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Why Pulling Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps Doesn’t Work

two pairs of worn cowboy boots

​Most Texans and Southerners have heard at least once in their lives how they ought to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and keep truckin’. Of course, this means that you should forget about what happened, and get back to work. For most of my life, I have done just that. Something terrible would happen, I would push it down and away from myself and drown myself in my work. Thirty years ago I would have told you that it worked. Now, thirty years later, I can tell you that it doesn’t.

It sounds good on the surface. For small disappointments, it may be, but for handling bigger things, like trauma, it doesn’t work at all. When we tell people to get over it, (another way of saying the same thing) we are telling them to disconnect from themselves and their experience. We are not telling them how to handle those experiences or how to manage how the experience affected them.

Disconnection for short bursts of time such as for a few hours because you cannot handle all the immense emotions is okay. It is not okay, however, for disconnection to be the primary method for handling difficult experiences. When we disconnect from ourselves, we create a situation where we are not able to use our bodies to gather information. Our bodies are our alarm system. It is how we know when something is off, wrong or dangerous. When we disconnect from it, we are unable to keep ourselves safe. Disconnection does not process the trauma. It only keeps the trauma out of our awareness. The trauma is often harder to treat after years of being disconnected. When disconnection becomes our primary method of coping, it limits our ability to function successfully in the world.

So, the next time someone in your life has an awful experience that shakes them do not say, "Get your big girl pants on" or "pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Instead, listen and be supportive. The best way to heal from these experiences is to face them head on and to do that; people need all the support and love they can get.

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