In my last post, You Can't See Emotional Scars, I discussed how untreated emotional wounds create scars AKA symptoms in adulthood that weigh heavy on us, creating dysfunctional relationships and addictions or feelings of despair and depression and even physical ailments. Today, I want to talk about how emotional scars are formed and the 3 step treatment for healing.
Our map of the world, AKA our internal GPS system, and how we navigate it is formed in childhood. Our map of the world helps us recognize what and who is good and bad for us, repelling and attracting as appropriate and helps us relate with others. Unfortunately, for many people, myself included, our maps are faulty and they sometimes lead us astray if we are not fully conscious at the wheel.
Faulty maps are formed in childhood when we are not provided with the integral building blocks for a healthy emotional state. Children are very emotional beings, completely dependent upon their caretakers for healthy emotional bonding, safety, and love. When any of these aspects are missing, emotional wounds are formed.
My wounds were formed when I was sexually and physically abused and when I was unable to create healthy emotional bonds with my caretakers. When children either witness or experience physical, mental, sexual or emotional abuse, wounds form, distorting their map of the world and they carry that into adulthood.
Children learn coping mechanisms as a way of making sense of the chaos around them. Some they may grow out of, like an imaginary friend, and others that transform and worsen in adulthood like lashing out physically.
In adulthood, when we are triggered emotionally, we unconsciously regress to our childhood coping mechanisms. My childhood coping mechanisms were isolation, escapism, and attention seeking sexually and I carried those coping mechanisms with me into adulthood. Whenever I felt hurt or abandoned, I would close myself off from my family and the world, bury myself in imaginary worlds through reading and seek out love and attention in the only way I knew how, sex.
I got glimpses of my issues in my intimate relationships. I knew I was sad and I had an idea that it had to do with my past but I still didn’t know how I was going to get better. I tried therapy and counseling but never stayed for more than a couple of sessions. It was scary looking at the wounds but that is Step 1: awareness.
It might feel safer or easier to pretend you’re ok and act tough but until you expose your wounds, your unconscious childhood coping mechanisms will always be stronger than your willpower because they’re tied to emotions. To be aware is to see and to acknowledge that you are wounded. Now you have a choice, to pretend, ignore and regress into dysfunctional coping mechanisms or to take the next step and express how your wounds have distorted your map of the world.
Step 2 is expression. In this stage, you share your story. This allows you begin to shed the weight you’ve been carrying. This has to be done in a safe environment with people that you love and trust to support you and help you love and honor yourself; a spouse, a coach or counselor, a support group. Self-compassion, self-love, and self-acceptance are integral foundations in this stage so that you don’t regress.
Step 3 is multifaceted but it is prevention. If you want to prevent heart disease or diabetes or obesity, you take preventative measures to eat right and exercise. One of the most important preventative measures in emotional healing is reparenting. We must learn how to parent our inner child in ways we did not receive as children. In this stage we begin self-exploration, taking the time to learn who we really are and what brings us joy.
Emotional wounds can form in an instant but the healing process is a slow one. If you’ve identified yourself in this post, I invite you to get the support you need to heal. You only have one life to live, shouldn’t it be vivid and joyful?