A few mornings ago, I turned on NPR where program hosts were discussing the town of Raqqa, Syria, recently abandoned by ISIS. While the fighters were gone, they left behind a myriad of landmines. In just the last week, fifty people have been victims. Made from fishing line and small coin-like objects, they are placed in the dirt in doorways, attached to refrigerator doors or in walkways; they are nearly invisible. “Victim Activated Devices,” they are named for the innocent women, men, teens, children who unknowingly detonate them.
When we were first married, Gary and I heard a bit of wisdom that stayed with us. It had “staying power” because of its truth and seemingly constant place in our early married years. “In relationships, you may toss a pebble, but it can land as a boulder.” Like most relationships, we often found ourselves (and sometimes still do) tossing pebbles at each other and experiencing them landing on top the other with the impact of a boulder. I imagine you have experienced emotional landmines as well: places we do not realize are explosive until it is often too late. We have all said something that landed very differently than intended, as well as being the recipient of the same. The response can be as varied as our stories: anger, withdrawal, silence, defensiveness, etc.
“Tossing a pebble” that turns into a boulder explosion is a very human experience. We react from pain that we forget exists. The uninformed perpetrator unintentionally hits a painful place and it triggers us. And sometimes, our own reaction to the pain hits one of their landmines and the emotional explosions seem to be lobbed back and forth (commonly referred to as a “fight.”) We react from our unhealed and sometimes forgotten pain rather than with a clear, intentional and thoughtful response. We often can reside in an emotional state of Raqqa, where we are worried of stepping on hidden fishing wire or an internal explosion.
In the actual city of Raqqa, experts are helping locals recognize the landmines and clear the area so that it can be once again safe for residents. We can start to pay attention to and clear out hidden landmines through considering our own story. Knowing that we have spaces of unhealed pain buried within our own stories is a first step. Knowing where they are helps us begin to de-mine them. It isn’t a fast process; it is a very worthy and healing process.
Stress can be triggered and increased by guarding against pain. And, we all have pain. Resiliency is strengthened as we know our story, and like the locals in Raqqa, begin to learn how to identify and detect where the triggers reside. As we acknowledged painful places, learn our triggers, we can begin the process to heal them.