When Life Falls Apart
Sometimes we encounter a moment in life where everything seems to fall apart. A marriage ends. A job no longer brings interest, or a career loses its meaning. Life in general no longer makes sense. This crisis is often accompanied by radical changes that seem to “destroy life as we know it”. We are then left to pick up the pieces and try to make sense out of what is going on.
For anyone who has suffered such an event, it usually isn’t pleasant to hear that a life crisis is actually avoidable. The natural flow of life is constant change, which is not something that most people are comfortable with and is therefore avoided. But the more resistance there is to change, the greater the chance that healthy life changes will be impeded until everything comes “crashing down” at once.
Life crises should not be considered a bad thing, especially given the fact that by the time they occur, there was already no alternative. Something had to give; it was only a matter of if the “something” would occur willingly or unwillingly. The outcome of the crisis itself is a shattering of the false foundations upon which life had been set. This crisis is actually a blessing in disguise that frees a person from old inhibitions, and allows for the person to start life anew.
The Healing Crisis
Another type of crisis which is helpful to know about is referred to as a “healing crisis”. To understand the difference, let’s use the analogy of a dam that is reaching its breaking point. In a life crisis, a dangerous situation is simply willfully ignored until the dam bursts. With a healing crisis, the dangerous situation is already acknowledged, and there is a desire to fix the situation. However, a controlled release of the water may not be possible, nor even practical.
When a client comes to do healing work, the point (from the client’s point of view) is so that he or she will feel better in some respect. But a very common issue is that people often repress their negative emotions instead of allowing them to be expressed and released. When this happens, the negative emotions build up in one’s emotional body, which negatively affects one’s emotional, mental and physical health.
Therefore, there is a likelihood that during the healing process the client will feel his or her situation become temporarily worse instead of better. The client might feel physically sick for a couple of days, especially if the healing initiates a release of toxins from the body. And a client could also experience emotional pain, due to the necessary release of “emotional toxins” from the body.
The emotional container
I often tell people to think of the body as having an emotional container. (Note that this isn’t literally true, but it is helpful to understand emotions using such an analogy.) If the emotional container is empty, you have space to fully experience the emotion that you are currently feeling. However, if the container is already full of “stuck emotions” (i.e. emotional baggage), you can no longer fully experience emotions as they occur. For example, people who are mildly depressed feel “lifeless” because their emotional containers are full and are therefore not able to feel emotions.
Filling the Container
The emotional container fills up when emotions are not properly processed. Emotions are “processed” by allowing yourself to feel them and then letting them go without attachment. To feel an emotion, your body must be relaxed. Tensing of the body (which commonly occurs when someone is angry, for instance) causes the emotion to become stuck in the emotional container.
Alternatively, becoming attached to positive emotions also causes problems. In general, we allow ourselves to experience a positive emotion, but then we also desire to feel that emotion again. And when we are unable to fulfill our desire of experiencing positive emotions all the time, our emotional container becomes filled with frustration, impatience, disappointment, annoyance, etc.
Healthy Expression of Emotions
Many people comment that they are scared of expressing negative emotions because they don’t want to hurt anybody. What we tend to ignore is the fact that it is very much possible to express our emotions in a way that doesn’t harm others. Unfortunately, we as humans find ourselves very vulnerable when expressing emotions in a healthy way, so we therefore do it in an unhealthy manner instead.
For example: let’s imagine that a friend says something mean to us. Our immediate reaction would be hurt, followed by anger. We would definitely want to retaliate in some way. We could say something mean in return, or (if we are self-righteous about the situation) we could decide to stop talking to our friend for a while.
In both choices, what we failed to do was express the hurt that we felt from what the friend told us. Instead, we covered up the hurt with anger. What we could have done instead was say something like: “Oh, you know what? I don’t know if you were trying to be mean, but that hurt me when you said that.”
Now, that kind of reaction is not something that is easy to do. If we were to act this way, we would be admitting that we are vulnerable, and that we can be hurt. We have to admit that we are human. And the more insecure and vulnerable we are, the more likely it is that somebody can hurt us. And the more insecure we are, the less we want to admit to being vulnerable.
Processing a Major Healing Crisis
In some cases, the emotional release that occurs during a healing crisis can be extremely painful. But understanding the process ahead of time can help you immensely useful. It is somewhat akin to having a child. If you know ahead of time what to expect, you will not be as frightened as if you were going through the birthing process without a clue as to what was happening to you.
The following are key steps that you can use to help get you through an extremely intense healing crisis:
Step 1: Realize what is happening
Know the signs of an emotional release, which include:
- Extreme emotional pain, which can often be felt in physical areas of the body. For example, heaviness in the chest (or difficulty breathing), pain around the shoulder, face, and head, etc.
- Self-attack thoughts such as not being worthy, being ashamed of one’s actions, and possibly even thoughts of ending one’s life
- There is also sometimes a strong sense of injustice or unfairness of having to feel such pain. I.e., a strong belief that one shouldn’t have to suffer from such pain and that it is some sort of cruel punishment. It’s a sense of “how can a loving God let me suffer like this.”
Step 2: Relax the body
Do this by taking deep breaths. Holding one’s breath tenses the body and literally “holds in” emotions, preventing their release. Visualize or feel where the emotions are physically in your body. You can also set an intention to release the emotions on your out-breaths.
Step 3: Express the emotion
Sometimes it is enough to feel the painful emotion and feel it leave. Other times, the emotions must be fully expressed in order to be released. I.e., it is important to figure out what caused the pain in the first place
This can be problematic, because it is rarely initially obvious what caused the pain. The whole point of burying our emotions is so we wouldn’t have to deal with the issue that was causing the pain. So now we need to face the consequences, and own up to what is truly hurting us.
One strategy I’ve successfully used for finding the source of emotional pain is to simply have a rambling monologue with myself. I will curse everything I can think of until the answer appears. For example, here is an “excerpt” of a conversation I had with myself while going through an emotional release:
“I can’t believe this! I don’t understand why this pain is here, and why I am going through this. This is crazy. I hate this pain and I curse God for making me sit through this pain. And I hate my life and I hate you for leaving me. Oh!”
In reality, it took a bit longer to come to the source of the pain, but I arrived there eventually. And as soon as I said “for leaving me” I realized that this was anger I was carrying about my wife divorcing me. Because I had already released a lot of emotions dealing with this situation, it was surprising to find out that there was still more pain to be expressed.
Another useful strategy is to include physical action with your monologue. You could try pounding the bed mattress with your fists or a tennis racket. Or you could hold a thick towel in your hands and slowly twist it in an effort to wring out your anger and pain.
If you are having trouble finding the source of the pain, you can still help the emotion express itself. Two strategies for doing this: (1) make a sound out loud that conveys how you think the emotion feels to you. It may be a groan, scream, etc. (2) Visualize the emotion as a person, and describe to yourself how that person looks.
Note: when you are expressing the emotions as part of an emotional release, you should do so in a private place where you will not be distracted by others.
Step 4: Letting go
The next step is often something that will naturally occur once the source of the pain is established. I call it letting go, but it is generally the point at which a person breaks down and cries. Once again: because it shows how vulnerable we truly our, crying is not one of mankind’s favorite activities. It actually can take a lot of courage to allow ourselves to cry, especially if we haven’t done it in a while.
But the benefits of crying for the purposes of emotional release cannot be underestimated. The act of crying usually includes a physical shaking of our bodies, which helps us to let go of the negative “junk” that we had been holding in for so long. It can be surprising how much better your body feels after a period of simply letting it all go.
The Personal Healing Journey
Everybody in life has their own unique experiences, and as a result one’s healing processes will also be unique. Perhaps for one person, a single emotional release is all that is necessary for completion. For another, it may take several months or even years to fully process and let go of everything that has been kept inside. Therefore, when going into the healing process it is important not to have expectations about what should happen, or for how long. Instead, the most important thing in the healing process is to be gentle on yourself.
You have already suffered a lot of pain, and you are now willing to face what you couldn’t in the past in order to turn your life around. Don’t try to rush through the process. Give yourself and your emotions the respect and time they deserve. Everything will be healed in its own time and its own way. All that is needed from you is the willingness and courage to start down your journey of self-healing. And when you start this path, know that the life that you always dreamed of lies ahead of you.