“Ouch, shit! I think I just freaking cut myself. I can’t see the back of my thigh” Turns around in the shower. “Oouch!! Yep! I cut my freaking thigh. How did I do that? I am acting like I have never shaved before. Yep, there goes the blood. Crap!”
This was the exact dialogue I had with myself in the shower the other day as I cut myself while shaving. It wasn’t an actual cut but a graze that hurt like hell, and I bled. I got out of the shower and asked my husband to bandage me up. Shortly after being bandage and going on about my day, I quickly forgot all about the pain I experienced earlier.
The wound was out of sight out of mind. I wasn’t beating myself up anymore, in fact, I forgot all about the band-aid until my husband asked me how long I planned on keeping it on. This short incident made me think about how we handle physical pain in comparison to mental pain.
Physical pain can be forgotten about with a band-aid and distraction. Mental pain almost never can be forgotten.
With mental pain, we carry it with us like a trophy. We talk about it every chance we get. We remind the person who caused it over and over. We use it as a crutch.
Think about it for a moment. What mental pain are you carrying around with you right now as you read this? It could be an argument you had with someone. Something your significant other said that you didn’t like. Something that happened in your childhood. This thing, may have caused you real emotional pain, but what purpose is it serving right now in your life? When we hurt ourselves (like stub our toe) we don’t spend the next 20 years mad about stubbing our toe. You don’t walk by the corner of your bed saying “You stupid piece of crap, you remember that time you made me stub my toe in 2009.” So why do we do this to people in our lives or even ourselves? Often times, people will remind the people in their lives of that one time. They carry the pain that person caused with them like a medal. They are quick to pull off the band-aid and be like you see this, you did this.
Carrying mental pain in your life prevents healing and growth. You can never truly heal and grow when you are cultivating a wound.
But, Tanyell, this person or that situation really hurt me? Understandable. Let’s talk about the healing process when you were hurt. How did you handle it at that moment? What things did you do to reduce the pain and begin to nurture the wound? When we experience physical pain, we immediately tend to the wound. We apply pressure to prevent further bleeding, we apply ointments and creams to prevent scarring or burning, we apply alcohol or peroxide to prevent infection, we apply bandages to ensure it heals properly. We do all these things so we don’t have to worry about a scar or this physical pain coming back to hunt us.
When we experience mental pain, we will sweep it under the rug. Hold in our emotions. Let the person get away with insulting us or saying something hurtful. We will hold in our thoughts or bite our tounges. We will process it over and over. We replay the moment and think about all the shoulda, woulda, coulda. We slap a band-aid on a huge wound and hope that it heals, only for the band-aid to fall off and we find ourselves furious with the scar left behind. Every time we see the person or experience a trigger we are reminded of the scar and seeing the scar pisses us off and then we address the issue sometimes passive-aggressively and other times head-on. But it’s too late.
But, Tanyell, isn’t it better to get things off our chest no matter when it is? Sure. I am not saying we shouldn’t sit down and address a person or situation that may have caused us pain in the past. However, we must understand we can never get that exact moment back. We must understand all the person can do is apologize (if they are willing) and once they have or haven’t we must be willing to move on. We can’t continue to bring up the situation over and over. This unhealthy cycle keeps us stuck.
Reliving hurtful moments propels us back to those times (it’s like a time machine) we are unable to see the blessings right in front us. We are unable to fully and completely enjoy the person today. The person today isn’t the same person who hurt you.
But Tanyell they are! Well, now we are talking about a whole new situation. If you continue to stub your toe on the same bed every single day, over and over, eventually you are going to get rid of that bed or make some necessary changes to prevent stubbing your toe. If a person continues to hurt you over and over, you need to remove that person from your life or make some necessary changes to prevent that person from hurting you.
Reminding a person who is continuously hurting you, about a time they hurt you 5 years ago serves zero purpose in your life. It isn’t beneficial.
Ok, so what do I do then? I am glad you asked! The best thing to do with mental pain is to face it head on when we experience it. The same way we do with physical pain. We must be willing to address the situation and give it the attention and nourishment it needs right then. We then have to make sure we apply the proper bandages to prevent pain and reduce any scarring. This may look like setting boundaries, changing dialogues, expressing expectations, and/or seeking counsel or coaching. Once we have taken the appropriate steps, if we experience this pain, again and again, we may need to remove the person or ourselves. Taking these steps helps ensure we heal properly and quickly. If we find ourselves triggered by something, we must assess what is causing this trigger and why. Sometimes triggers are healthy reminders and other times triggers are time machines. A healthy trigger might be you walk into a hotel room and see a bed in a corner (the same way your bed was when you would always stub your toe) and all of sudden you feel anxious or nervous. This is a trigger reminding you that you need to be careful because beds positioned this way may stub your toe. It’s a reminder a warning. An unhealthy trigger is every single time you walk into any room with any bed you find yourself frustrated and irritated. These triggers aren’t beneficial. They cause us to worry about things we don’t need to worry about. They cause anxiety and take away from enjoying the present moment.
When we experience mental or emotional pain face it head on and then let it go. Once you have nourished it and addressed it, move on from it. You may never forget it or forget what happened, but you must move on from it and let it go. Never forgetting doesn’t mean reliving it, it simply means you remember what happened and you know not to let the same thing happened again. I remember cutting myself in the shower and remember what I did to do it, I know not to do that again. However, I am not triggered by the shower or the razor. I addressed it and moved on.
Scarring from emotional pain isn’t the result of the action made, but the result of action not taken.