Emotional First Aid

Image courtesy of samarttiw


Image courtesy of samarttiw

The concept of first aid for physical wounds and injuries is a simple one that is often learned early on.  When there is a minor cut on your finger, most of us have learned how to clean it, disinfect it, and bandage it.  For more serious wounds or injuries, we generally know to seek medical attention.  When we fall ill with the flu, we know to stay home, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest.  It amazes me that even my three year old niece knows the protocol for basic first aid.  When she spotted a cut on my hand, she asked, empathetically, with a furrowed brow, "Are you hurt? Do you need a Band-Aid?"

But what about emotional hurts and injuries? What do we know about emotional first aid?  What have we been taught?  What has been modelled by significant others with respect to how to express and address their own or others' emotional pain?

Emotional first aid is an area that is less intuitive and straight forward as putting on a bandage or seeing a doctor.  Not uncommonly, people disclose to me that they have few or no helpful strategies to address their own emotional wounds and injuries, often relying on strategies that are less helpful in the long run, such as self-criticism, avoidance/procrastination, or overindulging in various vices (e.g., videogames, shopping, work, food, alcohol, sex, substances).  What are the potential costs to the individual, family, or even society when people do not learn how to adaptively regulate their own emotions and empathetically address their own emotional wounds?

If you are interested in learning more, Psychologist Guy Winch describes 7 ways to practice emotional first aid: http://ideas.ted.com/7-ways-to-practice-emotional-first-aid/

What I would love to see happen is a perspective shift where emotional education and emotional first aid is prioritized and prized as much as academic achievement is, where it is taught at an early age, at home and as part of the standard school curriculum.