The Wounds of the Heart
The last two months have been challenging for me, hence my lack of blogging. They aren’t limited to losing my advisor. But what I have seen running throughout many of these challenges is a kind of a deep psychological conflict that I will call wounds of the heart.
A wound of the heart is an emotional hurt that generates intense, seemingly unbearable psychic stress and that can create long-term damage to one’s personality due to overpowering negative moral emotions, like resentment and hatred, and that may last for the rest of one’s life. They are typically caused by some act by one’s close friends, family, or community. The wounded person believes the act signals that the offending group bears him or her bad will, and that the group does not love or support the wounded person in the way he or she had counted upon in the past. It can overwhelm the wounded person’s agency, leading them to lash out and creating a new harm, and perhaps wounding the hearts of others. When multiple parties to a relationship have wounds of the heart, that can spell the death of the relationship, even if the relationship continues pro forma.
One remarkable feature of wounds of the heart is that they can easily lead to false beliefs about the purported wounding individual or group, not merely that one’s family, friends, or community is corrupt or toxic, but that the group has been corrupt and toxic all along. We who are wounded revisit the wounding event, coming to a darker and darker reading of it, attributing worse and worse motives to those involved, all to comfort ourselves in a way that never quite works. In this way, a wound of the heart can trap the wounded person in beliefs that make healing impossible, even when the purported wounding party is in fact open to reconciliation and healing, and indeed yearns for it.
Healing wounds of the heart is an urgent moral task, in no small part because it can create new, negative character traits, and even break the unity of one’s soul and agency. But it is very difficult to begin the healing process. Usually the wounded person is so overwhelmed with hurt that he or she has had to close herself off emotionally in order to endure the hurt. Proposing to heal the wound is a psychic threat in itself because it creates the possibility of new hurt and pain. But without healing, things will only get worse, or they will settle at a level of harm that becomes too ingrained to heal.
I try to cultivate a desire to heal the wounds of the heart I have played any role in, but those desires have always been frustrated. And the pain I’ve felt in my inability to heal those wounds is one of the reasons I became so interested in trust and reconciliation in the first place. But those I have wounded have refused to speak with me, or have insisted that I see the world in their way before any conversation can begin, even when that is a wholly unreasonable demand.
I also have my own wounds of the heart, ones that I struggle to heal every day with prayer and repentance. But they remain a never-ending source of grief and anger. I am not sure my wounds of the heart will heal in my lifetime. Until then, it is my responsibility to manage them, keep them in check, and to pray that God will give me the opportunity to heal and even reconcile despite them. It is essential for the health of my soul that I do this. This level of pain can overwhelm anyone, distort their personality, and cause staggering moral decline. Perhaps this has already happened to me, perhaps the damage is permanent, but today I am recommitting to soldiering on. May I be healed of my wounds of the heart, and may I play some role, however small, in healing the heart wounds of others.