In my journey, I see how often my pain has been denied and what it’s required to survive, not thrive. I did everything I could to exist, at least.
At that time in my life, I didn’t know how to listen to my own needs. I wasn’t attuned to my body and what it needed and felt. Angry? Repress it rather than acknowledge it. Weary? Just try harder. “Pull up your bootstraps.” I had learned early in life that when stressful and difficult times arose to push through them, shaming myself in the process.
People with a history of trauma deal with their stress by trying harder, pushing through, and pressing on, oblivious to what is happening internally. People with a history of trauma tend to develop an action tendency to push through, press on, and power up when the going gets tough, especially when they get dysregulated, anxious, and fearful.
Responding to our bodies when we are stressed is not easy. I needed to find a different way to deal with my anxious thoughts, fear, and stress. A dear friend taught me to slow down my breathing so I could listen to my body and what it was saying, what it needed. This usually takes anywhere from five to ten minutes. I invite the Holy Spirit to make me sensitive to what is true in my inner parts. That “push harder” imprint had served me well but unknowingly taken its toll on me.
My friend called this practice “compassionate attention.” The practice of learning to pay compassionate attention to my experiences took some doing. I began to observe that many feelings and emotions go unexpressed. I noticed tension in my stomach as I thought about the stressful things in my life. If I don’t take the time to share these things with trusted friends, my dread, despair, and hopelessness can take me to a dark place.
Compassionate attention doesn’t always involve focusing on positive things. It can involve bringing our attention to painful issues, including things that it’s helpful for us to experience, process or work through. These painful things can be internal (such as our feelings and physical sensations). Mary Welford, Compassion Focused Therapy for Dummies, 2016, p.129
This kind of attention allows me to ask myself, “What do I need?” Those who know me well realize that’s a question I rarely ask. Its trauma related. It just keeps on giving.
What is going on internally for you matters. How you are willing to face your pain matters. The information our body is giving us matters. Your body is giving you a map.
Hoping and praying you’ll take some time to practice listening to what is going on within.