It’s important to manage expectations in preparation for healing and that begins with setting clear intentions. Aaaaand, we’re back. I promised you a post about preparation as we begin to draw a map of the healing process. The Super Bowl is over. Most of us have either given up on our resolutions for the year or are quickly forming new habits. It’s a great time to settle down and set some intentions for healing.
Some of us are healing from physical injury. Some of us are healing from an acute episode of a chronic disease. Some of us are healing from loss. Some of us are healing from social injustice. Some of us are healing from acute or prolonged trauma.
Others are stuck but want to heal. We can be stuck waiting for someone to rescue us. We can be stuck frozen in fear, fighting the world, running from reality, or brown-nosing for approval. We can be stuck believing we cannot move forward. Many of us believe this because we have tried to move forward before only to end up in the same spot over and over again.
I’m familiar with ending up in the same spot. I am good at setting and achieving goals. In spite of this, I spent many years choosing partners who were different on the surface, but the same underneath. I could see, evaluate, and change visible parameters, but my subconscious kept me stuck choosing the same sort of man.
The first time I managed to get it together enough to choose differently, I got dumped after two years. That was 10 years ago. It took years after that for me to hear the inner voice that had been telling me all along I didn’t deserve this kind, dependable man. That deep-seated subconscious belief crept into my behavior.
That rejection, painful as it was, happened to be the impetus for real change – the kind of change that comes from healing very old, very deep wounds. Healing I had searched for through church, therapy, and marriage without making any real progress.
Like many people, I could successfully meet the benchmarks required by those institutions while feeling defective, unloved, terrified, and depressed. I started and managed a successful business, created lasting friendships, raised two boys, traveled the world, and became a pilot while I was still part of the walking wounded. If you’re struggling, you are not alone. You are surrounded by other people who are struggling whether you can see it or not.
I am also proof positive that healing can happen and change can be lasting. I suppose it begins with awareness. I can’t tell you that in the beginning I was aware of much that I now know, but I knew I needed to sit still. I began with that intention.
Managing expectations for healing begins by setting clear intentions. If you intend to heal the symptoms of diabetes with the least medical intervention possible, you will walk one path. If you choose to follow whatever regimen is recommended by your doctor, you may follow another. Improving your life by getting a more meaningful job will lead you one direction while healing the effects of childhood abuse and neglect may lead you another.
In order to set clear intentions, I ask myself:
What do I hope to accomplish?
I try to find a goal that’s doable and specific. When I stated my intention to sit still in a room with no stimuli for 30 minutes per day, it seemed to fit the criteria. Then I found out I was wrong. For me at that time, it wasn’t immediately doable.
As it turned out, I had to break that intention into hundreds of smaller pieces over a significant period of time in order to be successful. I was willing to do that, and now I have the ability to comfortably sit still.
That experience taught me that no intention is too small. Sometimes my only intent for a conversation is to stay present, feel my feelings, and end the conversation when I reach the point I feel too much discomfort.
How do I want to treat other people?
You don’t have to ask yourself this, but one of the reasons I choose a healing path is to become my best self. I can’t be that if I am not treating people well.
I’m a pretty nice person generally, but if a conversation triggers an emotional flashback, I can find myself feeling terror or rage so quickly it’s hard to get ahead of the situation. What I need in that moment is to process through the flashback. I do not have the emotional strength to do that while having a civil conversation. I do everyone a favor by ending the conversation at that point and coming back to it later.
How long am I willing to commit to these intentions?
When I decided to go gluten-free, I committed for a year. My agreement with myself was that if I did not see improvement in a year, I’d go back to a regular diet. I saw improvement within weeks and major improvement in months. Long before the year was over, I amended this intention to remain gluten-free forever.
How will I measure success?
When I was preparing to start my first business, my attorney told me most businesses fail because those in charge don’t know where they are. For example, they may know they have money in the bank today, but they may not be aware that they have not sold enough to have money in the bank for the rent next month if they pay their other invoices on time. This piece of common sense for business translates to life in general.
In order for you to remain on course, it is important to have a general, realistic idea of where you are. It’s also important not to become attached to a specific result as a measure of success. If you plan to improve your life by buying a larger house but use the money you saved for a downpayment to pay unexpected medical bills, it isn’t helpful to view yourself as unsuccessful because you’re still in a small house. You adapted to changing life circumstances and made a responsible choice. I view that as a disappointment and a change in timeline, but also a successful adaptation.
If I had been married to the goal of sitting still on the couch without distraction for 30 minutes per day, I would have ruled myself an unmitigated failure at the end of a month. I didn’t even manage to sit down and stay there more than once in that month and not more than three times in the first year!
Instead, I recognized that I was gaining insight each and every time I failed. To me, that meant I was on the right path. I was failing, but I was failing up. That didn’t feel like failure. It felt like success even though I was not close to the particular goal I set. I let that goal morph into an intention to feel whatever feelings bubbled up when I sat still that I believed I needed to do something, anything, to avoid.
For me, there is a natural flow to assessing and reassessing. It’s something I do without much effort like an app constantly running in the background. That’s not true for everyone. If you need scheduled reviews, timing will be a consideration. Setting a scheduled meeting with yourself or with someone else you trust can help you feel accountable to review your progress.
Do I need feedback? If so, how much?
Feedback can be useless, helpful, or detrimental. Choosing the right type from the right sources is important. Sometimes we gravitate toward feedback that reinforces what we already believe. If we are hoping to change, that’s probably not helpful.
Some people will feel like giving feedback that’s not positive is a form of confrontation. Many people avoid confrontation like the plague. These people are not a good source for feedback because they will withhold the information you most need. As you grow, this will create an atmosphere of distrust.
Feedback can be used by others as a tool to retain or regain the status quo. When you change, everyone around you will be forced to adjust to the differences. This can feel threatening and produce resistance. Such resistance can take the form of feedback that is intended to make you stop changing.
The healing process often involves letting some relationships go in favor of others that are more in line with the direction you’re going. It may be that you opt for no feedback for the first few months while you get your sea legs.
Any feedback that causes you to doubt yourself is not productive. It’s okay to question whether your approach is the most efficient, maximizes health, or is consistent with the results you’re hoping for, but anyone whose input undermines your sense of self or trust in your body will be detrimental to the process.
If that is a therapist, feel free to change. If that is a family member, feel free to set different boundaries. If that is a colleague, limit conversations to work topics. If that is your minister, find someone else to confide in. If that is your physician, get a second opinion and/or find one who will work with you instead of against you. This is your process and it is always okay to make choices that best support you whether anyone else agrees with those choices or not. You, whether you like it or not, can be your own best advocate!
How will I celebrate success?
We expect physical healing to tax our bodies. We don’t often anticipate that emotional and spiritual healing will also tax our bodies. I prefer to celebrate success with activities that energize or inspire me, but sometimes I celebrate by taking a nap or mindlessly binge watching.
Am I willing to improve my boundaries?
Most of us will answer yes without a second thought, but the first time we are faced with telling our mother we’ll be missing an implied mandatory family gathering, we may reexamine that answer. Thinking this through in advance while setting intentions will help solidify your determination to improve boundaries that support your intentions.
Will I practice gratitude even when the process is painful?
This could be considered a separate intention, but I incorporate it as part of the primary thought process because committing to a gratitude practice enhances my chances of feeling positive during difficult times. From experience, I know practicing gratitude will automatically shift my focus in a positive direction.
Can I be kind to myself and still make progress?
Healing requires a delicate balance of self-kindness, accountability, patience, gumption, truth-telling, and bravery. Without kindness, you’ll wear yourself out and give up. You can’t white-knuckle yourself through anything forever. None of us are that strong. Factoring in kindness from the beginning will leave you less tempted to chuck accountability in favor of relief.
I am highly motivated and rarely have to push myself even during difficult, painful times. The Universe brought the lesson of self-kindness to me by bombarding me with so much over such an extended period of time that I got worn out from the sheer relentlessness of every day. I literally hit the wall and had to go to bed for a few days.
This kind of exhaustion was new to me. If I meditated, I had to lie down and let the floor hold me. Sitting up was not an option. I could not muster the energy to plan a getaway. I slept 10 – 12 hours per night. I completed every task as it came to me because I knew if I didn’t it would never get done. I was in no position to be strategic. Now I pay attention to a feeling of tiredness long before I reach the point of exhaustion.
If you think of healing as a marathon rather than a sprint, it will be easier to be kind to yourself along the way. Self-kindness includes eating well, sleeping enough, and making time for vigorous activity on a regular basis. It also includes speaking to yourself in a kind manner, pausing to receive and absorb compliments, leaning into hugs, adding beauty to your environment, allowing your feelings to flow, and making time for moments of simple pleasure.
I realize I may have just made setting intentions sound like an arduous task. Once you’ve done it a time or two, you’ll realize it’s not that hard and I believe taking the time to be clear on where you’re going and how you want to get there will give you the best chance of arriving. It certainly works for me!