I picked up someoneís beat up, discarded novel at the rental house where I stayed on Lake Erie this past summer -†Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese. And I started reading one night and instantly got caught up in the story.
In the first few pages, the fictional narrator, a surgeon, says:
We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky, we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound.
That last sentence hit me like a semi on speed.
Somehow, I always thought that I went to medical school to please my physician father. But I was called to the art of healing at seven years old, and as many times as I have tried to leave medicine, I have never succeeded in doing so.
ďWe must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundness.Ē
If this is true, it begs the questions for all healers, ďWhat wound are we trying to heal?Ē
Even more profoundly, it begs that we heal this wound FIRST. We cannot depend on our patients to do it for us.
My A-ha Moment
I think this is the #1 mistake physicians and other healers make. We show up wounded, expecting that our ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And indeed it can.† Helping someone else heal can foster the process of self-healing -†but only if youíve done your own work.
If you have no insight into your own wounds – and you set out to help heal others – you put others at risk of winding up even more wounded. A misguided healer can be downright dangerous.
The System Perpetuates The Wound
If itís true that we are called to be healers because we believe that ministering to others will heal our own woundedness, then physicians are the worst offenders because, not only do we show up wounded from the get-go, the system only perpetuates the wound. (I think thatís what Abraham Verghese means when he says ďBut it can also deepen the wound.Ē)
All too often, the medical education system transforms bright-eyed, idealistic, compassionate, well-intentioned, wounded lay people into cold, hardened, insensitive, paternalistic, arrogant, even-more-wounded doctors. And then, because the patient fails to heal our woundedness, we blame them.
If I am a wounded healer, and I must heal you in order to feel whole myself – and then you fail to heal – or even worse, you die – then my own wound gets deeper. I get angry at myself because I have failed you. And I may even get pissed at you – because you failed me. And then you wind up not only still sick, but feeling disconnected, confused, unsupported, and lost.
How We Hurt When We Seek To Help
Let me give you a few examples.
Example #1 A man who was abandoned by his mother is suicidally depressed throughout his teenage years. He decides to become a psychiatrist so he can help suicidal patients.† But his core wound is a lack of self worth. Because his mother left him, he feels unlovable, so he seeks love and validation from his patients. If they fail to give it to him – or God forbid, his depressed patients actually kill themselves, his core wound is activated. When this happens, because he has no insight into his core wound, he lashes out at his patients and dismisses from care those who donít fawn over him, leaving them feeling as abandoned as he felt when his mother walked out.
Example #2 A woman who was molested her entire childhood decides to become a social worker so she can help protect other victims of molestation.† Her core wound is that she feels unsafe, having been unable to protect herself as a child. So she erects emotional barriers between herself and her clients, veritable steel walls nobody can penetrate. The children she is trying to help cannot see the soft, delicate heart she tries so hard to protect. When things are going her way, she is gentle, kind, and tender with the children. But when they reveal their woundedness to her, she hides behind the walls and the children are faced with a domineering, biting, sarcastic, social worker who exerts control over them by taking the children out of foster homes theyíve come to love just so she can remind herself that she is in control.
Example #3 A woman survived childhood leukemia and grew up to become a pediatric oncologist so she could help others like herself. Her core wound is fear of letting people down, since her doting parents spent her entire childhood telling her she couldnít leave them, and that their lives would be ruined if she dies. Having survived her illness, she chooses to be an oncologist so she can help other children cheat death. When the child is fighting the cancer, she is with the family every step of the way, coming in early, staying late at the hospital, attending to every need. But every time a child dies and she has to face the devastated parents, her core wound bleeds. So she distances herself from both the children and the parents because she just canít face the feeling that sheís letting the families down when a child dies. When a child dies, she avoids the parents at all costs. Her distance comes across as cold, unfeeling rejection and abandonment. Her inability to face the pain of her own wound hurts the very people she seeks to help.
How To Avoid The #1 Mistake Many Healers Make
To avoid damaging our patients when we hope to facilitate their healing, those of us seeking to help others (and Iím talking all types here – not just physicians and nurses, but therapists, life coaches, complementary and alternative medicine practitioners, workshop leaders, and more) must navigate several key steps that they donít teach you in medical school.
10 Tips For Healing Your Woundedness So You Can Help Others
Nobody sets out to hurt, abuse, or take advantage of those under their care. But itís easy to slide into dangerous behavior if weíre not aware of our behavior.
Are You A Wounded Healer?
Does this sound like you or someone you know? Are you a healer – or do you think your physician or other health care provider may have an unexplored wound theyíre dealing with. Are you willing to heal your own wounds so you donít inflict your woundedness upon others?
If you are a patient or a healer committed to changing the way medicine is delivered and recieved, become a†Pink Medicine Revolutionary, and Iíll share other tips Iím learning along the way.
And please, tell us your stories and share your insights in the comments below.
Humbly addressing my own wounds,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of†OwningPink.com,†Pink Medicine Revolutionary,†motivational speaker, and author of†Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
Learn more about†Lissa Rankin here.
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