidden beneath them is becoming conscious, then we are embracing our healing emotions as a work in progress. Whether we’re working with the explosive pathway (anger, fear, confusion and grief) or the implosive pathway (depression, numbness, detachment and grief), we are learning to connect our emotions to the original negative impact of family or relationship, and give them the empathy they need to heal. In our bodies, as we breathe into these emotional pathways, we are embracing the reality that our grief originated in the past and is now, in the present moment, opening up to receive our love and acceptance.
Embracing the origins of our grief means making what was unconscious in our families or relationships conscious in the present moment through new choices. It means learning how to bring the emotional truth of our dysfunction and wounding into our hearts, and to hold it there safely and with empathy. We will go through stages of externalizing suppressed emotional experience by writing and journaling, sharing with others, confronting others, doing breathwork or mirror work, and writing letters. We learn to self-validate our emotional experience, an essential step in learning how to have self-empathy.
Then there comes a time, whether it is after three hours, three days, three months or three years of processing and releasing triggered emotions and patterns so that our grief can come into our hearts, when our emotions need to rest. Our whole psyche needs time to digest and assimilate the fact that we are healing up from some kind of failure of love in our lives. We need to step back and grasp that the breakdown of fairness, safety and empathy in our families and relationships is what keeps wounding and dysfunction intact. That is a lot to digest and accept, especially when our unhealthy loyalties have been doing everything they can to keep us from becoming conscious of this.
Our emotions need time to rest and accept two things: one, we have crossed a line of dysfunctional loyalty to our families and relationships by ending patterns of self-denial and forming healthier boundaries. That is the true core of what makes doing emotional healing work so difficult.
And two, that we are evolving our loyalties to those in our lives by telling the truth about dysfunction and being as compassionate as we can be to those relationships that have to change. Emotional healing work can only be successful if we are committed to a non-destructive way of transforming our relationships. To succeed in this at any level is to have begun breaking the cycles of dysfunction and starting a whole new cycle of growing new emotions and conscious love. And that is a big goal to undertake.
After a successful cycle of healing work – which doesn’t mean perfection, just real results – we need to rest, and put all of this into context in our hearts. Dysfunction exists because love breaks down. Love breaks down because people forget how to exercise fairness, create safety and hold empathy with each other – or perhaps they never knew how to begin with. Dysfunction is heavy, thick, unconscious and slow. Our hearts take on the challenge of dissolving dysfunction and en-lightening our conscious awareness so that we can live in the present moment with love in our hearts.
And yet ironically enough, to be able to really rest in the present moment, finally aware of what dysfunction is and where we are in our journey to release it, is a very real challenge. It is a choice to breathe into all of the healing work that people are doing and are not doing, knowing that it is incomplete and imperfect, and not collapse at the stark reality of how dysfunctional the world really is.
To rest in our healing journey means learning how to stop doing things, and to really honor the work you’ve done, acknowledge the difference you are making in the world around you, and renew your commitment to becoming a conscious, loving person. And in that moment of rest, it does become possible to see that love really is what connects us all, even if that love exists in the form of unprocessed grief waiting to heal in so many people.