Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Wounded Healer: A Journey Into Empathy

What is the Wounded Healer? What does it have to do with being an Empath? Let's take a closer look at it, shall we?

The Wounded Healer

One website says this about the Wounded Healer Archetype:

The Wounded Healer is initiated into the art of healing through some form of personal hardship--anything from an actual physical injury or illness to the loss of all one's earthly possessions. Regardless of the shape of the wound, the challenge inherent in this initiation process is that one is unable to turn to others for help beyond a certain degree of support. Only the initiate can ultimately heal the wound; if it is an illness or accident, it will frequently be one for which there is no conventional cure. The Wounded Healer archetype emerges in your psyche with the demand that you push yourself to a level of inner effort that becomes more a process of transformation than an attempt to heal an illness. If you have successfully completed the initiation, you inevitably experience an exceptional healing, and a path of service seems to be divinely provided shortly after the initiation is complete.
This brief synopsis of what a Wounded Healer is, only gives a very limited understanding of how one truly becomes a Wounded Healer. It says, through suffering (of different kinds) one first becomes deeply wounded and then over time learns to heal their own wounds, and in part, this is through the act of healing others. So it eventually becomes a path of service, based in the empathy of shared pain and experience. But there is more to it than that.

So let's take this one step further and personalize it, to understand the process by which one becomes the archetype of the Wounded Healer.

1. A young man, from the time he is around the age of 10 to the time he is in his late adolescence, watches helplessly as his ailing mother suffers from a long term illness. As the years pass slowly by, her health degenerates. And he watches as her pain limits her mobility and his own access to her. And then finally, after falling into a coma, she passes away. And he is left to mourn her passing.

This young man, for having suffered right along with his mother, decides to go into the field of medicine and work as a Doctor or a Nurse. His motivation is the hope of helping alleviate other people's suffering, of both the patient and the families involved.

2 A young woman, from the time she is very young, suffers from multiple types of abuse at the hands of an adult. As she grows older, she becomes deeply depressed, even to the point of attempting suicide. Through long term therapy, she is able to come to terms with what has happened to her, but it does not remove the scar on her heart.

So, she begins working with others who have been abused. This takes on the form of a volunteer at a suicide hotline or a woman's shelter. Finding empowerment in helping others who have suffered, much as she has, she decides to make this her life's career. And she works toward such jobs as a Victim's Advocate, a Social Worker, or a Therapist.
Even these examples, though, do not detail the level of suffering one tends to go through on the path of the Wounded Healer. To understand that, one must understand another concept called The Dark Night Of The Soul.

The Dark Night Of The Soul

The Dark Night Of The Soul is considered by some to be an initiation of sorts, where in a person goes through great suffering to attain a higher form of consciousness and awareness. For a Wounded Healer, this often times leads the person into a state of internal healing that reaches out into the world, where they seek to be of service to others.

But calling the Dark Night an initiation, does not speak to the depths of suffering one may encounter upon the journey into it. This is because the heights to which the human spirit may soar are equal to the depths to which it can fall. And often, one may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night.

The Dark Night causes the human spirit to falter and doubt everything it has placed its faith in. Walls begin to crumble around the spirit, that once supported them and held them steadfast. Depression can set in, so deep and so painful that it can bring a person to their knees. And through it all, they feel completely and utterly alone, while those that care for them look on helpless to do anything about it, as they fall into a downward spiral of sorrow, anguish, confusion, and doubt.

This is the place where the fragile human ego potentially dies. But it is also a place where in some choose a physical death over a psychic one, because the suffering can be so powerful and so overwhelming. But when one has a psychic death, or a death of the human ego, they have fallen as far as they can go, without actually attaining physical death. And there, in that place, they have learned to surrender.

What brings a person to this point? Sometimes, its general pressures from the world around a person. Sometimes, its unacknowledged issues from the past (like any type of abuse, trauma, or suffering) resurfacing and demanding to be dealt with. Sometimes its current patterns or cycles of on going abuse. Sometimes its addictive behaviors. But beyond the reason that brings the person to that point, each Wounded Healer finds themselves standing in the same place eventually, deep within the Dark Night Of The Soul.

Some choose to run from it, and find themselves there again and again. Some step into it and give up completely. And then others step into it and struggle with it to the end.

The reason this is so harrowing is because the Dark Night is like looking into the mirror of your soul and seeing your true self reflected back at you. And this means seeing both the good and the bad. It means acknowledging even the things you have insecurities about, are ashamed of, regret, fear, hate, anger you, and resent. It means taking responsibility for your part in the cumulative events that make up your life, instead of pushing the blame on others and being a victim. And it means coming to terms with the pain you have suffered at the hands of others. It means looking at yourself in totality, to see the whole of who you really are.

And then, it means coming to terms with those things. Making peace with them, because the past can not be changed or rewritten, so that you can move forward with your life without the heavy burden of the past weighing you down.

Does this mean you have to love everything about you, even when you intentionally hurt someone else, were petty, or did something horrible? Does it mean you have to forgive those that have hurt you horribly and offer them a great big hug? No, it doesn't. What it does mean, when you acknowledge these things and accept them as part of who you are, is that they become lessons for you to learn from and to grow from, in the long run. They can become the guide showing you the way you want to live your life, as opposed to how you used to when you knew regret, guilt, and fear.

Learning to forgive, yourself and others, for a past that can not be changed, can rewrite the destiny of your future ~ the future of a Wounded Healer.

Soul Retrieval

Within the practices of Shamanism, there is a ritual called Soul Retrieval. This practice is utilized when a piece or pieces of a person's spirit have seemingly departed from the body as a means of protection during traumatic events that occur in life. The act of Soul Retrieval is the retrieval and reintegration of those missing pieces of the person's soul.

When a Wounded Healer goes through the Dark Night, they are in essence preforming their own form of Soul Retrieval on themselves. This can act can take days, weeks or even years to complete. It all depending on how fragmented the soul is, how much suffering the person has gone through in their life, and how willing they are to delve inside themselves to find those pieces again.

To put it another way, have you ever felt an unknown longing inside you that pulls incessantly at you? Its like an empty void that you try to fill with different things like relationships, busy activities, religion or altruistic offerings of help to others? Perhaps you've tried to numb that gnawing feeling deep within your heart with drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors? And some of these things might fill it up a little bit for a time, but eventually, after a while, you come back to the same place you started at because nothing gets rid of it totally.

The problem here is that you are looking everywhere but the one place you should be for the missing thing to fill that void. And the more you search, while avoiding that one place, the more fragmented you become. Until there is no place left to look, but into that mirror, because nothing works anymore and you feel your life coming to a halting standstill....stagnating. And you are left feeling impotent and powerless.

Soul Retrieval is the act of looking into the mirror and seeing all of those seemingly fragmented parts of yourself that you have pushed away from you. In reality, they are all still there and you have only dissociated yourself from them, possibly to the point where they seem like separate entities all together. Soul Retrieval is the integration of the fragmented spirit of a wounded soul.

When done by you for you, it is an act of intense and powerful healing. And it is a process that builds faith in one's own innate worth. This is because you are showing yourself, as a person worthy of healing (like you might show another person in offering them compassion and empathy) by acting as your own healer, teacher and guide. It speaks to the value you place upon yourself, by taking the first steps into a journey of healing and recovery, instead of hiding in the darkness, ashamed of who you are with the belief that you have no value other than what you can do for others.

The Innate Potential Of The Wounded Healer

All of this, which in any singular moment, might seem as though it was pointless suffering and anguish, can lead the Wounded Healer to a much greater awareness of spirit. It can potentially open this person up to great empathy and compassion for those around them who are suffering in much the same way, despite the differences in situations and experiences.
Who then can so softly bind up the wound of another as he who has felt the same wound himself?
~~Thomas Jefferson
The Wounded Healer walks a path of empathy, where in they have the ability to help other people heal and grow at depths others might not be able to aspire to. This is because they have walked the same path and suffered the same wounds. And having come out on the other side, from darkness into light, they are capable of walking back into that darkness to help others do the same.

What Does This Say About Other Paths?

Does this say you have to be a Wounded Healer to be an Empath? No. Does this say that one has to be a Wounded Healer to empathize with others or to share in their pain? No. This is just one type of person on one particular journey. And there are many others of equal and worthy measure.

For More Information On The Wounded Healer, Check Out:
The Wounded Healer: Archetyping Of an Empath

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