What is happening if you bring attention to a painful feeling and it feels worse? Read on…

A Reader writes:

Sometimes when I do Focusing, I feel like it makes my painful feelings more intense, and I feel worse afterward. Can the Focusing process re-traumatize me? Or my clients?

Dear Reader:

Yes, it can happen that painful feelings become more intense when we bring awareness to them.

Imagine someone quietly suffering. No one has paid attention for a long time, and there’s a kind of despair that anyone will ever listen. Then a Listener arrives. “I’m here to listen to how you really feel!” The suffering Part is so glad that someone will finally hear how bad it has been feeling.

The painful feeling sharpens, intensifies. The Listener (that’s you, the Focuser) says, “Ah! I really get that THAT’s how bad it feels!”

And then, relief. Someone has finally got it. The feelings can evolve… and something new is felt, next.

However, if the intensity of the painful feelings stirs up another Part that is afraid of their intensity, the result could be tension and anxiety. And that could result in Focusing seeming to make a person feel worse.

What’s needed is support for the Focuser to be Self-in-Presence, turning toward the feelings ABOUT the painful feelings… with compassion for both.

Can Focusing re-traumatize? That’s not been my experience.

It’s not events themselves that traumatize. It’s the fact that those events occurred and there was no safe way to recover from them.

Your body knows how to release and recover from traumatic events, no matter how shocking and painful. What it needs to do that — what it always needed — was a safe and empathic presence, and enough time.

But often we don’t get that. We want to cry and tell someone what happened, and be hugged and comforted. But instead we get a cold shoulder, or a person telling us to quit crying and grow up, or no one at all.

Then the hard things that happened become frozen trauma, held in the body, and liable to be triggered by similar events.

As Barbara McGavin says, “Cultivating Self-in-Presence protects against re-traumatization.”

In fact, cultivating Self-in-Presence and doing Inner Relationship Focusing is a way to heal trauma. Because as Self-in-Presence we are providing the safe and empathic environment that should have been there all along. And it’s never too late.

For additional support with healing trauma:

Healing Trauma: Moving Beyond the Hurt of the Past – An On-Demand Course (open for registration once per year)

Your Path to Lasting Change

Programs for Helping Professionals:

Beyond Trauma: Helping Your Clients Create Inner Presence – An On-Demand Course

Your Path to Lasting Change with Helping Professionals Content

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