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Emotional First Aid Summary
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Emotional First Aid is a 2012 pop psychology book on emotional trauma by American psychologist Guy Winch in which he differentiates between seven main types of emotional injury to which people are susceptible in everyday life. He likens emotional injuries to physical injuries, and fights back against their stigmatization, demonstrating that emotional injuries are commonplace. Each kind of emotional injury has its own set of symptoms; they include rejection, guilt, failure, rumination, loss and trauma, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Though these injuries are extremely common, Winch makes a case to his readers for staying optimistic about their emotional health: just like physical injuries, emotional injuries can be healed. He proposes a number of methods for treating emotional wounds, taking his readers through a full diagnostic and treatment protocol.
Winch begins his book by elucidating the connections he finds between physical and emotional wounds. First, he describes the ordinary method of treating a physical wound: one first recognizes it, then applies a first aid method. This preliminary step ideally prevents the wound from becoming infected or exacerbated, making any further treatment unnecessary. It also speeds up the healing process. Winch uses this process as his main analogy for the treatment of emotional wounds. When one treats an emotional wound, he or she recognizes and cares for it as quickly as possible in order to minimize its seriousness. Just as an untreated physical wound can become infected or debilitating, affecting the whole bodily system, so, too, can an emotional wound infect the psyche. Both kinds of injury, if left untreated, require intervention at the professional level.
Next, Winch explains why emotional wounds receive less attention than physical ones: often, we do not recognize them. Moreover, emotionally wounded individuals tend to underestimate the severity of the injury underlying their symptoms. Winch refers to his experience as a private mental health practitioner to suggest steps for the self-treatment of the seven main types of emotional wounds. For example, people tend to receive rejection wounds when someone seriously misreads or harshly judges the intent or meaning of a behavior or an aspect of their identity. Rejection causes pervasive damage to self-confidence and self-esteem. Common symptoms of this damage include impulsivity, foggy thinking, and anger. Winch argues that the first step to healing from rejection is to recognize that it is primarily an effect of an irrational response to judgment rather than an effect of the initial act of rejection.
When an individual diagnoses an emotional injury, his or her next step is to consult the “psychological medicine cabinet” of tools for remedying it. In the case of rejection, Winch lists four main self-treatment tools: reviving self-worth, countering self-criticism, acclimating oneself healthily to rejection, and increasing one’s connection to the social world. Winch advocates reflection and self-acceptance over self-criticism, which can too easily turn abusive. To facilitate reflection, he recommends traditional methods such as writing in journals and undergoing one-on-one therapy.
The diagnoses and methods Winch develops in his book comprise what he calls “emotional hygiene”: another term based on an analogy to the physical. Emotional hygiene is the process of taking a proactive inventory of one’s emotional well-being and isolating parts of the psyche which need first aid. Winch’s analogies serve to destigmatize mental illness by generalizing emotional wounds, along with physical injuries, to the level of the bodily system. The fact that they have no obvious visible symptoms does not invalidate their existence or seriousness; nor do they point to an inherent flaw in a person’s mind, moral system, or way of being.