Feelings since this election have run the gamut from joy and excitement to anger and disgust to fear and everything in between. Universities have cancelled classes and exams, provided times of coloring and play, sponsored cry-ins and scream fests and provided safe spaces for students upset by the election.
We’ve seen the news with the riots (not protests). We’ve seen the threats of moving to Canada by celebrities.
My Facebook newsfeed is full of continued bitterness and predictions that sound a bit like Chicken Little.
I “get” being disappointed and upset. I “get” being fearful of what the next four years may bring.
Been there. Done that.
But the sky isn’t falling. We’ve merely had an election and the country has decided to move in a different direction.
So, tonight, I want to talk about healing.
Not just from this election, but any time life hands you the unexpected and you are called to deal.
If you haven’t noticed, coping skills are sorely lacking in our society.
I don’t know if it is the TV shows where everything is solved in 30 minutes or our microwave society or the breakdown of the family and no one home to help kids cope when life throws a curve ball. We are told that we should always be happy and healthy. We are told we are the best, even when we’re not. We get trophies for just showing up. We are entitled to happiness just because we are breathing. We have a right to never be offended. Ever.
But we are! And when we are, most of how we deal with it isn’t healthy.
Society is in emotional crisis and the reaction is either buck up and shut up (not healthy) or reinforcing the lack of coping skills for life by providing “safe spaces” where no one can be hurtful to you.
So what do you do when you have hurt that is very real? Maybe from the past that has never been dealt with and something in the present brings it up?
Or maybe you’ve been betrayed or rejected. How do you cope?
Is there a way to heal?
A reader recently wrote to me to ask for help in dealing with the feelings of panic and fear that she was experiencing. She didn’t say, but since she wrote in response to my post about Donald Trump’s election, I am assuming she didn’t vote for him. She was once a victim of sexual harassment and bullying and something about Trump’s demeanor during the campaign had brought up feelings long buried. She described herself as a rational, mature person and she’d tried to talk herself out of how she felt, but the panic and fear was very real. My heart went out to her and I gave her some advice which led to this blog post
One thing I’ve learned is that stuffing your emotions or talking yourself out of them doesn’t work. It’s not healthy and they have a way of coming back when you least expect it. For example, I have a friend who decided on the plane home from Vietnam to forget what he’d seen and experienced there. It worked pretty well until he went through a divorce and the memories and emotions flooded back. My reader was coping with major changes in her mother’s life when the election brought forth emotions she thought were long gone. She’d stuffed them for so many years, she thought she was past them. The reality is, you will have to deal with them one way or another.
Hard as it is, I am a huge proponent of dealing with them on your own terms versus having them bite you like a rattlesnake hidden in the grass. The venom strikes when you least expect it.
Is it difficult? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes. Is there life/joy/peace on the other side? Yes!
So when you find yourself in that position, here are some tips I’ve used for emotional healing:
1) Recognize your emotions aren’t right or wrong. They are just how you feel. The painful memories associated with the feelings need to be dealt with which will deal with the emotions. Take some time by yourself or with a counselor or friend to go back through the traumatic event. Give yourself permission to “feel your feels” as you remember. It’s okay to feel anger or pain as you remember. It is okay to feel fear. It is okay to grieve what happened to you and how it hurt you. Talking to others is always good, but you might just want to meditate on it yourself. Give yourself plenty of uninterrupted time. You might want to write it out. Just sit down and pour out on the paper the hurt and pain you’ve experienced.
2) Now imagine that Jesus is with you (because He is). Imagine His face as you express to Him how you were hurt, how you feel. Tell Him what happened. Feel His comfort. Him sharing your pain. Soak in the knowledge that there isn’t one thing we’ve experienced that He hasn’t experienced with us. See Him saying the words that He was with you even in the hurt.
(It is a whole huge theological discussion about where is God when bad things happen and why do bad things happen to good people that I won’t get into here, except to say that when we have free will, everyone has free will and that includes the idiots who hurt other people. So God isn’t always in the prevention business but Jesus is always in the restoration business.)
If you are holding bitterness toward those who hurt you, ask Him to help you forgive them. Forgiveness does not let them off the hook. He has seen your hurt. But it frees you from bitterness that holds you prisoner. As the saying goes, un-forgiveness is like taking poison expecting the other person to die. You don’t want to live like that. As hard as it is, relinquish your feelings to Jesus so you can be free of them. Recognize that God is the only one who can judge and punish. You want to be free! Let Him deal with those who hurt you. (If you wrote out your feelings, consider burning the paper–acting out that you are letting them go.)
3) Find a new normal. If your thought life has been concerned with fear or anger or bitterness, find a Scripture or a mantra that renews your mind and creates a new thought pattern for your normal. For example if you have believed that you’ll never be loved because someone hurt you, your mantra could be, “I am worthy of love.” Or a Scriptural one might be (made personal) “For God so loved the world (which includes me!) that He gave His only Son that I might not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
If you have lived a life of fear, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 and “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7. Or your mantra could be, “I am a person of strength. I have no reason to fear.”
I like to write these on note cards to carry with me or keep a copy on my visor in the car or on my bathroom mirror or by my bed to read just before I sleep. Saying those positive affirmations and truths will replace the lie you have believed because of the hurt you experienced.
4) If you were a child when the trauma happened, that scared little child may still be hiding inside of you. Like my reader, despite being completely rational, this election brought out panic and fear she was going to be hurt again. That was a sign that her bullying hadn’t been dealt with. The little girl on the bus who’d been hurt was still hurt down deep inside and was making herself heard through panic and fear. It may sound a little crazy or hokey, but reassure that child that you are grown up now and will protect him/her from being bullied or abused. That they were not at fault. They were a child. But you are here to protect them now. But first, go through the steps in 1 and 2 to give yourself permission to grieve and validate the feelings and then heal from them by letting them go.
5) Forgiveness doesn’t mean trust. Certain people are not safe. Certain people will poison your well, as my friend Carrolyn says. Certain people are untrustworthy. Just because you have forgiven, doesn’t mean you have to trust the person again.
Two. Totally. Different. Things.
And it doesn’t matter if they are your friend, your parent or other relative. You can forgive what has been done in the past, but you DO NOT have to put yourself back there to be hurt again. (Yes, I know the Bible says to honor your Father and Mother, to love everyone including your enemies. It does not mean that you lay down and let them walk on you, trample your boundaries, etc. You can feel no animosity towards them, feel love in your heart and yet set boundaries where you are safe.) If you don’t understand this, I recommend the Boundaries book by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. http://www.boundariesbooks.com/ Or find a professional counsellor to help you.
6) Find a new routine. Another thing I’ve noticed is some people cling to the same routines/spaces/people/places/habits that are related to their trauma and then say they just can’t heal.
“I always remember when I drive down that street,” they cry!
Don’t drive down that street. You might have to find new hobbies, a new church, a new job, a new grocery store, a new radio station, a new favorite TV program while you heal. The time may come where those things don’t trigger the hurt or the fear or even the longing for how things used to be in an abusive relationship, but that time isn’t now. For now, keep creating that new. And as you heal, you might be able to do things/see things/go places without it triggering emotions like bitterness, anger or fear, but for now, avoid those triggers. It’s not being a coward. It’s leaving the scab alone until it is ready to fall off versus ripping it off over and over and over. It’s taking care of yourself and allowing yourself to heal.
7) And speaking of caring for yourself, do so. Get some sleep. Treat yourself to a massage. Go for a long walk. Have coffee with a friend. Sit outside in a beautiful place. Read a book. Listen to beautiful music (but not, “our song!” That’s not self care. That is torture!) Eat well. (yes I know, binging on ice cream and French fries seems like a good thing, but you’ll feel better if you eat well. And that doesn’t mean “diet food”! It may include some good dark chocolate and a glass of red wine!) Attend church. Especially if you don’t feel like it. (I know that when I really don’t want to go is when I need to.) Take a class. Learn something new. Seek out beauty. Make new friends. Take a long shower. Soak in a tub with wonderful bath salts. Get a new hair do. Or a new pair of crazy socks. Do some act of random kindness. Make a list of things you are grateful for. A great book about Self Care is by my friend, Lucille Zimmerman. You can find it here: http://lucillezimmerman.com/book/
8) Forgive yourself. Sometimes we think we are responsible for our own hurt. “I should have known better!” “I always trust the wrong people!” If you’ve made a mistake, ask God to forgive you. And then, forgive yourself. Not doing so is saying you are smarter and know better than God! Have you thought about that? If He says, He’s forgiven you and you say you can’t forgive yourself, you are saying you know better than He does. Recognize that you made a mistake. Ask forgiveness. Grieve what happened because of your mistake and then, let it go. Set yourself free. And when those old thoughts return? Let them go again. You are forgiven. Forgive yourself.
9) Give yourself time…it’s a journey. But don’t get stuck on the road due to obsession or get mired in a pit. If you’ve stuffed your feelings awhile, when you finally allow yourself to remember, to feel (as scary as it is), to grieve, it can be such a relief that you get stuck there–feeling and remembering and grieving. And you think you’ll be there forever. But just as you gave yourself permission to remember and feel and grieve, give yourself permission to move on. Don’t let the trauma become your identity. Don’t create a victim mentality. That isn’t healthy either. Give yourself time to create that new normal of being healthy and whole and cared for and find joy in the journey however long it is.
There is no right or wrong amount of time to grieve. And it is so much a process. I know there have been times I thought I’d done all the grieving and remembering I needed to and then something else brought up emotions that made me know I still had work to do. But God is faithful all along the way. It is not a road you walk alone. And as I said to a friend who was so afraid of the pain, he couldn’t begin, “it is so so worth it to be free!”
Disclaimer: Even though I am in the healthcare profession, I am not a counselor. These thoughts are only my own and not meant to be construed as medical or psychological advice. If you are having thoughts of despair or hurting yourself or others, please seek help from a licensed counselor or pastoral counselor.