The first secret to healing your mind is to know that it is actually possible. This shouldn’t be a secret at all, but most people don’t realize their minds can heal. Healing is a word that psychologists rarely use. In fact, the word “healing” isn’t even in the lexicon of our education or training. Instead of healing people, we are taught how to treat conditions, usually targeting specific symptoms or behavioral dysfunctions. But the distinctions between treating and healing are meaningful in terms of their depth and permanence. Though most therapists are not trained to heal, there are models for doing so that are steadily gaining recognition.
The second secret to healing your mind is understanding the complex nature of your subconscious. Without understanding how the subconscious works, it’s not possible to understand how it gets ill or what needs to happen for it to heal. For this understanding we can go back some 140 years to the brilliance of Sigmund Freud and other pioneering psychoanalysts. Freud, Jung, and Assagioli were the first theorists to recognize how the subconscious was populated by multiple subpersonalities, each performing a distinct role to serve various needs for survival and self-regulation.
Most people are familiar with Freud’s id, ego and superego subpersonalities. In this model, the id is the primitive part of human nature, with sexual and aggressive impulses that needed to be controlled. Control over the id is the job of the superego, a harsh conscience that employs judgment to frighten, guilt, and shame the id into compliance. Because the relationship between the id and superego can be so adversarial, the ego’s role is to serve as a rational mediator between them. If the ego is unable to manage these battles successfully, the consequence is some form of neurosis.
Subpersonality theories have continued to evolve from Freud’s rudimentary beginning, with changes to the number of subpersonalities identified and the names ascribed to them. Nevertheless, a common thread in all these theories is that the relationships (or psychodynamics) among the subpersonalities are what determine if a mind functions in healthy or unhealthy ways. In many ways, these relationship dynamics parallel how healthy or unhealthy relationships among family members determine if the family as a whole is functional or dysfunctional.
Physical pathology is defined as a dysregulation of healthy functioning due either to foreign toxins in the body (e.g., a virus or cancer) or a broken component of the body (such as a bone). Healing these pathologies entails the elimination of toxins and/or making broken parts whole again. These same principles apply to the mind and its psychopathologies.
The toxins dysregulating the mind mostly consist of toxic judgments, which in turn result in emotions of toxic guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, and hate. Self-judgments and the negative emotions they generate are all normal psychological experiences, but when they reach levels that cause significant impairment, they become considered pathological. The wholeness of the mind can also break apart in different ways. This occurs when relationships between certain subpersonalities become so polarized that they no longer function as integrated members of the same family (as when battling parents become alienated or divorce). So, the third secret to healing your mind is the elimination of toxic judgments and emotions and the subsequent repair of broken relationships between subpersonalities that are also caused by these toxic judgments.
Today the most popular model of subpersonalities in use is known as Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D. Schwartz describes a large family of subpersonalities vulnerable to innumerable conflicts, just as ordinary families are. IFS theory holds that to heal the mind a form of internal family therapy is required to bring all the subpersonalities into a state of harmonious collaboration. IFS is one of the few models for healing the mind that has evidence demonstrating its effectiveness.
After understanding the subconscious mind as a family of unique subpersonalities, the fourth secret becomes knowing how to access and understand them. Different theories use different techniques for doing so, but they all have one thing in common: the need for having dialogues with your subpersonalities as well as having your subpersonalities dialogue with one another.
Once you learn how to access and dialogue with the subpersonalities in conflict with one another, you can actually develop positive relationships with and among them to promote healing. Having experimented with different methods for accessing and communicating with subpersonalities, I have found the best method for doing so to be the technique of two-handed writing, which has proven easy and highly effective for my clients over the past 28 years.
The fifth secret to healing your mind is love. Love is the ultimate antidote for toxic emotions. Love is also what is necessary for repairing broken relationships, be they between different human beings or between different subpersonalities. Ironically, love is another word conspicuously absent from the lexicon of psychologists. This is mostly due to the critical need for maintaining professional objectivity and appropriate therapeutic boundaries in psychotherapy. But skilled psychotherapists can and do use the love of understanding, empathy, compassion, affirmation, and reassurance in perfectly appropriate ways to help their clients heal.
The sixth and final secret to healing the mind is that nobody can heal another person’s mind. Only the person whose mind is ill can heal his or her own mind. The best a therapist can do is teach people how to do it for themselves, just as you can lead a horse to water, but it’s up to the horse whether to drink it or not. Ultimately, people need to learn how to judge themselves less harshly and love themselves more fully. Judgment is still necessary for self-control, but there are less harmful ways of using it. Releasing toxic emotions and repairing broken relationships requires a greater use of love. Just as healthy families need parents who provide control, comfort, and relationship management, minds require the same things to function effectively and in good health. Together, these are the most important secrets for healing your mind.