Building Bridges Through Loss: Four/When Sadness Comes

While I have called this post “When Sadness Comes,” I might well have substituted the word Rage for Sadness.  In my experience, all feelings of anger and grief are inseparable although, depending upon care giver expectations, we may be unable to experience one or the other of these profoundly humanizing emotions.  Some of us are born into families who permit the expression of anger but deny any grief that may lie below this emotion.  And many are born into families where it is “safe” to express sadness, but absolutely forbidden to express any form of anger.  And some, of course, must pretend a kind of cheerful neutrality regardless of what emotional landmines are detonating throughout the days and nights of family life.

Our journeys to wholeness require that we acknowledge and experience the feelings our early care givers insisted we deny, and this requirement is often very challenging.  The reclamation of our forbidden feelings is a process similar to muscle building.  We go through an initial period of painful resistance that requires we choose to persevere.  Once we make this choice to reclaim our denied emotions, our new emotional breadth increases our emotional intelligence one hundred fold.  This reclamation process takes the time and patience any worthwhile undertaking requires.  Happily, energy tools, and specifically EFT, can be very helpful partners in improving our emotional literacy on the journey to wholeness.

In my birth family, while frustration and anger were acceptable emotional expressions, all expressions of sadness were unwelcome.  This denial of grief meant that tears were shameful, a sign of the “self-indulgence” particularly abhorrent to my British, stiff-upper-lip grandmother.  Schooled in the “your problems are nothing compared to others’ problems” attitude passed down by her parents, others’ tragedies evoked empathy while her own were disappeared into the shadow world that expressed, startlingly, as raging reactivity over the comparatively inconsequential problems of her adult daily life.  Fear of provoking her rage caused our family members to stifle the genuine feelings of grief and tenderness and so become as reactively volatile as she.

Because I spent my formative years under my grandmother’s exclusive influence, giving myself permission to acknowledge my personal distress took formal therapy’s profoundly helpful conversations about familial attitudes and why these might have developed and influenced my way of being in the world.  When I finished that first course of therapy in my thirties, I felt supported by the understanding I gained about why my birth-family dynamic took the shape it did.  However, this intellectual knowledge took me only so far along my healing path, and like my grandmother, I continued to feel very little of my own pain.  With her, I felt great empathy for others’ tragedies but I had no way of retrieving and feeling my own suppressed emotions.  As I understand this now that I am on the other side of safely experiencing my emotions,  at the time of my talk therapy, I did not have a safe way to access and to honour the emotions prowling around in my flesh.

Making friends with sadness and grief changed when I discovered  EFT in 2006 and became, almost immediately, a profoundly competent “body whisperer.”  I borrow this phrase from the Robert Redford film, The Horse Whisperer, of course. Long before I saw that film, I often described how I felt when distressed using horse imagery.  One unforgettable description I used (only to myself in those years of emotional reclamation) was that I felt like a horse trapped in a burning barn.

If I’d used this phrase while under my grandmother’s care, she would have immediately countered with her most effective blocking phrase:  “Oh, Jane.  Don’t be so dramatic.”  However, there was no drama in the phrase.  I actually felt the wild agitation I sensed horses feel when trapped in a burning barn.  My intelligent flesh resonated with the animals I saw while watching westerns, the movies and TV series that dominated my childhood and adolescence.  These visual stories put me in touch with the terror in my own flesh.  The way trauma played out in my body made me want to race around as the trapped horses in these old films and TV stories did, until, one unforgettable day, I discovered how to soothe and transform this wild reactivity using EFT.

Some years before my vital discovery of EFT,  when in my early fifties, I saw the film The Horse Whisper.   Although everything about the film’s treatment of horses felt authentic, the movie troubled me terribly.  For reasons I could not understand at the time, when I reviewed the story, I shifted into my left brain to analyze and pick apart the subject matter rather than experience emotionally what the lead character could do for terrified horses.  I have found this left-brain refuge to be a common distancing strategy among people who have been traumatized when young and bullied or seduced into suppressing their feelings.  The left brain helps us to feel powerful and even invulnerable because it is all about knowing and dominating a subject.  Using knowledge to experience a type of power is especially comforting when we are faced with emotional overload.

Try as I might to convince myself of the film’s lack of value, its imagery wouldn’t leave my imagination. I soon found myself remembering other films and episodes of TV westerns in which horses were terrorized and terrified. For years before I recalled this vivid horse-trauma imagery, I allowed myself to admire horses for their beauty and strength, but I did all I could to disengage from sensing their emotional reactivity.

Then, in 2006, I learned how to engage my body in the healing process using EFT.  Over a series of months using Gary Craig’s Personal Peace Procedure, I tapped through the acupressure points and reclaimed the many emotions trapped as reactivity in my body.  As I did this storytelling, tapping work, I began to reclaim my mammalian kinship with the horses I’d intuitively identified with when I first began to identify my feelings of traumatic reactivity as a child.  Many people speak of EFT’s one-minute wonders, and while frequent users experience almost instantaneous emotional breakthroughs from time to time, my intentional, trauma-healing experiences with the protocols were more like a long-term, increasingly loving courtship.

During this flesh-courtship time, I made my personal EFT practice part of my early morning writing/meditation practice, and because tapping made me feel so grounded and authentic, I faithfully continued the practice for several years.  When I finally saw Buck, a documentary about the man on whom Redford’s horse whispering character was based, I had been using EFT to honour my past tragedies everyday for five years.  By the time I saw this man’s actual life story, I understood at a visceral level why I and other traumatized people need the somatic support, safety, and loving acknowledgement of our traumas that EFT provides.

While this film was not an emotionally easy experience for me, Buck Brannaman’s story helped me to understand my intuitive connection with terrified horses, and of course, with terrified children and adults.  Brannaman himself had been traumatized by his abusive father, experiencing physical and emotional abuse until an observant and engaged coach saw evidence of this abuse and Buck found the supportive environment he needed to thrive within the Shirley family.  As is often the case, his personal experience of trauma led him to develop an innovation in healing, his a gentle, leadership approach to working with horses that less sensitive people might do their best to whip into submission.  Knowing first-hand the horrors of force and punishment rather than love and guidance while learning, Brannaman developed a system of horse training that not only inspired the novel, The Horse Whisperer, but that has influenced equine academies all over the world.

Respecting and guiding the body as Brannaman respects and guides horses is essential to human trauma healing.  As our fingers gently dance over our skin, we are communicating through touch, the body’s first language.  Closing our eyes, placing our hands over our hearts, and whispering a prayer for healing before we begin our tapping sessions makes clear our respectful, loving intentions.  Giving the body space and time to release its secrets is a deeply healing way of gentling the flesh that has carried us through so much conscious and unconscious ambiguity, fear, rage, and terror.  Speaking with the body through touching the meridian/acupressure points is like singing a lullaby to a fussy baby, soothing a sobbing child with gentle words and hugs, and calming a terrified horse with actions that restore a sense of safety.  Gentling approaches express the loving intention to comfort and to heal that support our transformation from fearful avoidance to loving acceptance and participation in the world as it is.

The invitation to transform is the gift of trauma, and the loving reconnections to Self we experience as we heal alter our lives for the better.  We all carry the possibility of transformation after trauma.  Once we understand and feel both the painfully trapped emotions and the release from reactivity our attention supports, we live our lives as an exciting adventure. This adventurous attitude blesses not only our newly embodied lives, but all with whom we share our beautiful planet.

Whether our healing takes five minutes, five years, or fifty, the time we spend transforming the traumatic reactivity stored in our flesh is worth every moment. This personal work raises the field of energy we share wherever we are.  And while we may not be able to see with our physical eyes the energy we create and share through our personal healing, our flesh knows its beauty and harmony first hand.  We feel more joy along with our many other authentic emotions.  We sleep well and eat with reverence and gratitude.  We meet each day with joyful readiness. And we have a full range of human emotions with which to serve the love and healing ever active in the world.

Until next time