Have you ever encountered a situation where your response was…well, weird? Where you could see that you were overreacting, but despite that logical realization, you felt helpless to convince your emotions to get with the program? Do you have pain around a certain area of your life that you just don’t fully understand?
If you’re anything like me, it’s not one time or one situation, but a handful of perplexing emotional “land mines” that dot the landscape of everyday life.
In my quest to understand myself better — and to more productively use the copious amount of time I spend driving — I have been listening to podcasts. And one of them has been particularly fascinating to me, and has given me some insight into these occasionally perplexing conditions and reactions.
The podcast is called “Restore the Glory.” In it, two psychologists discuss various aspects of healing. Dr. Bob Schuchts, the more experienced of the two, has been involved in healing ministry within Catholic and other Christian circles for decades. I’ve always been impressed with his work. But, through this podcast, he is really speaking to me in a new way. Or God is speaking to me through him.
In the five part series “Anatomy of a Wound,” Dr. Schuchts and Jake Khym discuss the “tree” of the wounds that have happened in our lives, and the “fruit” of our conscious and unconscious responses to those wounds.
Basically, it boils down to this: our hearts were made to give and receive love. When our hearts are open to love but somebody meets us with something other than love, a wound results. It doesn’t even have to be intentional. The wound forms when we expect love and receive something that isn’t love, or that we don’t perceive as love.
There are two types of wounds. One — the more active type — occurs when our open hearts are met with the antithesis of love. We are abused, or ridiculed or injured. Something actively bad is done to us. The other type is more passive. Those wounds occur when, instead of receiving the love we expect or have the right to expect, we receive…nothing. Abandonment would fall into this category, along with being ignored or dismissed, or other “absence” wounds.
The heart, which had allowed itself to be vulnerable, responds by protecting itself. One way it does that is by creating beliefs — about ourselves, about God and about the people around us. We may respond by creating beliefs about ourselves — that we are not worthy of love, or that we are stupid or incapable. We may begin to believe that certain situations are dangerous — situations far beyond the narrow scope of what happened to us. Or we may form judgments, which are beliefs about others — the people who hurt us, or even an entire segment of the population (“That person is out to get me,” or “All men are untrustworthy”).
The next step of our response is making “vows” — conscious or unconscious choices and decisions we make as to how we will protect ourselves going forward. It’s our way of trying to “fix it” — to make sure we are safe from being hurt again.
All of this can be — and often is — completely unconscious. We don’t connect what we believe, or how we behave, to a long ago event that we may not remember, or may remember but believe we have completely moved beyond.
Let’s put it all together, using an example that Schuchts and Khym frequently use — abandonment. Say a child is abandoned by a parent. It may be a real abandonment, where the parent permanently leaves the family. Or perhaps it’s just a perceived abandonment, where a parent has to go away for an extended period of time. Either way, the child has come to expect the loving presence of that parent, and it is taken away. An abandonment wound can result.
So what happens? The child, who may be too young to understand what is going on, begins to form beliefs. “I am unlovable.” “This is my fault.” “If I had been better, this wouldn’t have happened.” Next come judgments. “Mom doesn’t love me.” “If I trust someone, they will leave me.” And finally, vows. “I’ll never rely on anybody again.” “If I take care of myself, I can’t be hurt.” “I need to behave perfectly all the time or I will be abandoned again.”
The end result of all of this is often behaviors that we don’t understand and can’t control. Dr. Bob Schuchts, who suffered an abandonment wound, said that whenever his wife would talk to another man, he would become convinced that she was going to leave him. Jake Khym, who also suffered such a wound, would freak out whenever his wife walked out of the room during an argument. Neither tied these behaviors to their abandonment wounds until they engaged in deeper, prayerful examination.
Great. So how do we know when our behaviors are being fueled by wounds? And, more important still, how do we get rid of them?
We are almost out of words here, but I can point you in the right direction. First, Schuchts and Khym say that we can neither find nor heal our wounds all by ourselves. Healing has to come in the context of a relationship — with God, and often mediated by a good friend or spiritual director. Healing comes through prayer — through renouncing our wounds, allowing the Holy Spirit to restore us.
To learn more, I want to recommend two resources. First is the “Restore the Glory” podcast with Dr. Bob Schuchts and Jake Khym, especially the five part series “The Anatomy of a Wound.” (Episodes 12-16) And second, you may what to check out Dr. Bob Schuchts’ book Be Healed.
I truly believe that the God who loves us wants us to be free. But he won’t force us. He won’t heal our wounds without our permission and cooperation.
Let’s let him get to work.