If our early environment did not provide adequate holding as well as sufficient space for us to rest in unstructured states of being - if our unique subjectivity, emotional experience, and basic goodness was not effectively mirrored back to us - we found ourselves in a very precarious place. Because it is just too psychically unsafe to see this lack of mirroring as resulting from a lack of capacity in those around us, we place the blame inside ourselves. We come to believe, in our attempt to make sense of our experience, that we're just not worthy of that sort of attention, affection, love, and attunement. As painful as this realization is, it provides a temporary refuge from overwhelming anxiety.
The chronic sense of shame that so many experience seems in large part to have its origins in environments lacking in empathic attunement, where there was no adequate holding environment in which the sacred little nervous system could unfold, rest, and explore in a way that would foster true self-love.
The narrative of the unworthy one is deeply embedded and spans multiple levels: cognitive, emotional, neurobiological, somatic, and behavioral. We must send breath, awareness, and love into each of these areas in order to transform the compensatory identity structure and to untangle the wounds of the body and the heart.
While it may feel to be too much, this narrative can be re-authored. It can be re-written. It can be updated. A more cohesive, real-time, accurate, integrated story can be told. A new dream can be dreamed. New cloth can be woven. It is possible. I have been honored to witness this re-authoring in the lives of many courageous men and woman over the years. It is not easy work and asks everything of us.
It's important for all of us who have witnessed this as well as participated in it ourselves to remind those who are suffering that it is possible, that there is hope. That while this narrative of shame and unworthiness can feel so entrenched - and the corresponding feelings can be overwhelming as they are potent reminders of the dark night – the traumatic narrative can be re-crafted, new meaning can be discovered. New life can be found. New breath can be breathed. We can come to discover that even in the core of the most profound hopelessness, a small light of hope is buried there, the flame is still alive.
This is not some pollyanna or overly romantic, positivistic fantasy. Of course it is above my paygrade to know if everyone can heal, transform, and find a new way. The truth is I do not know. All I can do is report my own experience, which is that of the outrageous intelligence and bravery of the broken human heart. It is a force greater than exploding stars.
Together, we can continue to share our own journeys with our brothers and sisters, listening carefully to them, holding their experience as utterly valid, honorable, and intelligent, exactly as it is. Setting aside the need to fix and cure even as our own unlived lives are constellated in our interaction with them. And in some way – while fully honoring the pain and the devastation of the dark night – to also never forget the very unique light that is found only there.
Photo: another autumn morning is given, nearby at Maroon Bells, Colorado, by Jeremy Swanson
My new book – The Path Is Everywhere: Uncovering the Jewels Hidden Within You – is now available
My next event will be a five-day retreat, The Place the Light Enters, with Jeff Foster, April 4-9 at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.