When we are growing up, our primary caregivers are like mirrors. They mirror back to us how they see the world, how they see others, and see us. Their way of relating and engaging with us and others impacts how we may see the world, others, and ourselves.
When reflecting on our own childhood experiences, we need to consider our primary caregiver’s mirrors. They hold the reflections of their own caregiver’s mirrors which provide us with glimpses of transgenerational patterns and themes that may be passed down from one generation to another. Hence, our world-views, the way we interpret the world, hold the mirrors of our caregivers, our culture, our ancestors, and own life experiences.
Over time, we internalize at a subconscious and conscious level our identity, our beliefs, and parts of ourselves. Early life experiences highly influence the messages we learn about ourselves and how the world works. This basically sets our subconscious programming.
Is the world safe? Can I trust others? Am I worthy? Am I capable? Am I enough?
To further analyze what may influence these beliefs, we can explore the relational and emotional injuries that can occur in families and at a cultural level.
According to Dr. Mario Martinez, there are three common relational wounds we experience as human beings: shame, abandonment, and betrayal.
In his research and work, he also outlines the antidotes to those emotional injuries such as honor for shame, commitment for abandonment, and loyalty for betrayal.
Dr. Martinez encourages readers to seek evidence of individuals in our lives who have shown honor, commitment, and loyalty to help reframe our worldview. Now, his message is one of empowerment where, if we can identify the origin of the wounding, we can then help it heal.
Now the words relational, emotional injury and wounding are used to reflect what we experience when being shamed, betrayed or abandoned, not as actual physical injuries, but to reflect the depth and complexity of the pain.
Below, I want to outline five practices to begin or compliment the healing journey after experiencing relational hurt.
An important ethical disclaimer: This list does not in any way shape or form endorse staying in abusive relationships. If there is any form of abuse in the relationship, sexual, emotional, physical or forms of neglect, it must be addressed with professional help. I will outline our community resources available in the *References section and available hotlines as well. This list is not exhaustive and is not meant to replace any form of therapy. If you believe you or someone you know would benefit from counseling you may call our office for more information.
So, what can we do if we have experienced any form of emotional wounds?
1. We need to take care of our body first. When we have experienced any type of emotional pain, our body registers the pain. In fact, the brain cannot tell the difference between physical and emotional pain. Pain is pain for the brain. Hence, taking care of our sleep, nutrition, rest, and safety are incredibly important in allowing both our body and brain to recover and heal. We want to take care of our body with more self-care than usual. This helps increase the level of safety and reduce levels of stress.
2. We need to reflect on the stories we are telling ourselves. Our brain thrives and yearns for purpose and meaning. When we have incomplete fragments of what happened to us, it feels uncertain and our thoughts may loop, feel stuck, or feel intrusive in efforts to make sense of things. Granted, there are things in life that are so painful that those experiences may not have any meaning because nothing will make sense of it. If something truly doesn’t have meaning, then that’s completely fair and okay. Helpful practices in processing meaning are practices such as journaling, contemplating, prayer, or meditation. These introspective practices help increase our awareness while making meaning of our own story.
3. We need to surround ourselves around safe, supporting and encouraging individuals. When we experience a relational injury, it’s as if that’s all we see. It’s the way we feel seen and known. In fact, it limits and narrows our perspective to any other possible positive views of ourselves. When we nourish our mind and heart with people who believe in the best of us and want the best of us, we make room for another internal dialogue and perspective that can truly feel liberating and healing. This may mean spending more time with a supportive friend or family member who participates in active listening, expresses compassion and provides encouragement.
4. We need to reflect on what we’ve learned from the experience. In many cases, this is where reading books, listening to podcasts, and talking to others may be helpful in better understanding situations and dynamics; although the most important learning is the one that we derive from the experience. Learning from external sources such as books and other resources can help us name what happened. Like Dr. Daniel Siegel says, “When we can name it, we can tame it.” Naming things has an empowering impact since it allows us to reclaim our reality, knowing that what we went through has a name.
5. In some cases, we need professional support. If that means a therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, social worker, doctor, or any individual in a professional capacity who can help us or guide us, it’s highly encouraged. We were never meant to do life alone. In some cases, it’s liberating to admit, “I need help.” Mental health professionals are there to help us understand ourselves, our emotions, beliefs, boundaries, and needs. More importantly, counseling is a process where small changes have a compound effect on our desired goals. In the beginning change feels small and unnoticeable, but, over time, we can see how much we have evolved, healed, and grown.
In closing, there may be experiences we may be holding on to that might be impacting our present. If there are, know that for every injury there is an antidote and a way to reclaim our life and mental and emotional energy. My hope for you is to live the life your heart longs for.
With warmth and kindness,
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Dial 1-800-799-7233 or Text: “START” to 88788
Community Centers in El Paso, Texas
Center Against Sexual & Family Violence: Dial 800-727-0511
La Posada Home: Dial 915-544-4595
A., V. D. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York (New York): Penguin Books.
Martinez, M. E. (2016). The mindbody code: how to change the beliefs that limit your health, longevity, and success. Sounds True.
Wolynn, M. (2017). It didn’t start with you how inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. Penguin Books.