The Wounded Healer Within: How Chronic Pain Can Have a Transformative Effect

One of the archetypes belonging to modern time is that of the Wounded Healer. The concept of an archetype can very briefly be explained as being an original model serving as a prototype of human behavior on which all other similar persons, objects or concepts are patterned. The Wounded Healer archetype is represented by the ancient Greek myth of Chiron.

Born of his mother Philyra, who, in order to escape Zeus’ attentions turned herself into a mare, and his father, the God Zeus, Chiron is half man, half god, symbolized in his body as a Centaur. Upon seeing her newborn, Philyra is so appalled that she abandons her child. This is Chiron’s first wounding: rejection.

Later, he is accidentally shot with a poisoned arrow by his friend Hercules.  This
is Chiron’s second wounding: that of trust.

This poisoned wound is very painful and cannot heal, and as Chiron, being a half-god, is immortal, he cannot die and thus be free of his pain. In his suffering and his attempt to heal himself, Chiron searches in the world for a cure, and through this profound sojourn eventually becomes a compassionate and wise master healer for others.

In Chiron we encounter the very opposites that are present in us also – we are of this earth and subject to our biology and personality, but we are also immortal beings of soul and spirit. Healing lies in reconciling those opposites. But this can only happen if one is willing to consciously experience and go through one’s wound to receive its blessing and emerge on the other side.

In the case of disability, physical illness and/or mental illness, the condition often has its origin in early conflicts of rejection and trust, or in its course gives rise to feelings of the same. Rejection by or loss of trust in: parents, friends, safety, life, God, a future, a lover, justice, etc. If you can relate to this in any way, your healing lies in being and doing for yourself what others could not or would not be or do.

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.” – Henry Nouwen

Our immediate experience is usually that our wound obstructs our wholeness, but it is in truth the very expression of it, for it introduces us to the part of us that is whole, well and free. That awakening enables us to see that we are not our
wound, we have it. The wound, therefore, simultaneously contains both the pathology and its own medicine. Of this, Carl G. Jung confessed:  “I would
wrestle with the dark angel until he dislocated my hip. For he is also the light and the blue sky which he withholds from me. It is our own hurt that gives the measure of our power to heal.”

The wound’s inherent medicine however, is present as a dormant potential. Acceptance of what is and being receptive to what emerges is a necessary practice in the healing process. Sometimes this requires a deeply challenging change of attitude, from one of “doing” to one of “being done to.” At times, the task can be to await transformation, not manufacture it.

This is particularly difficult in a world where everything that does not fit into the healthy, ambitious, performing and (re)producing “archetype” is viewed as being less than whole or a disorder of some kind, that “should not be” and therefore needs to be fixed. Many of the qualities necessary for the transformative healing of the wound, such as patience, surrender and endurance are not part of our quick-fix consumer society. To be clear, I would at all times promote healing and the alleviation of suffering, but a balance may have to be found between what we want and what needs to happen, in order for the wound’s inherent medicine to be emerge. The real transformative and healing effect is found when you allow yourself to be recreated by your wound by going through it.

In this process, as with Chiron, the physical or mental affliction may not be cured and hence remain, but not your attachment to it.

Every strength has its weakness, every potential has its danger. A profound wound is a theme around which your life will be organized until it is healed and you have received the gift of that wound. In this, the degree of hold your wound has over you is also the measure of its power to transform you. But that power is at the same time seductive, and therefore: the degree of hold your wound has over you is also the measure of its power to entrap you. When you over-identify with your woundedness, you can remain stuck in its associated victimhood of rejection and damaged trust, long after the necessary suffering has served its purpose. You are then in danger of blocking the wound’s medicine and with it your transformation.

It is a difficult and sometimes painful task for us to develop discernment between what our wound presents in terms of necessary suffering as a gateway to wisdom and compassion, and the subconscious development of what is sometimes referred to as woundology. When finding comfort in discomfort and when pain and disability have become a tool for finding attention and have made you establish a bonding ritual with others of like condition, you become entrapped because healing would threaten that status quo.

A wound finds us not to destroy our life and keep us from what we wish to become, but to destroy our illusions and push us into who we really are. We each have the ability to move beyond our issues, our problems and troubles, albeit not on our own. What is considered to be a prison can be the very gateway into freedom.

“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Image Credits: Arjan Bogaers

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