Some people come to therapy feeling totally hopeless. I understand. They have been suffering for years, sometimes decades. They have tried many therapies. They have tried multiple medications that either didn't work or had intolerable side effects. No matter how hopeless someone feels, I always hold hope for healing for the following three reasons, all grounded in science.
1. The brain changes from birth to death.
Research shows that the brain rewires at any age. Norman Doidge, MD, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, says, “The brain is a far more open system than we ever imagined, and nature has gone very far to help us perceive and take in the world around us. It has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.” Doidge continues, “After the initial critical learning period of youth is over, the areas of the brain that need to be 'turned on' to allow enhanced, long-lasting learning can only be activated when something important, surprising, or novel occurs, or if we make the effort to pay close attention.”
It just so happens that fully releasing a deeply held emotion is an important, surprising, and novel experience. This connects directly to the second and third reasons I always hold hope for healing...
2. The transformational power of core emotions!
Processing emotions through the body where emotions live is a transformational and profoundly healing experience. Traumas lead to unprocessed emotions that live in the body and adversely affect the mind. Buried emotions can be safely liberated using knowledge, skills, and techniques. When we find a safe space to name and fully experience the core emotions that underlie our depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of buried emotions, we come out the other side transformed by the experience.
But experiencing core emotions is no easy task. Emotions are powerful and frightening at times, and without any education to make them more manageable, most of us avoid our emotions with protective defenses. The Change Triangle explains more about how emotions work in the mind and body. I’d encourage you to learn everything you can about emotions to help you gain the courage to name, validate, and process them.
Having the courage to process emotions brings me to the third reason that I always hold hope for healing the mind and body. 3. Good relationships heal.
How incredible to imagine being accepted for who we are with our needs, emotions, flaws, and virtues, all safe to own and share. When authentic relating and deep emotional experiences are shared and the experience is positive, we are forever changed by that experience.
Infant-mother research, attachment research, and interpersonal neurobiology show how sensitive, in tune, and connected we humans are to one another. We’re wired for connection. Both connection and disconnection change us.
Relationships are a source of healing and transformation be it with a professional counselor or someone in your personal life.
Creating Your Own Healing Journey
You can work to create your own individual healing journey on any scale by helping your brain change for the better, by learning about emotions and how they connect to wellbeing, and by seeking out nourishing human interactions and positive relationships.
Study and work the ChangeTriangle - it’s a mindfulness practice to understand and work with emotions in the body. Practice naming your emotions. Even better, find a friend who wants to study along with you and share your feelings about learning about feelings.
Start a meditation or yoga practice to create positive neuroplasticity. Learn to breathe when you feel emotion instead of avoiding it. Get more comfortable with the way an emotion feels in your body - it’s a lifelong practice. Summon up huge courage, and start giving and asking for therapeutic hugs.
Do something new! Learn a new language, play a new instrument, or read a new book. My recommendations are It's Not Always Depression, The Upward Spiral, and The Gifts of Imperfection. All of these activities will build new brain cell networks.
Take the free listening training with Seek Healing, a very special organization that's all about connecting authentically with others. Do some challenging self-reflection: get to know your defenses, the superpowers we all use to hide our emotions from even ourselves.
Build your own plan for healing-even a little change for the better can make a big difference in your life. What first step can you take?
Healing is a life-long process. It takes time and effort. But healing is possible because of neuroplasticity, our ability to work with emotions and move past traumas the way the Change Triangle teaches, and the existence of loving humans who want to connect and be with us on our healing journeys. Never lose hope.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1800-273-8255
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.