We treat infections with antibiotics and cover cuts with Band-aids. The first question people ask is, “have you seen your doctor?” If you haven’t, they want to know why and might even say you’re irresponsible for not seeking medical care. In contrast, how do you deal with your emotional health? Sympathy and concern of others are not so freely available. I bet there will be several people who tell you to get over it and move on if you show “weakness” after emotional injuries.
A psychologist, Guy Winch, says people must learn how to reboot their emotional health. I will share his seven emotional first aid techniques to help you deal with rejection, loss, failure or any other psychological wounds.
Recognize emotional pain
Too many people suppress or ignore emotional pain. They do not realize the additional harm caused by untreated psychological wounds could become overwhelming or all-encompassing. We treat physical injuries because our bodies use specific sensations to alert us of injuries that need treatment. We know that it could get more severe or even critical if we leave it untreated.
So, why do we do the opposite with emotional injuries? Why do we think it will get better with time? It might not! It’s okay to give failure, a bad mood or rejection a day or two, but if there’s no improvement, recognize that the wound needs care. Knowing that most people tend to hide emotional trauma from others, be there for friends or loved ones to lean on. For instance, take action if you notice a friend’s loneliness. Don’t help them hide feelings of social or emotional isolation.
Redirect your focus after emotional injuries
It takes very little for one psychological wound to lead to another more severe injury if left untreated. This often happens because we focus on things we can’t do. Instead, concentrate on what we can do will increase our chances to perform at our best. If we don’t redirect our focus, our shortcomings will snowball and develop into a continuous cycle of failures that leave us feeling demoralized and helpless. One way to stop negatives spiraling is to sit down and draw up a list of controllable factors. Redirecting your focus on those will help you take charge when you try again.
Break your habits of negative thought
Habits are things we do without even realizing it. So, if you have a habit of replaying distressing events or mistakes over and over, make a concerted effort to disrupt negative thoughts with positive distractions. Leaving such habits to control your emotions can cause more severe psychological pain. An effective way to break away from unhealthy reflections is to do something that will require concentration.
For example, complete a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle or see if you can recall the children’s names in your fourth or fifth-grade class. Guy Winch says that even a couple of minutes of focused concentration as a distraction will limit the urge to return to negative thoughts.
Self-esteem is your emotional immune system
Self-esteem strengthens our emotional resilience. It buffers us from emotional wounds. Therefore, instead of putting yourself down, give yourself a dose of compassion. There is nothing worse than putting yourself down when you are hurt already.
Here’s one way to boost your emotional immune system and repair your damaged self-esteem. When you find yourself critical of your own efforts or actions, turn that around and imagine a close friend is criticizing him or herself. Write a note or email to that person, expressing support and compassion. Now, switch roles again and read that note as one to yourself. Do this a few times, and you will likely begin writing those notes of support in your mind to yourself. That is what we call self-compassion.
Find meaning in emotional wounds
Disappointment and loss happen to all. It is the way we deal with it that matters. The worst way to deal with it is to listen to those who say, “get over it” or “move on.” If you find you can’t get over it, don’t force yourself to move on. The best way to ease the pain is to find the positive meaning of your emotional trauma and gain purpose from it. This could be a challenging but worthwhile process.
Imagine the following scenario. A friend loses a spouse, and although devastated, he is now much closer to his kids. Take the time to find something to gain from situations that caused emotional wounds. And once you have mastered the skill of gaining positives from negative experiences, look around. See if you could help others achieve a whole new appreciation for what they have and life in general.
Banish lingering guilt
Although small doses of guilt could be helpful, too much could be toxic. Small amounts of guilt could alert you to stop and mend its source. Essentially, letting guilt accumulate could waste intellectual and emotional energies and rob you of life enjoyment. Never hesitate to apologize, and the sooner you do it, the sooner you will be able to move on.
Most importantly, apologies are a whole lot more complex than most people think. It is not an opportunity for you to explain WHY you did something. Instead, it allows you to show empathy and acknowledging how what you did affected the other person. Only then can you dissolve the lingering guilt. Do some role reversing again. Imagine a friend offering an apology. It will be easier to forgive that person if it is clear that they have a genuine understanding of your feelings.
Identify what works best for you
You would likely try various painkillers to find what works best to treat your headaches, back pain or other physical ailments. Similarly, use these measures to treat your psychological injuries and pains, test them all and learn to understand which techniques work best for building emotional immunity and resilience. It is a process that may take a while, but don’t give up. Once you are the boss of your emotions, your quality of life will be elevated.