Those things that hurt, instruct.
– Benjamin Franklin.
It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.
So why are you here? Why do you want to know how to heal? I believe it is because you want to grow and evolve to your best self. That, I believe is the path of spirituality. Let’s first understand spirituality, why it matters, and then we will dive into healing.
Let’s get real with each other. Life is hard; it is challenging; it is a series of problems. The question is whether we want to moan and complain about them or solve them? And in that same light, do we want to teach and empower our children to solve them? That is where spirituality comes in. So what is spirituality?
Spirituality is choosing the path of life to grow and evolve into our best selves continuously by facing life’s challenges mindfully and with discipline. It goes beyond what current science and logic understand to find our unique answers, healing, and a fulfilled life with purpose, meaning, and contentment. It allows us to seek out and continuously reevaluate our “Why?” Through this growth and healing, we can connect to life and others in ways that bring depth, meaning, and a greater purpose than ourselves. Through this path, we can find unconditional love for ourselves.
I believe it helps first to realize and accept how unnatural this is to us. As an animal, survival is based on being efficient with how we expend energy. So it is natural for us to want to be lazy, do everything we can to avoid the pain of responsibility. In fact, people will often make decisions to seek answers and decisions made by another to escape freedom of choice. This self-subjugation allows us to avoid facing and accepting responsibility for the problems.
We can only solve life’s problems by first accepting responsibility for them, and then doing the work to solve them. There is immense freedom in understanding and accepting that one’s adult life is a series of personal choices and decisions. For many, that can be terrifying. Only through embracing this reality, we take the first step of spirituality and can embrace true freedom.
So the path of spiritual growth is the path to do the unnatural, find the self-discipline to delay gratification, accept responsibility for our lives and choices, dedicate ourselves to the truth, and find and maintain a balance throughout the process.
To do this, we must find a deep strength and resolve to bring forth the courage to go against our nature – We do this through self-love and self-worthiness. Because as a species, we have evolved some wonderful and powerful survival adaptations for hundreds of thousands of years for a world that has dramatically changed. Now, many of them no longer serve us for their original purpose.
We Are Biased Machines
We need to also keep in mind that our brains are biased filtering machines. We are wired to experience the world in a skewed way (mostly due to our wounds and traumas), and as a result our perceptions rarely – if ever – reflect reality. This causes, according to Mark Manson, several “Unintended Consequences.”
We are biased
– toward immediate risks rather than larger, potentially more important long term risks.
– towards focusing our attention on something that is tangible and easily-imagined or visualized rather than what is highly abstract (think the risk of a terrorist attack, which is incredibly low, versus the risk of disease, which is higher than you might think).
– towards events that are highly dramatic rather than events that require large amounts of logical thinking. For example, you’re far more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash. But a plane crash is so dramatic and terrifying that it causes far more anxiety for people.
– towards results beyond our immediate perception, and how these moves will play out, and the consequences of our short-term actions.
So how is this related to the focus on wounds and trauma? What are they, and why do they matter?
As far as we understand at this moment, as a species, our DNA does not change as much from generation to generation as you might think. But sometimes, there are important warnings and protections that need to be passed down to the next generation. For instance, let’s consider running into a new animal. Let’s say that its bite is deadly. It makes sense that if you develop a fear of this animal, passing on this fear could help empower your offspring’s survival. These experiences that traumatize us or shock or scare us can leave a mark, a biological response to survive a new risk or danger.
Thus, baked into our evolution and nature is the body’s ability to be wounded and traumatized, creating protective responses to these wounds.
Wounds/Traumas are any experiences that have a strong enough impact on you to cause your body to create a protective layer, a “protective self” that integrates with your ego or sense of self and then affects how you view the world. The result is that our wounds ultimately shape who we are and our direction and choices in life.
The good news is that you can heal your wounds. The bad news is that healing is not quick nor easy.
Our wounds are unique to us. A hundred people can experience the same event, and each one will walk away with a different reaction. While we do not fully understand all the reasons for these variances, I think there is a logic that helps us understand why.
Much in the same way we are biologically different, our experiences and the traumas we carry are also unique to us. Thus what could cause one person to experience an extreme traumatic response such as PTSD, that same experience might not even affect another person.
So as you are going through this process of healing your wounds, please keep in mind that letting go of judgment and comparison is critical. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It’s the choices you make now and walking the path of healing that is important.
While we often think of war and violence when we think of trauma. That is not the case. The protections that help us survive the more traumatizing experiences such as war, also protect us when we are rejected, betrayed, abandoned, humiliated, or any abuse by a trusted loved one (usually a parent or partner).
Consider the child left alone when they needed their parent, or never shown love, a friend that was sexually abused, or the partner that was raped, or even the student that was told they will always suck at math. While the severity varies in these cases, without the right tools and awareness, these can cause traumas. And our bodies automatically react, creating protections that keep us sane and from hurting. It’s important to realize all of this happens subconsciously, without us even being aware of it.
To add to that, we also inherit the wounds of our past through our parents, potentially any wounds left unhealed by them.
As adults, we are rarely, if ever, taught how to identify, process, and heal wounds. So you can understand that a child would have even less of a clue. The majority of our wounds come from our ancestry and childhood. When we are rejected, betrayed, abused, ignored, or even when our needs are not met, when we don’t yet have emotional tools to handle these occurrences in a healthy way, our bodies react. To protect us from these wounds, our bodies create stories, masks, and toxic defenses that prevent us from facing or getting close to the wounds, not because it’s the best option, but because we needed the protection at some point for our sanity to survive. The protective self is an automated defense system that integrates directly into our subjective reality as a part of our ego or sense of self. Its goal is to ensure the wound stays unfelt and often forgotten.
This protection is generally a toxic, blanket defense. Often numbing, and often to our detriment. Because it keeps us from our true selves, let’s call these defenses “protective selves.”
The toxic stories not only form our protective self, but they integrate into our ego and shape our reality. That is why many people believe that nothing is wrong with them. They created a story in their mind thinking that external things are causing their problems; thus, the solution must be outside as well. This illusion keeps them stuck in a loop, repeating the same patterns, focusing on extrinsic things, blocking them from experiencing the intrinsic, such as the wounded feelings they need to process eventually.
The protective self does everything in its power to keep you from looking inside. In fact, the protective self keeps itself alive through external measures of worth, i.e. distractions from the pain via accomplishments, relationships, money, status, appearance, attention, people-pleasing, being overly “nice,” sympathy, sex, perfectionism, obsessing about an ex, stalking, approval-seeking, alcohol, caffeine, drugs, grandiose fantasies, revenge fantasies, social media, blame, saving others, being saved, and resentment. (Do any of these sound familiar?) And this defense is by its very own nature draining and energy-intensive.
How can you tell if you have a protective self or if someone you care about does? First, they tend to focus the majority of their energy on external things or people. Second, there is a sense of compulsion that one needs to “do” something. Third, they keep repeating the same patterns. These patterns often result in choices that reinforce the protective self by confirming the protective self’s deepest fears, thereby justifying the need to maintain the protective self.
In the end, the protective self’s greatest fear is unconditional love, and through this guide, we will help you begin to find it.
So to heal, we must move from the extrinsic to the intrinsic. To do this, we must first take some space to begin identifying our patterns, but we also must start the journey of finding unconditional self-love. Because to truly heal, we must first love ourselves unconditionally so that we believe we are worthy of and deserve to heal.
To find true love, we must first find unconditional love for ourselves
We all want to feel and be loved, but how? For most people, we are never taught about nor shown love. What makes things worse is that, in reality, we are instead wounded by those who are meant to guide and protect us.
Ok, I know what you are thinking, love, isn’t real. Is it a bullshit concept right? Wrong. It is real. But we have bastardized and lost touch with what love is. To start, let’s consider what love is and what love isn’t. Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
You can read more here.
So let’s go a step further and challenge all assumptions. What if I told you that you have all the love and happiness within you already? We often think that love is outside of us – it’s not. It’s within us.
There are many misleading and incorrect ideas regarding love and wounds. This has created significant problems for us as a society. One of which is the idea that our hearts can break or be damaged. Instead of seeing our hearts as a place of strength and warmth to return to, we see them as fragile, breakable things. If you tell yourself you are hurt and broken enough, you will be. So we must stop doing this.
Instead, there is, I believe, a more helpful way of looking at things. In the East, the heart is known as “Anahata” or “unstuck.” Our hearts aren’t made of glass and breakable; instead, they are like shining stars of love. And instead of breaking our hearts, our wounds act like sludge that covers and masks our hearts from shining through. As we heal, the sludge slowly fades and dissipates to nothing, and like our heart, the wounds are just energetic themselves. And as we heal, the love will come rushing back on its own. So a truth could be said that we do not really search for love, but for the release of the things inside of us, that block us from love – the resistances and wounds.
In following this path of healing, we can find unconditional love for ourselves. Only through unconditional love can we truly release the wounds of our past and free ourselves to find our true paths and purposes.
Let’s consider a few common issues and ideas that hold us back from finding these answers before we go any deeper.
Our Personalities and Mindsets are not permanent.
I am going to state something radical, but I think you will intuitively understand. It is not our past that shapes us, but our future and how we chose to see things.
Our personalities have been viewed as fixed because, in general, we placed an extreme emphasis on the past. But as you know, many people chose to break from their past and create their future. The most fundamental aspect of being human is your ability to make choices and stand by those choices.
Yet altogether, choosing who you are and will become is rare. Why? Because we have been told otherwise by media and society for so long that many believe they have no choice. But the truth is that we can change. However, change is hard. It requires pain, sacrifice, and overcoming our fears. To effectuate change, we must have discipline.
For a better understanding of this and some great tools check out Personality Isn’t Permanent here.
To love and find ourselves, we must embrace sacrifice, pain, and the hard work required for our spiritual growth. To do this, we must implement discipline. We need four main disciplines: delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing. Not everyone learns discipline till much later, if ever in life. But it is never too late as discipline is learnable.
Jocko Willnik, Navy Seal and leadership expert, so aptly put it “Discipline equals freedom.” So until we embrace the suck, and implement discipline, we will never truly be free. Free to choose, free to live, and free to love ourselves unconditionally.
Let’s look at an example and perhaps one of the most challenging disciplines – delaying gratification. Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain before the pleasure of life to get the pain over and done with so you can proceed to enjoy life. Often we find ourselves frozen in fear of the pain or work ahead of us. By facing it now and getting it done, we free ourselves from the pain. Through this proactive practice, we can take control of our lives.
The cure for fear is always action. And discipline gives us the tools to overcome fear. The benefit of tackling challenges proactively head-on is a better life lived with less, or perhaps even free of fear.
Now let’s consider the difference between stories and facts and how our memory plays into all of this.
Memories, stories, and facts.
A fact is something that is clearly recordable. Let’s say to keep things easy, if you can record it with a video, it’s a fact.
A story is what we do with these facts. We weave them together to create and extract meaning. Stories are inherently subjective, and thus what you know, think, and believe affects how a story comes together. Part of what we are doing here is learning to see the stories we tell ourselves and distill them to the facts so we can let them go and heal.
The next important step is to realize that our memories are not facts. Unless we are mindful, our memories are stories, and our present state of mind changes the story we tell from the facts. Let me say that again. We actually reinterpret or reconstruct our memory in light of our present mindset. So it may help to see that what you presently think and believe shapes your perception of the past.
This goes to content vs context. The content or facts of our lives are interpreted by through the context in which we see and experience them. This idea can be seen by a quote by Saadi Shirazi, who said, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” No shoes is relative. Context changes everything.
Thus if we are growing and learning, we are constantly changing and evolving how we see things, and thus our contexts change. And because of that, how we see the past and what we remember is changing. Good and bad are not facts; they are stories.
It’s important to note that the most common roadblock to growth is trauma/wounds. When our wounds are unresolved, we often stop moving forward in our lives because we are only focused on the extrinsic. This can generally lead to emotional rigidity. So we stop learning, evolving, and changing. We get stuck in our loops through the stories we tell ourselves, or actually the stories our protective self tells us.
People say that your past is the predictor of your future. That is only true if you get stuck in a loop and never move forward. Crazy right? It’s not because our personality is unchanging, but rather because we are stuck and avoiding the change.
In healing, as we learn to tell the difference between stories and facts, we become psychologically flexible. This means holding our emotions loosely as facts, being able to take a step back and respond to and process the facts rather than react to a story.
Personality – like passion, inspiration, motivation, and confidence – is a byproduct of your decisions in life
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
– George Bernard Shaw
“The stories of our lives, far from being fixed narratives, are under constant revision. The slender threads of causality are rewoven and reinterpreted as we attempt to explain to ourselves and others how we became the people we are. . . . This is why in the initial stages of psychotherapy it is important to listen to the patient’s story uncritically. Contained in those memories are not just the events, but also the meaning they have for that particular person.”
—Gordon Livingston, MD
“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”
– Dr. Steven Covey.
Another reason healing really matters is because it is the path to self-actualization. Self-actualization is the idea that you are no longer inhibited by internal or external limitations but are free to pursue your highest potential and aims, i.e., love and spiritual growth.
If we settle for a lesser self, based on our past, then our past truly does define our future selves. Our personality and choices then become a byproduct of these wounds, and our life isn’t lived but more of a coping style.
Healing leads us instead to figuring out our desired future self. A path of healing will lead you to evolve your purpose, goals, and direction. Ultimately healing empowers us to recreate or reframe our narrative and the stories we tell.
Always remember, you are the one who assigns meaning to your experiences. You are the one formulating your story. And these stories and beliefs become your new states of consciousness.
Four States of Consciousness
As we become more healed, mindful, and self-aware, our stories lead to shifts in the state of our consciousness.
1. To me:
Most people start here. We believe that we are the victims of life, that things are happening to us.
2. By me:
As we begin to take control of our lives, we begin to see ourselves as responsible for creating our own experience.
3. Through me/for me:
This is the state most people aim to achieve, and it happens when we open ourselves to the possibilities of the universe, accepting that we are not truly in control of anything more than how we want to react. This isn’t about surrendering, but embracing life with gratitude. It requests a large leap from the previous mindset and embraces synchronicity. “What does life want to do through me? “I just want to surrender to what comes through me today.”
4. As me:
At this stage, we no longer see ourself as an individual separated from the universe, but instead, it is a dissolution of ourself, nonduality, or oneness. It is a state where the self is blurred and we are simply in the dance of being.
I hope you can now see that you have the power. The subsequent sections will dive into the wounds, and some modalities to begin your path to healing. Click here for part two on understanding wounds.
Resources for this article and recommended additional reading:
Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse by Jackson MacKenzie
Heal your wounds & find your true self by Lisa Bourbeau
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by Dr. M Scott Peck
Personality Isn’t Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story by Benjamin P. Hardy
Healing Your Attachment Wounds: How to Create Deep and Lasting Intimate Relationships by Diane Poole Heller