Do self-defeating beliefs hold you back from realizing your full potential?
Do you find yourself repeating unhelpful patterns in your work or relationships?
Do you have painful, maybe even traumatic, memories that hold you back from living the way you want?
This book can change your life! For over 30 years, I have helped thousands of clients release pain and self-defeating patterns and blossom into their talents, building freer and fuller lives.
This unique and powerful book shows how to release trauma and self-defeating patterns. You’ll learn to use your own Energy Dynamics to empower yourself and become joyful.
You’ll get clearer how hurtful history affects you, and how automatic reactions keep you in an endless-feedback-loop, making it hard to escape the past. You’ll learn the real purpose of self-criticism and how to work with your brain-functions more effectively to make change.
I also teach you specific Energy Dynamics techniques that enable you work through old patterns, develop new skills, and a new outlook on life. From Hurt to Joy will help you deal with anxiety and pain and protect yourself from troublesome people effectively. It will teach you how to feel confident and self-supportive, to embrace your strengths, and to build the life you were meant to live on your own terms.
The methods are a unique synergy of Energy Medicine, Oriental Medicine, and traditional Western and positive psychology. The theoretical basis of my work parallels Buddhist psychology on many levels. I draw on 30 years experience with clients, my own history, and lots and lots of research.
The Energy Dynamics skills in this book work whether you’ve been hurt physically or emotionally, whether it was a traumatic or more usual upset involving hurt, loss, confusion, overwhelm, or any other dilemma. They can also help you enhance your self-awareness and well-being and evolve as a human being.
You will learn to:
- move into your body, rather than cutting it off to get away from sensations,
- live in the present, while resolving and releasing the past,
- identify and undo the automatic protective energy patterns that are your reaction to stress,
- discover what really protects you and what does not,
- transform your opinion of, and learn to value, yourself,
- develop a deeper relationship with who you really are, and
- turn toward the positive in you, in others, and in circumstances.
No matter how much suffering has been piled on top of it, joy is lurking deeply within all of us. When you resolve old pain, and uncovering your joy, you can then build the habits that change the foundation of your life. Share
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Table of Contents
Introduction | 11
Setting the Stage for Change: What You’re Starting With
Joy IS Possible | 19
The Real Purpose of Self-criticism, Shame, and Other Forms of
Heavy Artillery | 29
The Brain’s Role in Change: why it holds onto pain, and how to use it to feel better | 47
The Crucial Skills for Resolving Pain and Changing Your Life
The Art and Energy of Breathing | 65
Grounding: what it really is, and how to do it, for real | 85
Centering | 109
BWITSY: A silly name for a crucial concept—Be With It, Then Soothe Yourself | 152
Don’t stop there! Further Applications
Release Physical Pain | 145
Release Anxiety | 157
Safety, Freedom, and Empowerment
Using Intention to Move from Hurt to Joy (or, how do you make these techniques work anyway?) | 173
Replacing Self-defeating Beliefs with Life-Affirming Ones | 191
APEPS—Automatic Protective Energy Patterns: finding and releasing your locked-up energy | 213
Cords and Decording: releasing the burdens and unhealthy connections | 231
The Physics of Self-Protection: Learning to feel safe around difficult people | 251
The Right to Say No: Boundaries Are Vital | 267
Moving On: Creating the Life You Really Want Requires Changing Your Outlook
Value Your Self Highly | 279
Identify and Trust in your Strengths | 291
Turn toward Kindness: Retrain yourself to see the good in others | 297
Interpret events in a positive light: How you respond to outside circumstances changes the way you feel about life | 303
Make Joy a Permanent Habit
How Much Joy Can You Tolerate? | 315
Joy Takes Work | 325
The Life You Really Want | 331
Bibliography | 335
Index | 339
Chapter 1: Joy IS Possible
Tani was a talented, attractive woman in her early thirties who cared fervently about the natural world and about helping people. But, over and over again, she held herself back from using her talents by becoming anxious and self-critical. She second-guessed herself constantly, in the guise of trying to improve herself so that she’d be acceptable. Her childhood had led her to anticipate hostility, so she tended to react defensively. Tani avoided working in group settings for fear that she’d be as ridiculed and rejected as she’d been in her family. In groups she was always on the alert for the need to prove herself.
Tani started an appointment by saying, “I can imagine why you’ve asked me how I want the rest of my life to be and what my dreams are. But you know, it’s really hard to come up with any. It was never okay in my family to have my own desires. I protected myself by rationalizing that their nasty behavior was reasonable and trying to placate them. Now that I’m an adult, when something would be worthwhile to do, I talk myself out of it by thinking that I couldn’t possibly manage dealing with the pressure, the people, and the politics. I think I’ve cut off the part of myself that should feel that I can have a life based on what I want.”
There are many reasons why people often believe that emotional peace is out of their reach. To them, the notion of being joyful is a cruel joke. Really bad things have already happened that seem impossible to overcome. Some people have learned from painful experience that they must shut down on themselves in order to be acceptable. And many disconnect from their feelings as a way of avoiding pain. They then develop distorted views of themselves. As Mark Epstein says in Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, “In coping with the world, we come to identify only with our compensatory selves and our reactive minds.” For them, getting through each day is a huge task. Happiness doesn’t come into it. Escape looks like the only possible relief.
What would it mean to think that joy is possible? And what is it anyway? We’re aiming at something more profound than pleasurable reactions to things that we do, or buy, or achieve, not that I have anything against those! Such activities and accomplishments are fun, fulfilling, can be thrilling and even inspiring. But there is a deeper, more long-lasting joy, even for those of us who have endured terrible things.
At the center of each person is a still place, a well of deep and abiding bliss. This feeling-state emerges when we are at peace and deeply connected with our true selves. Even when we feel miserable and over-burdened with pain, or with old patterns that don’t seem to go away no matter how hard we try, the still place is there. It is where our true selves, our being, can be found. It is also the place in which we can access greater physical, emotional and spiritual energy, in which we connect, through a deep contact with our true nature, with all-that-is.
So, joy is possible. Joy simply is. Waiting for us to find it. Joy can also increase. It grows when it is fertilized with our conscious attention. The discovery that joy is not dependent on our attainments, or things, or other people, gives us more power to uncover and experience it. We can get there. All we have to do is dig through the pile of pain and unresolved issues under which it is buried.
Well, that was easy to say. It’s not as if we’ve all been sitting around doing nothing. So why has emotional freedom seemed pretty impossible in the past, and what makes it easier to attain?
Our systems do have emotional and neurological resources for working through and resolving hurt when it happens. However, if we we can’t face all of it in the moment, then the effects are locked away inside us, ostensibly so that we can work through them later when we have the resources or a calm stretch of time.
Mostly, though, people do not get home, pull those memories out of the old stomach storage locker, sit themselves down, and let the feelings flow. People tense against their memories, trying to annihilate them by cutting off awareness of their bodies. It’s as if distancing from the body that feels the pain will make the pain cease to exist. When the body persists in doing its job, signaling more and more loudly if necessary, that there is something that needs attention, people often come to blame their bodies as the cause of the pain. Having stored the hurtful memories or emotions away, folks tend to blame themselves if they leak or blurt hurt feelings without knowing where they came from. And around it goes again, as they try to disconnect more strenuously in order to keep those old sores stuffed away.
The many books on happiness available today tend to gloss over the struggle, with no model for getting from here to there. The exercises they contain are often valuable, but they are of no use until we can begin to see our way out. The path from hurt to joy requires some extra steps, and if we have been traumatized, these steps are even more essential.
Energy Dynamics are helpful for all those who want to change their experience of life and to feel better in themselves. They are not only for those who have survived seriously damaging experiences. For those who are wrestling with the aftermath of trauma, however, it is worthwhile at this point to clarify our working definition.
Trauma is any stressor or event that overwhelms the system’s ability to deal with it, thereby causing lasting and substantial psychological disruption.1In situations in which we feel some sense of control, at least of ourselves, we do not become traumatized, no matter how awful the circumstance. It is when we feel helpless and overwhelmed, when the event blows past our emotional and mental capacities to tolerate it, that our systems shove it away into a specific portion of our brain, causing it to be stuck not only undigested, but unresolvable simply by talking or with psychotropic medication.
So, conventional therapies that rely on talking and medication alone to relieve symptoms are not the most reliable in releasing trauma. Bessel van der Kolk is a foremost researcher on trauma and traumatic memory. His long-term research on Viet Nam veterans has shown that neither approach has a significant impact when it comes to releasing traumatic memories or the ways that our bodies react to them.
Unfortunately also, the sense of helplessness stymies our efforts to struggle past the pain and self-loathing that are the most pernicious waste products of trauma, so we often feel hopeless as well. (And that helplessness also fuels a tremendous amount of pleasure-seeking. In reaching too much outside ourselves to feel better, we inadvertently strengthen the idea that we are lacking, that we are intrinsically inadequate. Then we find ourselves going after more things to make up for the emptiness we feel.)
To free ourselves from the effects of stubborn old baggage, including trauma, we need to introduce movement into the frozen portion of the brain where overwhelming hurts are shut away. Energy is what breaks up the ice and makes things move. Our energy systems can be trained and augmented, so that we move beyond old, self-defeating beliefs and turn our attention to what is positive and supportive. We then lessen the power that the memories have over our emotional well-being and can include them in the story of our lives in a way that adds meaning and depth to how we define ourselves, rather than diminishing us.
A free and full life is not without crisis and difficulty. Some trouble comes to us all. But, do we have to be contorted and arrested by those sorrows? It takes determination to remove the distorted lenses that have affected our view of life, making it look as if our old pains repeat over and over. All of us who have gone through horrific times have been handed the assignment of coming to terms with them rather than being diminished.
How do we deal with crisis and loss in such a way that we can be self-supportive and confident, having made peace with what happened? How we deal with pain and loss is directly related to how much joy and richness we are able to allow ourselves to experience. It is possible to reassert our sovereign place in our own story. Optimally, we’ll resolve suffering and integrate what we learned, and know our own value, moving forward more connected with ourselves and with life, with a larger sense of who we are, and with more sensitivity and empathy.
Joy comes as a result of our effort, effectively applied. The paradox is that joy is always present in us. Under all the layers of pain, unresolved feelings, and beliefs that life is hard and we don’t deserve to have it be easy, there it is. Waiting. As soon as we do the work, sometimes, just a piece of it, we can be flooded with contentment, gratitude, and yes, joy. It doesn’t matter what we’ve been up against before, or even what our life circumstances are now. There it is.
You may have seen an example by watching an acquaintance fighting against grief. When people react to the loss of a loved one by hiding from it, they become stuck in the painful memories. They can’t remember the good times. Their outrage and dismal outlook grow. Alternatively, when they allow grief to run its course, they start recalling happy times and the blessing of having had that person in their life. The loving feelings surface, seemingly of their own accord, because they have been there all along, hiding in the bedrock. The grief and rage simply covered them over. The psyche seems to have a mandate to make sure that we face things, so it continues to present us with the unfinished business before we can get to the fun stuff.
Joy is a deep, abiding feeling of happiness grounded in peace and bliss. It is our felt perception of the creative and sustaining energy that the Universe is made of. When we are centered deeply within ourselves, we feel true joy. It does not depend on any external circumstance. When we are settled in the still place and in that feeling, we feel nourished and held, even when circumstances around us are less than optimal. Enlightenment is being able to experience this on an on-going basis.
We, as regular humans, can experience this kind of joy. A worthy goal for life and for the development of our spirits is to do the work that increases the time that we spend within this joy and express it through the way we live our lives. And yes, here, at the beginning of this journey, you may not know yet how to access it. You may have had so many painful things happen to you that you are far from seeing that it has anything to do with you. You may even have piled bad behavior on top of your pain. You may be so lost in shame, despair, and self-doubt, that you think you don’t deserve it.
But, the fact is, joy and connectedness lie at the heart of everyone. In the course of this book you’ll see how to uncover the joy that is already in you. Doing the work to resolve the feelings heaped on top starts to build a renewed sense of your ability to act on your own behalf. In doing so, you engage the healing process. As you go on, you can change your outlook on life, learn to value your true nature, trust in your strengths, and see your opportunities. Shift your viewpoint just a little, and you’ll see that the struggle itself is evidence that you still have hope that, with enough work and the right tools, it is possible to be happy.
Chapter 2: The real purpose of self-criticism
Why do people doubt, criticize, and blame themselves when they’ve been hurt?
Connie’s preoccupation with self-blame illustrates one of a handful of mechanisms that people automatically use in an effort to come to terms with distressing events. They seem to work in the moment. However, just because everyone uses them automatically does not make them effective or healthy.
In order to come to terms with stubborn pain, it is necessary to look at the tools you have been using to manage it, whether they support how you want to live, the purpose they attempt to serve, and their actual results. In the next chapters we will look at more effective approaches.
There is nothing more attention-turning, more distracting, than castigating ourselves for events. Nothing grabs our focus more completely. We don’t see the emotions lined up to be dealt with. Unfortunately, when we beat on ourselves, we close the doors of our awareness, so we see no options, no real opportunities to improve the situation or to get the heck out of there. We also do not accurately perceive what’s going on in the present…
What is accurate?
The parts of your nervous system charged with keeping you safe perceive danger based on what gets your adrenalin and anxiety going, whatever that may be. When you can take a deep breath and step back enough to see that your self-criticism and self-blame are not the voices of incontrovertible fact about you or about a situation, it is possible to notice that the criticism is designed to protect you from the perceived danger of your own painful emotions and memories. The voices of your own armament of self-blame don’t care about external proof at all. They will say anything in order to get you to step away from internal unrest. When you see that the real effect of their protection is that it holds you in an endless feedback loop in which the trauma is always present and looks as if it will repeat in the future, then you may be more able to mobilize your strength to risk questioning the veracity of your self-blame and eventually give it up. There is huge freedom in doing so. It is such a relief to experience the reality that you are not to blame for everything, and that in fact, not that much is under your control. It is a major milestone to realize that feeling helpless, while painful and scary, is preferable to beating ourselves up. It is more effective too, because it allows the release of the stranglehold of painful memories and allows us to move on. We feel more powerful when we learn effective ways to work with emotions, with the past, and with future situations.
Valuing Yourself Highly
Here’s an excerpt of Chapter 16: Even when we have done the work of facing painful feelings and restructuring self-defeating beliefs, many of us continue the habit of questioning ourselves unnecessarily or turning against ourselves when something goes wrong. Self-doubt is a habit that no longer serves a protective purpose. It only undermines our efforts to build self-assurance and a new outlook by uncentering us and thus disorganizing our sense of ourselves. We must see that self-criticism and shame are not based on the reality of who we are but rather are attempts to control our pain without dealing with it directly.
If our old sense of self is based on self-criticism and self-hatred, we must be emphatic in treating ourselves positively in order to build a stance based on self-love and a realistic appreciation of our worth. It isn’t overcompensation. It simply feels that way if we’ve had a taboo against being on our own side.
Three things turn the tide
Here’s what turns you from a life based on self-criticism, hurt, or disappointment to one of joy and fulfillment:
- Giving feelings the time they need to be acknowledged and to flow through, and not despairing that they will never end, simply because they are not going fast enough to suit our impatience. When they have subsided enough (not disappeared for good – that’s an unrealistic goal) we will not be swept away by them, and we’ll be able to tolerate their resurgence if they’re triggered, because they are no longer overpowering and we know how to handle them. They won’t run us. We’ll be in the power seat of our lives, and then we can turn our attention elsewhere freely and grow new habits. (This we talked about in the BWITSY chapter.)
- Turning our attention toward a palpable experience of self, with a rich sense of being firmly in our core and valuing what we find there. (We started building this in the Centering chapter.)
- Building a new internal structure based on a strong belief, staunchly practiced, in our own value. And this is what we are learning in this chapter.
To be life-affirming and experience-altering, centering needs to be based on a belief that we are wonderful!
One of the first things people notice when they center is that they feel grateful for what they have and who they are. As we continue to practice, this sense of fullness in ourselves builds a solid core. We then can experiment with a different response pattern, taking the stance that we are fine, good, and wonderful, and then behaving in line with that conviction. This is a crucial step in uncovering joy and really changing how we feel in our lives. Developing the habit of feeling ourselves, at our core, to be valuable and good is the key to building a new personal reality.
Our center continues to strengthen over time as we stop ourselves from going down old, worn paths of self-blame, excessive apology, or excuse- making, (or whatever our automatic artillery is). Then we must insist on taking the stance that we are fine. We can then see what life is like when standing in our ‘worthy’ position, noticing new options that appear – not our old usuals…
…Valuing ourselves is not just a nice idea. It is crucial in order to turn away from those deeply grooved pathways of self-doubt, second-guessing, anticipating disaster, and despair. We cannot wait for circumstances to pop self-confidence over our heads like a new sweater. We must train our minds to see ourselves as valuable and precious. Joy is not an externally induced event, which actually is a great relief. Our joy is not dependent on events or other people. Even if it feels as though we’re breaking taboos, and the wrath of all the gods will pour down on our heads for doing so, we can choose to invest in a true, positive sense of ourselves.
Turning your focus toward your good qualities connects you with your true self. Really. When you do so, you can see that self-negation is not accurate at all. It’s been loaded heavily with the weight given to negative thoughts. When you see that those self-doubting voices are merely an attempt to keep you out of trouble by keeping you from taking risks, you can calm them down and begin to let your old self-image slip off your shoulders.
Getting our nervous systems to help build a new sense of self
How our neurology can help our efforts is clearer if we understand the physiology of adaptation. For example, the reason that you get out of shape if you lie around on the couch is that human bodies readily adapt to changes in circumstance in order to survive. If you had to wait out the winter in a cave or a yurt, your body would reduce all internal activity to a much slower state, closer to hibernating. It accomplishes this by dismantling or reallocating quite a few synapses from action-oriented to being-on-hold and transforming your muscles into fat as fuel storage.
This same physiological mechanism can be used to help you build your new self-definition. Your internal structure – either based on self-criticism or on self-support – builds or atrophies based on usage, just as your muscles do. It’s a miracle of being human that the more conscious awareness you bring to any system or function, the more development occurs in that area, because awareness sparks energy, and more energy can build more structure.
To help that old-view-of-you to atrophy, we need to champion our healthy view of ourselves staunchly, even fiercely. Especially when you’re in the middle of some stressful event, it takes committed effort to combat old fault-finding thoughts. Insist on seeing yourself as good and valuable by rehearsing affirming messages, even if they seem artificial at first. After a while, your self-perception will start to shift.
Own your own power
To staunchly support ourselves we must own our own power. To do so, we must first identify when and how we have given it away to others. Sometimes we don’t even know what power is rightfully ours, thinking that we have to please too many people or be too good in too many situations. We don’t realize that it is our job to stick up for ourselves. When we don’t know what power is rightfully ours, we drain and belittle ourselves by avoiding responsibility and giving the decision-making or action-taking to others, or when we trance out, taking refuge in a numb internal place.
We must activate our energy, come back to the present, and insist on seeing ourselves in a positive light, refuse again and again to go down those old paths that say that we can’t do it, or don’t deserve to get it, or might as well give up, or can’t count on anyone, or (what’s yours say?).
When we build a habit of being our own champion (and who better to do it, I ask you?) we can let our gifts blossom. The more we support ourselves, the more they grow. As we remove the constriction of negative thought patterns, more energy is freed up to apply to our talents, and they develop even more. We deserve to treat our gifts as precious and sacred and to do whatever is needed in order to protect and nurture them.
Being centered with a positive self-awareness allows us to relax into ourselves, giving birth to a profound peace which in turn uncovers the joy waiting for us in our core. Returning to it, or staying with it, demands that we continue to support ourselves insistently and repeatedly. The earlier and more chronically that trauma happened in our lives, the fiercer we have to be in supporting our sense of ourselves as worthy.
As we claim our right to determine our own opinion of ourselves, the past can slip into less importance. Abuse, as well as other people’s criticisms, can become more peripheral to our self-concept. Freedom does not, ultimately, have to do with our circumstances. It is in our power to keep from continuing to imbue events with the urgency or horror that has thrown us off in the past. True freedom lies in seeing that we are in charge of how we interpret events, of our attitude, and in how we choose to be within ourselves. Freedom and peace come when we do not let events, either internal or external, knock us off our center for too long. Then joy is uncovered, at first for a minute, then, with practice, for longer stretches of time.
Nothing short of life changing! Professionally, at home, on the tennis court, Sarah’s grounding, centering, breathing, and meditation techniques allow me to regain a strong sense of calm and focus. No more struggling with self-doubt. A significant impact on my ability to deal with performance success and life’s daily challenges. — Frank Costantino, CTO, major financial services corporation
I have suffered from anxiety for my whole life. I was sexually abused by my stepfather for years. Years of therapy helped except for the constant anxiety. Sarah suggested I read her book. I read the chapter on anxiety and had tears in my eyes. My anxiety is highest when I’m riding my horse. Using her techniques, I relaxed, so my horse did too! I now have control of the fear instead of it controlling me. It’s getting better and better. Thanks Sarah! — Susan Mitchell, para-educator, riding instructor
Sarah has progressed me toward happiness in my life unlike any other counselor before. Her help is immediate and lasting, and tangible so that I can replicate her methods. She is a very gifted healer. — Donna P, corporate writer, Canada