I don’t trust insight.
Lots of therapists think that they have to help their clients develop insight. They believe that once clients understand what’s really happening, their problems will magically dissolve. Once people become consciously aware of what’s causing their problems, they’ll solve their problems as they arise and never require another therapy session, ever.
That’s the standard thinking.
In my experience, insight does nothing of the sort. In fact, telling someone something before they’re ready to hear it sometimes seeds an idea, but it won’t change how people act until they’ve already changed something at a more profound level and reached the insight on their own.
That’s why I predict this blog post will dud. If you’ve worked with me, then you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about and reading this’ll make sense of your experience in new ways. It may even help you break through if you haven’t already.
If you haven’t worked with me yet, you’re more likely to conclude that I don’t understand you. You’ll think I’m full of shit, have no empathy, and just like blaming the victim.
(If you make it through this post and we haven’t worked together yet, I can show you not only how I came to these conclusions, but how to use them to really help transform people’s lives, step by step, along with the science to back up what I say here. I can completely change the results you’re getting in therapy, but only if you’re willing.)
So here’s the big insight:
Other people haven’t really hurt you.
Yes, I agree, they’ve done awful stuff. They’ve misunderstood you, neglected you, exploited you, and even abused you. You’ve been trying to get over what happened at their hands for years. I understand that.
But that’s not what hurt you, not then and certainly not now.
Here’s what really happened. By and large, people are born with their autonomic nervous systems in balance. Both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches are working at about equal intensity. When they’re in balance, people feel good—very good. This is how your body’s functioning when you feel love, compassion, equanimity, or tranquility.
(I said “by and large” because autonomic set points are conditioned before children are born, during the intrauterine period. They’re set from the birth mother’s. Maternal hormones help most pregnant women feel peaceful and tranquil, and their children are born pretty balanced. Some women are highly distraught or depressed, though, and their newborn children often reflect that. And that doesn’t even touch on the pregnant women who are abusing drugs.)
Humans’ natural emotional state is peace, compassion, and empathy. Then they encounter the routine relationship ruptures and traumas of childhood. This results in emotional pain that throws the nervous system out of balance. The small child doesn’t fight—she freezes.
The parasympathetic nervous system takes over.
As long as the adults help her regulate her emotions effectively, these incidents have no lasting impact. The problem is, the adults never help regulate all of her emotions effectively. Maybe the adults have problems with those same emotions. Maybe the adults incited the emotions. Maybe the adults have personality disorders.
It doesn’t matter—there will be painful emotions that go unregulated.
These parasympathetic emotional reactions feel like a hole in the heart. They hurt like hell. Depending on the emotion, they can feel like stabbing, burning or throbbing.
Here’s where it gets tough. As children, the tendency is to expect the adult to come back around and love us the way we want. We depend on their love to help regulate us. Because of our sensitivity, their balanced nervous systems balance ours. We need their love to help us feel safe.
Extreme parasympathetic pain feels like we might die. In fact, people do sometimes die when their parasympathetic system gets overly active—their heart spontaneously quits beating. Given this, the belief that we’d die wasn’t crazy—it was just mistaken. We all go through it and it hurts for everybody, but it’s rarely lethal.
Usually the adults help regulate our emotional pain. Often, especially when they perpetrate abuse or have a personality disorder, they don’t. The child is stuck with that hole in her heart, the one that develops into the core pain she either wallows in or does everything to avoid.
Wallowing is easy, if painful. Adopting a victim mentality continues the wallowing. Wallowing keeps her frozen. Holding onto the pain and the victim identity, sometimes consciously done to keep from feeling like she’s letting the offender off the hook, keeps her stuck in this pain indefinitely.
The flip side involves activating the sympathetic nervous system.
When the SNS takes over, she moves from freezing/wallowing into fight/flight stress responses. That feels better, but craving, anger, and pride can only take her so far. She’s moved from the pain zone to the defensive zone, but she’s still stuck.
Most people bounce back and forth between parasympathetic and sympathetic states for years. They feel the pain, rage or get high (or maybe both), settle down or straighten up, and feel the pain again. They do this in endless cycles that never allow them to move forward.
Growth comes from rebalancing the nervous system. This usually requires help from a therapist. Our lower viscera begins to rebalance first. We develop courage and enter the treatment zone, where change again becomes possible. As we continue, willingness and acceptance develop as the viscera continues to rebalance.
After a time, the brain also begins rebalancing, Rationality increases, and creativity and flow states become possible. The first hints of insight develop. This marks the upper limits of the treatment zone.
This is the second place people get stuck. They get into the treatment zone, but almost never progress farther. They’re taught how to cope with their pain and adapt to their cycles, but they don’t heal. They’re not shown how to rebalance because their therapists never learned how to do this themselves.
Almost nobody gets past the treatment zone.
That would require rebalancing the heart, which is last to rebalance. Rebalancing the heart requires reopening the old pain and transforming it. Hanging onto the old parasympathetic pain keeps the heart from balancing.
As much as that old pain needs balance, it’s heavily defended. The adult still believes at some level that it’s strong enough to kill her. Getting close to it triggers her to fire into a sympathetic defensive reaction. Full blown stress mode. It’s up to the therapist to establish the relationship and expectations that prevent this from thwarting treatment before they ever approach the pain.
This lack of heart balance is why so many people fail at spiritual practice—they want to meditate their way into a loving state without going back to the original pain. Their pain scares them, and the same immature part of them that never grew past the age of the original incident still believes that they can magically grow past it without ever examining it again.
That’s also why so many people fall for magical “solutions” like tapping. It’s easier to tap than face your pain. It just isn’t as effective. Tapping wears off. It may balance the nervous system in the short term, but the buried emotion unbalances it again and again until it’s addressed directly.
People are afraid of their pain because the last time they faced it they needed an adult to help them regulate it and there were no competent adults available and willing to help them. They don’t trust anyone to be there now. They just desperately want to feel whole again.
Because they’ve never allowed themselves to examine their pain since the original experience, they’ve never assimilated their original conclusions about it into more grownup ways of thinking. They still think it’s bigger than they are, and they still blame their parents for causing it and not making it go away.
The reality is, once you’re an adult you can take care of it, or someone else who knows what they’re doing (like a good ADEPT-trained therapist) can help you take care of it.
The original painful experience can be rebalanced.
Once it is, an interesting thing happens. Your heart starts spontaneously rebalancing. You return to loving and compassionate states for longer and longer periods. You start forgiving others, including your parents. You start recognizing your own bullshit and how you’ve kept yourself stuck. You realize you need to forgive yourself, too.
Because you finally realize the biggest lie of all, the one that really helped keep you stuck for so many years. The Disney lie. The rom-com lie. The great Western romantic lie. The pervasive societal lie that every single television commercial and magazine ad exploits to sell you products you don’t really need.
The lie that we need others’ love, and that our enduring pain was caused by our not receiving it.
Because once you rebalance your heart, you realize the truth, the insight I warned you about when you first started reading this piece. The one you might not be ready to believe yet.
That pain you’ve been carrying around wasn’t there because someone else didn’t love you. It was there because after they did whatever they did, you decided you wouldn’t love anyone who treated you that way, at least until they changed or did something to make it back up to you.
They didn’t cut off the love. You did.
And that’s what’s been hurting so much for all this time. That’s what caused that pain in your heart.
Once you rebalance yourself and start loving other people again, unconditionally, it won’t matter what they do.
Once you get over your belief that you need someone to love you a particular way, you’ll notice that love is everywhere.
Once you let love start flowing through you again, you’ll never have problems with how others love you, or with how well you love yourself. You’ll realize that love never started with you or with anyone else, and it never ends. It’s everywhere, and it’s what connects everything.
Our natural state involves allowing it to flow freely through us and between us. Anything that prevents this is pathology.
Love will burn a hole in you if you try to keep it from flowing.
To feel complete, you don’t need to be loved by someone else, or even by yourself. You need to become loving once again, completely and unconditionally, towards everybody. It’s easier than it sounds.
But it won’t happen until you’ve faced your old pain and rebalanced it.
I can show you how.
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