So in my last post, “How our wounds make us human,” I explained what a wound is. I’ll recap the definition:
An emotional wound is the “breakage” in your image of yourself or of life, that’s caused by a negative experience.
In this post, I’ll be unpacking that definition and showing you why wounds can be so difficult to address.
But let’s start with what “image” is broken.
What happens when we’re emotionally wounded
See, everyone has a way they see the world and themselves. In psychology we refer to those two things as your self image and your worldview. I have mine, you have yours, and we develop these images over the course of our lifetimes. It’s how we negotiate with our world and in our relationships.
But everything can suddenly be called in question in light of an “injury.” An injury here is a single massive negative experience or a series of lesser ones) – what it does is being them to question what they thought they knew of themselves and their world.
Let’s imagine a young lady called Kachi. Like many people, Kachi sees herself as a generally okay young woman (self-image) in a generally okay world (worldview). She’s not so naïve as to think of either herself of her world as perfect, but she’s made her peace with that.
But then she’s betrayed by a close friend.
Suddenly, everything Kachi knows is potentially called into question. She might find herself wondering if she can trust anyone. Or wondering if maybe that there’s just something wrong about her as a person that attracted such a terrible friend. Or if she no longer has any reputation worth fighting for because everyone actually believes the “friend” and they now think she’s a terrible person.
These questions of things formerly (to her) certain are how the wounds I speak of arise.
Of course it’s not only betrayal that could cause this kind of injury. She might just as well experience the injury from losing a dear friend to sickness. Or experiencing sexual abuse. Or really anything that’s painful, including a combination of these. What’s important is that the experience (whatever it is) is an injury that raises a questioning of things that a person was previously sure about.
The view of that person about their lives and their world might well be turned upside down for good.
And the reason is not difficult to understand once you see it. What’s happened to Kachi (and to any of us) is that something has happened that the self-image and her worldview she previously held didn’t account for. According to her ideas, that thing shouldn’t have happened, but it has.
So what now?
Well, there are three options available to Kachi…
3 ways to deal with an emotional wound
One, she could completely jettison her old views. She could change from believing, “People are generally trustworthy,” to “People are liars and snitches and you can’t trust anyone except yourself.”
Two, she could insist on holding on to her old worldview irrespective. She might say to herself, “People are generally trustworthy, including this friend of mine.” The problem with this, however, is it involves ignoring the reality that said “friend” actually betrayed her. In other words, we can say Kachi is holding on to her worldview at the expense of reality.
Three, she could expand her old views to include this new information. This might mean her getting to a point where she can say something like, “People are generally trustworthy — with some exceptions; maybe I can improve at recognising these exceptions.”
Now, the way I’m explaining it might make it all seem obvious. You’re probably thinking, “Option three, duh.” And yet, in real life, we all know it’s not quite that simple.
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Why are wounds so hard to heal?
Well, I can tell you reason number one.
It’s very hard for us human beings to change how we see things. Not impossible, of course, but definitely hard.
In fact, it’s so hard that in real life, we often either hold on to them (denying reality) or drop them completely and go to the opposite extremes.
If you’re honest, you’ll probably find that you’ve done exactly this in your own life. So, obvious as the third option might seem, simply telling someone (including ourselves) to go for it just doesn’t work.
(By the way, I can tell you this for free: anyone who tells you they can change their minds easily, chances are they’re thinking about things that aren’t really very important to them, or they don’t know what they’re talking about.)
To be honest, we all act a little like children do after an injury. You know how kids will hide injuries from their parents because they’re afraid of how the treatment for the wound might hurt? (And yes I did my fair share of that, growing up too!)
Their fears are justified, of course: wound treatments can be really painful. What they fail to realise, however, is that leaving it untreated will be WAY worse.
So what can we do when we or people we care about are in this situation?
More on that in my next post in this series. Don’t miss it!
For now, share your experiences of seeing people who’ve been wounded either deny reality or go other extreme (but don’t mention names, please!).