Updated: May 7, 2019
Deep emotional wounds present chronic challenges. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, you realize that what you really have is the tiger by the tail! Things are great, then BAM! The claws catch you. Maybe you get a scratch that doesn’t break the skin or maybe you reopen the wound completely. Here are some steps to take the next time you catch the tiger by the tail.
1. Recognize the trigger. PsychCentral.com defines a trigger as: “… something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma. Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.” I would add that events or emotions can be triggering. Anger or violence can be triggers.
Recognizing your personal triggers takes perspective. You may not be able to catch it when it’s happening, but its super helpful to learn what triggers your deep wound(s). Recognizing your triggers will give you more options as you go through your day. You may find that you can avoid some triggers or at least anticipate and prepare for them. Approach every triggering event as an opportunity to explore; be curious.
2. What worked before? This is a deep, chronic pain. You’ve been here before. This is an old companion you know too well. How did you tame the tiger last time? Who did you reach out to for support? Did you ride it out and wait for the tiger to go to sleep? Did you utilize new skills and coping tools? Become aware of what works and what doesn’t. Become the expert on your wounds and the best ways to ameliorate them. If you feel so wounded or broken that you think nothing has ever helped, I encourage you to reconsider and give yourself more credit. Your continued existence is evidence that something helped you in the past.
3. Be kind to yourself. Deep emotional wounds leave most of us with an underlying feeling of unworthiness. We feel like we are not enough. When those wounds are triggered, the unworthiness is also triggered. Because those deep wounds left us as our own worst critic, being judgmental is second nature. Now is the time for kindness, not judgment. If the re-opened wound made you fall back into unhealthy patterns or coping mechanisms, recognize your humanity. Acknowledge and honor your struggle. Be kind to yourself as you pick yourself back up and get back on the path.
4. Be patient with yourself. Know that this is a blip in your story. Are you tripping on a tree root, or are you tumbling into an abyss? Either way, this is not the end. This too shall pass. Do not despair. Fall-down-get-back-up. One movement. Cultivate patience with the healing process.
5. Build resilience. I write in more detail about resilience in my recent best-seller Radically Me! Transforming Trauma to Create a Life You Love. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07NL1BV1K Here is an excerpt. “According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience). Resilience allows us to bounce back after being triggered, protecting us from the ill effects of trauma.” Page 33 “There are many ways that we can become more resilient as individuals. Here are some great ideas adapted from https://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/. - Ask for help when we need it and accept help when it’s offered - Master a new skill - Do chores in a new way to reduce resistance to change in your brain - Recognize that you have choices - Develop new friendships and relationships with mentors and confidantes - Change your self-talk from negative to supportive and kind - Develop your own self-esteem - Cultivate a sense of purpose in your life - Show appreciation to other people - Practice mindfulness to bring ourselves into a present moment of safety and calm - Practice basic self-care like eating well and getting adequate exercise and sleep (Page 35)
6. Reduce stressors. This falls under the category of basic self-care but deserves extra attention. Dealing with deep emotional wounds takes a ton of energy. It drains you! Layer that with a job, partner, kids, school, etc. It means you need to cut back where you can. Say no to non-essential commitments for now. Reducing stress does not mean “numbing out.” But it may mean not looking too deeply at the pain on a given day. Choose where to put your energy. Learn to dance with the tiger rather than cringing away from it. Move in close when you can spare the energy, pull away when you can’t. You choose.
7. Live purposefully. What is your NorthStar? What is your guiding purpose in this life? If you haven’t found it, apply some curiosity in that direction. A sense of purpose can help us overcome all kinds of obstacles! If you already know your purpose, recommit to it and let it pull you through these tough times. My purpose is to help people feel whole after feeling broken. Maybe you know what you want to do but don’t know how. You don’t need to know how. Create a vision and take inspired action. You will figure out the “how” along the way. Focus on the why, the purpose.
Healing comes in fits and starts. Deep emotional wounds are like chronic illnesses. Sometimes you’re in remission and other times you struggle to live a whole life. Please know you are not alone. Reach out for help. Join the Radically Me Facebook group to talk to others who are working to live as their authentic selves regardless of their previous or current brokenness. https://www.facebook.com/groups/539662176515711
I’m sending you love and light on your journey.