The 3 Steps to Healing – Awareness, Expression, Resolution

I recently realized what was missing in many emotional healing techniques – a systematic and comprehensive approach that would ensure that the three key aspects of the emotional healing process would be properly handled.

Since early 2001, I have engaged in a dedicated and intense research project with a wide range of emotional healing modalities. I have participated in numerous workshops and conferences on healing approaches and modalities, read countless books and articles, watched dozens of training videos and been trained and certified in a number of these modalities. I have discussed the process and methodologies of healing with many experts in the field, and had the techniques applied to myself as well as applied them to willing “clients”.

Thanks to my other income streams, and unlike many people involved in this arena, I have not approached it as a way to gain a living, and this has enabled me to easily abandon techniques that do not work well in favour of those that do. I did not hang up a “shingle” as healer, mainly because I was not satisfied with the results in both myself and others with most of these systems.

Drawing on my background in systems analysis, I watched for patterns and what underlying structures existed in these techniques. While I do not consider the research project complete, a clear picture has emerged concerning the emotional healing process and what steps are involved, in addition to how well many methods achieve their stated healing goals.

There are many excellent methods and processes which help people uncover their emotional pain and many that allow a good expression of that pain, but few properly addressed the final step – resolution of that pain, so one can live free of it.

My research reveals that there are three steps one needs to take for healing to be complete.

Step One – Awareness

Before one can remedy something, we need to know what it is that we are remedying. We need to be aware of it, and this awareness needs to be at a deep level, not just a surface-level idea of what is there. For example, if one feels fear arise around speaking in a group, it is important to follow that fear and see if it is linked to another emotion or feeling. Exploring that fear in depth could result in one finding that underneath that fear is a feeling of not being good enough to speak in public, or that he or she will be rejected as a person because his or her ideas will be considered inadequate, and then one will be abandoned by the group. This is just an example, but it does illustrate how stopping at the feeling of fear would mean one misses out on being aware of the other, related feelings of abandonment, inadequacy, rejection, etc..

I recently guided a woman through a healing session in which she started off feeling sad. As she healed the sadness, other emotions naturally arose without prompting (feeling hurt, not being able to forgive herself, feeling guilt) until we uncovered a feeling of shame. This shame was linked to an early childhood incident, which she had suppressed thinking or feeling about for close to 50 years. Once she healed that feeling of shame, a great feeling of release came over her – she had been holding onto that shame feeling for so long and now it was freed. The other feelings still needed to be healed, as they had only been identified and partially healed on the path to uncovering that feeling of shame.

Fortunately, there are a number of good approaches to exploring our feelings, and as long as they are respectful of the timing, safety, and support that we need to delve into these sometimes murky and potentially scary places, most of them allow us to identify the primary feelings and those lurking underneath, no matter how long that discovery process takes.

A common question that arises is why anyone would want to get rid of feelings or fix them. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong question, as it assumes that there is a desire to be free of emotions. The real question would be, “For how much longer do you want your emotions and feelings to overwhelm you and prevent you from living your life in the manner that is most resourceful to you?”

There is a world of difference between eradicating emotions and feelings, and having a healthy relationship with them, where they arise and subside naturally, without causing you excessive distress. This is also different from suppressing or denying them, which is often the underlying approach to techniques that talk about “controlling your emotions”.

Step Two – Expression

Once we have identified a specific feeling or emotion that we want to work with, it is often helpful to express that emotion, both as part of the awareness deepening and the acceptance of it. Being able to talk to ourselves about a feeling is a good first step. We feel fear, for example, and instead of trying to avoid or deny that feeling, we notice that fear. If next we express it out loud, this can be a very powerful act. Just looking ourselves in the mirror and saying the words “I feel fear”, can be very liberating.

Taking this process of expression further, we would then express the words that describe the feeling to someone else. We need a good, patient listener who is not going to judge what we say, react to it, try to fix it or otherwise get involved in our experience of expressing the feeling.

As well, the importance of a safe environment to do this work is paramount – this would include a comfortable quite place where we will not be interrupted. If we feel safe enough, soon after the words start to flow will come other expressions of that feeling, which could include tears, shouting, sobbing, body sensations, etc..

Again, there are a number of methods which provide a safe context in which to express feelings.

Step Three – Resolution

The third step in healing an unresourceful emotion or feeling is to achieve some resolution around it. This resolution would include the following elements – a full exposure to the feeling, a diminishing of the intensity of the feeling to a level that is first comfortable and then truly absent, a feeling of peacefulness around the event or subject that triggered the feeling in the first place, and some insight into what was going on for us.

Most of the emotional healing methods I have explored do not achieve all of these markers of success. Some try to immediately get an insight as to what caused the feeling and then use that insight to “think away the feeling”, which is pretty close to wilfully suppressing it – it will arise again another day.

Some try to put whipped cream on the cow patty, by “reframing” a painful incident through rationalizing about it, verbally minimizing it, putting a positive spin on it, etc. – this again merely shoves the feeling into a storage place, from which it will probably emerge at a later date.

Some methods place a lot of value on the expression phase, having people scream, punch pillows, kick their feet, etc. etc., but then do not actually resolve the underlying feeling. I watched in one workshop as a woman screamed at 5 different representatives of her pain – 5 people who played the role of her antagonist – by the end of the workshop she was exhausted, but her issues remained unresolved. The facilitators confused exhaustion of the participants with resolution of problems.

Some methods attempt to quickly reduce the intensity of the feeling by use of physiological actions – having clients do lots of slow, deep breathing, for example, which is known to reduce tension in the body and induce feelings of relaxation and calmness. An effective method of curbing symptoms of distress is taking a deep breath and forcefully blowing out through a small hole in your mouth, letting your cheeks puff out. This puts pressure on the vagus nerve, which is one of the most important nerves in the body, and tells it to reset to a normal (calmer) state.

Attempts to “speed things along”, which can include constant prompting of the client to “find another (deeper) feeling”, often result in temporary relief but not resolution. The problematic feeling eventually returns. I once filmed a “master healer” running a number of healing processes and declaring each to be successful. Unfortunately, in each case the client’s problem returned within a few weeks, as the process actually only resulted in temporary relief.

Other techniques take advantage of the normal human desire to avoid pain and our built-in defence mechanism, disassociating, to simply further disassociate the client from the feeling. Again, this does not resolve anything, but just shoves it down further into the person’s hiding places for uncomfortable feelings.

One truly unfortunate thing about techniques that do not provide resolution is that the client is often held responsible for the success or failure of the process. People are told things such as “you are not ready yet to heal this”, “you are resisting the process”, and “you need to do something else first before you can heal this”.

There are a small number of techniques that I have found that incorporate processes to facilitate complete resolution of the unresourceful or excessive feeling.

Getting to resolution

Having watched hundreds of people try various healing processes, with varying degrees of success, I boiled down the results to these four essential elements of a long-term successful healing process. They are simple, practical and easy to look for:

  • The client experiences full exposure to the feeling, for as long as it takes for resolution to occur – they remain fully associated. As this can be seen as counter-intuitive, given human nature to avoid pain and the large number of relief methods being promoted on the basis of being “quick and painless”, one must overcome the tendency to run away from the feeling. Having someone else guide you through a fully-associated process a few times makes it easier to eventually be able to do it on one’s own, if desired. ” Fully associated” means you feel the feeling, and are looking out through your own eyes, not watching yourself as if watching a movie.
  • The feeling will diminish in intensity, first to a level that is comfortable and then dissolve completely. Many relief oriented processes stop once a comfortable intensity is reached. However, stopping prematurely can lead to the feeling being re-triggered, as it is not gone from the system, much like cancer can continue to spread if not eradicated.
  • The amount of time needed for a feeling to diminish can vary tremendously, so patience is important and the classical 50 minute therapist’s hour is often not conducive to complete resolution in a single session – it might take hours. An important element here is that there is no attempt to make the unresourceful feeling go away or change – it is accepted for what it is, in each moment, and allowed to run its course until it dissolves of its own accord.
  • Once the intensity of the feeling has been reduced to null, a new sense of peacefulness around the event or subject that triggered the feeling in the first place is reported. If that peacefulness is not present, it is likely that related feelings are present, and each in turn would be handled like the first, until the peacefulness arises.

Some insight into what was going on for us, what meaning we can give to the fact we had strong feelings about an incident, can and often do arise after holding oneself in the peacefulness for a while.

If the healing process you are presently trying does not give you long- lasting resolutions (the problem keeps resurfacing, despite the temporary relief you experience), you may want to look for someone to guide you through a properly run, fully associated session of a process such as AER. You may “get lucky” with one of those processes that make you feel better temporarily, using “reframing”, lots of deep breathing and other feel-good whipped cream, but true resolution comes from true honoring of the feeling, and that means staying in it until it dissolves of its own accord.

Many of the existing healing oriented methods could be improved and provide long lasting results if the concept of full association with the feeling was incorporated into them. As I continue this research, I find that positive results grow in number and intensity, so long as I keep present the three steps of complete healing and ensure that resolution is reached in each case.

At the same time, I am not surprised by the resistance to this concept of resolution I have encountered from some practitioners of traditional cognitive oriented therapies. Besides not answering the apparently common human tendency towards complicated methods, it is often difficult for a practitioner to watch someone else be in the depths of their pain without their own pain being triggered. However, once we have healed our own pain, it becomes far easier to patiently support those doing their 3 step healing work.

Remember to stay with the healing process until healing is complete, remaining in the feeling as fully as you possibly can.

Copyright Robert S. Vibert May 2006, all rights reserved. First published on     May be freely distributed with this copyright notice intact.