An Elephant Stepped on My Foot
A client suspected that they had been molested as a child and wanted me to check their history energetically to confirm or refute their suspicion. My immediate response was to ask why they wanted to know whether this had happened.
Labels — the stories of our lives
People often use labels as excuses for maintaining their state of suffering. I asked my client why they wanted to know their history because I was concerned that if I told them they had been molested, they would repeat that to themselves, possibly for the rest of their life. The fact that they had been molested might very well become the story of their life. They would use that fact to explain why they can’t trust others or engage in an intimate relationship, and why they have sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, they would be very likely to use the label as an excuse not to change, and therefore would go on suffering.
Stuff happens. When stuff happens, it makes an impression. That impression challenges us, threatens us. We make a response. We might repress the memory of the incident or circumstance. We might cut off the emotions that the event(s) stimulated (distress, fear, anger, sense of loss, etc.). We might become very withdrawn or, conversely, we might become very domineering and aggressive. There are all sorts of coping mechanisms we might employ to minimize the stress of our history.
I generally don’t tell people why they have certain unpleasant feelings or act in ways that seem more harmful than productive. If I tell someone, “An elephant stepped on your foot,” that statement becomes a meme. A meme is like a subroutine in a computer program that makes the program capable of accomplishing some specific task. A meme runs in our personal operating system. The meme “an elephant stepped on my foot” tells you that you were damaged and that’s why you remain crippled. It becomes a part of your story. Our meme about our history limits our ability to function fully in our present life circumstances.
Part of the process of creating a meme is making a judgment about our experience. If traumatic events happen to us in childhood, much of our judgment about our experience comes from the reaction of adults to our experience. This is particularly poignant in situations of child sexual abuse, which is often seductive and pleasurable in the moment. The trauma often comes from what adults do. The perpetrator may blame the child, tell the child that they are dirty or a sinner, or threaten the child about remaining silent about the event. Parents or other adults may become very upset, conveying to the child that what happened is terrible and even a stain for the rest of their life. Alternatively, adults might deny a child’s story and fail to protect them from further abuse. Occasionally, adults blame the child or tell the child “you had it coming to you.”
Replacing a painful, limiting meme with a happy, expansive one
In order to stop suffering, we have to step out of our stories. We have to question the validity of our memes and adopt new ones, new stories of our lives. If the meme happens to be true, or you have good reason to believe that it’s true, that makes us believe that the story will always be true. This is where a special approach that I use comes in to allow the transformation to occur very easily and painlessly.
My approach to replacing a painful, limiting meme with a happy, expansive one involves two simple steps and background energy work.
Step 1: Acceptance
The first step is acceptance. We must first accept that the incident or circumstance happened. Acceptance is gained by realizing that any trauma occurred in the past and that we live in the present where that traumatic experience is not happening now. We have to recognize that the trauma is ancient history. When we live in the present and only in the present, we find that we are safe from what happened long ago. Feeling safe, we can readily accept the fact of what happened without judging it. We maintain a neutral attitude about our past experience.
For example, when we find out that an elephant stepped on our foot and that’s why we are crippled, instead of creating a story about that, we could, instead, simply accept the fact that that happened. When we consciously make the distinction between past and present, we create a space between those traumatic events and what our life is now. Within this space, with this perspective, we can accept what happened without judgment and open our life to a different, happier future. Thus, we do not have to accept that we will always be crippled. Acceptance does not mean capitulation. It means accepting the historical facts… and moving on. The elephant may have stepped on my foot, but now I live my life to my fullest potential.
Step 2: A New Meme
Once we truly accept that something happen in the past that disturbed our sense of wellbeing, we can move on to the next step: creating a new meme for empowering our future happiness and success. Any new meme will tell us the most positive thing about ourselves: “I am capable.”
We establish belief in our capability by looking 1) to examples from our past, 2) to examples of how others with similar histories have succeeded, and 3) to possibilities we can imagine for ourselves. Basically, we look to our strengths, the strengths of others and what we desire or can imagine our life to be. This is very empowering.
For example, one of your personal strengths might be that you already know how to live in the present. Perhaps you hold the meme (belief) that you cut off your feelings. Perhaps that’s been reinforced by repeated experience, so you’re sure it’s true. But, let’s reframe that. You’re able to be objective in situations where others get upset. When something happens, you’re able to stay present, see what’s happening for what it is and deal with it effectively. Now, you have a new meme: “When stuff happens, I’m capable of handling it.” Wow! Doesn’t that feel different?
I’ll share a real-life example. A client who experienced repeated, violent incestuous assault as a child told me that when the assaults happened, she would mentally flee (“disappear”) to a place “inside” where she was safe. She said to me that she was suffering from detachment, which would show up whenever she participated in sexual relations. I helped her reframe that meme by pointing out that she had never willingly submitted to the incestuous assaults. Instead, she had successfully hidden from her attacker by withdrawing from the situation in her mind. Hearing this produced an instantaneous transformation of her meme into one that said, “I am capable of protecting myself.” It turned her detachment from a liability into an asset, empowering her. Years since our session she remains an empowered woman, capable of handling all aspects of her life.
Sometimes, in reframing a meme, we draw on examples of how others have found their strength and capability. This often happens just by reading biographies of people who endured circumstances or experiences similar to our own. We might read or hear about someone who stood up against an oppressor and took from that the belief that “I can do that; I’m capable of defending myself.”
Finally, we sometimes just envision a better situation for ourselves. Think of the migrants and refugees we hear about. They decide that they can no longer tolerate their circumstances (war, poverty, oppression, etc.) and, despite the risks and uncertainty of traveling to another country, they set out for a new life. We say that leaving one’s home country takes courage, but it’s often an act of desperation supported by the belief that one deserves a better life and will find it elsewhere. Envisioning better circumstances empowers people to take risks and act for their own wellbeing.
The Role of Energy Work in Changing Trauma into Empowerment