For Steven Carleton, whose Hope Gathering meetings we covered in this issue, overcoming abuse began with opening up to people close to him.
On paper, talking about difficulties in your life doesn’t sound like much. It doesn’t sound like action. It can almost sound like a cop-out: sure, we can talk about it, but what are we actually going to do?
There is truth in the need for real action, but communication is one of the most powerful tools we have.
We all know the feeling, in one way or another, of how sharing an issue with a trusted person can lighten the load on our shoulders.
In research from the University of California, Los Angeles, putting feelings into words actually helps your brain process difficult situations.
It’s called “affect labelling” and it assists your mind in managing its flight or fight response.
Someone who has experienced a traumatic event may have great emotional difficulty even thinking about it afterwards. But as time passes, as your internal dialogue continues and you discuss it with other people, your emotional reaction diminishes.
Communication is an essential step in processing issues in our lives.
When we “bottle up” our feelings and refuse to engage with our internal dialogue or discuss them with others, we impede our ability to come to terms and move forward. This leads to a constant state of feeling overwhelmed and engaging in the fight-or-flight response.
Carleton said something else that resonated with me: “As long as you’ve got breath in your lungs, there’s real potential for our lives to improve.”
I have not experienced the trauma many people have, and I do not attempt to equate my struggles with others’. The biggest challenge in my life has been my speech impediment.
In high school and college, I descended into an increasingly dark place. I refused to confront my internal dialogue about my stutter, because I was constantly overwhelmed and desperate for relief. This left me in a constant fight-or-flight state.
In a college writing class, it was coming up to my turn to read my paper aloud. I was too scared. I got up and ran to my car, pouring tears in the pouring rain. I spent about an hour there and something magical happened: I engaged with myself, and I had the epiphany that so long as my heart is beating, nothing is truly wrong.
That didn’t solve my anxiety around speaking overnight, but it did initiate a fundamental shift in my mentality going forward. I am happy to report that in the years following, and through much more internal dialogue, I mentally overcame that challenge (though not physically – you’ll still hear me stutter; it just doesn’t affect me now).
My experience is nothing compared to what many go through, but the same principles are at play. The more we can communicate internally and with others, the more we can process challenges in our lives and help each other. If we are not dealing with a significant issue ourselves, at least we should be the friend others can open up to.