Some of us may know, or have known, a person that makes our blood boil just by being in our presence. Or perhaps, one’s reaction to that person merely is one of mild aggravation or annoyance. The specific reaction doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the reaction actually happens. When this type of reaction occurs in us, it really points to something else that is happening inside us. It’s not so much about the other person as it is about us. Somewhere, buried within us, there’s a reason that those emotions boil to the surface. Interactions with that person simply pull the scab off wounds from the past. And when that occurs, the discharge from the wounds can get pretty ugly.
What Wounds Lie Behind the Agitation?
Most of us have known one or more individuals who live their lives in a state of perpetual agitation. When they aren’t worked up about something, it takes very little to bring them back to a state of commotion. The external event leading to the recurring turmoil often is quite disproportionate to the reaction that follows. If this occurs within us, even if only occasionally, it also would indicate that there’s something buried down deep that we need to address. Some wound we’ve kept covered up needs uncovered, debrided, and healed.
St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us that people who are actively working to avoid sin and grow in their interior life will experience agitation. When they do, it most likely comes from the enemy, not from God. If someone is living in mortal sin, however, agitation could be coming from God by way of the conscience saying that they need to change their life. Generally, though, if we’re prone to frequent fits of agitation, that’s a sign that we need to do some prayerful introspection.
Triggers as Symptoms of Wounds
Popular psychology speaks to us of triggers—events, people or circumstances that create very strong, negative emotional reactions in us. Most of us probably have or have had a trigger or two that set us off. When they do, we react not rationally but emotionally, and often counter-productively. Our reactions at these times most likely range from somewhat, to highly, uncharitable in nature. Some psychologists suggest self-help plans for dealing with emotional triggers. Such advice generally includes stepping back, taking a deep breath and doing some self-analysis, while controlling our response to the other party.
Now, there probably is some practical benefit to the aforementioned techniques. Yet, that approach seems to resemble more the bandaging than the healing of a wound. If people or events cause anxiety, anger, fear, or strong physical reactions in us, we ought to dig deeper. What we need is not just deep breathing, but deep healing. What can we do to get at the root cause of triggers, and heal the deeper wounds resulting from them?
Dealing With Our Wounds Spiritually
Fathers Boniface Hicks, OSB and Thomas Acklin, OSB provide some insight into these situations in their book, Spiritual Direction: A Guide for Sharing the Father’s Love. They tell us that our sins or the sins of others can cause deep wounds within us. These wounds leave gaping holes in our hearts where love should reside. The holes become filled with lies and false interpretations of reality, though. On top of that, the influence of evil spirits can take hold in such wounds.
There are parts of us that we keep buried because we don’t like them. We’re afraid of them, and they are painful to acknowledge. We are afraid that if others knew about them, they wouldn’t like what they see, and they wouldn’t like us. So, we keep these parts stuffed out of sight. We erect defensive barriers to avoid feeling the pain from these wounds. Yet when a triggering event or person comes into our presence, the pain of the wound comes back up again. It will continue to do so, as long as we keep the wound, with the attendant lies and false interpretations that imprison us, mashed down deep inside of us.
The Divine Physician Wants To Heal Our Wounds
We don’t have to keep these wounds buried deep in our psyches, though. We can bring them to Jesus. He wants to heal us. In Luke 4:17-19, Jesus “…unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Jesus came to free us when we are held captive by the lies and false interpretations of the evil one. He came to deliver us from the oppression of the evil one and heal our woundedness. Jesus “…came that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) He doesn’t want us to be anxious or agitated. Jesus wants to heal us–to fill us with his merciful love, joy and peace.
If we’re tired of living the agitated life with all its ramifications, we can do something about it. We can go to Our Lord, open ourselves up to Him in prayer, and ask Him for the grace of healing. During this time of prayer, prayerfully reading (lectio divina) any of the Gospel passages where Jesus is healing people can be helpful. Consider, for example, the story and plea of Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46-52)–“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
But we should pray to Our Lord for healing, and sit in His loving, healing presence, in any event. Will He heal our deep wounds overnight? Maybe—maybe not. Healing could take some time. It will require strong faith and poverty of spirit on our part. As well, it will require a commitment to meeting Him regularly in prayer so He can do His work in us. Christ wants to heal us. He is, after all, the Divine Physician. Can we keep our appointments with Him and become His good patients?
Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; heal me, LORD, for my bones are shuddering. My soul too is shuddering greatly… Ps 6:3-4