The better you understand the process of emotional healing, the more effectively you can support yourself in moving through old pain.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if emotional healing were rational and linear? Then we could uncover an old painful belief, analyze it, discard it like a worn-out shoe, and move on.
In reality, though, our bodies and minds don’t move in straight lines. When we are healing, we frequently need to feel worse for a while before we feel better. It’s important to recognize this pattern. Otherwise you may mistakenly conclude you are off the track.

If you’ve ever attempted a sugar or caffeine detox, you’ve likely experienced a physical version of this pattern. As your body readjusted itself, you may have felt shaky and queasy. You may even have thought you had the flu. In reality, though, these unpleasant sensations were part of a healthy process—the side effects of toxins passing through your bloodstream on their way out of your body.

Similarly, you may have experienced intense sensations of fear upon taking a necessary action. I recall trembling all over as I hit “send” on an email in which I stood up to someone I knew would be intensely angry at me as a result. I felt better later, when the fear had subsided, because I knew I had done the right thing. But it felt awful while it lasted.

To complete a healing cycle, you need to “loop back”

When we do deep healing work, we will uncover ways in which our lives should or could have unfolded, but didn’t. Perhaps you didn’t receive the support you needed at a critical time in your life. Now, as you get the support you need, you may find yourself grieving intensely as you fully take in the effect on you of that lack of support in the past.

You have support now…but you didn’t have it then. Thus, your present-moment relief will inevitably be followed by grief. You may feel rage, too, if you experienced injustice. Or you may feel fear, if this is an intersection at which you failed to care for yourself in the past. In each case, you need to loop back and feel these feelings in order to move forward.

If you practice Inner Bonding©, you particularly need to understand this looping-back pattern. In Step Five of Inner Bonding, you take loving action. In Step 6 you evaluate the action. Inner Bonding explains that if the action truly was loving, you will feel happier, more joyful, peaceful, creative, and self-empowered, and more in integrity with yourself.

But…but. We’ve just seen that even when you have taken loving action, you may not feel all these good feelings right away. As we’ve seen, you may feel scared, angry, profoundly sad, or exhausted. However, this doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong.

On the contrary. As it turns out, you need to pass through three stages to complete a process of deep emotional healing. Yes, you need to dismantle your old, outworn inner structures. But that is just the first stage. After that, you still need to let go…and finally, to clean up.

Healing is messy

Every 10 years or so I clean out the closet in my office. I’ll empty the closet, forming piles all over my office. Then I’ll go through it all. I create a major mess.

In fact, I have to devote a free day to the task, because I can’t get anything done surrounded by this level of chaos. For me, as for many highly sensitive people, mess equals stress.

Several hours into the process, I’ve refamiliarized myself with the contents of my closet. I’ve discovered forgotten treasures. I’ve set aside items to discard or give away. And I’ve given the remaining stuff some loving care, organizing it and labeling it so it’s visible and accessible.

However, I’m not done yet. I’ve produced a mess of recycling, trash, and piles of stuff to give away, and my entire office is now coated in a fine layer of dust. I have to clear away all the debris, dust the room thoroughly, and vacuum before I can occupy it again.

Our internal change process is much the same. We can’t assess the contents of our inner world without taking it apart, and that can be messy and time-consuming. You need time to process your new insights, time to grieve, and time to rest and rewire so you can integrate the changes you are going through.

No wonder the healing process looks like the line in the photo above. We move forward. Then we loop back in order to move forward again. The key is not to get caught in the looping back part of the pattern. This can easily happen if you don’t recognize it for what it is.

Healing hurts

I don’t need to tell you that the emotional healing process can be extremely painful and challenging. We’ve explored how grief, anger, fear, or exhaustion can come up, paradoxically, as you let go of old pain, and that you may mistakenly think this means you are off the track with the healing process.

You may even feel compelled to shut the process down altogether because a part of you is scared these intense emotions will overwhelm you. However, to follow through the healing process in the face of these intense emotions, you must be willing to feel them—and able to feel them without getting completely dysregulated.

I don’t mean you have to revisit every traumatic event that ever happened to you. But when you do an inner house cleaning, stuff will turn up that needs to be dealt with. If you shove it all back into the closet, you’ll only delay the healing process.

How to discern healing pain from wounded pain

Let’s say you’ve gathered the willingness and the self-regulating resources you need to face the fear, anger, or exhaustion coming up for you as you go through an emotional healing process. That’s great. However, there remains another obstacle. This one is more like a sphinx than a flooded river or a raging fire.

Sphinxes, as you may recall, pose riddles. The healing sphinx will gaze at you inscrutably and ask you questions like these:

”How do you know these painful feelings are part of this healthy looping-back, cleaning-up process?”
“How do you know the pain isn’t your body/mind telling you that you are off the track?”
“How do you know you aren’t ignoring your internal guidance here? Are you sure this action truly is loving action?”

“After all,” says the sphinx, “Inner Bonding says, ‘Be willing to feel your feelings, and if they are painful, there’s something you are doing that isn’t loving.’” That is true—but not always.

To avoid becoming the sphinx’s next meal, you must learn to discern the difference between “off-track” pain and healing pain. The best way I can describe the difference is to say that “you-are-off-track” pain feels yucky. It feeds on itself. It feels stuck—because it is. “Yucky” pain has a message for you, and until you get that message, it won’t go away.

Healing pain, by contrast, feels clean. There’s a quality of rightness to it. You can learn to sense that rightness even when feelings like fear, anger, or exhaustion are whipping up the waters of your internal world. When you sit with clean pain and allow it space to be, it passes through you and leaves you feeling peaceful and relieved.

Give yourself the time you need

Once you understand the difference between healing pain and off-the-track pain, you’ll know how to recognize each of them. If you feel healing pain, give it the space and time it needs. You’ve worked hard to take everything out of the closet. While it’s out, take the time to sort through it properly.

You can support this process first and foremost by seeing it for what it is, which will allow you to feel any pain coming up without being afraid you are off the track. In addition, take extra care of yourself.  If you can, lighten up your schedule so you have the time and the rest you need to process and integrate your inner changes.

Image: ©2022 Emily Agnew