Mental Health

THE KING OF HEALERS: BOOK REVIEW OF “HEALING THE WOUNDS OF CHILDHOOD” BY DON ST JOHN

The truth is, too often, we do not appreciate life, nor do we realise how fragile life is. All we desire is to enjoy life. How difficult living a normal life might be for someone with an imperfect beginning, whether emotionally or physically, is difficult to imagine. It is not easy to empathise with those whose lives are scarred, particularly those who live by the code of silence; never sharing their struggles with anyone. For they are too frightened and do not know who to trust or how to trust. They never experience what an ideal life feels like.

Not many people dare to tell the tale of their suffering and healing. However, Don St John a clinical psychologist and the author of, Healing the wounds of childhood (Paths of Connection, 2015), has bravely written his story about his past struggles and the remedial process he undertook. He describes how in his early childhood his loving mother would resort to physical violence and beat him. Consequently, his mother’s behaviour towards him led him to fear love; he was unable to lead an effective life as an adult due to his experiences of abuse during childhood.

Childhood abuse is an umbrella term. The abuse can be verbal, sexual, emotional or intellectual in its nature. When the children are maltreated by a family member, this hinders their growth. If, during the developmental phase some vital steps are skipped, the result will be that the child would lack certain traits in his/her personality. As Don St John rightly says, “Brain development is experience-dependent”. “What a child needs is a balanced diet – interpersonally and emotionally as well as nutritionally”.

More often than not, the abused individuals grow up emotionally underdeveloped. When the emotional level is low, people struggle to maintain close relationships, in many cases resulting in divorces later in life. Such individuals usually live mediocre and unfulfilled lives and are always fighting an unwinnable battle to achieve their potentials; whilst searching for some kind of integrity and meaning to their life. Don St John admits that prior to his healing he “longed for closeness and was simultaneously terrified of it”. To relate requires listening, to listen we need emotional strength.

The abuse not only harms our minds and our hearts it also influences our souls. Our whole psyche is altered by the experience. It surreptitiously dissolves all our capacity to think rationally and coherently. Sadly, the abused continue to carry the burden of shame secretly for years and decades, while erroneously thinking that “they were somehow a disappointment to their parents, or an inconvenience, or that they were somehow flawed or defective.” These negative feelings only intensify their stress levels in the absence of a sufficient outlet or relief from the malaise.

Eventually, chronic stress takes a toll on mental and physical health.  Don St John agrees that the “Children who are poorly tended, especially children who are maltreated, are more likely to deal with serious illness, both as children and as adults.” The keyword here is stress – prolonged stress. Stress occurs when the victim is repetitively thinking of the injustices, each time arousing the emotions which when exhaustively utilised create stress. This would mean that the memory is playing an important role. Don St John, however, rejects the traditional thinking that memory is stored only in the brain. In Don St John’s view, the whole organism works together as one and the memory is probably stored ubiquitously too. I publish below few paragraphs from Don St John’s book, Healing the wounds of childhood:

The fact is most eastern cultures have always viewed the heart as more than just an organ for pumping the blood. In Central and South Asian as well as the Middle Eastern societies the heart is considered as the king of the whole body. Thus, it makes perfect sense that love emanates from the heart and it is love that encompasses the healing powers. I concur with Don St John that “the heart has a spiritual intelligence with the capacity to understand sacred and profound truths that simply defy rational understanding. It brings clarity and recognition of what is important and what is not.

We, therefore, can assume that our successes and failures in health are probably related to the health of our hearts. In other words, the amount of negative or positive emotional feelings we hold in our hearts.

Regardless, it is generally accepted that those with a healthy upbringing are more likely to work hard and achieve success in life. Whereas, the damaged person would likely try to take shortcuts, would refrain from working at their optimal best, probably because they lack the tools or skills required. However, in psychology, it is recognised that we behave not as how we are but as how we want to be. Then again, when you lack the necessary tools, you are somehow restricted on choices.

I agree with Don St John that, “your beliefs create your reality.” Therefore, our therapy lies in creating new beliefs. This requires new knowledge. Thankfully, Don St John’s highly inspiring and engaging book offers plenty of well-researched information as well as practical guidance at the end of each chapter. I strongly commend Don St John’s great effort for looking at the paradigm of healing from outside the box. I endorse his open-minded approach to embracing the much neglected Asian and Eastern thoughts related to psychology and the heart.

For his next book, I would recommend Don St John to make the practical exercises longer to help the reader as I found them to be very useful. In the second half of the book, the reader is introduced to various types of therapies available that are necessary for healing the mind and the body. Nevertheless, whichever therapy you choose for your healing process; it is worth remembering that ‘healing is possible’ and the journey begins by first forgiving yourself and then forgiving the one you blame for the injustices. Healing requires forgiving, full stop.

Healing takes time, patience and determination. There is no doubt that we have the capacity within us to heal ourselves, to restore ourselves. As Don St John says, “No matter how egregious our beginnings, we have the ability to continue to change in a positive way”. We must choose to change life for the better and to heal our wounds, so that we may restore the mind.

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