In a moment of activation, the ancient pathways appear. To fight or flee. To shut down, freeze, or dissociate. To deactivate or hyperactivate the attachment system. While the reactions are varied, what they have in common is that they are subtle (or not-so-subtle) expressions of self-abandonment.
We must remember that these strategies arose intelligently, creatively, and adaptively to prevent overwhelm in a little brain and nervous system. The invitation is not to shame, judge, or rail against them when they appear, but with a fierce self-compassion to see if we are still in need of the protection they once provided.
Despite a deeply embedded belief, we do not need to abandon ourselves to stay safe. In fact, the most unsafe thing we can do is to turn from ourselves in a moment of emotional charge, when we need our own presence more than ever.
It takes practice to encode new circuitry, but slowly we can replace the grooves of abandonment with those of empathy, attunement, and kindness, caring for ourselves in wild and new ways. The realities of neuroplasticity and the outrageous intelligence of the human heart keep hope alive.
We all have feelings we’ll do just about anything to avoid, strategies to keep us out of the tender, shaky, and groundless. These make up the whole realm of addictive behavior, from eating when we’re not hungry to lashing out at others to compulsively engaging social media to attacking our own vulnerability. It is an act of mercy and kindness to get to know our specific strategies and begin to bring them out of the shadows. Not to attack them but to infuse them with light.
If you feel called, and it feels safe enough to do so (remembering it may never feel fully safe), you can begin to invite in the abandoned ones, to meet that lost, frightened, confused, unworthy one who has been carrying these painful feelings and beliefs for so long. To offer sanctuary for him or her, to listen carefully and with compassion to his or her story, to hold and validate her feelings, to tend to his dysregulating sensations, and to provide a home for the shamed one to rest, from a long, ancient, heartbreaking journey.
Photo by Bess-Hamiti
The next book, The Unfolding Heart, will be published by Sounds True in early 2020, details to come
My next event:
The Great Befriending: A Five-Day Journey of Self-Love, Deep Rest, and Coming Alive (with Jeff Foster), September 21-26 in Loveland, Colorado