Facing Fear: Freedom From Darkest Memories
The other day a client was confiding the most horrifying experience to me. It was something that most of us, fortunately, will not be able to imagine happening in real life. Seeing it in a horror movie where we expect to see horrible things, it would still shock us. I will not tell you what it was. It is my client’s story, and it’s none of our business. What IS our business is how we support someone who needs support in overcoming a memory so terrifying that he or she does not dare to face it alone.
People don’t have to re-live a traumatic experience in order to overcome it. Yet it is important to face the memory of it. The fear for the fear that we felt while we were experiencing the trauma is often impeding us. An old teacher of mine used to say: ‘Where there is fear, there cannot be love’. I have found that to be very true. Where we feel fear, we are “frozen”, or angry, or “small”, or “dead”. We want this part of us too, to be alive! We want this part too, to be part of our expanding and self-improving selves. We want to make peace with our worst memories so we can go on with our lives.
So we have this memory. It’s too scary to face it alone. We need someone to go there with us so we will be safe; we’ll have a witness: with a witness nearby, chances are that the “devil” that our fears have turned into will not harm us as badly as it will when we are alone. But who can we trust? A friend? A relative? A colleague? A stranger?
Friends and relatives often feel too close. We don’t want to burden them with our darkest memories. As long as our memories are about a broken leg or perhaps even a broken relationship, it’s fine. As soon as we want to share those innermost private and secret ’cause horrifying experiences with them though, they fail us by the incapability of truly being there for us. They are too close to us. They don’t want these terrible things to have happened to us and they want to prevent us to feel what it was that we were feeling and what it is that we are feeling, thinking back to the moment in which we were scarred for life.
A total stranger can be a better person to confide in than our closest friend. Yet to be able to really face the fear for the fear of the memory and to go beyond that paralysing point with a total stranger is difficult too. And so it happens that people with horrifying secrets find their way to my practice and to other coaches, counsellors and facilitators, hoping to find the kind of support that will allow them to move on.
Often people have kept their secrets for a long time. Often they feel terrified to even consider thinking back to the moment in which everything went dark and they hardly survived. It takes gentleness, patience, silence, time, trust, closeness yet distance, respect and boldness to go there with them.
As a facilitator I don’t have to understand and imagine what is has been like for them to experience what they went through. What I must understand is that I am not serving them by feeling sorry for them, but I am serving them by reminding them of their strength, their power and their creativity. So together we go there. As a facilitator I guard the journey through time and space. I constantly remind them to remain present in this moment and in this room. I help them remember that it is only a memory they are thinking of. It is like going through the pages of an old photo album. They are looking at history. No matter how present the emotions about the past are, they are emotions about the past, and here and now everything is alright. Constantly reminding them of this safe space and time, helps them to face each emotion that presents itself about that particular moment in the past.
Grief, fear and anger, disgust, disbelief and rage can come up. To simply let these emotions surface and to allow them to be felt; to accept them at last, is the biggest part. The memory will always be there, like those pictures in that photo album. But looking at them will be so much easier and free of fear or any other impeding feeling, that it doesn’t hurt, paralyse and cripple anymore.
Liberation lies in being able to “see” a memory in your mind without it impeding/”freezing”/”killing” you. Being able to remember the worst experience in your life whilst normally going on breathing, thinking, loving and living, is being free of it! It can never be undone, but it can be “conquered”, by having the courage to face the feelings it caused, and to know and feel at last, that you have outgrown them.