Kathleen Denison, M.A., Spiritual Director
In my work as a spiritual director and as a hypnotherapist I have helped trauma survivors connect to spiritual resources using guided imagery in order to begin to bring healing to their painful memories. These may have been moments of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, or neglect when they felt terror, powerlessness or humiliation. All survivors, and those of us who have been emotionally and physically hurt, find ways to protect ourselves from the pain, anxiety, or discomfort. In order to survive an intolerable situation, we bury the pain, numb the feelings, and try move on with our lives.
But the wounds are still alive in us, even though they were buried. Valuable energy congregates around these wounds to protect us from feeling the pain again, and to keep us from what we most fear might be true about us. The wound is usually encapsulated by shame, because we falsely believe that we are responsible for what happened, and that the experience proves that we are not worth loving. Often, the person who was hurt, at whatever age, is still there hurting and alone, feeling defective in some way. This younger self is forgotten and abandoned, for we fear getting close to the pain and rationalize that there is no reason to go back to it.
Part of the healing of memory process is to help the hurting one unthaw from the frozen feelings. Numbing out, disassociation, or minimization of the seriousness of what happened, are all creative ways that we were able to cope with the pain. The more we were hurt, the more frequently we had to make use of these tactics in order to survive. This was necessary and a great gift to us from our protective psyche. Yet to move to where the hurt is, we need to extend compassion towards the one who was hurt, and acknowledge, rather than discount, the hurt that was endured.
One of the ways to revisit the hurt is to encourage the imager to go back into the scene as it happened then. The imager is encouraged to recreate the circumstances of the pain and to experience those original feelings by becoming the younger self. A Loving Spiritual Presence, (such as Jesus, Mary, an angel, or light-filled Presence), or perhaps the adult self of the imager, is invited into the scene to listen to the feelings of the hurting one. A genuine compassion and acceptance needs to be extended to the hurting one so that it is safe enough to feel the feelings and a thawing out process can begin. The word “genuine” is important here because the hurting one can immediately sense what is real and safe, and what is unreal and unsafe. Consistency and authenticity, therefore, are essential in order to develop a trust between the compassionate one (who is invited into the scene) and the hurting one. A Loving Spiritual Presence can be invaluable, when invited to be part of this process, for the Loving Presence can offer an acceptance of whatever feelings emerge and a consistent compassion. Oftentimes we are too conflicted to be able to extend this compassion unconditionally to ourselves.
Once the feelings of the hurting one have been felt and the feelings have been received by a Loving Presence, or by the compassionate one within us, we can begin to help the hurting one be released from fear and powerlessness. This next step involves a reenactment of the debilitating experience in a way that is empowering for the one who felt victimized. The scene is replayed, but the Loving Presence is invited to change the situation. This can be accomplished in a couple of different ways.
In one instance the scene begins to be replayed as it happened and the Loving Presence intervenes. Usually the Loving Presence will express outrage at how the hurting one is being treated and then will stop the abuse completely. The Loving Presence confronts the perpetrators, and the needs of the hurting one are then lovingly and gently addressed. This is more than the imagination at play, and is not scripted. When the Loving Presence is invited into the scene a new interaction takes place. The hurting one, who was never protected before, can now experience how it feels to be protected.
This raises questions about where the Loving Presence was when the victimization occurred and why the abusive or hurtful situation was not stopped then. The feelings about this need to be honestly expressed to the Loving Presence and eventually the hurting one may come to understand that in this human experience evil is permitted. The
Loving Presence, or the Divine, does not usually stop the abusers or intervene because that would be a violation of the perpetrator’s free will, which is primary. What can be changed is how we perceive what happened, changing our relationship to the pain. What the Loving Presence can stop now is a continuation of the neglect or negativity within us. The hurting one, frozen in time, only knows fear and powerlessness. The hurt keeps repeating itself unconsciously, even though it happened many years ago. But now with a Loving Presence one can travel back in time and unfreeze the situation. If the hurtful scene and one’s relationship to it is changed, then the hurting one within can begin to face the fear, take back his or her personal power, and develop a sense of self-worth.
Another method for helping to empower the hurting one is to invite the Loving Presence to become whatever was needed in the situation. For example, a tyrannical father is replaced by a kind and loving male presence that provides genuine caring as a new scene is enacted. The new father spends time and shows real concern for the child in ways the child has possibly never experienced. Or perhaps the Loving Presence replaces an indifferent mother and provides the child or adult with a new model of mothering. These enactments are extremely powerful and serve to open the heart of the one who has been so neglected. Often they can unlock deep grief, because the survivor begins to feel the loss of what he or she never received or experienced before. It is one thing to identify the pain or abuse and even begin to feel the feelings, but the enactments serve to replace the hurting one’s emptiness with a new nurturing reality. A deep void is filled with love.
The healing of memory process is very transformative because it frees up new energy and allows us to bring love and healing to all aspects of ourselves. Just as negative experiences helped to fashion our sense of self, new loving experiences can help us to see ourselves through the eyes of love. We can come to know first hand that each part of us is worthy of love. Every negative experience can be the sacred ground where love finds us, honors us, and opens us to more love. Drawing upon our imaginative abilities and the power of a spiritual presence, we can begin to discover our true sense of value and we can begin to experience our infinite worth.