Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Adaption to pain & the integration of Self

Humans are adaptive animals. For 200,000 years we have evolved to maximize our chance of survival. So much of our brain is devoted to surviving. We have had a very short history of doing more than surviving. It's only been recently that people question their happiness. As creatures who have survived this long, we have become very good at adapting to changing circumstances and very Hard Times. When each of us go through Hard Times, we find ways to cope. Initially a very good survival mechanism is to take what has happened and put it behind us. We move on to the next thing or taking care of any of the fallout of the Hard Times. This ability to take what happened and put it behind us is a kind of compartmentalization. It's adaptive. For example, if you are a small child watching your parents shout at each other or seeing physical violence between your care giving adults, you wait for the storm to calm and then you move on. Is your mom happy now? No. Okay, what can you do to fix it? Happy now? Ok, good. Move on. Put that scary event behind you. This compartmentalization is adaptive-- necessary for the child to survive in the family.

If a Hard Time happens and a Trusted Adult comes in to help you sort out your feelings and validates your perception, you may have a different way of understanding and processing the experience. It might not be a Hard Time because there were Trusted Adults to help. In my experience, this rarely occurs. The norm is that the child is meant to follow the family cycle and pretend everything is normal even when nothing feels normal. "We're good now, right? Ok, move on."

And so the child moves on. The brain allows that Hard Time event to be put in a box and put behind us and we move forward... until one day there is so much behind us, it may be hard to move forward. 

How do you possibly unpack that closet of hazardous material created through the unprocessed Hard Times?

What most "adaptive" adults will do is try to numb it out. 

Numbing looks like: keeping busy; never slowing down; drinking too much; spending too much; trying to control all the little things in life; being critical; watching a lot of TV; hiding in a room away from the people you live with; having a small life, but wanting more....and a multitude of other behaviors done to excess and with little pleasure. Numbing is about managing the pain of emotions that would otherwise arise. 

Numbing is an "adaptive" way to survive. It prevents the emotional pain from coming up. We worry that if we didn't numb, the naturally arising feelings would overwhelm us or others. We worry that the feelings could have violent consequences and we could hurt ourselves or others. Numbing is a natural response to having experienced Hard Times without the guidance and care of Trusted Adults. 

The thing is, numbing is survival. It's not living. It's not creating. It's not fully loving! 

This is where intervention starts. 

Same story of Hard Times: the small child who watched their parents shouting at each other or witnessed physical violence only needs to be collected. She only needs a little recognition of her needs. He only needs some validation of his feelings. The child inside is the resilient and soft part of the person who learned to adapt. What an amazing gift! That child kept herself safe through Hard Times. That child found ways to please the adults and try to smooth over tension to find peace. That child was strong, but now it's time for that child inside to be cared for.

Spirit is found in the care. Spirit is found in the resilience. Spirit is found in the bigger, stronger, wiser part of yourself who can show up in a kind manner for that child. 

Adaptation is about survival. Spirit is about integration of the parts of Self and coming into a place of wholeness. This is the path of healing: Moving from pain (which requires numbing) and suffering (the internal struggle to get through until numbing can occur) to integrated wholeness.

Counseling is the facilitated process of healing where the counselor is the Trusted Adult there to help the child process the feelings. The healing process allows for the collection of the child left behind and the reclamation of the whole Self. In my way of thinking, the Whole Self is the place of spirit. It is the re-claiming of our selves as spiritual-humans as we transcend and integrate all the parts of self. To me, this is the journey and the purpose of life! Perhaps the greatest adventure you'll ever have will be completely inside your Self. 

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