Healing Crises: When Things Get Worse Before They Get Better


From JonBurras.com: “A healing crisis is a period in our lives that follows a sudden or gradual influx of stimulation. This could be on a physical, emotional, or relationship level of your life. This stimulation, whether invited or by chance, may cause us to dismantle some layers of ‘normal’ functioning behavior.

A healing crisis, while not necessarily a pleasurable experience (and often quite painful), is a worthwhile event in our lives in the long term. The term ‘growing pains’ might be another phrase that could be used to describe a healing crisis . . .

The Wounding Experience

In order to better understand what happens in a healing crisis it may be important to understand how a wounding crisis affects our body. A wounding experience is a physical or emotional memory stored within the body. A wounding crisis occurs either in a sudden blow or over an extended period of time and with repetitive movements. The three primary forces that help to create a wounding crisis are stress, repression, and physical trauma.

Stress is a force in our lives that is initiated when we do not feel safe. Stress is primarily an emotional experience. When we are afraid, our body reacts into what is called the Fight or Flight Response. This is a very primitive mechanism designed to keep us alive. Our muscles hold on in a predetermined pattern, perhaps around the jaw, eyes, or in the back of the neck. Over time and with repeated activation these same muscles tend to harden and bond together. In a way, the layers of our tissues, just like the layers of the onion, are now glued together.

Repression is another primary force in our lives that leads to a wounding crisis. Repression occurs when we use our own muscles to hold back the energy of our emotions. We dam ourselves up with our own musculature system. Once again, over time and with repetitive behavior, the layers of muscles tend to harden and bond together. Those agonizing tears at the death of a close friend or relative may be ripping apart years of repression stored within your muscles.

. . . Due to the forces of stress, repression, or physical trauma a wounding crisis may result. Under our current belief system we most likely will hold on tightly when injured or feel the effects of stress. We keep our muscles tight and the area immobilized. This locks the trauma into our body.

After a while the brain stops sending nerve impulses to this area. The areas that we hold onto tightly begin to numb out or lose sensation. We lose our ability to feel the memory stored here because we have desensitized the area. This does not necessarily mean that we are better because we no longer feel pain. Much of the time it means that we have stopped moving an area and it has lost sensation. Over time the layers of muscles and soft tissue remain frozen and immobilized and a layer of ‘armor’ forms. This is how an injury site hardens like layers of an onion.

Unpeeling the Body’s Onion

The healing crisis occurs when we begin to strip away layers of our own armor. This could happen in a single traumatic event or through normal growth-oriented work. A regular yoga practice or other healing-oriented modalities could be examples of such growth work. Bodywork, process work, or spiritual engagement could also lead one into a healing crisis. Any practice, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, that begins to unravel the layers of holding could lead one into a healing crisis.

. . . The first stage of a healing crisis is to come out of numbness and bring sensation and emotion back to the body. These sensations are not necessarily the problem, only a manifestation of a deeper issue. Many people become alarmed when these sensations arise.

. . .¬†Unfortunately, most medical professionals and professional therapists are not trained in how to understand the healing crisis. The medical establishment wishes to categorize a healing crisis as a ‘breakdown,’ or disease. They equate being in control at all times as the ‘normal’ model for health and loss of control as equal to disease.

Most people, when turning to medical professionals for help, are either hospitalized or medicated in order to suppress the symptoms. While this may help one to lessen the intensity of the experience and bring one back to ‘normal’ — control — it does very little to actually help one through the healing crisis.

. . . A healing crisis is a time for the body to come back into balance. Donald Epstein writes in Healing Myths, Healing Magic, ‘Once again, disease is not a mistake of a stupid body; it is the body‚Äôs attempt to reorganize its energy systems to allow for a greater exchange of information and energy and thus a greater expression of consciousness.’

Through our chaos and cloudy thinking, our body dynamics are trying to reorganize. Somehow we have become removed from nature‚Äôs natural rhythm and our body is attempting to come back to balance. It often seems that the farther we are from the flow of nature, the more strongly our body attempts to bring us back into balance. The more out of touch we seem to be with our emotions and our inner experiences, the more profoundly we seem to experience a healing crisis.”

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  1. The difficult reality of any trauma-based therapy is that the patient has to go through this to some extent. You will almost certainly re-experience any trauma to some degree during the healing process.

    In my training, it is best for this to happen and resolve during the session. Our therapy sessions are usually 2 hours or longer. It is not optimum for someone to leave session and try to behave normally while stuck in the middle of a traumatic event.

    There are ways around this problem, but no complete escape from it that I am aware of. “The way out is the way through.”

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  2. Things like this don’t apply to psychiatric victims. The most someone who’s being labeled, drugged and coerced/forced etc can do is survive what’s happening to them. They don’t have anything left over for things like “growth”.

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