What does an emotional wound look like?
CW: Contains mention of trauma, abuse, and anxiety | Some links in this article are tied to the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com (and keep the lights on).
An emotional wound is not physically visible, like a physical injury or wound on the body. It refers to the psychological and emotional pain that a person experiences due to traumatic or distressing events | Photo Credit @Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock
What does an emotional wound look like?
During a recent session, my therapist asked that I visualize all my emotional wounds (i.e., trauma, abuse, neglect, addiction) – watching my breathing as I stared in the mirror, measuring the pain with my hands, and becoming aware of how each part of my body reacts.
Feel free to participate in this exercise with me.
What does your emotional wound look like? A tiny papercut? 50-100 papercuts scattered across your body? An oozing gash? Where does it begin, and where does it end? Is it infected and unattended to?
I see a giant cut located in the back of my body. The slit is inches deep. It starts at the tip of my shoulders and ends at my hip. Its where I was hit the most. Its where I was brought down by the weight of my burdens, while lifting others up. For many years, I chose to bleed out. Today, I see that the cut has been slowly sewn together, not well, but it is cared for.
Mindfulness and therapy are what are slowly stitching up my old wounds. I say that it is not done well because there are days when I revert to methods of coping that have not aged well and self-destructive behaviors. In those moments, I am the perpetrator of my wounds. I am the one putting salt where it already hurts.
The patch-up is a little sloppy, for I am still learning about my trauma and learning to live with my anxieties and fears. The psychology of the mind is vast, and there is so much to uncover. Things are never black and white or what they seem at face value. Letting go and developing new skill sets takes time.
Time does not heal all wounds. They simply fade.
People heal. What we choose to do in that time heals.
If envisioning your emotional wounds as their physical forms is too painful or too much to bear, stop, breath, come back to it another time. It doesn't have to be today or tomorrow, for there is no such thing as missed opportunities if you are not ready for them.
How are you taking care of your emotional wound?
I look straight at it. I don't shy away from it. It is not ignored. I am neither ready to parade my battle scars proudly nor do I ever want to, but it does not bring me shame like it once did before.
Emotional wounds, like physical wounds, need to be tended to. We need to unwrap and change out the bandages and examine the hurt closely. Some days it may seem that we are on a steady path to recovery, and others, it may get worse until it gets better.
Just as I would go to a doctor for my physical ailments, my emotional health is granted the same courtesy with bi-weekly sessions with my therapist where we unpack triggers, and I am prescribed an action plan – mindfulness, lifestyle changes, anxiety management, amongst many others.
Common side effects of emotional wounds
Common side effects of emotional wounds include but are not limited to impulsivity, quick to choose aggression as a response, frozen attitudes, and destructive coping mechanisms.
In My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem devised a 5-step anchor plan to help move through our emotional wounds or what he coins "clean pain," pain "that mends and can build your capacity for growth.
It's the pain you experience when you know exactly, what you need to say or do; when you really, really don't want to say or do it; and when you do it anyway…when you step forward into the unknown, with honesty and vulnerability."
- Anchor 1: Sooth yourself to quiet your mind, calm your heart, and settle your body.
- Anchor 2: Simply notice the sensations, vibrations, and emotions in your body instead of reacting to them.
- Anchor 3: Accept the discomfort – and notice when it changes – instead of trying to flee from it.
- Anchor 4: Stay present and in your body as you move through the unfolding experience, with all its ambiguity and uncertainty, and respond from the best parts of yourself.
- Anchor 5: Safely discharge any energy that remains.
Mindfulness - being in tune with my five senses (my dog's fur, so soft it would give Pantene a run for its money, noticing the newly formed blossoms on my orange tree, from the snow-covered mountains worthy of Bob Ross's Mount Mansfield to the color coordinated pillows I curated for my living room) keep me grounded in the here and now, in the mundane and the beautiful.
"If something is hysterical, then it is usually historical. If your (or anyone's) reaction to a current situation has more (or far less) energy than it normally would, then it likely involves energy from ancient historical trauma that has lost its context. In the present, your body is experiencing unmetabolized trauma from the past"
What do you hope this emotional wound will give you in the future?
"Trauma is not destiny. It can be healed"
What does an emotional wound look like? was previously published as ‘Scars’ on Medium and is republished here with the permission of the author.
Tiffany Wu, the author of "What does an emotional wound look like?" sees writing as an essential part of her mental health healing journey. She is not an expert or a medical health professional but is an advocate for self-awareness and discovery. She writes as a means to process her thoughts and in hopes that someone else will read her work and feel a little less alone.