My therapist and I have a running joke. She will ask me to slow down and take my time around a particular piece of pain and I will say, ” I don’t know if you know this about me, but I like to push…”. We both laugh now because I can quiet and can take ( more of) my time with myself. But there was a time when that was not the case, and it made me so mad when she would invite me into that spaciousness.
I’m pretty sure I piss my own clients off when I make similar invitations to them. Often, I will have new clients ask me if they can schedule 2 hour sessions or come twice a week so they can get through this therapy thing as quickly as possible. Or they will ask for homework or tasks to do between sessions to expedite their healing. There are times when all of these things are appropriate, but most of the time I say no. I tell them “You are going to be doing deep, sacred work here with me. An hour here once a week is plenty. Take the time in between sessions to let what we talk about settle and integrate.” They do not like this. And I totally get why.
Integration and settling feels like doing nothing. And especially in this culture, we ” should” always be doing something. Not only that, but we should be doing it faster and better and more efficiently. People are (generally) terrified to sit tight with where they are without pushing to be somewhere else. And yes, it’s initially fucking uncomfortable. But there’s also a bit more to it than that.
If you are a survivor of childhood trauma, this settling is incredibly important and absolutely necessary for your healing. When we are young, our nervous systems are developing right along with our brains and external body. Trauma creates intense disruption and dysregulation in our nervous systems, such that we are always on high alert, working really hard to figure out the survival rules of the family. Our systems never get the chance to slow, rest and come back to ease. We are constantly on guard against the next threat and it’s so exhausting. That’s part of why it feels ” normal” to be flooded and overwhelmed. That was certainly our experience growing up.
As an adult, that really does us no favors. Part of the work of repairing the relationship with ourselves is to find the edge between allowing the feelings but not being taken under by them. We have to develop the capacity to handle our emotions and we do that little by little. I will often ask clients to stay with sadness or loss just 5 seconds longer than they think they can so they can expand their ability to feel but not re injure their nervous systems by hanging out in the overwhelm. We are intentionally shaking things loose in therapy and there has to be space for the snow globe to come back to stillness.
And when clients are not in session with me, I know that even if they don’t give our time together another thought, really profound work is happening in their internal world. It’s like a plant whose roots are developing and anchoring underneath the soil even though we can’t see a flower on top. There is actually a whole lot going on when it appears there’s nothing moving. I have seen this over and over both personally and professionally. In fact, most times, the more I or a client tries to ‘do something” the longer healing takes.
Settling allows for very important work of integration to happen. Think of a puzzle where are the pieces are available but they are put in the wrong way so the picture does not look what it’s supposed to. When we integrate parts of ourselves with space and stillness, we give those parts permission to fall how and where they were intended to. This is usually a far cry from where we ( or others) try to force them. The end result is a picture that is whole, cohesive and quite beautiful.
Where and how would you benefit from more settling in your life today?