Emotional First Aid
the most important skill we’ve never learned
We know how to put a bandage on a cut or take antibiotics to treat an infection, with no questions asked. Yet, on a daily basis we sustain emotional injuries and have no sure remedies in place. Ahmed Genena takes a look at how to apply soothing balm on those emotional hits.
Anyone who has ever ruminated over rejection or felt the pain of embarrassment knows only too well that emotional injuries can be just as crippling as physical ones and those emotional bruises don’t seem to heal as quickly. Being yelled at by your supervisor, being blamed unfairly for something or fighting with a friend or colleague; when people are treated unkindly, it causes emotional injuries. More often than not, people just wave them off. They tell themselves to get over it and move on. If that works, that's great. But, a lot of the time it doesn’t and that's when people need emotional first aid. If emotional hurts are ignored they can get worse as when people replay the situation over and over again in their mind it causes a lot of stress. Chances are they will re-hash it with colleagues, or go home and tell loved ones what happened, as well as remembering the scene and with it the hurtful emotions. This is called ruminating and It has been medically proven that the ‘re-hashing’ is what causes harmful stress.
Following are some steps to counteract emotional bruises and cuts:
Develop self-awareness The first step is to realize that something is bothering you. It's common to have something go sideways, and to tell yourself not to give it another thought. But, if that's not happening, and you keep trying to ignore it, pay attention, as what you resist persists. When emotional issues do not get resolved, psychological injury can occur. The first step is to realize that something is bothering you. When you can name it, you can tame it, so bringing it to your conscious awareness is very important.
Tune into any ruminating you may be doing Rumination, or obsessing over negative events, is a habit. It feels like not being able to stop thinking about the unfair or hurtful thing that happened. Start by thinking about the problem and possible ways to solve it, as this is a healthy conscious pattern. At the end of the day most misunderstandings can be resolved with effective communication, so it’s important to take action and not try to sweep challenging events under the carpet.
Keeping in good company When ruminating about negative experiences, we have a tendency to want to share it with others. It can make things worse and double the trouble when people talk about the same thing over and over again, and don't try to solve the problem, it will depress them both and create a negative environment. So it's important to act quickly if ruminating starts and rather than discuss the problem work together to process what happened and help by offering a solution.
Avoid self-sabotage When you find yourself spinning your mental wheels, and going nowhere this will cause stress. And stress can lead to depression. Be mindful of negative self-talk or using food, alcohol or drugs to cope. This is just an escape and self-sabotage will cause more stress that can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems.
Be mindful Practice mindfulness, as staying present can help you identify what to do about the situation. Listen to your internal talk, as it will give you a chance to take another perspective and change the story you are telling yourself. Breathing consciously and physical exercise can also help, as well as writing it down as some people find putting things into words helps.
Pay attention and take action The body evolved the sensation of physical pain to alert us that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. The same is true for emotional pain. If a rejection, failure or bad mood is not getting better, it means you’ve sustained a psychological wound and you need to treat it.
Be aware of emotional spiraling Failure can often drive people to focus on what they can’t do instead of focusing on what they can achieve. To stop this sort of emotional spiral, learn to ignore the post-failure “gut” reaction of feeling helpless and demoralized, and make a list of factors that you can control. For instance, think about preparation and planning, and what you can improve as this kind of exercise will reduce feelings of helplessness and improve chances of success.
Take time to be compassionate Self-esteem is like an emotional immune system that buffers a person from emotional pain and strengthens his/her emotional resilience. As such, it is very important to monitor it and avoid putting people down, particularly when they are already behind where they planned to be. Have the empathy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And start thinking of the previous victories and what the person or team is good at, for example; remind them of victorious moments, let them see the winning line again.
Resolving guilt Guilt can sometimes alert you to take action to mend a problem in your relationship. But excessive guilt is toxic, as it drains your energy, distracts you from other tasks, and prevents you from enjoying life. One of the best ways to resolve lingering guilt is to offer an apology with an “empathy statement.” Which means focusing less on explaining why you did what you did and more on how you impacted the other person. By apologizing, the other person is much more likely to convey authentic forgiveness and help you to dissolve your guilt.
A problem shared is a problem halved It is very important in life to have someone you can share your problems with. A friend who is positive and supportive and lends a friendly ear when you most need to process your emotional hurt is invaluable. So work on developing close relationships at work and in life and building trust with people who share the same life values as you.
The first and most valuable step you can take right away for yourself and others is to increase your awareness and become your own best friend. Give thought to your emotional needs in such times, and take steps to apply emotional first aid and finding what works best for you. At the end of the day, even if we have a cadre of loyal and supportive friends, we will still benefit from taking action ourselves. Work on dressing your own wounds, soothing your own emotional pain, interrupting cycles of damaging thoughts that echo in your mind, and rebuilding feelings of self-worth. In time, you will develop your own psychological medicine cabinet—one you can use for many years to come, and one you can share with your children, family members and work colleagues.
About the writer
Ahmed Genena has spent 17 years in P&G, holding leadership roles both internationally and locally. In his leadership role, he is passionate about coaching and inspiring people to achieve excellence and deliver their best results. He walks the talk of his values daily with his three kids and when he is not busy helping others to shine and doing his best to be a role model family man, he is a keen photographer and marksman and can be regularly seen on the squash courts.