A Tsunami of Sadness
The Google dictionary says that a tsunami is an arrival or occurrence of something in overwhelming quantities or amounts. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that “Tsunamis are giant waves…Tsunami waves may travel as fast as jet planes over deep waters…” (National Ocean Service, 2019)
There are many times in my life when suddenly, seemingly without warning, I have been swept away by a tsunami of sadness. A giant, overwhelming wave of despair or heaviness swoops in, knocks me off my feet, and sweeps me away. According to the NOAA, tsunamis are “caused by earthquakes or undersea volcanic eruptions.” (National Ocean Service, 2019)
Many times in my experience with these tsunamis of sadness, I can’t trace them back to a significant event, an earthquake in my life’s events, or a disruption on the scale of a volcanic eruption. But a closer look at the definition helps me to see that maybe these gigantic waves of sadness are indeed connected to big disruptions, but the delay in the wave’s arrival causes me not to see the connection:
“Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. Out in the depths of the ocean, tsunami waves do not dramatically increase in height. But as the waves travel inland, they build up to higher and higher heights as the depth of the ocean decreases.” (National Ocean Service, 2019)
I can see how something traumatic like the loss of my kids in divorce produced waves that initially didn’t “dramatically increase in height” but built “up to higher and higher heights over time.” Similarly, I can see where perhaps the death of a friend, a huge disappointment, rejection, or any childhood trauma that had not been fully processed could shift under the surface of my emotions, like the shifting of the “tectonic plates” that causes earthquakes. (USGS, n.d.)
I can see how the “plates” of unresolved traumas could shift over and over in my life, causing emotional disruptions that are unnoticeable at first and then seem to arrive as a surprise wave of giant negative emotions. In my life, I can see how these plate shifts could be triggered by even the smallest things. As a divorced dad, it could be something like regret over not being able to make a birthday or anything that seems like rejection from my kids.
If you have ever seen footage of a tsunami, you know that when the wave arrives, it is most often too late to run. Everything in its path gets swept away. If I can learn what my triggers are (rejection, shame, the perception that I am failing in life, etc.) I can begin to prepare for the tsunami before it hits even though I don’t currently see any large emotional waves.
Knowing that I am triggered acts as its own early warning/tsunami detection system and gives me a head start as I run to seek high ground, safety from the unseen wave of emotions that I know is coming.
In practical terms, if I have experienced rejection from a significant person, if I have had a recent personal failure, I can schedule a meeting with my therapist, reach out to an accountability partner, email or call some friends, long before the wave shows up.
If I have been triggered, I know that my emotional plates have been shifted under the surface. The big waves are coming, I know they are coming, even if I don’t immediately sense anything. Doing nothing is like standing on the beach and waiting to see the wave and then trying to outrun it. I will most certainly be swept away in a wave of negative emotions that could have devastating consequences.
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