By Steve Gilbert, LMFT
“It’s been 20 years. Why does this still bother me?”
For six years I have heard this question posed in different ways and had the privilege of witnessing the transformation and healing of lives in my office. Many of my clients have shared burdens from the past that they haven’t found a way to release or be released from. My life and clinical experience have created a road map for others to experience the healing of old inner wounds. Just over eight years ago, I found myself living out of what I now know to be places of inner wounding. Places in my self-concept were broken and causing me difficulties in almost every aspect of my life.
I have since come to an awareness that I’m not alone. Many, if not all, have inner places of hurt, disappointment, and shame inflicted at early tender ages by parents, life situations, and events. These wounds create a life narrative that can trap and even oppress our lives. These hurt inner spaces surface as attitudes and behaviors that hinder personal self-acceptance and can annoy the heck out of others!
Here’s an example of how a wound is created. A person grows up in a home experiencing the demands of life with an addict or hearing the voice of a parent who was angry and condemning. Perhaps their socio-economic status left them neglected or alone. He or she may have struggled with a disability that attracted the teasing of peers or a gifting that induced their scorn. Divorce, loss of a loved one, sexual, emotional or physical abuse, mental illness and health issues can inflict blows to one’s self concept and soul, which I refer to as “Wounds”. Unfortunately, without healing, this wounded area is vulnerable to additional aggravation throughout the new relationships and events that occur in life. As these wounds continual get re-wounded, situations worsen, and individuals, couples, or families become adept at pouring salt into these wounds!
Wounds become damaging because of the product of the resilience of human beings, who not only just survive, but learn how to live, develop, progress, and succeed even while living with an inner wound. We create learned coping mechanisms: protective strategies, behaviors and attitudes to live with a wound. This happens at a young age while the wound is being inflicted and continues for the rest of life or until they no longer work and begin to cause harm to self and others. The latter is almost always inevitable and is when individuals that seek out counseling, tend to call my office.
These coping mechanisms serve essentially as “swords”; they are very useful in protecting oneself and even forging ahead in life. The problem with swords is that, while they can protect an inner wound and help you navigate through life, they can also cut and do harm, both to you and the loved ones around you. What was once helpful and necessary becomes a hindrance and burden. Wielding swords carries an increasing cost to the relationships in our lives, at home and at work.
There are a lot of different types of swords. There’s the Sword of Anger, the Sword of Self Reliance, the Sword of Perfectionism, the Sword of Addiction. Yes, even addictions are creative ways to medicate and soothe the wound, which can then grow to harm to self and others.
Let’s take the Sword of Anger to explore this thought further. The use of anger is an incredible way to protect an inner wound of shame and self-loathing. Yet, wielding the sword of anger can inflict wounds to others ultimately causing distance and isolation, which then only confirms the shaming lies about self that exist in the wound. The problem with swords is that while they were originally made and sharpened to cope and protect oneself from the lies that were internalized from parents, family, and events – through continued use, they create distance and full adaptation to healthier environments. Swords need to be laid down.
Laying down swords is not easy. A person can become very proficient in using their swords where it becomes automatic to wield them. Often the behavior of your swords is all one knows. The feel of the grip is well honed in your hand. How could you lay them down? But you must! Continuing to administer and wield the sword now becomes costly and, rather than protecting, only enslaves you to the lies about yourself that exist in the wound.
My own journey of identifying my inner wound and laying down swords has caused me to chart out what I callInner Wound Development and Healing. In this process you identify the wound, how it was inflicted, the swords you use to protect it, and discover the lies about your self-concept that keep you wielding these swords. Only then can one begin to evaluate its effectiveness and recognize how it is hurting others as well as oneself. From here, you can begin the process of healing and giving the swords up, moving towards a new and transformed self-understanding and way of being.
In this process you rescue and free your self-concept from the wounding it went through. Instead of living out of the wound you begin to live out of a new self-narrative; a self that no longer needs swords because there’s no longer a wound to protect. In this inner healing of the wounded self, you become able to engage, form and experience healthy relationships and environments without defenses, as your healed and whole self.