Saturday, February 12, 2022

The return of the Friend

In moments of unbearable feeling - absent the internal resources or relational support to process that arousal - pieces of emotion and image are stored outside conscious awareness in our bodies and nervous systems, where they remain available for metabolization at a later time.

There’s a lot of wisdom in locating this material outside awareness so it’s not continually pouring into our experience. Despite how intelligent and adaptive this process is, however, the unintegrated material is subject to being reactivated in a future moment.

Early in our lives, we don’t have the developmental capacity to integrate unendurable emotional, psychic, and somatic material. Prior to the ages of 4 or 5, we’re not able to repress that which is potentially fragmenting and have no choice but to experience it directly.

So healing then requires that we go into that yet-to-be-processed emotion and bodily arousal, by way of the neural network that is holding that material, and infuse it with those qualities that weren’t available at the time it was stored there - empathy, warmth, companionship, and holding.

Where, instead of disintegration, there is re-integration. Instead of dissociation, there is re-association. A relinking of mind and body where they were once (understandably) split.

The most essential of these qualities to bring into the network, the required neural scaffolding we might say, is the felt sense of safety. Safety is the treatment.

So we have these two core components of trauma and any deep relational wounding: emotional and somatic experience that’s overwhelming, on the one hand, and then the felt sense of aloneness on the other.

Not only do we have the emergence of unbearable and unendurable images, feelings, and sensations, but at some very basic level we’re alone with all that. There’s no experience of companionship, the Friend is absent and non-locatable.

It’s the return of the Friend that we long for. The nature of who and what this “Friend” is must be discovered in the fire of our own direct experience.

Photo by Sarah Richter

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