We sustain common psychological injuries such as failure or rejection just as often as we do physical injuries such as cuts or scrapes. But while it's obvious to us that physical injuries can get worse if left untreated, that cuts can become infected, that colds can turn into pneumonia, we have no such awareness when it comes to psychological injuries.
Everyday psychological injuries cause a variety of emotional wounds that can impact us in far more ways than we realize. For example, even a single incidence of failure can affect our self-esteem, confidence, and even our unconscious perceptions of our goals and our abilities. As a result, we can easily feel helpless and incapable (when in actuality, we are neither), or develop a fear of failure, or performance or test anxiety, all of which can impede our ability to succeed and lead us to give up on our goals altogether.
A single romantic rejection can be so painful, it makes us risk-averse and "self-protective" such that we withdraw and avoid further opportunities for romantic connection (and rejection). But these kinds of protective and "defensiveD behaviors can lead us to become isolated and lonely. If we fail to see how significantly our own withdrawal and behavior contributed to the situation we will believe we are fundamentally unappreciated and unloved, and retreat even further into misery and loneliness.
It feels natural to brood and ruminate over a distressing event, memory, or worry, to stew over an angering or upsetting thought that keeps popping into our heads. Few of us realize how harmful it is to do indulge these urges. Replaying these kinds of scenes or conversations doesn't ease emotional distress, it only deepens it. Spending so much time stewing instead of doing (acting), can impair our decision making and problem solving, and increase our risk of developing depression, alcoholism, and eating disorders.
Other psychological injuries such as loss or guilt can be equally detrimental to our mental health and psychological well-being, especially when we take no steps whatsoever to "treat" them, to soothe the emotional pain they elicit, and to address the emotional wounds they leave in their wake.
The idea of monitoring psychological injuries and treating emotional wounds when we sustain them is so foreign to us. But should it be? After all, we monitor the health of our teeth on a regular basis. Would it not behoove us to do so with our emotions, to develop the psychological equivalents of brushing and flossing and to practice them on a daily basis? We all have medicine kits with band aids, ointments, and pain relievers. Would it not be incredibly useful to develop tools and techniques with which we can treat psychological injuries and emotional aches and pains when we encounter them?
It's time we gave our mental health and emotional well-being the same attention and care we give our physical bodies, and yes, our teeth. Let's stop ignoring our psychological injuries and learn how to treat them. Let's stop hurting when we don't have to.
For more by Guy Winch, Ph.D., click here.
For more on mental health, click here.