Emotional Wounds Get Infected Too
You're not a kid anymore. It's been years since you've spoken about your childhood. So why come to therapy just to dredge up painful memories? Why is it so important to talk about and process the traumatic events that occurred when we were children?
The Legacy of Childhood Trauma
You’ve tried telling yourself to just "get over it," to "leave the past in the past," and maybe others have suggested that you "put it behind you" as well. Unfortunately, trauma doesn't work that way. It doesn't stay neatly locked away in the past. Sooner or later it creeps up on you, whether through unhealthy relationship patterns or other confounding behaviors, disturbing thoughts, or negative beliefs about yourself and others. Here's a metaphor that can help in understanding why this happens:
The Wound Metaphor
Imagine you are riding your bike along a dirt path and you fall off, scraping your knee on a jagged rock. You look down and see a nasty-looking, painful wound that is covered in dirt and dust from the road.
Imagine that you take the same misguided advice from before and apply it to this situation: “try not to think about it”, “forget it ever happened”, “leave the past in the past”, etc. Your injury is painful but seemingly unimportant, so you slap a band-aid on your wound, get back up on your bike, and carry on with your life as if nothing happened. Easy peasy, right?
Not exactly. What will happen to that wound if not properly cleaned and attended to? Odds are it will get infected. And an infected wound will then end up causing you more pain and will need more extensive treatment than the original scrape you had to begin with. The same is true for emotional wounds.
Many of my clients have experienced painful traumas in their pasts: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect are not uncommon in the clients that seek me out for mental health treatment. Many were told to "get over it" or that there was "no use dwelling on the past."
But when these kinds of emotional wounds are never addressed, never acknowledged, never discussed, never grieved, never talked about or "cleaned out"... then a kind of emotional “infection" can take root. This is essentially what happens with chronic, untreated PTSD.
Ripping Off the Band-aid
Trauma-focused therapy is similar to the process of ripping off that old band-aid, cleaning out the wound, say, with rubbing alcohol (which makes the pain more intense), and beginning the painful process of healing. It's not easy, nor is it pleasant. Each time the bandage is changed and the wound is dressed (i.e. each time you attend a therapy session), the healing process continues. Days pass, and eventually, a scab forms. A little while after that, the scab falls off, and you are left with a scar. And you know what? Scars don't hurt.
Scars Don't Hurt
Just like physical wounds that heal and become scars, you will always have reminders of your trauma. You can never erase what you lived through and will never forget about the trauma you experienced. But, with effective mental health treatment, it is possible to find peace. It is possible to heal your pain. Life is about more than merely surviving. The goal for all of us - no matter our journey - is to thrive, scars and all.