We all deserve to embark on those first steps towards healing, but what does that look like in reality, and how can we learn to enjoy the ride?
Many of us are on a journey towards healing and self-transformation. It might be following trauma, periods of ill-health, the end of a relationship, abuse, burnout, bereavement – or, perhaps, simply because we want to be better versions of ourselves.
And change can happen. In fact, research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explored how most of us would like to change ourselves in some way, and that people who were able to do so, in ways that aligned with their desires, tended to experience increases in wellbeing over time as a result.
Of course, though a hopeful reminder, those data-backed conclusions don’t completely capture the full picture of the healing journey – the good days and the bad days, the hurdles and uphill struggles – let alone the fact that healing is about so, so much more than just changing ‘something’ about yourself; it’s about tending to emotional wounds, unlearning unhelpful thought-patterns, grieving, forgiving, and learning. So, what can we do to make it a positive and successful experience?
Say you’re at the start of your healing journey, what are some common misconceptions that can hold you back? We put this to Dr Liz Sparkes, a health psychologist and life coach, and she answers by looking inwards.
“I suppose the best way to address this is to reflect on my own misconceptions that I have become aware of,” she says. “It’s important to be gentle with yourself and there is no rush. Healing is most definitely not linear, and you haven’t failed if you find you are revisiting the same issues or feelings. As long as you have awareness and take steps forward each time, that’s progress.”
Treating yourself with kindness is more than just a pat on the back, it’s a whole shift in attitude, and it’s key to any journey with healing. But if ‘self-compassion’ feels out of reach for you sometimes, you can easily break it down into its practical elements. Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff believes it has three main components:
1. Self-kindness, or having the ability to refrain from harsh criticism.
2. The ability to recognise your own humanity, or the fact that each of us is imperfect and each of us experiences pain.
3. The ability to maintain a sense of mindfulness or unbiased awareness of experiences, even if they are painful.
While you’re working on your healing, how does your attitude stack up against these principles? What do you do well, and what might you need to consider working on as you move forward?
“There is more than one route to the top of the mountain,” says Dr Sparkes. “It’s very empowering to realise that nobody else has the ultimate answers, they come from within.”
She goes on to highlight the ways that we can do everything ‘right’ – access the right support, the right guidance, the right environment for healing and development – but, ultimately, this journey is about what works for you, as the individual you are.
“This one tripped me up a few times previously, until I finally got it! This was a huge turning point for me in all areas of my life. I was searching for the answers to my own healing and self outside of myself, but the best insights come from within, especially when held in a nurturing and supportive space.”
If you’re wondering how you might be able to find those answers for yourself, you could try journaling, creating a vision board, connecting with like-minded people, or just spending some quiet time reflecting on what you know to be true about yourself, and what those things can tell you about strategies that will work.
Bumps in the road
Now, if you’re healing from long-term, or even a lifetime of, emotional pain, it’s likely that your journey isn’t always going to be straightforward, and you might find yourself feeling frustrated and stilted.
“I think one of the biggest challenges for most is around the concept of time,” Dr Sparkes says. “Feeling in a rush firstly can hamper your inner process; there really is no rush, and actually the best shifts and foundational changes occur gently.”
Dr Sparkes also points out that we often require space and time for the process to take place, and creating that space can be a challenge – but it is so important.
“Another typical challenge is trusting the process,” she continues. “Healing and transformation can be hard work, but also very empowering and strengthening.”
Along for the ride
“Finding the right support, and method of support, is really valuable,” Dr Sparkes continues. “Sometimes, it takes a few trials of different processes of healing to find the right one. If the first few coaches/therapists/courses don’t quite feel right, don’t give up; use that insight to guide you to what does feel right.”
As Dr Sparkes points out, an important part of the healing process is not to gloss over our issues, and to approach the journey from a place of absolute honesty.
“Being able to feel that you can be completely honest with yourself, and also those holding the space for you, will allow much more change and deeper transformation,” she adds.
“Like-minded friends have been life-changing for me, and this is probably one of the most significant positive shifts for me. The more that you surround yourself with people who are aligned with you the more supported and at ease you feel while going through periods of transformation. Just showing up on courses, training, or retreats will support you to find those like-minded people.
The home stretch
Through the hard times, ask yourself, what are you doing this for? What do you hope to achieve? What will healing change about your life, and the person you are? How will it affect your relationships, your work, your health, and your happiness? Undeniably, the path will be paved with challenges and difficulties, sometimes to the point where it may feel like too much to overcome. But Dr Sparkes has one last reminder: “Enjoy it. It’s hard not to want to get to ‘the end’, but actually the whole process is really a lifetime of transformation and shifting towards a deeper connection to the true self.”
For more support with your personal development, or transformation journey, visit Life Coach Directory.