Replaying Our Wounds

“You get your wounds early.”

—“Early,” by Michael Prewett

People replay their wounds with each other again and again, but not in a way that encourages growth. Rather, they seek endlessly for the validation that their wounds once denied them. They repeat their pain over and over. Consequently, they become stuck and stunted people who cannot grow. How can they stop this cycle of dehumanization?

In Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, a book about maternal narcissism by Karyl McBride, there is a diagram of a hoary old oak tree. The tree has a massive trunk, a full crown of branches, and roots digging deep into the ground. The rough bark of the trunk is labeled “childhood scars,” while the body of leaves is labeled “adult: branching and growing.” The idea is that, like a tree that lost some bark or even a limb when young, a person must overcome her ancient wounds and keep producing new branches.

When you begin to see people in this light, you realize that a categorization is possible, however uncomfortable it is to share: some people are still growing, even in middle and old age, while others are stuck, repeating the same heartbreaking idiocy over and over.

It’s not like those who are still growing never received any wounds. They did. But what sets them apart from those who are stuck? What, in their upbringing, their past, their present, or their nature, allows them to overcome the obstacles that threaten to destroy their self-worth?

We must examine our own wounds. We must examine what we are carrying forwards with us and what we are inflicting senselessly on those around us. We must go to therapy in our heads. And if we don’t have therapeutic insight there from great books, great conversations, or great love, we must seek it out. We must approach someone else and ask for help. It’s this repetition of our own wounds that wounds others and gives them something to repeat. On and on, the cycle of destruction will roll over—unless we stop it.

A few days ago, I wrote about grace. The article is here. Grace is the answer—but we have to give it out rather than seek it from others. Those who can’t reference the receiving end of grace in their own experience can’t pass it on. We have to show it to them. We have to give them an experience that they can reference. We may even have to do it more than once. The only way to stop this toxic cycle is to start extending grace to those agonizingly ungraceful people in our lives.

Maybe this is what a certain teacher meant when he said something about the speck in your neighbor’s eye and the log in your own.

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