I was watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Worf (the big, scary Klingon) fell off a catwalk and broke his spine. Luckily, a friendly alien with healing powers was on the scene. He put his hands on Worf’s head and fixed the broken spine. Dr. Crusher scanned the now breathing Worf and declared that there was no trace of injury.
The phrase really hit me: No trace of injury. My first thought was “I want that.” As I move forward in life, I want no trace of past injuries. Of course, that can be impossible for physical injuries. My ankles will always have some stiffness and tons of broken blood vessels from multiple sprains while playing basketball in high school.
However, what about emotional injuries? Do we need to carry those scars forward with us throughout our lives? I began to ask myself what was keeping me from living a life with no trace of injury.
I have felt for some time that I am resistant to being happy and successful. It infuriates me when people say, “You look good. Everything must be going well for you.” The immediate response in my head is, “You try restarting your life from scratch at 58 and see how well it goes, Donkey Head!”
In truth, life is going well! I have work that I love. I’ve bought a condo that is beginning to feel like home. I have friends and family who love and support me. My life is not the life that I planned and worked on for 35 years, but it’s pretty darn nice!
So why do I resist joy and peace? It took some soul searching and navel-gazing to come up with the answer. I feel that I am minimizing or even forgetting the trauma of my divorce if I look like I’m doing great. Several years of my life were awful, bordering on unbearable. If I look good, I believe that others think it couldn’t have been that bad if I’ve managed to recover so well.
If I look depressed and miserable, I am showing the world just how yucky the experience has been. I wear my misery as proof of my suffering. Yes, I know, that sounds very melodramatic. I have never denied my gift for hyperbole. What’s surprising is that I actually felt that way. It was a bit of a self-revelation.
I know that I am not alone in dealing with the curveballs that life throws. Many people have suffered much greater traumas than the ones that I have experienced. We all have experienced situations and events that just weren’t fair! Absolutely not our fault and totally unfair! The injustice of life can really get my blood boiling.
However, blood boiling is not all that productive. In reality, the only person suffering from my suffering is me. Can’t I just let the injustices of the past disappear? After more soul searching and navel-gazing, the answer for me right now is no. I cannot let it go completely. I want all the injustices I’ve endured to live on.
I want them to live on, but I’m tired of carrying them. So, I decided to write them all down. When I think of a time that I’ve been harmed, I write it down. If I start to think of that particular event again, I stop and tell myself that I don’t need to hold on to it in my brain anymore because it’s written on paper. The process is a blend of release and cognitive restructuring.
I told my therapist about my coping mechanism, and he asked me to make a list of all the “shaping events” of my life. Those include both positive and negative events that have made me who I am. We got into a lively discussion about whether or not we get to choose how we are shaped by an event. I feel that we get to choose to some degree. I can choose to become bitter and resentful, or I can choose to process the @(*#%/! emotions, learn the lesson, and move on.
For the record, I do not like processing emotions. I spent a good deal of life stuffing them and ignoring them. Also for the record, that is not the healthiest way to deal with them. It’s best if we name the emotion, claim the emotion, and then tame the emotion, which means we integrate the feeling and emotion into who we are now.
I like the idea of creating a list of shaping events for several reasons. First, it’s a balanced list of good and bad life events that helped create the me I am right now. That’s some good information to bring to light and discuss. Second, our beliefs are based on our experiences, and I am ready to look at those beliefs and see if they are still serving me. Third, I like that an objective person is going to read my list. It makes me feel seen and heard. Someone else will see my traumas and triumphs. As a result, I don’t feel like I have to hold on to them so hard.
I will definitely be asking my coaching clients to do the shaping event exercise. Coaching is about raising awareness and providing support. I look forward to being their witness to life’s triumphs and injustices. I will be keeper of their experiences so that they don’t have to carry them around anymore.
If we hold onto the past, we cannot move forward with joy into the future – with no trace of injury.
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