By Jen Ray
Trauma Healing & Somatic Education | Holistic Health Practitioner | Yoga & Meditation Teacher
What if I told you that the parts of yourself that you dislike the most are a doorway to your greatest expression of curiosity, compassion, and connection? What if I told you that the parts you feel like you need to hide to belong and receive love are an invitation to your greatest healing? A recipe for unshakable self-worth, self-love, and radical self-acceptance.
Today, I am sharing how to tend to the root of your wounds by understanding and honoring the innate intelligence of your body. I am shining a light on the science behind basic human behavior and how the complicated and chaotic parts of personality can become so simple once you acknowledge the role of the brilliant system within you that has brought you through 100% of your worst days. I will explain how all the parts of you that you may have viewed as negative, less than, bad, egoic, sinful, or undeserving of space are grounded in your biological programming to maintain safety.
As a human being, you are wired for survival and that core need shapes your entire life experience. It influences your stories about the world, relationships, and yourself. It is the foundation of all behavior and belief systems. “It” is your self-protective parts or more formally known as your autonomic nervous system.
Understanding the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS):
Your ANS oversees all the basic functions of your body. Things like slowing or accelerating your heart rate, dilating your pupils, resting and recovering, engaging in movement, digesting your food, and so much more. Your autonomic nervous system is also your body’s built-in threat detector. It is responsible for keeping you safe and alive and it can enter different states within your nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, & fawn) to do so.
Using what is called neuroception, your system scans every person, place, or situation that you encounter by the millisecond to determine whether these things are safe, dangerous, or life-threatening. It makes this decision based on your past experiences. So, if anything about the present circumstance resembles a hurtful or unsafe experience from your past your system will come online and react in whatever ways it has learned are most successful in keeping you safe.
Lastly, I want to explain that when the survival brain comes online it inhibits full access to your prefrontal cortex. This is the part of your brain that executes problem-solving, logic, communication, and rationalization. This part of your brain going offline will explain exactly why you cannot talk your way out of anxiety or think your way out of depression. Healing must be embodied.
Self-Preservation > Personal Growth:
It is important to understand that because your system operates from calling on the past, it associates safety with familiarity. Though this is necessary for survival, it can be quite a nuisance to those of us who are personal growth junkies or for anyone who has a history of complex or chronic trauma. There are not many things in this world more confusing than associating chaos with comfort. This connection between safety and familiarity means the system can be quite resistant to change or stepping into the unknown because what is unfamiliar often feels like a threat.
Your system’s job is to keep you safe so it will prioritize your safety over your personal growth every single time. This means you must learn how to befriend and work with your nervous system as you pursue your goals. If there is an area in your life that you desperately want to change but you find yourself feeling stuck or unable to move forward, that is a great opportunity to get curious. Look for any resemblances between your desires and the painful or dangerous experiences of your past. Your resistance to pursuing your dreams is not you being lazy or unmotivated, it is your self-protective parts doing their job. You can begin to move forward by taking slow and tolerable steps toward change. Your system must learn that the unknown can be okay, and you must allow it to experience this in a way that doesn’t feel too activating or overwhelming.
One example of how this concept can show up in life + the tolerable steps to move forward:
Example: You want to share your transformational story with the world and support others in healing but because being seen or speaking up wasn’t always safe in your past you feel completely overwhelmed when you try to start writing a book.
Tolerable Step: You can begin by sharing your story with people who your system registers as safe. Next, you can try sharing with a larger audience by submitting a piece to your favorite blog. 😉
These consistent small steps are the BIG leaps forward in your healing because they are teaching your system that a new way forward is possible. Neuroplasticity is how we change the way we relate to things. It is a key player in our ability to grow, heal, and transform.
Your Ego is your Amigo:
Now that you have a basic understanding of the nature of your self-protective parts, let’s dive a little deeper into the reasons why your “cringe-worthy” parts are actually “round of applause” worthy. These aspects of your personality don’t develop by accident or because you have all this darkness inside that you need to fill with love and light. They develop to help you maintain safety or achieve an unmet need. The more you try to push them down the louder they become. By exploring these parts instead of suppressing them you begin to heal the wound that lives underneath them.
If you struggle with perfectionism, you might have learned somewhere along the way that failure and mistakes threaten your belonging. Angry parts may have taught you how to defend yourself during a boundary breach. Sexy parts could have helped you find a sense of worthiness in a culture that sells sex, everywhere. The procrastinator is shielding you, the addict numbs the pain, the liar helps you hide, and the manipulator is making sure you can stay in control. Your protective parts have helped you survive and navigate this wild ride called life. However, with the right action and acknowledgment, they no longer have to remain in the driver’s seat of their life. As you begin to understand what their role has been in keeping you safe, you can step in and deliver the unmet need, process the unaddressed trauma, and/or release any stuck emotions. Getting to know your protective parts is how you create change and set yourself free. Honoring ALL of who you are is a more potent medicine than every green juice, yoga class, mani/pedi, and sandy beach vacation combined.
Unconditional self-love starts here.