emotions

Beyond Boundaries

Trauma, whether psychological or physical in nature, can have lasting effects on the human psyche. A person who has suffered mistreatment will often struggle emotionally and socially throughout their life as a result of being abused. Trauma victims are also at an increased risk for developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse problems, and a myriad of other emotional disorders. However, one of the most difficult challenges they can expect to face will be cultivating healthy relationships. This is due to the impact that pain and trauma can have on one’s capacity to love. It is often devastating.

It begs the question of whether it is possible to be so damaged emotionally that you actually cannot love again. As time goes on, those who are less able to realize their own self-worth may also begin to internalize specific behaviors due to their inability to properly comprehend their circumstances. These tendencies will oftentimes become consolidated, transforming them into a definitive part of the person’s personality, rendering them incapable of achieving any sort of relationship satisfaction. Additionally, it is very common for someone that has been exposed to high levels of fear and stress to gradually lose their ability to be self-aware enough to stay in touch with their own feelings, which in turn affects their ability to relate to the feelings and experiences of others (such as an intimate partner).

In the absence of these skills, a person is left with a diminished ability to both give and receive love. Incapable of identifying and understanding the real reasons behind their struggles, some may begin to question why they are the way they are. For example, after a number of failed partnerships, one may adopt the mindset that it is safer to be self-sufficient than to risk letting themselves get close to someone else. All too often, as soon as they love someone, they are quickly let down. It is believed that if they rely on someone, then they are giving that other person the ability to hurt them. Under normal conditions, as we grow older, we embrace the realization that life is very complex. We learn through our experiences that we can trust certain people in some ways, but not in others, which usually keeps us from making unfair generalizations. However, this is seldom the way of it when you start to factor psychological reactions to stress into the equation. In much the same way as a child deals in absolutes, so, too, do the victims of abuse. They learn to keep an emotional distance between themselves and every other person. For them, trusting in the present or the future is almost impossible when they’ve been hurt in the past.

So, knowing all of this, how are we supposed to allow ourselves to trust someone when we live in a world where it seems as though all you hear about is how people hurt one another? How are we ever supposed to allow anyone else into our lives after having someone that was once close turn against us in an instant? Can we really let down the very defenses that have kept us safe and, in some cases, even alive? Even within my own life I have struggled with allowing people to get too close. I hid behind the assumption that everyone was the same, and because of this, that I would only open myself up to more pain should I let them in. I taught myself how to seem friendly while essentially keeping everyone around me at a distance. Anyone that did manage to get too close was immediately pushed away, which was typically the precursor to me launching them out of my life altogether. But after five years of slowly trying to put the pieces back together following the grisly eight years of mental abuse, physical torture, and shattered hopes that would ultimately shape me into who I am today, I was somehow starting to see things in a more rational way. I realized that the very thing I had been using to protect myself over the years might, in fact, be that which had also driven me further into isolation. In realizing that I was stifling my own capacity to live a fulfilling life, I eventually began to let myself open up again.

I had come to a crossroads in my life where I had to decide to let go of my survival mechanism so that I could begin to heal and make room for something worth living for. There came a point where, little by little, people began to come into my life and teach me what it meant to be able to trust. The more I saw them, the more I trusted them. They listened, they followed through on things, but most importantly, they never hurt me. The closer we became, the more thankful I was that I had been willing to trust and love again, even if I did so imperfectly. I learned that when it comes to trusting each other, we as people need to accept that our past is not our present. Being able to understand that what hurt me before was not a part of my life anymore was monumental. It opened the door for me to build incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with people for the first time since I was a child. Rather than pretending to be friendly, I was able to truly draw out the very best within me and create a new reality for myself. These days I live my life by a different credo:

“It is impossible to go through life without trust: That is to be imprisoned in the worst cell of all, oneself.” – Graham Greene

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Finding Purpose in Pain

Denial, withdrawal, and the isolation of one’s self from others. All are characteristic of a person experiencing the repercussions of deeply felt emotional pain. Self-inflicted pain, physically, mentally or emotionally, is far reaching and a stranger to no one. Show me an individual that claims to have never attempted to find a means of inflicting one form of pain or another on themselves at any given point in their lives, and I will show you the face of denial. But why would anyone want to feel pain?

The answer to that question is actually very straightforward: Because we want to feel alive, because we want to feel period. For some of us, pain has a purpose. It is all that remains to remind us that our hearts are still beating. A close friend once told me that the reason he liked being tattooed was because it was excruciating. He explained that this physical agony, which he actively sought out, was a means by which to feel something, anything at all. At the time I thought this to be a bit odd, however, after many years of observing those around me behave similarly in their own unique ways, I too have begun to see the benefits and advantages of feeling pain, even though my own personal pains are not physical.

If we ever wish to understand why it is we seek out and harbor pain, we must first start by finding the root or cause of it. We must identify and examine the instances in our pasts that set in motion the negative changes that would lead us to this very moment in time. Have we any hope within us of rectifying a problem and implementing the modifications necessary to forge a better existence, we must begin with an appreciation and comprehension of all the relevant factors that contributed to our present state of being. Only by doing this may we begin our journey in the pursuit of balance and harmony. We must realize that we need to always experience both ends of the broad spectrum of human emotions in order to fully appreciate them. To abuse one is to diminish its worth and, in very much the same way as any other addiction, you will eventually find that you require an increasing amount of it to achieve even remotely similar results. Sam Veda said it best: “A life devoid of struggles is a life bereft of happiness because the value of happiness is realized only after pain.”

Everyone has heard someone mouth the all too familiar platitudes we’ve grown to loathe and abhor: I share your pain, don’t dwell on it, you have to move on, this too shall pass, we all have problems, time heals all wounds, happiness is a choice, don’t linger in the past, there is someone worse off than you, etc. Personally, I find these to be less than helpful and mildly disingenuous, but I digress. We as humans would do well to teach ourselves how to take full advantage of both emotional pain and bliss. Discovering and using healthy outlets that work for us in times of need and heightened emotion is an ideal way of taking all of that energy, all of that joy or misery which has awakened the passion and fire within us, and using it to give birth to what may just end up being our greatest works.

Finding ways of harnessing all of this emotion is the key to becoming stronger and more resilient. I’ve found that when a person has dealt with a great deal of pain in the past, they are numbed or desensitized to the mundane issues that lie ahead and are able to venture forth in life with more confidence with respect to any future obstacles. How could those challenges yet to come possibly compare with what they’ve already endured to some extent in the past? In the end, it comes down to how you curtail your mindset and your actions to foster personal growth and development. All pain is not bad. It instills us with mental fortitude, can trigger and inspire us in ways we never thought possible, teaches us valuable life lessons, and so much more. But above all else, it is our own personal afflictions that teach us to treasure those special moments that, when all is said and done, truly make life worth living.

The Enemy Within

Whether it’s fleeting self-consciousness or paralyzing anxiety, once the balance of power between self-perception and reflected self-perception begins to shift in favor of the reflected, we begin venturing ever closer to the edge of a slippery slope. The onset is triggered when healthy reconsideration gives way to crippling self-doubt. Thoughts begin to manifest themselves as an undermining inner voice that represents the part of us that has turned against ourselves. It longs to rob us of our joy and enthusiasm, to break our spirits, and turn us into fundamentally one-dimensional people. It goes without saying that this is a true testament to human complexity and the innate ability we have to create and maintain obstacles in our lives as a means of self-sabotage. I’ve come to think of that inner voice as the enemy within. More often than not, we tend to be our own worst enemy and harshest critic. It is so easy to see the beauty in everyone around you, yet impossible to acknowledge that any exists within yourself. I always find it amusing when someone catches me staring at myself in a mirror and accuses me of being vain or narcissistic. Despite what may seem like egotism and conceit to an outsider looking in, my purpose for doing so couldn’t be any more to the contrary.

The desire to improve one’s self aesthetically, or otherwise, is what I believe to be an inherent and inescapable part of the human condition. However, there is a fine line between self improvements and unhealthy obsessions. Sadly, most people will spend their entire lives balancing on the precipice of an endless downward spiral. Even sadder still, a great deal of them may lose their footing at one point or another and, in doing so, themselves.

In a perfect world we would learn to just accept who we are and value our imperfections as much as we do our perfections. We don’t really live in a perfect world though do we? In reality, we exist in a state of perpetual war against ourselves. It’s a purely psychological battle being waged internally with no clearly defined enemy. A swami once said: “The hardest enemy to fight is the one who has outposts in your head.” It is only when there is no enemy within that the enemies without cannot hurt you.

I’ve often heard people attribute their lack of self-confidence to society and its arbitrary standards of beauty. They allow those standards to completely define their value as human beings. We tend to forget that the way we think of ourselves sets the standard for others. If a person’s self-worth is hinged on what other people think of them, and they live only for their reflection as seen in the eyes of others, then they are doomed to a life of emotional disruption and dysfunction.

In the end it all comes down to a single truth. Your worth can only come from one place and that is from within yourself. Thinking you are worthy, makes you worthy. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Tell yourself that, and then remember that you are the beholder. Challenge yourself to find beauty where others have not, including in yourself. Don’t be surprised when after you’ve discovered it, others also begin to take notice. That, after all, is the beauty of love…it grows.