Though you may escape this season having dodged the flu or without falling prey to the common cold, it’s nearly impossible to traverse through the social dimensions of everyday life without suffering the frequent scrapes, scratches, and injuries to which the emotional body is prone.
Guy Winch, a Psychology today Blogger, recently released a new book, Emotional First Aid, in which he likens the emotional body to our physical body in its tendency to accumulate injuries, scars, and illnesses along the way. Anything from self-imposed guilt and criticism, to social rejection and loneliness to the extremes of trauma or the deep grief of loss can be the source of wounds and depletions to
our emotional well-being.
Yet just as our flesh and blood are widely able to self-repair given proper rest, nutrition, and mindset, so too can our emotional wounds and losses be mended. Winch uses metaphors of physical injuries to propose strategic cures for the hits our emotions take over the course of a lifetime.
Here are the seven primary sources of emotional pain along with their practical remedies:
1) The Hurts of Rejection
Whether we care to admit it or not, much of our baseline sense of our lives is derived from our relationships with others. As caregivers, friends, lovers, employees, and beyond, our daily emotional nutrition and self-esteem can come to rely on the feedback we receive and the love, attention, and energy we give in our various relationships. Lack of emotional health can explain why an unexpected rejection can sting so fiercely. Being given the cold shoulder by someone in our life cuts off our connection and can cause us to wonder whether our contributions are precious. We start to think about whether we are worth giving to and receiving from and, in short, whether our value as an individual is diminished.
In his book, Winch provides a 4-facet approach to see and work with the emotions following a rejection before they get out of hand or out of proportion. First, resist the urge to self-criticize. It can be easy to respond by beating up on yourself, but this only adds injury to insult. Secondly, put back together with the pieces of the wounded self-esteem by choosing to focus your attention instead on your strengths. Think of all the fulfilling relationships, meaningful contributions, and the successful aspects of your life. Third, while we must accept our losses, we must also count our blessings; after a rejection, spend some time with loved ones who do value you and what you give them. Fourth and finally, train yourself to be less hurt by future rejections. Winch suggests exposing yourself to practice sessions of rejection by setting yourself up for small rejections that are easy to overcome and less meaningful to you.
2) The Pain of Loneliness
While occasional moments of loneliness can occur for anyone, finding yourself seriously lonely over a period of time and staying there can seriously drain your emotional storehouse and leech your ability to live happily. Winch suggests that loneliness as an acute or prolonged emotional state can result from the atrophy of our ‘emotional muscles’ so to speak.
Like a snowball effect, loneliness can tend to build on itself. If you spend a significant period being isolated, your natural ability to connect deeply with others may diminish along with your confidence in your ability to do so. Intimacy in relationships could be seen as a kind of practice, an exercise, one which we grow stronger and more adept at doing as we do it more often and more regularly.
To get back in the swing of truly relating to others, Winch prescribes a more in-depth look at your personal beliefs about yourself to remedy the situation. Do you believe that you are unlovable or challenging to care for? Do you perhaps suspect the worst from others, assuming you are being spoken or thought poorly about by other people? The author points out that these modes of thinking can create a negative sort of self-fulfilling prophecy wherein your assumption that others will respond negatively to you could cause you to shut down and cut yourself off from the connection you desire.
The remedy here is to counteract these defeating assumptions by introducing logical alternative thoughts that assert your value. Question your beliefs and ask whether your thoughts are indeed likely that others would be focusing so much negative attention on you.
Finally, to overcome loneliness, engage your sense of empathy. Empathy is an instantly attractive and relatable quality. Other people will naturally gravitate toward an empathetic person because of this quality speaks to our human desire and need to be seen and truly understood.
3) Deep Injury through Loss and Trauma
Striking more deeply than a casual rejection or painful remark, losing someone or something you truly love or experiencing trauma can shake the bedrock of our emotional well-being. It is only natural to be filled with sadness and distress when someone close to us dies. Throughout long or deep relationships with others, bonds of attachment are formed, and though invisible, our bonds represent the place a person has taken in your life. And the fact that you have come to include that person as a part of your ongoing need to relate and connect.
Traumas, such as serious car accidents or other moments of threat to our safety and wholeness, can not only bring up waves of distressing emotions and shock but can shatter aspects of our identity and worldview. Trauma is a reaction to an experience that instantly breaks a previously held paradigm of feeling safe in a specific aspect of life.
Winch, acknowledging the severity possible with these types of wounds, suggests allowing plenty of healing time before deep diving to find the underlying meaning. Though this does not mean we should wait forever. “We often neglect our psychological wounds until they become severe enough to impair our functioning,” Winch says.
4) Poisoning yourself with Guilt
Guilt is often the lousy apple that can ruin the whole batch. Many forms of emotional pain and discomfort are found in our relationships with others. And are caused by our need for approval from, connection to, or dependence on others. Guilt, however, represents a step of the emotional process where the prong turned inward is coming from yourself.
Winch acknowledges that guilt can be a natural response to having done something genuinely wrong or hurtful, in which case it can be a temporary state the motivates you to correct what has been disturbed, offer that uncomfortable apology, or admit you were wrong. Guilt, however, becomes problematic in 3 scenarios outlined in the book; unresolved guilt, survivor guilt, and separation or disloyalty guilt.
Unresolved guilt refers to instances in which your apology may have been incomplete or insincere. Though you may have attempted to resolve the issue at hand, the situation remains unfinished or incomplete. In such a case, go ahead and make that sincere apology you’ve been holding back and then let it go.
Survivor guilt is common if you have survived a situation in which someone else involved did not make it. You may feel a tremendous weight of guilt, wondering why you lived to see another day, when the other person did not.
Separation guilt is a particularly insidious form of poison in which you experience guilt simply because you are pursuing or achieving happiness or success and are worried that your success may cause someone you care about to feel left behind or less than.
In all instances of guilt, other than the healthy form that prompts correction, the cure is apology and forgiveness, wherever necessary. In separation guilt, it is essential to realize that you are responsible for the path of your own life, not the path of others. You have every right to pursue and attain happiness and well-being. To neglect your happiness is a form of unkindness to yourself.
5) The Exhaustion of Remorse and Rumination
While the pain of an initial emotional injury may be unavoidable, many times, you may find that you continue harping on the same old grievances over and over again, transforming a temporal hurt into a residual source of pain. Though it may go undetected for a time, the choice to ruminate on an event or injury from the past begins to leech your power and energy away from you, leaving you weaker and less resilient to other emotional turbulence.
The prescription for rumination is to put your past failures and hurts into perspective. Everyone on this planet experiences setbacks and hurts. What happened to you in the past doesn’t take away from who you are, your effectiveness, or your ability to continue being happy. If you’ve made a mistake, missed the mark of a goal you set or even humiliated yourself, allow yourself to remember that in the whole scheme of things, these nicks and bruises are slight.
The next approach is to redirect your attention to something more pleasant. Try listening to or making music, a walk outdoors, or going for a drive with the windows down. A change of scenery can help dislodge the residue of past hurt and help you find freedom.
6) The Fear of Failure
Many forms of emotional pain can be sourced in your inability to achieve, maintain, or realize the goals and desires dear to your heart. Your feeling of self-worth and confidence can generate joy, comfort, hope, thrill, and ease, or a misstep in this arena can conversely engender fear, anger, sadness, regret, and a myriad of other negative emotions. The difference between success and failure has wide-ranging implications, and as such, mastering and keeping a few effective antidotes in your toolkit is not a bad idea.
Winch suggests getting some perspective on your failure. On the one hand, a single incidence of failure is not a total failure. By that, we simply mean that just because you may have failed to reach a specific goal or to hold onto a job or relationship, this is not an indication of total failure in life or an indictment of yourself as a ‘failure.’ One the other hand is more good news because even a painful failure is usually endowed with a bright side; some valuable lessons learned, an aspect of your character developed, or a new door opening which perhaps could not have opened or been noticed had the other door not closed.
Finding this kind of perspective amid emotional pain can be a challenge, which is why Winch recommends seeking out the support of friends and loved ones. Bouncing your thoughts off another person with a different viewpoint can often yield encouraging support and insights that you may not have thought of yourself. From an outside view, not only can others point out reassuring aspects of the situation you may have overlooked, but they may also remind you of the strengths and successes you have in other areas of life.
7) Being Chronically Deficient in Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem ties right into all the other forms of emotional pain and injury we have explored until now. Failures in life, a lack of close, supportive relationships with others, and rumination and remorse spent on past shortcomings and losses can all take their toll on our sense of self- regard and self-love.
Again, with deficient self-esteem, we have a snowball effect that can happen. Many sources of emotional pain can take hits on your self-esteem, and the lower our self-esteem dips, the harder you may be on yourself, causing you to inflict further strain on your emotions. The lack of self-value will likely take its toll on your confidence in relationships and opportunities. This lack of self-worth may provoke you to go over your past failures over and over again.
To break this hurtful cycle, many of the cures we’ve previously explored are indicted, but in this case at a much higher recommended dose. The only treatment for low self-esteem is to give yourself compassion and forgiveness for the things in the past- which you cannot change- and for the inevitable shortcomings in yourself. We all have them. Don’t be afraid to take stock of your strengths, focusing on the things about you that make you powerful and distinguish you from everyone else. Think about all of the accomplishments you have had and the challenges you have overcome in your life until now. When the ones you hold dear or even strangers offer a kind remark to or about you, allow yourself to receive and accept that fully without questioning.
Your Emotional Medicine Chest
Though it would be rare to reach the close of even a week unscathed by at least some minor emotional bumps and bruises, it is essential to remember that you are a resilient being. First and foremost, the emotional pain you experience is a part of life and your growth process as a human being. And just as a runny nose and fatigue serve as symptoms of an encroaching illness, your emotions clue you into what’s
going on inside you as a whole.
Once you recognize that your emotions are in any form of toil, choose the proper antidote from your toolkit to remedy the situation. Don’t hesitate to seek out the support of a professional if your efforts to address your own emotional pain are not fruitful or you find yourself unable to function. In most of these situations, however, self-treatment with action is likely to make a big difference, seeking out the support of others, being willing to acknowledge the strengths and goodness in yourself, and putting failures and losses into perspective.