I recently had to have arthroscopic knee surgery. I was working out (trying to do what I’m supposed to do!) and injured my knee. After several weeks of exams and exercises and icing it was determined that I needed surgery. Fortunately the surgery was simple and effective and rehab has been very quick.
What is most interesting however is what the surgeon told me. He said that most of the damage was very old. This made sense since I originally injured my knee in high school (yes, long ago). He said the most recent trauma just exacerbated it enough to finally need surgery.
I’ve injured that knee multiple times over the years. it turns out that I wasn’t really injuring it anew, I was aggravating that old injury. Instead of dealing with it thoroughly any of those times I had done my best to let it calm down, let the pain reduce and try to avoid situations that made it flare up. But it was finally time to deal with it.
That seems to be the way it happens with emotions. Often when we experience a difficult situation with lots of emotions our goal is to get things “calmed down” and make life “manageable” or “bearable.” We try to “get back to normal.”
That strategy isn’t always a bad one. It can be a useful coping mechanism. Sometimes we just aren’t in a good place to truly and fully process all of the emotions surrounding a situation. The problem arises when one of two things happen (or worse, both). In one situation this becomes our default response in all situations. We simply stop experiencing our emotions all together. The problem with this strategy is that it isn’t possible to just suppress specific emotion. We start simply suppressing ALL emotions. That means while we avoid “bad” emotions we also miss out on “good” emotions.
The second situation that can arise is similar to what happened with my knee. Those emotions that we tried to bury keep getting “re-aggravated.” They pop up time and again, touched by often seemingly unrelated events. I originally injured my knee playing basketball but I have re-aggravated it hiking, gardening, playing tennis and playing softball. Emotions get re-aggravated in the same way.
But life, our psyche, our spirit, the universe…something…has a way of trying to make us deal with this. It creates situations that say “OK, it is time to deal with this.” My knee pain wasn’t really about this recent injury, it was about the past. But it was time.
I see this in clients so often. They have buried emotions, past events that they have avoided processing. But things keep popping up to re-aggravate them. And then finally, it is time to deal with it. Oh, they often want to fight and scream, there is no reason to go to the past. But their behaviors and feelings say otherwise. Their psyche is saying “you are ready.” And when they do, amazing things often happen in their lives. They begin to fully experience emotions. They often deepen their connections with others.
It isn’t easy. And it certainly isn’t always intuitive that today’s problem is really about yesterday or last year or 10 years ago. But it often is. Think about the barriers in your life, the places you’d like to change. Maybe it is time to look back and say “it’s time.”