Twelve Stages of Healing
The phrase "Twelve Stages of Healing" comes from the book "The Twelve Stages of Healing", by Donald Epstein, founder of Network Chiropractic medicine. I recommend this book to many of my homeopathic clients, and I'm giving my own write-up of the twelve stages on this website because I think having this framework is extremely useful to anyone doing healing work.
The Twelve Stages of Healing is basically a description of the twelve stages people usually progress through as they are healing/resolving a particular physical, emotional and/or life issue.
Summary of Stages
- Stage 1 - Suffering and hopelessness.
- Stage 2 - Magic fix, short term superficial solution.
- Stage 3 - Profound stuckness, recognition that the magic fixes don't work.
- Stage 4 - Taking back your power, recognizing your ability to change your internal dynamic, thereby attracting a different outcome on the outside.
- Stage 5 - Merging with the shadow, letting go of your fear of your inner negative thoughts and emotions; releasing the belief that internal thoughts and emotions have power over you.
- Stage 6 - Build-up towards resolution, collecting the resources t> complete the transformation energetically, emotionally, and physically.
- Stage 7 - Release, letting go of the body armor that has protected you from your inner demons, letting go of physical and emotional blocks.
- Stage 8 - Emptiness and stillness, coming to serenity after the storm.
- Stage 9 - Synchronicity, seeing the results of your healing work on the outside, seeing a new pattern that works with you, not against you.
- Stage 10 - Ascension, feeling empowered and deeply spiritually connected, feeling like you can heal any issue or pattern from a place of spiritual strength.
- Stage 11 - Descension, reintegrating with your day to day life, interacting with others ina greater place of wholeness.
- Stage 12 - Community, reconnecting in a primary relationship, family situation, work group or any form of community and embracing the diversities and healing challenges that it offers.
I think we all go through healing processes all the time, whether we are actually doing "healing work" per se, or we're just living our life and becoming more and more aware of ourselves, our issues and how to become a better human being. So - really, I think for a lot of people, understanding the twelve stages of healing is not necessary, or useful. They just cycle through each stage again and again and again, without needing to take the time to identify or be fully conscious of the mechanics of their process.
I've witnessed this in many clients. Babies, animals, children, adults - many people heal without a conscious awareness about what's happening or how the process works. They each have an innate body wisdom that knows how to move them forward. Given the appropriate tools (homeopathic remedies, herbs, flower essences, supplements, diet changes, etc.) and support they can heal with almost no conscious involvement.
And.. then there are those individuals who benefit by having more information about how the process works. These may be individuals who like to take a more proactive role in their healing process - and/or individuals who are dealing with deep seated chronic illness. They are open and willing to do whatever they can do to make their process more expedient and more graceful.
And, my own experience with taking homeopathic remedies over the years has been that the remedies can often amplify the charge behind the process - meaning they can make our story and the symptoms associated with our story much more intense. Emotions can become more intense, physical symptoms can become more intense and life situations can become more intense. For me, when this happens it prompts me to ask myself - how did I get here and how do I get out of here? The feeling is similar to being half way up a mountain but still being below tree line - I know I'm moving forward and my journey is purposeful, but I can't see where I'm at relative to the big picture and I don't know what to expect in terms of duration and predicted relief.
This is when an understanding of the twelve stages of healing has been most useful. It has given me the ability to see myself and my process from a broader awareness, such that I can see the map of how I got to where I'm at, and how I'm going to get out.
So - in other words, the twelve stages of healing gives the part of you that is witnessing your process from a higher vantage point (in voice dialogue this is called the Witness self) a map of how things are unfolding. When you have this "self' in place, it makes it easier to surrender to the overall process, because on some deeper level, you know you're going to come through whatever crises is at hand.
Also, if you understand the progression of the twelve stages of healing (and you know how to do your own muscle testing) you can use muscle testing to discern what stage you're in at a given time, then you can use specific tools to facilitate your movement into the next stage - and that can be very empowering when you're in the midst of your process.
Stage 1 - Suffering - When you're in this stage of the healing process, part of you experiences an acute sense of pain, physical and/or emotional and it feels like the problem is insurmountable. This part feels hopeless and dwells in the suffering, resisting any suggestions for making things better. It just simply doesn't believe that anything can help at this point.
My experience is that when part of you is in this stage, the best thing to do is to listen to this part as if it's a two year old child that is crying on your shoulder. Your job is to listen to this child part of yourself and acknowledge that - yes, indeed it really is that bad. The amount of suffering this little child is and has been experiencing is enormous and you want him/her to know that you get that - you get how much he/she has struggled, how they've tried and tried and tried, and yet they are still suffering.
Also from my experience - what you don't want to do when you're in this stage is tell yourself that it's really not that bad and that this part of you should just buck up and get over it. If you do this, the part that is dwelling in the suffering will persist in trying to get your attention and you might get stuck in a polarization of - it really is that bad - no it really isn't that bad - yes it really is that bad - no it really isn't that bad, etc… in which case you will be at war with a part of yourself and this will slow down your ability to move forward.
Another thing you probably don't want to do when you're in this stage is try to come up with simple solutions of how to quickly fix the problem and make the suffering go away. This sends a message to your inner child that you don't recognize all of the attempts he/she has made for resolving the problem (e.g. well - obviously you couldn't fix it so here let me do this for you you idiot) - that may not be what you're intending, but this is often how the inner child receives your suggestion when you're in this stage, and it sends the message that you don't love and accept the part of you that is suffering (e.g. look, I don't like you when you're suffering, so let me fix this problem of yours so you can be happy again and then I'll like you again).
I have found that it has often been necessary for me to drop into this stage with a particular issue in order for me to acknowledge on a very deep level how profoundly horrible the problem really is - it forces me to come out of denial and to listen to the child inside that is suffering. This propels me forward with greater commitment to really get to the root of the problem, do the necessary restructuring and solve it once and for all.
Stage 2 - Magic Fix - In this stage, part of you works under the assumption that the solution is outside of you and that you can fix your problem via some simple external solution. Examples of a magic fix are: get a new dress, lose 20 pounds, get a new boyfriend/husband, get a new job, move to a new house, have another baby, take a pill/supplement/drug/remedy, go on a diet, go to a party, etc… this part sweeps the deeper issue underneath the carpet and focuses entirely on the magic fix.
Honestly, I used to be very judgmental of myself and others when I or others entered into this stage, but I've come to realize over time that when this part surfaces during the process, we need to honor it like all of the other parts. I think this means exploring its suggestions and recognizing that sometimes it is in our highest good to go for the magic fix - the short cut that is.
Maybe you're in a situation in which you need to make an external change - in addition to an internal change - to survive and move forward. Or, maybe you're in a situation in which you don't have the resources to do the internal change and have to do the external change in the short run in order to survive. Or, maybe you just have to run the course of trying all of the external changes first, before you're ready to do the internal restructuring.
For example, many nutritional supplements help people a great deal in the short run, but often if the individual is not addressing the deeper, underlying issue creating a health imbalance, the affect of the supplement begins to wear off and eventually they derive less and less benefit from it. This doesn't mean they shouldn't use the nutritional supplement - often these are synergistic with a deeper restructuring process - often these facilitate and/or bring on deeper restructuring processes. But it's an issue of awareness I think. If you're taking the supplement to assist you with a deeper restructuring, you'll probably be more open to whatever detoxification symptoms you might need to experience and have greater success than if you take it thinking it's going to just make all your symptoms go away magically.
Another example of when this stage might be necessary is maybe with an individual is raising children and doesn't have the resources to do a deeper healing process because they have to be a responsible parent. This might be a time when it makes sense to take stronger products like prescription pain killers, anti-anxiety meds, etc - to get them through a difficult phase until they have the space they need to do the deeper healing work. But - again I think the awareness is important and hopefully individuals in this stage recognize the value of eventually carving out the space they need to do the deeper work.
In any event, my experience is that if you're in this stage you have to honor it like all of the others and eventually you do get through this stage. Sometimes it takes just five minutes or a day for you to work through whatever magic fix suggestion this part of your psyche has come up with (e.g. maybe I'll just do ABC and then this problem will go away… but wait… I'm doing that magic fix thing again… I need to take a deeper look), and sometimes it takes a few months or years, but eventually you do get through it.
Once you've moved through stage two, some part of you will naturally progress to stage three.
Stage 3 - Profound Stuckness - In this stage, part of you recognizes that the magic fixes you had faith in didn't work. You might have cycled through many magic fix failures, but eventually a part of you comes to the realization that what you thought would work doesn't work… and then this part really feels stuck. This is a deeply despairing place, in which you might drop back to the first stage of suffering.
Sometimes when part of you is in this stage you can assist yourself in moving into stage 4 by acknowledging that the simple answers didn't work and asking yourself questions such as… what does my gut tell me?… if I was looking at a billboard that had a message from Spirit on it about what to do now, what would the billboard say?
Basically you're focusing your attention on gaining greater clarity about the issue - from something that is deeper than your "magic fix voice". This is a way of going within and acknowledging the part of you that is connected to a deeper wisdom that has the answers you're looking for about your healing process and can guide you about how to move forward.
Some would call this "praying for clarity", while others would call it connecting with your Higher Self for clarity. No matter how your frame it, the idea is that your intent is to understand your situation at a deeper level (e.g. get to the root of your problem) and learn at a deeper level what shift you need to make to resolve it once and for all.
My experience with this phase of the healing process is that it can be deeply frustrating and uncomfortable - usually because it forces me to recognize something about myself or my belief system that I might not want to see. In fact, it's usually something that is so far outside of my field of vision, I would never have considered recognizing it as a problem - if not for the pain I had suffered during the first phase of the process (Stage 1 of suffering), and the little nudge inside of me that says "have you thought about looking at this belief of yours, or this part of yourself?"
Often in my own healing process, I have had an inner rigidness and righteousness that says "no it can't be anything I'm doing or feeling or believing!" I would never think to look at the obvious - that the issue is connected to some longstanding part of my personality or core belief system.
And, I try to discover some deeper reason for the problem, but it eludes me and I end up right back at stage 1 of feeling hopeless and despairing, convinced that nothing will really help me with the problem.
So, for me stage three is where my sense of profound stuckness and my awareness that a deeper connection, a deeper "effort" is necessary to really resolve the problem come into the forefront - and this propels me to get the clarity I need to move forward - no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel, or how radical the shift is I need to make.
Once you've committed yourself to this process of gaining deeper clarity, here are some things you can do to unravel your story.
- Sit quietly and pay attention to your thoughts andfeelings. Often times whatever inner conflict you're experiencing on a thought level is the story that is trying to unwind.
- If you find yourself thinking about past memories, pay attention to the themes of those memories.
- Pay attention to what types of peoples, situations, TV shows, movies, etc. you seem to be attracting. Often times the story you're looking for is mirrored directly in front of you.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings on paper and see what themes come out.
- Pay attention to your dreams and whatever themes or feelings might be presenting.
- Try doing an internal voice dialogue session - in which you indulge the inner voice and feelings of a particular part of yourself without interference from the other parts of your psyche.
- Try drawing or painting in a free form style and see what thoughts or feelings come out during the process.
- Tell your Higher Self things like - I choose deeper clarity. I choose awareness. I am open to change. I choose healing. I choose transformation. I choose to be open. I choose to make whatever shifts are necessary for me to resolve this problem.
- Do deep breathing into your lower abdomen area for a half hour at a time, and/or try exercising, stretching, doing yoga, tai chi, chi gong - any exercise that will help open up your body and get your blood moving. This will often "dislodge" energetic blockages in your system and make the thoughts, feelings, and body memory connected with the issue more accessible. Sometimes these exercises will resolve the blockage entirely and move you through the other stages of the healing process naturally.
Once you've come to some clarity about what the deeper issue is, you've moved through stage three and into stage four.
Stage 4 - Taking Back One's Power - In this stage, you make a breakthrough in realizing that in some way you have been giving away your power and that in doing so you have perpetuated or contributed to your problem. Often its related to you trying to get something from someone else that you could have gotten from yourself - such as self-esteem, self-approval, freedom to have certain thoughts or emotions, freedom from judgment or criticism, etc. You have the perception that you can only get this thing from outside yourself and so you work and work and work to try to get it, but ultimately you are not successful.
In stage four, you realize that you had the power within yourself all along and that you were giving your power away by trying to get it from others.
For example, suppose you have struggled with perfectionism for many years, working tirelessly to be perfect so as not to attract criticism or condemnation from co-workers, clients, supervisors, family members, etc. But, no matter how hard you work you fail to be perfect and so you continue to attract criticism - a sense that you are still not good enough.
Then one day you realize that you yourself have your own inner critic that is demanding perfectionism from you - and this inner critic has become an attractive magnet for you, pulling in people that agree with the inner critic and mirroring back the criticism and condemnation.
In stage four you recognize this inner hook - and how it's being mirrored outside of you. When this recognition comes, there is usually an aha moment - in which you become angry with yourself for getting pulled into this inner game. (e.g. All this time I thought I just had to work harder and now I realize I've been giving my power away to these external critics as well as my own internal critic - and it's a no win situation! I have to stop doing this!)
This frees you up to let go of the external struggle (e.g. workaholism, trying to gain the approval of others, etc), and refocus your energy on changing the internal dynamic.
My experience with this stage is that once I reach it, I know I'm "home free" in healing the issue - meaning I know it's only a matter of time now before I get clear on the inner and outer dynamic and resolve the physical symptoms connected to it.
Stage 5 - Merging with the Shadow - In this stage, you go within to reveal and merge with the shadow self within your own psyche. The shadow self is usually a part of your psyche that you're afraid of - it's sort of the inner enemy that you struggle with and must protect yourself from.
For example, the shadow self might be an inner voice that tells you you're not smart enough. It might have originated in childhood in which you were told this by your parents or teachers and it was deeply painful to hear. There may have been so much charge on the issue of you not being smart enough that you had to do everything in their power to overcome the accusation. You may have spent many years trying to prove to the outer (and inner voices) that they were wrong. Your survival mechanism was to prove to the world that you are in fact smart enough.
When you reach stage five, the shadow voice is exposed and you begin to see it for what it is - which is, just a voice inside your own psyche that doesn't really have any power over you. At this point, you are able to bring the shadow self out into the open and deal with it head-on - and so, the shadow self becomes more vivid and more pronounced. You may have feeling flashbacks or even visual flashbacks to an earlier time in your life in which the shadow self took hold. This might be a past experience of verbal or emotional abuse, or some experience of shame, or disappointment or embarrassment or failure that imprinted you in some way.
In holistic health, this is called a retrace experience. In homeopathy, it's sometimes calls an aggravation. This is when physical symptoms become more heightened. The body grips and often retraces the acute phase of chronic physical symptoms.
During this stage, your job is not to argue with the shadow voice, or to try to contain it, or win over it in any way. Rather, your job is to let it discharge, to embrace it and release any polarization against it.
In the example of not being smart enough, the internal self-healing exercise might be to take a deep breath, focus on relaxing the physical body and then to affirm something like "what a relief…. Some part of me thinks I'm not smart enough, and I'm still safe." This is merging, making peace with the shadow and not fighting it. This is as opposed to polarizing with the shadow (e.g. shut up.. that's not true… I am too smart enough!… stop saying that!.. I'll prove you wrong!…wait until you see the grade I get on this next exam, etc… )
So… in merging with the shadow, you are not agreeing with it… but rather allowing it to be and not being afraid of it, or protected against it. I always think of it as a reconditioning of the nervous system. Instead of the nervous system tightening up when the shadow voice (or in this case negative belief) is expressed, it relaxes. More examples of this might be:
- You're not good enough - what a relief, there's a part of me that believes I'm not good enough… I'm still safe. It's OK to have that voice. It has no power over me… just another part of my psyche and I love that part too.
- No one will ever hire you because you're a loser and you have no skills! - what a relief, there's a part of me that believes I'm un-hirable… I'm still safe. It's OK to have that voice. It has no power over me… just another part of my psyche and I love that part too.
- Of course he left you - it's because you're so fat… you're unlovable because you're fat! - what a relief, there's a part of me that believes I'm not lovable because I'm fat…. I'm still safe. It's OK to have that voice. It has no power over me… just another part of my psyche and I love that part too….
Stage five is when most energetic healing modalities help the most: homeopathy, flower essences, breath work, acupuncture, acupressure, etc. This is when you can fully focus on surfacing body memory, releasing negative imprints from your energy field and re-patterning your inner psyche.
My experience with stage five is that often times you don't readily know the nature of the internal struggle - you don't know the shadow self you are dealing with and so you don't know how to consciously walk yourself through stage five. When this happens, I recommend sitting quietly and going within and listening to the internal dialogue. I also recommend paying attention to what you have been attracting to yourself in the last day or two, as the inner struggle is usually synchronistic with external events.
So, for example, if you're looking for a job and getting rejected everywhere you go, you might search for an internal shadow voice that is telling you you're not hirable.
Additionally, if you're dealing with physical symptoms, you can try tuning into different thoughts and emotions and see how what you're tuning into affects your physical symptoms. So, for example, if you tune into the voice that says, "you're unhirable you loser…" and your physical symptoms get worse, then you have found the thread you need to work with. Then, you can try the internal dialogue of merging, (e.g. "I'm safe and the voice that is telling me that I'm un-hirable has no power over me.") - and if your physical symptoms begin to ameliorate you have been successful. At this point, you can continue the internal merging process to move yourself through stage five, and out of physical discomfort.
Another aspect of stage five is that this is usually where your connection to a Higher Power comes into play. If you have a strong internal spiritual connection, in which you can surrender to a power greater than yourself and trust at a very deep level that this Higher Power will keep you safe no matter what - then stage five will be much easier.
But - in my experience, this is not just a matter of having a belief and saying a prayer - it's more about having this experience over and over again in which you go into stage five, you trust, you merge, and then you move out and reap the rewards of the healing process. In other words, it seems the more you go through the twelve stages of healing, the more faith you have in the process, the stronger you become spiritually and the greater your strength in going through stage five in the future.
Stage 6 - Build-Up - In this stage, your system builds up enough energy for you to move through stage seven in which some type of release takes place. This is like the phase before a big storm in which the clouds start to form. In this stage, you can help move yourself forward by doing deep breathing exercises (usually into the lower abdomen), drinking lots of fluids, getting good nutrition, lots of rest, etc. When your physical and energetic bodies have sufficient chi to move forward, you move into stage seven.
Stage 7 - Release - In this stage, you throw off the body armor you've been carrying around to protect you from your shadow self. This can take the form of sneezing, coughing, heavy urination, bowel movements, a fever, crying, etc. Usually you feel a great sense of relief and new-found freedom.
If you've been suffering from stiffness in your body, this is typically the stage where your skeletal system realigns itself and the stiffness resolves. Whatever your physical symptoms, you'll experience some type of unraveling, moving you to a greater level of openness and health.
Stage 8 - Stillness - In this stage, you feel a deep sense of peace and stillness - as if all is well with the world and anything is possible. It's a place of emptiness in which your mind is quiet and you can just be.
Stage 9 - Synchronicity - In this stage, you begin to move out into your day to day life and everything seems synchronistic and magical. You attract patterns, people, situations, etc. to yourself that are different from before and you begin to experience life without the shadow self having power over you.
Stage 10 - Ascension - In this stage, you feel connected with Spirit, and with the synchronicity at play all around you at all times. The world makes sense and you feel empowered to move through anything.
Stage 11- Descension - In this stage, you reconnect with your day to day life. Your connection with Spirit is not so obvious in this stage, but you feel it in the background as a core part of you and you bring your new awareness into your interactions with others.
Stage 12- Communion/ Community - In this stage, you move into a primary relationship or into a community (family, friends, co-workers) in which you are able to honor diversity and shadow selves. You may witness shadow material in others and yet not be afraid or polarized. You're able to see others on a deeper level, be more present, have greater compassion and connect on a deeper level. You're more capable of healthy intimacy.
In the case of deep seated chronic illness, healing with the twelve stages of healing model is a non-linear process - often two steps forward, one step back - or five steps forward, one step back - or three steps forward and four steps back. Yet, from an energetic perspective, the overall movement is forward and permanent.
And, each layer and cycle is different. Often I see clients go through their process effortlessly, cycle after cycler after cycle with no awareness about the twelve stages of healing. Babies and animals progress forward simply because their innate wisdom knows what to do to heal them of their situation. Other times I see clients struggle and having a conscious awareness of these stages can be very helpful. And, sometimes this cycle of healing takes only five minutes. Other times it may take two days. It just depends on the individual and the material they are working with.