Saturday, April 2, 2022

The return of the Friend

In moments of unbearable experience - when we’re unable to access the internal resources or relational support to process what is happening in our lives - pieces of emotion (and soul) 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, especially within the field of our close personal relationships (which have a way of illuminating, well, just about everything that remains unilluminated within us).

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, or to sequester it deep in the underworld, by way of those more archaic defenses of dissociation and splitting.

Poetically speaking (with correlates from the field of relational neuroscience), the lost ones who carry this material for us long to release this burden and return home. Sometimes we hear or see or sense them around us; they appear in our dreams, fantasies, and unexpected moods and physical symptoms. At times they even appear as a natural phenomenon - the sun, moon, colors, or star - or even as our lovers, friends, and (real-life) children.

Healing then, from this perspective, requires that we travel into the center of that yet-to-be-processed emotion and bodily arousal, by way of the neural network that is holding the 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 a 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.

For a relational mammal, this absence causes us to ache - emotionally, somatically, and spiritually. 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.

May you discover and come to know this Friend in its infinite forms and expressions in your life. Though it can seem otherwise, my personal (and clinical) experience has shown me that the Friend is near. It can be painful and it can burn in the body and the heart, but there is hope.

Photo by debowscyfoto

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