In order to be healthy, I had to heal. Simple as that. I don’t know if there is anyone alive who made it out of childhood unscathed. There is no shortage of abuse, neglect, and adversity. Even those who were provided with everything they ever wanted as kids grow up with issues. They might have to heal from entitlement, narcissism, a buttery soft work ethic, fear of lack, inability to cope when things don’t go their way, etc. We’ve all got something to heal. That’s not a judgment–that’s the human condition. Welcome to earth.
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Wounded People In Relationships
Over the years of counseling others, I’ve noticed a fascinating paradox. Many people identify with going from zero to marriage in 60 seconds, ignoring red flags, craving love, obsessing over others, jumping from one relationship to the next, trying so hard to make things work, or sticking around too long. These patterns indicate that someone clearly wants a relationship. Yet many of these same people also identify with staying too busy for a relationship, avoiding commitment, losing interest quickly, not sharing their true selves, being unavailable, or feeling safer alone. These patterns seem to indicate that someone clearly does not want a relationship. Huh?
Yes, this is extremely common. Humans are social animals. We crave love, connection, belonging, and being seen, heard, and known by others. However, when we have been deeply wounded at the hands of those whose job it was to love and nurture us as children (through abuse, neglect, abandonment, enmeshment, etc.), we literally experience a physiological fight, flight, or freeze response to intimacy as adults.
* * *
Let’s say you have a wounded hand. Maybe it’s broken, has a gash in it, a burn — something painful. You’re sitting on a park bench one afternoon daydreaming of your perfect partner and yearning to be held, nurtured, loved, understood. Someone cute comes along and says, “I’ve been admiring you for a while. I’d love to sit here with you and get to know you better.” Your heart flutters. Sweet oxytocin, how I love thee! Could this be it? Is this… the one?
You forget that time exists as you laugh, blush, and talk for hours. You’re downright giddy. You are having such a great time. This is exactly what you’ve been longing for! It’s kind of magical. Then, in a tender moment, this person lovingly reaches over and clasps your hand in theirs. “OUCH!” you scream, as you yank your wounded hand away and hold it to your chest. “Why did you hurt me?!” You jump up and storm off in utter disbelief that this person attacked you like that. It seemed like everything was going great. Like this could’ve been the one. But nope – they were just like all the others!
* * *
Let’s dissect this hypothetical, failed relationship. Did that person hurt you? Well, technically yes, but that’s not the whole story. That person unknowingly touched your wound, and you had an uncontrollable physiological response to the pain of an unhealed injury. I want to emphasize here how powerless you were over this response. This is reptilian-brain survival stuff from way deep down in the amygdala (which evolved around 500 million years ago). There is not a single thing you could’ve done at that moment to avoid reacting to the pain the way you did. It had a half-billion years of momentum behind it.
So, at its root, is the problem that somebody touched you? Or is the problem that you’re walking around all day with a mangled hand trying to interact with people?
I hope this metaphor sheds some light on the reasons for such widespread, counterproductive relationship patterns. Pretty much every single human being is wounded to some degree during their childhood — some more than others. Unfortunately, these wounds aren’t gashed hands. Surely more people would heal if they were. No, our wounds are invisible. They don’t bruise, bleed, scab, or scar. They don’t require bandages or casts. They’re completely unrecognizable to those around us, and we have long since normalized them as the only thing we’ve ever known. How could anyone ever heal from a wound they don’t know exists?
* * *
Is dating “better people” the solution to this problem? Sure ain’t. That’s a lie people tell themselves to avoid ever having to admit that 1) they’re wounded, and 2) they need to do something about it. This delusion absolves them of responsibility for their life, removes their personal agency, and seemingly places their happiness into the hands of others. Oh yeah, and keeps them from ever healing.
Is avoiding intimacy altogether the answer? That will for sure protect people from getting hurt again, won’t it? Perhaps. But these folks suffer from unspeakable loneliness deep in their soul. They can be successful, intelligent, charismatic, and extremely likable people, surrounded by all the trappings of a beautiful life, and still lay awake at night contemplating the dull ache of their fraudulent existence. A life without being truly seen, heard, or known by others, a life devoid of authentic human connection, is very, VERY painful.
Can’t I just jump into an exciting new relationship, suck all the dopamine out of it like a three-foot glass bong, then run away from my pain and go do it again somewhere else? Yeah. You can. All the cool kids are doing that, actually. The problem with that is, well… everything about that is a problem. Even still, it’s astonishing to realize just how many people do this for literally their entire lives and die never knowing the joys of real intimacy.
* * *
In order to be healthy, one must heal. I know this to be true in every fiber of my being. It is my lived experience. It is what I have done, what I continue to do, and what I help others with. I am a healer. There are many other healers out there, too. You may call them therapists, counselors, teachers, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, shamans, yoga instructors, reiki masters, speakers, authors, coaches, philosophers. Or you may call them grandma. Wherever and whoever they are, find these people. These people can help you.
What will your healing journey look like? I have no idea. I just know that it’s a journey worth embarking on. It is the journey of truly living your life. Humanity has written extensively about the hero’s journey for thousands of years. This is what the bravest souls of antiquity and many others since found worthy of carving in stone, scrawling on papyrus and passing down through generations. It is a story of personal transformation. Tragedy turned triumph. An epic tale of courage and perseverance. It is your story. And the pen is in your hands.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
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