Part One: Compassionate Witnessing/Emotional Wounding
Way back, in the year 2011, I tuned in to see my favorite Life Coach, Martha Beck, on Oprah’s podcast.
In the video Martha says;
a person cannot heal from emotional wounds without a compassionate witness.
Who in this world, this life is not wounded emotionally? Please send me a photo of them, if you know some.
Digging Up Wounds
I was inspired to go digging for my own emotional wounds. I was surprised by a memory of my Grade 8 year-end camping trip. Our whole class, the teacher and a few parents traveled several miles away from our small town into the northern wilderness for a week of camping and canoeing. That was the week all the girls in the class proceeded to ostracize me. I spent the 5 days hiking, eating and sleeping in a pup tent by myself. It was a humiliating and painful experience. In my 14-year-old mind I believed I must have done something to deserve it, kept a stiff upper lip and bore my suffering. Once the summer ended and we were back in school, my friendships resumed, I forgot about it. At least I thought I had.
How to Detect Emotional Wounds
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. Martha suggests 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. 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. By that, I mean, the emotion will emerge, grow stronger, crest, then subside and then abate. Sometimes this will be all you need to be relieved of your emotional wound symptoms.
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 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.
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. When I discovered this grade-school wound, I phoned my mom and 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. That event and my subsequent beliefs around it, have affected my behavior around groups and especially groups of women. Telling the details to my mom was a healing experience. I am glad I received the information and used it. I am thankful for my compassionate witnesses and very happy to provide compassionate witnessing.
Every wound needs to be cleaned for it to heal. The process of exposing, then cleaning is the painful, but very necessary part of healing. 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 it, protect it or live with pain.
BUT, There's More! Tune in next week for Part 2; Healing Emotional Wounds.