Loving What Hurts
It’s Valentine’s day. Maybe you have a special someone to spend it with, or maybe you have some other relationship with the holiday. Even in the bliss of a fruitful amorous bond, you might face some struggle in figuring out how to love where it hurts.
Maybe something about your partner bugs you in a way you cannot stop thinking about, or there is a pattern about yourself that you find abhorrent. Maybe you harbor a hidden fantasy that you dare not share with anyone, or you have some clear idea of what you “should” do to improve your health, career, or family, but you just cannot bring yourself to do it.
Sometimes I read about a singular trick to resolve self-loathing, shame, or aversion to the things that frighten me. When these tricks work, they can seem like magic, and when they do not, they often leave me feeling even more destitute, worthless, and unlovable.
In my years of struggling to love all of myself, the most consistent truth has been the most remedial: There is a beginning, a middle, and an end (or integration) to all self-healing work! When I try to rush or skip past anything, I do not end up where I want to be. This article is about beginning at the beginning.
The desire to “force it” can be huge in me, sometimes looming so large I do not realize I am cowering in its monsterous shadow. “If only I could get rid of this habit of staying up late,” I think, or, “If I could write and meditate for two hours each day, then I’d be as good of a person as I want to be.”
I have a friend who acknowledged for years that his drinking was problematic, but every once in a while he would go back to it. Each time he was convinced that his lapse meant that he was morally destitute and was not going to make anything out of his life; as if the past several months or years of sobriety were meaningless, when a lot of people would say that he had accomplished a lot. That’s a pretty extreme belief!
Personally, I have struggled with deeply ingrained stories about being unthoughtful, unreliable, and perverse that set in at an early age due to events with my family and peers. I thought underperformance was my destiny and that my personal kinks and oddities were a terrible burden that would only hurt me if anyone found out. I was hounded by the inclination to wage war with myself. It was common for me to wish I could literally destroy these parts of myself. Sometimes, including just this past fall, my thinking has gone regularly to suicide.
Walking the way into a different story has taken me through maybe a dozen different spiritual and healing traditions, and here is what I have noticed to be true of every activity that has provided sustained transformation and relief: I must, in the manner of baby steps, invite closer, then accept, and then express gratitude for this part of me. Then, finally, something can happen with it.
If you are anything like me, this prospect might seem terrifying or counterproductive. Maybe you think that if you invite a “dangerous” part closer, it will overtake you, or that you will be wallowing in a state that you know to be negative. And perhaps that’s a real danger, if we don’t do anything else with it.
But in order to start having a real healing dialogue with myself, I need to reach out and shake the hand of whomever I am talking to.
Core Transformation has a nice simple script for this, which involves finding the part I would like to change in my body, noticing what feelings and images arise when I rest in it, and expressing gratitude for it, trusting that it has some meaningful purpose for me, even if I cannot understand it yet. From there, the technique takes me through a clear process for better understanding the part so that I can give it what it most deeply needs.
When a part has its core need met, the surface-level problem is transformed.
Many somatic approaches to healing teach a similar method. Sometimes, simply beginning to trust instead of fight with the problematic part causes huge shifts in my body and awareness.
It is no coincidence that the same basic steps are profoundly transformation when dealing with other people who are aggressive or otherwise severely problematic in my mind. When I work with folks in extreme states, for example, I consider my first task, which can sometimes take hours, to be the same simple steps.
I greet, invite into dialogue, and express gratitude that this person is present with me, in all their wholeness.
When a hurt part, or a hurt person, is welcomed and accepted into a genuine dialogue, real physical changes take place. Shoulders relax, breathing slows, tone drops, and speech clams down.
So if there is any part of you that’s hurting, or a seemingly irresolvable conflict in your life, it might be worth taking the tiniest baby steps toward inviting, accepting, and expressing gratitude, before meditating, or psychoanalyzing, or dancing it out, or doing anything else.
A few months ago when I was finding it impossible to do this myself, I contacted my friend Duff to setup some appointments. With his simple guidance and facilitation I was able to drastically shift my relationship with parts that had haunted me since childhood, turning hurt parts into critical resources, some of which I’m drawing on to write this article.
If you are having a hard time too, it might helpful to feel welcome contacting Duff, or me, or some other practitioner skilled in walking you through the remedial baby-steps of self love. Like learning an instrument, once we master the fundamentals, then the exciting stuff starts to happen with spontaneity and join.