Last week I spoke with a friend who is struggling with an impending divorce. Several months ago, her husband moved out of their home. He was unhappy. He blamed her.
My friend, an emotionally intelligent woman, described the sense of helplessness she felt as she watched their marriage fall apart. From her perspective, their relationship has the potential to be repaired. She sees the pain her soon-to-be ex-husband is in and senses that old emotional wounds were activated in their relationship. They tried couples counseling, but his focus was always on what she did or did not do. He was unwilling to look inside himself. It was easier to put the onus on her and then walk away.
I do not know any of the specifics of their relationship. I have never met my friend’s husband. I have only heard her side of the story. For the purposes of my post, the details do not matter. Listening to my friend, I sensed the emotional pain they were both grappling with. The kind of pain that all of us have experienced in some form. It is part of being human. What matters is how we deal with our emotional pain.
During our conversation my friend acknowledged that helplessness was a familiar childhood feeling. A “familiar” feeling is generally indicative of a feeling we experienced or continue to experience in our families. Both words come from the same Latin origin, familia, meaning household and family. A painful familiar feeling is often an indicator of an invisible wound.
We all have these wounds to a greater or lesser degree. Unlike physical wounds, which are taken care of soon after an injury, emotional wounds are often left unattended and can fester for years. When our “buttons are getting pushed”, we are feeling these wounds.
How we respond to these painful familiar feelings determines whether they can heal. If we blame others, the person we blame becomes the focus of our pain and draws attention outside of ourselves rather than inside. Of course, if we repeatedly feel hurt by someone, the hurt may be a signal to leave the relationship. If we have learned to ignore or suppress the pain, the wound can become compounded with the totality of all our hurts. We may find our buttons get pushed more easily and frequently.
The way to heal any wound is to care for it. To so do, we first need to locate it. Physical wounds are more obvious. If we fall and scrap our knees, we can see the injury. We wash it, maybe coat it with antibacterial ointment and put a bandage on it. If our child scraps his knee we might kiss it to make him feel better.
Although we cannot see a scrape or a cut when we feel emotionally wounded, there are physical sensations that accompany the hurt feeling. The hurt might feel like a punch in the gut, a stab in the back or heartbreak. When we listen to our bodies, we can locate these invisible wounds and give them the care they need.
Based on this knowing, I suggested to my friend to locate and tend to her familiar feeling of helplessness in her body. I further suggested that she image “the helpless child” there and have her adult Self talk to and care for her child Self. Upon hearing this suggestion, tears welled up in her eyes. She said, “I can do this.” I sensed her relief and a greater sense of empowerment.
Responding to our hurts is an area where we do have power. Our ability to respond is an act of self-love. Love heals. The ability to respond with kindness and curiosity is also a skill that requires practice, especially if our default is to lash out or dismiss our hurt.
When was the last time your buttons got pushed? As you remember this experience notice where "the button” is in your body. Gently place your hand on it. Give this place your attention. Stay with it and feel into it. Sense what wound lives here. Ask this place what it needs to heal. Imagine and consider how you could give this place what it needs.
Sometimes the pain feels overwhelming, too much to manage alone. If this is the case, reach out to a trusted friend, a family member or a professional to seek the help you need.