"I don't ask the injured person how he feels, I myself become the injured person." ~ Walt Whitman
Self-restraint is the ability to get into the experience of another and to understand in depth the seriousness of their situation. In general, I think people need more empathy.
But I have learned during my twenty-nine years that sometimes being an extremely empathetic person is incredibly painful. And sometimes something very good is a bad thing.
Hearing stories about people's pain can be very painful when your mind is trying to bring the pain around you. Empathy is healthy when it is helpful and helps the injured person to understand, validate or relieve their pain. But it's unhealthy when you carry it with you as if it's yours.
Feeling sad for someone who is suffering is part of our humanity and the connection between them. Exercising grief as if it belongs to you ends up feeling traumatic and can make us disconnect from others.
I've always struggled to keep the pain of others. From the misery stories I hear about the news to the people I run in my daily life, I find it difficult not to lose their pain and come to it. When the problem hit even closer to home, I reached a break point that ended up teaching me how to stop it.
My sister is a nurse working on a trauma unit floor the day she was attacked by a patient. Seeing the bruises that covered her face and her eyes swollen shut was an experience that hurt the gut. After months, my mind returned again and again to how it should feel.
I would see the surprise and fear on her face in my mind's eye. I would feel the terror and the pain. And the overwhelming relief when she was finally away. Followed by a sense of humility and vulnerability to being on the floor only.
He was injured. My overly sensitive brain made me the second wounded.
I am a very sensitive woman struggling with both ADHD and Agony. These three challenges come together in the perfect storm to torment me with over-emotion sometimes.
High sensitivity makes me more in tune with others. ADHD makes it extremely difficult to control my silent thoughts. Stress creates a sense of current vulnerability that keeps the wound open. This perfect storm has required a strong internal set of resources to combat it. In the tragic consequence of my sister's attack, I finally found the recipe for this resource.
These three things have helped me reduce my internal injury by being very empathetic.
Beware of words without pictures
I was on the phone with my mom as she edited what happened to my sister and I noticed that the most painful part of all was the movie roll playing in my head as my mind interpreted her story in pictures.
I couldn't stand the emotional attack that I could feel coming in and somehow intuitively pointing to an awareness tool I am now swearing at. As she continued, I made a conscious effort to hear only her words. Focus only on her words.
When my mind started to create overwhelming images, I would like to turn my attention to the sound of the words themselves. I tried to hear the words and understand them only to the degree they were defined – without the additional meaning and emotional context I had attached to them.
Although this practice was difficult to perform, I can leave this discussion without feeling injured again. And that was a first.
A mind bog
It was not only the conversations and the specific scandals that created the injured feeling. Anxious ADHD brain will recreate the story on its own. She would play that movie of what my sister lived through to start. At that time, there were no words to watch. There was only me and my sometimes-torturous brain.
It was from that experience that I developed what I would call my mind. It starts with recognizing that my thoughts have escaped me. When I look at this, I imagine everything was playing out in a picture book that I can see myself tightly closed. I even imagine the sound of a book closing loud.
Then the mantra. Every time I move to this place, I use the same mantra and over time it has become useful in itself. That could be anything, but for me, my mantra goes like this:
"Nothing good goes down this path."
It reminds you that there is nothing useful for me the to the injured person (in this case my sister) to stabilize their painful experience (now past). It is also a subtle reminder that the choice to stop the internal battle is not detrimental to the person injured.
With that, I find that I can practice my next skill before I am reintegrated into something else.
A new perspective on renting
Sometimes the mind tries to hold on as if it is not ready to go. My mind in ADHD has a lot of problems with that. These are the moments when I do this conscious visual exercise. Sometimes I have to deal with it several times before my brain is ready to move on to something more useful.
But, like any practice of sensitivity, I find that the more I return my mind back to exercise, the better it gets to use exercise to let it go.
I see my thoughts (or sometimes the book in which I closed them) floating in a river. I grew up in an area with an amazing waterfall that made its debut in this visual exercise. I depict a powerful, tall waterfall like the ones I grew up in, and I see my thoughts fall over the edge.
Then I stand and watch them flow down the river, until it's completely out of my sight.
After that, I have found that it can be helpful to do another activity to help my brain transition. Sometimes it looks like a good movie or a walk with my husband. Other times, it's a hobby or project I'm interested in that helps grab my attention.
If the movie roller starts playing again, I send it back to the waterfall.
With these strategies, I was able to finally find some peace with my mind. Although they give rise to strategies that sometimes take practice, I have found that they are well worth the effort.