- Wounded healers are people whose painful experiences enable them to help others.
- Wounded healers are good listeners, empathetic, accepting, and resourceful. They view all experiences as opportunities.
- Wounded healers may be inside or outside of the helping professions.
Last week, during a casual lunch conversation with a friend, we spoke about trauma. She reminded me that we all are wounded. The comment made me stop to think.
My initial response was, “No, we are not.” But after thinking about it, I agreed. The difference in each of our situations is that we own our story. We are the only ones who can write the narrative of our lives.
Who are the wounded healers?
Many of us in the helping professions are wounded healers, as are many saints. Others, such as Mother Teresa, acknowledged their struggles with the darkness of doubt. St. Thomas More struggled with fear and depression. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, had his struggles and consequently helped others through his creation of logotherapy—a therapeutic approach to helping people find their life purpose. He wrote about this in-depth in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
In his book Psychology of the Future, Stanislav Grof tells us that shamans “typically undergo a journey into the underworld, the realm of the dead, where they are attacked by demons and exposed to horrendous tortures and ordeals." In discussing novice shamans who are healers, Grof writes that they develop deep contact with the forces of nature and with animals, both in their natural form and their archetypal versions—“animal spirits” or “power animals." These visionary journeys tend to be healing because those who were traumatized become liberated from emotional, psychosomatic, and physical diseases. This is one reason shamans have often been called wounded healers.
The wounded healer archetype
The wounded healer archetype is a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Wounded healers are often intuitive and insightful. By sharing their stories, they can help inspire others on their journeys.
As mentioned in a recent post by Roger M. Cahak, Jung proposed that therapists who had been wounded can provide their clients with a deeper empathy, patience, and acceptance. In fact, it’s our own hurt and pain that provide us with the power to heal others. Whether a healer or not, to be able to listen to other people’s stories, we must be able to be self-aware and learn how to listen deeply to our own stories.
What wounded healers do
One of my favorite stories that I read as a young woman was Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow
Lindbergh. I was fortunate to hear Lindbergh speak at a writer’s conference early in my career. A wounded healer herself, I’ll never forget what she said that day: “We must use any signposts that exist to help us through the wilderness.”
In short, wounded healers have many offerings. They are unusually empathetic, possess a great deal of knowledge, and tend to have the ability to offer others a great deal of hope and perspective—two important features of the healing process.
Wounded healers don’t all necessarily work in the helping professions. They can be mothers, fathers, or found in many other vocations. They often have a tendency to make their family and friends feel better, especially when their loved ones experience challenging times. Because they’ve dealt with their own challenges in the past, they more easily understand hardship. They also know, like therapists, that to help others heal, it’s important to instill hope so the person is able to see the light in their darkness.
Sometimes people can be wounded, but they don’t know the magnitude until there is a trigger, such as suddenly dealing with mental health challenges like depression. As Romanyshyn says, “The more light we bring to the unconscious, the deeper the darkness of the unconscious becomes." In other words, the more we come to know, the more we come to understand what we don’t know.
Characteristics of a wounded healer
Here are some characteristics of a wounded healer:
- You are a lifelong seeker.
- You have a strong sense of purpose.
- People call on you when in need.
- You’ve helped people since you were a child.
- You look at all experiences as an opportunity for growth.
- You’re able to find the calm in the chaos.
Cahak, Roger M. (2021). “Is Your Therapist a Wounded Healer?” Psychology Today. December 30, 2021.
Dunning. Trisha. (2006) “Caring for the Wounded Healer—nurturing the self.” Journal of Bodywork. Vol 20 (4). P. 251-60.
Grof, S. (2000). Psychology of the Future. New York: State University of New York.
Hankir, R. Zaman and F. Carrick. (2021). Trauma and the Role of the Wounded Healer. Cambridge University Press. August 13.