By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
Everybody is wounded. It’s like we’re in a worldwide war that is always going on. From the time we were young there was shooting going on around us and sometimes we got hit. Maybe we got hit by a random bullet of shame or judgment or ridicule from a loved one? Of course they also could have been well timed sniper attacks by those who wished to take us down? Maybe we got caught in the machine gun cross fire of attacks between parents or family members? Maybe we were the victim of a tank assault that blew our church apart? Maybe it was the grenades thrown by bullies at school? Whatever kind of attack it was, I believe that no one arrives at adulthood unscathed. There’s just too much shooting going on for someone to make it with no wounds. And that includes the perpetrators, those wielding the guns and pointing the mortars and grenade launchers. Because I believe the book by Sandra Wilson, with the title, Hurt People, Hurt People. Heck, that is why the war rages on generation after generation. No peace talks, no treaties, no cease fire. I don’t mean that individuals don’t apologize, own up to their stuff, offer forgiveness and see healing in relationships. No, I just mean that the worldwide war never ceases. People aren’t really getting “nicer” – on the whole I mean. Oh, we may be getting better in some arenas at confronting sin and injustice and requiring change in practice (we’ve abolished slavery, in our country, and made progress on racism, but then stuff like bullying and sex trafficking is only recently getting real attention, let alone stopping it). But – heart change – that’s another story altogether.
By the time we reach the voting age, it likely means we’ve got our share of wounds. And although we all have our own unique wounds, we all can heal and grow in similar ways. I call our unique mix of wounds our “Wall”. What I mean is, that I see our wounds stacking up like a brick Wall – each brick a wound. And we form our identity based on that Wall – based on what happened to me, on what people said about me, on what abuse I experienced. That Wall looms over us and is always there. We may try a hundred ways to get away from that Wall; to live in denial, to escape, to pretend those things didn’t happen. Maybe we are able for a period of time to feel like we made it! We remade ourselves and got away. And as much I would like to celebrate with you on that, I find too many times that people share with me that it didn’t last. That the Wall was still there, haunting them, reminding them of who they are.
I have to explain to clients that I don’t believe you can make this Wall go away or escape it. But then I tell them that I don’t believe that they need to do so. I don’t believe that healing is about escaping or burying our past. I certainly don’t believe that the wounds get healed that way. But I do believe there is a way.
You see, a number of years back in my own struggle I came across a really helpful truth, and that is that our hearts don’t learn the same way our head learns. You can try to put something out of your mind, or you can teach your mind to learn something new, but how about your heart? Can you sit your heart down at an elementary school desk and teach it the times tables or the laws of science? I sure found that my heart just wouldn’t get it and for a time I got really angry at myself and at God. Until I understood that my heart isn’t dumb, it just learns differently.
So, how does the heart learn? The head learns by conceptualizing and by proofs and by memorization. But the heart learns…by experience. Think about it. How does the heart know love, courage, sacrifice, perseverance, fear, trust, or anything else? It is through what the heart experiences. That’s the power of the wall. The Wall stands there with experience against you. It says – “see, this is what is true – this is what happened, this is what was said and did.” It is true that our minds can help us by reinterpreting what happened to us. And that helps a great deal. That is a big part of therapy and is healing. That our conceptions and conclusions about ourselves and the world and God are not just based on what we experienced but how we interpreted those experiences and what we concluded from them. Healing begins when we stand and face the wall and stop running and stop trying to escape it. Instead we challenge the meanings that the wall proposes about us.
And yet, our healing, our freedom will stall if we don’t continue on to the Bridge. So far we have only challenged these misinterpretations of our core self and our belief system. The problem though, is that the Wall stands there saying –“yeah, what about this event and what about when that happened?” The Bridge is about taking these new conceptions we are attempting to form in our heart and challenging the Wall with new, opposing experiences. Remember – the heart learns through experience. We need new experiences that are not of more wounding, but experiences that disprove our shameful, weak, stupid, ugly, worthless, loser, conceptions of ourselves and the unhealthy and fear filled conceptions we hold of others and God as well. Experiences that will disprove the Wall one brick at a time, until they form a Bridge – that overshadows the Wall and reaches a new destination. A Bridge that leads me to a more objective perception of who I am and who God and others are.
I know that sounds a bit “Wizard of Oz” – cross over the magical bridge and enter the world of chocolate or something like that. I don’t mean for this to seen fanciful, for it is actually the very opposite. This is bedrock type of stuff. There is nothing more serious than changing our heart and our perceptions about ourselves and healing from our wounds. It takes a lot of work. There is no pie in the sky dreaming taking place. It requires all of our courage to face our wounds and uncover what the Wall has really been declaring about us. And then to stand against the accusations of the Wall and begin to challenge the assumptions. And then it requires even more courage to dare to disprove them.
Building the Bridge is about risking to go out into the world, the same world that shot at you and wounded you, and trust that although the war continues that there are safe places that exist. That there are people out there just like yourself, who are also looking for safe people and desiring to become safe themselves. You see, the only way to overcome your Wall is with a Bridge. By finding that although you had people who wounded you, that not all people will betray you, not all people will abuse you, not all people think poorly of you.
With caution and wisdom and discernment, you can go on a quest to find safe others and through experiencing love and grace and care and empathy and respect from them you can construct this Bridge – a healing Bridge.
Someday, after much hard work, you will find that those old wounds do not sting and threaten like they used to. You will have built a Bridge that is stronger and more secure and more true than that Wall. The Wall is not gone; but you will see it in a different way.
The love of God and safe others is what can transform our hearts.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Matt, please call our office at 407-647-7005.
Reprint Permission– If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.