Abandoning Perfection and Reclaiming Ourselves

In my eight years of working with clients, I have witnessed how profound changes can occur in a single healing session. I have also witnessed how the journey home to ourselves from repeated stress and trauma takes patience, time, and a whole lot of compassion. Opening to healing often takes a willingness to set down an old story we might be holding–sometimes unconsciously–that tells us that whatever happened to us was our fault, or that what is happening now is our fault, that we are somehow getting it wrong, or that we have to get it right in order to heal. So often this is a story encoded in our DNA and modeled to us by our parents. It can feel pervasive and paralyzing. We think things like If I could just love her in the exact right way then. . . If I could just accept his behavior, live with this addiction, suppress my own needs then . . . If I could only be thinner, smarter, more talented, earn more money then. . . What we don’t realize is that this search for perfection actually blocks us from true healing.

What I have come to see in my own experience and through witnessing my clients in their healing is that it is a whole lot easier to release the stories that block us when we honor our bodies. Because the truth is that it simply does not work to use our critical minds to talk ourselves out of a story we are telling ourselves with our critical minds. Instead we need to go to where the root of that painful story sits–to the fear, the shame, the rage and often also the shock that is held in our tissues, our nervous systems, our bones and muscles, sometimes in our very organs. We need to bring our most compassionate witness to our bodies, to where we hold restriction or pain because our aliveness has gotten blocked. Listening to the body, we can call every part of ourselves back to the truth, which is that there is nothing wrong with us, that our worth as human beings has nothing to do with all the critical judgements that hold us hostage to an impossible standard, that our value is vast beyond measure.

Over and over again with my clients I am privileged to witness the healing power of somatic consciousness–the way in which our bodies know and the liberation that comes from deeply listening. When we make a practice of listening to our bodies, they can lead us to the reclamation of highly rational truths that at one point or another in our lives went underground. These truths are usually very simple and are also life altering: I matter. I have value. It is okay for me to have needs. I am enraged. I am part of the whole. I get to keep myself safe. It is okay to set boundaries. I can say no. I can say yes.  

When such truths go underground, it’s because we felt it wasn’t safe to know them–and, indeed, in the case of having to survive prolonged stress or trauma, such as at the hands of a parent or caregiver who is also our link to survival, or in the case of growing up where expression of basic needs was unwelcome or shamed, or where emotional expression was not allowed or was unleashed in dangerous ways–it can actually be safer for us to suppress our truths even and especially the life-giving ones listed above, because our survival depends on our internalizing a different story, very often the story that whatever is happening is our fault. 

Stories about what is and is not okay to know in our beings, stories about our self worth, and about safety in the world can be internalized so deeply as to impact us across generations. Indeed numerous studies have shown that the profound trauma that is often at the root of such stories impacts our very DNA such that our children and grandchildren will experience its impact. Yet to the body nothing true is ever lost. Over and over again with my clients I witness how our bodies encode both our adverse experiences and the keys to transforming and healing them. 

What we couldn’t allow ourselves to know, or what our ancestors had to suppress, merely goes silent. And when it resurfaces, months, years or even decades later, it often speaks first through symptoms: pain, digestive distress, tight muscles or tendons, racing heart, insomnia. The shame or rage or fear that went into the basement shows up in our physicality. Our bodies communicate what we have suppressed in ways that can feel disruptive–indeed that may actually be disruptive—and yet these symptoms are actually invitations to us to witness and reintegrate vital parts of ourselves. 

If we have experienced trauma, we typically need to seek out trauma-informed somatic healing professionals who know how to help us hold safety for ourselves as we are re-accessing body sensation, coming out of freeze states, and reclaiming our wholeness in ways that avoid retraumatization. It is my direct experience through working with clients and doing my own personal work with my teachers and healers that listening to the body from a place of safety and compassion helps us reclaim our wholeness in ways that we might not have previously considered possible. 

When we really do the work of reclaiming what is being expressed, symptoms very often decrease or even cease. Liberation from bodily discomfort as a result of deep healing work is both possible and wonderful. It is also logical that when we integrate unsafe experiences, when we recognize and reclaim safety in the present, our bodies get the message that they can stop vibrating at the old frequency of vigilance and alarm. And because–more importantly–we have expanded our psychological and emotional container and are naturally kinder to ourselves, reclaiming safety in our ourselves also makes it easier to compassionately be with any discomfort or disease that does not resolve. 

Deep healing is very often the relinquishment of our search for perfection. It is the allowance and even the celebration of our quirks, of our scars, of these bodies and hearts that have been dented and textured and cracked open by life. I am reminded of the famous lines from Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself in his book Leaves of Grass:

Do I contradict myself? 

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large. I contain multitudes.)

Recovery from trauma gives us back our capacity and our freedom to be as complex and alive and expanded as we truly are. It liberates us from our need to be perfect and from the shame cycle that keeps us trapped there. It allows us to reclaim that we are whole and right just as we are, with the multitudes of life inside of us that need not be justified or even explained but only loved. 

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