Unlocking the wisdom of past hurts can help you heal yourself and others.
We’ve all been wounded by words and deeds, whether they were inflicted incidentally, accidentally, or with cruel, calculated intention.
Fortunately, human beings are resilient. By learning to roll with life’s punches, we can turn wounds into ways forward.
There are three stages to dealing with wounds:
Swallowing: we try to bury it inside and forget it.
Wallowing: we feel close to drowning, given the pain our wounding has caused.
Allowing: we let the wound serve us. We access the wisdom of the wound.
At this stage, the wound becomes “integrated”—we’re not resisting, judging, or trying to make it go away. We’re accepting it, learning from it, and seeing it as part of what made us who we are today. We’re becoming grateful for it.
If you’re ready to integrate your wounds, here is a way forward.
Acknowledge your wound
If your child cut their finger, you wouldn't act like their wound didn’t exist; You’d empathize. You’d hear how it happened and offer a hug to comfort them. You’d put a Band-Aid on it and send them on their way.
But when you are wounded, do you tell yourself to man up, walk it off, or suck it up? If you do, it’s still there, even if it's buried.
The first step is to acknowledge its existence. You can’t integrate your wound until you understand it. So, acknowledge it with care and empathy, the way you would a child’s wound.
Let the wound speak for itself
After you’ve acknowledged the wound, keenly understand its story. Quite often, the story we tell ourselves about our wounds is an incomplete or false interpretation of events, frozen in time.
Instead, remember who you were when the wound happened. Let that person tell you how it was for them. Give them space to talk about their pain, disappointment, or whatever else is involved. Empathize. Tell your younger self what you’ve learned since then. Say thank you for undergoing the experience so you could learn from it. This transforms the wound into something that serves you.
Look at what the wound has given you
When returning to an old wound, recognize the skills you lacked when it happened. The wound very likely cultivated survival and other skill sets.
For example, rejection initially makes you hyper-vigilant to the potential of future rejections. As your sensitivity increases, so does your overall awareness, attuning you to the needs, desires and wounding of others. The wound that once undermined you can be redeemed, teaching you to be more present and accountable for your feelings and for your response to the feelings and intentions of others.
It sounds paradoxical, but you can cultivate gratitude for your wounding when you understand its place in your life and see how it helped make you the person you are today.
Forgive yourself for what you’ve done
Whenever we’re wounded, we become self-protective and self-absorbed, believing our wound is precious and unique.
When we ignore our wounds, we can become defensive, withdrawn, and unsympathetic. When we minimize our wounds, we risk sharing the attitude with others: “Get over it; move on.” We amputate our ability to feel others’ pain because of how we’ve handled our own.
As we heal and integrate our wounds, we cultivate deeper empathy and compassion for others. (Read "Rewiring Grief: Creating Healing Thoughts".)
Share your wound with others
One hallmark of wounding is that it makes you feel alone. But you’re not the only person who has ever felt the way you do. An important part of the recovery process is understanding that pain is universal.
I’m reminded of the Buddhist story of a grieving mother who lost her child. She went to the Buddha saying, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. You have to help me heal this.” The Buddha said, “I will be happy to do that. But first, I’d like you to collect some mustard seeds for me. Go to every house in the village and gather a mustard seed from everyone who has not lost something.”
The woman, of course, comes back empty-handed but with the realization that everybody experiences loss. She’s not alone. In this way, wounding unites people. It helps you look to others who have been hurt in the same way.
Speak with a partner, family member, or trusted friend about your wound. Do some research online to find support groups or organizations that respect your wound. Receiving support helps remove the stigma of woundedness while reducing loneliness and isolation. It helps you manage your pain, reduce defensiveness, improve your coping skills, invite new learning, and strengthen your inner resources. Sharing your vulnerability creates connectedness.
Volunteer to help heal others’ wounds
Give back in the area of your wounding. As my clients heal and integrate their wounds, I encourage them to volunteer with organizations that address their areas of wounding with others.
For example, a man I worked with witnessed terrifying, violent incidents between his parents while he was growing up. He’d never wanted to acknowledge that part of his past. He became wealthy simply to separate himself from the reminders and to create a buffer so he’d never again experience abuse. But because he was in denial, he recreated similar turmoil in his adult life. I asked him to volunteer with a domestic violence organization, rather than just donating money to them in the hope they would erase it from the world.
It wasn’t until he spoke to others, suffering as he had, that he fully opened to his own experience. As he helped heal others, he healed himself. (Read "When Trauma and Triggers Keep Us From Engaging".)
Accept this opportunity
By integrating your wounds, you move from victimhood to empowerment. You respond differently and become conscious of the sensitivity you have to it instead of reacting to it. As you heal and integrate your wounds, you help heal others’ corresponding wounds.