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What Do We Mean by Healing?
I’ve had some conversations of late with clients about the nature of healing. What do we mean when we say we are or want to be “healed” from our childhoods? Is being “healed,” say, from an eating disorder, the same thing as being recovered from it?
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “to heal” means 1) to make sound or whole, to restore to health; 2) to cause (an undesirable condition) to be overcome, to patch up (a breach or division); 3) to restore to original purity or integrity. In emotional healing, I’d count out being restored to an original state. That’s not going to happen, nor would that necessarily be beneficial. Yet, we can overcome eating problems or childhood abuse or neglect, that is, change our thoughts and behaviors.
So we’re left with the concept of being made sound or whole and restored to health. Those seem like acceptable, realistic, doable goals. The question, then, is how this will occur. My take is that we can think of healing as something that happens to us or something that we actively make happen. We don’t become healed; we heal. What you do to heal portends how long it takes and how it happens.
Healing can occur only in the present. We can’t heal the past, which is a common misconception. However, we can heal from what occurred in a previous time by changing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors now. To heal from being coerced to finish the food on your plate when you were a child, you need to not finish all the food on your plate now. To heal from choosing the wrong type of romantic partner in the past, you need to choose a different kind of partner now. Healing involves thinking about decisions and acting on them in a different way than you previously did.
Alone, wishing to be healed is not all that useful because it focuses on the destination, not the step-by-step actions to getting there. The same goes with wanting to be a “normal” eater versus wanting to eat “normally.” Get it? The focus must be on the doing of healing. You won’t get healed, although you may have experiences (like therapy and this group) which can aid in healing. The repair work involves both making a healthier meaning of current occurrences than you did before and choosing healthier behaviors in response to them. For example, believing that you deserve to be happy and choosing to stop eating when full or staying away from people who make you unhappy.
Healing comes from not doing what is familiar and unhealthy and, instead, doing what is unfamiliar and healthy. Look to healing rather than being healed and it will happen.