Life’s journey is comprised of a series of “highs and lows”, moments of ecstasy and moments of extreme pain and many other more neutral emotional experiences in-between. These emotional “ups and downs” need to be managed, understood and processed in order to maintain emotional wholeness. Unless one had the privilege of having parents or other close family members model debriefing processes, dealing with one’s emotional turmoil can be quite challenging to say the least. The more severe the emotional pain, like experiencing the loss of a loved one, being retrenched, bringing a dysfunctional relationship finally to termination, suffering trauma or abuse, or being marginalised, the more complicated the healing process becomes. Most people need some help to come to a place of wholeness again.
Coping mechanisms, strategies that people use in the face of stress or trauma to help manage painful or difficult emotions, can play a positive role in bringing relief – e.g., seeking support or therapy, relaxation (going for walks), sport, etc. These coping mechanisms, however, should be deliberate and action-oriented and not fall into the category of “escapism”. Escapism is negative and does not lead to wholeness, for example:
- Withdrawing from family and friends – becoming socially-isolated, which often leads to depression
- Unhealthy self-soothing – overeating, binge drinking, etc.
- Numbing – excessive alcohol intake, only eating junk food, using drugs, etc.
- Compulsions and risk-taking – stress can cause some people to seek an adrenalin rush through activities like gambling, unprotected or unsafe sex, experimenting with drugs, reckless driving, etc.
- Self-harm – physically scaring or damaging the body
Feeling emotionally hollow during a time of extreme stress or sorrow is normal – staying in that state, however, is not helpful. For our journey to wholeness to be successful, the following understanding and actions are necessary:
- There are many parts of life that are out of our control – like the death of a loved one, an unexpected illness, retrenchment, etc. Because we don’t want to believe this, we strive to erase fear, eliminate the unpredictable and control outcomes, thus adding further stress to life. We need to learn to let life happen and only “control” what we do daily.
- Get rid of feelings of entitlement – many come into this world feeling entitled, as if they have been handed a manual for life with a certificate for one hundred years. There are no guarantees, however, but there is more to life than we can see – start finding these things.
- We don’t always need to “get” things or “have” things (even people) – life is much more than possessions. There is mystery in life and we have to learn to embrace the not knowing. This is one of the most difficult lessons for humans to understand and accept.
- We need to navigate the season of brokenness successfully – if we do, we will find the joy and beauty that comes from transformation. Tammy Kling and John Spencer Ellis (The Compass) put this thought beautifully: “The lesson was not to look back, but to be free to. Not to look forward, but to be free to. The ultimate lesson was to be in the present, to thrive and prosper and build whatever a new life would be”.
- Prevent warring emotions – warring emotions cloud everything, disrupt peace and impede our growth to wholeness. Forgive quickly, be empathic and understanding and give of yourself.
- Allow some dreams to die so that you can create new ones – life is short. Accept the death of a dream that didn’t materialise. Don’t be so tied to old outdated dreams without giving intentional, conscious thought to whether or not the dreams still serve you.
- Seek spiritual fulfilment – faith, hope and love are essential ingredients of “being” as a human. These are God’s gifts to us as humans.
Hollowness, the emotional fall-out from extreme stress, pain and heart-break, requires focused, positive actions to transform into wholeness. Seek help, support and therapy if necessary. Don’t ignore your emotional condition, but take steps towards wholeness.