Becoming a kintsugi-style healer

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

two people holding both hands together Photo by Mathias Klang from Göteborg, Sweden (friendship) , via Wikimedia Commons

I have often considered myself to be a wounded healer. The fact that I have experienced wounds gives me greater compassion for those who are wounded, which allows me to be more present to them in their pain.

But, contrary to popular perception, it is not my woundedness that allows me act as a wounded healer. In fact, any time I act from my wounds, I will inflict greater wounding on people around me. Our wounds can never heal another, only our own healing can.

When I connect with others from the place of my wounds, I am engaging in what Carolyn Myss calls "woundology." In this process of forming relationships, one person reveals some deep inner wound that they have, the other person searches their life experience to find a similar wound that they can share, and the two then connect as "wound mates" based on the sharing of similar wounds.

This is a relatively new phenomenon that has sprung up as therapy and the subsequent emotional sharing that goes with support groups has become more common, and it's easy to see why this is a powerful way of bonding. Someone who shares a similar wound is likely to understand us and be able to support us in ways that people without similar wound patterns may not be able to.

In addition, because our wounds tend to become part of our identity, finding someone who has so much in common with the way the define ourselves is a strong draw in and of itself.

But there's a downside to the wound mate phenomenon. For all the support that the wound mate can bring us, the fact that our strongest relationships are now built around these wounds makes the wounds an even stronger part of our self-identity, making the complete healing of those wounds less likely to happen.

After all, if we gain our primary support and validation from relationships that are built on the foundation of those wounds, why would we ever want them to go away? Healing them would bring the specter of abandonment, which is one of our deepest fears.

I have seen in myself the hesitation to move on from a wound and allow it to fully heal when I know that doing so could cost me a valued relationship. Change (even good change) is difficult enough without adding a sense of abandonment to the mix.

In my experience, it's very common for the wound mate whose wound has not healed to reject the one who is healing (or staring to heal) because the one who is healing no longer validates the wounded staying in her wounded state. This is true even when the one who is beginning to heal is still willing to fully support and listen to the other.

This method for developing relationships, therefore, has the seeds of continued suffering built in from the very start despite the perceived benefit of greater support at the outset from the "wound mate." The same is true when a wounded healer attempts to bring healing to another out of their own wounds.

What allows a wounded healer to function as a healer is acting out of the places where they were once wounded, but now have healed. It is acting out of their own healing, with the memory of the wounds enabling them to respond compassionately, that makes it possible to offer the space, the presence, and the encouragement to someone who is hurting so they can move toward healing as well.

That is the beauty of the kintsugi metaphor. It reminds us that those healed places in our lives can now be a source of beauty (of healing) to others. It doesn't mandate that we fix everything about us that is broken; we will all always have places that still need healing. Instead, it pulls our attention away from defining ourselves by our brokenness and our wounds and re-orients us toward remembering the ways we have healed, so we can use that healing to bring healing to others.

Perhaps I would be better off considering myself to be a kintsugi-style healer, who shares the gold of my own healing, rather than a wounded healer. It reminds me of the true nature of what I have to offer.

What is your experience with wound mates and wounded healers? Do you agree that we can offer healing only out of our own healed places?

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