Identifying and treating wounds

In my post yesterday, I wrote

“Being right helps scratch that deep wound left by an insecurity. It feels good for a short while. But, as anyone who has nursed wounds knows, scratching a wound doesn’t help heal it. Wounds heal best when they are left alone.”

A long time ALearningaDay reader and wiser friend wrote in today pointing out (rightly) that leaving a wound alone is a bit of a cop out. Wounds need treatment. In his words..

“The treatment for me is to spend some time thinking about what it is that caused the wound – only by understanding that will you have a chance of eventually not feeling the need to scratch! That takes regular effort… But you’ll understand why you feel the need to scratch and then it becomes more of a conscious choice.”

I couldn’t agree more. I realize I left a lot unsaid when I said “leave the wound alone.” I couldn’t agree more with his advice – I’d just like to add a few ideas that help in the identification and treatment of these wounds. This will be long (sorry) but I promise it will be worth it.

I. First, identifying insecurities. I have found that 4 behaviors make an appearance when insecurity wounds are touched-

1.1 Bullying. Bullying is caused by the need to impose our will on someone else. It’s a strong word but we’ve all probably been bullies or been bullied at some point in our lives at various degrees. In most cases, we’ve probably been both because bullied folks typically respond by bullying others. Common areas where people are bullied are at work, at home, and at school by insecure bosses, parents, teachers, and friends. Unfortunately, many overly hierarchical environments breed bullies who seek to control others..

This is a very deep topic and merits a post on it’s own. But, in an effort to make a marathon post slightly shorter, I’d like to point you to 2 great posts by Seth Godin. (1, 2) Additionally, here’s a post from one of my favorite counsellors (my mom).

1.2. Anger. I’ve found anger to be caused either by unfair treatment or a reaction to contact with an insecurity. My guess is that 80% of anger is caused by contact with a wound.

1.3. Competitiveness. This is similar to the need to be right. Overly competitive people have rightly earned the title “insecure overachiever.”

1.4. Feeling unsettled. This emotion is difficult to describe. I’ve attempted to put it into words here. In short, this is a mix of anger, fear, and sadness. Wounds have a role to play in anger and fear..

When I find myself feeling close to one of these 4 behaviors/impulses these days, a red flag goes up. I know a wound has been touched and it’s important to tread with care. I’ve consciously tried to tread clear of “ego” when identifying wounds – this is a nuanced concept and not one that is easy to articulate. I’ll attempt to do so at a later time.

II. Before we progress, from my own experience, identifying insecurities is the hardest part. It’s hard to admit to yourself that you were a bully in a situation or that you only reacted in anger because of some previous wound.  So, how do we go about identifying insecurities? 2 ideas –

2.1. Surround yourself with emotionally mature people who help you with self awareness. The tough part here is that emotionally mature people are few and far between. The good news is that they help you become self aware. It is helpful to have varied sources of feedback on yourself and your behavior. Ideally, they are people who are close but not immediate family. For example, your spouse may or may not be a great source of feedback depending on the amount of bias involved. Your mom is definitely not a good source of feedback..

2.2. Self-reflection and analysis of your long term relationship scorecard. Proactively examine your long term relationships with people who’ve spent significant time with you. As I’ve alluded to insecure overachievers above, I’d like to point out that some of the most achieved people are very insecure. These insecurities often result in extreme competitiveness that, in turn, drives achievement. So, most of these folks have amazing resumes. The flip side is that these insecurities also result in very bad long term relationship scorecards. It’s hard to be a good spouse or parent or boss if you attempt to make your way by a combination of bullying and anger.

There’s no escaping self-reflection.

Now, over to treatment. Here are 3 ideas – 

3.1. Constant deliberate practice is the only way. As you’ve noticed, dealing with insecurities requires constant radical self-awareness. This is hard. The first step is making sure you catch yourself when behaving in ways described above. The good news is that self awareness takes us very far. For example, I hate anger. I’ve seen it destroying families and lives and dislike myself when I’m angry. So, just being able to identify myself as angry is a huge step. This needs to just become a habit.. have I mentioned this is very hard?

Writing one daily learning is how I’ve made daily self reflection a habit in my life. This blog has literally been a lab for my experiments with myself and, in many ways, this blog post is a culmination of 5.5 years of work.

So, sharing a learning every day idea I would recommend (please excuse the obvious bias). If you’d like to do it privately online, do check out Learning Diary – an initiative started out by a friend.

3.2. Learn to laugh at yourself. The single best way to do this is to hang out with people who can. Only secure people can laugh at themselves. You’ll learn a lot hanging out with such folks.. and even better, you’ll have a great time.

As a quote put it, insecurity often occurs when you compare your “behind-the-scenes” footage with someone else’s highlight reel.

Sorry for the shameless plug again but sharing an idea/learning every day is a great way to laugh at yourself. You realize how wrong you often are, you always have many years of written proof of your own stupidity, and more importantly, you realize that people are too busy fighting their battles to really care about you and your failures.

3.3. Be kind to yourself. Nobody is perfect. Everyone has insecurities. These insecurities often make a stronger appearance when times are hard (think: being unemployed, suffering a tough failure). They are a big part of who we are and are a part of being human. So, be kind to yourself along this journey. While some wounds can be cured fairly easily, others are much deeper.

From my own experience dealing with these, I’ve realized that it’s vital we realize this isn’t a 100m sprint but a life long marathon. And, if there’s one thing I remind myself about champion marathon runners, it is that the concept of competition is one that’s non existent (even if it looks like a competition from the outside). A marathon runner’s primary objective is almost always to beat his/her own time. Their focus during a race is constant reflection and self analysis and is a part of an effort to make sure they can be the best they can be.

I guess our lives aren’t too different.

Happy running!