We Don’t Need to Be Unwounded to Help Others, We Just Need to have an Intimate and Honest Relationship with Our Wounds
These past couple of years, I’ve become very acquainted with the gifts and limitations of my wounds and how to tell the difference between the two. Helping or loving anyone from a wounded place can result in support that is either unhelpful or damaging. As parents, healers, ministers, helpers, therapists or support persons we don’t need to be unwounded to help others — we just need to have an intimate and honest relationship with our wounds so that it’s clear to everyone involved, who we are trying to “help.” I compare this to getting to know a lover. Seeking to know them inside and out — their strengths, depths, triggers and potential go-to behaviours when they (or I) just. want. to. stop. the. bleeding.
While I learned about all of this through counselling classes and other trainings I’ve done, the greatest teacher for me has been through my intimate relationships. Nothing matters to me as much as my children, partner, family and friends do, and yet — no other area of my life touches my wounds as much as they do. Because of this, I’ve learned to recognize the dysregulation in my body when my wounds have opened, to slow down, pause and be present to what is actually real in the moment.
There are 2 memories that stand out as for me as vivid reminders of what my wounded vs. unwounded help looks and feels like. In one — I’m standing at my eldest sons door, trying to help him grieve and find a reason to keep going after losing his friend from suicide. He keeps saying “don’t yell at me” and I can’t understand why he’s saying this when I’m not raising my voice at all. Only later do I realize that what he was feeling, was that my support (while good intentioned) was from a desperate place of fear that I’m going to lose him too, rather than from a place of present listening to him and what he actually needed from me.
The second memory happened a year and a half later — I’m holding in my arms a friend and mother who lost her son to suicide only a few days earlier. As she sobs, I feel the bones in her spine under my fingers, smell the shampoo in her hair and see her sons’ shoes on the porch floor under our feet. The difference between the 2 memories of myself is: grasping, desperation vs. generous, loving presence.
Since then, I use these memories as a reminder that when I’m helping anyone, there are 2 choices I can make — like 2 doors to open in my heart.
There are 2 doors in my heart — each with a sign on them that says “helping.” Apart from the signs, the doors look very different.
One is like those old saloon doors that have no handle and swing open without warning or thought to who is on the other side. Beyond the swinging door, the ground drops away immediately so that as soon as I step in — as fast as the door swings open — I fall into a big pit of gooey tar. There is no bottom to the pit and once in it, I have to tread tar to stay up. The tar is sticky and heavy and I have to not only tread fast enough to stay up, but also to keep it from hardening around me. Glancing around the tar pit I notice what I hadn’t noticed before — that the person I was trying to help, is in here treading tar with me. It’s difficult to see them for who they truly are in here — someone hurting and needing support while also fully capable of surviving this pain. All I can see is both of us, desperately trying not to drown in the tar while their eyes plead with mine to save them. This door represents the wounded part of me that when triggered, can’t always tell my wound from another’s in this pit.
The other door in my heart is wooden with a large stain glass window in it and I can tell from the way the colours in the glass sparkle onto my face and chest that there is a lot of light on the other side. This door is made with such obvious care that I can almost imagine whomever made it, hand planing and sanding it until it was smooth to touch. The handle is one that needs to be turned in order to open the door and as I reach down to turn it I’m present to every sensory detail I see and feel. Being so well cared for, this door makes me feel present, loving and generous before I even open it. Turning the handle and gently easing the door forward, I can see the person on the other side standing on the grass with light glowing around them. I notice the deep pain in their eyes, the quiver in their lip and the dysregulation in their chest as they breathe. When I reach out to hug them I smell the faint scent of soap in their hair and feel the bones in their spine with my fingertips. I am as present as humanly possible to what they’re going through and, while I can absolutely feel their pain and imagine with every vein in my body how it feels, I never once see it as my own or as my responsibility to fix. I am simply there for them, in whatever way they need, on their journey of healing.
Before I help anyone, I take a breath, pause at the entry of these doors and ask myself which one I’m about to go through.
***In loving memory of Thomas Schorr and his loving mama.