Wounding: What is it?

  • A wound is any kind of hurt that leaves an imprint in the psyche.
  • Once a hurt becomes a wound it lives in the psyche, taking on a life of its own.
  • It also bleeds into areas of our life not directly related to the wound.
  • It colors our feelings and thoughts, and determines our behavior.
  • Depending on the depth of a wound, it can substantially mark our life and become its central characteristic.
  • Even a small hurt could become a wound, if it’s not attended to.

Our wounds introduce us to suffering. It may be counterintuitive, but suffering is a fact of life. We suffer on all layers of being: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Suffering is not without purpose. It teaches us about life (since it’s part of life), and about ourselves. It holds up a mirror in which we can truly see ourselves.

One of the biggest pitfalls of being wounded is pretending that we’re not! We’re very good at maintaining a veneer of normalcy. Even if we’re functional, we may still be carrying around deep wounds. Our functionality is usually dismantled piece by piece unless we tend to our wounds.

We usually pull away from pain. We cringe and want to shut it off immediately. We go to great lengths to just not feel suffering. We bury it or build a wall around it. This never works because the pain has important information it wants to communicate to us, and it needs room to breathe so it can change and not be painful anymore. Rather than suffocating it, putting suffering in an enclosure of any kind only intensifies it and makes it louder. The wound has nowhere to go if we wall it up or bury it.

We feel we can’t be open with our suffering because it feels too much to bear; too much shame is involved; we don’t want to fall apart; we have a false image of being strong, etc. Essentially we’re afraid of being vulnerable. We don’t realize how truly strong vulnerability is. We close our heart in the mistaken belief that it’s the only way to survive, to preserve and protect ourselves. The trouble with this is that when we close to one thing, we close to many other things. Closing to our pain also closes us to joy.

The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin… You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.

— Brené Brown (Research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.)

The only way our heart is ever going to feel better is if it’s open and stays open.

In an open state a whole lot more information is available to us. Good information increases available choices. Having a variety of responses is to our advantage. Normally with an ongoing wound, we’re in reactive mode. We lash out, clamp down, or numb out. Not only does this do nothing for us, it exacerbates our already troubled emotions. There are no solutions or respite in a closed and reactive mode of living.

An open system is a responsive system. A response works with the situation. Reacting agitates a situation.

Realistically, since we will all suffer many losses, we need better, more evolved and astute ways of approaching sorrow and emotional pain. We need to be more conscious about the ways our losses can help us become wiser and more spiritually evolved; we also need to be more sensitive to and aware of other people’s pain and suffering.

— Lama Surya Das

Wounds are inherent to life. So are joys. They are part of a whole. To be wholehearted is to not shrink from wounds, and to be willing to receive joy. We must resonate with both. When we resonate, i.e., feel, listen and respond to a wound, it leads to joy as healing happens. When we resonate with joy, we become and remain open. Being open, our hearts are full.


Is Your Heart a Walled Garden?

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The Wounded Heart