How do you take care of those bruises? You can’t touch them, you can’t see them, you can’t comfort them. If you can’t see their tangibility and existence, how can others? How can the one standing across from you see the intensity with which you hurt? How can they know that the pain is hot and unbearable? That the fear and sadness make you want to run away and hide until they cease? How can they know?
It’s a tough challenge taking care of ourselves, and letting others take a part in our healing journey. I know that for me, even with my years of experience as a Marriage & Family Therapist, I still struggle. I struggle in showing my pain and letting myself be vulnerable because what if I hurt again? That thought alone is enough to make my protective shield come up.
I talked about life experiences in an earlier piece (you can read it here) — about how they shape who we become, how we present ourselves to the world, how we show up in relationships with others. My life experiences sometime feel like I decided to go for 5K and ended up taking the Ultramarathon route instead. It feels like there are challenges that are never-ending. I know that they’re not permanent, and I know that the journey eventually will end. But meanwhile, the emotional bruises that these journeys have created, have left some deep scars — pieces of me that are too sensitive and easily hurt.
A few weeks ago, I fell from my bike, and oh, did that fall leave some nasty bruises. But some ice and rest did wonders for that kind of pain.
Emotional pain, however, doesn’t work like that. For that kind of pain, we need to learn to find other ways of healing. And usually, it involves being able to be vulnerable and let ourselves be cared for and supported — by ourselves and by others.
So what about when this pain shows up in relationships with others? Specifically, our partners? When something they do or they say hits a trigger point, and you start hurting? And reacting!
I see often, in my practice and in my personal life, that we are masters at protecting ourselves. We become defensive, we use passive-aggressiveness, we shut down and isolate ourselves, we use angry words towards our partners and the relationship — all with the purpose of turning away from the very real possibility of hurting. Because it is so much easier to leave than to stay and confront the risk that our partner will not understand and support us.
And hurting again? Who wants that?
How do you let yourself open up, be vulnerable, and heal?
First, you have to get to know yourself a little bit better. Emotional pain can show up as physical pain if we have not been attuned to it before.
Do you know where it hurts when you are in emotional pain? Where does it show up in your body? How does it feel? How can you recognize it?
Then, can you put a name to it? This would be the next step: naming, recognizing, and taking ownership. “I feel angry — hurt, scared, fearful.”
Say the words out loud. Allow yourself to feel that emotion. Don’t turn way from it. I know that this can be hard. I really really know. But it’s worth the effort.
When you are able to identify your emotions, hold them, experience them, and bring them forward, you will start seeing that your reactions (being loud, passive-aggressive, angry, or shutting down) start dwindling down. You will notice that your reactions start becoming less intense, and that conversations are increasingly easier when you have these emotions safely reined in.
Finally, allow yourself to share with your partner what you are feeling and why certain situations trigger you. For example, there was a time during my infertility journey that I could not stand being around friends or acquaintances that were pregnant. It was just too painful. When my sister got pregnant, I started crying, and I remember being able to confide in her later on how much her news created a sense of despair for me. And she allowed me to have that moment, to feel those feelings, to cry. That small gesture from her was healing in itself. Truth to be told, the emotional pain of infertility did not heal until I had my first born in my arms but being able to talk about it made a world of difference for my healing and for the relationship with my sister, that allowed me to experience her joy without being consumed by my pain.
Be kind to yourself next time that you hurt. Identify your feelings and allow yourself to share them. And tell your partner, your friend, your family — whoever is across from you in the moment that the pain was triggered — that you would like some space to share your experience in order to heal.
I promise you: more often than not, you will be heard, listened to, and cared for.
Because our human condition enables us to love. And love often cures all.