We Are All Wounded Healers
Compassion will deepen your love.
Posted March 5, 2021 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
“Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!” –Desmond Tutu
Linda: We are attracted to people for many different reasons, some of them conscious and many of them unconscious. Some of the conscious reasons have to do with the person we are drawn to, how they look, how they act, the sound of their voice, and the sensation of their touch. These are things we can identify because they are obvious.
Yet lying below the surface of our conscious awareness are subtle, less apparent factors that contribute to the degree of attractiveness we find in others. The subtle factors relate to unspoken, even unknown wishes and hopes for what we might be able to experience with this person. They involve the agenda of the heart and they often are very distinct from the desires of the mind. Such agenda can include the hopes of fulfillment, the healing of buried wounds, a realization of our deepest potential.
And there are more subtle factors that make a person attractive to us. We sense that they can bring more healing, passion, peace, fulfillment, and joy. Even though we may not consciously be aware of what makes them attractive to us, we can sometimes sense the potential that is available through a particular relationship.
The vast majority of us go into adulthood with unhealed childhood wounds, damage to our sense of ourselves, diminished self-esteem, self-worth, and self-trust. Most of us don’t experience a sense of our own wholeness at the time that we get married. In fact, one of the unconscious attractions may be that with this other person, we feel more whole. In the relationship itself, we may come to identify where we feel fragmented and begin to heal those places that are in need of attention.
Since most couples experience a need for some degree of emotional healing, these outstanding wounds that occurred earlier in our lives are a primary factor in our joining. Once there is a level of trust that is firm, there is a willingness to have the pain of the past surface. With the assistance of a trusted partner, the formerly unbearable can be borne. What had been repressed and denied can be exposed to the light of conscious awareness. It is this exposure and the compassion and acceptance of a loving presence that can transform pain into love.
There is a wide range of experiences that can wound our sense of self. Living in a family where all the interactions are superficial and shallow can cause a wound that may limit capacity for meaningful connections with people, as can physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, rejection, extreme punishment, humiliation, ridicule, and abandonment. The occurrence of these experiences is not limited to the family; they can, and do occur with peers, in school, in church, and in the street. Growing up inevitably entails the process of going through ordeals, struggles, and difficulties.
Some circumstances are extreme in regard to the degree of violence, suffering, and terror such as in times of war, or when caregivers are severely mentally disabled. When there is a failure to provide supportive, loving attention at the time of the trauma, the pain becomes internalized as a wound that continues to require healing. The restoration of these inner wounds can only come about through loving attention and unconditional acceptance from another. This requires the willingness to reawaken the pain of the original wound, which may have been buried in an effort to forget it. But until the pain is re-exposed to the light of compassion, healing cannot occur.
Many people have experienced a significant, even extreme degree of trauma in their early lives. In many cases, they felt that they didn’t belong or didn’t want to belong to their original family. In their inability to either change or successfully adapt to their situation, they rejected their family’s world in an effort to create a more tolerable reality. Such a survival strategy requires great courage and resourcefulness since it involves the willingness to risk breaking the ties with their family’s values.
When we find the strength to break our destructive family ties through our connection with a partner, this is what Judith Wallerstein refers to as a rescue relationship. Some of us couldn’t hold out that long and broke free from our families without the safety net of a supportive partnership.
Few of us enter into a relationship with the conscious intention of recovering from our wounds or even an awareness of the wounds themselves. But in an environment in which both people feel loved, accepted, and supported, there is a natural tendency to bring out all that has previously been denied. The feeling of safety in the relationship compels the emergence of that which needs care.
The depth of our commitment allows us to transcend the circumstances we found ourselves in as children and young adults. Some are possessed by a single-minded dedication, which borders on obsession, to free ourselves from the constraints of the world that was intolerable. We are driven by an overpowering ambition to overcome the conditions that caused grave limitations in our ability to live life fully. We are determined to live our lives with authenticity, integrity, and passion. It is the mutual support that we are able to provide for one another that enables us to break free.
The process is not one-sided. When both partners are in need of healing, both are transformed. In situations where a couple is labeled as co-dependent, it is a failure on the part of each person to recover their own wholeness. But the potential is still there to step into that possibility. We all go through a stage that could be called co-dependent, but we don’t have to stay there. We can continue our own growth and development to eventually break through and became more responsible. Instead of putting the responsibility for our well-being in the hands of the other, we can finally accept the responsibility ourselves, without shutting out our partner’s influence and support.
The reopening of old emotional wounds, which have not been fully healed, is often a painful process involving more than many people are willing to endure. It is usually not a decision that is made intentionally or even consciously. It is rather a state of being that couples open to when they feel trusting of each other. There is at these times, an intuitive awareness that the possibility of renewed healing is available with this person. That recognition of experiencing wholeness is the incentive to overcome the resistance that is natural to experience when one stands in the face of painful experiences.
It’s not surprising that so many people choose lives of “quiet desperation” rather than face their demons. Overcoming the natural resistance to this process requires great courage, strength, commitment, and perhaps most importantly the support of a partner who is willing to go the distance, even when it feels like the stakes are life or death. But we possess some degree of these qualities when we began the journey.
In every case, the road is paved with surprises, failures, and victories. By the time our healing is complete, these qualities and others have developed to an extent that we are no longer the same people who began the journey. Both partners are transformed by the healing process, to ultimately become more autonomous as individuals, and more intimately bonded as a couple. The path of growth and healing is a challenging one, but if you ask those who are reaping the benefits, there is no question about the true value of the journey.