Reshaping Identity: Unlocking Massive Transformation

Apr 11, 2024

She's in the kitchen cutting vegetables with her boyfriend. Her knife slips. She feels the shape blade pierce her skin. She drops the knife and immediately clutches her finger, squeezing tight. She inspects it, trying to determine if she will need stitches. She spends the next several days tending to it. Bandage changes, antibiotic ointment, and the rest. As it heals, she even goes out to YouTube and searches for videos on better cutting skills.  The healing is complete, and she moves on.

Now imagine this was not a physical injury but an emotional wound. Imagine she cut her "psychological thumb." How would she deal with that?  Well, if she were most people, she would deal with it in one of a few completely dysfunctional ways.  She could run up to her boyfriend, stick her thumb in his face, and scream ow ow owwwww.  She could run around doing this to everyone she meets.  This is blaming and complaining. She expects someone else to deal with it. 

Or maybe she stares at her finger and cries and weeps, doing nothing to stop the bleeding.  This is whimpering and whining. She is so busy feeling sorry for herself she never takes the initiative to heal. Or maybe she just stuck her arm behind her back, hiding the finger from view, acting like nothing happened. She decides she does not need the finger or the arm, for that matter. She can get on just fine with one arm.  This is distracting and denying and avoids even looking at the situation. Of course, she could decide she was hurt, so other people should also be hurt. She takes out her knife and looks for other people to cut.  This is the hurt person who hurts people. 

None of these scenarios helps.  All of them make things worse. What is required, is knowing how to feel, deal and heal from emotional wounds like we do from physical wounds.

Stories about what happened

As we navigate through life, we are constantly writing and rewriting the narratives that shape our identity and understanding of the world. These narratives can be thought of as knots in a long string of yarn, each knot representing a defining story or "seed story" that influences all subsequent stories we create about ourselves and our experiences. This analogy, reminiscent of a child tying knots in a piece of yarn out of boredom, illustrates how these narratives accumulate over time, creating a tangled, heavy burden that we carry with us, shaping our mindset into one that is rigid and defensive. It's a powerful image that echoes the haunting portrayal of Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," burdened by the weight of his chains.

The process of untangling this knotted yarn, which we might call "identity restructuring," mirrors the journey of rewriting our internal narratives. This process can be broken down into three distinct phases: Feel, Deal, and Heal. These steps are crucial not only in addressing physical wounds but also in healing psychological and emotional wounds. By drawing a parallel with the instinctive way we tend to a cut finger—feeling the pain, dealing with the injury, and healing with new precautions—we can understand how to approach our psychological suffering with a similar methodology.

The Metaphor of the Cut Finger

When we cut our finger, our immediate instinct is to feel the pain, which prompts us to pay attention and take action (the Feel phase). Next, we deal with the wound by inspecting it, cleaning it, and perhaps bandaging it or seeking stitches (the Deal phase). Finally, the Heal phase involves learning from the experience, such as reminding ourselves to be more careful or improving our skills to avoid future injuries.

However, when it comes to psychological and emotional wounds, people often react in ways that are counterproductive to healing. Some might run around seeking sympathy from others without taking any steps to heal themselves (blaming and complaining), while others might wallow in their pain without seeking solutions (whimper and whine). Some deny their suffering and pretend it doesn't affect them (distract and deny), and there are those who, having been hurt, lash out to hurt others (the hurt person who hurts people). These dysfunctional responses highlight a widespread lack of understanding and tools for addressing our inner wounds.

The Three-Step Process of Identity Restructuring

1. Feel Phase

The first step involves revisiting old struggles, difficulties, emotionally charged events, or traumas to relive and feel the emotional suffering. This is analogous to acknowledging the pain of a physical wound, a necessary step for healing to begin.

2. Deal Phase

Here, we reflect on the narrative we created around the event. This involves examining our coping mechanisms and the patterns that emerged as a result. Like inspecting a physical wound, this phase requires us to confront and understand the depth and impact of our emotional injuries.

3. Heal Phase

In the final step, we replace the old, limiting narrative with a new, empowering story. This mirrors the process of learning from a physical injury, but in this context, we use our emotional and psychological challenges as catalysts for growth, transforming pain into purpose, suffering into meaning, and hurt into a way to help others.

Applying the Process Through Written Exposure Therapy (WET)

Written Exposure Therapy (WET) is a potent tool for facilitating this three-step process. In the Feel phase, individuals write about the event and relive the emotions associated with it. The Deal phase involves writing about the coping mechanisms or narratives they developed and the patterns that now define their behavior. Finally, in the Heal phase, individuals write a new story about how they will use their experiences to grow, improve, and become the hurt person who helps others.

This approach, by turning pain into purpose and suffering into meaning, offers a path to dissolving the pain and untangling the knotted yarn of our lives. Through identity restructuring, we not only heal ourselves but also empower ourselves to contribute to the healing of others, embodying the transformation from a narrative of hurt to one of healing and help.


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