In a previous post I proposed a working definition of healing:
“Healing is a process in which a motivated client, in a strong relationship with a therapist, experiences painful emotions in regulated doses, receives a missing experience, leading to the experience of positive emotions and positive changes to other aspects of their being, leading to greater ease in receiving the nourishment that life has to offer.” (I added that part in italics. I’m working my definition.)
And I talked about the first part of that definition in detail, “Healing is a process in which a motivated client, in a strong relationship with a therapist…”
In this post, I’m going to explain the next part of the process “…experiences painful emotions in regulated doses…”
So what are these painful emotions?
Fear, Shame, Anger, Sadness. These are the root emotions. There are many degrees and combinations of them as well.
People doing sexual healing work always have a storehouse of these painful emotions inside – usually with a big fat padlock on the door. They’re locked up for good reason. These emotions can be so big and powerful that letting them out can be traumatic and debilitating. Unfortunately locking them away requires vast amounts of energy and leads to stress, disease and depression. Also the delicious emotions – joy, playfulness, peace, connection, pleasure, love and affection – all get locked down too.
The old saying of “Feeling is Healing” is true. Taking the padlock off and feeling the old emotions gets the life force moving again. But they have to be felt in a way that isn’t overwhelming and retraumatising – thus the piece about the regulated doses.
But what is a regulated dose? Good question. For that we have to understand the different levels of emotional arousal. The newest scientific understandings classify three levels:
Hyper-arousal – feeling too much emotion, being on high alert and ready to fight or flee.
Hypo-arousal – feeling too little emotion, being frozen, numb, checked out or dissociated.
Optimal arousal – tolerable levels of emotion, or even delicious levels of emotion, that allow for rich engagement with the world and other human beings.
At the optimal level of arousal a person can be aware of the emotion, their body sensations, their current surroundings and they are able to think somewhat rationally as well. In other words all parts of the brain are functioning. In the hypo and hyper levels most of the brain is shut down.
Clearly we want to be working in the optimal arousal zone. But most people who need sexual healing just aren’t good at staying there. They get hyper or hypo aroused easily. Why? It’s a survival adaptation that’s programmed right into our DNA to protect us from life circumstances which threaten our being. See the tiger. Run or fight! Hyper arousal. Tiger got you by the neck. Play dead. Hypo arousal. Thanks Mother Nature.
Unfortunately some people just grew up in screwed up life circumstances where this survival adaptation was being activated all the time. It develops a hair trigger and kicks in at the slightest provocation or even when there is no real threat present at all. And while the adaptation is great for surviving it’s terrible for thriving. Running, fighting or playing dead isn’t going to create the nourishing intimate sensual experiences that make life rich.
I’d like to say, that if this description sounds like you, please, don’t blame yourself. Rather blame your screwed up family or whoever was responsible for treating you badly, and thank your survival adaptations for doing their job protecting you. Also know that these adaptations, can be controlled. Retraining your nervous system, to stay in the emotional sweet spot of optimal arousal is possible.
How? First by understanding this genetically programmed response and learning to identify, when you are moving into hyper or hypo arousal. Then learning and practicing techniques to bring yourself, back into an optimally aroused state. There are many different ways to do this. Each person has to discover the ways that work best for them and practice and practice and practice them. This practice has to be repeated hundreds and thousands of times. There’s no quick fix but it is VERY doable and the work goes much faster with outside help.
So when I’m talking about experiencing painful emotions in regulated doses I’m talking about learning how to regulate your nervous system. In my next post about the healing process I’m going to talk about receiving the missing experience.