Since I started this blog many years ago, my tagline has been to explore, “How we build health, what makes us want to, and how to overcome anything.”
The last few years have been a groundswell of opportunity to explore the second and third pieces of that mission.
As the unavoidable shock waves of 2020 rippled through our lives they revealed many relational ineptitudes, disordered priorities, and not-so-healthy coping mechanisms.
My last article pointed out the dramatic shift in my coaching business the past few years—out of necessity I have found myself going far deeper with clients than simply helping them learn healthy habits.
It has become glaringly obvious that until a person is able view their recent (or long-standing) stories in a more hopeful light, behavior modification won’t stand a chance.
When hopeful stories do show up, you feel like this…
My aim of part two of this series is to explain a bit about what the healing process looks like when someone has the courage to recognize that in every situation 1) there is what happened, and 2) there are the stories we tell that assign meaning to what happened.
As I talked about in Part One, there’s an important difference.
Recounting the former is the easy part and most likely to be accurate, while the latter can get you into trouble because you (like all of us) reason through your limited perspectives and life experiences.
In other words, you’re highly likely to be telling yourself some untrue stories from time to time…and those untrue, not-so-hopeful stories will make your soul weary.
HOW DO WE START TELLING BETTER (HEALING) STORIES?
What I’ve learned is that there are (at least) three parts of the healing process:
Zooming out and finding a redemptive and healing perspective on what happened. From a Christian perspective (my starting point) this is not hard to do.
Developing tools to examine your stories and manage your emotions. There are techniques that, with time, make emotional regulation feel effortless.
Engaging in carefully-calibrated opportunities for vulnerability. Don’t miss the critically-important implication of this third statement…We can’t heal our weary souls without authentic relationships. Read that last sentence again.
All three of the above are needed, but here is the hardest part for some people:
Healing is not a solo endeavor.
All the self-help books (and manufactured willpower) will never replace the power of having someone in your life who is willing to walk with you through a healing journey.
We all need someone who cares about us and has a willingness to come to our side and pull us out of a downward spiral, or keep us from getting in one in the first place.
The problem is that for so many of us the last three years have driven away the very thing we need the most in order to heal–relationships.
Given 1) the recent upheaval we’ve lived through, and 2) (for many people) the disordered relationships that predate the covid era, it’s more than fair to ask any of these three questions…
How do we protect ourselves from relational wounds when we don’t trust people?
How do we even know what’s healthy if we’ve never seen it modeled?
How do we hush our inner critic when we’re around others?
Since I can’t coach you via a blog post, let me give you…
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
Take a moment and bring to mind any recurring narrative that puts you in a funk.
It may sound something like this…
I’m too tired
I feel like I don’t fit in
Nobody understands me
I don’t have what it takes
I’m not a disciplined person
Why would anyone love me?
I don’t trust my own reactions
Does this even matter anyway?
Why can’t I get my act together?
Other people don’t understand me
(That’s the short list of excuses I hear on the regular.)
Whatever dejecting story you picked, now ask these two follow-up questions:
Why are you telling yourself that?
What would be a better story?
It may sound hard to imagine a better (believable) story, so let me first help you see the healthy soil that new “story-seeds” will need to be in, in order to grow.
THE SIX COMPONENTS OF HEALTHY EMOTIONAL “SOIL”
Here is what I have found to be the head space that builds emotional resilience.
A healthy self-image
An eagerness to learn
A redemptive narrative
A willingness to forgive
The cultivation of better people skills…
How are you doing in light of that list?
Void of those six “soil nutrients” above, healing will elude you and life will feel cruel.
WITH those six ingredients, life can feel endlessly hopeful.
You know where life-giving story-seeds can’t grow–inside a hardened or walled-off heart.
The irony is that our greatest pains come from people, but people are also part of the remedy.
(Now, I can hear some of you say “Ugh, there’s that ‘people’ theme again.”)
Healing our collective PTSD is going to require that we let people into our messy stories…and that, can feel scary.
Yet, paradoxically, it is in humbly facing our fears and relational messiness that we find grace, hope, forgiveness, understanding, belonging, and much more.
So, how do you cultivate the healthy soil you need for new story-seeds to take root?
I know the seeds in the bullets below may not FEEL true in this moment, but entertain the thought experiment with me just for kicks…
What if you DO matter?
What if you DO belong somewhere?
What if your relationship situation IS fixable?
What if you COULD be fully known and fully loved?
What if you ARE here for a reason—an important mission?
What if admitting you’re NOT always right is the beginning of healing?
What if you’re NOT inadequate, but it’s your stories that have been inadequate?
What if you CAN tell yourself better, truer, realistic, enriching, and redemptive stories (that feel true) and what if you started living by those stories?
Do you think you might show up differently for life if ANY of the above are true?
Do you think romance, better health, and a sense of purpose might be possible, probable even?
Are you starting to get a sense of how important your storytelling is?
So, my dear reader, I have an admonition, and if timing is serendipitous, an invitation.
First, an admonition.
Whatever you’re going through, you are never without hope.
There are people out there who are willing, able, and eager to think with you and love on you.
To find them, you’re going to have to be brave–you’re going to have to tell your stories.
And…you can still guard your heart while being brave by choosing your moments and avenues of vulnerability wisely and allowing others to earn your trust over time.
Here’s one secret to success—go first.
Give in order to receive. Hold space for others, and some will hold space for you.
Invest in others, and some will invest in you.
Second, an invitation.
It has become such a large part of our coaching practice the last three years that Nina and I have been working to capture the rich and liberating lessons of this deep work of emotional healing.
To that end, this spring (April and May 2023) we are offering our inaugural, online, six-week, Emotional Healing Intensive…which concludes with an (optional) all-inclusive, in-person, four-day, three-night, white-sands-beach, healing retreat.
We’re leveraging the power of shared story, authentic relationships, and the beauty of nature to create an accelerated upgrade in your storytelling ability.
If you could use some emotional healing, and don’t know where to begin finding the types of healing relationships I’m talking about above, consider joining us.
Whatever you do in the days ahead, come back to the thought experiment above if life gets you down.
Ask yourself what better story could you be telling.
Be brave and go find your people!
They are out there, and someone has to go first.
Maybe that someone is you.
Until next time,
PS. While the online portion of the Emotional Healing Intensive is open to everyone, we have a very limited capacity for the in-person, healing, beach retreat. If you’re interested, register soon!
PPS. If you need a coach to help you sort out some of your stories, reach out. I do this all day!
This article was republished with permission from Christian Elliot of deconstructingconventional.com. To learn more about Christian and his coaching services, check out his website truewholehuman.com.