Healing Journeys Have Ups and Downs
Neuroception, our perception of threat and safety, is an unconscious process
- Our primitive brain evolved to prioritize our physical survival and safety and has a negativity bias
- We react instinctively to protect ourselves from danger
- We remember everything (dangerous) that ever happened, and use this to predict present and future safety
- We can track our perception of threat based on our survival responses: we are only in fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn when we feel unsafe
- The primitive brain gets there first — it is much faster than our higher level cognitive development and faculty of reasoning
Building strength and resilience
- Children develop a nervous system that is anxious or settled from their adults
- We start where we are and learn reliable tools to regulate ourselves emotionally
- Our brain has neuroplasticity, meaning we can develop new neural networks throughout our life to strengthen our nervous system and become more resilient
- Healing our nervous system takes time and consistent practice
- We will experience setbacks in our healing journey
What is the role of our inner critic?
- It keeps us safe by making us play small, avoiding risks at all costs, and prioritizing fitting in over a meaningful life
- Children are vulnerable to shaming, critical words from our adults
- We form a belief that we are basically broken and no good
- Shame is meant to be used for immediate correction of a behavior that could get us kicked out of the family and community
- Feeling shame is high stakes and a survival level threat that we try to avoid
- It can be a long process to confront and stop believing our inner critic AND it is possible to free ourselves
What does this have to do with healing?
- Children develop strategies to increase inclusion and protect themselves from rejection
- We did this at a time when we had very little control over our environment and daily life
- Our primitive brain uses our past, including the vulnerability and powerlessness of childhood, to predict safety now
- We feel uneasy and unsafe when we let go of these strategies even though we have outgrown the need for them
As we heal our trauma and become an emotionally regulated adult, we feel safer to leave old protective mechanisms behind.
- We have that difficult conversation instead of ghosting someone or putting up with abuse.
- We remove ourselves from harmful relationships and situations.
- We align ourselves with our higher values and develop a more meaningful life.
- We see through false core deficiency beliefs
- We cultivate kindness and self-compassion.
We develop a kind, connected relationship with our younger self. We are on our own side. The three or eight or fifteen year old begins to experience that they are no longer alone. There is a safe adult here now. They can let go and be taken care of. They no longer need to hang on to protecting themselves with the strategies they developed as a child.
These mechanisms are driven by the primitive brain in the unconscious perception of threat. We have to consistently experience safety in our nervous system and to let go of childhood protective strategies.
We cultivate a felt sense that it is safe to relax through grounding and orienting practices. We practice being on our own side with kindness and self-compassion. Clenched teeth, holding our breath, shoulders up around our ears or a tight gut are signals from the nervous system. We pay attention and take a deep breath, stand up and shake, or look into catastrophic thoughts.
A regression into old survival patterns can be discouraging. We’ve been loving the freedom and now it feels like a setback. Keep supporting yourself on your healing journey. Some part of you is scared and reactive. We can allow that too and let them know it’s okay now. We are an adult with more resources than when we were young. It is safe to let go.