The Wounded Healer in All of Us
The wounded healer is an archetype made famous by Carl Jung in the early 1900s, but it’s been in human mythology since humans had mythology. Read Chiron’s story if you’re interested in some background. The idea is that healers, just like those they serve, are wounded.
Let’s define a healer as anyone who participates in another’s healing. You are a healer.
While we’re at it, let’s define a wound as a hardship that causes you suffering. You are wounded.
You are a wounded healer, join the club.
Here’s some examples of prototypical wounded healers:
o The doc who pursued healing because they themselves have healed from some terrible suffering.
o The alcoholic turned AA sponsor
o You when you can be there for a friend because you’ve been there.
o Are you watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? This fella Wes was shot and paralyzed, then started a foundation to help other disabled (but not really) folks. Wes is a wounded healer.
THE LIGHT SIDE
· Our wounds teach us who we are.
I’ve not found a better way to learn about me. If I can manage to stick it out through a painful moment without a distraction or coping mechanism, then the me that emerges on the other side has learned a thing or two. I learn what’s important to me, what my impulses are and what drives them. I learn what I’ve suppressed, what’s hidden in the dark corners. I learn that there’s an unwavering part of me, and that I’m stronger and more capable than I previously thought.
· Healing from a wound is transformative.
You want to feel more free, healthy, and energized? Grow into a happier more evolved person? Well good thing you’re a wounded healer. The transformation you are seeking starts with your wounds. It can be a baby-steps-slow-burn kind of transformation or a dramatic-hail-Mary experience. Jung describes our wounds as an opening to the subconscious mind, which also happens to be the birthplace of our creativity. When we face our wounds, we have access to a creativity not yet known to us. If we embrace this, look out world! Here comes you with your new creative genius, just what the world needs.
· We’re all on this journey together.
Some are deeper down the rabbit hole than others but we’re all in it together. Yes, suffering is something we all have in common, but I mean something more mystical than that. Your unique flavor of suffering is a teensy taste of your community’s suffering. The people that have been, presently are, and will be in your life are involved in your wound in some way. Zoom out and all of humanity has a part to play in your suffering, just as you have a part to play in humanity’s suffering. It’s our suffering, it’s our wounding, it’s our healing. (Please read Paul Levy for a more eloquent description of this idea.)
THE SHADOW SIDE
· We can over-identify with our wound.
It’s possible to get stuck in our woundedness, obsess over it, or become a victim to it. No judgement, it happens to all of us at one juncture or another. I don’t think anyone in their right mind chooses this kind of maddening self-obsession. One angle on this is that over time we can perceive our wounds as “serving” us. For example, your diagnosis or trauma might get you compassionate attention. Your addiction might give you stress relief. Your belief that you’re not good enough may be how you bond with your friends. We can become accustomed to our lives in this way, and normalize our wounds. Your wound is a thing to be moved through, not camped out in.
· We can project our shit onto other people.
This might be a case of “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. For example, if your wound was around having weak boundaries in your relationships and you dove in and healed and transformed yourself in the process, you might (understandably) be tempted to think that all your friends or clients should do the same. But this of course may not be their trouble. It can be a real challenge to leave the bias of our own experience behind. However, if we don’t try to meet others from a blank slate, we run a high risk of misunderstanding and miscommunicating. We can miss our chance to help them heal.
SO WHAT’S THE POINT?
I think You are the point. (You with a capital Y)
The true You = the You that is whole and complete and invulnerable to being wounded.
We were born this way, and weren’t conscious of it because it was just the way things were. Then we were wounded, and our wound separated us from that state, making us feel incomplete, flawed, or damaged in some way. The point of the wound may be to allow us a conscious awareness of our wholeness and completeness.
Reality is paradoxical. Our wound is the thing that heals us. We are wounded and whole at the same time.
John Prendergast said it best:
It is true that we are all affected by our conditioning – by our imperfect parenting, by neglect and abuse, by trauma and unhealthy attachment styles, and by the challenges of life itself. However – and this is critically important – we are never essentially damaged by these experiences. On a relative level, we are impacted, sometimes quite deeply. On an essential level, we are not. As human beings, we are always both wounded and whole.
Thanks so much for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this fascinating topic in the comments below!