Finding the Courage to Feel and Heal

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Juli Fyfe, Registered Psychotherapist 

This past year and a half have been incredibly challenging for all of us. Most of us really hoped and prayed that 2021 would be a completely new year with no covid and for many it has been worse. 

Did you know that the coronavirus pandemic meets the seven preconditions for a trauma response? 

  • Lack of predictability (the variants have changed the game),
  • Immobility (stay at home, don’t travel or visit with others),
  • Loss of connection (family, friends and work colleagues, only virtual), 
  • Numbing or spacing out (what do I really feel? nothing?), 
  • Loss of sense of time and sequence (Brain fog, what day is it? It’s slipper day again),
  • Loss of safety (the threat is real),
  • Loss of purpose (I cannot do the things I love or that are meaningful)

So how are you really feeling?

Sometimes feeling numb or frozen, can feel like symptoms of depression, so we do what culture has told us: keep trying to push on through. 

We live in a culture that prioritizes ‘happiness’ and does not seem to accept feeling less than happy as okay.  This can make it hard for people to recognize that we actually do sometimes need help.  Many people believe asking for help is a weakness, but as we now know, it is the exact opposite.

It is exactly courage and strength that are required to be vulnerable and fully human.

I grew up with the lesson that I should smile and sing, even under difficulty. Part of this served me well; it kept me focused on having a positive outlook and keeping ‘strong’ and yet this also made it really hard to recognize and process emotions.

It was more like fake it until you make it. THIS is what leads us excessive stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. 

Strength and courage are not about being stoic. 

It takes courage to give yourself the permission to actually feel ​your emotions.  It’s also hard to name emotions.  We are used to saying I’m good, I’m busy, or even using labels like I’m anxious.

In fact, we have the capacity to have multiple emotions at the same time. We can feel excited or grateful, while other parts may feel nervous or scared.

The Gottman Wheel of Emotion helps identify the complexities of what we might be experiencing in the moment. 

Gottman Feeling Wheel, developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox.

Gottman Feeling Wheel, developed by Dr. Gloria Willcox. We can see, “anger” isn’t simply anger, but perhaps what’s underneath it includes frustration, or humiliation? Maybe disrespect. Jealous. Violated.

​On the flip side of the wheel, “happy” might include playful, trusting or proud. And deeper than that, might be curious, joyful or hopeful. 

Sorting out what the emotion is, directs us toward how we might address something that needs addressing, so we can be freer.  But as you might suspect, it’s easier said than done. 

​Where does courage live?

And where are emotions felt?​

Courage lives in the heart. 

Our emotions are physically experienced throughout our body, most especially from the neck down.

​It’s not uncommon to not actually know how you are feeling, when asked, “how are you?”.  Clients often tell me what they think, when I ask them how they feel

It’s time to get out of our heads, and back into our bodies.

Our bodies hold the emotions, even when our head refuses to identify them. When we don’t tune into our bodies, our body will patient wait until it’s time to let us know.

You might have heard the phrase, “the body keeps the score”, but did you know it’s backed by science?  When our heads don’t pay attention to the chronic stress we are under (head says don’t give up, plow through), our bodies have a way of slowing us down, due to the very real automatic nervous system responses that keep us functioning whether we consciously think about it or not. (You don’t have to tell your body to breathe, or digest, it just does it). 

Stress or stress responses get processed automatically, and may later show up as back pain, headaches, chest pains, insomnia, and even nausea (it’s saying, hey you, pay attention to me!).  

​Learning to identify and locate emotions is a big part of processing them.  This too takes courage. 

What about past traumas?

While our body (including our brain) has a natural capacity to heal, if that natural healing process is interrupted by something very troubling, the effects of that potential trauma don’t get to resolve in the usual way, and may stick with us for weeks, months, years, and even decades.

We may not be able to clearly place the explicit or disjointed memories that surface from time to time.  Our bodies involuntary monitoring system recognizes something that was coded as a for a need for increased safety, due to an old threat its recognized.  In this way, our nervous system holds the response to the old trauma alive in our bodies and emotions today … in somewhat of a vain effort to keep us safe.

As a result, we may face harmless reminders related to the original situation and experience a vey real physiological response of a rapid heart rate, increased vigilance.

​If our brain doesn’t know how to deal with this signal, it will tell itself whatever story makes sense – often one that results in continued shame, sometimes rage, and pain.

A helpful mantra is: story follows state.

​Meaning, the story our brains make up, is done to make sense of the state of our nervous system. 

Therefore, it’s the physiological state  we need to deal with first. (That’s why your therapist keeps asking you where you feel it in your body.)

While you might have tried to do this work alone, it’s actually being alone that makes it almost impossible to deal with, especially if the traumatic thing happened within the confines of a relationship. 


Relational trauma is healed within a relationship. And we know trauma to be the result of disconnection, therefore re-connection lights a clear path forward. 

As we all collectively emerge from our various cocoon’s of the past 16 months, the team at Dig A Little Deeper are here to support you as you give yourself permission to feel and heal, despite the fear. 

More Resources

The Dig Deeper Recommended Book List – no matter where you might be on your journey, there is some fantastic summer reading here for you. ​Check out the different types off therapy offered by the very diverse team at Dig A Little Deeper. We are always happy to answer your questions. Looking for some relaxation and self-compassion? Check out one of our fav colleagues, Mindy Bilotta’sSelf-Compassion Meditation, that we love to share with our clients. Looking for some covid19 specific resources for coping?

Ready for 1:1, live support? 

If you prefer talking to a human to help find the right therapist for you,
Call 905-584-8963,
or email admin@digalittledeeper.ca
You can expect a reply within 24-48 hours, Mon-Fri, during regular business hours.

References

Fisher, J. (2021). Transforming the living legacy of trauma: a workbook for survivors and therapists. PESI Publishing & Media. 

Wilcox, G. (2020, December 22). The Feeling Wheel – Couples. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/printable-feeling-wheel/. 

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.

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Picture of Juli Fyfe, H. BSc. MACP

Juli Fyfe, H. BSc. MACP

Registered Psychotherapist Juli is a therapist with DALD, and has a particular interest in Eating Disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, helping support caregivers, who have family members with Alzheimers Disease, any type of cancer or Rare Disease, and general mental health disorders.  ​Visit Juli's bio to learn more, or book a free consult with her. 

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