FLOWING to Wellbeing: (Part 5)
I for Integration
In the FLOWING Recovery model described in Unkind Gifts: An Insider’s Guide to Recovery from Trauma and Loss, the final three letters - ING - refer to active efforts and processes for maintenance of our survivorship. It might be argued that the I in the model which stands for Integration is the most important element. Instead of taking a “get over it” approach to recovery, effective integration efforts require consistent, supported engagement on a neuro-physical level, within an extensive series of interactions, to bring the process to fruition. While this description may sound complicated, the process of integration is ongoing at a subconscious level, and can be furthered by self-awareness with positive intentions. In simple terms, integration is a journey of self-discovery.
The word integration is defined as a process of combining one thing with another to make a (new) whole, e.g., Integrative Medicine purports to add holistic elements to standard western medical practices. However, when the term relates to healing at the level of our nervous system it is less about adding something, and more a matter of removing/releasing that which blocks access to best functioning. When we FLOW (Feel, Listen, Open to and Witness), developmental effects and distorted perceptions that result from traumatic events can be engaged with and released, allowing us to experience a new sense of self. Into that newly opened space, we can expand and update life lessons and engage in repair, by direct participation in the naturally occurring processes of integration. Once the toxic secrets are out, the present moment can be attended to and considered as it is – no longer being filtered through past associations with negative meanings and influences.
Our mindbodies are always seeking their own repair, and it is from a sense of being neglected or underserved (according to our nervous system’s preset/default mode) that symptoms of unbalance arise and are, all too often, reinforced by our interactions with family and society. Negative implications are especially likely to influence our self-perceptions, as they tend to have the stronger “survival based” filters. It is at the level of those negative understandings that the golden key to recovery is found.
Integration is both the umbrella for, and the outcome of, all mindbody recovery efforts; it is the essence of secure attachment. Dr. Dan Siegel points to the match between attachment theory’s “secure” status and the outcome of mindfulness-based integration (Mindsight, 2009). In childhood, responsive caretaking, family resources (education, nutrition, emotional availability) and environmental safety are the building blocks of secure attachment, but in the absence or disruption of these - most meaningfully those supporting emotional regulation within our closest developmental relationships - our attachment status will suffer significant damage.
Advancements in brain imaging have contributed greatly to an understanding that despite such developmental disruptions, the nervous system stays amenable to repair across the lifespan. In addition, energy directed toward change can improve its likelihood. As we attend to internally held meanings, we can locate physical and emotional markers of imbalance and reactivity, allowing for more focused exploration and expression of previously blocked receptors. For example, the memory of a time of loss, when attended to, can offer validation and context (past vs. present) to compassionately heal and release those exiled emotions that initially established the blockage. Those pockets of exiled energy exist in all of us, having been based upon the availability of emotional /physical/relational resources at the time of the disruption (loss or trauma). These complex exiles tend to exist in a sort of time warp of un-integrated, often child based energy.
Working with the FLOWING model, multiple levels and areas of awareness and expression can be addressed over time. Attending to body energies and thought processes that we so often ignore or dismiss for fear of the emotions that may be carried there, can offer us ongoing access to integration. Each element of the FLOWING model holds its own inherent integrative properties and opportunities. When we FEEL we connect meaningfully with muscles, bones, circulation, as well as the nervous system and the emotional cues held within, down to the cellular level. The implications of this practical focus extend even to genetics and internally held attachment effects. LISTENING mindfully engages our attention on a level of symbols (images) and meanings to direct access to our own heart-felt truths, some of which were in “cold storage” awaiting such an opportunity for release. Emotional access does not simply emerge casually at the earliest efforts to engage after long, hard experience at protective withholding - often under heavy guard. The road to our heart-truths often winds through dark places, requiring great courage and patience. Maintaining an OPEN receptivity to knowing about the pain and loss suffered along the way and releasing them, once WITNESSED, is the essence of engagement in INTEGRATION as a life-long practice.
In support of integration-as-practice, the elements of the FLOWING model each suggest creative expression of mindbody experiences as release, and as resource. Attention to the microlevel of our own sense of “safety vs. harm” (as determined by the nervous system), along with deliberate efforts to connect with and express those events/objects/images, will help us to sustain integration on a regular and flowing basis. From this point, we become more able to NURTURE our practice through routines, rituals, and celebrations. Further, we can expand them to include compassionate engagement with others, through a process known as GENERATIVITY. These N and G elements the model bring recovery from a mere survival struggle, to fully expressed, continually renewed, integration, as will be explored in the next two essays within the FLOWING to Wellness series.
Ellen C. Ranney, PhD. Is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She specializes in work with trauma survivors and their families. Dr. Ranney is the author of Unkind Gifts: An Insider’s Guide to Recovery from Trauma and Loss, (c)2016, available at www.unkindgifts.com