Healing as a Downward Spiral

What's your mental model when you think about healing?

I’ve heard people talk about ascension, as if the process of healing means that you rise upward, into a ‘higher vibration’, that ‘lower vibrations’ fall away or become less frequent. (We’re not going to go into what I think about the vibration hierarchy right now, but suffice it to say I’m not a huge fan of this one.)

Some people think of it as ‘making themselves whole’ – but that leaves us with the implication that as long as we’re not fully healed, we’re not whole, which I don’t think is true.

Many people I’ve worked with seem to think of it as a destination – like there’s a ‘before’ being ‘healed’ and ‘after’. That once they reach this point, of finally being healed, things will be easier, their life won’t be so hard, and they’ll feel as zen as the spiritual influencers they follow online.

You can probably guess from my tone, none of these concepts really gel with me.

There are, in my opinion, serious flaws with their logic, and often creates a good/bad binary with ‘not healed’ = bad and ‘healed’ = good.

Today I’m sharing the mental model I use when it comes to the healing process, why it’s useful (especially when it comes to not getting discouraged by having things come up again and again), and finally, the story of where this mental model came from.

This mental model is healing as a downward spiral.

Healing as Excavation (in a Downward Spiral)

When I first started my personal healing journey, it felt as if I was slowly taking layers off myself.

Sometimes I’d make some breakthroughs, have some aha’s, and realise ‘oh, this is how I felt when I was in my 20’s’, or ‘oh, now I feel more like I did when I was 15’, or 6, and so on.

It seems to me that in life, we start out as one thing and our environment, family, society, etc. make us feel like we have to change ourselves to fit in.

So we start putting layers on ourselves to be more ‘how we’re supposed to be’.

Layers that mean we don’t talk as much, or as loudly.

We don’t let ourselves be weird, or share our crazy ideas.

We learn behaviours that keep us safe, that make us seem more ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in our surroundings.

Or, perhaps through experiences we have – things we have to survive, those layers are put on us.

Part of healing is taking off those layers, to get back to who we are at our core and re-connecting to our true self and values.

Thus, the excavation.

This doesn’t mean that on your healing journey you’ll arrive at a specific time or place and say ‘oh, now I’m 100% who I truly am’. It seems to be more like ‘oh, now I’m letting go of this other thing that I had to put on that wasn’t me.’

Unfortunately, in our society it seems like talking about going down, or descending, is often seen as less desirable than ascension and leaving whatever it is behind.

But in my work, I think excavation, digging deeper, and getting closer to the core of things is a better explanation.

Now, to the downward spiral.

Why a spiral, instead of a path forward?

Or if we’re keeping to the theme of digging, why not digging straight down?


One of the most frustrating things about healing can be the frequency with which the ‘same’ problem or issue comes up, again and again.

So often in one of my sessions, we’ll find something – an old wound or pattern or fear – and the body says ‘you’re holding this fear here.’

And the client says to me ‘oh my gawd, HOW many times do I have to deal with this? I’ve already healed this!!’

When you have something coming up over and over again, it can feel like you’re not making progress, because surely if you were, this issue would go from the ‘unhealed’ column to the ‘healed’ column, right?

But, if we use the downward spiral model, it makes a lot of sense.

We’re going deeper and deeper to the truth of who you are, connecting to your self, down into the roots and foundations of your being.

The spiral is that path.

Think of the spiral like the coil of a spring, or a spiral walkway at a museum. 

The spiral is arranged around key experiences that run like through lines from the top of your healing journey, straight down. the start of your journey all the way down.

The key experiences (good and bad) are like the pillars that run up and down the inside of that spiral.

If we’re talking about a real spiral walkway, the pillars support the structure of the walkway. 

In your healing journey, instead of being supports, these are experiences that drove through multiple layers of your self.

Depending on how fundamental or impactful those experiences are, they appear to stop at different depths of the spiral. 

If an experience didn’t affect you as much, you might find you’ve gone down a couple of rounds on the spiral, and it doesn’t come up again.

But the foundational ones, the core wounds, go down very, very deep.

Not all these pillars are ‘bad’.

For example, you may have the fact that you’re a compassionate person be one of the pillars that goes all the way to the bottom, because no matter how much you excavate you’ll always hold compassion for those around you.

But it’s not the ‘good’ pillars that generally cause us grief.

It’s the ‘bad’ ones.

It’s the narcissistic mother who made you feel unwanted or not good enough from the earliest moments you can remember, and possibly even before.

It’s the feeling of not being accepted for who you are by the people who were supposed to love you the most.

It’s the betrayal of people who should have protected you, but didn’t.

As you go around this excavating, downward spiral, you’ll find yourself BACK at that core wound.

You healed it already... but that was at a layer further up.

Now you’re at a deeper level, you’ve excavated more, and you’re coming back around to this thing and how it affects you at THIS level.

Because it’s the same wound, at a different level, there will be some things that are familiar to you.

There may be other aspects that are new, because, again, it’s a different level of the pillar.

Or YOU respond to it in a different way.

Some of these foundational wounds or injuries may not go all the way to the bottom – you may realise at some point that they’re actually done, because you’ve dug deep enough past them.

Others of these will actually go all the way to the bottom and therefore you will ALWAYS come back around to them.

This perspective can help us feel less frustrated by feelings of ‘I HEALED THIS! Why do I have to deal with this again?’, and instead, we can say:

Ah yes, this old chestnut. What are the emotions I’m needing to release or the new perspective I’m going to get at THIS healing level?’

This, of course, goes hand in hand with the idea that there is no ‘arrival’ point of the healing process – you don’t hit a specific point and ‘are healed’.

Some people may read this and feel disappointed.

At first, it may seem disappointing to think ‘so how long exactly am I supposed to be on this “downward healing spiral” before I’m “healed”??’ 

Many of us swallowed the narrative that we can’t get the life we want or be the person we want to be until we’re ‘healed’ – so having such a long and/or repetitive process can feel hopeless.

In my experience, you don’t have to be ‘healed’ to achieve what you want.

Healing *more* will make certain things easier than if you don’t address them. You may find a key level in the spiral (or point on the pillar) that once you’ve worked through it, something that you’ve been stuck on becomes much easier.

The truth is, we’re all whole people, we’re all already worthy and valuable.

We don’t need to fix ourselves to become that.

I love the healing process because it can free us up, make us feel lighter, make certain things so much easier.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you want unless you’re fully healed.

Where this model came from...

As often as possible I like to share my sources. 

This concept was one of the earliest visuals I received when I started doing this specific type of healing facilitation.

We’d found a repeat issue in a session, and the client was saying what we’d mentioned above: ‘I’m SO tired of having the same thing come up over and over and over again.’

They felt extremely frustrated because seeing this again made them feel as if all the healing they’d done before was pointless, or not effective, or a waste of time and energy and money… since it was STILL there.

That’s when this image came into my head – in fact, it was a combination of a dark staircase-like spiral descending into a cave, with pillars of different materials and colours driving through the middle, and the National Aquarium Walkway (in Baltimore – a niche reference, I know, but one of my favourite places as a kid).

I felt in my body: 

‘this - This is the process of healing. There is no before and after, there is only the process, digging deeper, getting closer to your self, letting go of the things that weigh you down.’

I hope that this mental model is helpful as you embark on (or continue) your healing journey.

The things that come up over and over again are not because you haven’t effectively dealt with them.

It’s just that you were on a different floor, a different depth, of your healing excavation process. Now that you’ve gotten deeper, you can release the next layer of the pillar, and keep moving forward (or, down, as the case may be).

If this is helpful to you, or changes how you see your own healing journey – I’d love to hear about it. 

And if you know someone for whom you think this would be helpful, please pass it along to them. 

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