Pain sucks. It’s true. While emotions are mild, beautiful, heartbreaking, they are often accompanied by anger, sadness, saltiness, and many other thoughts and feelings. We tend to feel pain acutely and for a variety of reasons. Too regularly, those reasons center around another person or group of people. Recently, I experienced a variation of pain when a friendship was dissolved, and I’m going to take a second to share what I learned from it.
I tend to liken getting emotionally or mentally hurt to a physical wound: some heal quickly with nary a scar to leave a trace, others are jagged and, if not tended to properly, will fester and eventually poison you. The problem with this analogy, however, is that these hurts are harder to detect than corporeal ones, and therefore they get less immediate attention—if any at all. So what happens when we do find ourselves sporting a cut or two? What happens when a relationship of any kind becomes toxic, and everyone involved ends up getting hurt in one way or another? Whether we recognize it or not, our actions influence other people, and we tend to also be affected in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. I’m not here to talk about how to avoid this pain, necessarily, but rather how to recognize it, and eventually heal from it.
1. There are rarely absolutes
My mom likes to say that most of the time, one should “own their share of the blame”. That is, nothing is completely out of our control, just as nothing is completely within our control. It so happens that many of the things that befall us can be attributed to us being willfully ignorant. There are so many certainties that we refuse to acknowledge to ourselves, that if we had just listened to our instincts in the first place, we would not be in this mess. This is a truth that people find hard to admit, but oftentimes one really must look in the mirror and confess: I did sense it, and I did nothing.
Just as important, we should be open to the possibility that in some situations, no one was truly right or wrong, not completely. Things spiral out of control, expectations are not in sync, miscommunication occurs, and everyone’s feelings eventually end up stung. So apologizing is important—to the people you hurt and to yourself. Forgiving is the next step, but that takes time, and is too personal a thing to attach to a deadline.
I find these things important to acknowledge for two reasons: 1) It allows me to forgive myself for what I didn’t know and 2) I find that I can’t avoid holding myself accountable for what I did. Which is good, because you can’t learn if you don’t know what you did wrong.
2. Remove the poison
Since emotional wounds are harder to detect, sometimes we don’t realize their severity until it’s almost too late. There becomes a poison in our soul, and if we don’t get to it in time, it can completely take us over. That’s when things become toxic. What happens is that most often, we are not emotionally aware enough, mature enough, to realize when something is wrong inside of us. Even if we are alert to it—for we sense something, our behavior is not as it once was, our insecurities are taking over when we were once so confident—we might not know quite how to fix it. We end up lashing out, hurting the people around us, wallowing in despair and self-pity. Or, the way I did it most recently, ignoring it until something happens that bursts the nice bubble of numbness, and then obsessing over it. I wasn’t quite aware of how much what happened influenced me, but I had felt that something was off. I could acknowledge that something was wrong with me, that I was allowing negativity to consume me, while anger and sadness took over my thoughts. Initially, however, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
When I thought about it as a wound, though, as something that needed to be cleaned and left to heal, I realized that there was indeed something that I could do about it. I needed to get it all out, talk about it, let myself work through what happened. Essentially, “clean” the injury. I eventually ended up writing a letter. I decided that from the second I sent that, I would stop thinking about it. After apologizing and even understanding what I needed to change, what lessons I learned, I realized that I could not do more than I had—I cannot control the pace at which other people mend. I had done what I needed to do, and I’d removed the poison. Now it was time for me to heal.
3. Begin to heal
Here’s where it gets tricky: part of healing is making sure that you don’t reopen the wound, or create one just like it. An aspect of that is recognizing what you need in life, and deciding the way you want to feel. Do I want to absorb positivity? I can’t hang out with people who focus on the negative, who complain a lot. Do I want to feel appreciated? I have to find people who don’t just compliment for the returned affection, but because they really mean it, and want to let me know. Most importantly, do I want to grow? I had to find people that were ready to support me in my decisions, and help me be better, be brave. All of this is not merely done by searching for these characteristics and behaviors, but by distancing oneself from those who exhibit the opposite.
I learned that there was something even more important than all of that, however. Wanting to return that affection, that support, is essential to those types of relationships. If there is one thing that I can now recognize, and this has to deal with everything from healing new injuries to forging new friendships, it’s this: don’t force it. If you don’t feel it in you, if you don’t want to make the person feel awesome, if you can’t see yourself ok in this very moment, then that’s fine. It is. This was something that I literally had to have written out time and again to truly get, and I’m still trying to live it. Support, love, affection, admiration—all vitally important—should be given freely. If you must force it out of someone, then it’s not worth having in the first place. I want to feel content coming out of a conversation with someone that I trust and like, where words and influence flow naturally—and I now see that while I can be the one to initiate the positive note, I cannot force people to participate. Those who respond in kind are those who can, who understand, and who are worth sticking around for. The kindness, the positivity that I want in my life, it starts with me, but it doesn’t have to end there.
I’m sure there is more to it, and I am by no means an expert, but I do know that as humans, we tend to limit our measurement of growth to tangible products, even mentally and emotionally. We like to say “I don’t do that anymore” or “I do this more often” when thinking about how different we are from our past selves. What I noticed, at least for me, is that it takes a lot more effort to be developing in the now, as in, “I’ve decided that I don’t want to feel this way anymore”, or “I’m going to think this way from now on”, and actually do it. To top that off, it takes us a while to realize how much our surroundings effect this growth. We tend to focus on what’s going on inside of us, and we just assume that everyone can see this development, understands it, and is on board. What we don’t expect is that not everyone is on the same wave-length as us. Even if at some point we were totally in sync with someone, it’s entirely possible that events or mentalities eventually became discordant, and that’s totally ok. In fact, it’s part of life.
As a matter of fact, not only is all this part of life, it’s essential to it. You will be happy at some point, and all the pain you’ve experienced will make you truly appreciate what you have at that moment. Whether you believe in any form of higher power or not, it cannot be denied that there is a bigger picture, a tapestry of timelines and energy—our threads meet, intertwine, and diverge for the purpose of weaving this tapestry. It will have flaws, as every clever work does, for nothing is perfect. But most of the time, when you take a step back and look at it, you cannot deny the scene that is being created. The dimmer tones will offset the brilliant, vibrant colors, for no image is complete without the shadows to emphasize the light. I was meant to experience this so that I would be able to focus more on what’s important to me—brightness that I now know I was searching for, that I am trying to appreciate.
Finally, I feel the need to mention that there is one hard lesson that I am very grateful to have learned: sometimes, you will be the darkness in someone’s life—even if you don’t mean to be. You don’t have to be evil or even have ill intentions for this to occur. It just so happens that that was the role you played—and I must admit, that brings a hurt of its own. I don’t like being the source of someone else’s pain and insecurity, but I also recognize that there is more to any story than just my part in it. You can think you’re interacting in one scenario, but a whole movie could be playing in the background. We are but a single moment in time, and in the end, we cannot be blamed for everything. We cannot control how other people think, how they act, how they heal. That’s life. There is no growing to be had in denying it. We make a ton of mistakes, and we learn from them—then we live and let live. – Afeefeh
Afeefeh is a writer, artist, and soon to be engineer. She’s passionate about the environment, personal growth, family, and more recently, fashion. Raised in a Lebanese American household, she attributes any modicum of kindness, uniqueness, or intelligence she has to her family, especially her parents. She aspires to be a lot of things, including a traveler and business owner, and recognizes the responsibility one has to give back when blessed. While she can be grumpy and “sassy” at times, she understands the power of positivity, and tries her best to imbue it into her everyday life. She’s still learning, and hopes that she never stops, because that’s what life is all about.
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