I think that most of us are chasing ghosts.
The ghosts are our unfulfilled needs from childhood.
Not getting the love we wanted.
The validation we wanted.
Not feeling valued.
Not feeling safe.
So, later in life we pursue ways of healing our old wounds, and many forms of therapy encourage us in this direction. These therapies suggest that healing our old wounds is possible if we are sufficiently acknowledged and nurtured by others.
I don’t really believe that. To completely heal our earliest wounds seems unrealistic to me. Instead, I think we can partially heal ourselves while also accepting that certain wounds and deprivations are part of our story. And how we tell our story—how we make sense of our disappointments in life—may shape us as much or more than the original events shaped us.
Do you think of yourself as wounded?
I concern myself that when therapy focuses too much on healing old wounds it may prolong our suffering in two ways. First, we think of ourselves as wounded. Second, we spend a great deal of time going around looking for solutions.
In addition to psychotherapy, the most common solution for healing ourselves is to find someone else to do it. This can result in us transferring the power and responsibility to another person to heal us. Usually we look to romantic partners to help heal our earliest deprivations. And, regrettably, we often look for people who remind us of the person who originally inflicted the wound.
When the wound was originally inflicted, we were children; we were victims—victims of insufficient love, attention, validation, or safety. If as adults we go out and look for someone to fill these holes we have in us, we may reenact our role as the child, the victim. But we are no longer a child and no longer a victim, so we may confuse ourselves.
And, when we look for someone to play the role of our wrongdoer, what kind of person is likely to sign up for that? It’s usually someone who isn’t good at giving love, attention, validation or making us feel safe. That’s why we pick them—they remind us of the original circumstances in which we first felt deprived.
The people we gravitate toward may not be the people who can heal us.
Can anyone heal us? From a Live Conscious perspective we do not say that the other person heals us, we say that we heal ourselves with the other person. It is up to us to be actively engaged in directing our healing process. We are not relying on someone else to make us okay. But to do this—to heal ourselves with the help of another person—we must wisely pick the people with whom we choose to relate.
We must pick someone who knows well, how to love, validate, attend to, and create safety. People who can do this are reasonably healthy and so they’re looking for someone else who is reasonably healthy. Having wounds doesn’t prevent us from attracting a healthy partner; it’s all a matter of how we present ourselves. If we present ourselves as a victim, we’re less likely to attract someone who is healthy. If we present ourselves as taking responsibility for our growth and development, we’re more likely to attract a healthy partner.
What does it sound like to take responsibility for our growth and development—for our wounds?
I frustrate myself terribly when I find out that you haven’t been completely honest with me. I have a hard time staying connected to people if I don’t think they’re honest. This is because people weren’t honest with me when I was a child, so I’m very sensitive about this. I’m not making excuses for why I get so reactive when I think you aren’t being completely honest, I’m just letting you know that this is important to me. Because of my history, I try to avoid being around people who aren’t direct and fully disclosing. So now you have this information and I hope you respect my need for honesty.
What does it sound like to transfer responsibility to the other person?
You make me so angry when you aren’t honest with me. You push me away when you don’t include me. This is what happened to me when I was a child, so when you don’t tell me the truth you’re pushing all my old buttons, which is why I overreact at times. You never listen to me when I get upset. No one ever listened to me when I was young. If you aren’t honest with me this issue will never go away.
When we speak with an adult voice—expressing childhood wounds—we heal ourselves. We invite other people to see us, to understand us, but not to take responsibility for us.
To summarize, I believe that we can only partially heal our old wounds. Psychotherapy is one way to do so, but I am cautious about therapies that continually revisit the past without placing at least equal emphasis on the present.
Romantic relationships are another means of healing ourselves, but my caution here has to do with our choice of partners. We can help ourselves if we choose the right partner. We can hinder ourselves if we choose the wrong partner, which results from an unconscious attraction to someone who is uncannily similar to the people who hurt or disappointed us when we were children.
In a future article I will describe two different strategies for healing ourselves from early life disappointments.