DISCOVERING AND HEALING THE WOUNDED SELF
THROUGH MINDFULNESS By: Ruslan Ivanov, LMHC
Helping clients to access their own source of healing and transformation is the greatest privilege in my work. Together we explore the inner landscape of emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and body sensations, discovering what works and what calls for change and attention. In many cases, certain mental states have trauma at their source. When working with traumatic memories, we often discover that clients have harmful attitudes about themselves, others, the world, and their future. Depending on the intensity and frequency of the trauma, these memories are internalized. If trauma occurred when one was young, the internalization and impact of these memories during earlier formative years could manifest in the present.
The inner structures we integrate serve their purpose by protecting the vulnerable self from real or perceived harm and creating a temporary sense of safety and relatedness. However, with time, they become archaic and self-defeating and hinder natural growth and healing. For example, a person growing up may learn that they can stay safe by feeling small and hidden inside while focusing on serving others’ emotional needs. Consequently, this “survival” behavior and an internalized filter of perception lead one to ignore their own needs and become a default mode of relating. These strategies may have worked in the past, helping them to survive by maintaining the necessary human connection when they were young and dependent on others. However, as the individual becomes an adult, these outgrown and split parts of the self are still “online” in the present, compromising and negatively affecting how a person views themselves, others, and the world. The goal of therapy thus becomes the transformation of traumatic filters of consciousness (Segal, 2018)
USING MINDFULNESS IN THERAPY
Mindfulness is a modality that I utilize when working with clients toward discovery and healing the “wounded self.” Its English translation comes from the Pali word Sati. Another version of the Sati translation could read as ‘heart-fullness.’
Using Mindfulness in psychotherapy settings cultivates a balanced acceptance of the inner and outer experience. This allows one to refocus from a traumatic past and/or anxious future to what is happening in the present moment. After all - life always unfolds in the present moment. Learning about and cultivating Mindfulness in therapy helps to create a non-judgmental space in the “here and now” within, which lies a powerful healing resource that is available and accessible to everyone. Mindfulness is opening to and then receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without clinging on to it or rejecting it. This leads to a state of equanimity, calmness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion! Accessing and cultivating such states allows one to become more responsive to the present moment, rather than being trapped in the traumatic past or reacting to the world circumstances without a “pause”; unconsciously and automatically. Noticing how things flow within and fully feeling it in the safety of a therapy room helps to reestablish the sense of wholeness and a continuation of time. Knowing that all inner mental and emotional phenomena will pass and come to an end, and then experientially transforming the old parts of the self, helps to establish new attitudes and outlooks in life.
RESEARCH ON MINDFULNESS
Over the past several decades, a large body of research documents the beneficial effects of Mindfulness on a number of psychiatric, somatic and stress-related disorders (Holzel et al., 2011). A quick search for “Mindfulness” in Google Scholar for 2019 renders more than 5,000 returned links to various publications such as studies, books, and book chapters. Mindfulness-body-oriented treatments have become an accepted practice in treating developmental and complex trauma, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and other health disorders. Cultivating certain attitudes such as non-judging, accepting, letting go, trusting self and the world, patience, “non-doing,” and gratitude have been found to produce a range of benefits. For example, a capacity to develop distance from destructive impulses, improved emotional self-regulation, greater perceptual clarity of the self, a change in perspective on the self, increased physical health (stronger immune functioning), and reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels. (Jacobs et al., 2010; Holzel et al., 2011). Mindfulness technology originated from ancient eastern philosophies that were developed to gain insight into the true nature of the mind. Therefore, it is only natural to integrate this time-honored body of knowledge into contemporary psychotherapeutic interventions by synthesizing a western and eastern understanding of how the mind and psyche work!
HOW MINDFLUNESS WORKS
Change is found in the capacity for self-observation. Paying full attention to what is present in the psychological landscape in the moment, non-judgmentally with a sense of curiosity, without trying to push away or cling to the experience, is a foundation of change. As the field of awareness is expanding, lost aspects of experience can be integrated into a more complex whole. Once, after just ten minutes of Mindfulness guided inner exploration, a person I was working with stated, “for the first time in my life, for a split second, I liked myself!” In addition to the access to expanded awareness, two of the most important and fundamental things that clients learn are kindness and compassion towards self. Friendliness, warmth, loving-kindness, and compassion are the essential elements of present-moment experiences in a mindfulness-oriented session.
Practicing mindfulness techniques inside and outside the therapy room produces clear and lasting shifts in consciousness and self-perception. Individuals radically shift their relationship to their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. When one adapts such views, the self is no longer felt to be worthless, hopeless, to blame, or inadequate. Negative thoughts are no longer seen as accurate reflections of reality.
In my work, I rely on the unity principle, which is the notion of human interconnectedness. One of the implications of this principle is the sense that whenever people are fragmented, there is a greater force working on their side that wants to move things in the direction of healing, greater wholeness, and wisdom. Therefore, my role as a therapist is to help clients discover this source within and uncover the barriers that stand in the way of unfolding greater self-compassion, loving presence, healing, and transformation (Johanson, 2009).
Harris, R. (2019). Act made simple: an easy-to-read primer on acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6), 537–559. doi: 10.1177/1745691611419671
Johanson, G. J. (2009). Psychotherapy, Science, and Spirit: Nonlinear Systems, Hakomi Therapy, and the Tao. Journal of Spirituality In Mental Health.
Siegel, D. J. (2018). Aware: the science and practice of presence: the groundbreaking meditation practice. New York: Tarcher Perigee.
Weiss, H. (2015). Hakomi mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy: a comprehensive guide to theory and practice. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.