How to Hurt Well
I sat down in the waiting room in a fog. I could tell there were people around me that I loved dearly. I knew the next step was to greet them or say something. Anything. But I couldn’t. Not yet.
When I finally mustered up the strength to say something, I thanked them for coming and for the food. I’m sure what I said sounded like a zombie, which is how I felt. The conversation continued around me. I’m sure they asked questions, I’m sure I answered them. I’m sure they shared words of encouragement and their own similar experiences, I’m sure I acknowledged them. All I really remember from that moment though was one sweet friend asking, “How are you doing? Have you had a good cry?”
Cry? No. That’s not really my thing.
To be fair, I’d also been a little preoccupied. Earlier that morning my mom had a heart attack that landed her in the ICU and a doctor telling me he didn’t expect her to make it through the weekend. From about 4am to 8am that morning, no one else knew what was going on. I just sat blankly staring, waiting, and feeling...numb.
When I finally told friends and family at a more reasonable hour of the day, mobs of church members, friends, and loved ones starting flocking in with food.
And that’s where the story of processing that event began for me with the simple question,
Have you had a good cry?
That question was honestly the most thoughtful, connecting question a person could’ve asked because the person asking the question cared so deeply.
That said, the feelings just weren’t there yet. I was frazzled at moments (one of my go-to emotions) and I think my voice cracked when I called my first family member to tell them, but I mostly felt numb. In fact, I felt numb for awhile.
Thankfully, the Lord did some pretty miraculous healing in my mom’s life and she came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day a little over a week later. While the months to come included some ups and downs with her health, she survived and that was enough for us.
Yet, that event needed more processing. I knew it and others knew it.
But for this logical, task-oriented gal, processing emotions was new territory. Frankly, it was also frustrating to even consider processing something in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, work, grad school, and new-found care-taking roles.
So if you’re reading this blog feeling the same way, you aren’t alone.
But if you’re feeling that way, I also want to congratulate you on beginning the first step to processing your hurt well: feeling.
Let Yourself Feel the Hurt
While I didn’t know it at the time, I was actually feeling quite a bit. I wasn’t crying all the time or feeling sad, but I was feeling other emotions: frustration, stress, and fear are three of the many others I felt often.
The problem with my approach was that I wasn’t slowing down enough to actually give my heart time to heal. I just kept pushing the emotions down and doing what I “needed” to get through the holidays, family, work, and school. I just kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny.
This particular journey did not come to a crashing halt, but many of my emotion-stuffing escapades have. Thankfully, the thing I did right during this time was I did eventually recognize that I needed to slow down and I took some time to feel my emotions.
I know what you’re thinking. What on earth does it mean, “let myself feel the emotions”?
Good question. It looks different for everyone, but some common themes include:
Not numbing your pain. My go-to numbing method is to stay really busy, but I also like chocolate and salt. During times of pain, it’s important to seek comfort from the Lord and avoid numbing or burying emotions. It’s a fine line, but chances are you’ll know your motive if you just ask yourself or the Lord, “am I doing this to numb my pain, or let the Lord comfort me?” For me, I know I’m numbing when I don’t have five minutes to spare in a day or my trash can is filled with empty candy wrappers.
Slowing down. This point is intentionally repetitive because I’ve learned through my own counseling practice that busy-numbing tends to be most people’s favorite kind of numbing, especially during times of pain. So, please slow down and give God a chance to talk to you for once.
Asking yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” There’s a good chance if your emotion seems to not match the circumstance that you are not giving yourself a fair chance to actually feel the real emotion. For me, my frustration was masking my sadness. Take time to really figure out what is going on. Ask God to reveal the biggest emotion. He will.
Examine Your Hurt
A telltale sign of an unprocessed emotion or experience is distorted beliefs—whether that distortion is about God, what God says about you, the event itself, or someone else.
Doesn’t that make sense in light of Scripture? Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). To process an emotion or traumatic experience means that we are receiving comfort from the Father. Coming to the Father for salvation requires receiving the Truth, which is Jesus, so coming to the Father in the midst of pain requires facing the Truth of your hurt. That Truth-facing requires examination of the hurt.
In my situation with my mom’s heart attack, that examination looked like this:
Asking myself, “What am I believing that is not true?” For me, there were several lies weighing on my heart during that season, but the most destructive one was, “I am alone.”
Working through all the pain fueling the distorted belief. For me, the worst part of my mom’s heart attack was those wee hours of the night when I was by myself thinking my mom was going to die and no one else knowing. That was the part of the experience that caused me to shut down my emotions and develop distorted beliefs. It felt like too much to handle thinking about that experience and feeling the pain associated with almost losing my mom all alone. To process that event, I journaled my emotions, talked to God, and talked to loved ones. With this experience, those methods worked, but I’ve had other experiences that also required seeking professional help.
Saturating myself in truth regarding the lie that developed through this event. For me, that included meditating on evidences that I am not alone. Thankfully, I had listed out every single person that visited me while my mom was in the hospital in a journal during and right after her heart attack. That journal served as a powerful weapon against the enemy as he tried to convince me I was alone. I also memorized and read verses about God’s omnipresence, further combating lies I started to believe.
Help Others with Their Shared Hurt
The journey of processing a painful experience is difficult and often takes time, but when an experience is processed the next step is using it for the kingdom of God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV speaks of Jesus’ comfort and how we are to respond to His comfort, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Helping others can be both therapeutic for you and the other person, but make sure you’ve given yourself enough time before you jump into that final step.