Treating Emotional Injuries
As I’m sure you all know, an inseparable part of the human experience is having, and experiencing, many different types of emotions. And with them, many different types of emotional discomforts. Guilt, shame, fear, anger, rage, worries, and various types of anxieties can make their way, without warning, into every single day of our lives. And when they do, it is up to us to cope, deal, and master them.
During the past years, I’ve taken on the task of surrendering to this inescapable truth. I have allowed myself to experience each and every one of the nastiest emotions you can imagine as thoroughly as possible (and write about it). And finally, after diving head-first into many of the scariest and most dreadful emotions, a pattern has emerged. A set of common practices which helps me deal with, manage, and relieve all unpleasant emotions, regardless of their source, reason, or intensity.
These are the most basic tools required to deal with any uncomfortable emotional experience. The Band-Aids, bandages, alcohol and iodine of emotional treatment. With them in hand, I’m sure that you will also be able to stop the pain and begin to heal.
1. Be Gentle with Yourself
When addressing emotions, the first inevitable truth that you must keep in mind is that no one has ever gotten any better by punishing themselves. Punishment begins as a bad way to control children, and later becomes a horrible way to control adults.
Inevitably, we adopt the behaviour of our parents and educators and try to control ourselves via self-punishment. This perceived threat stresses the body and activates the fight or flight response. Causing the amygdala to hijack the brain, override the intelligent mind, and leave you lobotomized. Shutting down the rational brain, and allowing the primal unconscious to assume control.
So as long as you turn to self-punishment, you will not have sufficient conscious control to make a difference. It is only once you can calm yourself down when feeling bad, and allow yourself to make mistakes without punishment, that you will gain the ability to remain conscious and rational through the experience.
So when feeling bad, don’t be hard on yourself. Do anything it might take to keep yourself calm, focused and safe. Because that is the only way you can remain in control long enough to make a change.
2. Allow Your Emotion to Flow through You
Researchers found that Carl Jung was right – when trying to avoid a certain thought, the thought consumes us, and when trying to avoid an emotion, it does as well.
Simply put, emotional pain is to be treated exactly the same as physical pain. When dealing with pain, as much as we would like to just ignore it and go back to our normal routine, it has to be felt, processed, and tended to. Because without the necessary treatment, the injury will only get worse.
So, when dealing with these unpleasant emotions, we must be counterintuitive and attend to them as quickly as possible. Because letting yourself feel bad now is the way to feel good later.
When feeling intense emotion, the best thing is to literally drop everything you’re doing, pull out your emotional first-aid kid, and treat your discomfort. The quicker we would be to treat our emotional injuries, the quicker they will heal. While the harder we try to push them away, the stronger they become.
So allow yourself to feel bad, because without the pain, you can’t treat the injury.
3. Listen to Your Frustration
Once we can experience the pain with calmness and focus, it is time to locate the source of the injury. Unlike external physical injuries, which are visible and easy to locate, emotional injuries are deep and hidden from the eye. Which makes the next step very challenging.
Since we are capable of experiencing such a wide range of emotions, and since they are very often quite similar to one another, mistaken identification is extremely common. Making the process of accurately pinpointing the source of our discomfort quite difficult. But Without finding the correct source, all of our hard work will not bring any improvement. So make sure you give it the time and attention it deserves.
When trying to name your emotion, always keep these 2 things in mind.
1. Never fight through frustration. Frustration is here to show us that we’re heading the wrong way, so when feeling frustrated, let go, back up, take a deep breath, and try again. But this time, a little differently.
2. Once you’ve correctly labeled a disturbing emotion, you will immediately feel a small relief. The mere act of accurately locating the source reduces some of the discomfort.
Our emotions exist for the sole purpose of communicating with us. They need to be heard, and when ignored, they will do everything in their power to fulfill their purpose. When we fail to connect with the right emotion, it will become louder and more persistent, and that will be felt as frustration. But as soon as you correctly recognize and name it, this added pressure will subside, and this added frustration will dissipate.
So if instead of a relief you’re feeling frustrated, don’t fight the frustration, but breathe in, regroup and try a different approach. It is probably a very similar emotion, but yet a different one.
Recognizing the correct emotion is not an easy task, especially when it’s an emotion that you’ve not yet familiarized yourself with. Some emotions might be repressed, and some might be associated with traumatic past experiences, so be patient with yourself. And remember, even though emotions might feel incredibly unpleasant, they will not hurt you. The danger has passed, and you are safe.
4. Communicate with the Emotion
Emotions are a great source of information about our internal and external world. They tell us when we are safe and when we are in danger, when we are accepted and when rejected. As long as we understand that feeling is not the problem, but just an indication of a problem, we can use painful emotional indications to better understand ourselves, as well as others around us.
So, talk to your emotions. Yes, talk to them. Have a conversation with them, show some interest, ask some questions, and most importantly, try to understand the message that they bring. You would be surprised of how much information an emotion would share with you once you just give it some attention.
There are many ways to communicate with emotions. You can write, draw, sing, meditate, daydream, role-play or sing in the shower. Find your favorite way to establish communication, and let your emotions express themselves. Once you can allow them to flow in a controlled environment, you will have much easier time anywhere else.
5. Use This Information to Regain Balance
Once we can find the emotion and listen to it, it’s time to treat it. Now, when conscious of the emotional process, it is up to us to logically and rationally come up with an appropriate expression, or a resolution.
To do that, and successfully manage emotions, we must locate their root cause. Because it is only when we know what exactly triggers an emotion that we can truly master it. To control fear, for example, we must reduce perceived threat. To control guilt, we must change our behavior, and to control shame, we must change our beliefs.
So take the information you gained from your self-talk and use it to trace your way back to the beginning. All the way to the point where the emotion was first triggered. There, try to see things in a different way, this time with full emotional awareness. Allow yourself to feel afraid when in danger, feel guilty when you hurt others, and feel embarrassed when you make mistakes.
Emotions are not you, and they do not control you or tell you what to do. They are merely your messengers, supplying you with valuable information about the world. Once you have learned to listen, it is up to you to bring that information together and decide on a course of action.
With every emotion that you manage to stay open to and integrate into your decision making, the better decisions you will make.
Increasing your emotional stability, day to day performance, and overall happiness.
Once you’ve reached this stage, various articles on this website will help to direct you towards the root of each emotion and offer some possible solutions.
After you have accepted the emotion, received its message, and addressed its root cause, the emotion has fulfilled its purpose and it can move on. From now on, this specific emotion will flow through you effortlessly, without any resistance, disturbance, or pain. Without any need to dwell on the experiences, promise yourself that it will never happen again, or create habits to protect you from future triggers.
From now on, you are completely capable of dealing with one more emotion. You own it, and it becomes a part of you. A mere messenger which comes and goes. Delivering valuable information, but without any power to control your behavior. Just as emotions were meant to be.
But to find your happiness, you would have to do this again and again, and bring more and more emotions into the equation. But don’t be discouraged, every time you repeat this process it will become quicker and easier, until eventually it just happens effortlessly. So take your time, and keep going until you’re fully satisfied.
This is the process of correctly processing emotional impulses and increasing your emotional intelligence. Allowing yourself to open up to as many emotions as possible, listening to them, learning from them, and making changes according to their advice. Not wasting time on treating the pain, but instead, treating the injury. By that, gaining conscious control over your emotions, and over yourself.