If we graze a knee, we reach for the savlon and plasters, but how do we heal emotional cuts and bruises?
We don't see emotional cuts and grazes in the same way as we do a physical injury. Sometimes we can sustain emotional traumas, like rejection or failure, even more regularly than we do physical ones. And like physical wounds, they can get worse when we don't treat them. This can have an impact on our daily and long-term functioning and happiness. By treating these battle scars when we sustain them, we can heal more quickly and minimise their negative impact on our lives.
So when you next feel the weight of life bearing heavily on your shoulders, here's what to reach for in your psychological medicine cabinet to give you a lift.
Hanging out at weekends with other single mates; a weekly catch up with a best friend; the presence of teenage children. These things give structure and meaning to life. So what happens when single friends settle down into relationships, or your best friend moves to another country, or your kids leave home?
In these scenarios, loneliness can creep up on us, our nourishing social circle can slip away, and we can find ourselves spending time alone. This damages our self-esteem with feelings of "whats wrong with me"?
The damage inflicted. These situations can lead you to retreat into shell. Feeling unloved can be the loneliest feeling in the world. It reminds you of all the times when you have ever been rejected - those occasions when you were left out of playground games - and can make you feel desperate. You may lose your ability to see things from other people's perspective - your friends and children are happy, but all you can think about is how this contrasts with your own isolation. 'Loneliness is a significant contributor to depression'.
It is endemic to our social media driven society and, as a result we are becoming less and less comfortable talking about our true thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Treatment of loneliness involves challenging negative perceptions. Try taking a risk and talk to someone, connecting from the heart about something that is meaningful and authentic to your personal world. Crucially, you need to create new opportunities for social connection. This is a good time to approach clubs, or to look for new friends through websites such as meetup. Identify any self-defeating behaviours that are getting in the way, for example, feeling reluctant to show up alone for fear of seeming like a 'loner'. It's paramount you recognise loneliness as a place that needs effort, courage and a leap of faith to escape from.
You think your relationship is working fine, when suddenly your partner says it's over, or perhaps you've been on a great date, only to be told "I just don't find you attractive". Studies have shown that even mild rejection stings, participants who were excluded in a virtual ball-throwing game felt significant emotional pain.
Effective first aid. This is a time to start re-framing. Write down negative or self-critical thoughts about the rejection, then the counter arguments next to them. Whenever you have a self-critical thought, immediately articulate the relevant counter argument clearly in your mind. Counter arguments are anything that can inject some rationale and objectivity into a situation that is otherwise fraught with emotion. For example, counter arguments for daring rejection could include the absence of chemistry, a poor lifestyle match, or even being 'too good' for the other person - perhaps your career success holds a mirror to their own failings. There is also the important matter of timing, maybe you want a relationship and they want a fling. If you start to criticise yourself physically, the counter arguments would focus on your strengths, and the fact that everyone has parts of themselves they'd like to change.
Be it not getting that promotion you wanted, or the feeling of not having achieved enough, failure can be tough. Failing can induce you to feel less intelligent, less attractive, less capable, less skillful and less competent - all of which have a negative impact on your confidence.
The damage inflicted. Failure damages your self-esteem, as you draw distorted conclusions about yourself, sapping confidence and optimism, and potentially sabotaging future efforts. If you were being fired, it could blow a hole right through your self-belief, even though the rejection maybe motivated by dynamics related to the organisation and it's culture, not your character or job performance.
Effective first aid. It's important to focus on factors in your control. In psychology we gear a kit about post-traumatic stress disorder but less about post-traumatic growth, when an epic failure of adversity has enabled us to grow in confidence or resilience. Next time you 'fail' ask yourself what you have learned, what you would have done differently and how this has made you a better person.
Don't ignore emotional cuts and bruises, take time to heal and practice Emotional First Aid.