Developing our healing muscles

“When we polarize light and dark, our healing remains partial and obsessive, easily undone.” p. 27

I turn again this week to Miriam Greenspan’s work Healing Through the Dark Emotions. As this opening quote suggests, for true healing we need to do more than classify our emotions, experiences and thoughts into good and bad or positive and negative. Indeed, as Greenspan argues, failure to recognize that these are dynamic polarities can stymy our attempts to learn and grow.

What makes clinging to static, polarized categories unproductive? Why does such an approach slow or limit our healing? One key reason is that it keeps us stuck in a fixed mindset. As I’ve described in Do You Seek to Demonstrate or Develop Diversity, the fixed mindset keeps us reliant on external motivators such as tangible rewards or punishments and puts us at risk of only taking action when someone is compelling us to do so. This damages our chances for healing because typically you only gain the approbation of the external world if you get over your hurt quickly and move on with your life.

In line with the fixed mindset, the wider world is attuned to the demonstration of healing and considers it a one-time thing. Furthermore, the all-or-none outlook of the fixed mindset says that you are either well or ill, healed or still hurting. However, the work of learning from challenging feelings, events and ruminations occupies the liminal space between broken and healed rather than neatly falling into either of these two categories. As such, at the present moment there is little respect for such healing work and perhaps even less support for people trying to find their way to a broader-based sense of what is good and bad. Returning to wholeness, however, is a continuing process, one which requires you to construct a fuller and richer sense of your place in the world and the world’s within you. Embracing a growth mindset when it comes to healing means that one seeks to uncover the value in the pain, the good that not only can be recognized but also developed.

“When we can broaden the story of our suffering…emotional alchemy happens quite naturally. We learn that suffering | does not have to deaden; it can also enliven. It does not have to weaken, it can also strengthen. It does not have to diminish but can enlarge us. We go to ‘shrinks’ to reduce our suffering, when what we need is to open to it and let it expand us.” pp. 26-27

As I discussed in Educating Our Palates About Development, adopting a fixed mindset has another disadvantage: it can often mean giving up when the going gets tough. You see yourself as having only a fixed amount of strength or capacity to engage in the healing process. And when that process does not flow smoothly and easily, when you can’t cope perfectly with new or existing setbacks, you may decide that there is no way forward because something internal to you is eternally broken. From this position you cease to strive for clarity in terms of your emotions and beliefs and instead begin to process things through the lens of the passive victim. In this state, all of your energy and zest for life dissipates.

“Painful emotions challenge us to know the sacred in the broken; to develop an enlarged sense of self beyond the suffering ego, an awareness that comes from being mindful of life’s difficulties, rather than disengaging from them; to arrive at a wider and deeper perspective not limited by our pain but expanded by it.” p. 27

Because despair, fear and grief are a part of being human, so too is healing. When we face tough situations, be they ugly and unpleasant words and actions or major shifts that force us to reappraise our lives from the ground up, we are not powerless. We can use the lens of diversity and inclusion to build bridges that join the positive and the negative into a greater, healing whole rather than erecting walls that divide us from ourselves and others in our suffering world. That is the diversity dividend.


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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Miriam Greenspan. (2003). Healing through the dark emotions. The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair. Boston: Shambala.

Developing our healing muscles