I want to share an experience that I am currently integrating and that has helped me to carry on healing the mother wound that I carry and see the importance of preparation and protection when sitting or holding space for people with stories that resonate with one’s own and how the lessons for the Wounded Healer are always ongoing.
Recently, Florian and I sat for someone for a plant spirit medicine journey. A sixty-year-old woman with a lifelong problem with alcohol. She was at the end of her tether and her practical life situation and relationships were, too.
In the preparation session, the evening before her journey, she was in a challenging but familiar place with much emotion. Her daughter had accompanied her and was present in this prep session. I immediately recognized the inner dynamic playing out from the mother and in the relationship with her daughter, not just from a professional standpoint, but from my own experience as a child in relationship to my mother. I felt as if I had walked into a cameo scene in a movie from my past. I should have stopped there and come back to a professional mindset, but instead, seeing so clearly, I explained what I saw happening to the mother and daughter. It was helpful to them and aided the intention setting for the journey the following day to have someone totally behold them. However, I wasn’t ready for the impact that sitting for this person would have on me. In the future I will use this experience to be much more mindful of how I situate myself energetically when a situation triggers or mirrors my own life experience. That’s what it really means to be a Wounded Healer, to check in with ourselves and, as they say in the safety drill on any commercial flight ‘attach our own oxygen mask before assisting others.’ And still, we receive ongoing lessons for the Wounded Healer.
The hours we sat and held space for her the following day were long and intense. I quickly saw her narcissistic wound manifesting. As the plant spirit medicine entered, the wound became more and more highlighted. The client was in her own world, led by the medicine. We were there to hold space, contain the experience, which we did. It was extremely hard to hear the way her narcissistic wound played out. It was noisy and intense. Both Florian and myself were forced to relay with each other, taking breaks in the other room. I could handle that. What was so difficult was the cellular memory it was triggering in myself. At one point, I wanted to tell her to shut up and grow up and think of others. Obviously, I didn’t do that. I continued to hold space.
We gave her essential oils and combination of oils to accompany the different stages we could feel her living though. We smelled the oils, too. Angelica root to push her into the experience through her body when she was still resisting at the beginning. Helichrysum to get the emotions flowing. Scots Pine to give her unconditional support as she dived deeper. Myrtle to shift the perspective as she got stuck repeating the same thing again and again. Labdanum and Cardamom to help the trauma rise into the consciousness and be digested. And finally Tuberose Attar and Galbanum for embodiment and commitment to her path. I felt as if I was living through the stages, too, feeling the wound of having a narcissistic mother resonating through my body for hours on end. The client worked hard and deeply and when she was ready, six hours after taking the first dose, she surfaced and had exorcised what she needed to let go of in order to get her life back.
There was a feeling of joy and a job well done, except for a niggling feeling that I had taken on something of what she was exorcising myself.
When Florian and I got home, I didn’t feel well. We had a bath and went to bed exhausted. I couldn’t sleep and I could feel the client’s energy circulating within me. For the last five years since my mother died I have been working on our relationship, the difficulty of grieving her and accepting her with her narcissistic wound. I have spent years healing codependent tendencies which I learned as a survival strategy in childhood. I still haven’t fully forgiven her, although my intellect knows she was extremely wounded herself and these wounds get passed on if we don’t heal and integrate them
“Children not loved for who they are do not learn how to love themselves. Their growth is an exercise in pleasing others, not in expanding through experience.” Marion Woodman
The intense session I witnessed and sat for held some keys to my own healing, ongoing lessons for the Wounded Healer. The first was that, since children of narcissists are commonly extremely codependent and often terrified of their mothers, it came as no surprise to witness our client’s adult daughter in this role. She wasn’t able to see the narcissistic wound playing out. All she wanted so desperately was her mother to love, accept and actually behold her, which is impossible for a narcissistic mother. I saw clearly with the client what I couldn’t see as a child—what I refused to see while my mother was alive. My cells resonated finally with the truth.
Sitting for the client and witnessing her psychic journey led by the plant spirit medicine was a very clear lesson in what narcissism is within the psyche: It is like a cage where the person sees nothing but themselves. The whole world is experienced only in relationship to themselves, it does not exist independently and it originates from a deep wound. It is a survival strategy – in order to survive, the psyche unconsciously decides that nothing other than the self exists.
I didn’t sleep at all that night and the following day, my body purged deeply. I had a huge integration ahead of me – writing this blog post is part of that.
What I have learned about sitting for people and holding space in intense situations like the one I described is that the more we resonate with someone’s story, situation, wound, etc. the more we need to be conscious of having solid boundaries. I should have been much more conscious of:
1) The implications of my counter-transference toward the client, i.e. treating her like my mother because she had some similarities.
2) My porosity and taking on the intense energies the client was shedding.
3) Protecting and preparing myself prior to the session by creating a safe boundary with yarrow and being much more consciously aware of what is the clients and what is mine.
4) Reminding myself that this wasn’t my story and not taking on any emotions or judgements regarding it.
Thankfully I recognized what had happened. Florian used Saint John’s Wort, Rose and Fennel essential oils to cleanse me of any residue that wasn’t mine and I spent the rest of the weekend integrating. I also understood on a visceral level that the work we do sitting for people for plant medicine journeys is a calling and not a job. In order to hold space for whatever happens and work through whatever comes up for six to eight hours at a time, it is neither wise nor effective to schedule clients too frequently. We have decided to sit for people no more than once a month so that we can really hold space in a way that gives the best chance for transformation and continue to grow ourselves as each experience sitting is unique and different with new lessons for both the client and the sitter.
Fundamentally, therapy is when two (or in this case three) people are in a room and get better. We all receive the healing we are ready for, even if we’re not expecting it. The lessons for the the Wounded Healer keeping reminding us to focus on our own wounds first and this is a lifelong journey. As Jung said (with apologies for his gendered language): “No analysis is capable of banishing all unconsciousness for ever. The analyst must go on learning endlessly, and never forget that each new case brings new problems to light and thus gives rise to unconscious assumptions that have never before been constellated. We could say, without too much exaggeration, that a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor’s examining himself, for only what he can put right in himself can he hope to put right in the patient. It is no loss, either, if he feels that the patient is hitting him, or even scoring off him: it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician. [“Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy,” The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16, para. 239.]