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Healing From the Environment That Hurt You

Tis the season for healing, which can be quite the task. When it comes to healing, I first like to workshop with my patients what healing looks like for them.  To get to the root of their goals I’ll ask questions such as, “what are the signs that you are hurting,” “what behavior or feelings would you like to increase/decrease,” “how will you know that you are healed”, and “does your healing involve any external factors.”  The last question is especially important because if you feel as though your healing hinges on another person or you are attempting to heal within the environment that is actively hurting you.  

Let’s address the first scenario, trying to heal while continuing a relationship with the person that has hurt you can be difficult.  However, that does not mean that it is impossible.  It is important that the person who hurt you understands that your intentions are to maintain and heal the relationship.  This cannot be a one-sided effort.  Therefore, you will likely need to have multiple discussions about what healing will look like for you separately and as a unit.  This is not limited to romantic relationships. It includes relationships with friends, family members, and even colleagues.  Boundaries will be an integral part in helping relationships to evolve, stay healthy, and heal.  Be sure that you are working together to establish boundaries and not handing out ultimatums.  One of the biggest differences between the two is intent.  If you realize that the purpose is maintaining a relationship your body language and communication style will likely be more open.  Be sure to share your feelings during the conversation and allow the other person to do the same.  Identify what you would like out of the relationship and what you will need for it to continue.  Also, discuss the scenarios or actions that caused you harm so that you can both learn from them.  Be advised that intent and impact are not the same thing.  It may not have been the other person’s intent to harm you, but you were still hurt and vice versa.  Therefore, statements such as “I didn’t mean to” or “I didn’t think you would take it that way” have no place here.  To grow and heal, it is necessary to realize that it is possible to hurt someone without that being the goal.  Discuss and acknowledge the hurt, learn from the situation, and identify ways to decrease the likelihood that the person in question will be harmed again.  

Additionally, be honest with yourself about whether you can heal WITH this person.  When you decide to continue a relationship with someone that has hurt you, you are also deciding that you will not consistently remind them of past damage.  Do you want to heal with this person because you genuinely believe that you can grow with them?  Or is it because you are too scared to venture away from them?  It is normal to be attached to someone that you have invested time and energy into.  However, it is also normal to sometimes outgrow people.  That doesn’t mean that leaving them behind will not hurt. It just means that it was the right decision.  You can miss someone AND realize that they were not right for you.  Beyonce shared that her “torturer became her remedy” in the song All Night, and that is such a strong statement to make.  The vulnerability that was necessary to decide that they wanted to stay together, heal together, and grow together had to be immense.  But that does not have to be everyone’s journey.  We are not all built for that, and we do not have to be.  It takes strength to stay and it takes strength to walk away.  You decide where your strength will lie.

What if you are trying to heal within an environment that is consistently hurting you? Like work, an organization, or even a location, such as where you reside.  Identify if there are different ways to be present within the environment that are not as damaging.  For example, with work, you may notice that the most stressful part of your job is feeling unheard, and you are actively working to empower yourself in therapy.  Work with your clinician to conduct role playing exercises for scenarios that may play out at work.  Feeling more prepared if the scenario happens can decrease your anxiety.  Also, identify other ways to advocate for yourself, such as building or joining a committee at work that can incite change within the environment.  You may also decide to limit the amount of time that you spend in the harmful environment.  For example, holidays can be a joyous time AND they can be incredibly stressful.  You may realize that the biggest stressor for you during this time are the family gatherings.  Maybe you need to decrease the time you spend at these outings or identify if you need to go at all.  The mac and cheese is not that fye that it causes you to disregard how the encounter impacts your mental well-being.  Let’s be real.  Finally, if worse comes to worst, develop an exit strategy.  You would be surprised how much tension is released from your body when you decide that you have an end date.  Your end date can be next week, next month, or next year.  Come up with tangible goals to leave.  For example, if you are looking to leave a job or move away from a toxic area, how much money will you need in savings, what are other career and location options, do you have someone that can help support you during this time, and so on.  Make sure these goals are concrete, not abstract.  This means that if it involves money, calculate actual amounts, not estimations.  If it involves a new career, research qualifications for the career and take the time to get trainings or reach out to possible mentors if necessary.  If the goal includes a big move, research the cost of living, demographics of the area, etc.

And if you are in a situation where you cannot leave soon try to focus on other aspects of yourself such as:

Outlets for frustration – can you add an effective outlet to distract you from the environment and/or stressors in the environment such as exercise or a new hobby

Social support – do you have a support system that can help you to minimize the impact of the stressor. If not, do you think it would be beneficial to actively work on building a support system?

Perception – if you believe that your environment will continue to worsen you are setting yourself up for failure.  Thoughts have power.

Physical Wellbeing – Be sure to check in on your sleep, eating, and hydration habits.  Low frustration toleration is often a clue that something else is going on, both mentally and physically.

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