[00:00] – Introduction
[0:45] – The difference between coping and healing
[03:54] – Why your brain interprets healing as a threat
[06:00] – How fear might manifest as very reasonable excuses not to heal
[10:20] – Why you should consider healing now even if it doesn’t seem like the ideal time
[11:48] – How you can work with your nervous system to face the fear
[12:26] – Why love and compassion can be used to calm yourself so you can move forward
[14:12] – A power set of exercises using love and fear move forward
Quotes + Episode Excerpts:
“The thing that protects you is also the thing that holds you back.” Mastin Kipp
“As time goes by, the coping methods feel less and less effective. And you need more and more of them. That’s because coping methods are only meant to be a short term help, not a long term solution.”
“It might seem like the reasonable thing to put healing on hold during tough times. Maybe it is reasonable. But when will life be easier if you don’t heal? How long will you wait for life to cooperate? How long will you put your life in the hands of circumstances instead of taking control of your own life? There is a myth or illusion that ‘someday’ or ‘in the future’ your time will open up. The reality is you have to make the time, and often cut something else out or say no so you can do the things that will matter the most in the long run.”
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Welcome to the Overcoming Sexual Abuse podcast where you get the tools and inspiration to help you overcome childhood sexual abuse. I’m your host, Christina Enevoldsen, certified coach, author and incest survivor, and I’m here to help you heal and live your very best life!
If you’ve experienced the fear about facing your past, and find yourself avoiding the real work of healing, this is for you. I’ll show you why it feels impossible to move past the fear. I’ll give you some very powerful and practical steps to take so you can get on with your healing and life.
The experience of being sexually abused as a child feels a lot like drowning. You’re fighting to keep your head above water, struggling to get from one day to the next. You’re a child alone. You don’t understand what’s happening. You don’t have words for your experience. You feel shame, confusion, pain.
So you grab onto creative coping methods, which is a lot like a raft. The raft is so much better than not having the raft. But there’s a tiny hole in the raft. As time goes by, the coping methods feel less and less effective. And you need more and more of them. That’s because coping methods are only meant to be a short term help, not a long term solution. The raft can’t take much weight or pressure and you never really feel that safe. But you haven’t died either so that’s something.
And then the boat of healing comes along and the boat promises to take you to solid ground, dry land. You have the chance to get on the boat but it’s really scary to let go of the raft. You don’t know about the boat. You don’t know about dry land. All you know is the raft.
And maybe, even though the boat is there to help you, it seems kind of threatening so you don’t know whether to grab ahold of it or push it away. So you’re stuck between wanting to get on the boat and not wanting to get on the boat.
You might notice this pattern, not just in healing, but in anything new. We follow this same push and pull pattern when we venture into anything unfamiliar. This dynamic might show up in a new relationship, a different city you move to or another level of growth.
It’s important to recognize that there is always that tension of the push and pull. That’s not an abuse survivor thing; that’s a human thing.
There’s the part of you that wants to expand and explore and feel fulfilled and wants adventure and possibility and potential. And that’s what healing gives you. Or maybe you can’t think of all of that yet. Maybe for now, you’re more interested in simply being out of pain. That’s your idea of the promised land. Whether it’s fulfillment or just being out to pain, there’s a part of you that is really tired of how things have been. That part of you is eager for the boat.
And then there’s another part of you, the subconscious part of your brain, that is only interested in the raft. It’s not interested in improvement; it’s passionate about survival. In fact, its only job is to keep you alive.
That’s the part of you that found the raft in the first place. It gave you coping methods to get you through. And those coping methods worked well enough because, if you notice, you’re still alive.
Once a pattern or habit is established, your brain files that as survival and hangs onto it as though it’s life or death. So the brain interprets change as death. That part considers unfamiliar or new things as dangerous.
Even if the present circumstances aren’t ideal, they are safe enough that you survived yesterday. And it knows what to expect in the present circumstances and that level certainty gives it a sense of safety. It chooses survivable over optimal.
So it’s going to fight for the status quo. It’s desperate NOT to change. Which means it wants you to stay on the raft.
It’s doing its job to keep you safe, so it’s already looking at possible risks to healing. It looks for possible threats. Not only that, it discounts how it might be safe or better. That’s not relevant to it.
There are a lot of unknowns in healing if you’ve never done it before. There’s the general unknown of not knowing what you don’t know. When you’ve only known abuse and dysfunction and pain and running from symptoms, it’s very difficult to imagine living whole and free and happy.
How will healing impact your relationships?
What will it require of you?
How will you deal with the pain?
Is there a real you under there somewhere?
Whether you’re consciously considering those questions or not, that part of you that keeps you alive, your subconscious part of your brain, is already calculating them.
When you think about the healing, it’s unfamiliar. Unknown. Uncertain. And when your subconscious faces those things, it sets off a fear alarm to warn you against doing anything unsafe.
“The thing that protects you is also the thing that holds you back.” Mastin Kipp
You might recognize your response of fear when it comes to your healing.
What’s funny is that it doesn’t always feel like fear. It very often wears a mask of something else, something very reasonable that keeps you from taking the necessary steps forward.
Drama. Interruptions. Distractions.
You get sick. Your child gets in trouble at school. You have a plumbing emergency.
You get a sudden urge to learn French or clean out your garage.
You get a “better” idea about your next step in healing. You tell yourself, “Yes I need to heal, but first I need to know more about it, read another book, wait for my kids to get older, wait until I’m not so busy, wait until I retire.
Resistance hides behind being “responsible” and getting lost in the obligations of daily life. Taxes, carpools, laundry…
Sometimes resistance comes from outside as criticisms or complaints. Loved ones telling you that you aren’t spending enough time with them or that “you’ve changed”.
Resistance is always there, offering “better” or “easier”.
And all of that sounds so logical and it gives you an easy out for not healing. It’s not a “no” to healing; it’s a “not yet”.
Just notice those aren’t yeses. And notice that they won’t get you to the action of healing. And there will always be another thing in the way. And chances are, the resistance will manifest in an area you’re struggling with already.
If you’re a people pleaser, you’ll say yes to everyone else but you. And you might even complain about how much you’re doing and you might resent it but you won’t change it because actually, it serves you. It gives you a convenient excuse to avoid healing.
And you might think, “I couldn’t possibly have made X happen that I need to focus on that instead of my healing.” I didn’t give myself a plumbing emergency. And it’s true there are circumstances that aren’t in our control. However, how much of your involvement in the circumstances are you claiming is outside of your control?
Like maybe your best friend’s husband left her and she needs you! But how much does she actually need you and why does her need dictate whether you heal or not?
Or maybe you have a termite infestation and your house needs to be tented and you need to move to a hotel! Okay, the termites invaded your house but they don’t have to invade your mind. You can do the necessary actions without adding drama to it. You can do what needs to be done and still take care of yourself.
This might be a new way of thinking and I get that! The point is, your subconscious is very powerful. It can keep you distracted and focused on hundreds of other things. One thing will be resolved and another thing will come up.
It will try to block you with confusion or overwhelm. It will try to stop you by finding something intolerable about your therapist.
Resistance comes in many forms. And it’s all meant to keep you safe.
While I was healing, I was threatened with a lawsuit from our former pastors, my parents sued me, we were homeless, our car was repossessed, my marriage almost broke up, I had a miscarriage, and my dad died.
It might seem like the reasonable thing to put healing on hold during tough times. Maybe it is reasonable. But when will life be easier if you don’t heal? How long will you wait for life to cooperate? How long will you put your life in the hands of circumstances instead of taking control of your own life?There is a myth or illusion that ‘someday’ or ‘in the future’ your time will open up. The reality is you have to make the time, and often cut something else out or say no so you can do the things that will matter the most in the long run.
There’s always a good reason not to heal right now.
Alright, so we looked at understanding what’s happening in your brain so you can work with it instead of fighting against it. It makes things so much easier when you’re not fighting with your brain. And we looked at those hidden ways fear and resistance show up in the healing process.
So, what if you’re aware of the fear and you’re not trying to fool yourself about healing. You know you’re scared and you just can’t make yourself move forward?
You might notice your heart beating faster and your breathing might be faster. Your blood pressure may go up. All of that is to prepare you to take action to flee or fight. You’re probably familiar with that feeling.
But think about this. You’re revved up for action and your action could be to run away OR you could use that revved up sensation to charge toward healing. How do you do that?
You have to work with your nervous system because no amount of logic will convince you to move forward when your nervous system is primed to run away. There are several ways to work with your nervous system and you may be familiar with other ways that are also effective. I’ll share one of the ways I like in this circumstances.
And an emotion that is stronger than fear is love. So fear has an effect on us and activates our sympathetic nervous system and that’s that fight or flight. And compassion activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us and helps us focus. We still might be facing something threatening but compassion leads us to run toward danger if we sense we can help.
This is important because a lot of survivors are in touch with the motivation not to be in pain. That’s something to get away from. You need something to go toward.
Think about it like this. If you offered me a million dollars to take a canoe through alligator infested waters to an island, no amount of money would compel me to do that. But if my 3 year old granddaughter was on the island, nothing would stop me from getting to her.
You need a heart reason to heal, one you can really feel, so when you feel fear signals, you keep pursuing, you keep going. And it needs to be something that generates a stronger emotion than the fear.
So get your emotions involved in making a more productive decision around healing, ask what would healing do for you? What would make it worth facing the challenges of healing? What are the ripple effects of healing? How would that impact others around you?
My heart reason: I had two. One was my children. I inherited a legacy of abuse and victimization that I passed onto my kids. Though they were adults when I got into my healing, I knew healing was the only way I could change that legacy.
And my other heart reason was that I knew there were other survivors waiting on the other side of my healing. I wanted to show what was possible. That kept me going when it got hard. I found a way through because I knew others would face those hard things too.
The next question to ask yourself is what will happen if you don’t heal? What is the cost of staying the same? What’s the cost now? 3-5 years from now? 5-10 years from now? 10-20 years from now? Because just as healing has ripple effects, not healing does too. What’s the cost not only to you, but to your children? What’s the ripple effects a generation from now? 2 generations from now?
The benefit of imagining the consequences is to get more in touch with the fear of not healing. That way you’re using fear to your advantage. Instead of it standing in front to you to stop you, it’s standing behind you. That’s a lot more useful. Because the real fear is living a life where you’ve settled and compromised what you really wanted. And let abuse consume your whole life.
So you don’t need to eliminate fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, instead of trying to bypass it or find the detour around it, you can use it.
Once you’ve done that here’s another exercise:
Imagine a few years from now when you’ve faced your past and it doesn’t haunt you anymore. You can think of what happened to you and you feel compassion for yourself but no pain. Your old coping methods don’t keep you trapped anymore and your life truly feels like it belongs to you. You belong to you. You feel free and whole and happy. Maybe you’re standing up for yourself. Maybe you’re pursuing a dream. Maybe you’re truly present with your child.
What’s a specific scene you can imagine that would represent the benefits of your healing? What’s something that your abuse affects now that would be different?
Watch it as though it’s happening in the present moment. See the details of it. Imagine where you are, who you’re with, what’s being said. Remember, let yourself feel it. This isn’t about thinking; your emotions have to be envolved. It has to feel real to you as though you’re experiencing it.
Next, imagine the same scene from a different point of view. See the scene from the point of view as an onlooker. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear? What do you notice?
If you let yourself have that experience, that’s part of equipping you for whatever challenges healing brings. Imagining your future that way is actually like having a memory of it.
Now remember I said you can run away from healing or run toward it?
if you run from what you fear, the act of running confirms to your brain, “This is dangerous.” And that reinforces the habit of running away.
There’s something powerful that happens when you willingly face what you fear. When you turn to look at what you’re afraid of, your body responds to it and engages with it in an empowered way. You have access to your creativity and imagination and an obstacle can become a challenge.
A practical way to do that is to start a healing journal. Record all the scary things. When they pop out, capture them in your journal. Contain them. That makes you the hunter and that’s a very different relationship with those things than you feeling like the prey.
As hard as the circumstances are for you now, it was much harder for you as a child. You had no control. You had no options. You couldn’t comprehend what was happening. You didn’t know when it would end. You were alone. You had no support. You survived that by finding a way through. That’s amazing! You’re amazing. And you still have that ability in you now to find a way through whatever you’re going through.
Fight for yourself. Fight for the little child in you who was betrayed and abandoned. Do everything in your power to heal for her sake.
But you get to choose. Since you’re listening to this podcast, you’re someone who wants something better. You want to see what you’re capable of, what you could do with your life, for yourself, your family and for how you can contribute to the world.
If that’s you, I have something for you. I have a worksheet I’ve created for you with expanded versions of these exercises I just shared so you can use your brain to work for your healing instead of against. To get your worksheet, go to the show notes page at overcomingsexualabuse.com/002
When you download that, be sure to accept my invitation to subscribe to my emails, and I’ll send you lots of helpful healing tips.
That’s all for today but I’m bringing you more on healing, boundaries, self care, and family dysfunction, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss anything.