Emotional scars may not just be the unseen scars that far too many people often dismiss easily. Research has come out that states that these emotional scars, specifically childhood trauma, may actually lead to “physical scars” on our genetics and biology. These genetic scars create a higher likelihood for depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and substance abuse later in life, if left undealt with (De Bellis & Zisk, 2014; Hovens, Giltay, van Hemert, & Penninx, 2017).
What are Emotional Scars?
Do you sometimes have over-the-top reactions to situations that you cannot explain? Are you unable to be alone with your thoughts for long periods of time? If yes, it is possible that you may be suffering from some underlying emotional scars. An emotional scar is an emotionally traumatic experience from one’s past that has not yet been dealt with in an appropriate way.
Often times, emotional wounds can be from recent experience. An example of this could be finding out that your long term partner has been cheating on you. Also, it can be from a negative experience buried deep within your childhood. Many times, these emotional scars can be traced back to childhood trauma, abuse, sexual abuse, violence, or bullying. It is common for most people to have some level of emotional scarring throughout their life. This article will help you identify symptoms of emotional scars and offer 5 strategies on how you can deal with them.
1. Acknowledge and Recognize your Emotional Scars
People always say that the first step to healing is admitting you have a problem. This also applies to emotional wounds as well. In other words, it is essential for healing to first admit that you are dealing with something emotionally that should be addressed. There are multiple ways of identifying what it is that needs to be addressed.
Pay Attention to your Behaviors
Our actions and behaviors are often indicators of what we may be dealing with beneath the surface. For example, an individual with emotional scars from an abusive or unfaithful past relationship may experience mistrust in new acquaintances. This is especially true if there is a potential for romance. It is because of the learned experience of someone hurting them after putting trust in that person that prevents them from trusting new individuals. Incidentally, the emotional scar from that mistrust does not only cause mistrust in others but numerous other effects as well.
To list more, another behavioral indicator of emotional scarring is abandonment fears which one can identify based on their need for constant reassurance from loved ones. Furthermore, feeling emotionally numb is another example. This can be your mind’s attempt to not deal with the issue at that moment. Lastly, experiencing flashbacks is an example of these types of behavior as well.
Ask yourself Questions about those Behaviors
This part, though challenging, is essential in identifying the cause of your behaviors, and ultimately your emotional scars. For someone experiencing flashbacks, it may be easier for that individual to identify the root cause of their emotional wounds. On the other hand, if someone is dealing with anger problems, for example, the root may be more difficult to identify. In this situation, asking questions is key. Why did I snap at that grocer simply because she dropped my bag? A simple question like this leads to deeper questions that one can ask such as: Why do I get angry so easily? Why is it sometimes difficult to deal with my anger in an appropriate way? These questions shine a flashlight on the underlying issue: anger. Once you identify the underlying issue, you can then work to uncover the root behind that behavior.
Attempt to Assign a Root Cause for these Behaviors
Similarly, this step involves spending some time with your thoughts. Asking yourself questions in order to uncover the underlying cause of these behaviors is imperative. Continuing with anger as the behavior, an example of the essential question to ask would be: What is the event or experience in my life that led to the development of my anger issues? At this point, if you hit a wall at this step, it may be beneficial to talk to a friend, family member, or even a professional.
2. Talk to Someone about your Emotional Scars
Beginning the conversation about the emotional scars you face is a daunting and scary task. However, once the conversation begins, the process will become easier. The importance of talking about emotional wounds cannot be stressed enough. There are many other ways in which you can help your emotional wounds, however, talking about your emotional scars is the most important aspect of the healing process.
Talk to a Trusted Friend or Family Member about your Emotional Wounds
Firstly, begin by talking to someone who you trust completely. For example, this can be a close friend, a parent, a sibling, or a roommate. The important criteria to keep in mind is that you feel safe and comfortable with this person. Working through emotional scars may take multiple conversations and in some cases, with different people. It may not feel comfortable at first, or ever. However, talking about these things allows for your mind to work through them in a beneficial way. In other words, instead of trying to organize your thoughts inside your brain, you can talk out loud to others.
Consider Seeing a Professional about your Emotional Scars
It is not a lie that the journey of working through emotional scars is a difficult one. Seeing a licensed mental health professional may be useful in order to have a guide through this process. Furthermore, they may provide a fresh perspective on your circumstances. Not only can counseling benefit one’s self-esteem, ways of dealing with emotions, and overall outlook on life, a counselor will also teach individuals communication skills in conveying their emotions as well as communication skills with oneself. Above all, this skill is important in keeping track of one’s emotions and behaviors which is essential in dealing with emotional wounds.
3. Explore Enriching Activities to Heal Emotional Scars
Meditation Helps in Healing Emotional Scars
Once one has established good communication about their emotional scars, it is important that they get involved in activities that comfort and heal the mind. For example, one of these activities is meditation. Meditation is an exceptionally useful tool that can be used throughout life and for any reason, especially while coping with emotional wounds. Most importantly, the key to meditation is being able to quiet your mind and body in order to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Vulnerability scares many people because they see it as letting go of control. In a sense, being vulnerable is letting go of control. However, in an environment that is safe and tranquil, coming into contact with vulnerability while meditating is a powerful experience and can aid in healing emotional scars.
Similar to meditation, yoga offers the experience of quieting the mind and body and increasing that communication within oneself. Furthermore, yoga offers more than just a series of stretches; it enables individuals to face the world with a fresh perspective and new mindset. The poses and meditation aspect of yoga is extremely valuable. However, one of the most important benefits is that you set aside that time on your yoga mat for yourself. Often times, individuals with emotional scars have trouble setting aside time for themselves. This may be because it equates to time spent with their thoughts and feelings that they often try to avoid. There is no avoiding emotions in yoga. Instead, yoga allows people to face those emotions with courage and tranquility in a peaceful environment surrounded by the support of others.
There are Many Activities out there that will Help with Emotional Scars
This can include reading, getting a coffee with a friend, spending time in nature, as well as many others. Throughout the process of healing emotional scars, it is vital to still live and enjoy living. Emotional scars they have on individuals can cause people to lose themselves in their behaviors or negative reactions. That is why it is important for people to establish activities that will serve as a distraction. Moreover, these activities provide something to hold onto in times when the journey to healing emotional scars seems too difficult.
To give an example, anxiety is oftentimes a way that emotional scars display itself in individuals. Studies have shown that hiking helps individuals with anxiety. Therefore, if someone who suffers from anxiety enjoys hiking regularly, this can help them. During times of stress, they may be able to picture the tranquility and calmness they felt while hiking. They can hold onto that as a reminder that the attack will soon pass. These activities act as a way to better individuals by slowing them down. They also allow them to be open to facing their thoughts and emotions little by little in safe surroundings.
4. Journal in order to Help your Emotional Scars
Journaling allows you to keep track of your thoughts. As mentioned before, this is an extremely important part of the process of healing emotional scars. Journaling allows one to keep track of their emotions. When this is done, effects from negative experiences are not able to build up, which would lead to emotional scars.
Track Emotions in a Journal
One way to ensure you are keeping up with your emotions is to track them in a journal. For example, this can be by way of a chart that has all of the days of the week. You can also include facial expressions including sad, happy, angry, mixed, numb, etc. Furthermore, there can be room for notes and elaboration as well. In the notes and elaboration section, you can ask questions about how you’re feeling or make educated guesses about those feelings and your behaviors.
Keep a Good Communication with yourself through Journaling
Moreover, emotional scars form when negative emotions build up and are not dealt with. By journaling, you can stay on top of your emotions and not “fall behind” in processing negative experiences. Specifically, the key to successful journaling is being honest with yourself about how you are feeling so you are able to deal with it in the best way possible.
5. Be Patient with Yourself
Opening up emotional scars in order to heal from them is a very courageous thing someone can do for themselves. Making the decision to not ignore these underlying emotional wounds and face them is an intimidating process. The most important thing you can do throughout this journey is to be patient and loving with yourself. There will be days when it feels like your progress is moving one step forward and two steps backward. If dealing with emotional scars was easy, they would not be called emotional scars. Because of this, it is vital to give yourself the benefit of the doubt on tough days.
Specifically, self-love and kindness go a long way, especially when you are frustrated with your progress. When this happens, acknowledge the progress you have made and do not dismiss the success of having that progress. Furthermore, remember that this journey is different for every individual. If you are struggling during your process of healing your emotional scars, resources are always available starting with. Mental health professionals are a great route to take when finding someone to talk to. Furthermore, falling back on the other strategies mentioned could be helpful during your journey to freedom from these scars.
In closing, emotional scars affect most people at some point in their lives. These scars are formed from a number of things including trauma, abuse, and negative emotional experiences of any kind. When an individual dismisses their emotions about these events in an appropriate way, emotional scars can develop.
These emotional wounds show themselves throughout many aspects of life. The biggest way to identify these emotional scars is to observe your own behavior. Being able to utilize the strategies discussed in this article is essential to start this process of healing. To conclude, we end on the note that must be stressed the most. Get help or encourage others to get the help they need. Unfortunately, it is so easy to dismiss these scars and not deal with them because people cannot see them physically. However, these scars grow wider and deeper the longer we ignore them.
For more information on overcoming negative experiences in life, visit this article on Resiliency.
De Bellis & Zisk. (2014). The biological effects of childhood trauma. NCBI 23(2): 185-222.
Hovens, Giltay, van Hemert, & Penninx. (2017). Emotional scars: Impact of childhood trauma on the development of depressive and anxiety disorders later in life. Tijdchr Psychiatr 59(5): 286-296.
LaMar, K. (2010). The tragedy of emotional scars. Retrieved from https://www.noomii.com/articles/331-the-tragedy-of-emotional-scars
Schmid, S. (2018). Childhood trauma leaves scars that are genetic, not just emotional, UW-Madison study affirms. Retrieved from https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2018/07/19/uw-madison-study-affirms-trauma-creates-genetic-change-endures/797668002/
Abby Smolinske is a Senior undergraduate student at Indiana State University studying psychology. She works in a Cognitive Psychology research lab. Abby is planning on earning a Doctorate in Neuropsychology and will continue to do research and write within the psychology field. She is most interested in how the brain and body cooperate. She is also interested in aspects of developmental and social psychology. She is willing and excited to answer any questions you may have!