We all deserve to embark on those first steps towards healing, but what does that look like in reality, and how can we learn to enjoy the ride?
Many of us are on a journey towards healing and self-transformation. It might be following trauma, periods of ill-health, the end of a relationship, abuse, burnout, bereavement – or, perhaps, simply because we want to be better versions of ourselves.
And change can happen. In fact, research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explored how most of us would like to change ourselves in some way, and that people who were able to do so, in ways that aligned with their desires, tended to experience increases in wellbeing over time as a result.
Of course, though a hopeful reminder, those data-backed conclusions don’t completely capture the full picture of the healing journey – the good days and the bad days, the hurdles and uphill struggles – let alone the fact that healing is about so, so much more than just changing ‘something’ about yourself; it’s about tending to emotional wounds, unlearning unhelpful thought-patterns, grieving, forgiving, and learning. So, what can we do to make it a positive and successful experience?
Say you’re at the start of your healing journey, what are some common misconceptions that can hold you back? We put this to Dr Liz Sparkes, a health psychologist and life coach, and she answers by looking inwards.
“I suppose the best way to address this is to reflect on my own misconceptions that I have become aware of,” she says. “It’s important to be gentle with yourself and there is no rush. Healing is most definitely not linear, and you haven’t failed if you find you are revisiting the same issues or feelings. As long as you have awareness and take steps forward each time, that’s progress.”
Treating yourself with kindness is more than just a pat on the back, it’s a whole shift in attitude, and it’s key to any journey with healing. But if ‘self-compassion’ feels out of reach for you sometimes, you can easily break it down into its practical elements. Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff believes it has three main components:
1. Self-kindness, or having the ability to refrain from harsh criticism.
2. The ability to recognise your own humanity, or the fact that each of us is imperfect and each of us experiences pain.
3. The ability to maintain a sense of mindfulness or unbiased awareness of experiences, even if they are painful.
While you’re working on your healing, how does your attitude stack up against these principles? What do you do well, and what might you need to consider working on as you move forward?
“There is more than one route to the top of the mountain,” says Dr Sparkes. “It’s very empowering to realise that nobody else has the ultimate answers, they come from within.”
She goes on to highlight the ways that we can do everything ‘right’ – access the right support, the right guidance, the right environment for healing and development – but, ultimately, this journey is