Someone close to me recently received an undeserved and over-reacted explosion of emotion from me. He simply said he was a little angry with me over something I didn’t tell him. That’s all. “I’m a little angry with you.” I fell apart. I can’t bear to upset him, or anyone for that matter. I perceived it as a massive fight and that, just like everyone else, he would leave me. I wasn’t good enough. I was a failure. I admitted to him that I hated myself all over again.
He recoiled, confused. Surely I couldn’t be THAT sensitive. A tiny comment imploded some raw part of my heart and I blew up at him. Emotional shrapnel cut into him; and just like soldiers tread tenderly over areas known to hold landmines, his first reaction was to hold back on telling me how he feels in case another bomb went off. Fortunately, he went with his second reaction to ask me what the hell was going on. I didn’t know the answer.
A couple of days later I was reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown on the plane, and her words jumped off the page, arranging themselves into an explanation like magic. There it was. The answer to the massive question mark I had lodged into the space between my friend and myself.
It had nothing to do with what he said. It was a reaction to old pain he inadvertently touched inside me; hurt I had buried deep inside. If you hide feelings for long enough you begin to think they are no longer there. But pain demands to be felt, and the more you push it into hidden corners, the more tender it becomes. Raw burns on soul flesh. His words had brushed past an old wound like the scrub they use to clean painful, burnt skin. It opened up all over again. But, just like the infection needs to be rubbed out a wound, I needed the unintentional brush against my pain to begin the process of healing that part of myself.
We all hide pain differently. We find ways to deny it is there. Each of them have “tells” – signs of a hidden landmine beneath the sand, waiting to be stepped on.
Brené explains 4 ways we subconsciously bury our secret brokenness, bandaged with stories we tell ourselves over and over again. Stories that repeat themselves until we are brave enough to question them and ask WHY.
This is medical jargon for when a patient’s injury hurts so much when touched that they jump as high as the chandelier. This is the reason why I jumped and touched the dangling glass high above my head when my friend said he was a little angry with me.
Brené explains: “We think we’ve packed the hurt so far down that it can’t possibly resurface, yet all of a sudden, a seemingly innocuous comment sends us into a rage or sparks a crying fit. Or maybe a small mistake at work triggers a huge shame attack. Perhaps a colleague’s constructive feedback hits that exquisitely tender place and we jump out of our skin…If it happens often enough, chandeliering leads to eggshell environments – fear-based settings where everyone is on edge.”
I realized that I was terrified by even the slightest bit of conflict with someone I love deeply. I feared being abandoned again because I wasn’t good enough. I grew hysterical at the thought (one I didn’t even know I was thinking) that he would leave me. Fights and disagreements had so often left me alone. I couldn’t bear to lose him too. “I’m a little angry with you” touched my pain and I chandeliered into the story that this would end in a massive fight and him walking out the door.
Sure, I’m not always so easily triggered. But that tiny arrow was shot into a weekend of depression and I was far more sensitive than usual. My loving friend helped me stop jumping towards my chandelier and we figured it out together. The wound started its healing process.
I’m lucky that I have never actually reached those dangling strings of brittle glass. Some of you may have. Shattered on the ground, people may literally crush your brokenness into white powder beneath their feet. You desperately try to scrape it together, like a drug addict rubbing her hands on the bathroom floor when she dropped her sacred line. You find yourself on the floor, sniffing up the fine glass like sweet cocaine and when you’re touched you breathe blood. The pouring out of red emotion from your injury surprises the ones who witness it, but most of all it surprises you.
The person who immediately springs to mind in this case is Harvey from the series, Suits. He strives to win at all costs, confidently exuding his desire to be the best, always right. He proves he is impenetrable. He comes across as hard and insensitive. Indifferent.
Deflecting hurt is the refusal to feel emotion because it’s perceived as weak. Anger and blame bubble to the surface like boiling water. It stings those around you. Bouncing pain back on others often results in wolverine slashes on the more easily hurt, and this often makes the deflector kick the dog that’s down, accusing them of having no emotional control or being too sensitive. They appear ruthless and vengeful.
You may believe and say that you don’t care. That nothing gets to you. Revenge is also common, finding fault in others, even more so. Lashing out is just another way of protecting yourself, however. Self-defence.
Deflection can also show up as insisting that you’re fine. You say it doesn’t matter. You’re ok. You’re strong. Eventually people start believing that it’s true and you’re left alone with your shield, deflecting your own arrows in a war with yourself.
That magic ingredient in lozenges that numb the pain of a sore throat comes in soul solutions too. Numbing the pain masks what it’s trying to tell you. You’re sore. You’re sick. You need help. But you can’t feel it anymore. You want to forget it’s there so you can keep going, going, going. And that’s exactly how some of us deaden the sadness. We stay super busy. We run up and down the stairs of our emotional glass towers.
Brené says: “…living so hard and fast that the truths of our lives can’t catch up with us. We fill every ounce of white space with something so there’s no room or time for emotion to make itself known”
You could also benzo your pain with alcohol, food, sex, drugs, gambling, and shopping. This self-medication comes at a high price though:
When ‘taking the edge off’ with a couple of glasses of red wine becomes a routine, our experiences of joy and love and trust will become duller too. With less positive emotion in our lives, we are drawn to numbing. It’s a vicious cycle…If we numb compulsively and chronically – it’s addiction.”
It helps explain why depression walks hand in hand with addiction. They feed off each other, covering up something far more terrifying inside.
We try to pack down our pain, piling it with the weight of our struggle for relief. Our hearts and minds fill up with mountains of stacked defensive iron and if we don’t offload it, eventually that heavy load takes its toll on our body as well.
The body pushes and pushes the pain to the surface before it buries us alive. You lose your appetite. Battle to sleep. Wrestle with anxiety. Lose focus at work. Fall into the darkness of depression. Trauma grows like cancer, sometimes literally, in our physical selves. When you choose to push the load down harder and pile more resistance on top of it, your body can ultimately lose the battle.
Knowing all this on an intellectual level is no use, however, unless we can manage to find a way to bring the pain to the surface piece by piece. I have thrown myself into the research of how to do this and over the course of the next few weeks I will share the beautifully creative ways I have learnt to dig deep. As you can tell by my story in this post, I haven’t tapped into all the soul injuries I have hidden from myself, but I have found many. I have given the pain a voice through creative expression in various forms and I know it works.
We can heal together in this colourful hospital. I can’t promise that it will always be fun, but there will certainly be Patch Adams moments. Pain doesn’t have to be scary. But it does need to unearthed and set free.
I hope I can help you give your feelings wings.