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Do You Have an Emotional Sunburn?

Yes, it’s summer – time for beaches and bathing suits. Most people love the summer; at best, I tolerate it.

It’s not just the heat (though I do loathe the heat). It’s the sun. You see, I am one of the palest people you will ever meet. So, when summer rolls around and everyone else gets beachy gold and brown, I am…white.

There was that one summer when I turned lobster red. I was 16, and in my first bikini since I was two. I went to the beach with my friends (still trying to convince myself I was just like them and could tan if I tried REALLY hard), laid out in true teenage fashion – and promptly fell asleep. In a bikini. At the beach. In the sun. Did I mention I am a whiter shade of pale? When I woke up a while later, it became evident that my snowy torso was revolting violently to its sunny vacation. My angry red skin developed first – maybe second? – degree burns, and big, freaky blisters. Even the weight of a cotton bed sheet was excruciating.

Today was hot and sunny. Remembering the pain of that burn today, I got to thinking…can we have emotional sunburns too? (Kind of like heartburns, but without the reflux.) But what is emotional sunburn? Pain from hurt feelings, anger and misunderstanding that has rubbed you so raw you’re chafing.

I do believe I have witnessed the emotional sunburn – even suffered from it myself on occasion. What about you?

Take my impromptu quiz and see if you are in need of some psychological SPF:

– Is there someone close to you (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent, sibling, etc) with whom you have regular conflict?
– Is the conflict seemingly always about the same 2-4 issues?
– Do you feel chronically misunderstood by this person, no matter how many times you try to explain yourself?
– Do you enter interactions with this person with the best of intentions, only to have things usually blow up – though you have no idea why?
– Do the words of this person cut you like a knife?

If you’ve answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, you have an emotional sunburn. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Like actual sunburn, most of us have been badly burned emotionally at least once, and boy does it sting.

The good news is that you will heal – if you give yourself these balms…

– Time away from the burning person.
– Time to cool down – take a deep breath, a walk, or a time out for at least 20-30 minutes (so your brain can cool down too).
– A safe person to talk to (please note; ideally this should NOT be that cute and understanding coworker you are physically attracted to. Call your sister.)
– A way to come back once the sun has set and talk calmly and coolly about the burn – and allow them to do the same.
– A resolution NOT to stay in a hot conversation too long, and too late to avoid getting crispy.

Ultimately, an emotional sunburn is healed much the same way as a solar one: with time, patience, some cool soothers like the ones listed above, and wisdom to know how to avoid another burn in the future.

Common sense should tell you that if you are currently burned, going back out for another sun session is NOT the best idea until you are healed – and even then, go carefully and slowly. Burns happen fast, and if you’ve been burned recently (or even not so recently) you are more sensitive. Take that into account – and remember the same might hold true for the other person as well. Try not to “burn in return”, no matter how much you hurt. Believe me, that type of burn is one you really wouldn’t wish on anyone.

You can protect yourself from a third-degree emotional sunburn, if you follow these tips above and commit to resolving conflict in a less scorching way.

And, wear a hat.

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