Healing Old Wounds

Yesterday we touched on the notion of honoring your true nature without giving away too much of your energy to those who don't deserve it. This whole series has been designed to act as a platform for discussing changes that happen within you--independently of other people. Why is this? Because, foxes, we will never be able to change another person. Or heal another person. But we can heal ourselves. 

I have found that the hardest wounds to heal from are not those inflicted upon us by others; they’re the arrows we sling at ourselves. The ancient stories we carry on our person like a physical weight baring us down further into the depths of our own self-pity. “I’m not good enough.” See: 6th grade gym class, a first love turned sour, family abandonment issues. “I’m too sensitive.” Read: the words of some insensitive prick, failed relationships, that time you showed them how you really felt.

Most of the time, we can be unconscious of these past hurts that have manifested within our psyche. They pop up whenever we have a moment where we think "why did I snap at so-and-so?" or "why did this situation make me particularly angry?" To answer those questions, you only need to look deep within you to the old wounds you've been holding on to for years.

Oh, only that, you say. That sounds like a barrel of monkeys. But if we don't do the work of examining our current relationship to past hurts, we will only continue to feel their pain. Our day-to-day aches; those bruises that do not seem to heal, stem less from the things that happen to us and more for the shame we carry because of them. The amazing life coach Martha Beck distinguishes this as clean pain versus dirty pain. Clean pain is the pain you feel because something happens to you like losing your job or breaking up with your boo. Dirty pain is represented by the shame-related thoughts you think about what happened. "I wasn't good enough for them," or "I'm worthless without the title of Big Important Job Person." Reflecting on our choices is essential for self-growth, but continuously beating ourselves up for things causes serious damage.

Here is what I have learned. Nobody’s past is perfect. We will all make mistakes, and when it comes to certain things, we all have our part in them. But you can accept your past with grace by learning from your less-than-stellar moments instead of letting them consume you. Show your wounds the open air instead of letting them fester. The next time you start to tell yourself that old story--you start picking at that old wound that’s trying so desperately to scab over--remind yourself of this process, taken from Martha Beck’s Steering By Starlight. (Have I raved about this enough?) The next time you have a painful thought, remember that it is stemming from an old wound. Then, try the BARD process: Believe, Articulate, Recognize, and Detach.

1) Believe (but notice what you believe)

Become aware of unhappiness in any form. Rather than avoiding it, notice it and allow it to come into consciousness so you can address it.

2) Articulate (spot the thoughts behind the pain)

Pay attention to the thoughts that fuel the unhappiness—anything you say in your mind that stimulates feelings of helplessness, despair, futile rage, or abstract terror with no action implications. Articulate these thoughts if they’re vague.

3) Recognize (why the thought is not absolutely true)

Examine the belief to see if there are any flaws in its logic, using these prompts if necessary:

-Is your imprisoning thought always true, or are there times when it could be false?

-Can you think of a hypothetical situation, no matter how silly, in which the thought might be obviously untrue?

-Can you think of any time you acted as if the thought weren’t true and yet the world didn’t end?

-Can you think of a historical figure who “broke the rules” defined by your painful thought and achieved a positive result?

-Would you force the thought on any other person you cared for?

4) Detach (from the thought by recognizing possible alternatives.

Allow the thought to “wiggle” like a loose tooth as your brain follows the unfamiliar neuron tracks created by logically DISPROVING it. Repeat the proves until the thought disappears—in other words, when the suffering it causes is no longer present. (Often you wont even notice this happening). 

The road to healing is long, hard, and messy. I have no definitive answers for you, specifically, on how long it will take or what that process will look like for you. But I do know that the above tactic is a great way to start. By deconstructing the stories you tell yourself, you can finally let your old wounds heal.