All Aboard the Emotional Express

Something terribly painful has happened.  A heartbreak of loss, death, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, or trauma, has rocked your ship to its core.  The anguish feels overwhelming and dangerous to face head on.  Somehow this pain must be dealt with so that it doesn’t consume you.

Emotional overwhelm can either gush out uncontrollably or get locked down through defense mechanisms of repression, distraction, and/or the anesthesia of alcohol, drugs, food, screens, and medicine.  Though possibly helpful in the short term, none of these responses are adequate for recovery and healing.  For that, one needs to climb aboard the Emotional Express.

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the well-known model of grieving that involves a journey through different stages – denial, anger, bargaining, and depression – before arriving at a state of acceptance.  Though the theory is outdated, the concept of journeying through different emotional experiences toward a destination of restored peace remains sound.  Let’s take a closer look at the journey through emotional agony and how the Emotional Express can help carry you through one.

Imagine the smooth prairies of your life are suddenly thrown into upheaval by a cataclysmic event, creating an emotional terrain of forbidding mountains, deep canyons, dark tunnels, rushing waters, and extreme weather.  The shock is so great that your instincts to run and hide are triggered.  Succumbing to these instincts will prevent you from traveling forward through the pain until you can reach a new prairie of peace from release and relief.  Unfortunately, the only way to be truly free from pain is to go through it.  Damn.

No one can be blamed for avoiding the extremes of emotional pain.  Intense fear, grief, guilt, shame, depression, fury, hatred, humiliation, and despair are agonizing and potentially destructive experiences.  Tragically, some people even choose to end their lives.  The alternative is to get help.

Now imagine the arrival of a train that will help transport you through your emotional trauma to the next peaceful prairie.  This train with your personal conductor who knows exactly how to usher you through your journey.  Your interactions with him/her will be what gets you through as safely and comfortably as possible.

The first thing your conductor will ask you to do is express your thoughts and feelings about your experience.  This will bring your pain to the surface, just like an antiseptic does when cleansing an open wound.  As you do, your conductor will listen closely, understand your experience without judgement, empathize with your feelings, and provide reassurance that things will get better in the end.  It will take time.  The conversations will continue through those steep mountain ascents, the long dark tunnels, across rickety trestles that span deep dark canyons, stormy weather – all facets of your ordeal.  The loving attention and companionship of your conductor will add the necessary calm and comfort to endure.  

There’s a saying that “you can’t heal what you can’t feel.”  That’s what the Emotional Express journey is all about.  Allowing the emotions to be felt, expressed, and responded to with comforting compassion.  It might come from a family member, dear friend, a love partner, a support group, or a therapist.  Whoever serves as a conductor on your journey needs to offer these vital forms of support.  For more severe emotional wounds, it won’t just be one time, but several or many extended over time.  The invitation to express, non-judgemental listening, understanding, empathizing, and reassuring are acts of love that you can offer to those people you care about when it’s their turn to need comfort.  

The emotional heart is a splendid thing – both fragile and strong.  Sooner or later the fragile side in all our hearts will suffer and need comfort.  Sooner or later the fragile side of another’s heart will need the strong side of your heart to usher it through pain.  The next time you encounter a need for a heart-to-heart conversation, remember to climb aboard the Emotional Express, either for your own healing or to help conduct another’s.