Healing takes time and emotional healing is no different. Here is how to recognize and understand the process and become more powerful in your ability to heal.
A couple of years ago, I was made redundant. At the time I knew that redundancy was a possibility because the company was restructuring, but I could see that I still had valuable work to do for at least 12 months and so it came as a shock. When my grandfather died, he had been sick, in palliative care for a time, but it is still a shock. Just like with a physical cut or injury, emotional hurt is a shock no matter what the circumstances. How you instinctively react to this varies depending on your previous experience, emotional preparedness, the actual event and extent of hurt/pain. Some common reactions include:
- Shock – inertia, a feeling of helplessness, numbness
- Like physical concussion, seeing stars, numbness
- Withdrawal – Like the reaction to a burn pulling away instinctively and nursing the scold. Also similar to a child’s reaction when they want to curl up (fetal position) and hide.
Step 1 – Recognize that Shock is a natural protective response to emotional hurt and emotional pain just as it is with physical pain. Consider this as a protective phase – your body and emotional intelligence is protecting you.
After the initial shock comes your learned response to pain. Consider “learned” in this case to be deep learning that you may not be fully aware of. A baby who suffers a sharp cut will not instinctively cover the wound to stop the bleeding, but most adults will.
After withdrawing due to shock, you may move into denial or avoidance including physically or emotionally avoiding others or throwing yourself into a distraction such as work, TV, general business or a habit like excessive smoking /over-eating / sugar / alcohol / etc.
Learned emotional responses can go back many years and can be difficult to unravel. Nervous ticks (not to be confused with magnesium or other deficiency) can be a deep learned response to a “slap on the face” which may re-appear after a deeply embarrassing situation or when you are anxious about failing (being embarrassed).
As a parent, be aware that it is possible to embed these future issues in children. One of the most common is severe stutter/stammer where if a child has a tendency towards hesitation and people around them say something like “now stop and take a deep breath” then it is quite possible to induce severe stammer over time as a learned reaction. [Aside: The correct approach in this case when a young child stutters is to say nothing, wait, be patient, allow the child to feel supported and finish what they are saying. This is a safe approach up to 6 and then professional help can be sought. ]
Step 2 – Recognize the signs of reaction. Sometimes they will appear as common sense (further withdrawal) but it caries its own momentum to show that you are not yet healing. The question to ask yourself is “Am I my usual self?” Check if you have the signs of reaction such as denial, anger or other reactions not in keeping with your normal self-image.
The fact is that your situation has changed. as with a physical injury, there is nothing you can do about the past, but you can heal. In many cases, healing makes you less perfect but stronger – much like a scar or knitted bone or even calluses/corns on your hands.
Since you weren’t perfect in the first place, there is no need to be concerned about being less perfect now. perfection is unobtainable and and purely subjective, so you are left with being stronger at least in some way.
There is also little point in being overly concerned about the future. Be prepared to face what may come, but spend your time and energy on what is there today.
Step 3 – Acceptance is the easiest and hardest part. You are where you are looking forward.
This is where you integrate your new reality and knowledge into yourself. This is the point where you change the way you naturally respond to events. It is quite possible to change your Instinctive (Shock) responses to events. This is the point where you are a new and more enlightened person.
Step 4 – Be prepared to accept yourself as more skillful, more knowledgeable, more capable. You are a growing person and although it is your successes that bring you joy, it is your failures and knocks that shape you as a person and help you help others more effectively.
I’m working on what I call the Music of Awesome which has parallels to the above
- Shock – Instinctive Response (Unknown Unknown)
- Reaction – Learned Response (Known Unknown)
- Acceptance – Conscious Response (Known Known)
- Integration – Integrated Response (Unknown Known)