We know this might seem odd – controversial even – but we believe that it’s not always in our best interest to get up and dust ourselves off the moment we’ve had a setback.
Let us explain.
Of course, we agree it is important to develop a sense of ‘I can do this!’ (resilience) in the face of challenges. However, it seems that along with the high-speed nature of our media-and-technology-driven lives, we are expected (mostly by ourselves) to bounce back from life’s brick walls with enthusiasm, ready and even more prepared for the next challenge.
Much like our physical bodies, our emotional and psychological selves are just not adapted to bounce off of brick walls. Unlike a physical injury, we often do not take the time to notice the emotional wound, clean it and dress it, and allow sufficient time to heal. When we don’t, we end up with at best an obvious scar – at worst a wound that is easily irritated and prone to repeated infection.
Every time we encounter new people or situations that resemble the original wound-source, we react from a place of pain and/or guard our emotions. When this happens, we cannot enter the new situation from a place of strength, confidence or openness (all traits necessary in order to be able to properly assess a new situation or person in a way that ensures we make good decisions). Instead, we enter with fear, trepidation, suspicion.
Behaviors that distance us emotionally from others, and are commonly associated with emotional wounds, include:
- being overly promiscuous
- being overly withdrawn
- being distrustful of others’ motivation
- being sarcastic
- avoiding new people/new situations
- easily angered/irritable
- substance abuse
- large weight loss or gain
Placing emotional and even physical barriers (distance) between us and others is a common method of protecting ourselves. It is and can be very adaptive – even healing – to allow ourselves physical and emotional space. After a significant trauma (or loss) it is often wise to be wary. But sometimes it’s unnecessary, and that’s what we’re talking about here. If you find that any of the above examples describes you – or someone you care about – on a consistent, long term basis (e.g. more than a year after a trauma and/or major loss), then it is very possible that there is unresolved pain, and these behaviors are simply the emotional, unhealed scars.
How can we learn to cope, to heal?
1. Assess the situation. If you’re noticing behaviors you’d like to change, identify what has happened. Have you recently ended a relationship that was important to you? Spouse, lover, friend, school, job? Yes, we form relationships with activities too. All of these are losses in our lives, and generally require some type of grieving. Acknowledge the loss and the hurt. We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. If there is nothing recent, look into your past. Emotional scars run deep.
2. Stop the flow. If you’re spiralling take immediate measures to get yourself to a safe place (physically and/or emotionally). This might require a brief (maybe even permanent) withdrawal from activities or people that trigger your pain.
3. Start the healing. Adapt and change daily activities as necessary – knowing this will not be forever. If you had a leg in a cast you would lay around more, watch movies, talk on the phone, get friends to drive you to work, etc. Unfortunately, people can’t see emotional pain. We sometimes have to point it out. Choose a healthy way to point. Make good decisions for your self.
4. Ask for help. It’s unfortunate that our “Pain Behaviours” (anger, irritation, extreme sadness, promiscuity, drug/alcohol abuse, withdrawal) often push people away when what we really need is a hug. We’ve used the analogy of an urchin when working with clients – you know those spiky sea creatures? Soft and vulnerable on the inside, they protect themselves with those spines from predators. Trouble is, who wants to hug an urchin?
Please – Allow yourself to ask for help.
5. Take your time. As the old phrase goes: time is a great healer. And it does take time. And support. Be kind to yourself. We do not heal or grow in a straight line – we will go through lots of ebbs and flows until you get to the other side. The benefit in allowing ourselves to stay down for a while, is that when we do get back up we’ll feel refreshed, and open to new possibilities in ways we couldn’t know about without that experience.