Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts exploring Hakomi experiential psychotherapy. Part I appears here.
When people think about growth after trauma, they imagine confrontation of their terror … plunging deeply into the uncontrollable … experiencing death. While processing the trauma experience is often part of the process of integration, Hakomi first sets the stage, provides interactive training in mindfulness, teaches pathways to disidentification—ways to observe and externalize the internal workings of Self—to see the storm without being swept up in it. Lack of resources contributed to much of the initial trauma response. Hakomi provides or helps identify those resources before accessing past trauma. In many ways, this is a do-over—a chance to change the experience, to arrive at a different belief about Self, Other, or World … and finally to integrate.
Sitting with ‘Vulnerable’: Accepting the Physical Discomfort of Shame
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” —Carl Rogers
“The paradox is that the more one tries to be who one is not, the more one stays the same.” —Gestalt’s Paradoxical Theory of Change
“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” —Albert Einstein
Sometimes the bodies we inhabit seem outside of awareness, and all the strategies to avoid intimacy seem automatic, expected, almost trance-like. Many people in therapy do not realize when they walk in the room just how reactive they are to the idea of being seen.
So what happens when we stop?
What happens when we stop posturing, fighting, fidgeting, deflecting, redirecting, presenting only the “good” or only the “bad,” presenting intensity or emptiness, eliciting safety by smiling or joking? Where does that energy go? Where is it felt in the body? How does the externally visible body correspond to the internal sensation?
Shame feels like death. It’s a perception that all the gatekeepers of life have said, “No, life is not for you.” It means that parts of Self cannot live, express, be free. And the physical feeling of that internalized containment is what we brilliantly avoid.
Our strategies work as desired. They keep us from re-experiencing past pains. And they keep us from knowing and internalizing the missing experience we so desire. While our strategies do work, they work only for an intended purpose: not to heal or change, but to survive and avoid repeated injury.
“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance. If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness. Radical Acceptance directly dismantles the very foundations of this trance.” —Tara Brach
Developing Tolerance to Being Present
Hakomi provides a direct route to repairing the results of negative childhood experience. However, the process of Hakomi is often interspersed between other modalities, other processes, and simple trust-building over time.
To sit mindfully, for some, especially in the presence of another, feels intolerable … initially. So we move gradually into the process, in little bits, with ongoing education, feedback, and consent. Once we’re sitting with it—just the physical experience of it—and realizing we are OK in the moment, we then realize space to notice the judgments, the memories, the traumas. Everything moves from judgment/panic into compassion/curiosity.
This is a deconditioning, a softening, an internalizing of unconditional acceptance, approval, and safety.
“When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.” —Pema Chödron
The Space to BE
Developmental theory suggests that our camera view changes as we mature. First we notice Other. Then we notice Self. We define Self by Other, and without Other we really have no sense of Self.
We notice our earliest recognition of Being only in hindsight. When we first experienced Being, it was unnoticed. We simply were.
Many of us defined and pruned our presentation of Self to suit Other. Often the missing experience is not “doing” with Other, or “being” with Self. In terms of attachment, the missing experience is “being” with Other, without threat of punishment or abandonment. To be fully present with one another, knowing full acceptance and security, really seeing and being seen, vulnerable, giving and receiving, with the freedom to come or go at will without fear of losing Self or Other. This is love … and life.
- Kurtz, R. (1990). Body-centered psychotherapy: The Hakomi method: the integrated use of mindfulness, nonviolence, and the body. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm.
- Lewis, T., Amini, F., and Lannon, R. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.
- Noricks, J. S. (2011). Parts psychology: A new model of therapy for the treatment of psychological problems through healing the normal multiple personalities within us: case studies in the psychotherapy of mental disorders. Los Angeles: New University Press.
- Porges, S. W. (2011). The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, and self-regulation. New York: W. W. Norton.
- For trauma: any book by Bessel van der Kolk
- For attachment: any book by Dan Siegel
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.