Imagine you innocently hit your arm with your car door one day after returning from a long day of work and errands. You’ve bruised yourself. That was not fun. Maybe you even muse about how you tend to forget where various bruises came from, but assure yourself that with this one, certainly you’ll remember! Two days later, you gently bump the same spot on your desk at work. You pull your arm back dramatically, touch the tender, slightly discolored area and realize you have a bruise. That hurt. Hmm.... Where did that bruises come from, anyway?
Over the next few days, you are constantly reminded of these sensitive nerve endings on your forearm, though the tell-tale color has significantly faded. Someone puts their hand on your arm while speaking with you, you brush it against the doorway as you turn a corner too quickly, and even the hard spray setting on your shower suddenly seems just a little more aggressive than you remember.
What’s going on? Is there some cosmic joke, or scientific theory to explain a sudden universal attraction to explain the constant, painful reminders of the existence of this protuberance? Sure, cognitively, you know that’s not the case.
Now, instead of a physical breaking of blood vessels just under the skin (a bruise) leading to this new sensitivity, imagine a time when you were emotionally wounded by the way someone treated you. Think of how you might have reacted (or over-reacted) and felt deeply offended, or even lashed out verbally.
What if I told you that it wasn’t them. Well, it wasn’t about them, anyway. At least, not entirely. Just like the gentle spray on your arm from the warm shower water isn’t suddenly violently offensive, we are often hurt by the way people treat us because of deeper, earlier bruised egos and painful prior experiences that have left us emotionally sensitive and vulnerable to specific triggers.
Almost all of us have deeply ingrained negative beliefs about ourselves: Whether internalized through traumatic experiences that left us feeling as if we are not able to protect ourselves, abandonments that led us to feel unworthy of love, or unfair blame or unrealistic expectations placed on us that left us feeling we are innately bad.
The experiences connected to these beliefs may settle in to our subconscious after awhile, becoming difficult to remember the specifics. Yet, the messages we internalized may actually strengthen and be reinforced over time. Our mind may take future experiences, attach the negative belief and file it deep in our mind’s filing cabinet under “unsafe,” “unworthy,” “Not good enough,” or any number of categories. These negative belief files become crowded and we become more and more sensitive to people’s thoughtless, self-serving, immature or even intentionally cruel words and behavior towards us. Their behaviors, intentional or not, touch our sensitive, emotional nerve-endings causing us to recoil in pain even if we can’t remember the original cause of the sensitivity.
How can you reduce these sensitivities and sort through the old files of negative messages about yourself? There are many treatments and therapies that can help you recognize your triggers. You can learn positive coping skills so you don’t overreact in a way that (ironically) increases your chances of making a hurtful situation even more difficult to remedy (CBT and DBT are therapies that can help, for example).
There are therapies (such as EMDR) that can help you sift through the cabinet full of overstuffed files of painful experience and re-sort them in to more adaptive categories: “I did the best I could,” “I am good enough as I am,” or “I have ways to protect myself now.” When our mind jumps to these messages when confronted with a trigger, how much nicer would it be if you could really believe that! With internal messages such as these more positive ones, the power of future hurts is minimized- significantly.
If there are emotional triggers that keep bringing unwanted pain to your life, maybe now is the time to address those triggers. Family Solutions Counseling has therapists trained in CBT, DBT and even EMDR. Let’s talk about what can we do to help you reclaim your emotional strength and move you forward today.