As a dance teacher, I witness both the glory and beauty of ballroom dancing and its darker aspects. As William Shakespeare said, "All that glisters is not gold."
Fool's gold may mesmerize and drag you into a world of illusion temporarily. However, when you are alone, facing pain, you may feel depressed and disconnected from yourself and others.
You can sweep your true feelings under the rug, soothe yourself with a glass of wine, a joint, shopping... Subconsciously, you hook yourself to various coping mechanisms, all to shut down the pain that is difficult to bear.
Where does the pain come from? What are the reasons for your distress, anxiety, or depression? Everyone has a unique story. Self-reflection, self-examination, and understanding the pain and trauma within you will help you find the right path.
The impact of trauma is to disconnect from yourself. In unbearable situations, you disconnect from your body and emotions, leading to physiological and mental consequences.
Gabor Mate beautifully said, "Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes how we live, love, and make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you; it’s a wound inside you."
Your psychological wounds don’t automatically heal. If your wound is still open, it will be consistently triggered. You may think that certain situations or other people are the triggers, but you are the one carrying the pain. You have to discover how you were wounded.
It's not only about bad things that happened to you but also about the good things that didn’t happen. You were born into this world with needs that form the foundations for healthy development in relationships, identity, and wellbeing.
Here is the list. Stroll through it carefully and try to identify which of the listed needs were not met during your childhood or were not met to the degree you would wish.
1. Attachment: Were you seen, heard, validated, understood, connected, wanted, and loved? Did you feel safe?
2. Freedom: Were you allowed to express your feelings, thoughts, likes, and dislikes? Could you make your choices freely?
3. Autonomy: Did you have enough opportunities to feel independent, to become your own person? Could you develop your competence in tasks and receive constructive feedback from your parents or caregivers?
4. Spontaneity and play: Did you have enough opportunities for spontaneity, play, fun, exploration, adventure, creativity, self-expression, and imagination?
5. Boundaries: Did you practice self-control and discipline? Did you learn how to take responsibility for your actions?
You will never outgrow these needs. Because your early needs were not met, you first developed certain schemas and then coping mechanisms to protect yourself.
Schemas incorporate your beliefs about yourself, the world around you, and others. They operate in the background of your awareness, influencing your sense of self, expectations about life, and the quality of your relationships. Think of schemas as frameworks through which you organize and make sense of your life experiences.
Early maladaptive schemas develop in childhood due to unmet needs or trauma, manifesting as painful emotions like sadness, shame, or fear and rigid beliefs such as 'I'm not good' or 'I'm not lovable.'
Schemas are stable traits, engrained across the lifespan. You can view schema modes as your past coming to the present. With therapy, you can identify and assess your schema modes.
My mentor Ruud Vermeij beautifully explained schemas and coping modes with a story: "You come into the house, born into a family where you develop your schemas. Then one day, you leave the house with a suitcase full of coping mechanisms."
Coping mechanisms function to protect you from experiencing painful emotions. There are three basic layers of coping modes - freeze, flight, and fight.
In freeze mode, you give up, saying, for example, "Yes, it's true, I'm not good enough." Very often, you can be in a flight mode, trying to avoid emotions altogether by being detached, angry, or consistently complaining. Any addiction is related to trauma, serving as a shield, a flight away. You want to detach, compensate, or soothe to avoid painful emotions. In a fight mode, you go against something through overcompensation, perfectionism, or attempting to over-control.
I've learned that my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (you should see my wardrobes with all clothes sorted out by size and color perfectly) gives me a sense of control that I still need.
As a teacher, you can notice perfectionism in your students (fight) or their tendency to blame others for their failures (flight) or surrendering by saying 'I will never make it.' (freeze).
In our dance world, we witness all shades of coping mechanisms - addiction, bullying, narcissism, projection of faults onto others, attempts to control others, denial...
If you only deal with coping modes, your needs will not be met, and the pain will return. It's like taking a headache pill; it helps for a while, but if headaches are frequent, you will probably have to address the real reason for them.
Instead of judging and labeling ourselves and others, we should try to acknowledge and understand the reasons for our expectations, beliefs, and feelings.
The healing process is your compassionate inquiry to treat negative life patterns and deeply ingrained emotional themes. To heal, you must become aware of your coping mechanisms and then re-script them, not only by understanding them but by feeling them. As Ruud would say: "The feeling is healing."
It is liberating when you discover that certain coping mechanisms are no longer needed. You will feel anxious, and that is okay. Anxiety is a sign of your energy rising in the face of a threat or something that is calling for action. It is an arousal of your energy, making you ready to take charge. You need that energy; the bigger the challenge, the more energy is needed.
Accept your anxiety, be at ease with it, and don't criticize yourself all the time. Encourage yourself to find the right path. If you feel you can't do it on your own, find a good therapist, someone who will help you resolve your struggles. There is always a way forward; it just needs to be discovered. Healing means returning to your wholeness.
Out of difficulties, you need to find a new way and re-learn how to appreciate life. Your spiritual dimension is crucial, related to your meaning-making. In the spiritual dimension, you make changes and upgrades to your values and beliefs.
A caring and loving relationship with yourself is the most constructive way to move forward. Practice it by taking small daily steps. Mind enough rest, proper sleep and nutrition, physical activity in nature, which will make you feel alive in your body, and learning how to be of value to other people. All that contributes to building your self-respect. Maybe it's time to start working toward your present and future rather than away from it.
Sail into 2024 as the best friend to yourself.
Source of inspiration
Ruud Vermeij - private sessions
Gabor Mate - 'The myth of normal'
YouTube - The Sentio Channel