Fourteen people gathered at a lovely retreat center outside of Edmonton, Alberta for the weekend of November 15-17, nine Canadians and five Americans. We did “Co-Counseling and Community Building, Level 1,” the same training that I gave to 30 people in NY state in August.
This training had a key difference from the last one, which was that roughly half the participants were from the local area, and they had various connections to each other prior to the weekend. They had already started building a support network and were eager to bring PLN skills and principles into their approach to supporting each other. These folks will have the luxury of not having to go home and build a local PLN network from scratch; they already have their core group and now they’ve all had two full days of intensive training.
The training participants were such a lovely group of women; caring, outspoken, sticking up for each other, fiery, fighting for their kids, big hearts, willing to take risks. I am carrying these awesome people around inside me and feeling buoyed by them in the days that have passed since the training.
I want to share some specific thoughts I have as I reflect back on the weekend:
* I’d like to see everybody in the Peak Living Network make a list of all the things you can think of that the world needs that you have to offer. Some things on the list might be skills or knowledge you could share, and others might be personal qualities you have that the rest of us could benefit from.
When you first start making the list you may have trouble coming up with ideas; most of us have been invalidated a lot over the course of our lives, so we underestimate what our abilities and positive qualities are. You might also run into a message in your head telling you not to say (or even think) positive things about yourself because that would be conceited. Try to push past those injuries and those negative voices and start building a list.
I explained at the training that it’s false to think of some people as “the leader type” and other people as “not the leader type.” Everyone has important leadership to share in some aspect of life, and one of the missions of PLN is to help everyone develop their leadership skills.
* Learning to co-counsel is challenging, not because it involves any hard-to-attain skills but because it requires breaking a number of long-standing habits. The hardest parts seem to be: 1) Breaking the habit of switching the subject back to ourselves when it’s the other person’s turn, and 2) Breaking the habit of making reference to things the person said during their counseling turn after their turn is over. We’ll need to find ways to frequently remind ourselves and each other of these principles.
As happened at the August training, several people commented that they were already starting to feel the power of co-counseling. This is all the more reason to do it with commitment and discipline, because its power depends on those things.
* People are reporting that they get messages in life, from a number of different directions, that say that it’s unrealistic to expect or hope for very much healing. Society seems to be rife with the outlook that things inside of us can only improve a little, and even that can only happen with a tremendous amount of hard work. Some people reported getting this message even from their therapists. So we need to put our passion into this movement and help people believe – and experience – what a huge healing potential we all have.
Photos from Unsplash, top to bottom:
Jens Johnsson, Greg Raines, Maxime Bhm
The most popular and visible approaches to emotional recovery — the philosophies typically promoted in commercial self-help and personal growth books and websites — are making numerous errors. One of the most common and problematic mistakes is their tendency to spread rigid, inflexible thinking. They claim that these rigidities will free us, but in fact what we’re trying to liberate ourselves from is rigidity itself. Emotional wounds cause us to become inflexible — in our bodies, in our emotions, and in our thinking — and emotional healing helps us to regain our suppleness in all three of those areas.
Here are some examples of the false dichotomies we get taught:
you “focus on the positive” and “stop allowing your distress to have any power”
you spend time feeling your emotions and processing them (which, according to many philosophies, means that we’ll sink into self-pity, wallow in our painful emotions, and spend our lives in pointless ruminating)
you find other people to love you
you learn to love yourself (which, they seem to be saying, means that you stop needing love from anyone else)
you accept the world as it is
you don’t accept it, so you try to change it (and the message here seems to be that if you don’t accept the world as it is, you’ll live constantly unhappy about the state that it’s in)
you look to people to rescue you
you take charge of your own life (which apparently means you stop needing anyone’s help)
These are all false choices; you don’t actually have to select between the two things in each of the examples above. In fact, the effort to make these rigid choices slows our healing rather than speeding it up.
Why? Because we need all of these elements in our lives. Successful emotional healing only comes if we attend to them all.
What does this mean in practice? It means that some days we need to be tough, and other days we need to recognize that it’s a bad day to fight and just let ourselves fall apart. (Yes, we need times of melting down.) Some days we’re all we need, and other days we really need support, companionship, and encouragement. Some days we need to live with the world as it is and let the rest go, and other days we need to be right up in the world’s face, demanding justice and demanding change. Some days we need to be taking care of other people, and some days we need them to take care of us — including times when we could really use a rescue, thank you very much.
Yes, it’s a dead end to stumble through life constantly looking to other people to rescue us. But it’s equally a dead end to decide we’re not going to rely on anyone, or to pretend that we’re never desperate.
Vibrant healthand healing come from learning to move and shift, some weeks going one way and some weeks going the other, challenging ourselves to grow in one direction today and in a different direction tomorrow. This spring may be my time to kick some asses and this summer may be my time to curl up in a ball while a loved one strokes my head.
Rigid thinking has to be left behind and replaced with flexibility. Emotional healing helps us to regain smooth and comfortable — yet solid — motion in our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking. And that flexibility in turn helps us go toward further and deeper healing.
The Peak Living Network is not about self-help. I believe the entire concept of “self-help” is actually a mistake when it comes to emotional healing. Not only does your recovery not have to be a solitary project, it can’t be; trying to heal on your own will move you only small distances — if it moves you at all. This is why consumers of self-help literature keep feeling like they’ve found the answer, only to see the benefits of each new approach fade over time. The result is that we keep hungrily grabbing up the next self-help approach that comes down the line and getting our hopes up again.
Emotional healing is collective. Either we heal in large numbers or we don’t heal much at all.
Human beings are not mountain lions. Throughout almost the entirety of human history, we have been born into tribes and clans where our membership was secure from the moment we emerged into the world. We are a species of animal that watches over each other, that shares food, that sleeps piled together, that cares for the sick, that gathers for wedding and funerals. It is only in the last 3% or so of our history that we have not lived in this manner, and so the need and desire to live in community is genetically programmed into us at the deepest levels.
The reason we are longing for connection is that we were built to live connected.
So one of the main reasons why we’re all struggling with feeling wounded and dissatisfied is because of ways that connection in our lives broke down, or because it failed to exist in the first place. Either the people who were supposed to be watching over us were hurting us instead, or there wasn’t anyone watching over us, or periods of each. Since aloneness is one of the most profound sources of our injuries — perhaps the single most profound source — it’s not surprising that we don’t heal well alone.
It’s not your fault that you keep trying to make changes in your life but those improvements mostly slip away each time. Stop dumping on yourself about the resolutions you haven’t been able to stick to, the diets you haven’t stayed on, the exercise programs you’ve dropped off of, the jobs you haven’t quit. Instead, start looking for how to build allies, working together for mutual healing and growth. This is what PLN is all about.
(This post is excerpted, with minor changes, from Lundy Bancroft’s book The Joyous Recovery, forthcoming in January 2017)
Written by Lundy Bancroft
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