“It’s not who you are that holds you back. It’s who you think you’re not.” -Unknown
The clients in my private counseling practice have all started therapy with differing levels of pain. I have a few clients who arrived in my office this year needing a level of healing that seemed to rival open heart surgery for their emotional pain.
The metaphor of needing open heart surgery is powerful – their hearts are broken, and the emotional burden weighs on them creating a heaviness which most of our hearts won’t sustain without damage. Dying (or not living well) of a broken heart can be the result of not attending to the things which keep breaking us down.
There is a range of pain tolerance for the level of broken heartedness we’ve experienced. When clients know that they are in pain, explain the pain, and also can describe what magnifies the pain, they begin mending. The degree to which the heart is broken depends on how we think about our brokenness.
In his song lyrics, Al Green, asks the question, “How can you mend a broken heart?”. Many people coming to therapy are asking that question too. It’s a great question because living and loving can cause bruises and make us feel too fragile to try again. It can be challenging to try to love and be loved and to feel the positive and negative experiences living brings us.
The Gottman Institute has a booklet called How to Avoid the Four Horsemen for Better Relationships. The Four Horsemen are behaviors like Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling, which damage hearts. These four behaviors are problematic, not only when they come from someone who loves us but also when we do them in our own minds. What the mind thinks the heart feels.
One Thing to Do: Take a few tips from the Gottman Institute booklet and let your head be kinder to your heart. Use gentle self-talk, take responsibility for your own thoughts/feelings, know what your personal needs are, and use self-soothing techniques.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.