Healing 101: Myths

This semester is one in which I’m focusing pretty heavily on my own healing. I’ll be starting an internship next summer or fall, and while I don’t expect to have all my issues resolved prior to starting, God has given me the gift of a relatively work-light semester in which to address some of the issues that have been perpetually tripping me up for the last several years.

In working through my own healing process, I may occasionally be posting bits and pieces of my experiences and observations; these are by no means professional opinions, and though I post them wary of playing into our culture of emotional voyeurism, I’m hopeful that they may help others who are currently wrestling through the process of their own healing.

Here, then, are a few of the myths regarding healing that I am starting to recognize in my worldview:

1. Healing just happens.

I so wish this were true. I would so love to be able to say to myself and others who are currently healing (ie: the world) that healing is a process that naturally happens, and that if you’re emotionally wounded, you can just sit around and scratch your ear while those wounds neatly suture themselves until barely even a scar remains. “Time heals all wounds, right?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Emotional wounds are more like broken bones than a scraped knee–whereas with the latter, a Band-Aid is sufficient for healing, the former needs to be set, tended to, and gently weaned back into health. Sure, if you avoid all those steps, you may get to a point where the wound does its best to heal itself–but if you let it heal without caring for it, it will continue to trouble you over the long run in ways that could have been avoided had it been properly cared for. Time can blunt the impact of emotional wounds, but healing takes various degrees of personal effort.

2. It can be achieved in one cathartic step.

I used to think that emotional wounds were buried deeply within my psyche, and if I could just identify them and have a good cry with a box of tissues in one hand and a chocolate bar in the other, I could consider that issue dealt with and healed. Ah, those days when my default was to assume that life was easy*! I have since realized that while time alone may not be sufficient for emotional healing, it is an extremely important part of the process. Give yourself the grace to struggle with the healing process over a period of time. It may very well feel like a “one step forward two steps back” endeavor; focus on that one step.

3. It shouldn’t hurt.

On the hand of justice, this is absolutely true; it’s unfair that someone who has maintained an emotional wound at the hand of another person’s carelessness or life’s daily pain should have to go through more pain to achieve healing. But on the hand of real life, the fact of the matter is that healing can be very painful. Sustaining a wound hurts, and healing is not imbued with naturally narcotic properties. The good news, though, is that if you’re willing to face the first flush of acute pain, it will eventually begin to dull.

4. It should hurt all the time.

The flip-side of number 3 is the belief that healing should hurt, that if you aren’t going through as much pain as possible, you aren’t being healed. As a melancholic personality with a distinct disposition toward depression, I have to actively think myself out of my attempts to keep fiddling with emotional wounds. Healing hurts enough on its own; there’s no need to be continually revisiting a pain in the name of healing. I think it’s natural, if you believe catharsis is a step toward healing, to try to cathart over and over. . .while pain does sometimes need to be revisited, fight the propensity to live a life in which you are continually re-injuring yourself. A scrape can’t heal if you keep rubbing your finger in it.

5. I’m not responsible for my healing.

This is related to number 3; it’s easy to believe that because you were not entirely responsible for your hurts, it’s not your job to seek recovery. It’d be really nice, ideal, even, if the people who victimized you (or the God at whose door you may be laying the blame?) could be reasonably expected to make amends; unfortunately, however, that’s usually not a realistic expectation. Besides, even if those who hurt you were to come to you and ask forgiveness, you would have to do the grunt work toward forgiveness and healing–they are your wounds, and the burden lies with you to tend to them appropriately. While you should certainly be surrounded by a loving community while you heal, at the end of the day, no one can “do the healing” for you. You need to take responsibility for your healing. (Furthermore, there may be wounds that you are partially or entirely responsible for creating in the first place, but I’ll try to address that later).

6. I can do it alone.

I know this point may sound diametrically opposed to the one above it, but I don’t believe it really is; you are responsible to initiate and monitor your healing, but a huge part of that is recognizing that you can’t heal in isolation, and building a healthy community around you. The vulnerability that a safe community grants you can be more therapeutic than months of counseling, as the popularity and success rates of Twelve Step programs attest. Furthermore, the best healing you can get occurs with the power of the Holy Spirit. I won’t say you can’t take steps toward healing without it, but I do believe that the most complete and. . .well, “healed” healing comes about as the Holy Spirit works in and empowers your life. Don’t leave home without it.

7. It’s entirely feelings-based.

This is another way I frequently trip up my healing process. I assume that all I can do to heal is sit around until a feeling of “healedness” magically comes over me; then I’ll truly know I’ve been healed. But healing may involve many elements which are far more active and controllable than emotions. I know that for myself, the act of “putting on a new way of thinking” is playing a large role in my healing process. I have, for example, lived most of my life in a state of feeling ‘serially unwanted’ or inappropriately wanted by the men therein. Because this foundation was laid so early in my life, I am extremely sensitive to signs of rejection, particularly by men; the moment I pick up even a hint of such a sign, I tend to travel down a path of self-pity and self-loathing. Those feelings can be intense and controlling. One of my steps toward healing, then, is to consciously circumvent that cycle. I have become more aware of ways I set myself up to be rejected by guys (and they are legion), and I have started to practice thought-stopping whenever I start to feel the “Uh oh” of anticipated rejection. I’m learning to refuse to let myself get caught into the downward spiral and being very cautious in the thoughts I allow myself to have.

8. It should happen completely.

I would love it if this myth were true, but I think it overlooks how deeply sin has affected the world. Things are broken here, friends, and they aren’t always neatly fixable. Furthermore, I think it’s a myth that Christ’s power is most/only evident in miraculous healings. I do believe that miracles happen in this day and age, but I think desperately searching for miraculous healings to all problems can tend to elevate the gifts above the Giver, and may be at least in part a byproduct of our desperate-for-comfort culture. Isn’t God’s power seen just as evidently in the life of a person who struggles daily with an area of woundedness, but who is given a daily allotment of grace, as it is in a person who has been entirely healed? I’ve struggled with disordered eating patterns for nearly 10 years. I used to pray all the time that God would “fix” it. So far, I’ve been given a variety of opportunities to work toward healing in this area, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to monitor myself closely and constantly, and stay in pretty close communion with God and community to help me slog through down days (and that may not be a bad thing). The world is broken; my God is bigger than that brokenness, but that doesn’t mean he will choose to remove it easily or completely on this side of heaven.

9. It’s not possible.

Just as the optimistic belief that healing should miraculously and completely occur can set a person up for disappointment, the despair that results from someone’s belief that healing simply can’t happen can suck the dignity and hope out of a person’s life. Healing is an unbelievably messy process. It usually involves tears, pain, and enough effort that if you knew what you were getting into before you started, you might just give up.

But here’s the thing–we serve a big and wonderful God who deeply, deeply loves us. He wants us to be free from our wounds; that doesn’t mean that he’ll magically remove all the pain therein, though it can happen. But it does mean that through his grace he can help us get to a point where our lives are no longer consumed with protecting or avoiding our wounds. Through his grace, they may lose the power to control us. He has promised that his grace is sufficient; build the foundation of your healing upon that hope.

10. My wounds are proof that God doesn’t exist/care.

I’ve been working a post regarding my theology of suffering for awhile now, and I don’t want to ‘spoil’ it (though the perfectionist in me is a bit skeptical that it will ever be finished). But I’m desperate to reassure myself and those of you who are struggling with the ache of woundedness, feelings of betrayal, and subsequent doubts regarding God’s character, that He does love you. So, so much. I pray that you will find the grace to be able to recognize and rest in that truth tonight. I write this in fear of sounding glib; while I’ve certainly experienced pain in my life, I know it’s nothing compared to that of some of my readers. And I am not someone who believes that the best application of truth is to slap it on an open wound like a Band-aid and then insist the person stop hurting. Your pain is legitimate, and God is big enough and caring enough to want to hear about it.

*Life isn’t easy; and while, contrary to my comfort-seeking Western worldview, “difficult” doesn’t have to be synonymous with “miserable,” I’m realizing that as I drop the demand that life work seamlessly for me, I’m better equipped to handle challenges in a way that circumnavigates misery.

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