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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Trigger warning: are you doing it?

PLEASE READ THIS BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT AND I WANT TO BE HEARD, NOT FOR MY STORY, BUT FOR PEOPLE WHO DEAL WITH THIS SHIT EVERY DAY (and stay with me, at the end I have a point that I believe needs to be understood):

I’ve had several conversations and confrontations with family (and others) about race. That is bound to happen when me, a white woman, has sex with a black man and gets pregnant at 19. When I was young and met a new boy, my dad would always ask, “Is he black?” This question always left me with a pit in my stomach. “Yes dad, he’s black.” When I met my now husband at 15 I told my dad about him. My dad asked his usual question and I answered in the usual way, but I followed up with, “But he reads and he’s in a bowling league.”

Just the other day in an environment surrounded by people who serve the oppressed and mentally ill, when it came up my husband was black, the next question was, “Ohhh….(awkward pause)…..what work does he do?” I got that same pit in my stomach. I told her what he did, and felt the urge to follow up with, “And he’s a supervisor,” but I stopped myself. Let me say this loud and fucking clear: I DO NOT NEED TO MAKE MY HUSBAND ANYTHING FOR YOU WHITE PEOPLE. He is the man I chose and choose and our love brought two amazing human beings in the world who have brown skin, and since their early years have been treated differently because of it. I learned early on that I can never ever know or fully understand their experience as biracial girls/women living in this world. This is a hard pill to swallow when as a mother you want to go through everything with them. In this instance, I cannot.

When I get into the conversations and confrontations about race and/or politics for that matter, they don’t go well. I get unfriended, unfollowed and was even told by one family member to go fuck myself and another, “no one likes you.” In none of these instances did a family member even consider what I am standing for- my family of color and not just my family- all families and people of color. To me, this makes no goddam sense. But, whatever. I have had enough confrontations to know that I no longer want to use my energy to argue with the ignorant who are steeped in their biases and prejudices.

But here is what I do want to confront and this is the actual point of this post: I am going to school to be a social worker. I’ve had many years of therapy, on and off, and especially lately there is a buzz word we mental health professionals use a lot and the word is TRIGGER. It’s an important concept and it is one I want people to me more thoughtful of.

When people are traumaitized, whether it is war, hurricanes, robbery, sexual assault, accidents or being of brown skin in this country and living with what is called historical trauma these traumatized people get triggered and it can be by anything, but especially anything that brings up the trauma. After my accident, loud sounds made me jump. I had flashbacks of being in the car. People can develop PTSD if these symptoms persist. Anyway, right now specifically, people of color are being triggered constantly and this is what is so bothersome to me right now.

When people post memes and messages that fits their narrative, that they think is funny but has an underlying message of racism, they are triggering people who don’t find it funny, that are living with historical trauma, and probably on top of very recent trauma. When our stupid president talks shit about NFL players taking a knee- that’s a trigger. When someone likes an ignorant post about players taking a knee that isn’t supportive of their cause, that is a trigger.

The insensitivity I have witnessed and witness at present is startling and heart wrenching. Many people do not seem to be sensitive or thoughtful enough to choose their words and messages and behaviors and even non-verbals with the idea in mind of others- how others feel- how others might experience the world. And, I can already here the grumbling. Sensitivity gets a bad wrap. Who has time, and these libtards and bleeding hearts should just get over it and stop taking everything so seriously. Well, just know that if you’re one of these people that thinks this way, in my opinion you fit in one of two places: you are either in so much pain due to your own trauma that you don’t think it’s safe to be sensitive or you’re just really comfortable and stay comfortable within the world you’ve created with people who look and think like you. Or maybe it’s a combo of both.

Whatever it is I am asking everyone, even those who are already super sensitive and thoughtful and I know who a lot of you are, to be even more thoughtful and sensitive. I am not suggesting we do the emotional work for others and became caretakers. But I am suggesting we really open ourselves beyond our narratives and comforts and biases and even what we find as funny and appropriate and consider our words, actions and behaviors first. We have become such a reactive and impulsive group of people and having a so called leader in the oval who is the most impulsive human I have ever witnessed doesn’t help to make us better. Unless of course we use this very disturbing moment we have with this man to become even more of a bleeding heart- to care even more about people, all people, to commit to never bully another human being or to say ignorant, divisive things. To never ask their child who dates a person of color, “Is he black?” This shit hurts and it’s time we all do our best to NOT CAUSE ANY MORE HARM.

The Soul Reporter via Facebook.