Knowing yourself is first step towards self reclamation. ~Amit Gupta
One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end. ~Jiddu Krishnamurti
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. ~H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
I believe it is important for us to acknowledge that any trauma processing work that we do, is all about unlearning old survival patterns, cycles, and instincts that no longer serve us well. Most of us have been using these old survival tools for decades. We know them. We know them likely better than we know any other part of ourselves. And even though they no longer serve us, they are still what is known and therefore what is comfortable for us.
Doing this work of calming our nervous systems, connecting to our boundaries, reclaiming our bodies, and coming into the present moment by finding our center and ground is all the work of the unknown. Unknown because it was never modeled for us as kids (in fact I am guessing the opposite is what we learned). Unknown because we have unprocessed trauma living within us. Unknown because we live in a culture that doesn’t make space for such things.
And what is unknown, we often interpret as scary, terrifying even, especially those of us living with relational or betrayal trauma (trauma that we experienced due to the actions of a caregiver or trusted loved one against us). The unknown can be full of all kinds of horrible things, and often we think the “devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.”
All of this spills over into our relationships with others: our partners, our kids, our friends, other family members. Those of us who have experienced relational or betrayal trauma don’t know how or who to trust, or how to be vulnerable (or who to be vulnerable with). We don’t know what it is to express our emotions or boundaries in a way that doesn’t cause harm (to ourselves or others). We don’t know how to be able to tolerate other’s uncomfortable emotions, let alone our own, and become quickly overwhelmed and agitated by “big feelings” of grief, sadness, anger, etc that another person is expressing.
All this avoidance of emotions and sensations and vulnerability and expression makes it pretty tough to have deep, authentic, relationships, with anyone, including ourselves.
Of course we all carry our own stuff around with us: our histories, our trauma, our biases, our skewed lenses and view of the world. All of us.
Those of us who are able to become more and more self aware, who are able to become more and more at home within our own skin (literally and figuratively), are also able to see, at least sometimes, what stuff that is coming up in relationship or in our interactions is ours and what is the other person’s. (This is boundary work, y’all.) And that then allows us to begin to have deeper and more authentic relationships with other people, as well as with ourselves.
Yes, this work is challenging. And yes, I have many moments of “I don’t wanna” or worse, that deep feeling of overwhelm of just having So Freaking Much to unlearn, unravel, dislodge, and process. It is exhausting when we think of all the harm that has been done to us and all the ways it impacts our lives.
And with every moment that we are able to be present, each time we catch ourselves before we go into overwhelm and soothe our systems, with every intentional and mindful yes and no we utter (and honor), we are shifting generations old – that’s hundreds if not thousands of years old – patterns, cycles, and ways of being.
That’s pretty freaking huge.
To be able change a family or cultural pattern that has been being passed down for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years? That makes us all super heroes and heroines in my book.
I believe is important to mention: it isn’t all our work to process or shift or heal. We are individuals and as such we each can only do so much within our own family systems in bringing about change. Of course we will pass some things on to the next generation that we wished we didn’t. And. Let us for a moment (at least) consider all that we have stopped, shifted, and outright changed.
We are all in the process of learning. All of us. We are all in the process of unlearning. All of us.
We are all in the process of breaking generations old cycles and patterns.
We are all in the process of healing our own wounding.
We are all in the process of trying to provide salve to those we unintentionally wounded.
Well, at least, I believe most of us are.
And for those of us who are in this process, I believe it is vital that we learn self-compassion.
Not that we give ourselves a pass, or make excuses for harm we have caused. Rather to acknowledge that we are human, fallible. That we will make mistakes. That the wounding we carry is not our fault, that we didn’t ask for it, that it isn’t fair we have to carry it. That we are doing the best we can with the tools we have and we are in the process of seeking new and different tools to continue this work.
This work of reclaiming our bodies, of reclaiming our whole Self, of feeling good in our skin, of being present even when we are in uncomfortable emotions, sensations, and situations, of trying to find our ways to deeper and more meaningful relationships with others and with ourselves… it is not something we know. It is not something we grew up learning or witnessing. It is not something that feels normal (yet). It is different.
It is unknown. And so we fear it, we have a resistance to it, we try to avoid it, we shy away from it. We sit in that space of “I don’t wanna!”
This is all okay. This, I believe, is a normal reaction. It is of course so much easier to remain as we are than it is to do this work of processing and shifting and reclaiming.
It is an act of bravery, of rebellion, of self-care, to do this work. Doing this work is breaking possibly hundreds, if not more, years of wounding, of harm, of trauma.
And that is enormous.
This essay was originally written for my weekly(ish) newsletter in April 2018. It has been edited and revised for publication here. To receive my most recent newsletters you can subscribe here.