For the Love(?) of… Wounds

We grow, we get hurt, and if we’re paying much attention, we grow some more.

There’s a chapter in IAM, the men’s program I run, on the topic of wounds.  We look at experiences of getting hurt in a few different ways, including historical and developmental.

One thing we don’t do is worship wounds or elevate pain and suffering as some marker of true manhood, just in case you’re wondering.

Getting hurt is so common to human experience that it can be tempting to reach for a stiff shot of “deal with it” or “just get over it and move on” when those are the very last things needed.

If this stuff is tough to look at – it often is – then why bother?

One very important reason is that wounds can be both cause and reinforcement of shame.  And shame, in all it’s damaging glory, functions as a powerful wedge of separation.  Once in place, it maintains that sense of being apart – from one another… and from the full picture of who we are.

It’s the emotional equivalent of being ostracized, exiled from one’s home.

Shame is distinguished from other emotional experiences in that it’s built on the premise that one is, at an essential level, damaged goods.  It supposes a kind of alienating brokenness beyond redemption or repair, the sticky notion that not only have I done wrong, but to the depth of my very being, I am wrong.

Nasty stuff indeed.

And as counter intuitive as it may seem to the casual observer, one important reason to face our wounds is to shed light on old shame – in the interest of releasing the exhausting patterns set off by holding on to it.  Typically, we find out that what appeared as a big, ugly anvil of shame, a secret thing hanging over our head threatening to drop the moment it’s discovered, turns out to be the stuff of common experience.

That doesn’t equate to finding company in misery.  It does lighten the load by busting old, isolating stories about being alone in things no one else could possibly understand.

Another reason for noticing and sharing wounding stories is that it is often those intensely difficult experiences that set conscious human beings on purposeful paths.

For instance, my deepest wounding set me on the journey that’s culminated in the work I do today.  Yeah, it knocked my (up until that moment) innocence on its ass and left me empty, betrayed and lost in a spinning rage in the moment.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t suck.

At the same time, I can look back with clear hindsight and see the very instant the seeds of my legacy work were planted, and my maps drawn. 

While I could make sound, logical arguments for the work I do, I don’t know that rationale would have been enough to carry me through lean times and moments – sometimes seasons – of doubt.

The passion, determination, and clear purpose born of the chaotic swirl of that wound, however, stuck.  I don’t mind that it took decades of missteps and inner work to get clear about all that.  What matters is that I got there.

In class with the current IAM cohort, it was clear that more than half the men in the room had painful experiences that served to point them toward important work.

To be clear, I don’t love wounds – regardless of the title of this piece.  I do love the developmental paths and moments of conscious choice they can guide us toward.  And I’m not in any way suggesting that any and all traumatic experiences are the stuff of glorious growth opportunities.  That’s the overly simplistic, dangerous stuff of new age “it’s all good” dogma.  Human beings – and our circumstances and stories – are far more complex than that kind of thinking makes space for.

What’s most true for me is that I’m deeply grateful to do the work I get to do – and I know I wouldn’t have landed in this incredibly joyous season without the healthy dose of challenge and heartbreak that came before.