Most of us have some form of reactivity we wish we didn’t have.
We get frustrated and yell at our kids. Or we can’t stop eating things that aren’t good for us. Or we push others away right when we need the most support…
And no matter how hard we try to stop doing these things, if we are stressed enough, the same old reactivity returns.
It can feel like we failed. Or that we have no discipline. But there is something deeper going on here…
Last week I wrote about how trauma of any variety creates isolated neural nets in our minds. This protects us from being overwhelmed by the strong feelings that could not be integrated yet. And these isolated traumas wait for the conditions to be right for healing/ integration to happen.
When this happens, we are a bit less whole.
When we can’t integrate these difficult experiences, we need protection. So an amazing thing happens. We develop inner protectors.
These protectors come in countless forms:
Lashing out, shutting down, over-eating, under-eating, people pleasing, staying super busy, sarcasm, spacing out…. and so many more….
Our protectors serve us in two ways:
They protect us from the outside - from similar dangers arising in the world. So we might recognize them and protect ourselves. This is very important. And it can also be confusing because sometimes our implicit world perceives things inaccurately in it’s fear. It actually can be very hard to tell what is what…
They also protect us from the inside. They keep us away from strong, unintegrated feelings that could overwhelm us and make it so we couldn’t keep functioning in our lives.
Sometimes we are no longer in the kind of danger we used to be in, but our protectors are still keeping us from the full force of those implicit feelings. And we need this.
This is why gentleness in our healing process is so important.
Often when our protectors arise, especially the ones we don’t like, we want to get rid of them. We tell them we don’t need them anymore. We may even try to trick them.
This doesn’t work very well. Usually they just come back stronger.
Of course they do! They are trying to protect you. And if they are still here - on some level you still need them.
What I’ve found in my work and also in my own process is this:
If we can honor our protectors…really get to know them and truly appreciate what they have been doing for us all these years…amazing things begin to happen…
Sometimes protectors relax and take a much needed rest - still ready if we need them. Often our protectors keep doing their jobs but gain a discernment and sophistication they didn’t have before.
And we are no longer fighting with ourselves.
I have found this shift - from fighting protectors to knowing and appreciating them - to be one of the most powerful shifts in the healing process.
So the next time you find yourself caught in reactivity, see if you can pause. See if you can bring some curiosity to yourself. How is this protecting you, right now?
And remember gentleness.