Authentic Engagement

A radical way of being.

The Gift of Our Wounds

While our wounds can cause us great suffering they can also deepen our humanity.

Emotional wounds are an essential part of the human condition and a vital aspect of who we are. Ignoring this existential reality is to live in denial, for no one leaves this earth unscathed.

In our culture, wounds are often initiated in our family of origin. Even in the best of families, inadvertent wounds can be inflicted. For example, a father makes a joke about his son’s abilities at baseball and the son takes it to heart. A wound is formed as the son doubts his masculinity.

While our wounds can cause us great suffering, they can also deepen our humanity. It gives us the opportunity to be empathetic and compassionate to others in our lives because they too have been wounded. This can create a deeper understanding and appreciation for all of us on our human journey. As Irv Yalom, M.D. writes, we are fellow travelers in our pain and joy.

The acknowledging and expressing of our wounds can increase intimacy. For example, a husband gets upset with his wife for being inefficient, she gets upset at him for being demanding. As they explore what happened, he gets in touch with his wound around an angry mother who told him he was too much of a dreamer and that he needed to be super-efficient to make up for that. The wife gets in touch with her wound that stemmed from being a middle child who felt she had to meet everyone else’s needs and therefore can lose track of what is most important for her to do in the moment. In sharing this with each other, they become softer and become closer by their understanding of how their wounds impact the present argument for both of them. Compassion towards our partner and ourselves is a natural outcome when we look at how we can help each other to not be triggered and defined by these wounds. We make them conscious.

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The aim isn’t to get lost in our wounds or to let them be a driving force in our lives. The aim is to explore the wound and how we use it to define ourselves and our world. In that exploration, we diminish the impact of the wound. The wound does not leave us, but rather it takes up a much smaller space in our definition of ourselves.

For example, a woman defines herself by a wound that she is not enough. She can redefine herself as someone who feels vulnerable at times, but who knows that is not all of who she is. She is also more than sufficient in many areas of her life. By making her wound conscious, she can actually open up to the strengths that she had not fully acknowledged. She is able to accept her wound as just one part of who she is, no more no less.

Engaging with our wounds means working through the feelings and thoughts associated with them. This can be powerful and deep work, so often a therapist is needed to facilitate and contain this process.

Forgiveness can be an integral part of the process of this healing. In the exploration of your wounds, you may reach a place of genuine forgiveness of the person who wounded you. You may reach a place of genuine forgiveness of yourself for the wounds you inflicted on others. As David Whyte so eloquently put it, “Forgiveness is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, the act of forgiveness not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to re-imagine our relation to it."

Our wounds can never be completely extinguished, nor would we want them to be. In the richness and complexity of our humanness, it keeps us both humble and connected to the rest of humanity.

Bob Edelstein, L.M.F.T., M.F.T., is an existential humanistic psychotherapist based in Portland, Oregon.

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