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The three types of brokenness

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Using kintsugi as a metaphor for life means that I talk a lot about brokenness. In the process, I’ve discovered is that there are different kinds of brokenness, and not everyone who hears me speak of brokenness is thinking of it in the same way that I am.

I want to talk about the three different kinds of brokenness I most often hear people refer to and clarify what I mean when I use that word in my discussion of kintsugi as a way of living.

For ease in remembering them, I call these flavors of brokenness inherent brokenness, imposed brokenness, and invited brokenness.

Inherent brokenness: Broken by design

The idea of inherent brokenness assumes that our very nature is brokenness. Some religious traditions believe that to be human is to be created in a way that is inherently broken.

While I acknowledge that being human does mean that we are all imperfect and all capable of evil, I am not a proponent of the idea that this means that we are broken by our very nature.

Related to this is the idea that some of us are broken by nature because we fall outside the accepted cultural norm in our physical appearance, mental or physical abilities, gender expression, sexual preference, or personality traits.

I do not believe that being created in ways that fall outside of what we humans have called “normal” for our culture makes anyone broken.

Either way, this type of brokenness refers to our very nature as broken by claiming that we ARE brokenness by definition and in totality.

When I speak of brokenness, I am never referring to this category of broken because I don’t believe it exists. I believe that we are all created inherently whole even as we are all imperfect.

Imposed brokenness: Broken hearts and bones

Imposed brokenness is the kind of brokenness that happens to us in the course of living. It is not who we are, but it may be how we feel about a part of ourselves for a time. It is something that happens to us that temporarily pushes us out of our natural state of wholeness.

This category includes the accidents, illnesses, injuries that can break our bones, our bodies, and our health, but it is also the traumas, losses, unkind words, hurtful situations, disappointments, and abuse that can break our hearts, our psyches, our relationships, our faith, and often even our sense of identity.

This is all brokenness that comes from outside of us. It is brokenness that we do not choose.

This kind of brokenness, which could also be called woundedness, is most often what I am referring to when I talk about the kintsugi metaphor for our lives, especially the mental, emotional, and spiritual brokenness we all experience.

We may not choose this brokenness, but we are responsible for choosing how we deal with this brokenness when it happens.

We can choose to pass on our brokenness to others as we react out of our pain and anger in hurtful ways. (And most of us fall into this at least sometimes when we are hurting.)

We can also choose to cover over those broken places with resentment, entrenchment in our positions (to prove ourselves right), denial, heightened defenses to keep others at arm’s length, or similar patterns of behavior that keep us trapped in small worlds fenced in by our brokenness and wounds.

Or we can make the harder choice of doing what is necessary to heal. This means learning how to let go of that which hurt us, dealing with the effects it has had on our lives, and moving forward free of the baggage of the past.

In many cases, it may also mean engaging with the third kind of brokenness.

Invited Brokenness: Breaking open

When I think of this third kind of brokenness, I think of an egg breaking open for a baby animal to emerge. Or a chrysalis breaking open to release the butterfly. Or an acorn breaking open to become the sprout that will become a sapling and eventually a mighty oak tree.

In each case, the brokenness originates from within to make way for a bigger, more mature version of the creature in question to emerge.

Likewise, there are times in our lives when we choose to break open—to break through the limitations that our current ways of being, thinking, acting, and identifying have placed on us—to allow deeper, more authentic, more mature versions of our Self to emerge.

These are the moments when transformation occurs, when we let go of what we know to reach for something more.

We let go of our familiar beliefs and stories about how things work and who we are. We drop the patterns that have held us captive. We release all that we have known and believed to be true to allow that which is no longer helpful to be broken and swept away as new, truer, more helpful replacements emerge.

Sometimes we choose to break open in this way when overwhelmed by the pain of imposed brokenness that make it impossible to hold all the pieces together anymore. Other times we choose to break open because we realize that our old ways have kept us stuck in places we don’t want to be for far too long.

Either way, it is in this process of allowing ourselves to be broken open to follow the guidance of Spirit, the Divine, the Beloved, the More (in whatever way you define that) in becoming a larger version of Self that true healing happens. This is how we move toward greater wholeness.

This kind of brokenness is also what I am referring to when I talk about brokenness in the kintsugi metaphor for our lives, but it is equally what I am most often referring to when I talk about the gold.

The gold is the greater Self that emerges when we allow ourselves to break open, the Self that is more whole, more mature, more at peace, more complete, and more free than we were when still confined in our smaller version of Self. It is our living into this kind of larger Self that brings healing to the world around us.

What does brokenness mean to you?

Are there other types that I have missed?

What is your experience of breaking open? How has that differed from the times when the brokenness has been imposed on you from the outside?


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