If you have found this book then you’ve probably been living with emotional pain that has brought you to a place where you need to take action, and you’re ready to find answers and healing.
To be honest, emotional healing is not something one walks into as simply as getting a massage or an acupuncture treatment. Though there are simple truths that guide the healing process – such as, emotional pain means that parts of our inner self aren’t receiving love – the process of emotional healing is a multi-stage learning experience that we must actively commit to and engage in if we are to succeed.
The stages of emotional healing are a mystery to most people. As a culture we have become pretty familiar with the five stages of grieving (shock, rage, denial, manipulation and acceptance), thanks in large part to popular tv shows, and that is wonderful. But there is an entirely different process of emotional healing that I am going to introduce you to based on how we feel, own, communicate and resolve our emotions within ourselves and our relationships. These four stages are poorly developed in most of us, and the goal of Doing Your Work is to achieve emotional healing by learning the skills within these four stages.
When you decide to explore emotional healing, you are faced with a choice: to engage with your emotions directly and do the work of really feeling them and evolving them, or to take an approach that involves a more mental way of acknowledging emotional experiences without going deeper into the pure emotions themselves. Most people choose the latter, and I’ve worked with many, many clients who began their healing journey there and then became dissatisfied because they still didn’t feel that they had really healed.
The stages of emotional healing I am going to show you are based on the emotional skills that our families should, but rarely do, teach us in order to become emotionally competent and responsible people. These four stages – feel, own, communicate, and resolve your emotions – may sound simple enough, but most of us are tangled up in them and have given up on trying to make our emotional lives really work.
Why? Because in order to master these four stages of emotional healing, we have to confront the truth of our emotional experience, and confront the people in our lives who shaped those experiences. If there is anything that most people want to avoid, it is confrontation – and the avoidance of confrontation is the bulk of our emotional pain.
The act of confrontation though, in my healing approach, doesn’t start with a scary one-on-one with your parents or family members. It starts within, through gently learning how to feel, confront the truth and tell the truth about what your emotions are holding inside of you. It is usually later, when we feel well-oriented and more grounded in our boundaries, that the one-on-one is a healthy choice. Once we have taken responsibility for our emotions and have practice moving through the four stages of healing, then confronting the people in our lives – in whatever way is appropriate – is a peaceful, non-destructive act of personal power.
Our emotional pain comes from many different places in our families and relationships. The complex impact of unconscious and dysfunctional relationships in our lives, further compounded by the impact of what we can do to hurt ourselves, creates an inner and outer emotional world in which love is not functioning as well as it needs to, and we are not living in balance. Waking up in that world and realizing that we need to do something about it is not easy; for most people, the essential act of confronting the truth of their emotional experience that love is not fully working is scary if not overwhelming.
I have 22 years of experience in successfully guiding people through the emotional healing process. It is rooted in what worked for me when I did my own healing and recovery, and has proven to be very effective for hundreds of people. I won’t say that this approach is for everyone – it requires a depth of emotional commitment that you need to be ready for – and I will say that this healing process works. As many of my clients come back to me and say, “This work really works!”
My approach to emotional healing is deeply rooted in the idea that we must commit to fully feeling and responding to our emotions at the same time as we are learning what our emotions are trying to say – both to ourselves and to those around us.
Why do we have to go inside to feel and listen to our emotions? Why is it necessary to have to confront the truth of our emotional experience – why can’t we just let it go and move on?
§ Because our emotions are a language that lives within us to describe how well love is or isn’t working in our lives.
If we want to heal our emotional pain, we have to be able to allow our emotions to take us into the places where love stopped working in our lives. Listening to our emotions can show us what happened so that we can learn new emotional skills and make the choices that grow love. Otherwise, we are settling for a limited life in which our ability to love and be loved can never fully flourish.
This raises the obvious question then: what is love? If our emotions exist to describe how well love is or isn’t working – if anger or depression, joy or self-confidence all point to that one place in our lives – then what are our emotions trying to tell us?
§ Love is the ability to grow whole people.
This means that starting in this moment, our emotional pain is telling us that love should know how to resolve an emotional dysfunction or pattern that we have inherited and hasn’t done so yet – and that we need to trust our emotions to guide us to the truth of how to restore that love. To say it again, if we want to heal our emotional pain, we have to be able to allow our emotions to take us into the places in our lives where love – the ability to grow whole people – stopped working.
When I began my emotional healing work, this was my starting point. My family had many layers of dysfunction – trauma, narcissism, addiction, abuse and the inability to nurture a healthy individual self – and I trusted what my heart told me about how love can and should work. I felt the whole person in me wanting to awaken, and I chose to trust that inner voice implicitly. I started the process of deconstructing the family myths of love that had covered up the dysfunction, dissolving the wounded loyalty that had bound me to them and evolving that loyalty into a greater commitment to serve true healing.
I took an uncompromising stand: if the family my parents grew was the model of what love is, I wanted none of it. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t grateful for what they had done to support me in growing up or that I couldn’t recognize the inherent goodness in my family members. But I also had to look at my own wounded behavior and choices. I had to take responsibility for loving myself in a way that meant challenging one addictive pattern: avoiding being fully conscious of the deeply dysfunctional experience that was the real ground of being in our family.
I journeyed into the impact that my family had had on me, breathing down into previously suppressed layers of heart and emotion and trusting what I heard. I embraced all the emotions that were there, not fully knowing what they all were yet but knowing that they were real, and moved through the energies of suppression and even emotional death to assert my real vision of myself becoming whole.
Loving myself in the first stage of my healing journey – in the most practical way – meant challenging any and all patterns of self-denial that I had acquired in my family. My family’s message to me of how to “love myself”, and therefore be accepted by them, was to abandon my own unique life vision and stay enmeshed with them in codependency, to make each of them feel safe by not challenging them to take responsibility for their own pain.
I refused. And as many of you who have already challenged codependency patterns in your life have experienced, there was a tremendous resistance from the family. This is one of the most challenging and painful stages of emotional healing. Dysfunctional patterns such as narcissism, addiction, infantile dependency helplessness and emotional incest fight back hard when one starts to disengage and say, “I have a right to healthy boundaries with you, and I need you to wake up to your patterns.”
I had been an enabler up until college, and the successful journey to break free of that role formed the foundation of this healing program. I have to thank my family, because they were a definitive library of virtually all the dysfunctional patterns that exist. In breaking free and becoming fully conscious of the wounded person in myself and in them, I went through a phase of really tracking the dysfunction and breakdown of boundaries that had happened between us – while also tracking where they were currently still in denial of becoming conscious – at intimate levels in my body. I kept evolving my boundaries, discernment and inner listening until I felt complete, capable of holding focused compassion and not going unconscious in the presence of their denial.
That is a real freedom, being able to choose to become and remain conscious in the presence of wounding in other people. Being able to stay balanced and present in ourselves as we see in another person where their emotional development was interrupted, and a survival pattern became their defended identity – that is worth it’s weight in gold.
It is a vital emotional skill that allows us to release what we have internalized from our families and restore the internal boundary that allows us to say, “I am me, you are you.” Internalizing other people’s wounded energies like our parents’, whether we were forced to or we chose to, interrupted our natural emotional development, and at some point in our life we will act out that interruption and the impact it had on us. Whether we act it out inside of ourselves through self-denial, isolation or self-abandonment or we act it out with other people through anger, control or helplessness, we must find the skills to release what we have taken in and reset our emotional balance.
In that ability to stay balanced and present with another person’s wounding, we are embodying one of the first stages of love that works. By doing our work and separating ourselves out from other people’s patterns and establishing non-destructive boundaries, we are growing the emotional skills that make love possible. Whether we are simply holding someone in compassionate acceptance while keeping them at a distance, or we are in an intimate relationshop staying present and balanced while our partner explores their acting out, we are growing love that works.
Perhaps more than any other place in our relationships, when we can dissolve the emotion of victimization that develops when love stops working and our whole emotional development fails in some way (thus becoming a dysfunctional pattern), then we can start to grow love that works.