How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Selfby Nicole LePera
Our trauma in childhood lives with us, resulting in whole body dysfunction by activating harmful stress responses that keep us stuck engaging in patterns of codependency and emotional immaturity. This book offers readers the support and tools that will allow them to break free from destructive behaviors to recreate their lives. It is an essential guide which will forever change the way we approach mental wellness and self-care to help us create a more vibrant and authentic life.
You Are Your Own Best Healer
“You can’t go somewhere to be healed; you must go inward to be healed.”
Imagine that you decide to start going to the gym, eat healthy food, take a break from social media and cut ties with problematic people. You have determination that this time, these changes will stick. Later — maybe after a few hours, days or weeks, you start to feel lazy and cannot muster up the energy to carry out these activities. You feel stuck. Your mind begins to overwhelm you with messages like: “You cannot do this."
Your thoughts have brought you to this situation, and your thoughts from this point onwards will take you to where you’ll be in the future. Remember, your thoughts influence your behaviour. When you truly believe you can do something, you will automatically take the actions necessary to achieve it. However, if you believe that you cannot do something, you will subconsciously prevent yourself from accomplishing your goal.
To achieve your goals, you would have to be more conscious of your behaviour. When you focus on your behaviour, your mind naturally encourages you to do activities that are beneficial for you. The first step to change your behaviour is to practice creating a future that’s different from your past and present realities.
Future Self Journaling is a daily practice aimed at helping you to break out of your destructive habits and changing your behaviour. It allows you to have a clear image of what to do. This practice includes writing down every step of an event, so that you subconsciously push your mind and body to take those steps in real life.
Actions to take
The Conscious Self
“You are the thinker of your thoughts, not the thoughts themselves.”
You head to work at the same time every day, and the routine to get out the door is more or less memorized. You shower, eat breakfast, get dressed, drive to work, and so on. You barely have to think consciously about doing any of these things because you’ve done them so frequently that your mind is on autopilot.
When you are running on autopilot, your subconscious mind drives your reactions. Scans of brain activity have revealed we are only operating in a conscious state for roughly 5% of the day. This means that we are making active choices during a small sliver of our days only, and letting our subconscious run the show during the rest of the time.
The pull of the subconscious mind makes it hard for change. When you try to push yourself out of autopilot mode, it is natural to face resistance from your mind and body. Activities that you repeatedly perform become your subconscious’s default mode. Your brain actually prefers to spend most of its time coasting on autopilot as it helps conserve energy.
To move out of your autopilot mode, you will need to actively practice consciousness and improve your self-awareness. By being aware of your activities, you can become what you want. When you are conscious about what you are doing, your subconscious mind cannot overpower you with its autopilot mode. This will then allow you to make changes in your life.
Actions to take
“Sometimes old scars will be opened and an outpouring of feelings will come with healing wounds.”
The present tests taken for measuring the severity of trauma do not fully capture it. They do not consider the range of emotional and spiritual traumas, which are caused due to consistently denying or repressing the needs of your authentic self. This typically occurs due to being consistently treated in a way that makes you feel unworthy or unacceptable.
Traumas make us vulnerable to physical and psychological conditions, all leading to one common denominator: stress. Stress is an internal condition that threatens your state of physical, emotional, and mental balance. Whenever we encounter a threat, either real or perceived, the brain’s fear center, i.e., the amygdala, lights up. Once activated, this area of the brain then sends messages to the rest of our body to mobilize the responses to help us survive.
These responses are known as fight-or-flight mechanisms. The flight or fight response is an automatic physiological reaction to a threatening condition, in which the body gets prepared for either fighting with or fleeing away from the threat. For example, when a person who lacks self-esteem enters a room and someone laughs at his outfit, he is likely to feel stress. Then, his amygdala activates, which may put him into a state of “fight”, where he may argue with the other person, or a state of “flight”, where he may simply leave the room.
When you are in a perpetual state of stress, your adrenal glands release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This will lead to continuous and overactive fight or flight responses, which present physically as a racing heart, dilated pupils, balled fists, etc. These overactive responses use a high level of glucose in the brain, which ultimately knocks our body off balance.
Actions to take
Mind-Body Healing Practices
“Healing starts with learning how to tap into the needs of our body and reconnecting with our intuitive Self.”
Healing ourselves via our gut - If our diet isn’t healthy, we will not be physically or mentally healthy either. Unhealthy food causes our intestinal lining to become inflamed as it provides sustenance for harmful gut microbes. These microbes can cause a condition called gut dysbiosis, in which the balance of your inner ecosystem favors the bad microbes. Studies suggest that gut dysbiosis could be a root cause for mental illnesses such as depression, autism, anxiety, ADHD, or schizophrenia.
Healing ourselves via sleep - Inadequate sleep is incredibly damaging. When we sleep, our body repairs itself. This is when our gut gets a break from digestion, our brain clears away toxic products, and our cells regenerate. Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, cardiovascular illness, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is an important stage in the sleep cycle because a lack of rapid eye movement can cause migraines and impact coping skills, memory and mood. When we do not get enough sleep, we do not go through the REM cycle.
Healing ourselves via breathing - We cannot tell our heart to beat properly or our liver to detox our body faster, but we can slow and deepen our breath. This helps us improve our heart rate and calms our mind. The greatest indicator of life span is lung capacity; the larger your lung capacity, the more air you can inhale with fewer breaths. Shallow breathing is linked to a variety of illnesses, including hypertension and ADHD.
Healing ourselves via movement - Activities such as running, swimming, and hiking help us increase our tolerance to stress. Physical exercise enables you to achieve deep sleep and helps improve your mood by releasing “happy” neurotransmitters in your brain such as dopamine and serotonin.
Healing ourselves via play - Joy, i.e., the expression of pure happiness, is associated more with childhood. However, even as adults, we can still experience a similar joyous freedom when we allow ourselves to play. When we engage in play, we shift from our overactive fight-or-flight mode to a safe mode of calmness and security.
Actions to take
The Power Of Belief
“Beliefs about ourselves are filters that are placed over the lens of how we view our world.”
A belief is a practiced thought grounded in lived experience. The habit of thinking a particular thought repeatedly converts it into a belief and makes it easier for the brain to default to such thoughts in the future.
When a belief is repeatedly validated, it can become a core belief. Core beliefs are the stories about ourselves, our past, our future, and the innumerable other topics we construct based on our lived experiences. For example, when a mother ignores her child, he might think, “I am not important” and as the mother repeats this action involuntarily, the child’s thought transforms into a belief.
Even in adulthood, we tend to see the world through the filters applied by our core beliefs. Continuing to strengthen negative core beliefs often increases the disconnect from our authentic selves. For example, when helping your mom take care of your siblings, you might have been told “you’re so helpful, you’re going to be such a splendid mother yourself someday.” Hearing this consistently could result in a core belief that you need to care for others in order to be loved. Over time, you may feel selfish for caring for yourself or even acknowledging your own needs.
These beliefs, especially your core ones, weren’t formed overnight. Similarly, they won’t change overnight, but with dedication and persistence, we can definitely change them.
Actions to take
Meet Your Inner Child
“Wounded inner child of the past is the major source of human misery.” - John Bradshaw
Your inner child is actually your true self. We all have an inner child in us. This childlike part is free, filled with wonder and awe, and connected to the inner wisdom of our authentic self. When we do not appropriately acknowledge our inner child, we run the risk of allowing it to run rampant in our adult life, resulting in impulsive reactions. Ultimately, this only wounds our inner child.
These impulsive and aggressive reactions emerge from a core wound that the inner child must live with as a response to childhood trauma. Inner child wounds are the consistently unmet emotional, physical, and spiritual needs from our childhood expressed through our subconscious that continue to affect our present self. For example, let’s say your partner needs to rush to work unexpectedly and has to cancel plans with you. Even when you know your partner would like to spend time with you, you may still feel rejected and aggressive, which can cause childlike reactions such as stomping your feet or slamming the door.
When you look to identify the root cause behind your childlike actions, you may realize that your partner’s rejection made you feel the same as when you were rejected as a child - for example, when your parents cancelled your trips, picnics, or birthdays. Your parents’ behaviour had hurt your inner child and created a wound - this then manifests in adulthood by triggering you when you experience a similar situation.
The six most common personality archetypes that can describe your wounded inner child are:
- The caretaker: believing that the only way to receive love is to cater to others and ignore your own needs.
- The overachiever: Believing that the only way to receive love is through achievement.
- The underachiever: Believing that the only way to receive love is to stay invisible.
- The rescuer/protector: Believing that the only way to receive love is to help others solve their problems.
- The life of the party: Believing that the only way to receive love is to make sure that everyone around them is happy.
- The yes-person: Believing that the only way to receive love is to be both good and selfless by saying “yes” to everyone.
To heal these wounds, you will need to meet your inner child. When you do this, you will heal your triggers and give yourself the freedom to choose the way you want to react.
Actions to take
“A boundary is not for others, it’s for you.”
Boundaries are clear limits you set relating to what you will accept of another person’s words and actions. They are the walls that protect you from inappropriate, inauthentic, or undesired behaviors. The ability to set clear limits and keep them over time is critical to our overall wellness. For example, when your friend calls you at 1 a.m. and asks for help, you may say yes to it even when she always denied you when you had asked for help.Your boundary is now violated, and you are likely to feel upset or uncomfortable.
There are mainly three types of boundaries :
The first is a physical boundary. Physical boundaries determine our physical comfort zone. Some examples of physical boundaries are clearly outlining your personal space, describing your preferred level of physical contact and deciding what you will and will not discuss.
The second type of boundary is a resource boundary. Those with no resource boundaries are endlessly giving their time and energy to friends, partners, and family members. Examples of resource boundaries include defining limits regarding the resources you will give and to whom.
The third type of boundary is an emotional boundary. When we have no emotional boundaries, we may feel responsible for the emotional states around us and develop an internalized need to keep everyone happy. It is impossible to always make another human happy, so having no emotional boundaries is often exhausting and detrimental for us. An example of an emotional boundary is defining limits on the thoughts other people share with you.
Actions to take
“Emotional maturity allows us to accept all of our emotions, even the uglier ones”
Emotional maturity is the ability to tolerate our emotions without losing control of ourselves. Those who are emotionally immature tend to be so uncomfortable with their emotions that they end up lashing out, become defensive or completely shut down whenever they experience anything negative. When we cannot control our emotions, our body’s cortisol spikes and our internal anxiety circuit gets activated. Once the emotions are perceived to be controlled, our body system brings our body back into balance.
There is a “90-second rule” of unpleasant emotions, meaning that they tend to only last for 90 seconds. However, this lack of control causes these 90 seconds to grow into days of irritability, anger, or even years of grudges and resentment. Most of us tend to replay our negative emotions, which again activates our internal anxiety circuit and we feel as though we are experiencing the distressing event over and over again. Additionally, distressing emotions often last longer and are more intense than positive emotions.