When we have lost our way, in the midst of chaos or distress, anxiety and wanting things to be other than they are, we can at times find a point of stillness, we can touch the ground and breathe a breath and begin to know where we are, know that we are lost. In knowing we are lost we have started again. We have remembered to be aware. And in being aware we have choice. We can choose to have a different relationship to what is painful and unpleasant. We could choose for example to redirect our energy and attention to a point, a neutral point like the breath, that facilitates us to be calm and come to stillness. In Daniel Siegel’s words:
“When you are feeling stressed or find yourself in situations that trigger past unresolved issues, your mind may shut off and become inflexible. This inflexibility can be an indication that you are entering a different state of mind that directly impairs your ability to think clearly. We call this a low mode of processing… or ‘the low road’ where you can become flooded by feelings such as fear, sadness or rage. These intense emotions can lead you to have knee-jerk reactions instead of thoughtful responses…
The low road experience has four elements: a trigger, transition, immersion and recovery. Triggers initiate the activation of our leftover issues. Transition is the feeling of being on the edge, just before we enter the low road; it can be rapid or gradual. Immersion in the low road can be filled with intense emotions including the frustration and out-of-control feeling of being stuck in the low road itself…
Our childhood experiences may have involved trauma and loss in some form. Resolution of trauma and loss requires an understanding of the low road and its connection to patterns of experiences from the past.” (Daniel Siegel, Parenting from the Inside Out)
There are many ways to approach and heal unresolved issues, trauma or loss:
Our instinctual survival responses to fight, flight or freeze may become activated while on the low road and dominate our behaviour. The body’s response, such as tightened muscles in anger, an impulse to run away in fear, or a sense of being numb and immobilised. Becoming aware of our bodily sensations is a first step to understanding our experience on the low road. Making a conscious effort to alter our bodily reactions on the low road can help to free us from the prison of these ingrained reflexes. The brain looks to the body to know how it feels and to assess the meaning of things; thus becoming aware of our bodily reactions can be a direct and effective means to deal with low road immersion.
Changing the impact of the low road in our lives may require becoming familiar with the origins of these experiences and letting our minds move deeply in the layers of personal meaning that surround them.
Knowing about the brain can allow someone to move from self-judgement to self-acceptance. Our ability to enter into states of self reflection often requires periods of solitude.
Bodily awareness and self-reflection may be followed by other experiences that enhance the healing process. Writing in a journal can be integrative and healing. Having trusted others bear witness to our pain and struggles can also bring a new sense of clarity and coherence to our lives.
How do you begin the process of healing? You can begin by talking about your memories to a trusted adult or professional who can support your growth in this process.
- Adapted from Daniel Siegel’s Parenting from the Inside Out