Chapter 9

THE SKILLS OF HEALING

© 1994 Donald E. Watson

The real world changes constantly, not only with crises. Each day, we lose another day, with its opportunities. We also lose another day of our youth. Yet, we don't update our world-image every day. Nevertheless, because crises don't always announce themselves in advance, we should keep ourselves prepared to redraw our mental map of the world. That's one reason we should exercise our skills of healing--our skills of updating our world-image--to maintain our mental fitness in our everyday lives.

Our basic mental tools are our reasoning, perception, emotions, and memory. Our mental skills are the methods and techniques we use to select, direct, and maneuver these tools. The preceding chapters have given examples of persons who had difficulty coping with their crises because they misused their mental tools. Katie was disabled because she hid her anger, Rachel was misguided because she used distorted perceptions of her marriage, Eben persisted in his self-defeating habits and behaviors because he abused his anger-energy, and Calvin was tormented by accusing superstitions in his conscience.

The stories of these persons were told, not because their disabilities are rare, but because they are so common in our society. The only uncommon feature of these stories is that these persons overcame their handicaps by learning how to heal.

Knowledge is essential for using our reasoning skills. During crises, for example, our reasoning skills can remind us that we perceive the world, not as it is, but as we interpret it from our obsolete mental maps. This knowledge enables us to keep our perceptions grounded in reality, rather than wasting our time--and our lives--engaging in unrealistic fantasies.

Since our mental tools are specialized, one tool can't do the work of another. We can't reason by using our emotions, nor can we feel emotions through our reasoning. Nevertheless, we can use our reasoning skills as executive skills to help us to test reality, to manage our emotions, and to train our memory. Indeed, reasoning skills are the key to using all of our other skills.

The problem is, using our reasoning skills isn't easy immediately after a loss. Reasoning requires our full attention, and acute grieving typically robs us of our concentration. As a result, our reasoning can be seriously crippled, and our healing is at risk as long as we allow these skills to remain disabled. To cope well, we must know how to discipline our reasoning skills, and how to force ourselves to concentrate on our healing.

Well-disciplined reasoning skills can also help us to use our emotions to motivate and energize us for healing. For example, our sadness and fear can motivate us to heal, and our anger can provide us with the energy to do the job. Yet, left alone, these emotions can stymie our grief work by distracting our minds from the task at hand. At such times, our disciplined reasoning skills can help us to manage our emotions, and to turn them to our advantage.

Our reasoning skills can also help us to identify our harmful mental habits at times when we are using inappropriate mental skills. Our harmful habits are usually immature patterns of beliefs, perceptions, and thinking--the methods we learned as children to cope with the problems of living in our families of origin.

During crises, we regress to using our primitive habits, for these habits form a broader base in our memories than the habits we learn as adults. As a result, during crises, when we most need to use our mature skills to regain our balance, our primitive skills dominate our mental processes. Since it is difficult to erase harmful habits from our memory, it is essential to use disciplined reasoning to understand them--when we learned them, what they are designed for, and how we can change or bypass them.

In short, though our healing skills can be difficult to apply in the aftermath of a loss, we can discipline ourselves to apply our reasoning skills wisely, and thereby minimize the mistakes made by our obsolete skills. The following sections discuss the basics of learning and mastering the skills of healing by using reasoning. The first section addresses differences in using conscious and unconscious skills. This is followed by discussions of using reasoning, emotions, and mental habits.

Conscious and Unconscious Skills

Our mental activity takes place in two separate compartments, conscious or unconscious, and our mental skills can be found in both compartments. Reasoning skills, for example, are usually conscious, whereas habitual skills are unconscious. Moreover, our unconscious beliefs, superstitions, and habits are the most common obstacles to healing.

There are three important points concerning terminology: First, our conscious and unconscious minds are often termed "the conscious" and "the unconscious".

Second, the unconscious is sometimes called "the subconscious mind," but this terminology is misleading: Subconscious means "less than," or "under," the conscious. In fact, the unconscious usually dominates our conscious, whether we are awake or asleep.

Third, "the conscious" is not the same as its sound-alike, "the conscience." This can be confusing because the conscience--the home of our guilt response--operates from the unconscious.

Knowing about the conscious and unconscious can strengthen you in many ways. In contrast, not knowing can weaken you, putting you at risk for the serious consequences of blocked healing. For example, because he ignored the unconscious aspects of his ambivalence, Calvin believed that he was responsible for the death of his brother. Realistically, of course, his belief was absurd, yet he continued to hold his superstition. Thus, his ignorance of the unconscious contributed heavily to his chronic depression.

Harmful superstitions like Calvin's permeate our society. Our legal system and some religious doctrines, for example, teach that we are entirely free to make conscious, moral choices, unfettered by any unconscious restraints. That's why about one-half of the people in our society believe that depression is a moral weakness. That's also why we must modernize many of the lessons we have been taught about the ways our minds operate. Of course, we don't know everything about the mind, but it's foolish to ignore what we do know. And we know that our unconscious beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, and mental habits dictate most of our thinking, feeling, and behavior.

It's also essential to know that our mental habits operate without our conscious knowledge. That is, we are rarely aware of using our habits. In tying our shoelaces, for example, we don't consciously think about how to do it. In fact, thinking consciously about how to tie our laces slows us down, and our movements become awkward and disorganized.

Reasoning, our most important tool in solving problems, is predominately conscious. Yet, many problem-solving skills also depend heavily on unconscious operations. For example, in using our intuition and creativity to address challenges, our unconscious sizes up the situation and presents potential solutions to our conscious. Dreams often produce such ideas. Yet, since the unconscious doesn't attend closely to reality, most of its ideas are unreasonable. We must use our conscious reasoning skills to sort through these ideas so we can discard the unrealistic ones.

We can also use conscious reasoning for managing our emotions. Our emotions are triggered by built-in, automatic biological mechanisms that are beyond our conscious control. Though we can't control whether our emotions are triggered, we can often control the circumstances that trigger them. For example, the emotion of sadness often depends on our conscious recollections. As Rachel discovered, choosing the appropriate times and places for feeling sadness is usually better than leaving these factors to chance.

In sum, using all of our mental tools is essential to surviving our losses and reviving our dreams. Since confusing our conscious and unconscious mental tools commonly causes blocked healing, these compartments of our minds are emphasized throughout this book.

REMEMBER:

Using Reasoning in Healing

Our mental tools can cut both ways. We can use them to help ourselves, or we can abuse them to hurt ourselves. To ensure that our mental tools help us, we must direct their use with our reasoning skills. Otherwise, they will likely run out of control and hurt us and our loved ones. Eben unwittingly abused his mental tools, turning them against himself and others. This occurred because he didn't know how to use his mental skills to make the best of his early life crises.

Reasoning skills allow us to learn to manage our emotions, to master guilt, and to learn adaptive habits. Unfortunately, however, it is difficult to apply our reasoning skills during crises. That's because mental habits imbedded in our unconscious take over, dominating our thinking, feeling, and behavior. If these habits are suited to the task, we heal; if they aren't, we don't.

Despite this obstacle, we can discipline our reasoning skills early in healing, especially for deciding how to use our emotions. Using reason to take advantage of our emotions may seem contradictory, but it isn't. For example, many of us block our healing because we habitually hide our anger to avoid feeling guilt. Yet, as Katie, Calvin, Rachel, and Eben discovered, we can learn to master our guilt and proceed to use our anger-energy when reason tells us that our guilt is absurd.

Reliable reality testing is the most important element in using reasoning to heal, for we must update our world-images accurately. Reality testing, in turn, requires reliable perception--faithfully interpreting our experiences of the real world with our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In other words, to re-draw our new world-images, we must use our reasoning skills to alert ourselves for avoiding the traps set by our old mental maps.

Fortunately, we aren't limited to our own perceptions for learning about reality; we can also rely on the perceptions of others. The stories in this book were written to allow you to learn from the experiences of others through identifying with them. Your empathy allows you to experience their emotions as they engage their challenges, and your reasoning mind allows you to share in their reality testing and problem solving. Beyond this, you can learn to recover from your own crises by finding creative ways to practice the lessons they learned.

Though this book can help you to develop your healing skills, don't expect to learn everything by reading it through once. As you practice the lessons, you will probably want to refer to the appropriate sections several times.

Practice, of course, is essential to learning. Practicing your new skills accomplishes two goals, one short-term and the other long-term: It enables you to survive this crisis, and it solidifies these skills into new mental habits that you can use to master your next challenge.

REMEMBER:

Using Emotions in Healing

Healing makes heavy use of our basic emotions: anger, sadness, fear, and joy. Depending on our relationship to our lost treasure, each of these tools is expressed in differing degrees. For example, they vary according to the importance of our lost treasures, whether or not our losses are beneficial, and the kinds of associated losses that accompany our primary loss.

Our emotional mind does not reason, yet our emotions are triggered by reasons. Discovering these reasons is the job of our reasoning mind, and we invite further troubles if we don't use it. For example, because an emotion feels bad does not mean that it is bad. It may feel better in the short term to avoid the pain of sadness or fear, but this hurts us in the long run because it prevents healing.

Anger is the first emotion to appear after we discover a crisis, for anger is the emotional mind's automatic response to any problem. Anger is our most valuable emotional tool, because it provides the energy to solve the problem that triggered it. Anger alerts us to the size of our problem, and energizes us to solve it. Yet, as Katie discovered, this resource can also disable us unless it is managed well.

As with any resource, anger-energy can be used properly or it can be abused. If used well, it is constructive; if abused, it is destructive. In abusing our anger after a loss, we waste its energy, or worse, we turn it against ourselves. For example, we may blame ourselves for feeling angry, which adds guilt to our problems. And guilt invites depression.

If you blame yourself for experiencing anger, you probably learned in childhood one of the false, unreasoned beliefs of our society: Because anger is sometimes destructive, it is always destructive. If our ancestors had believed such nonsense about fire, our species wouldn't have survived. You, too, must survive. So, instead of surrendering to foolish superstitions and false beliefs, welcome your anger. Learn to manage it well so you can heal. Your work of grieving requires energy, and your anger supplies all the energy you will need for the job.

Sadness is usually the second emotion to appear. The sadness associated with healing is intense, but it is normally intermittent. It appears whenever we consciously recall memories of our lost treasure, or when our unconscious reminds us. It's essential to know that each time we experience normal sadness, its intensity diminishes a bit. This helps to prevent depression. After she lost her dreams for her marriage, for example, Rachel learned how to regulate her sadness by deliberately evoking it.

Sadness is commonly abused in healing. Because sadness is painful, many people avoid feeling it altogether. Rather than providing relief, however, this tactic invites the enduring misery of depression, hostility, alcoholism, or physical illness. Many others take the opposite direction, immersing themselves in constant sadness. They can't move beyond this point because sadness, not healing, has become their focus. In other words, whether sadness is absent or constant, it can block healing.

Several reasons account for why people abuse their sadness. Some do it to avoid feeling their anger, and others to punish themselves for guilt feelings. A few people deliberately dress themselves in the dark mantle of sadness to please society--or, more accurately, to please "them"--the imaginary judges who inhabit their consciences. Unfortunately, these attempts to please society backfire; they cause depression, and society judges depression as moral weakness. This social hypocrisy is based on ignorance, of course, but it cheats its victims nonetheless. It's not surprising that people who are betrayed in this way by their consciences eventually become suspicious, isolated, and hostile.

Our conscience can turn our normal sadness into an instrument of torture if our guilt feelings are unreasonable, unrealistic, or antisocial. If this is true for you, turn the tables on your conscience: Judge it. Discover why you believe what you believe. Identify your superstitious beliefs, and laugh at their absurdities. You may find that your inner voices are perverse and antisocial, showing no concern for society's welfare or yours. If they are, don't let them dictate your life. Chapter 5, "Mastering Guilt" discusses unreasoned guilt and the antisocial conscience, as well as ways to overcome their harmful influences.

Fear is the emotion that accompanies anticipated problems; it is anger for future problems. One reason fear appears after a loss is that today's loss suggests losing another treasure tomorrow.

Like anger, fear provides us with psychological energy to solve problems. It also motivates us to prepare for the future. If we abuse its energy, however, fear can paralyze us.

Psychological paralysis is often expressed as fear of success. People who believe they can't survive losses typically try to avoid them. The only way they know how to avoid losses is to avoid gaining treasures. In this way, they sabotage their dreams for success.

As a healthy alternative to fearing success, we can use our fear to minimize the risk of failure. This produces two positive results: First, we may be able to prevent some potential future losses, and second, we can soften the impact of those we can't prevent. In other words, by gaining confidence in our ability to heal, we can eliminate the terror of losing treasures--the "fear of fear itself." Beyond this, we can build new dreams for other treasures.

Joy follows naturally when a problem is solved. Though joy is often prominent after a beneficial loss, it can also accompany losing a treasure. Knowing that our normal ambivalence makes us experience joy after a loss can prevent or reduce feelings of guilt.

Since few treasures are unmixed blessings, we have mixed feelings about losing them. For example, when a loved one dies after a long, painful illness, we feel joy knowing that his or her suffering has ended. Of course, our negative feelings about the lost treasure far outweigh our joy, but joy still surfaces normally. This often triggers unrealistic guilt, as it did for Calvin.

Joy is the emotional reward of successful healing. Without the promise of joy, we have no reason to heal. That's why people who fight their joy are actually fighting their healing. Don't fall into this trap. Instead, prepare yourself to heal by anticipating the joy of new dreams and new treasures.

REMEMBER: