The full memory on my computer has forced me to take a trip down memory lane and peruse through all of my various files to see which ones were worthy of keeping and which could be dumped. I stumbled upon many of my old assignments from graduate school. As I opened one file, I began to reflect on an idea I heard when I was in a particularly moving class in my master’s program. I have seen this theme play out over and over in my own life and in the lives of clients, friends, etc. The idea I’d like to share is the idea that we are, or can become, wounded healers.
Physical & Emotional Wounds
We’ve all fallen down as kids (or, let’s be honest here, as adults) and scraped up our knees. We’ve experienced small wounds: paper cuts, acne, blisters, etc. We’ve experienced larger wounds: wisdom teeth surgery, broken bones, c-sections, etc. It’s always incredible to me to watch the way our bodies heal after they are wounded; to see new skin replace the old; holes close up; our bodies return to normal (or at least semi-normal) function. To watch broken toes and broken legs help us run again. Our bodies are miraculous!
We all carry emotional wounds as well. Wounds that feel just as real and just as serious as broken bones. Broken hearts that feel so excruciating we would have sworn we were experiencing heart failure. Anxious minds that feel just as debilitating as any physical ailment. Grief that feels as heavy as trying to carry a car up the mountain on torn ACLs. The healing that comes with our emotional and mental wounds looks very different. We don’t see the fresh layers of skin or healing bones, but we know that something is changing. We feel more whole, quicker to smile, more like coming back to ourselves.
We All Haves Wounds; We Are All Healers
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a therapist, it is that all of us have emotional and mental wounds. Some that are deep and some that are more superficial. These wounds shape us and change us, forcing our emotional skins to regenerate and our mental bones to regrow and strengthen. I have also come to know that each of us has a deep-seated ability to be healers. Our woundedness does not take away from our capacity to be healing influences. In fact, at time I think that it is our woundedness that allows us to serve and love and aid others more fully. To be truly empathetic requires us to access our wounds. To sit with someone in pain beautifully forces us to sit with our own pain as well. As such, we become wounded healers. We use our wounds to push us forward into more empathy and compassion. We don’t need to be healed to be healing influences, we can do so even as we are still wounded and healing ourselves.
Woundedness as a Gift
I know it’s so cliché to say 2020 has been a really difficult year, but wow! It really has been such a difficult year! As many of you, I have felt more anxiety this past year than in any other time of my life. I have felt afraid and uncertain. This anxiety that I have experienced has felt like a “wound” for me. In talking with a friend, they asked me if I could view my increased anxiety as a gift. At first I scoffed at the idea. Dealing with heavy emotions was not a gift! It was painful and at times, felt too heavy to bear. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this increase in emotional difficulty really was a gift. When friends talked about the heaviness of anxiety, I had a little bit of a better taste as to just how painful this was. When clients spoke of the frustration and desire for anxiety to just go away, I could understand a bit more what this was like. My woundedness didn’t make me less of a good therapist, friend, or healer, it actually helped me connect to people in ways I never could have if I hadn’t experienced an increase in emotional pain myself. My empathy just skyrocketed after this experience and I believe I’m a better therapist, friend, and healing influence because of it.
Embracing the “And”
In what ways are you a “wounded healer?” How are you embracing both your wounds and your capacity to be a healer? What makes this difficult? My clients have been some of my greatest examples of wounded healers. It’s not always easy to get to a place where one aspect does not feel more valuable or important than the other, however, there is a unique power and beauty that comes from embracing them both!