Exploring Unprocessed Hurt*

In Rising Strong, Social Scientist, Brené Brown says, “Depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of old hurt.” Further, according to Brown, depression and anxiety, although have “organic and biochemical reasons…unrecognized pain and unprocessed hurt can also lead there.”

There was a time, many years ago, where I began experiencing intense anxiety. Eventually I was having daily panic attacks, sometimes several a day. This was making life difficult to enjoy. I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, which only made the anxiety worse. In a way, the anxiety was fuel for me to figure out what was wrong. This led to years of inner work where I experienced sadness and pain and discovered patterns that were connected to my childhood. There, is where I dug deeper into my unprocessed hurt. The more I dug, the more I understood the unrecognized pain and released the unprocessed hurt, which eventually led to less anxiety.

So, what is unprocessed hurt and further, if it has anything to do with our childhoods, why would anyone want to go back there? Who has time, right? I think this might be a tough sell, but I am going to try anyway: go back there. And, here’s why: many of us are there anyway, especially emotionally. Let me give an example. We are at work, or in my case, a classroom. There is a large group discussion. We raise our hand or attempt to speak up, but our instructor or boss doesn’t listen or respond to us. We quickly put down our hand or shut our mouth and look down awkwardly. How are we feeling— rejected? Embarrassed? What are we thinking— no one cares what we have to say? My ideas aren’t valuable?

Now, it could be that the instructor or our boss just didn’t hear our voice or see our hand. Yet, we have a story that says we’ve been rejected. This story gives us certain thoughts and feelings, and very often, anxiety, which moves us away from the present moment where we might see that we just weren’t heard or seen because of a simple mistake by the person leading the discussion. It wasn’t personal. If this is relatable, maybe we can think of similar experiences as an adult where we felt rejected or ignored. Maybe we notice a pattern. What if we went deeper? Are there any childhood experiences where we felt this way? At school? At the family dinner table? Maybe we notice a connection to experiences now and experiences then. Maybe this connection makes us feel sad for the child that felt this way. What if we felt that?

This is inner work. And yes, it takes time. But more so, it takes a curious mind and the courage and willingness to go a little deeper beyond our stories, in this example, a story of rejection. When we begin to move our attention beyond our stories, the story of rejection being a common one, we find patterns and make connections and begin to recognize our unprocessed pain, and we begin to feel the unprocessed hurt. The more we do this, we might notice our anxiety dissipate. When anxiety dissipates we are more present. When we are present, we see more clearly and breathe more freely.

Now, this is just a theory of mine. It comes from years of inner work, along with years of learning and reading about self-help, psychology and social work. This theory does not discount the organic and biochemical reasons for anxiety, some of which are often treated with medications. It also doesn’t dismiss the varying environmental and social issues that can cause anxiety. It only serves to offer another perspective, one similar to the psychoanalytic framework, which considers unconscious forces that affect our behavior and emotions.  In this way, connecting current emotional and mental patterns to childhood experiences and other unconscious pain, gives another potential cause of anxiety and how it might be relieved.

To engage in more inner work, I suggest beginning to notice your thoughts and feelings in your day-to-day life. I would also suggest using a journal to record experiences in your day that brought up noticeable thoughts and feelings. After a while, see if you notice patterns or triggers, which prompt noticeable thoughts and feelings. Be present with your self-inquiry and see where it takes you. There is a passage from the poem, The Sunrise Ruby by the Sufi poet Rumi that can be used for inspiration on the path of self-inquiry and discovery:

Work. Keep digging your well.

Don’t think about getting off from work.

Water is there somewhere.

 Submit to daily practice.

Your loyalty to that

is a ring on the door.

 Keep knocking, and the joy inside

will eventually open a window

and look out to see who’s there.

~Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, p. 101

*Article originally published: The Volk, Fall 2017

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Don’t Be Afraid—of Anything.

Don'tBeAfraidDon’t be afraid of anything;

Be at peace about everything.

This is a practice and a promise to adhere to…..

I wrote these words— and then I had a panic attack.

For five days I was in a dark space, consumed by the ailments of my middle-aged body. High blood pressure, irregular menstrual bleeding and apparently a pulled muscle from participating in new activities to combat said, high blood pressure. The pain immobilized me, thus the five dark days. For two of those days I popped muscle relaxers and waited for lab results from my doctor visit. Any thought of doing anything normal like cooking or walking or going out to eat was met with fierce resistance. The light of day and of my life became darker and smaller. I was trapped inside my own worry, fear and pain.

Thankfully most of my test results were normal, but the pain continued. I took myself off of the muscle relaxers because I was dizzy, groggy and sleeping too much. My body needed to move. I did small things at first then, I went for a walk.

The sun’s brightness overwhelmed me. To seek protection, I walked to a forest path near my house. The trees did protect against the sun, but not against my thoughts. Before I left the house I was itchy. It felt like gnats biting. It worried me. The constant attention on my body and not trusting it over the past few months was destroying my peace and taking my joy, which wasn’t much to begin with.

Then, I began disassociating—the experience of feeling I was not where I was—that I was unreal or the world viewed through my eyes was unreal. Then I began to itch more, and my limbs felt weak and tingly. My heart began to race, my breathing became labored, my mouth, dry and I thought: I am going to die right here. I walked faster and faster so if I were to die it would not be in the forest where no one would find me.

I was having a panic attack (I used to have them daily) and called it out of its destructiveness and deceit: Goddam panic attack!

I walked out of the forest and into the sun. My breathing slowed and some saliva returned to wet the inside of my cheeks. I listened to the cars pass. I read a sign: For Sale. $75 with a ladder underneath it. I made eye contact with a man in a car. I needed these signs of life. I needed to know I was still a part of it. I began to think about the past few weeks of summer while not working and going to school. My intent during this break was to focus on my health and my mind.

I began this process by calling my dad who also has high blood pressure. He says anxiety is a major contributor, and so I began to work with my anxiety. I know it well—every morning greeting me before I open the shades. But I usually don’t work with it. Instead I fight it or I am so used to it I think it’s normal and move on with my day. One morning, I sat with it to pinpoint its location inside my body. It helped itself to the inside of the v-shaped area where the abdomen and ribs meet. Working with this, along with my breath I felt something release in this area, as if someone came to take away a chunk of my anxiety.  In that moment I felt no resistance inside my belly. I could breathe full, round breaths.

Also during this time of focusing on body and mind, I signed up for the Oprah and Deepak 21-day meditation challenge. Every day I repeat a mantra and sit in silence. I’m also reading a book by Katherine Tingley, The Voice of the Soul. She speaks of our divine nature and the “path of self-directed evolution.” She writes:

You must be true to the inner quality of your own nature—the divine spark, the ray of Universal Life. Be true to that, and all other good things will come to you…..

The path of self-directed evolution is evolution directed by our own higher nature….

I am absolutely assured of the essential divinity in man, of his power to conquer conditions and make the whole world over again.

I read these words and many just like them every night before bed. I’ve no doubt they, along with the silence of sitting in meditation, stir something within. One morning I woke up knowing I am safe. I am okay. I have something indestructible inside of me—and its everything.

Then, that pain—followed by that panic.  Is the pain a part of adjusting to the space inside of me where anxiety used to hide? Is the panic a part of adjusting to the truth that I am safe?

In this culture we tend to make everything a medical condition and do not consider we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Anxiety is a battle for most, and it is rare to recognize it as a symbol of transformation or at the very least an indicator that a shift is needed to serve us on our “path of self-directed evolution.”   Therefore what we call panic attacks may be a sign of spiritual transformation and what we call pain could be a result of something emotional in our bodies being released or needing to be released. When we ingest something new the old must break down. Surely there is a consequence to this.

In the sun again, after declaring a panic attack, I ask, through tears: why does change have to be so scary? I don’t want to be scared anymore. But, the truth is I feel unsafe. I feel unsafe. This was the truth of the moment and I declared it. Instantly this truth set me free—at least for the time being—and opened me to another truth I felt just days ago: I am safe.

Sometimes we need to call out what is in the shadows and bring it to the light before we can fully embody a new truth. I went into the light of day after days of darkness and feeling unsafe and the light overwhelmed me. I went to the forest so it could protect me, but nothing outside of myself can protect me from my own mind. Only I can free it. There is a promise and a practice to adhere to: Don’t be afraid of anything. Be at peace about everything.

The Soul Reporter

The Act of Contemplation

Am I addicted to contemplation? Have I watched too many movies where the actor stares out into the abyss with a look of longing while music plays in the background? If I give up contemplation then what takes place? This I contemplate while staring at the waters of the Mississippi.

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I think I know the answers—yes, yes and action toward all those things I long for when I contemplate. And, if neither happen—the action or the contemplation—then anxiety and depression settles in.

The lesson: I need to be more active toward what I long for to restore balance and inner harmony.

The Soul Reporter