The heart holds so much mystery. Love and joy, faith and courage, grief and pain. These are not separate. To access the healing, we must fully acknowledge the wounds.
Emotional wounds are unhealed inner scars that cause deep psychological pain. Conscious or unconscious, these can have a negative impact on our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and decisions. Emotional wounds often involve a lasting hurt from or within relationships with our family, friends, colleagues, and romantic partners.
Events such as abandonment, death, disappointment, or betrayal can lead to unspeakable heartbreak. Perhaps you can relate to some of these examples:
- You tried your best to succeed in school, in your hobby, or at home, only to have a parent brush off your enthusiasm.
- You have felt like the butt of every family joke, meanwhile you must endure your parents fawning over your sibling at the dinner table.
- You trusted someone who betrayed your confidence and caused you embarrassment, whether by telling your secret, cheating on you, or ghosting you.
- Your parent died unexpectedly, and the grief of abandonment is too much to bear.
- You experienced any situation that led you to question your worth, value, and lovability.
That pain may still live inside your heart today.
They say time heals all wounds. But I say that “with time, conscious inner work and loving support heals all wounds.”
The first step is identification and awareness.
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THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL WOUNDS
Unlike emotional wounds, physical wounds are easy to spot because they usually leave tangible evidence as a result of an injury, such as a broken bone, infection, or virus, according to licensed mental health counselor Christine Hammond. Many of us understand the healing process we go through after physical injury.
Emotional wounds impact our hearts, minds, and spirits. Because emotional wounds live in the more inner, unseen realms, they can be easier to hide from the outside world. This invisibility increases the chances of ignoring, dismissing, or avoiding them. And, often society teaches us to “just deal with it.”
Emotional wounds are difficult to heal because there’s no straightforward way of addressing the inner world. It’s not as obvious as seeing a small cut on your hand. But just like a physical wound, emotional wounds also need to be healed so that we can flourish in all aspects of our lives.
While there are a plethora of signs, this article covers the 7 most common signs that we may be suffering from an emotional wound.
THE 7 SIGNS
#1: A Heavy Heart
The term “heavy heart” refers to being weighed down by emotional stressors, such as sadness and grief. On a physical level, it can literally feel like a ball of heaviness or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, low mood, heart rate fluctuations, and like life is full of pain.
Carrying a heavy heart can be difficult to endure and can lead to anxiety, depressive disorders or emotional repression, when we suppress our emotions altogether in order to avoid carrying the unbearable burden of sadness.
Holding all of this sadness in the heart, especially alone, is one of the most excruciating pains to endure.
- Do you regularly experience extreme sadness?
- Does it feel like your heart is literally heavy in your chest?
- Do you tend to cry easily over small things?
- Or do you ruminate over past experiences that didn’t go as expected?
#2: Withdrawing from Others
Emotional wounds tend to occur within relationships. When this happens, the emotional wound can create trust issues and make it hard for us to feel secure around other people.
In attempts to protect ourselves from further pain, we may disengage from social interactions, avoid expressing our feelings to others, or spend most of our time in isolation—even away from safe people.
Isolation may make us feel safe, while being around others may make us feel exposed. Solitude is a necessary part of healing. Yet while you may be protecting your heart extreme social isolation may harm your emotional well-being by creating the illusion that you are alone. You are not alone.
- Do you feel more at peace when you are alone?
- Do you feel guarded around people, as if you’re careful of what you say and how you act?
Shame is the humiliating, distressing feeling that you’ve done something wrong. If you find that you often shrink yourself (aka avoid attention, downplay your accomplishments, make yourself invisible) then you may be suffering from deeply rooted shame.
Research shows that oftentimes, shame derives from adverse childhood experiences. For example, traumatic situations that leave a child feeling powerless, unimportant, and even punished can cause a child to develop shame that follows them into adulthood.
- Are you in a daily dialogue with guilt?
- Do you find that on a daily basis you shrink yourself, or blame yourself for situations (past or present) that may not be your fault?
#4: Addiction to External Approval
The dependence on validation in order to thrive can become very problematic. It may come in the form of constantly asking questions like “What do you think I should do? Do you like this thing I just did? How do I look?” In so many words, when we do this, we are essentially asking the world “Am I good enough? Because your answer is what I need to survive.” This is a very conditional, unreliable form of self-love.
We are social creatures, so acceptance by others is only natural. We even need it to survive! Compliments and celebration for a job well done boost our confidence and our connections. But this becomes an issue when your happiness depends on a constant stream of inauthentic approval from friends, family, coworkers, and society.
When we are addicted to external approval, our identity becomes consumed with the reactions of others. So, when others praise us, we feel good and worthy. However, when others disapprove or criticize then we feel bad or unworthy, and even worse conflate our identity with these bad feelings.
- Do you find yourself consumed with the opinions of those around you?
- Do you suffer from a crippling fear of rejection?
- Do you feel that your worthiness is dependent on your productivity, success, and ability to please others?
#5: Anger Outbursts and Irritability
Anger is an emotion that we experience from time to time. Typically, anger signals when something is wrong, unjust, or our boundaries have been crossed, often prompting one to take action. Healthy anger may look like nonviolent communication (NVC) or appropriate self-defense.
However, there’s a difference between healthy anger and angry outbursts or even passive daily irritability.
When we are irritable or lash out a lot, we may be struggling with misplaced anger. Misplaced anger comes from a previous situation that has not been addressed and now shows up in the present moment. This can cause us to lash out at the simplest of things, such as hearing a child laugh loudly or the classic “road rage.” In more severe states, this may even drive away those we love.
Of course that loud child or the car that cut you off are not the source of the issue, although it may really seem that way! Rather, the reaction is connected to a past moment.
- Do you regularly experience passive aggression bubbling under the surface?
- Or do you express your anger in all-out rage?
- Do you feel deep shame after lashing out?
There’s no shame here, rather a compassionate call to awareness.
#6: Highly Sensitive
Inner wounds can be a trigger for emotional responses, say Kristen and Chris Butler, authors of Power of Positivity. Highly sensitive people may have heard others say that we “wear our feelings on our shoulders.” Or we grew up hearing the not-so-clever insult by family members: “Oh don’t be so sensitive!” It usually comes as a response for how we express our feelings or react to life situations. This is because HSPs overanalyze everything from the way people look, speak, voice tones or noises, and are physically and emotionally overstimulated more easily than others. We are easily overwhelmed. We also tend to “take on” the emotions of others as our own.
Is it a matter of nature or nurture? While some are born more intuitive, many mental health professionals state that children who have been criticized, abandoned, or who’ve endured pressure from caregivers become HSPs and highly sensitive adults (HSAs).
- Are you easily overwhelmed by the environment around you?
- Do these triggers cause over-the-top emotional reactions or extreme shut-downs?
#7: Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem often starts in childhood. The pain of a disapproving caregiver or poor school environment can leave a mark that follows a child into adult life. While childhood experiences are not the only source of low self-esteem, they are a large determinant, as a child may not have the tools to process these big emotions at their occurrence.
To have “esteem” means to embody a high level of respect and admiration. In this case, for the “self.” Low self-esteem indicates a lack of confidence in the self and in the ability to show up in the world. This one really comes down to worthiness and identity.
Low self-esteem may also lead to depression, poor relationships, or not rising to one’s full potential.
- Do you frequently talk down to yourself?
- Do you have regular moments of fear and doubt?
- Do you hold yourself back for a fear of failure?
A wounded heart takes a long time to heal. But with awareness and the right support network, the potential of your heart rests in your healing hands.
Do you think you’re suffering from an emotional wound? Let me know!