The author and artist Pamela Wells recently posted a very important essay on what we call “wounded healers.” I encourage you to read it and think about its application in your own situation. I’ve included the essay below – and you can also view it on Pamela’s site.
In home environments where chaos is the norm, wounded healers are the psychic gatekeepers of the family. They are intuitive or very sensitive to things beyond the range of normal perception either as a result of being born this way or as an acquired survival skill. Often considered by others to be different, scapegoats or the black sheep of the family, they are the intuitive conduits that keep a dysfunctional family together in an unconscious effort to meet their own survival needs. Their family of origin is the primary place where wounded healers learn how to communicate and trust other people and the first environment that teaches how safe the world is. Wounded healers raised in functional households may have survived horrible traumas such as war, rape or torture.
When a wounded healer survives their challenging past history they have an ability to thrive as a result of gaining greater awareness, understanding and empathy for the human condition as a result of their past trauma.
The Differences Between the Wounded Healer Archetype and the Healer Archetype
Why is a wounded healer different then a healer who may have also suffered from challenging past histories?
What distinguishes wounded healers from healers is their extra sensitive or intuitive psyches (highly developed right brain capabilities), experiences of intense and often long-term suffering in dysfunctional families, and a Dark Night of the Soul – which is the psychic equivalent of a near death experience.
Wounded healers who survive their challenging ordeals and the Dark Night can acquire healing skills for repairing the human spirit. Their special skills are a result of developing their intuition for survival – a skill that cannot be easily taught in a classroom. A wounded healer may or may not have training in mind or body healing but if they do, they can expand and illuminate their healing skills in both western healing modalities and alternative medicine. Wounded healers can also guide others and show them the way back from emotional underworlds of depression, dark thoughts and hopeless despair.
Healers serve others by repairing mind, body or spirit. They are gifted in their ability to help people transform physical or emotional pain into a healing process. Most western healers specialize in a specific healing modality although it is becoming more common to find healers trained in both western and alternative style healing modalities that help patients integrate and then apply a body-mind-spirit approach to health.
The Psyche’s Mortal Wound
Wounded healers often experience deep emotional and mental wounds in their early formative years of childhood and adolescence or through some kind of horrible trauma. This psyche wound can be mortal if it is not eventually healed and result in an early death. Sometimes the psyche’s wound manifests itself into a physical illness or injury where emotional and mental well-being is so deeply conflicted and unstable that a person’s thought patterns result in self-destructive behavior.
One of the unique characteristics of the psyche’s mortal wound is it can only be healed after the symbolic death of the egoic self. Another characteristic of this mortal wound is the wounded healer at some time realizes she has a conscious choice to heal the wound at any time in order to live. Even during what can become a long, slow decent into emotional underworlds of dark thoughts, depression and hopeless despair.
Soul Retrieval – Calling the Spirit Back and Discovering the Authentic Self
The most self-destructive and critical period in the life of a wounded healer is often referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul”. Or it is referred to as “hitting bottom” by 12 step recovery programs. This period can last days, months or many years.
It is during the Dark Night that the wounded healer has reached a crisis of faith in themselves and others. This is when fragile belief structures collapse resulting in great internal conflict and confusion. This critical period is when every decision can result in tragic consequences. It is often during these times of deep suffering when relatives and friends of wounded healers feel helpless to stop the downward spiral of self-destruction and they constantly worry about their loved ones well being.
Some Shamans referred to people with mortal psychic wounds as lost souls. They understood that the human spirit was immortal and the only way to bring back the loss of vital power was to have lost souls send out their own guardian spirit or power animal to retrieve the lost soul. Navajo tribal elders knew that to bring the living dead back to life was to ritualize the process of having them call their spirit back into their body.
Western trained healers would understand the psyche’s mortal wound as an emotional and mental violation beyond what the human mind can cognitively comprehend. They would describe the symptoms as some kind of mental or psychological illness or disease. To treat the symptoms, they often prescribe antidepressants that can sometimes prolong the suffering and increase drug tolerance for even more mental and physical complications. The western healing approach may have good intentions but it often misses the third and most important component of a mind-body-spirit solution – spirit.
What western healers can realize is that successful treatment results in a psychic death not a physical death and what may be needed is a more integral approach of both western and alternative healing modalities that include mind, body and spirit. This is why 12 step recovery programs are often successful when other western healing solutions have failed.
The only way for wounded healers to become well is to retrieve the fragmented pieces of their mind, body and spirit. Of course, we never really loose our spirit or souls but to “call our spirits back” is an important and symbolic way to describe returning from the Dark Night – the emotional underworlds of lost souls and the living dead.
The Ultimate Solution – Ego Death
Paradoxically the Dark Night is also a time of tremendous grace since deep suffering offers the wounded healer the opportunity to realize at any moment they don’t have control of everything in their lives. To heal, the wounded healer has to stop “playing God” and turn their life over to the care of a higher authority.
By choosing to surrender the egoic self to a higher authority in the name of the Divine, by ritualistically “retrieving the soul” or “calling one’s spirit back” a symbolic ego death can occur and physical death of the body is avoided.
The reason psychic death can feel like a real death is because of the amount of terror involved in not knowing what will happen after a wounded healer stops trying to control everything. Unfortunately, wounded healers often unconsciously or consciously choose to end their lives because dieing often means to stop the pain and suffering.
The Serenity Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous is the opening prayer at recovery group meetings and is a very helpful tool for wounded healers to use in letting go and beginning the healing process.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen”.
Also helpful are the first, second and third steps in a 12-step recovery program which are:
1. We admitted we were powerless over (fill in the blank) and that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater then ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.
However the wounded healer eventually finds a higher authority (God, Divine, Allah, Goddess, Shiva, Creator, Govinda, etc.), it is through surrendering control – a symbolic death of the ego – and finding a new faith in self, others and God, that is the most immediate and penetrating healing solution for curing the suffering of wounded healers.
Rebirth of the Authentic Self
It takes great courage and internal strength for the wounded healer to retrace her challenging past history in order to alchemically transform it into a wellspring of self-knowledge, faith and wisdom. Like a salve that heals a wound but leaves a scar, wounded healer’s scar tissue is their past personal story that can be retold to inspire and heal others. This past personal story gives the wounded healer their unique healing skills to empathically understand and feel the fear, pain and suffering of others. Through their sharing of traumatic life experiences, they can help others transform their pain and suffering into faith of self, others and God. Love and faith in God can completely and miraculously heal the wounded self in one moment. So, without scar tissue, the wounded healer would be another kind of healer perhaps.
The Abundance and Joy of Life After the Dark Night of the Soul – Wisdom Through Experiential Knowledge
Like the Goddess Inanna, wounded healers internally strong enough to return from the Dark Night, bring back knowledge and wisdom about their own vulnerability and the necessity of sacrifice. They learn how the cycles of life are a thread of commonality for us all. Through the emotional dark underworlds their heart opens in compassion for all beings.
After the Dark Night of the Soul the past becomes a part of their bigger story about the eternal purpose of the soul. The past is understood as an essential component of bringing about universal lessons that grow consciousness and wisdom through surviving difficult situations, internal confusion and pain. The scar from the wound becomes a source of inspiration and empowerment. A new purpose is realized as wounded healers awaken to Divine Grace and the radiant wonder of the universe.
The Gift of Service
Wounded healers are often working in service to others through their careers. Because they have experienced a death of their psyches, wounded healers have the unique ability to fearlessly channel spiritual wisdom, combined with their own humanity and unfolding life story and through their passionate personal stories. They have the ability to go beyond mind and perceive life as a gift of evolutionary growth. They also gain the discernment and wisdom to choose a conscious life of power and purpose. Wounded healers empowered by their own healing path are mystics who have traveled the emotional dark underworlds of human misery and survived to tell others what a beautiful blessing life is.
ABOUT AUTHOR AND ARTIST PAMELA WELLS
Pamela Wells has been working as a fine artist, commercial illustrator and graphic web designer for over 20 years and specializes in creative work that leads to greater understanding and awareness. Her goddess art incorporates her interest in the study of transpersonal psychology, integral transformative spiritual practice and the evolution of human consciousness. She cares deeply about both men and women and also about the ecological preservation of the planet which benefits all living things. To order a copy of Pamela’s most recent book and card set, Affirmations for the Everyday Goddess, http://www.ArtmagicPublishing.com.