The Footprints of Emotional Injury
Wipe them away with laser focus.
Posted Sep 19, 2020
Footprints linger on the heart and soul after emotional injury. They keep the wounds fresh and ready to dominate the future.
Kinds of footprints:
- Memories laced with painful feelings
- Primitive coping mechanisms (blame, denial, avoidance)
- Rigid walls (to prevent future hurt) that eliminate growth and impoverish the experience of living
Hurt, defenses, and protective walls are not the real you, any more than the runny nose you have when you've got a cold is the real you. They’re temporary symptoms that should never be incorporated into the sense of self or personal identity.
How We Get Stuck
When hurt, we tend to focus on how bad it feels, until the pain is overwhelming. Then we seek the analgesic and amphetamine effects of resentment and anger, which require blame. We blame the hurt and injury on ourselves or someone else. This shifts the focus from pain to blame, which feels more empowering, for a while.
The Law of Mental Focus
Whatever we focus on becomes more important than what we don’t focus on. Mental focus amplifies and magnifies. Repeated focus strengthens the neural connections underlying it, making it habitual, that is, automatic.
We must decide which we want to be more important and more automatic:
- Pain and blame
- Healing and growth
Victimization vs. Victim Identity
A great many people, if not most people, are victimized to some extent over the course of their lives. I grew up in a violent, abusive household. Worse than the child abuse was witnessing the battering of my mother. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the painful experience didn’t kill me; it made me stronger and more compassionate to loved ones.
The injustice and pain of victimization are worsened and prolonged indefinitely by victim identity.
Due to its focus on injury and damage, rather than strengths and resilience, victim identity prevents healing. It requires open wounds, both to serve as fuel for anger and resentment and to justify continual resentment and anger. It impairs the ability to create value and meaning in life.
A psychological function of identity is to act as a gatekeeper of the information the brain processes. We tend to process information that confirms our identity and ignore or devalue information that contradicts it. The inherent confirmation bias of victim identity makes us hypersensitive to how we’re treated, but largely insensitive to how we treat others.
This explains why the vast majority of violent criminals become victimizers to cover up the footprints of victimization. At heart, they suffer victim identity and view their crimes as compensation or revenge against an unjust world.
Of course, few people are that extreme in the dynamics of victim identity. But those who have it invariably feel that they get too much negativity from other people, unaware of the negativity they inadvertently communicate to others.
Identify With Healing, Growth, Empowerment, Transcendence
We can wipe away the footprints of injury by identifying with our innate resilience and ability to heal. Footprints draw their power by keeping us in these continually devalued states, focused on how bad things are, ever ready to describe how bad we feel, ever vigilant of the possibility that things will get worse, with little effort to make them better.
Emotional healing occurs when we shift focus to improving, appreciating, connecting, and protecting: that is, creating more value and meaning in our lives.
Emotional growth is outgrowing the importance of our injuries through a focus on personal qualities that are more important, like our humane values. The first step of emotional growth is realizing that self-value rises from what we do, not what was done to us.
Self-empowerment is giving ourselves the confidence to learn from mistakes and act in our long-term best interests.
Transcendence is going beyond limits, becoming greater, the most empowered, humane persons we can be.
The Buddha said a couple of millennia ago that most of the suffering in the world comes from wishing it were not the way it is. We cannot improve the way things are if we don’t accept the way things are.
We must accept the injustice of our injuries and work to heal, outgrow, empower ourselves, and transcend them. As we do so, we wipe the footprints from the heart and soul.