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How Our Emotional Wounds Can Bring Healing Instead of Shame

    Image credit: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

    I vividly remember the childhood experiences that left me with emotional wounds and taught me to hide them. One time my mom saw me crying and asked what was wrong. I said I was upset because my sister had gone into my room without my permission and destroyed my favorite record. Instead of offering sympathy or trying to comfort me, mom seemed disgusted with me and said I was overreacting.

    Another time I brought home a report card full of A’s and one C. My parents expressed their disapproval and told me I could do better.

    When I got my first pair of glasses, my dad said, “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

    Every time something like that happened, I would give myself a pep talk. I told myself to bury my feelings, pretend their hurtful words had not affected me, and not show any trace of emotion when I was around them.

    I was determined not to let my parents see how deeply they had wounded me.

    Did you also get the message at some point that it was not safe or wise to share your true feelings? Maybe you grew up being told that big boys don’t cry, or that it wasn’t proper for a young lady to get angry. Perhaps you learned to hide your feelings later in life, thanks to an abusive boss or partner.

    For various reasons, many of us decide to keep our emotional wounds hidden. We see them as weaknesses or shameful secrets we must prevent others from discovering. Our wounds are evidence of imperfect lives that don’t match the carefully edited versions we feel more comfortable sharing with the world.

    It’s risky to acknowledge our wounds publicly. The potential for additional pain, caused by people who mock those wounds or use their knowledge of them to take advantage of us, is real.

    Even loved ones with good intentions can deepen our wounds. They sometimes pressure us to heal in ways or time frames that aren’t right for us. They point out what we’re doing wrong, or not doing, and tell us what we should be doing instead.

    It seems much safer to keep our wounds secret than to reveal them. However, I have learned that sharing mine not only helps me heal, it also helps others. That’s why I created this site, and why I hope you’ll contact me to learn more about the personal mental health guide services I offer via phone and email.

    How sharing our emotional wounds helps us heal

    Experience has taught me that the benefits of sharing my wounds are much greater than the risks. Talking (or writing) about them reduces my shame and helps me connect with others who have similar wounds.

    Those connections enable me to get to know people who understand and empathize with my pain because they are hurting too. They help me discover or create safe and supportive communities. They remind me that I am not the only one who finds it hard to heal from old wounds, especially when new wounding experiences keep happening.

    To see a powerful example of how sharing our wounds can help us heal, attend an open meeting of any 12-step group. There you will find people who have learned the value of sharing the whole truth about their lives. They freely discuss their wounds because they know that, in the words of one popular slogan, “we’re only as sick as our secrets.”

    How sharing our emotional wounds helps others heal

    The healing benefits of openly acknowledging our wounds also extend to others. When we share our pain, we give others permission to do the sameWe help them see that it’s okay to be wounded and to talk about those wounds.

    We remind them they are not alone and demonstrate the healing power of exposing wounds instead of hiding them.

    It means so much to me when people let me know that they have wounds similar to mine, and appreciate my willingness to tell the truth about what it’s like to live with those wounds.

    When I share the steps I have taken to help my wounds heal, and someone else is able to use them to help heal their wounds, we both benefit. That’s why I created this site, and why I hope you’ll contact me to learn more about the personal mental health guide services I offer via phone and email.

    Catholic priest, psychologist, and author Henri Nouwen (1932–1996) was another writer who knew that our wounds can be powerful sources of healing for others. I have read many of his books over the years and benefitted from the wisdom they contain.

    In his book, Bread for the Journey, he wrote these words:

    Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

    The main question is not, “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed but, “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?”

    When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

    Nouwen practiced what he preached, too. He did not hesitate to speak or write about his own wounds. Perhaps that is why over seven million copies of his books have been purchased, and they are available in more than 35 languages.

    One of those books, The Inner Voice of Love, is subtitled, “From Anguish to Freedom.” It consists of journal entries he wrote during a bout of severe depression. The introduction includes his description of that crisis:

    Everything came crashing down — my self-esteem, my energy to live and work, my sense of being loved, my hope for healing, my trust in God… everything. Here I was, a writer about the spiritual life, known as someone who loves God and gives hope to people, flat on the ground and in total darkness.

    Even though Nouwen died in 1996, readers continue to appreciate his honesty and relate to the personal struggles he shared. Anne Lamott, another author who doesn’t hesitate to write about the painful parts of her life, made this comment about him:

    “Henri Nouwen was so honest about what a mess he was. It gives you life, for someone that you love to say, ‘me too.’ ”

    Let your wounds become sources of healing instead of shame

    It takes courage to allow others to see our wounds. We are used to hiding them to protect ourselves, and revealing them can have negative consequences.

    In my experience, though, sharing my wounds has been an essential part of the healing process. It has greatly reduced the shame I feel because I have wounds that are not yet fully healed and am not always willing or able to take the steps necessary to heal them. It has helped me get to know some wonderful, caring people with similar wounds.

    Sharing my wounds and learning from others who have shared theirs has also taught me that when we reveal our wounds we help others heal. Our openness shows them that it’s okay to acknowledge their wounds. The steps we have taken to help ourselves heal provide a model they can use.

    It is easier for all of us to heal when we share our wounds. We each benefit from the supportive relationships that develop because of our honesty about the painful parts of our lives. If you want extra support from someone who doesn’t hide her wounds, I hope you’ll contact me to learn more about the personal mental health guide services I offer via phone and email.