Starting the Journey to Self-Healing
Trust that sooner or later, you’ll arrive at the destination that you’re seeking.
What is self-healing anyway? And why is it important? I’m glad you asked. You see, there’s evidence that since the day we are conceived till our last breath, our bodies will hold a collection of emotional wounds. This collection starts at a cellular level. The thoughts and trauma that our mother holds onto will dictate the emotions she feels. Her emotions are coded and expressed by the proteins all throughout her body. In other words, her emotions are manifested in a cellular manner. This cellular manifestation becomes the environment where we initially grow and develop. Essentially, what she feels, we’ll feel. But it’s not just about emotions. The word she uses to express her thoughts. The behaviors and habits she engages in. The perceptions she holds about the world. In one way or another, before or after our birth, we’ll slowly absorb. And for those who come into the world and lose their mother at some young age, they’ll often pick up the cellular signals of their mother when they were in the womb but absorb everything else from those around them. Their father, grandparents, foster parents, siblings, adopted siblings.
However, this transmission of cellular trauma also has a genetic component. Because trauma can be stored in the cells, we may receive it during conception from both our mother and father. Any genes being activated that may signal past hardships may be expressed in the child as well, even if they never experience a trauma of a similar kind.
The day of our birth is considered a universal trauma that we all share. We go from what feels comfortable, safe, and known to an environment that is unknown, cold, bright, or loud. Our head is slightly crushed as we’re pushed out and our first breath is often painful as our lungs open up for the first time. Our heart stops as we’re pushed out. We feel the air and see light for the first time in our lives. Sounds are no longer muffled murmurs but pitched tones. And perhaps a part of us knows that things won’t be the same.
Then comes the real trouble. For some, this happens right away depending on how aberrated our parents may be. For others, it’s subtle and not as common, but yet we’ll experience some form of constant trauma as we grow up. Each time we’re neglected. Each time our feelings are subsided. Each time we’re put down. Each need that isn’t met. Each misunderstanding. Each rejection. Each loss of autonomy. All become wounds to our child self. We collect these wounds, usually unconsciously. They build our perception of what the world is like and how we should go about protecting ourselves. We begin to pick up the way the adults around us speak to each other. How they manage themselves when under pressure. How they approach or try to solve problems. The way they cope when distressed. Anything and everything that can be a hint or a clue to how we should be in the world is recorded. Not necessarily because we want to be like our parents, but because we’re wired with the unconscious program that in order to survive, we must be like everyone else around us. We must walk like them. Talk like them. Think like them. Eat like them. Believe what they believe in and perceive how they perceive things. Perhaps the logic behind it is that if what has been practiced before our existence has led to our creation, then it will ultimately lead to our survival. Even if the behaviors, thoughts, habits, or beliefs are maladaptive or eventually harmful to our well-being.
When taking on the journey to self-healing, there are common emotional wounds that we all collect. Although your path to healing will be different from everyone else's, these common emotional wounds may be a good place to start. With tackling these first, you’ll set the foundational basis which the rest of your healing will follow.
Negative emotions are often uncomfortable to handle, even for trained mental health professionals. For those who had parents that were short-tempered, frequently distressed or overwhelmed, or didn’t have a good handle of their own emotions, your emotions may have been invalidated or undermined whenever you tried to express them. If you cried, you were asked to stop. If you were upset, you were asked to go somewhere else. If you felt scared or uncomfortable, you had been pushed off or told to manage on your own.
Some parents believe that they’re doing their child a favor by neglecting these emotional tokens. But the reality is, the child will more often than not, unconsciously learn that what they feel is not important and that it is not safe to feel. These children will grow up not knowing how to handle their emotions and may become more emotionally reactive than rationally responsive. Children whose parents validated their emotions learn how to self-regulate and eventually how to cope on their own to efficiently manage their emotions. They learn that it’s okay to feel and have uncomfortable emotions.
If you’re learning how to manage and truly feel your emotions, you must first need to learn what healthy management and coping look like. Even though having emotions is very human, the way we cope with them is not always as intuitive. We like comfort and sometimes we’ll trade short-term gratification for long-term benefits. Therefore, it’s best to have a set of tools that you can rely on whenever you become overwhelmed in processing or feeling your emotions.
Another great way to start this process is by learning how to listen to yourself. Maybe you’re a very somatic feeler and so your emotions are manifested as sensations in the body. Maybe you’re more narrative, and so your emotions submerge as thoughts. Learn how your body communicates with you and lean into these signals instead of trying to hide away from them. Listen to them and act accordingly as a way to validate your own emotions.
What to Believe
On average, most of us were taught our parent’s culture and beliefs, and societal norms. We were told how we should act, how to dress, and how to perceive and think about the world. In other words, we’re shaped and molded to fit the square peg those around us created. Unfortunately, in the households that follow this strictly, unique abilities and talents are often underappreciated. Different ways of thinking and radical changes of perception are often frowned open. “Why change things if everything has turned out just fine” is often the argument. The issue is, these are subtle signals that communicate to a child that the core of who they are, everything that makes them unique and special is nothing to cheer for. They must learn to fit in and follow everyone’s lead. And because we’re wired to survive, we’ll usually blindly adhere and never earn our stripes.
In households where the child is encouraged to explore the world and define their own beliefs, the child will often develop strong self-esteem and a sense of confidence. They’ll engage with the world in a curious manner. They’ll try to understand how their unique selves can interplay and interact with everything around them.
In starting the process for yourself in learning what you would like to believe in, how you want to think about and perceive the world, and find how you fit into everything around you, begin by simply being curious. Explore what is out there. See for yourself what you find interesting or what naturally calls you. Accept what makes you different from everyone else and learn to not be afraid of those differences. Try to understand how all the unique parts of you can make the world a little better.
Loss of Autonomy
Perhaps the parents were never home. Perhaps the parents were always busy. Perhaps other external pressures or sources of instability forced the child to follow certain ways of living outside of what they wanted. They were never asked how they wanted things to go or how they wanted to do things. They were never asked how they wanted to approach a problem nor were they given the option to share their opinion about the world. Everything was set and done without any real consideration of the child’s point of view. With this, the child may start to lose some of their autonomy because they were never given the space to be expressive and be heard. They may become afraid to share their opinions and views because they never seemed to matter to anyone else before.
Children that are often asked questions about how they think the world works and how they want to approach situations build autonomy. They’re guided to seeing that what they have to say and the trajectory they want to follow is important. In being seen and heard, their intuition and perception of the world are validated.
If you’re looking to build your autonomy, start by engaging in activities where you’re given autonomy. Perhaps you can join a program or support group where you create your own trajectory of healing and self-development. Perhaps you take some time off away from your current responsibilities and plan out a few days that follow how you want them to go. In addition to building autonomy, you may also need to work on being more assertive and confident in what you say.
Many parents “use” their children as a way to meet their needs. A common one is usually emotional needs. The parent may feel underappreciated or undervalued and therefore try to find validation in how their children respond to them. Or perhaps they feel that the world is unsafe and unpredictable, and therefore try to keep utter control of their children’s whereabouts just to have a feel of certainty. In other words, their children become the sense of safety and security they hold on dearly to.
The issue with this is that their children’s needs get pushed aside. The child’s desire to explore the world, to be curious about the unknown, to figure out their potential, all become neglected because they’re not in line with the parents’ needs. The child’s needs may not even exist in the equation. Quietly, the child may come to feel resentful or powerless. They have a difficult time finding who they are and what they want in life because that kind of thinking was never allowed or encouraged. And these people may develop a sense of insecurity in their own persona.
Children who often had their needs met feel more secure of themselves. They usually know what they want and how to meet their needs. They know what to ask for when they themselves can’t meet a need. They set healthy boundaries and are aware of their capacity when helping others.
If you’re learning how to understand your own needs and how to meet them, begin with the basics. Do you have a place to stay where you can access food, water, clothing? Do you feel secure and safe? Do you have a source of nurture and comfort? From there, you can extend to other, more sophisticated needs. A famous outline of this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It comes to show how what we need is not always simple as we may think.
Healing is not a path explored by many. It’s time-consuming. Painful. Frustrating. You may feel that you’re falling short of everything or that there will always be a long way to go. But if you set the right intention for yourself, trust that sooner or later, you’ll arrive at the destination that you’re seeking. The emotional wounds mentioned above are some of the most common. But there are many more, often intertwined with these, that should be uncovered and worked on as well. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of keeping faith till you arrive.
Côté-Lecaldare, Marilena & Joussemet, Mireille & Dufour, Sarah. (2016). How to Support Toddlers’ Autonomy: A Qualitative Study With Child Care Educators. Early Education and Development. 27. 1–19. 10.1080/10409289.2016.1148482.
Henriques, M. (2019). Can the legacy of trauma be passed down the generations? Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190326-what-is-epigenetics
Verdult, R. (2009). Cesarean birth: Psychological aspects in babies. Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine, 21(1), 2, 29–41.
Woolverton, F. (2011). Are we born into trauma? Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-trauma-addiction-connection/201109/are-we-born-trauma
The need for validation and the consequences of invalidation. (2020). Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://khironclinics.com/blog/invalidation/