One day when my son, Kai, was six, he and his friend were playing with a balloon at a birthday party. Suddenly, Kai’s friend’s three-year-old sister, let’s call her Gabi, ran crying out of the room.

A few minutes later, I stood up and went to the bedroom, where she sat on the bed crying.

Her mother was kneeling in front of her, pleading with her to stop crying. Her grandfather was standing in a corner with his guitar, strumming an upbeat song in an attempt to cheer her up.

Meanwhile, Gabi was seemingly oblivious to all their cajoling.

With her mother’s consent, I sat down beside Gabi and asked what was wrong. Between sobs, she told me that the boys had taken her balloon. It wasn’t their balloon. It was her balloon. And they hadn’t asked for it.

I looked Gabi in the eyes and said, “That’s really sad, isn’t it? Are you really sad? Do you really want your balloon back?”

Gabi turned and looked at me with a puzzled expression, as if she was surprised to finally be heard. Then she heaved a huge sigh, put her head on my shoulder, and slowly stopped crying. “Yeah,” she said, seeming relieved that someone had asked her what she needed without trying to convince her to feel differently.

After a moment, we stood up, hand in hand, and went to ask the boys to give her the balloon back.

They promptly did.

Healing Happens in Relationship

To heal our wounds, understand ourselves, and persist in the face of our challenges, we need people who can offer us love and listen without trying to make us feel, think, or be any different than we are.

In Narrative Medicine, Lakota-Cherokee shaman and psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona writes that dominant culture’s focus on individual healing is a historically new phenomenon. In shamanic traditions, healing almost always takes place within community.

He writes, “Beyond any technique, relationships are what heal.”[1]

Trauma usually occurs in relationship, so healing ideally happens in relationship too. That’s why I encourage you to find other people—a skilled therapist, coach, community of practice, friend, partner, or practice buddy—who can offer accompaniment and support.

And, because it is not always possible to access skilled, supportive space holders, my experience shows me that cultivating a healing relationship with ourselves is also incredibly important—and entirely possible.

To cultivate a healing, supportive relationship with yourself, I invite you to imagine that there are two parts of yourself—the emotional part, which might be struggling, confused, scared, hurting, or needing celebration, and the part offering warm attention to the emotional part.

Over the years, I’ve learned many names for the loving, accompanying part. My favorite is from Sarah Peyton—Resonant Self-Witness.

Resonance in the Brain

Resonance is the experience of sensing that another person truly understands us. Our human bodies vibrate at different frequencies based on our emotions, and when someone resonates with us, it’s as though their emotional world vibrates together with ours.

When someone shows us through their words, voice, expressions, or presence that they see, hear, and understand us, that’s resonance.

In the brain, self-resonance, kindness, and trust live in the neural fibers that connect the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala.[2] The prefrontal cortex is the large area in the front of the brain responsible for many important discernment skills, including regulating our emotions, resonating with others, exploring possibilities, making decisions, planning, and maintaining focus.

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped region deep in the brain that holds our emotional and unconscious memories. The amygdala constantly and automatically filters all of our present-day experiences to identify similarities to difficult situations from the past, and it sets off an alarm when it finds a match.

The more trauma a person experiences, the more likely the amygdala is to dominate and the more reactive a person becomes.

The more resonance we receive, the stronger our neural fibers that connect our prefrontal cortex with the amygdala become. The stronger those connections become, the more the prefrontal cortex can run the show. And when the prefrontal cortex runs the show, we are both likely to feel better in our bodies and choose more effective responses to our challenges.

So, how do you create resonance with yourself or another person?

Before we can resonate, we must attune. Attunement is the act of focusing caring attention on ourselves or another with warmth, respect, and a desire to truly understand.

When we bring warm attunement to a struggling part of ourselves or another person, get curious about what’s going on for them, and they respond with—Yes, that’s it!—we have resonance. When your body relaxes and says, “Yes, you understand me!,” that’s resonance.

As Peyton writes, resonance happens in relationship. We need at least two people or two parts of ourselves to create resonance. In this case, we have our emotional self and resonating self-witness.

Sometimes, my clients are able to embody their resonating self-witness right after discovering the concept. However, for many of us, it can be quite challenging to offer ourselves warm attunement at first. Embodying this part of yourself may require a commitment to practicing self-resonance consistently over time.

In my upcoming course, Fundamentals of Radical Discernment, I will share several practices for helping you attune to yourself and discern what you need. In the rest of this letter, I want to share one practice that might help.

Practice: Imagining Offering/Receiving Warmth

I invite you to bring to mind a child, animal, or other being you experience warm, uncomplicated love for.

Imagine this little one in your mind’s eye. You might imagine holding them or shining your love upon them.

Take in the sense of the warmth and care you feel for this little being.

Notice where you feel these sensations of warmth or care in your body.

See if you can amplify them, turning up the volume on any sensations that feel good. Imagine absorbing them into your body, as if your cells were tiny sponges.

If you feel pain or sadness when you do this practice, you might see if you can imagine holding the hurt part of yourself with warmth and care.

Or, you might get curious whether there are parts of your body that have an easier time accessing the sensations of safety and comfort. Perhaps your thumb or elbow or the soles of your feet. If you can sense any feelings of comfort and safety, take a moment to linger in those feelings. You can also stop the practice, scan the room for safety, wiggle your hands and feet, and do whatever you need to return to a more comfortable state.

Struggling with this practice is also a sign that receiving support from a trauma-informed, securely attached therapist or other professional who can help you cultivate a sense of inner safety might be helpful.

If you can access this sense of warmth and care for another, I invite you to play with shining this warmth and care upon yourself. Play with amplifying and absorbing any positive sensations you feel.

Then, when you’re ready, I invite you to shift perspectives.

Now, see if you can bring to mind someone who offers you warmth and care—someone from the past, your present life, or your imagination. This may be a person from your family line, a caretaker from early in life, a friend or partner, a teacher or mentor, a companion animal, a spirit or deity, characters from a story or book, or a being from the more than human realm.

Experiment with looking at yourself through their eyes.

Notice what happens in their heart as they look at you. Imagine them holding you in their loving gaze.

If you feel a sense of warmth or love, linger a bit in that sensation, taking in the sense of warmth and care.

Continue to experiment with offering and receiving warmth from the loving, resonant part of yourself. You may imagine looking through the eyes of the emotional part and imagine being accompanied by a warm and caring witness. Or, you may imagine being the loving, accompanying witness, offering warm attention to your emotional self. You might also toggle between the two.

I invite you to play with each perspective and notice which feels most supportive, knowing that it may change over time.

I am sending you so much warmth and care. May you feel held, heard, and loved.

[1] Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process. (Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2007.)

[2]  Sarah Peyton. Your Resonant Self Workbook: From Self-Sabotage to Self-Care. (New York, NY: WW Norton, 2021.)


Forgot Password?

Join Us