It was not long after I developed a basic level of trust with Heart Healer (HH) that I had a breakthrough in one of our sessions. The life and death moment we shared arose spontaneously and involved excruciating vulnerability. Basically all the ingredients for potential retraumatisation or a new healing experience!
But I have to go back and explain. I had gone into a previous session with the aim of being as open and raw as I could. In other words, the inner censor was left at the door. This was not fun. But I was trying to be less inhibited. I often froze up in therapy, physically and verbally. This seemed to be part of a childhood coping mechanism, I discovered with HH’s help. The strategy? Be compliant and “control” all emotions and feelings so as not to “burden” others or endanger myself. Be a blank slate and adapt ASAP.
Anyway, I shared some really shame-inducing feelings, fears and memories. These had to do with the relationship with my mom, the possibility of enacting toxic patterns with my potential children, and a critical attitude that I was already re-enacting with my husband at times.
In that session, I think HH spoke two sentences. He was silent the rest of the time. No mmm’s, ahhhs or nods. The silence freaked me out. I experienced it as a void, a disengagement, an alienating space and a sign that what I was saying was unacceptable. Logically, I knew HH may have been creating sufficient space for me to express myself. Or provide a moment with no reaction from his side. Emotionally, it hit a trigger.
I felt rejected. After the session, I was sitting with a very yucky feeling. I was bad. Broken. I didn’t know how to process it. Parallel to that, was a feeling of being violated.
The next few days saw me battling to connect with my coping adult self. I was a weepy mess. I felt the silence was meant as punishment. At the same time, I was also ashamed at feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. My biggest fear was that I would be perceived as too intense, too much for HH. Gathering all my strength, I tried to pen down my experience so I could make sense of it and see it in black and white. Looking at it on paper made it more real. It wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, as my inner critic was trying to shout at me.
After tossing and turning for a week, I walked into the next session in a hypervigilant state. I knew that we had to discuss what had happened. But I was also being held back by the fear of his reaction to my experience. I was between a rock and a hard place. He asked how I was and as I started to raise the last session, I froze. Shame hit me like a tsunami. Yes, this was why I had typed it out. My throat constricted and I croaked out that I had a letter. He asked if I could read it out loud. I crunched my shoulders and looked down. “NO!!” my body screamed. “If you don’t say the words out loud, then you can’t be punished,” a part of me warned internally. I shook my head furiously and indicated he must read it. He gently took it from me and asked if he could read it out loud. “NOOOOO!” the child screamed inside. It was physically impossible to speak or look at him. Very calmly, he started reading the letter. But it was in a scary stage whisper. Hearing my words out loud made me cringe and feel my life was in danger. My hands shot to my ears and I tried to block them out. I recall shaking my head furiously and waiting for the retribution. My world was spinning. I eventually also closed my eyes.
He stopped reading. This was it. This was the moment he was going to attack me. Either verbally or physically. HH calmly spoke through my perceptions of the silence. He wondered whether there were other times in life that I had felt silence was punishing. He also wondered if there was a part of me that thought it was unacceptable to have and voice certain thoughts or feelings. His questions felt overwhelming and I was stuck in shame. I remained braced for retaliation. My body took over and my arms and hands reflexively flew in front of me to shield my head from the blows. I trembled and kept shaking my head, my arms poised in front like rigid tree branches. While I was kind of aware that HH was there, my system had been hijacked and reason flew out the window. I couldn’t talk myself out. “You’re scared. You have expressed how you felt and now you’re waiting for me to retaliate,” HH said softly. “It seems inevitable.” The tears kept coming and still, I kept waiting. As I looked up to see where he was, I noticed his eyes had welled up with tears. It didn’t immediately register. Although it’s difficult to remember his exact words, he said something like: “You believe I am going to hurt you. Either reprimand you verbally. Or physically. That I will beat you.” It took a while but the fear slowly loosened its grip. My eyes darted to the door and I was able to verbalise that I was looking for the closest exit. My body wanted to get me out of there. He nodded. This body memory had never popped up for me before. I felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed, not knowing quite what had happened.
When I was calmer, HH did not point out my bodily terror. He said the feelings I had about the silence seemed very powerful, very strong, perhaps like an experience in the past with a significant other. It was something I had thought about for a while… Transference. Looking at it through adult eyes, I could see it was potentially an overreaction. I shared as much with him. “But there is still a very young part of me who feels that your silence is a very scary and real threat.” He said he understood.
“You expect retaliation for expressing yourself,” he said. I added that sometimes punishment was very subtle. People would promise that there were no consequences. I was thinking of my parents. “But they end up punishing you in very subtle ways. So subtle that an outsider would never suspect.”
HH seemed a bit sad. It took me a few days to escape that terror but I came out feeling calmer because he had not punished me in any way. At least yet.
A few days later, I had the happiest dream I have had in a few years. After sharing it with HH, I realised our experience above may have created psychic, mental space for a new, healing way of being.
“I am in a modern, airy home with lots of glass in the middle of the forest. It doesn’t feel too open. It feels safe and calm. I feel inspired to finally try head stands (something I am too scared to do in real life). I do one against the wall and it feels good. My arms hold balance and feel strong. Defying gravity, I climb the wall upside down and find myself nestled in a sky light. It is mostly glass and I admire the forest outside. The realisation hits me that this is my new home and I have free roam. I run to the nearest waterfall and soak up the cool ionized air as my feet hit the leafy ground. The water hits the rocks and it is soothing. I quench my thirst by kneeling down near the mouth of the waterfall. I am a bit cautious and make sure the water will not engulf me, but I trust that it will be okay.”