10 Levels of Wounding and How to Heal Them
Pain comes in many forms, and the key to healing is finding the right remedy for what you are experiencing. This post attempts to diagram all the kinds of psychological, emotional, and spiritual wounding I know of and the best remedies I have found for each. Given that there are hundreds of modalities of healing, I offer this as a starting place based on my personal experience and training–it cannot possibly be comprehensive but I do hope it is helpful.
Important: Mindfulness is helpful for all levels of woundedness. Mindfulness is a distinct neural state that unlocks neuroplasticity and literally allows your brain to be re-wired. It is hands-down the most effective and efficient way to create permanent change in the brain.
This is the realm of self-help, personal growth, and many forms of therapy. To heal and learn how to live a better life requires delving into what is going on and being curious about why the pain is there. It is an unravelling process of understanding and reclaiming the energy wrapped up in these patterns, and making new choices based on self-acceptance and self-knowledge.
Pain as a signpost for needs unmet by current life strategies
Garden-variety frustration, anxiety, anger, and hurt are signals of our needs. They are there to direct our attention to what is not working and invite us to change the way we think and act so we can live a life that works better for us.
This kind of pain shows up as dysfunctional patterns, bad communication strategies, lack of self-care, limiting beliefs, and lack of fulfillment in work and relationships. It can stem from unhelpful behavior learned from our caregivers, cultural messages, or painful early experiences that we have generalized as unhelpful beliefs or habits.
Healing involves grieving for what has been lost, developing new ways of living (including missing experiences), and taking in the nourishment of better strategies.
(Some of our strategies are more deeply entrenched and must be healed at deeper levels, these are covered in later sections.)
Pain as habit energy
Sometimes we have tread the ground of our pain so many times that we are not learning anything new; we are just rehearsing the familiar. We feel sad or angry because we are used to feeling it and we now have a groove in our brain. Changing emotional habits requires engaging in practices that shift us into a preferred state of mind. The more we practice shifting, the easier it gets.
There are many different ways of shifting – reading spiritual or self-help books, talking to good friends, going on a walk, taking a bath, journalling, meditation. Find what works for you and choose it over and over again until you have better brain-grooves.
The most important factor with this category is you cannot always heal these with self-help. Just as you cannot set your own broken leg or give yourself surgery, you often need external help with these.
Especially with depression, there are thought distortions that go like this: “I can think my way out of this if I try hard enough” or “I will prove there is nothing wrong with me by not accepting any help”. These thoughts are completely counter-productive when it comes to healing. If you suffer from these categories of wounding, you will continue to be in pain until you genuinely seek and allow yourself to receive help. The simple act of going to therapy in the first place was a big step for me, and it took years for me to become comfortable with it.
I take Wellbutrin for depression, and it has made a huge difference in my quality of life. Without it, I was locked in a constant battle with my brain, which sapped my energy and made life a bleak struggle for emotional survival. Being well-medicated has made it possible for me to do the other healing work I’ve done.
Just like you can’t heal a broken bone until it is set back into place, for me, medication was a prerequisite to being able to begin to heal. If you think of your self-esteem and self-worth as filling a gas tank, depression is like having a hole in your tank. No matter how many healthy and nourishing experiences you have, the goodness just drains out. You have to patch the hole before you will see lasting results from personal growth and self-help.
Medication isn’t for everyone, and you have to find the right medication which can be a process in itself. Therapy can affect brain chemistry over time, but it’s very slow compared to medication. I believe medication can make therapy far more effective. Talk to a psychiatrist or a psychiatric nurse.
Attachment lives deep in our emotional brain, stemming from our limbic connections to our caregivers as infants. It affects how we bond to other people, whether we expect to be loved or rejected, and whether we are anxious or content in relationships. It also affects our basic sense of identity, autonomy, and agency. There is specific attachment-based therapy like CIMBS.
I have written more extensively about Attachment Style and how to heal insecure attachment. Working on attachment has helped in healing anxiety and reactivity patterns in relationships, being able to tolerate changes in distance and closeness, and developing a clearer and more stable sense of self.
Trauma is any overwhelming experience that your body-mind system cannot cope with at the time. It might be emotional pain or physical pain, and you may not remember what the event was. It can also be the accumulation of years of living in a home with abuse or neglect.
Trauma is neurological distress that manifests as anxiety, depression, rage, and a host of other emotional issues, but at its core it is fear lodged in the nervous system. Hallmarks of unhealed trauma are dissociation, irrational fear or paranoia, anxiety or panic, and responding to emotional upset by escalating into shutting down (freeze), running away (flee), or becoming aggressive (fight).
I have also written about how to heal trauma without therapy.
This category of wounding is healed through becoming aware of and nurturing your connection to a larger Something. Humans need context; we need to know we are an intrinsically valuable part of a larger system. What you believe in isn’t as important as your felt sense of your connection to it.
Our deepest nature is as creative beings. That creativity looks different in each of us, but we all have something unique and wonderful to bring forth in the world. When that creative urge is blocked, it stops vital energy from flowing through us from Spirit out into the world. We each need to deeply know that our unique contribution is needed.
Creating from our true selves, while listening within for inspiration, brings us into right relationship with Spirit. Offering our creations to a community that receives and appreciates them creates an energetic loop that feeds us. This is an essential part of our spiritual nourishment.
My understanding of this process comes from the Artist’s Way and my own exploration of intuitive artmaking and writing.
Mis-alignment with your path
There is an underlying harmony to the Universe and we are each a part of it. There is a path for each of us that leads us to the expression of our gifts and the embodiment of our true nature. It doesn’t let us avoid pain and suffering, but it gives the pain of life a context and a meaning which makes it bearable and allows it to contribute to our greater journey.
But we can get stuck. We get caught in painful situations that seem to bind us to an unhappy and unproductive life that we know is not what we are meant to be doing, but we don’t know how to change.
My experience of ritual is that it is a powerful way to hand something over to Spirit that you cannot solve yourself. When you go to the elements, to Spirit and nature in a ritual context, you surrender your plans and schemes and just say, “HELP”. You give permission to Spirit to work on your life in whatever way is necessary to bring you into Right Relationship with the Universe and into alignment with your path.
The re-alignment process can be dramatic and painful, but it is the pain of putting a dislocated bone back into place. It can be wrenching, depending on how out of alignment your life is, and how willing you are to surrender and trust your life to be dis-assembled to clear your way forward.
We carry pain from our lineage. At first it can help to “give it back” and create a psychic boundary to protect our own wellbeing. But as we get stronger, there is a call to transmute that pain through our own work, which heals our lineage and provides a deeper healing for ourselves, as we are inextricably linked to our ancestors. We are living, walking representations of our lineage, and everything we do to heal ripples back through time.
I work with this energy essentially by being willing to–I consciously work at the edge where my family history wounds lay. I also do direct work with my ancestors through ritual.
(If you want a more scientific take on lineage-related wounding, Google “epigenetics”.)
Disconnect from the tribe of humans
Humans are not made to live in the isolated way we do in modern times. We function best in interconnected systems that allow pain to be shared and distributed through energetic lines to other nodes in the system.
A web can hold much more than one person in isolation. Individuals break under the weight of devastating pain. In a healthy community, that pain is not just one person’s to hold. When the weight of it is shared, it can be processed through and released.
Absolutely knowing you are connected to all people through indelible energetic bonds brings a deep relaxation and comfort. I experienced this awareness initially through Matrix, but developing a consistency around it is something I am still working at.
Disconnect from core Self
Some wounds are so fragmenting that we lose access to our core spiritual Self. We become cut off from our own truth and beauty and the rightness of being ourselves. We stop seeing ourselves as a resource and desperately search outside ourselves for something to take away the pain of our internal shattering.
There is an abundance of external resources, a whole world of healing and hope. But none of it will help until you decide that your life and your self are worth healing. Self-love is a decision. Self-acceptance is a decision. There is some spark of life inside us that knows our worth, because it is connected to the larger Source. But we have to allow ourselves to feel it and know it. It is there, but we have the power to deny it and cut ourselves off from it. Reversing this is dark-night-of-the-soul territory. It’s a deep encounter with our own being, and it ultimately becomes a choice between life and death, because the body cannot survive without access to the Spirit within.
I remember clearly sitting in my bed one night in my 20’s, spinning in the depths of self-hatred, when I remembered something my brother said to me. He told me one day, in a moment that I will never forget because it probably saved my life, “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘I love myself’ over and over until you believe it. It will feel like a lie at first, but just keep saying it until you believe it.”
I couldn’t say those words. It felt like too far to jump. But I started to repeat the affirmation, “I am a child of God, therefore I am lovable.” I was not raised in any church, but these words still spoke to me. There was logic to it that I could grab onto.
I said it in defiance. It was like grabbing hold of something solid inside myself and fighting back the demons from inside. I said it with angry tears, pushing back on all the voices in my head that told me I was worthless. I fought that night for my life, and for the right to live it.
Affirmations work by strengthening an existing but tenuous connection with the real truth of our being. They build a channel to our inner source of rightness and strength. It is therefore essential to choose one that rings true even if you have to fight to say it. Choose the most self-affirming thing you can say and believe is true in some deep part of you, and work to strengthen it. That will become a platform–a place to stand in the chaos of your mind. Building this inner strength this will give you the energy to do the rest of your healing work.
You can do this!
Healing is a trial and error process. We know more about how the brain works than ever before. There are a wealth of resources and skilled professionals available to help you find your way. Whatever pain you are in, you have the power to heal. Whatever stops you, you have the power to transform.
It takes time and effort, but it always works. I truly believe that anyone who sincerely seeks and accepts help, and believes they can be healed, will be. This is because our true nature is already whole and complete, so all healing is an unfolding into the wisdom already present in our core. The deepest healing is a choice to believe that you are already OK, and that your basic OKness can never be taken from you.
Wherever you are at in your journey, know that you are not alone, and you have spiritual guides to help you if you ask. You have a path, and if you follow it, it will take you where you need to go. Many have walked this path before you. It works.