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Healing Relationally: Why Self-Help Alone Is Not Enough

Holding hands
 
Online media has made mental health tips and tools more accessible than ever. We can now heal our depression in 30-second TikTok reels if we just use a simple breathing technique we can do on our own. If it doesn’t work, we can even assume that we must have done it wrong and be the ones to blame. Inevitably we find ourselves back in a loop of self-loathing.

 

This is of course an exaggeration, and many tools out there can be supportive. They’re accessible, affordable, build self-awareness, and can be empowering.

However, what works for one person, might exacerbate symptoms in another. When we work on our healing in isolation, we can lack guidance on what could uniquely support us. We’re taught that quick fixes are available when we need to go deeper to address the root cause of our trauma.

What’s even more important is the relational component of having a therapist, someone who provides the context for our own healing to take place. To understand how essential this is, we need to first consider how trauma takes place.

According to Peter Levine, the founder of somatic experiencing which treats trauma by working directly with the body first:

"Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness."

There’s a sense that something terrible has happened, and we don’t have the people around us to offer the support we need.

It’s something we can often feel alone in. An example of this could be childhood trauma where we experience neglect from our caregiver, when they do not attune to us in the way we needed at the time. It can leave us feeling abandoned.

When we choose to revisit our traumas to make sense of them, self-help can perpetuate the beliefs that no one is there for us. It doesn’t help that our culture celebrates and validates hyper independence, it does not emphasize the importance of co-regulation and receiving support from others. 

What’s essential for our healing to take place, and for the fragmented parts of our psyche to come back together lies in healthy, loving, and supportive relationship. We learn that it is safe to authentically be ourselves, while we stay connected to another. We no longer need to face our shadows alone because someone is there with us.

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