Opening The Hurt Locker
It’s essential to acknowledge our feelings, but it’s not essential to act on them
I first encountered the term “the hurt locker” about thirty years ago, courtesy of some US military personnel I happened to know at the time. The hurt locker is that part of your mind where you stash things that you’ll deal with later because at the present moment you can’t afford to indulge any feelings you may have. It’s definitely a metaphor that works for me, and probably — whether under this name or some other — is something other people utilize as well. A lot of things can go into the hurt locker over the course of a lifetime, depending on the kind of life you have.
My childhood was unstable, unsafe, and contained too many moments of sudden death, both potential and actual. It’s difficult to entertain a rosy notion of human nature when, as a child, you see people who were formally friends and neighbors start hacking at each other with machetes and knives merely because some mindless blowhard on the radio decided to stir up ethnic hatred. Moreover, as both my parents were totally clueless and my mother’s invariable reaction to any difficult situation was simply to shut down, I learned at a very early age that my survival — and that of my younger brother — would always depend on my quick thinking and ability to act decisively, without hesitation.
That’s probably not the best sort of childhood to experience, but it made me an inveterate acquirer of useful skills, many of which have stood me in good stead over the course of my lifetime. One skill I completely failed to acquire until I was in my early forties, however, was how to manage my emotions.
By this I don’t mean that I couldn’t control them. I’d learned to do that from my earliest years, setting aside as best I could terror and disappointment and the pain of loss, so as to function as best as I could in whatever situation I was having to deal with. What I mean is that I had become so very good at stuffing things into my own personal hurt locker that the pressure in there built up steadily over the years until finally one additional loss triggered an uncontrolled detonation. For slightly over an hour, my emotions ruled my behavior and the results were far from optimal.