When our wounds are like icebergs

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

front edge of large boat with iceberg just ahead of it in ocean

When I was seven years old, I fell at a playground and scraped my hand badly on some gravel. My parents cleaned out the wound and bandaged it, and it healed over looking good as new.

Only it wasn't.

Unknown to us at the time, an infection had set in below the surface. Even though my palm appeared completely healed, I wound up in the hospital a few weeks later for surgery to insert tubes to drain away the infection that was starting to cause discoloration to spread into my fingers and up my arm.

I still have small scars on my palm where those tubes went in, even though the initial injury itself left no mark.

It seems to me that emotional wounds are sometimes not so different. Sometimes what we think has healed really hasn't, and it's left behind baggage that comes back to haunt us later.

Hidden wounds under the surface

Sometimes when we experience a new wound, we find that its impact on us is much larger than we would have anticipated from what occurred. We are like a ship that has hit a small iceberg only to discover that there's much more ice hiding under the surface to do us damage than what we saw floating on top of the water.

This may be because of the residue from old wounds that haven't healed as completely as we thought they did (like my hand) or it may be because we have become extra tender at a place that has received repeated wounding.

I've had a number of good friends who have "ghosted" on me in the last six years or so. In each case, there was no argument or conflict (that I know of) that prompted their disappearance. Each one just disappeared from my life—sometimes entirely, sometimes staying connected only in the most tenuous of ways.

There was no connection between these friends. I knew each one in completely different ways, for very different lengths of time, and my interactions with each was entirely different from the others.

In each case, I felt the loss keenly and grieved for the lost friendship and (in time) seemed to heal. But with each repeated experience of this, it hurt even more deeply because I was not only feeling that particular loss, but was also feeling the cumulative losses of all of them.

Even more, each loss has also tapped in to even deeper and older fears about abandonment and rejection that have deep roots in me. With each occurrence, I find myself obsessing more and more over trying to figure out what is "wrong" with me that this keeps happening.

The loss of each friendship is an iceberg that it is a true loss to be grieved in and of itself, but the effect that each one has on me is also much larger than individual loss I am facing at that moment because there is still this unhealed wound about abandonment and rejection floating under the surface that gets powerfully triggered each time, even though I seem to have recovered from each loss before the next one occurred.

Dealing with the icebergs

When we encounter these wounds that are like icebergs, all the stuff that is beneath the surface makes dealing with what is front of us even more challenging. We are suddenly facing wounds on multiple levels which may bring up only emotions that are not directly connected to our current situation.

The latest wound is just acting as a trigger that brings up all the other unhealed wounds lurking beneath the surface.

As unpleasant (and sometimes disorienting) as this can be, simply recognizing and acknowledging what is happening is our most powerful way forward.

In my case with these lost friendships, recognizing the old wounds and fears beneath the surface that have been triggered allows me to offer myself extra grace and compassion as I navigate the fall-out from the latest loss. Rather than criticizing myself for overreacting, I can be kind to and patient with this extra-tender part of me.

At the same time, seeing how these old fears and wounds rise to surface allows me to see more clearly where I still have work to do to heal and grow. It is only in recognizing those places where healing is still needed that I can address them effectively.

Each encounter with variations of this particular iceberg have helped me to gain more understanding of what lies beneath the surface, to map the contours of these hidden wounds and their history, and to separate true growth areas (e.g., I clearly need to learn better friendship skills) from false identification with the wounds and fears themselves (e.g., I am a horrible and unlovable person).

When I am able to work with what is unhealed in me across all of the situations that have contributed to the brokenness and woundedness I am experiencing, I open new doorways for understanding, insight, and healing because I have a wider perspective in which to view the challenge I am currently facing. And that means the healing I experience here has the potential to reach down into the deeper roots of the wound to drain away the old infection (like the tubes in my hand) and bring healing even to past hurts that have lingered.

We all have these icebergs floating in and around us waiting to be triggered with new encounters. Whether we use our collisions with these icebergs to find our way into greater healing or just allow them to do more damage is up to us.

For reflection

Where have you encountered wounds that triggered old woundedness that you thought had already healed? How have you dealt with that when it happened?

How does encountering these places of old wounds change the way you experience the new wounds that happen on top of them?

Is there anything you are facing now that shows signs of being an iceberg with more wounding beneath the surface than would appear? How might recognizing this change the way you approach your reaction to this situation?

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