"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Wounded Healer

There is quite a bit of misunderstanding around as to the real nature of a Wounded Healer, and indeed many are not familiar with the term at all. I have been interested for a while in the whole concept, and in the social significance of the healing process to this world of ours that seems to be in such a mess.
I am prompted to publish this short article by a comment I saw recently on another blog: “We often hear about wounded healers in the healing arena. These wounded healers can sometimes offer a bad reputation to the healing community because they are trying to heal their wounds through their clients.”*
Of course someone who is using their clients to heal their own wounds is surely not a wounded healer at all and it is unfortunate that such people give the real “Wounded Healer” a bad name. Analytical psychologists are required to undergo personal analysis in order that they may understand their own wounds and the compensations they make for them in their own behavior. This ensures that those wounds do not interfere in the therapeutic process with their clients.
Professor of Psychology Charles Carver has identified several stages along the road to the true Wounded Healer.
Firstly, if we fail to recognize wounds in ourselves there is a danger that we allow them to crush us. We turn them in upon ourselves, and then we harbor thoughts of anger, resentment, envy, lust, greed, and all the worst character traits of mankind. They cause us to be unhappy or discontent. This impacts on our relationships with other people, in everything we do, in our work, in our creativity. Without intentionally setting out to do harm, we allow those wounds to hurt those around us, as Simone Weil explained: “A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves.”
Then there is the “survivor” response, seen in the desensitization we can experience if we are continually bombarded with the wounding images of horror, either real or in the relentless gratuitous violence of screen or computer game. This is so relevant in the context of our responsible and healing use of creativity.
There are other stages of healing that we may recognize in us or in others. For example there are the “martyrs” and the “thrivers.” We all know the “martyr;” he could also be called the moaner or whinger and hardly needs further explanation.
The thriving response to our wounds is complex and the subject of much research. In simple terms the “thriver” may be defined as the “person who experiences the traumatic or stressful event and benefits or gains in some way from the experience and can apply that gain to new experiences, leading to more effective subsequent functioning.” An example would be Beethoven who overcame his deafness to find joy in his music making. But this response type may not always be what it seems. I believe it may sometimes be similar to what I think of as the “self-help response.”
Next is the “inspirational” phase. Here we use an understanding of our own wounds to work for the benefit of others with the same afflictions. Superman Christopher Reeve was a fine example – he fought paralysis after a stunt accident whilst filming and fought for more research to help others suffering from the same disablement. Such people campaign, they set up charities, they march for a cause, they fund-raise. This is praiseworthy but it does not make a Wounded Healer.
Mental health nursing expert Marion Conti-O’Hare describes one more stage along the road to Wounded Healer. These are the people, she explains, who have experienced trauma and are using it to help others but without understanding how they themselves are affected. O’Hare describes Diana Princess of Wales as an example of what she calls the “walking wounded.” Diana died tragically before she could transcend much of her suffering. She did however devote much of her later years to causes such as the victims of HIV infection and AIDS, almost certainly reflecting her own advanced stage along the road to Wounded Healer.
The person who has taken his wounds into his soul, fully comprehended them, and has transformed and transcended them achieves the ultimate healing goal. From those transcended wounds we have the insight to fully understand and care about the sufferings and wounds of others. We can be with them in true empathy and compassion. Compassion literally means; “to suffer with” and means much the same in this context as empathy. We identify with you in your suffering. We can bare our own souls and walk in your shoes to share your suffering; that is true empathy. And that is the Wounded Healer.

It seems appropriate to be writing this now, as we enter the Christian season of Advent and await the birth of Jesus Christ, as he is of course the greatest Wounded Healer of all time.

Of course this subject is vast and I have only scratched the surface here – do let me know of any experiences you have of the Wounded Healer in your own lives.

*See http://serenitynowwellness.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/the-sweetness-of-doing-nothing/#comment-6

** see http://www.intuitive-connections.net/2004/book-beethoven.htm


sacred journeys Hawaii said...

Very nice post!
Wish i could do a post as wonderful as this one.

Eleanor said...

So glad you liked it!

Tessa said...

Thank you for this post, elaborating so eloquently on what it means to be a wounded healer. I appreciated all the different stages and descriptions. Your description provides a lot of clarity on what can be a very loaded term (especially in my field of psychology).

Eleanor said...

Thankyou for kind comments - this was a short version - I have written more on this elsewhere but perhaps I should go into this in some more detail on the blog.

Mara Reid said...

Yes, Eleanor.

I'm glad I bopped over here.

There is a great deal involved in healing the wounded.
When I was wrote about it over at my place I was dealing with it from the stand point of giving people space to make the journey.

Unfortunately some of those that I was addressing in the "Christian" community are resistant to allowing their young to travel the journey of healing. For to do so would mean they would have to admit that their doctrine is wounding. And since they are finacially dependent on peddling their particular branch of doctrine, they not only resist, but malign those who have left their camp to pursue healing.
Are you familiar with Hillary McFarland's book, "Quivering Daughters"?
There is an entire blog set up to discredit her and her healing journey.
The blog post you visited and commented on was my response to the response. I wanted to praise those on the journey and caution those who would want to stop them.

I hope to read more of what you have to say about this topic.
It is far more involved than most of us really want to face.

Eleanor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eleanor said...

Very many thanks for that Mara - it is such a huge subject and I am still learning - it has so much social significance. I have looked up Quivering Daughters.It looks fascinating and I shall follow it up further.

I do sometimes get upset by the charge some religious folk make that if we suffer a mental breakdown for example our faith must be weak - that our faith and prayer should prevent such an illness.
I find that hard to believe! Do you think that? And have you seen Claire Dunne's beautiful illustrated book: Carl Jung - Wounded Healer of the soul?

Mara Reid said...

I hope I didn't offend you over at my place this morning.

I do get some deeply, deeply wounded people there. And sometimes they react sharply against certain things.

Kind of like a burn unit patient being touched in a tender spot. Even a touch meant to heal can bring terrible pain.

I've just posted a link to a foundation that wants to help the brainwashed and abused in some of these baptist cults we have over here in the states.

As I mentioned, I tried to read some of Dunne's book on the sneak peek chapter offered on amazon.com. It looks promising but I got interrupted. Hopefully I can get back to it soon.
I may have to add it to my collection.

Again, sorry if I said anything out of order and hope I can learn more from your understanding of the wounded healer. I believe you are further along in understanding.

Eleanor said...

Dear Mara
Of course I was not offended - no worry. I am just learning so much about these cults. Thankyou for that. Our classic little bestselling book here is by Henri Nouwen called The Wounded Healer (he was a marvelous Roman Catholic priest with a huge healing following who died tragically too young) and Marion Conti-O'Hare has a book called The Nurse as Wounded Healer (from Trauma to Transcendence) and your Rachel Remen has done much work on this also - so plenty to read. I have tried in my writing to see how the compassion and vulnerability of the Wounded Healer may be a factor in healing society - so I was surprised by the way the blogging was going over at your place!It opened my eyes somewhat!

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