Why Healing Is Harmful
What I'm about the explain to you is why focusing on "healing" is harmful, and how our healing-centric mindset in self-help communities, raw food communities and spiritual communities is actually doing more harm than good. But in order to explain this, I'm going to tell you more about myself than I have in any other single article I have on the web. Be warned: this is a graphic, revealing, and intimate article.
Have you ever had an experience where you honestly believed you had healed a physical or emotional ailment but then a week, a month, a year or even a decade later, it was back? I imagine we've all had this experience at least once, if not dozens and dozens of times.
When I examine my past carefully, I notice that this happens with virtually everything I ever thought I had "healed." The truth is not that I've healed it, but that I've seen more it, accepted more of it, and found a new, improved way to cope with it. This is true on the physical level as well as the emotional level. Nothing is ever gone with our first attempt.
It's kinda like this: Imagine you get strep throat as a child. You go to the doctor, you get antibiotics, and you rapidly feel better and you're sent back to school. You become stressed again easily, and notice that if your throat gets cold, you get a sore throat again rapidly now. What happened here? The throat was damaged by strep throat. The organisms that did the damage were killed off by the antibiotics and the body did its best to repair the damage. But enough time and resources for healing were never allotted, so the damage isn't fully repaired. The body becomes preoccupied with the new incoming stresses and never gets around to fully repairing the throat because there is always a new form of stress.
The same thing happens to us at the emotional level. We store away traumatic experiences so that we can process them later, but later never comes. We're always facing a new stressor emotionally, and these new factors are often too much, and so the emotional distress spills over into physical distress and creates disease. And when we can't care-take the disease, it spills out into our external life, creating disruptions in our relationships, in our career, or wherever else.
When we finally are shown the damage that we've done to ourselves through neglect, there are two common responses: The first option is that we are disheartened by all the damage we see, and so we turn away from it because it is too much to ever overcome. The second option is that we are elated to now finally have the resources, time and energy to heal from all our past wounds, and so we go about exploring our shadow with a fervor.
I lived in this second category for several years. I was introduced to consciousness exploration in stages through books like The Mastery of Love, and Frogs into Princes, and documentaries like The Secret. But mostly, these first introductions taught me about coping with emotions and shaping emotions consciously.
It wasn't until I was introduced to Teal Swan that I began to learn effective shadow work techniques. A man I knew in Buffalo (where I grew up) taught me co-counseling, and Lytenian and I attended a few sessions. Another man, Alden, introduced me to a form of group-sharing where one person spoke for a given period of time and everyone else gave full attention and acceptance without comment.
Then I met a woman, Padma, who introduced me to a form of shadow work where I came into direct contact with my subconscious in the way I did through self-hypnosis, except that her facilitation tools allowed her to help me navigate myself more effectively. Lytenian and I combined the basics that Padma taught us with further tools; We began building the framework which we later called Perspective Alchemy – a particular form of consciousness alchemy that we are continuing to develop.
I named it that because of my realization that it wasn't actually a shift in who I am that is changing, but my perspective. Our essence isn't changing over the course of our life, and most of our identity doesn't shift either. (Although identify and perspective are linked more directly than either are to our essence.) It is our perspective that keeps moving – if we go through the effort to move it.
At first I believed I was achieving real healing. We all do at first.
For example, my friend Palmer had serious cancer. Palmer changed his entire lifestyle and diet to deal with the cancer. He lost nearly a hundred pounds, he lost his need to wear glasses, he started riding a bike in his late fifties. He got into the best shape of his life. He achieved this by drinking and eating virtually nothing but organic home-made juice. His life was really great – symptom free – for about six years. He met his wife – a dear friend of mine – during that time.
Perhaps because his work included working with toxic chemicals, perhaps because of the shift to a diet that was more revolving around comfort raw-food (mostly organic nuts and seeds rather than organic vegetables), his progress began to backtrack. He started needing glasses again ten years after he'd stopped needing them. He started getting toothaches. He didn't put a hundred pounds back on, but he did gain some.
Palmer's example of healing was extraordinary and long-lasting, but like all healing, it wasn't "complete." My own (physical) healing story is similar.
At the age of sixteen I started experiencing acid reflux all the time. I went through days where I couldn't open my mouth. (I had temporomandibular joint disorder.) I had severe depression, gained weight, and experienced chronic fatigue. I suffered from insomnia, constipation, anxiety, debilitating stomach pain, extremely frequent need to pee, and nearly constant flu symptoms. I had a flaky scalp and repeated occurrences of the little tiny pimples that can happen between one's eye and one's eyelash, right of the edge of the eyelid where you feel its painful presence with every blink. I had cankersores almost constantly, ear infections regularly, and more.
Basically, at the age of sixteen I was falling apart and in constant pain of at least two different kinds, if not four or seven. At seventeen I began my radical healing process and lost every symptom I just listed above except the frequent need to pee, constipation and the insomnia. The rest of it – acid reflux, anxiety, stomach pains, etc, stopped. I'd done this simply by removing a bunch of junk ingredients (refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, etc) from my diet, without added exercise. I lost thirty pounds in thirty days.
At the age of twenty I took it further and embarked on a raw diet and gained more muscle mass than ever before. The insomnia finally stopped and so did the constipation. My life-long sensitivity to heat and sunlight went away. My energy levels became higher than they'd ever been in my life, including as a toddler. (Here is a short blog post I wrote after my first 44 days 100% raw vegan.)
This is a story of extraordinary healing, and it is a story that has inspired many people who have bought my books over the years. People have heard me speak about my experiences and they've wanted to find their own great healing too.
But the truth is, as long as you have not addressed your emotional wounds, the physical wounds will always come back. I took ten steps forward in my healing process with dietary changes and lifestyle changes. I changed to healthier toothpaste, healthier posture, healthier fabrics, healthier laundry detergent, healthier friendships and so on.
Yet over time, I began taking steps backward. Even though I retained my healthier changes in roughly 90% of their ways, I lost as much as 60% of the benefits. The acid reflux came back at times – from foods it had never come from before. The susceptibility to sore throats came back. After several years of not getting sick – not even a sniffle – I began getting sick again. The constipation came back. Eventually the insomnia came back too. The issue where I couldn't open my mouth (temporomandibular joint disorder) never came back, but the cankersores and flaky scalp did. After years without menstrual cramps or heavy periods, those came back too.
What happened? Why did I take ten steps forward and then five or six steps back? Why did Palmer take ten steps forward and then take many steps back? Why does this pattern persist?
Major change happens abruptly, like a miracle, but then one seems to revert back and back and back, until one is only slightly improved from where one started. Why?
I believe this happens because we have not healed fully at a deeper level. Eventually we make enough progress at a physical level and we finally have the space to start addressing things at an emotional level. When Teal Swan came into my life through her videos, I began doing small amounts of shadow work. When Padma came into my life and facilitated more shadow work for me, it was revealed to me that I had been in a place of denial.
I'd learned how to harness "the law of attraction" through positive focus. Whatever I didn't want in my life I simply needed to stop focusing on it. All of my attention poured out toward my desires – beautiful surroundings, a beautiful life, beautiful people, a beautiful self. I put raw food, beauty, and happiness on a pedestal and focused all of my attention there. I imagined myself there even if I didn't feel like I was there. I shamed anyone who tried to pull me down – I shamed Lytenian any time he brought down my mood.
But in 2014 I noticed that I had felt this surreal discontentment that I didn't understand. I felt good about my life. I felt good about myself. So why did I feel this unsettled feeling? I seemed content when I questioned myself about it. I had chosen my life for myself, and I was happy with my choices. What was wrong with that?
Except that I wasn't happy with my choices. I hadn't achieved my dreams! So why did I feel content to just continue my life as it was? Why did I feel no inspiration or drive to reach for more? Perhaps I had become enlightened and I was content with my life because I had become like Buddha. After all, isn't striving a sign that one is emotionally imbalanced?
I was confused, but between Padma, Teal Swan and Lytenian, I began to see my own unconscious. I analyzed my dreams, practiced many different forms of consciousness alchemy, and started to see my own shadow. And as I said toward the beginning of this article, I was suddenly driven with a passion to eliminate all of my trauma.
I was shocked with each revelation: How could I have been holding on to so much pain and been oblivious to it? So many childhood hurts were still vivid inside me – all I had to do was really look for them. When I finally saw myself, I saw how ravaged I was. I wanted to be there for all the past selves I had been, and hold myself through all the pain. I wanted to make it better.
For months I did shadow work every day. More than that, shadow work became the majority of my life for months. I stopped needing food or sleep in a way I'd never known before. Four hours of sleep felt like a full night. Eight-hundred calories felt like a full day's supply. My emotional needs were being met in a way they had never been met before, and thus, I was being physically fueled instead of physically drained by my emotional experience.
Yet, after months, I became disheartened. There was too much. I wasn't healing fully. I wasn't getting at everything. Lytenian was becoming exhausted from his role in my healing. He shamed himself for not being more effective. I shamed myself for not progressing faster or more fully. How could we spend seven hours a day at this for three months without achieving a larger victory? Why did it seem like the well of pain within me was endless? Was I actually creating more shadow by focusing so much on my shadow?
In my doubt, fear, frustration and shame, I began to feel suicidally depressed. I had an argument with Padma during this time period that left me feeling betrayed and abandoned. I developed the first gray hairs on my head. It was the late autumn of 2014 and was twenty-five.
I closed up and closed down. I couldn't handle anymore. That is when I began getting physically symptomatic again in a big way. I'd been there for myself – my shadow aspects had seen the light of my conscious attention – and then I pulled away. It was a huge betrayal of myself, but I didn't see that until much later. All I knew was that I was very scared and that my peace had been very disturbed. I knew that before all that shadow work I'd been pretty happy with my life.
Perhaps it was time to return to positive focus. And yet now I knew positive focus was a lie. I was no longer chasing a positive vibration because it felt good. I was chasing it to escape the pain I'd seen. It took me roughly a year to recover to a place where I felt safe processing some of the time, and living my life the rest of the time. I was trying to find a balance, but it wasn't easy.
I almost fell apart in the summer of 2015. I almost left Lytenian. But in that moment of almost leaving him, his true value to me was revealed, and I gave up everything else I wanted instead.
I was rewarded by finally receiving much of what I had been seeking in the autumn of 2015. I met Greg. But that's another story.
In the autumn of 2016 I had my first fever-awakening. At the time I didn't know it was the first of many. I didn't know that what I was going through was going to wear off after several months. It was so immersive that I expected my perspective and body to stay changed forever. My vision had become so sensitive I spent days wearing a blindfold, even when I used the bathroom. I didn't use my computer for months. I had Greg read to me some of my messages and I dictated responses for him to type for me.
I had bundles of realizations about myself and the universe at large. For the first time in my life I experienced what it was like to be without constipation without food being the source of peristalsis. (I wrote the original draft of my article Curing Chronic Constipation after I recovered enough from my eye sensitivity in early 2017.)
In the healing process of autumn 2016 I made huge strides toward uncovering the wounds that caused my fixation with rape fantasies. I made major discoveries about the relationship of rules in my life and being literally anal retentive. I found the link between the tension in parts of my body and the way I internalized my experiences. I discovered how much I was self-sacrificing for my husbands and how much I had been ignoring my own heart.
Then, over the next year (2017), I began taking steps back. I found myself craving rape role-playing again in my sex life. I found myself constipated and rule-bound again. I found the tension between my eyes back to its all-time height. I found myself focusing entirely on my husbands – making them meals and forgetting to feed myself, focusing on massaging their back pains and forgetting my own desire for a massage.
And for every step backward, I shamed myself. How could I be falling back into these same patterns? Wasn't I better by now?
What did I gain from taking ten steps forward and nine steps back? Perspective. The largest difference between the zero where I started and the one where I ended up (after moving ten forward and nine back) is that I have a lot more experience and understanding. I see more clearly where I might be going, why I might want to go there, and why I might want to be where I am. Now, reflecting on that, I can see that the perspective is worth it.
I can't say I've "healed" if the gain was perspective. If I still carry in me the wounding that causes me to desire to be dominated or violated, then I'm not healed. But if I understand it more and more thoroughly, I am gaining perspective. And interestingly, the perspective does lead to healing – slowly. It doesn't feel like a direct ratio. For example, I might feel like I understand something almost fully, and yet I'm still under the sway of that wounding half the time. That means that my perception is that I've understood something 95% of the way, but I'm only 50% healed.
The truth is, if I'm still triggered by my past, still conjuring desires from those old wounds, and still being walled-off from the outcomes I desire most because of my past traumas, then I don't understand as much as I think I do. If my behavior is only 10% changed, then my understanding must only be at 10%, even if it seems like my understanding is at 95%.
What happens in these miraculous healing stories is a series of shifts in focus that causes us to experience the potential outcome that will be the lasting result if we can achieve a full understanding – a full shift in perspective. But in order to retain a lasting shift in perspective relative to any area of our life, our entire being – emotional, physical and mental – must undergo a shift in perspective, especially relative to the deep traumas we've buried so far that we can not consciously perceive them.
Even in my ten steps forward, rarely do I ever taste briefly what it might be like to be without my deepest triggers and traumas entirely. Yet we do experience brief tastes – those moments of enlightenment where we can know anything we want to know in an instant. The entire universe is open and we sense completeness, wholeness, togetherness and love as we never have before. The gap inside us feels filled. The whole world is not just at our fingertips, but merged with every cell within us.
People often write about these experiences in the moment and express that this transformation is a permanent change. But it never is. The gurus either black-slide or they selectively identify with the "enlightened" part of themselves in order to abandon any part of themselves that is not perfect, whole.
We have to "back track" because we're not actually on a linear scale. We're on a multi-dimensional spiral, and thus, we go through the same patterns we went through before with only a singular difference: perspective. It will feel like all the exact same stuff is coming up again with only a minor change in actors, environment or stimuli. Yet the shift in your perspective allows you to take away a new realization from the experience.
The "most enlightened" people I've ever met – or even heard of – are still highly influenced by the traumas they experienced in their first few years of life. Take Richard Bach and his book The Bridge Across Forever. It is a beautiful, captivating story about two of the most enlightened people I've ever heard of. And yet, they're still struggling with the classic emotional trauma that we all carry. Richard Bach suffers from enmeshment trauma, and feels the need to run away and "get space" whenever a woman gets close. His soul-mate suffers from abandonment trauma, she feels betrayed terribly if he needs space away from her. (The Bridge Across Forever is easily in the top three books I ever read out of the hundreds of books I've read in my life. If you're curious, get a copy. It's good.)
The most helpful, influential people in my life are no exception. Padma, for example, has a pattern of validating physical pain but invalidating emotional pain. This has been my pattern as well, which is why we were so drawn to one another and to shadow work in the first place. We both carried (and still carry) a lot of emotional wounds that we desperately wanted to address. Both of us thought the answer was in physical cures. She became hyper-fit through extreme sports and a Paleo diet. I became hyper-energetic through positive focus techniques and a raw food diet. On the surface, we seemed quite different, but at an emotional level, we were very much alike.
Padma brought me deep into my own shadow work, and yet I felt incredibly invalidated by her. Her invalidation of me mirrored my own invalidation of me which mirrored the invalidation I originally experienced from my parents. This I couldn't stand, and I felt so betrayed by her that I had to cut off contact with her.
I used to exalt the idea of healing when I was in this major experience of being ten steps ahead on a raw food diet. I paraded myself as a raw food guru and a healed individual. I don't want to do that anymore. Like Teal, I'm part of an authenticity movement.
And like Teal, I can tell you from my own personal experience working with my own shadow and working with the shadows of my clients, I can tell you that there are no perfectly healed individuals. And that's where we all need to get really clear: there is nothing wrong with not being healed.
You are not broken or bad because you have not mastered unconditional love. It is okay to be right where you are. How are you ever going to face the truth about yourself and gain any perspective at all if you drown yourself in shame every time you get a glimpse of the truth of yourself? And even that is okay. It is so common that it is normal. That is what everyone does. They get a glimpse of themselves and they immediately drown themselves in shame, hoping that with enough guilt-tripping they can stumble into being a "good" person.
If you hold the prospect of healing on a pedestal and believe you merely need to ascend that pedestal in order for your life to be perfect, healed, whole and happy, then you've doomed yourself to repeated disappointment and self-recrimination. The belief in healing is harming many of us today, because in our belief in the prospect of permanent healing, we neglect to give ourself the greatest healer of all: accepting presence.
When you accept the possibility that you may never heal, you may never change, and that it is okay to be traumatized and hurt, you can finally begin to look at yourself as you are.
Admit your trails and hardships to yourself. Admit how hard your life has been for you. Admit that your parents shamed you, blamed you, and made you feel inferior and small. Admit to yourself what you really felt at the time.
Most people rationalize what happened to them and invalidate their own feelings and experiences their entire life. They never give the crying child inside them a chance to be comforted, held and cared for. This is why most people never change. They don't actually shift their perspective enough to even see themselves, much less actually heal.
Don't aim for healing. Aim for perceiving and the healing will come in direct proportion to your perception. Like forgiveness, deep healing at the root can not be forced. A small cut on the finger will go away on its own. But the traumas we experience emotionally as children are like broken bones that healed in disfigured shapes. These traumas must first be acknowledged, understood and grokked before there is any chance of resetting the bone and giving it the nourishment it needs to heal fully and correctly.
Along the way, we must embrace our coping mechanisms. These are what allow us to live anything close to the lives we want despite the trauma we experienced in the past. Whether it is smoking, binge eating, escalating arguments, or distancing yourself from others, you have coping mechanisms, and more or less these mechanisms work for you. Congratulate yourself. You've found ways to move forward despite heartache, betrayal, abandonment, and boundary violation.
When I think honestly about where I am now, I see that I'm in a place where I no longer do what is best for my physical health all the time. I "fell off" the raw food wagon in favor of exploring my shadows. I strive for an intuitive diet, but sometimes my coping mechanisms are choosing what I eat – not my intuition. Why was I able to keep to a strict, no-exceptions diet before? Why the shift?
Because I've come to see that relationships are the most critical part of my life, namely my relationships to Lytenian and Greg. What we want more than anything in our lives as humans is connection. We seek connection with ourselves, connection with other humans, and connection with our environment. Without all three of these connections we feel lost, confused, and empty. When we can't get connection in one of these areas, we try to emphasize the part of our life where we do get connection to compensate.
If I am feeling a lack of connection with other humans, I emphasize my connection with myself through meditation, yoga, and career-oriented tasks. I focus on my reflection in the mirror, I praise myself, I write journal entries and I do artwork. As I feel closer to myself, I can ignore the empty place where I crave connection with someone else.
If I am feeling a lack of connection with my environment and no place really feels like home to me, I emphasize my connection with someone else. "You're my home," I say, putting my hand on their heart. It is romantic, but is it the full truth? I blow up my desire to be with them sexually, emotionally and intellectually. I spend lots of time with them. Beside my connection with them, the emptiness where I crave a sense of "home" diminishes or even vanishes from sight.
If I am feeling a lack of connection with myself, I may emphasize my connection with my environment in order to escape the pain of self-distance. I spend time cleaning, organizing, and perfecting my space. I hang up paintings that are beautiful. I coordinate colors. I scrub windows, counters, and walls. I know where I am is home, and thus the feeling of not being at home in my own body is less obvious, less painful.
Through this epiphany about the importance of connection I was able to shift my focus on physical health to a broader focus on overall health through connection. Because emotion is the bridge between mind and body, I reason that emotional health is the root of physical and mental health, and the key to emotional health is feeling connected. I realize that this is an oversimplification of the situation, but the full story there is for a later date for me. I can't say I've grokked it – not yet.
What I have grokked is how much pain I've caused myself in the name of healing. That is why I've moved to a new perspective relative to healing. Now I am exalting the process of discovering my wounds and giving them love and attention without any agenda to "heal" them.
What if my wounds don't need healing? What if there is nothing wrong with being wounded? What if my damage is as much me as anything else? There is nothing be to ashamed of. We're all hurt and we're all shaped by our hurt. So thereby there is (at least relatively speaking) nothing for any of us to be ashamed of, and no healing needs to happen.
The greatest gift I can give to myself is presence – not "healing." When I express that my trauma doesn't need healing, I'm saying that I love myself as I am, wounds and all. I accept that I am full of trauma and probably always will be. That's okay.
I still want to continue to uncover my shadows. I still want to see my wounds as clearly as I can. I want to explore myself even if I never undo the wounds because the process feels good. It is soothing, like eating warm oats or taking a bath or having a head massage.
Have you ever cried and then felt better afterward? I have. Hundreds of times. Tears feel good. Grief is a process of relief, one little piece at a time. Healing may come as a result of grieving, but once again, if you aim for healing, you're too likely to miss the grieving boat and end up faking your happiness instead of actually reaching joy through grief.
Aiming for healing is resistance to the current condition. And what do we love to say in the new age of self-help and spirituality? What you resist, persists. It sounds trite, but it is accurate. To leave the space of resistance, embrace grief. Embrace the process of seeing yourself, wounds and all. Embrace the reality that you've been hurt.
I don't like wallowing, I'll be honest. It feels useless and unproductive. I'm highly attached to the idea of being productive. I resist unproductivity. What do I get from the resistance? Nervous breakdowns that cause me to be "unproductive" for days at a time. Fortunately, I rarely resist grief, especially once I get started on it. Grieving feels really, really good. It is a genuine letting go, a genuine letting in. Grieving with someone else is incredibly connecting, as you both let go relative to the same subject, and carry each other emotionally, sharing and empathizing.
Grieving feels good. Happiness feels good. So why exalt one and not the other? Why shame ourselves for not being happy when other emotions are also beneficial? Whether you're attached to productivity, or attached to happiness, or attached to financial success, you can find benefit by being present with your own trauma and grieving. It is productive because you gain perspective about yourself and your own traumas have less hold over you. It helps you become a happier person because understanding causes you to become triggered less easily, and a grieving process usually results in genuinely feeling a lot happier. It helps you become more financially successful by improving your ability to be present with other people – which is important if you're going to have customers, clients, co-workers, a boss or employees.
It may seem like I'm all over the map in this article, but I had to tell you all of this to explain why I don't believe in healing anymore. At least, I don't believe in healing in the grand sense of "overcoming one's core traumas and becoming a complete person." That kind of healing is like pie in the sky that I've never witnessed or heard of. Not really.
Sure, miracles happen where major wounds vanish at the touch of someone's hand, and cavities vanish from prayers, and cancer goes away from juice feasting. Yes, women overcome trauma from a specific rape or breakup. Men recover from their fear of crying and learn to feel again. But all of it? The core of it? Not really.
And that is beautiful. After all, if everything were perfect, what would there be to do? It is like the Daili Lama says in The Art of Happiness, we get our greatest sense of accomplishment from overcoming challenges. That sense of accomplishment is one of our greatest joys. So don't worry about whether or not you're healing.
Surrender to the reality that you may never overcome any traumas you've been through. Acknowledge the real benefits that come from allowing yourself to see yourself as you really are. You developed incredible coping strategies as a toddler. Imagine what sophisticated strategies you can develop if you allow yourself to see your childhood traumas clearly now?
Seeing yourself and being present with your pain or someone else's pain is a great success all by itself. Seek to shift your perspective and let the healing happen or not happen as it will.
~ Raederle Phoenix, The Consciousness Alchemist
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