I don’t know if you have noticed, but emotional work takes time…..

copyright: Karen Larsen photography

If I was in a major accident and broke parts of my body, it would take a significant amount of time–depending upon the injuries–to heal my body. Once the physical parts are healed, it may take longer to rehabilitate them. I might need physical or occupational therapy and maybe some medications as I learn to work through the pain to strengthen my body and get it back in shape or even just to get it to function. Maybe it will never be ‘where it was’…. I may even emotionally resist doing the work because it is painful and I figure ‘what is the point?’. But if I want my body to heal, I have to commit to doing the work. People are fairly patient with physical injuries. They may push a little or expect one to go faster, but usually they have a general idea of the work involved.

An emotional break, trauma, difficulty, or injury also requires time and work to heal. Sometimes rehabilitation and therapy are necessary, sometimes medication.

Contrary to a physical injury, in an emotional ailment, people can’t see the work necessary or even really evaluate the progress being made. Expectations from others are typically significantly higher than the injured person’s capability. It isn’t always or even usually about personality or ability–though that is what is often identified as the problem or impediment to healing. The truth though, is it usually about pain–and each of us can only handle so much of that at one time. Thus the healing process requires a lot of time and a willingness to work — through the pain. Well meaning individuals who say, “Just get over it,” or “Let it go,” or “Move on…” do not recognize their well-meaning comments actually cause further pain and make the process more challenging, more difficult, and sometimes even make it take longer!

I have learned we have to slow life down to manage the pain.

I learned this principle from Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his address: Of Things That Matter Most. Here is an excerpt from his talk:

It’s remarkable how much we can learn about life by studying nature. For example, scientists can look at the rings of trees and make educated guesses about climate and growing conditions hundreds and even thousands of years ago. One of the things we learn from studying the growth of trees is that during seasons when conditions are ideal, trees grow at a normal rate. However, during seasons when growing conditions are not ideal, trees slow down their growth and devote their energy to the basic elements necessary for survival.

At this point some of you may be thinking, “That’s all very fine and good, but what does it have to do with flying an airplane?” Well, let me tell you.

Have you ever been in an airplane and experienced turbulence? The most common cause of turbulence is a sudden change in air movement causing the aircraft to pitch, yaw, and roll. While planes are built to withstand far greater turbulence than anything you would encounter on a regular flight, it still may be disconcerting to passengers.

What do you suppose pilots do when they encounter turbulence? A student pilot may think that increasing speed is a good strategy because it will get them through the turbulence faster. But that may be the wrong thing to do. Professional pilots understand that there is an optimum turbulence penetration speed that will minimize the negative effects of turbulence. And most of the time that would mean to reduce your speed. The same principle applies also to speed bumps on a road.

Therefore, it is good advice to slow down a little, steady the course, and focus on the essentials when experiencing adverse conditions.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Of Things That Matter Most.

Just like there is an optimum speed for turbulence, there is also an optimum speed for pain–physical or emotional. Our progression is based in learning our optimum speed to travel through the pain. Sometimes hugging the floor for a time period is OK. You may need to hug the floor to conserve the energy necessary to survive. This is true especially at the beginning of trauma as you are realizing the pain you are facing or the work necessary to travel through the pain. YOU will know when it is time to peel yourself up off of the floor. Trust yourself. Don’t push too fast, too hard, or too early. If you do, you will soon recognize that you are not quite ready to be off of the floor yet.

Grief and emotional pain are real. They should be recognized as such.

Our modern, western-style, fast paced society tries to tell us that grief is unnecessary, unproductive, and a problem. But just like the trees slow down their growth during times when growing conditions are not ideal, we also may need a period of winter. All of nature takes some down time….time to hibernate, and rest. And if you haven’t noticed, we are organic! No ‘ever-blooming wonder’ plants. No ‘ever-blooming wonder’ people…..not really. People need down time too–especially the emotionally injured.

Personally, I have experienced many emotional injuries. Some were people being mean on purpose, but most were done unconsciously. My wounds are deep–deeper than I had any idea. I have managed them all of these years by shoving my pain into a box, closing the lid, and pretending the box did not exist. Not a bad emotional copying strategy. It has kept me quite productive all of these years. But it was not a fool-proof method. I have learned this strategy retards my growth. I have needed to learn about the box, recognize that I have the box, open the box, look at the box, and feel what is inside the box. There is an iceberg in there—an iceberg of grief. The melting process is painful and I can only handle so much of it at one time. Sometimes giant chunks melt off and that takes a greater amount of time for crying and slower pace of life to allow for melting. If I melt too fast or too much, I am flooded with grief and non-functional.

There is resistance to the work. I do not want to feel pain, and I am very good at choosing not to feel it! I can freeze it and stick it into my iceberg before I even register that I am in pain, that an experience has injured me. It is because I have spent the last 35+ years doing it that way. I have to make a conscious choice to look for the pain, see it, and allow myself to feel it, before my iceberg melts. I can only handle so much of the pain before I choose to shut it off and manage my day to day. In this way, I can continue to move forward. I just have to find my optimum speed for turbulence (pain)–which is different at different times, and not succumb to the temptation to stop melting the iceberg and go back to my freezing strategy. It is a very difficult skill to unlearn!

copyright: Karen Larsen photography
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