Image by Moni Mckein
Children raised in homes with abuse, addiction, mental illness, and other traumas typically live in a state of denial. They must continually tell themselves that the terrible things they’re seeing, hearing, and feeling aren’t really happening. If they’re being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, they may check out altogether or detach from what they’re experiencing in order to survive it. When this form of numbing, or “leaving” the body, becomes a habit, survivors often struggle to reconnect with themselves later in life.
As sisters who grew up in a home with addiction and abuse, we have experienced our own emotional fallout and path to repairing the damage. We’re committed to helping others overcome dysfunctional families and to finding a joyful, peaceful existence.
We know how, as adults with wounds from trauma and abuse, we often were unable to discern what we truly liked, wanted, or needed. This represented a deep spiritual wound that we didn’t know how to heal. It made us mistrust our own instincts and inner guidance. This wound could only be healed by gently returning to our bodies.
Moving from your mind to your body
If you felt unsafe in your body and taught yourself to detach from it regularly, you’ve likely spent much of your life living in your mind. Your thoughts may draw you backward, and memories that arise may leave you feeling sadness, anger, or regret.
Or, you may spend your time thinking about the future. But, for survivors, the future usually leaves you feeling anxious or worried. The easiest place to find peace is in the present moment. Fortunately, concentrating on the “now” is also the quickest path back to feeling safe in your body.
Use these progressive steps to learn how to feel safe in your body and to heal your spiritual wound:
1. Begin with your breath
For survivors of severe trauma, just breathing deeply can be scary. This is because when we concentrate on our breath, we can’t help but notice our body. If our childhood taught us that it wasn’t safe to be in our body, a deep breath can bring up strong feelings of anxiety or fear.
If this is true for you, start slowly. If it feels safe, close your eyes and place your hands on your belly. Simply focus on feeling your breath in your belly as it enters and leaves your body. If that’s uncomfortable, you can focus on your ribs, chest, or even nostrils.
Find a place that feels safe and comfortable, and simply notice what happens in your body as you breathe. For most people, focusing on the breath not only roots them in their body, but in the present moment, where everything is just fine.
2. Move your body consciously
The next step in reconnecting to your body is focusing on bodily awareness. As you move through your daily routine, try to remind yourself to fully notice and appreciate what your body is doing. Are you strong enough to lift heavy objects? Does your body move through space smoothly or gracefully? Are you flexible, able to bend, stoop, or stretch with ease?
Touch or stroke your body. Notice how it feels to you. In this way, you’re cultivating a deliberate appreciation for your body and all that you can do with it. We found practicing yoga to be extremely helpful at this stage.
3. Create joyful movement
Now that you’re aware of what your body seems to do well and what you enjoy doing in it, do more of it! With greater body awareness and confidence, you might feel ready to try something new. What lights you up? Dancing? Riding your bike? A walk outdoors? Whatever your answer, do as much of it as you can.
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4. Access your body’s wisdom
Once you feel reconnected with your body, magic begins to happen. We all have an internal compass that allows us to discern what’s right for us. The numbing you engaged in during childhood likely disconnected you from that inner guidance, but you can tap into it again.
The process is very simple: Close your eyes and place a hand somewhere comfortable — we typically place a hand on our heart or our belly. Think about a choice you need to make. It could be something small, such as what you should eat for lunch, or significant, such as whether you should move for a new job. Consider each option individually. As you think of it, notice what’s happening in your body.
If it’s a good decision for you, you may feel warm, tingly, excited, or open and expansive inside. If it’s not a good decision for you, you may feel tension, pinching, or contraction somewhere in your body. The sensations will vary, but with practice you’ll be able to discern and trust the signs that your body gives you.
Learning to trust yourself again is essential to living a full life. Your body kept you safe when you needed protecting, and you survived your childhood. Now, it can guide you as you discover what will bring you the most happiness moving forward.
Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Printed with permission of the authors.
BOOK: Healing Begins with Us
Healing Begins with Us: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Abuse and Rebuilding the Sibling Bond
by Ronni Tichenor, PhD, and Jennie Weaver, FNP-BC
Healing Begins With Us is the story of two sisters who weren’t supposed to be friends. Ronni and Jennie grew up in a home with addiction, mental illness, and abuse issues that generated unhealthy dynamics and often pitted them against each other.
In this book, they tell the raw truth about their childhood experiences, including the abuse that occurred between them. As they moved toward adulthood, they managed to come together and chart a path that allowed them to heal their relationship, and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and abuse in creating their own families. Using their personal and professional experience, they offer advice to help others who are looking to heal from their own painful upbringings, or heal their sibling relationships.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as an Audiobook and as a Kindle edition.
About the Authors
Ronni Tichenor has a PhD in sociology, specializing in family studies, from the University of Michigan. Jennie Weaver received her degree from the Vanderbilt School of Nursing and is a board-certified family nurse practitioner with over 25 years of experience in family practice and mental health.
Their new book, Healing Begins with Us: Breaking the Cycle of Trauma and Abuse and Rebuilding the Sibling Bond (Heart Wisdom LLC, April 5, 2022), shares their inspiring and hopeful story of healing from their painful upbringing.
Learn more at heartandsoulsisters.net