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Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Elaine N. Aron Ph.D.

More Thoughts on the Wound with No Name—First Aid

Deep, early, unhealed wounds deserve compassionate daily care.

Source: Edward Sporbert |

It is time to write more on the Wound with No Name.  It is my favorite post on this blog, perhaps because I see from the many comments how many people are moved by it, or because it expresses something about who I was before receiving the right help.

Nature and nurture, genes and environment—the two sides of our emotional wellbeing.  When seeking to help highly sensitive people (HSPs), I am talking about genes.  But I am equally dedicated to the nurture side, to those damaged by their early environments. (Hence The Undervalued Self, which aims to recreate the depth therapy process for those not in high quality actual therapy.)  And of course the interaction of high sensitivity and a bad early environment is the most difficult of all to heal, although HSPs are also apparently able to gain more than others from any good help they receive as adults or from good aspects of their childhood.

Some people wish I would say more about what to do about this wound. I wrote one paragraph on this in the first post, and below, but I realize it is discouraging, as it emphasizes that there are rarely any easy answers.

Quick fixes do not work when the damage is this deep.  Brief therapy can ease symptoms, but in the long run does nothing.  People with such backgrounds have developed a primitive protector-persecutor defense (I describe it in The Undervalued Self).  Its purpose is “never again.”  No growth or change, no closeness with others—it might mean encountering again the unbearable rejection and pain of childhood.  Years and years of therapy can help, if it is the right therapist, but few of these wounded ones can afford it.

Even when someone with a deep wound describes a wonderful transformation, it often has followed years and years of struggle and inner work. For example, Spencer Koffman's guest post , which I highly recommend. And yet, is there any first-aid or any way to get around the slow work of self-examination and the help provided by depth therapy with a really, really good therapist?

First, personally, I have benefited greatly from Transcendental Meditation (TM). Research demonstrates that it does help with depression, anxiety, and similar issues, for some people more than others. Other forms of meditation can also help, and I talk about the differences between the various forms in my two posts on meditation: Meditation Part 1 and Meditation Part II .   Part of my personal preference for Transcendental Meditation is that it is truly "effortless." The last thing depressed people need is anything that requires effort, because if it feels like work, they may feel too tired or despairing to bother, or fear they are not doing it well enough.

I have practiced TM for 44 years, almost never skipping, because it is so restful.  Need back support?  Do whatever you need to be comfortable. Sleepy? You are told to sleep at those times. That's what you need.  To me it feels like a familiar, soft, comforting blanket I wrap around me twice a day, sometimes actually feeling "blissful," even if I feel down at the same time.  Strange.

A note about spirituality: Although TM is described these days as a mental technique, it is a form of meditation, and meditation is often associated with spiritual paths. Spiritual philosophies and practices are preeminently designed to help us deal with life's worst wounds, including evil (neglect, abandonment, betrayal, cruelty, greed, etc.) plus loss and death.  Yet there is reason for caution.  Those deprived in childhood are particularly likely to attach themselves to a method or teacher who promises to help them quickly get over the problem by rising above it. In my opinion, a life, and a life wound, needs to be approached on three levels (the shaman's idea of the upper, grounded, and lower worlds):

  • The spiritual and transcendental, of course.
  • The grounded reality of trying to live a full, productive life and in particular to develop strong social connections.
  • The tough, deep inner work associated with dreams, symptoms, and complexes. It is often at this level that the most healing can occur, which then allows the other two to blossom.

So be careful with the spiritual.

Second first aid tip:  Think carefully—with whom do you compare yourself?  As you go through your twenties, thirties, and on, you watch your peers doing the usual stuff on schedule.  You are not on the standard schedule; it is not fair to compare yourself to them. Your situation is not your fault. Yes, you're responsible for doing something about it, but you are not responsible for what has happened or how it has changed the course of your life.

Third, to help with comparing yourself to the right people, I wish that you could meet a few others with similar difficulties—depression, anxiety, shyness, addictions—perhaps as alcoholics meet each other in AA.  I know there are support groups and meetups out there for various issues, and perhaps you can find one, difficult as that may seem (and certainly you can quit if it is not the right place for you).  True, the wounded can be shy or defensive, not easy company. Some have been victims of pretty terrible verbal abuse, so that it's hard for them not to resort to it when they feel ashamed. Yet to know some others like you, in a deeper way—I think it would help. In my fantasies I imagine such a group, a small group, in which each week, one person has an hour or two in which to simply tell the whole story of all of what happened to them and the others listen and both appreciate and relate to it. Give the wound a name.

Fourth, another important first-aid treatment might be using your talent, whatever it is and no matter how meager.  Everyone has some small talent, even if it is washing dishes well. Again, you can't compare yourself to those who are more talented, whether it's playing music or entertaining children. But when we are using a talent, we are fully concentrating on something, which is kind of like an antidepressant in the way it stimulates the brain to do something besides focus on its wound. Indeed, using your left brain, which is not always the same as using a talent, can also take you out of the right brain where emotions, including negative ones, tend to be processed.  Try reading something that is nonfiction and just a little bit challenging and interesting for you, or anything else that engages your left brain.

Fifth, there is considerable research on the value for depressed people of helping others. However, I am reluctant to recommend this because it does involve difficulties such as simply going out and interacting with new people. Sometimes it's a dose of healing to help in a simple way, such as helping to carry someone's packages if they are struggling.

Ultimately, you will need to find the meaning in your suffering, and sometimes that is helping others with the same problems, probably in an informal setting such as a support group or comments on a blog like this.  Sometimes it is as if, when we were going through the rough experiences, we are just grasping what’s going on. This is the first lesson in our subject matter, what is going to be our wound. Continuing with the analogy, when we do understand what happened, we have made it to high school so to speak. Then we may "major" in it in college, as we try to heal.  Finally, perhaps we study it in "graduate school" and become ready to help others with the same problem, again, not necessarily in a professional way, but just being there with some wisdom to share about coping.

That's my final first aid advice.  As when anyone is doing first aid on another, a wise and compassionate presence is what matters most.  Please be compassionate towards yourself.


About the Author

Elaine Aron, Ph.D.

Elaine Aron, Ph.D., is a research and clinical psychologist, and the author of The Undervalued Self, The Highly Sensitive Person, and The Highly Sensitive Child.