When a part says NO: Working with the really difficult shadows
In this Healing Chronic Illness blog series, author, Gupta Program Coach and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome survivor Jen Evans shares insights from the recovery journey
When a part of me said “No, I’m not changing, I’m not even going to consider that, it’s not safe”, I was stumped. I immediately felt crushed by negative feelings: frustration, anger, defeat, terror.
How could I ever get better from this endless illness if the part making me hypervigilant and on-edge all the time would not even consider a different way of being? How could I convince this part to calm down, listen to me and let go of its stress and strain?
My default strategy to deal with these negative feelings was to escape. I could get busy, or eat, take something to smooth out the edges, or find someone to have a drink with. I could complain, blame and play the victim, working myself up into a frenzy and discharging it in anger at my partner, or giving up on what I was doing to prove there was no point in making an effort.
I’d worked with this part over and over, through the years. It had listened sometimes, promised to change and try different things, and practice feeling safe in the world so I could focus and experience more peace and ease. But time and time again it reappeared, as terrorized and panicky as ever.
There was a turning point in my use of the Gupta Program tools when I started to use the Amygdala Retraining Technique (ART, or mindmap) to stop for longer and longer with sensations or parts that I was recognising, and for this panicking part, I spent longer than usual with it, and with absolutely no expectation at all.
I drew a safe space in my mind, protected it with magic, light and animals, and invited the part to join me in the space. It did. I stayed quiet except for a few gentle caring words:
I’m here to listen and help if you need it
There is no pressure or expectation
I’m open and curious
It’s safe here
Show me how you feel, it's all welcome.
Through this slow and gentle process, the part communicated openly and honestly with me for the first time - “I’m not changing, I’m not even going to consider that”.
Ok part, I said, that’s ok. You must have a really good reason for that. Would you like to share something about it with me?
“It’s not safe to change. This is the only way to be safe. Nobody is safe, they will all criticize and reject you. It’s too awful to bear. Its the worst feeling, we have to avoid it at all costs”.
Ok, thank you for being so open. That's brave. So, where did you learn this?
As usual, the part was referring to my father, someone who was consistently critical, unpredictable and dangerous. I was wired to be on alert, 24/7, and the expectation that was part of the environment was: you will be criticized and invalidated daily, no matter what you do.
So the part was showing me that it had created a safety response for that old environment, an environment it still believed it was in - having globalized the feeling of threat and rejection to the whole world and everyone (and thing!) in it. No wonder it was so terrorized, so on edge and unwilling to let the hypervigilance go. It was saving my life, moment by moment. It was trained to defend me.
Showing kindness, compassion and affection for this part was difficult at first, even when I heard what it was doing for me and why. The frustration and anger I felt at being permanently stressed and exhausted was blocking my true compassion for it.
In this safe space, I had to learn to allow the flow of that anger and frustration, and even began to share it with the part. It communicated clearly to me that it understood why I felt like that, and it shared my feelings. Finding this common ground and allowing ourselves to feel those feelings, just feel with no judgment and no expectation, purely allowing and making space for them, shifted something fundamental for us both.
Suddenly I was able to connect with compassion for the part and to move through and out beyond the difficult emotions keeping me stuck.
We kept on working together, this part and I. We went even further. We started to be grateful for all the horrible, negative feelings and thoughts. We made a game of it - even though this rage is awful and I hate it, what positive has it had?
We came up with answers and kept on playing.
“What good has come of this shame?”
“What positive, useful skill have I developed in this blame?”
“What experience would I have missed if I didn’t feel this frustration?”
The answers didn't always come easily, and some were not direct answers, but it all led in one direction - towards healing. For every part, feeling, impossibility and block I found a well of unprocessed emotion and experience that just needed space and honoring, and a well of gold.
In my anger I found confidence, communication skills and courage. In my frustration I found acceptance, forgiveness, patience and allowing. In blame I found maturity and a new routine. Resistance to change brought me skills in planning and making baby steps towards goals.
There is so much power in reclaiming the parts that are hurt and hold such unbearable feelings and beliefs. The work is in listening to them and validating all that has been - there is nothing wrong with us, there is only something missing in the way we were taught to process and integrate ALL PARTS of ourselves in our life journey.
Healing is your chance to learn how to do that, and reap the benefits of a balanced, compassionate, curious, grateful and integrated community of parts. This is the way we gift our nervous system the strength, ease and rejuvenation it needs to move through illness to ever increasing health and happiness.
Want to try this out? Join Jen in small group coaching to experience self-awareness exercises, a coached ART with this work included and space to ask her questions about your unique journey. Find available taster sessions and group series here.