Words: Alexis Gresh
I have a vivid memory of learning how to treat scrapes when I was a child. After any inevitable tumble off my bicycle or plummet from the swing set that left an elbow or knee the slightest bit worse for wear, my mom would set me up on the counter top, legs dangling feet over the kitchen tile. My natural inclination would have been to distract myself from it, or to cry until I was over it and then move on with my play. But every time she stopped me for the same ritual- she would wash the cut, apply a healing ointment, bandage it, and send me on my way.
As often as our external bodies experience a scrape or a bruise, so our internal selves experience emotional scraping and bruising. In our daily lives we experience disappointments, setbacks, heartbreaks, and the small aches of life that can leave us wounded. And as is standard for society, we are far more concerned with the external than we are with the internal. We’ve never been taught the necessary steps we must take to care for our emotional wounds.
It’s only been in my very recent life that I’ve taken notice of caring for my emotional health as actively as I would care for my physical health. In the past, I’ve been much more focused on avoiding physical scarring than emotional scarring. I’ll carry around a wounding word someone said to me for years and even allow it to infect my mental health, but God forbid I get a scar on my ankle that would be visible when I’m wearing my favourite pair of heels. I’ll even go so far as to ruminate on my internal wounds, replaying them in my head, re-opening them over and over again, making them even rawer and deeper rather than helping them heal. Does this sound familiar to you?
As a child, if I had it my way, we wouldn’t have washed my cuts. It was totally against common kid sense to put some stinging solution onto an already painful situation. But my mother assured me that the immediate discomfort was a part of a safer healing process. We were taking the necessary steps now to avoid infection and scarring in the future. Isn’t this a concept we should be applying to our internal wounds as well? It’s funny that as adults, most of our emotional first aid practice consists of distracting ourselves from it, or crying until we are over it and can move on. We resort to elementary levels of coping with our wounds.
If we grew up and took our emotional health as seriously as our physical health, it could change our lives. Psychologist Guy Winch has studied the concept of Emotional First Aid extensively and come to the conclusion that there’s science behind it. Caring for our emotional wellbeing doesn’t mean you are sensitive; it means you are strategic. Our emotional wounds carry a greater weight in our everyday life than we know, and taking proper care of them will have a greater effect on our overall wellbeing than we realise.
The next time you come across an emotional scrape, stop and make a practice of emotional first aid:
Notice it and act immediately. Investigate what hurt you and why. Don’t downplay it and don’t let it sit. This means doing the hard work of acknowledging that it hurt you: which is both an act of humility and a sign of strength. Take time to compare your expectations to the reality of what transpired.
I wanted that person to open up to me, but they were preoccupied with something else.
I assumed I would get into the program, and now I have no plan for the next 2 years.
I wanted our relationship to grow, but it ended.
Clean it and treat it. Get the bad out and bring in the good. Replace the action that hurt you with a positive reaction. Work through the lies of the situation and identify the truth that you can hold on to throughout your healing. Get help if necessary (maybe even from your mom).
They may not have needed me, but that doesn’t mean I am worthless. I am a valuable friend.
That door may have closed, but that doesn’t mean I am hopeless. I have plenty of opportunities ahead of me.
They may not have chosen me, but that doesn’t mean I am unlovable. I am good enough.
Bandage it. Once it is treated, cover it with the truth. Do not touch the wound. Instead, drop the negative event that happened and hold on to the truth you uncovered because of it. This is your takeaway from the situation. This is your new mantra. Whenever you need a reminder, say it to yourself again. Focus on what’s good and beautiful, and move on.
I am a valuable friend.
I have plenty of opportunities ahead of me.
I am good enough.
Whether it’s an emotional bruise or a heartbreak, care for it like you would any other wound. Clean it, treat it, and bandage it until it’s healed. At first, you may feel as clumsy as a kid seated on the countertop. But once you learn it, you’ll be back on your bike in no time.