The Itch That Scratches Us
You know when you have an allergic reaction to something, and you start to itch? It’s miserable, isn’t it? The more you scratch, the worse it gets, but you can’t help yourself. It takes conscious effort to just let it be--a lot of effort. One could say that it takes discipline and commitment.
When we are triggered, it is like being distracted by an itch. All our attention goes to scratching. Once we scratch the itch, we suffer the consequences of our unskillful actions because we spread the misery. We tell ourselves, “If I scratch, I’ll feel better;” but the truth is that scratching only makes us feel better in the moment. In reality, scratching creates more itching because now we are dealing with the consequences of our actions.
Healing comes from addressing the underlying cause, which is always an insecurity that has surfaced. The effect of the insecurity is the itch. We scratch the itch when we respond to it by accusing someone of something, lashing out in anger, making sarcastic (passive-aggressive) comments, withholding affection, creating a victim/persecutor scenario in our minds, needing inordinate reassurance, or behaving compulsively (violence turned inward) in the hope of numbing out.
We heal through mindfulness--by noticing the itch, breathing, relaxing, surrendering, and coexisting with it until it passes. Noticing includes acknowledging it for what it is, such as, “I want to scratch because I am insecure. I may not know the source of my insecurity in this moment, but I know it is there.” Surrendering is admitting that we are not in control of the itch. The first three steps of The Twelve Steps are helpful here: “I am powerless and cannot manage this itch. I believe a Power greater than me can restore me to sanity. I give this itch to that Power.”
Unless in the case of abuse or neglect, nothing really happened in the environment to threaten us when we started itching. Just like an allergic reaction to a stimulus, the itch came from within, and it is within ourselves that we must address it.