Many of us live with deep emotional wounds in our being, and with painful kinks in our relationships with others and with ourselves. But a profound revolution in 21st century psychotherapy and neuroscience has shown how these painful patterns are formed early in life, and that these wounds can be healed, these kinks can be ironed out. Although our childhood is always with us, it is never too late to heal and live a fuller life!
From conception, we receive physical and emotional nourishment and nurture from our mother. In our first 18 months or so after birth, we live in a close relationship of attunement with our mothers and other caregivers, having no conscious sense of our separate self or our needs. During this time, we develop our capacity to relate securely as we absorb the loving behaviour and emotions of our significant caregivers (‘goo-goo, ga-ga’!).
As we develop these capabilities, new neural connections are formed deep within our brains. At the same time, we store data there, sent from neurons around our heart and lungs, from our muscle tensions, facial expressions and any painful sensations in our body. While you will not have any explicit memories of this process, you do have what is called an ‘implicit memory’ of them, located in your unconscious and accessible through those connections with body sensations.
If this nourishing, safe relationship is not available consistently, these deep connections between body sensations and our forming secure relationships are replaced by sensations, behaviour and emotions that protect us from our unfulfilled needs. In this way, our emotional stability, our sense of self, or our ability to relate successfully, may be affected for the rest of our lives. This difficulty in relationships may be affecting you without you knowing, even if you have developed ways of relating to the world and to others that are quite satisfactory to you.
This understanding of our early development and its significance has come from the merging of somatic (i.e., body-focused) and mindful (and loving kindness) psychotherapies and the latest research in neuroscience over the last 10 to 20 years. This inevitable path of human unfoldment is focused on helping people heal and renew, approaching our lives holistically as embodied consciousness. It is not part of the reductionist, scientific and almost mechanical approach to our physical, emotional and mental lives which dominate much of psychology and psychiatry, and which takes no account of the subtler relational field between us all.
Our hope for healing and renewal lies in this subtler relational field. Creating this field with you in loving kindness, an appropriately skilled psychotherapist can work with you, through mindfulness and somatic awareness to connect with experiences stored in your body, in your implicit memory, to integrate them and to help you develop a more secure sense of self.
In the right field of energy, as in our formative years, it is possible to form new connections: between deeper parts of the brain (viz, the amygdala and hippocampus), where emotions are stored and our nervous and hormonal systems are regulated, and our cortex, that walnut-wrinkly surface, where we think and are self-aware. This is the often-mentioned plasticity of the brain.
Healing and renewing such core material has a gentle but profound impact on your sense of self, generating a subtle feeling of togetherness inside, where previously there may have been a void or a sense of disconnected parts and memories.
If you have felt implicitly unsafe, unwelcome or unloved, these feelings will diminish, and you will have a stronger sense of who you are and the limits of what you need to do to fulfil your needs. You will no longer have that push-you-pull-me style of relating, or seek to avoid relating completely, as you may have done in the past.
This may be hard to believe, given how society and psychology labels, boxes and discriminates against people who have had it hard in life. But here we have an expression of humanity’s consciousness unfolding – of how we can understand who we are and why we are, and how we can renew.
Through the growth of our integrated sense of self, we renew our ingrained karmic and genetic patterns, making their matter and vibration available for our future growth in consciousness. For this and future lives, we are polishing the mirror of incarnation so we can better reflect the shining light of our soul and spirit, whose time has come to express more fully on Earth.