Did you know that your right brain, the side that deals with emotion, doesn’t really understand time in a logical sequence like the left side does?

In very basic terms this means that emotional events; traumatic, loving, fearful and joy filled experiences are simply ‘there’ in your right brain. Your left brain may tell you the event is in the past, but the emotional imprint in the right brain generally has no clue on what the past is. It’s just there. Present. Real. Raw. It may even serve as a threat to the functional left side – especially if there are things to do.

As a result, we can remain divided in ourselves and spend energy fending off these unresolved emotions and feelings by medicating/numbing them with destructive behaviours, substances, codependency, busyness etc.

Confessions of a former fundamentalist: For years, (especially in my 20s when I knew everything) when I met someone processing or mentioning past events they were struggling with, I would quickly shame them by quoting scripture like, ‘It is finished (Jesus said!)’ or ‘We must press on towards the goal..’ or ‘I’m a new creation in Christ, the old is past..’. (sound familiar?) Little did I know that I seriously wasn’t helping them at all. – In fact, I’ve since learnt that not giving space for others OR ourselves to verbally and emotionally process pain and emotions can be detrimental. Practically speaking, in most cases, emotion needs to metabolise and find connection with the left side. And this is best done through safe and loving relationships.

As I reflect back on my old responses, I realise that I was just parroting these misconstrued scriptures to keep the other’s emotions at a distance because they were a threat to me. They made ME feel uncomfortable. They brought up things hiding in the shadows of my history.  ‘Crap!’ left brain said, ‘if right brain hears more of this, he is gonna crack too!’.

So, as friends, partners, parents, bosses or pastors, what are we to do when other people’s pain and emotions overwhelm us or triggers things in us? Well, firstly, if the information another person shares with you poses a life-threat to them or others, you need to seek professional intervention e.g. police, GP, hospital. In other cases, and outside of praying carefully with them (if suitable) and loving them, I suggest that you don’t try and play the role of a professional. Some traumas and stories are too big and serious for many of us. Encourage them to find a counsellor, GP, psychologist, chaplain or some health care professional to journey with them.

Remember friends, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. As a friend of mine says, ‘we are too wonderful for quick fixes’. And shutting-down, stonewalling or shaming another who has dared share with you, is never helpful. If it was as easy as ‘Get over it and move on’, don’t you think a lot of people would? Truth is, they are trying.

David Tensen

(originally posted in 2016. Revised 2020)