Tag Archives: appreciation

Resistance as a Protective Mechanism – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned that certain emotions are bad or wrong to feel or express. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising emotions such as frustration, fear, or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those emotions are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression. Similarly, if we expressed joy, excitement, or exuberance, believe it or not, sometimes our parents can believe those emotions are also wrong to express in excess, and so they will teach us (in a variety of creative ways) that the expression of those energies is not acceptable.

As young children, we depend upon our caregivers for survival. This means that our basic autonomic survival mechanisms will engage when our caregivers strongly disapprove of something we are doing or expressing, and we’ll begin to mold ourselves in whatever ways are necessary to meet their expectations and demands. If our caregivers clearly do not want us to feel or express certain emotions, we will begin to resist or repress those emotions whenever they arise in us. This resistance/repression is actually an internal protective mechanism formed to keep us safe—that is, safely away from feeling or expressing the emotions we aren’t allowed to feel, given our circumstances. This protective mechanism becomes ingrained and autonomic; that is, it will be triggered automatically whenever these “dangerous” emotions begin to arise in us, effectively keeping us away from feeling or expressing them. The amazing thing is all this happens without our conscious minds needing to do anything!

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesIt turns out that it takes quite a bit of energy to repress natural emotion, and we experience this resistance as various kinds of suffering. The suffering can take the form of anxiety, rage, depression, shame, blame, self-reproach, fear, restlessness, and any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion. The suffering itself actually forms the protective mechanism we have developed to keep us away from feeling the underlying emotion. (I should note here as well that these states don’t just protect us from feeling unwanted emotion, but they can also protect us from feeling the overwhelming energy and sensations associated with unintegrated trauma. I’ll be discussing that topic in Part 2 of this post.)

So, what is important about this distinction between emotion and states of suffering? Well, if you have been around the block in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is to “feel your emotions.” But, the problem is if you think that the rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression, the restlessness, etc., are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions.” After all, you are feeling these things… over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now?

The issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what is happening is your protective mechanism is being triggered. The rage, the shame, the anxiety, the depression… none of these are the underlying emotion. You are experiencing what it feels like to resist and repress the emotion, and it hurts—a lot.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move in a way that is not overwhelming, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I started to feel authentic emotion, it was hard for me to even label it because it was so different than what I had been experiencing (depression) for so many years. A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave with a certain “flavor” that moves through me. It is powerful, yes, but it does not continually spin and never resolve. Actually, in my experience, it feels good to feel real emotion, no matter what flavor that emotion might take.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, shame, anxiety, depression, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. The feelings will be triggered and arise over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” There will be patterned thoughts, beliefs, and physiological/physical changes that arise at the same time. Also, the states will probably escalate over time because it takes more and more energy to repress more and more emotion, thus greater suffering is present in the resistance and repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly. That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again with no resolution or progress.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that get more intense over time, they are often labeled as mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Eventually, the suffering can also become a significant contributor to physical diseases and disorders, such as autoimmune conditions, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, inflammatory conditions, and more.

Perhaps by now you can see how these states of suffering distract us away from experiencing the underlying emotion because we become focused on the suffering itself. Our attention turns toward trying to get rid of the suffering. We take drugs to treat the depression and anxiety and chronic pain. We read self-help books to try to fix our “destructive belief systems.” But because we unconsciously believe that the underlying emotions are wrong or dangerous to feel, our suffering—which is the protective mechanism itself—is actually designed to distract us away from feeling the original emotion. That’s its job! Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own suffering. As you can see, our protective mechanisms are very effective at keeping us away from the emotions we aren’t supposed to feel.

The rubber meets the road in our healing journey when we finally turn toward those aspects of ourselves that are suffering and meet them in a different way. The rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression… when these protective mechanisms are met with curiosity rather than animosity, we begin to realize how they served us in the past and continue to serve us even today. At the same time, we can also see clearly the ways in which these protective mechanisms no longer serve us, and in fact hurt us and hurt others in deep and profound ways. It is when we are able hold both of these truths in our hearts that something else—another option—becomes possible. Through this process, the protective mechanisms can begin to let go, and when they do, the energy that is underneath them will come to the surface to be felt and integrated. I have found this to be the crux of healing this kind of core wound.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing this same topic in a more nuanced way as it relates to trauma. To say that suppressing emotion is how and why we form these protective mechanisms is actually incomplete and bit simplistic. With trauma, the sensations and feelings we experience are literally overwhelming—so overwhelming that we are unable to integrate and process them at the time of the experience. Our system then isolates that unintegrated energy (so that we can continue to function) and forms protective mechanisms to keep us away from re-experiencing the overwhelm. I’ll be exploring this in more depth in Part 2. Stay tuned!

With love,
Signature-with-transparent-background

Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me

In Part 1 of this series (Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me), I explained why the traditional western therapeutic approach to treating mood disorders (in my case, depression and/or bipolar II, depending on which psychiatrist you ask) wasn’t enough for me.  With the traditional approach, I was merely surviving, but not thriving.  In this post, I’d like to share what is working for me.  But before I go into that, I’d like to make clear that I don’t mean to imply that I am now happy at all times with never a moment of depression.  Yes, it’s true I can now say that I finally understand what it means to truly live and that I have experienced and continue to experience true joy, creativity, passion, gratitude, and love to depths I had never dreamed of before.  Yet, I still have times when I will sink into the depths of depression.  Even now, my mind sometimes falls into those old habitual thought patterns that have been engrained over the course of 35+ years.  These times are much less common and don’t last nearly as long, but they still happen.  So maybe it would be more accurate to say that the approach I’m about to describe is simply a process that I suspect won’t end at some final destination where I am eternally blissful in every moment of every day.  Perhaps that state of being is possible, but I’m not holding my breath.  My sister, who is the CEO of a small business, recently shared an insight which illustrates this idea.  She has been noticing that many young people fresh out of college have the expectation that they should be able to find a job in which they will be happy all the time.  She pointed out that this is simply an unrealistic expectation, and that no matter how much you love your job, not every day will be perfect.  There will be days when you wonder why you didn’t just stay in bed.  (My sister is wise.  That’s why I call her Yoda.)  The same is true for me with my mood.  I’m a work in progress.  Still, the approach I’m using now has been so life-changing and so much more effective than the traditional approach that I feel it’s worth sharing in hopes that it might resonate with some of you struggling with similar issues.

Everything started to change for me during my training in the therapy I now practice called Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST).  This training wasn’t your typical class.  It was organized into ten, five-day modules spread out over almost two years, which means there were about two months between each module in which to integrate what we experienced/learned into our everyday lives.  I quickly learned that in order to be an effective practitioner of this therapy, I needed to live the teachings myself.  To be honest, this was the only way I could prove to myself that this therapy really works.  I wasn’t going to practice a therapy based on someone else’s stories or just accept without question the underlying theories.  I needed first-hand experience.  And so I decided to dive in head first, allow myself to embrace the experience, and see where it led me.  It was over the course of those two years — with support through my group training and from individual BCST therapists — that I began to transform.  I discovered that the therapy I was learning to give to others was the key to addressing my own issues, most prominently the debilitating depression I had been living with since I was a young child.  Below is an explanation of the three main components that have been vital for me in this process.

  • Listening to my body with a perspective of appreciation.  One of the most important steps I took was to simply feel and listen to my body with curiosity and appreciation.  This is easier said than done, believe me.  To do this, I first had to let go of all the analysis about why I was depressed.  My teachers called this “letting go of the story.”  After many years of therapy, self-help books, and personal growth seminars, I could easily name all of my underlying belief systems which I was sure were contributing to my depression.  I could list my childhood traumas or talk about my parents until I was blue in the face.  Unfortunately, that approach was largely ineffective for me.  I also had to let go of the idea that there was something wrong with me that I had to battle and eliminate.  The key for me was a change in perspective from one of judgment and pathologizing to one of appreciation.  I began to recognize the incredible intelligence behind how I manage my experiences.  I realized that I had made it this far for good reason, and that whatever I had been doing worked.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be around to debate it.  I’d be dead.  So with this perspective, I started to listen to my body in a way I never had before.  I let go of the story and started listening and looking for the intelligence in my system instead of the problems.   A whole new world opened up.  I was (and continue to be) amazed at the incredible intelligence at work behind my so-called detrimental “patterns” and “belief systems.”  Bit by bit, simply by listening to my body, I experienced more and more ah-ha moments where I realized certain patterns I had always hated in myself (e.g., shyness) are very intelligent responses to my particular life circumstances.  These reflexive patterns are how I managed and currently manage my experiences to survive and to fulfill specific vital needs — and they work.  This change of perspective was a huge key for me because my bind of self-hate was finally released.  Once I stopped fighting and hating myself, other possibilities I could not previously see began to open up.
  • Connecting to my underlying healing forces & who I really am.  One of the focuses of BCST is supporting the underlying intelligence/healing forces/healing ability of the body.  As a practitioner, I can actually feel these forces at work in the client’s body.  But in order to feel these forces in someone else, I needed to feel them in myself first.  And as I started listening to my own body with curiosity and appreciation, I started to palpably feel these forces at work within myself.  This connection to the underlying intelligence of my system led me to felt-sense connection to who I really am at a core level — the one underneath the depression — the one who could heal my own heart and mind.  I suppose some people might call this core level the “soul” or “spirit.”  Whatever you call it, this connection to that center of who I am somehow led me to the insight that I am the one with my own answers.  In fact, I am the only one with my own answers.  I have found that, for me, working with my depression is not about fighting it; rather, the work is about staying connected to my core or center.  For me, this is a tangible experience with incredible results.  The more I focus on staying connected with that core part myself rather than on fighting my depression, the more my state of being is one of joy, love, gratitude, beauty, creativity, and inspiration.
  • Surrounding myself with proper support.  The most critical part of this process for me has been having the right kind of support.  Basically, I need people around me who can recognize and reflect back to me who I really am at the core level.  In addition, these people all share the following crucial qualities:
  • They recognize that I am unique and complicated.  They know that what will work for me will be unique to me.  There are no cookie-cutter solutions.
  • They realize that I have my own answers.  They are not there to give me answers.  Instead, they support me in finding my own unique path to health.
  • They have a perspective of appreciation rather than pathologizing.  They are not interested in fixing me or making me better.
  • They trust and recognize the underlying intelligence at work in my system and know that they do not “know better” than that intelligence.
  • They trust my process and are neutral as to the outcome or results.
  • They can see who I really am at the core level.

Of course, many of these people were classmates in the BCST training, my teachers, or therapists who had done the training.  I have also found a few amazing friends who share these qualities.  Having these people in my life is vitally important because they can see through all of my crap to who I really am, even when I cannot.  Oftentimes, it is that reflection of my core self that helps bring me out of my states of despair and back to a connection with my center.  These people are rare, but they’re out there.

My hope is that some of you reading these posts might resonate with some of what I’ve shared of my own experiences.  If so, I’d encourage you to first find people to support you who have the qualities I listed above.  It’s easy to find all sorts of people who think they have your answers and want to fix you.  You might even feel like you need to be fixed!  But for me, the trick was to find those people who recognized that I have my own answers and know that the keys to my own healing are inside of me.  That is true empowerment.  That is how I learned to take real responsibility for my own health.

Aloha,

Penny