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Stop trying to heal

In this emotional op-ed, Ellen Moran explores how to navigate trauma and suffering by unlearning what we’ve been conditioned to believe will work. 

You have been through something. An awful thing that you don’t talk about. Something jolts inside your chest whenever someone asks, “What happened to you?”

You’ve worked on it, this thing. Maybe you’ve sought the help of a professional, taken up meditation, read books or attended counselling groups. But sometimes your bones become heavy with the thought of how much healing there is left to do and how badly you are scarred. Sometimes it’s just too hard and you slip back into old habits.

Then you try again, but it still hurts you. And everything you’ve been doing to help yourself heal is so, so wrong.

It’s not your fault. But you need to do something about it.

You have frantically bought into the self-improvement culture, handing over your delicate mental health into the overzealous hands of people who think they know your trauma better than you do. It’s a crowded space, this self-improvement one; busy with self-help groups, books, podcasts, labels and communities that give you a platform to learn, express and be heard.

While these things normalize introspection (which is incredible) your focus has subsequently been shifted from listening to yourself to listening to others. Self-help culture certainly has it’s place – my journey wouldn’t be the same without it – but it took me a long time to understand how it should relate to my own situation.

And my own trauma.

To be honest, it is empowering to be a part of a community that understands what you’ve been through. It’s healing to spend time feeling your trauma, understanding it and what triggers it. It’s liberating to realize that you aren’t the only one who has been through it and to take steps to share with and educate others so that it doesn’t happen to too many more people. And it feels good to purchase things that proclaim to speed up your healing (because consumerism well and truly has us in its grasp).

Personally, I’ve found that all of these beautiful tools didn’t always help when it came to healing. What I found was that I started trying to heal with such zeal that the trauma became a very important (and tangible) part of my identity.

I kept doing things to try to reverse the effects of my situation and it took me a long time to understand the learning and beauty of my experience. I didn’t want to be my trauma anymore; frankly it was boring – I was tired and becoming way too self-obsessed.

I recommend questioning the tools you’re employing to try to heal yourself. Where did you learn them? How often and where do you use them? How do they feel?

Let me tell you, they aren’t helping. They might be making you feel better, but they’re masking the problem. Think about this: if you try to lose your keys, how would you do it?

You can’t. You’ll always know exactly where your keys are while you’re trying to find an appropriately forgetful place to lose them. Why do we think this logic won’t work with our hurt selves?

If this speaks to you, then you might be asking something like this: “But what should I do then? I don’t want to feel this way. Do I just sit in my misery and wait?”

I might not have your perfect answer, but I do know that the more you try, the more you feed your hurt self.

Stop trying to heal. Stop focusing on the hurt part and instead focus on the joyful parts, your curious parts, your loving parts. Feed the parts of your life that you want to embody, while consciously putting yourself on the path of the person you want to be.

Self-help and healing trauma do have their place. Feeling emotions as they arise is very powerful – and necessary to avoid stagnation. But to let them become the centre point of your self-enquiry, inner work and growth allows them to have a very significant place in your story and can hide some of the best parts that you have to share with the world.

It might take months, years, or a lifetime, but eventually it will have been a very long time since you were triggered by a mention of that awful thing. And then you will know you’ve well and truly lost your keys.

Ellen Moran is a partnerships manager at Momentum Media.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain