I loved what Martha had to say about the importance of having a compassionate witness. Martha says that a person cannot heal from emotional wounds without a compassionate witness. This is vital information as far as I’m concerned. Who in this world, this life is not wounded emotionally? Please send me a photo of them, if you know some.
We may (or may not!) know the events, words, things that have wounded us. They are affecting our lives whether we are aware of them or not. The hard part then is to find those wounds and the next hardest part is to expose them, which is when Martha suggests that we get alone with ourselves and allow a connection with our bodies. Feel where, in our bodies we are holding tension, pain or even sadness. If and when you connect to a place with any of those feelings, just be aware of them. Observe them. Begin to breathe space around the feelings, giving them room to grow even. Don’t worry, the feeling will not overwhelm you. It is proven that every emotion has a ‘hang time’ of about 90 seconds. If you let it, the emotion will emerge, grow stronger, crest, then begin to subside and then abate. Sometimes this will be all you need to be relieved of your emotional wound. Other times, the wound will need more attention. The next stage is to name it. What is the wound? What caused it? Memories can be painful to relive, so it is very helpful to tell it to someone. A compassionate witness. You may have to instruct whomever you pick that you need them to listen to you without judgment and without having to solve your problem or even offer sympathy. Their job is simply to listen, to witness your pain. If you don’t know anyone who can fill this role for you, then it is wise to hire a counselor or coach, especially for the really ‘big’ stuff. By allowing the hurt, which is a ‘secret’ you are trying to bury, to surface and get air and light you will begin the healing process. Every wound needs to be cleaned in order for it to heal. The process of cleaning and exposing is the painful but very necessary part. Be gentle with yourself. Take care of yourself as you would anyone who is physically wounded. The wound will eventually become a scar. You will then be able to move forward without having to hide and protect and be in pain.
I have been very fortunate to have several compassionate witnesses in my life – my sister, my friends, my daughters, my mother. I have also hired coaches and counselors to help me with the really big wounds. I was surprised, however, about one I thought was insignificant. I had a memory of my Grade 8 year end camping trip. Our whole class, the teacher and a few parents travelled several miles away from our small town into the northern wilderness for a week of camping and canoeing. That was the week that all of the girls in the class decided to ostracize me. I spent the 5 days hiking, eating and sleeping in a pup tent by myself. It was a very humiliating and painful time for me. In my mind I somehow felt that I must have done something to deserve it and kept a stiff upper lip and bore my suffering. Once we returned to town, my friendships resumed and I proceeded to bury the whole incident.
The memory came back to me while I was taking my Martha Beck Life Coach training. The subject of emotional wounds came up and so I sat quietly to do inventory. I assumed something fairly recent would crop up, because I was pretty sure I had dealt with all the past heavy stuff. Well, I was surprised when this memory returned. I phoned my mom and I explained to her the concept of compassionate witness; that I needed her to just hear my ‘story’ about what happened to me that week so many years ago. I had never shared it with her or anyone because I felt ashamed. It’s hard to explain the release I felt when I told her. It was like I had been holding my breath but didn’t know it. I have no idea, just suspicions, about how that event and my subsequent beliefs around it, have affected my behavior around groups and especially groups of women. It was a healing experience. I am so glad I received the information and used it. I am so thankful for my compassionate witnesses and very happy to provide compassionate witnessing. A very important healing role.