Each of us takes a different approach to resolving the unresolved. There is such a wide spectrum of responses to the experiences in our lives that have left a painful mark on us. The following is by no means a criticism of any of the approaches that each one of us takes. Each of us decides on our own what is best for us. If we were to explore the many responses people have to their experiences, we might approach them by placing them on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, we would see examples of lives where there is no awareness of how events affected them, however the effects of those events are everywhere in their lives, often causing problems and heartache. Then, we might see lives where people have an inkling that somehow, on some level, they are being affected by past events, but prefer to just keep it as such and not go deeper. Moving on further, we might then see lives where people have full awareness that there are past events that are affecting them but prefer to “white knuckle it” through life, never addressing the proverbial pink elephant in the room so to speak.
As we approach the middle of the spectrum, we might see lives where people have awareness that they were affected by past events and take some action to resolve them. However, these actions tend to be more on the level of staying on the surface, perhaps in the form of occasional reading of self-help books and reliance on relaxation techniques. We tend to avoid an “escalation” in our healing work by doing things such as seeking counseling. In this scenario, we want answers but tend to only go so far in finding them. Moving on from there, we see lives where people begin to do the work and seeking the help they need, but often disengage the process when it becomes too painful.
Finally, at the end of the spectrum, we see lives where people are driven to find peace, closure, and resolution. Their goal is total and complete healing from their past experiences so they can be completely unhindered by their past. These lives often manifest a relentless pursuit of healing. They leave no stone unturned and become like tireless investigators in their lives who want to solve and find answers to their struggles. Truly, this could be called a healing driven life. This work is not merely “psychological” it is spiritual. It is a life of transfiguration. It is a life spent in the pursuit of living as God meant for us to live. It is to remove all the emotional roadblocks so we can achieve full communion with God without being hindered by fear, distorted perceptions, and misguided motivations. However, there is a short-term cost. It is painful and there will be struggle. However, the rewards are great. There will be short-term pain but long-term gain. It is truly ascetical work and part of our spiritual life.
How painful it will be, depends on the nature of the experiences we have had. For some it might just take some increased insight, awareness, talking about some things, and some changes in behavior. Then for some of us, we might have to work a little harder and feel a bit more. Then there are those of us who might have a proverbial septic tank that has to be cleaned out. In this latter instance, we might have to go back to unprocessed traumas that occurred and clean out all the unresolved memories and emotions. It will hurt, there will be pain, and we might have to briefly feel again what we did in the past. However, we do this in order to finally put the past to rest. The harder and more we work on it, the faster we can pass through it. However, we must use discernment and know when we need to take a break, and just sit with new realizations and achievements, before moving onto the next step.
As we engage in this work, we gain experience. It becomes less overwhelming. We get a sense of how “it” works. We become more confident in and less fearful of the process. We learn to trust the healing process and experience God as our helper and companion. When beginning to confront or address new pain that is coming out or being released, we might temporarily feel more anxious, distressed, or just unsettled. However, if we keep moving and push through, we can abruptly and quite suddenly find ourselves in a place of peace as our mind finally releases hidden and unresolved pain.
Sometimes our realization that we need to do this work is triggered by some rupture of the past into the present. Perhaps we reach some stage, event, or age in our lives where we suddenly start to struggle or experience disproportionate emotional reactions. This can feel overwhelming and frightening. However, we are not powerless. We can trace this back to when we first felt these feelings. So often, this takes us right to the past unresolved experience from which we never found closure or healing. This was because we were either too young or just trying to survive.
It can be a great relief, if we choose it to be, to come to the realization that it is not the present that is so threatening and disabling. It is actually the past; a past experience that was not resolved. This is a good thing, because sometimes we can’t change the present. However, we can always go back to the past to heal and find closure. The past is series of static events that cannot change. The past is predictable. It is a fixed series of events. Therefore, we can get to work in addressing and resolving the past, without it changing on us. This perspective makes it less overwhelming. As we make the connections between past events and present-day triggers, and dive into the healing work with courage and fortitude, the past and the present become separated which gives us greater clarity of mind. It also gives us that long sought-after peace. Indeed, a peace that was hard fought and hard won. We will have gained resilience and some wisdom that will benefit others. The rewards are many.
Our minds seek to release and resolve emotional pain. God created us this way. We have a natural leaning towards healing that which is fallen and broken. This work can seem intimidating, but there is an end result which consists of resolution, closure, and peace. The actual act of discovering the source event of the pain in our lives alone can bring some relief. We then allow ourselves to talk about it, write about it, shed the tears, acknowledge and validate what we went through, allow ourselves empathy, understand how it has affected our present life. Our mind is then ready to let it go. This is just how it works. For those more stubborn memories, there is a great faith friendly treatment called EMDR which helps put the past in the past. God has given us the ability and inclination to heal and has given us the tools to do so. We would do well to not be so quick to throw away tools that God has given us because they seem unfamiliar to us.
This work indeed has a heroic nature to it. When we commit to resolving the unresolved in our lives, we are not doing it only for ourselves, but for everyone else in our life as well. Indeed, we do it for all of humanity, so that we might do some part in transfiguring this troubled world into what God meant for it to be. There is an element of self-sacrifice and self-denial in this work. In essence, we are taking the stance that rather than allow myself to be miserable all of my life and affect others, I am going to do this extra work and even go through some temporary suffering in order to heal, so that I might have a healing impact on those around me. Truly this work is not “individualistic” or self-centered. It is our small part towards healing this fallen world and becoming a more effective vessel through which the Holy Spirit might act.
Thank you Fr. Joshua, for an insightful article.
Your welcome Andrew, hope it was helpful.