Two trippy experiences that helped change my self-worth

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This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.

Hello, hello, Soothers! Today I am here to present to you two tales of true trippiness and healing. As I’ve talked about the last two weeks, I had left talk therapy in favor of exploring a new-to-me world of healing modalities. And I want to write about two significant experiences I had in two of these modalities that changed everything for me.

(You can listen to this essay as audio here)

It took me until recently to realize it, but I think the biggest block I had with talk therapy is that what I really need to work on for myself was self-acceptance, self-worth, and overcoming shame. The current paradigm, as in much of Western approaches, it to do this with *thinking.*

“Just believe in yourself!” “Just be more confident!” “Fake it til you make it!” “Change your mind, change your world!”

But as many of you likely know by now, grit and willpower can get you only so far. Our minds and intellect and logic are powerful things, for sure, and must be included and addressed in a journey of healing and transformation, but focusing only on them is like making a recipe and thinking the most important ingredient is the flame with which you’re cooking the food.

Throughout my journey, I’ve realized that emotions like low self-worth, shame, and others (and good ones too!) live in the body, not the mind. I could think my way 12 ways to Sunday about how I was actually super confident and worthy, but unless I addressed these issues at an emotional and somatic level (not to mention a spiritual and subconscious level), I was just going to be grinding my gears.

So here’s what happened: I turned to one modality, called Focusing. And another called Guided Imagery. And the results were… wild.

Let’s look at Focusing first. I read this book, Focusing in Clinical Practice: The Essence of Change, by Ann Weiser Cornell, while I was getting my coaching certification, and it was one of the first books that opened up my mind to healing through a somatic path. Here’s the gist:

“Focusing is based on a radically different understanding of the body as inherently meaningful and implicitly wise. Mere intellectualizing or talking about problems can keep clients stuck in their old patterns of behavior. Focusing introduces the concept of the “felt sense,” a moment in process when there is a potential to experience more than is already known and to break through old, frozen, stuck patterns. Clients who see real change during the course of their therapy work are often those who can contact and stay with a felt sense―but how to help them do so is not obvious.”

Sounds good to me, I thought! Let’s try it out.

So this past January, I decided to do a focusing session with this woman, Sandy Jahmi Burg, virtually.

This is what she wrote in her initial email to me: “A session is ultimate self-care time. The gist is that we’ll be following your body’s process about a particular topic or issue that you choose to invite. We’re looking for that which you do not yet know, so staying with whatever comes in response to your invitation longer than you typically would on your own. I will guide you with gentle suggestions in how to be in relationship to what comes. Our experience then, is that when something within us feels fully deeply understood for how it is now, as it comes when you invite it, that acceptance frees it to move forward or take a step. Something that has been a certain way for a long time, now, is freed up to do something different for you. Some sessions are more about bringing together a variety of views, this is like integrative neural wiring, and from that you can find clarity in making decisions, a united sense within. Your body does this for you, you do not ‘do’ anything to it. Whenever something does shift within us, with this particular type of attention you are giving yourself during this time, everything always moves toward what feels like a better sense of well-being; maybe more spacious, alive or flowing.”

For close to two hours, she guided me into a quiet state where I was paying attention to what feelings were arising, whether they came out in my body (aches or pain), my mind (thoughts), or as images.

At first, nothing really happened. I have the thing where you can’t visualize (you might have read this article about it) so it was just a lot of trying to tune in, a LOT of silence, and occasionally a gentle question from Sandy.

But eventually, something came through… it wasn’t quite an image, since I don’t visualize. It was more an… impression.

We had been talking about my struggles with feeling confident, starting a business, not feeling like I really knew myself… and all of a sudden, I was in the midst of this (it’s trippy, hang on):

There was a village of little people living in me. Imagine, like, The Smurfs, or Gulliver’s Travels and the Lillput. It was kind of an old-timey village; people were walking around, living in huts and cabins, doing stuff like, blacksmithing, or whatever people did in villages like several hundred years ago. They were living a nice life. It was bustling and cheery.

But then… I came along. I was like a Giant Catherine, or a Gulliver, at the edge of their awareness. They knew I was coming, and they all raced to hide.

In that moment, I knew: They were scared of me. They knew they had to be silent when I was around. They didn’t want me to see them, or even know they were there. They were afraid I would hurt them.

I realized in that very moment that I had been trying to bleach myself of my own emotions, my own imperfections, my own entire self. I was on a quest for a “perfect” version of myself — one where I never felt bad things, never did “bad” things, one where I was just this like… saintly, perfect, emotionless, beautiful robot.

And my own self was scared of me. All of my emotions, my doubts, my parts of me that were “less than” would run and hide when I came about because they knew I was trying to exterminate them in this robotic, ruthless quest for acceptance and perfection.

In that moment, Giant Traveling Catherine arrived in the village and told the villagers to come out. She/I apologized for having tried to eradicate them. She/I could just see they were just… being. Just people being, in all their perfections and imperfections, their beauty and flaws. Just living.

The villagers came out and cheered, and waved me off as I sailed away, promising that I would come back and visit often.

I shit you not.

Yup. That was what happened.

I could ruminate further on it, but I think the story and the lesson is quite clear, and in that moment during the Focusing session, I knew then:

I accept myself as I am, with all of my mess.

I have to. I’m killing myself trying not to.

So I shall just… be. Me. All of me.

Onto the next wild experience!

I spoke about this in a recent episode of the Sunday Soother podcast. This spring I was part of a cohort of women in a program called Worthy Women Rise by life coach Thais Sky, a group where we explore what she has coined “the worthiness wound.”

Beautiful program. Can endorse. Thais is great. Several of the modules and learning had a significant impact on me, but the biggest one was a simple guided imagery meditation she had us do towards the end.

Guided Imagery is a type of visualization and mediation process where a voice walks you through prompts and invites you to imagine a variety of things unfolding. I learned a lot about it from this Body of Wonder podcast, which explains: “Guided imagery is an easy to use multi-sensory relaxation-based practice that utilizes guided affirmations and soothing music to evoke images in the mind that are experienced by the body.”

In the meditation, Thais invites you to begin to picture your own worthiness wound. What does it look like? she asks. What might it have to say to you? What do you want to say back?

In the meditation — again, I don’t visualize, so this was more an impression than actual pictures — I saw my worthiness wound. It was a softly jagged black hole… sort of a dark cloud, formless, that lived around my solar plexus. It came out of me, and looked at me. We were on a beach.

What does your worthiness wound have to say to you? Thais asked.

This is what it told me:

“Catherine, it’s time for you to let me go. You’re holding on, but you don’t need me anymore. But I can’t leave on my own. I need you to choose to release me.”

I’m already crying in the visualization at this point, and I say something back to the effect:

“But I don’t want to let you go. I’m scared. I hate saying goodbye. What if I’m all alone without out you? Don’t go.”

And it said back, “You can do this. Trust.”

Crying harder, I knew it was right. I had to do this.

I nodded, in that moment, choosing to let it go.

And it turned into a bird and flew off into the sky.

Again: No shit. This really happened.
My solar plexus immediately started gurgling, and I knew something had changed, as the solar plexus chakra is where self-worth lies.

Later that day, I was walking around DC, ruminating on this experience, when I stopped myself in my tracks:

The reason it had been so emotionally painful for me to say goodbye to my low self-worth was that it had been a best friend. A constant companion. A knowing voice, a validating one. Something that reassured me nothing was my fault, nobody understood us, and that was okay because we had each other.

I was emotionally alone a lot as a kid. I had a kind, stable, secure family unit who were always physically around, but I’m pretty sure my parents had no idea what to do with such an emotionally sensitive child. I often felt alone, floating out in space with these bewildering feelings and emotions, like nobody truly understood me, that something must be wrong with me.

This voice, this low self-worth, had appeared in order to comfort me.

And now, in order to believe differently about myself — nothing was wrong with me, my emotions were valid, I deserved everything I wanted — I had to say good-bye to it.

For more around this experience, and my thoughts around self-pity and low self-worth, I hope you’ll listen to the podcast I did about this last week, where I expand more deeply on these concepts.

So that’s it. Those are two of the most emotionally significant experiences I’ve had in a long time, and through them, I had this sense of shame… leaving my body. Of lightness. Of a new way of being. Of possibility, of potential. Of acceptance and deservingness.

And there was no way I could have talked myself there. My shame and self-worth needed to be released at a much deeper level. And I’m thankful that, after years of searching, I was able to find my way there.

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.

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