Healing or Infection?
People get into personal psychological troubles for many reasons. Some of us cause self-inflicted wounds, some are wounded by others and some are wounded by the world. Causes of self-inflicted wounds include such things as drinking too much, choosing to have affairs and gambling away our paychecks; other less obvious wounds come from perfectionism, working too much and over-exercise. Wounds from others can be caused through rejection, abandonment, condemnation, abuse and neglect. World-centered wounds can be sourced in things like body-image messages, performance traps, unplanned unemployment and the accidental death of a loved one.
So often our response to woundedness is self-medication. The question that must be asked by a wounded person of themselves, or for them if we are a person helping the hurt person is, “What is being medicated?” When we get a flesh wound, such as a cut forearm, we know what the wound is and we know how to treat it. When we get an internal physical wound, such as a cancer, we often don’t know it is there or what caused it, but hopefully our body signals us to seek treatment and we get medication or appropriate help. Psychological wounds are much like cancer, we often don’t even know that we have it, and we sometimes don’t know exactly what it is or how it was caused.
This now gets me to the question of what a psychological wound is. This is actually a very difficult question to answer. One only has to go on the internet and see the wide variety of opinions on this. Even very educated psychologists struggle to define it; if we asked 10 psych professors to answer the question we would receive 10 different answers, and some would be radically different. To answer the question I am going to turn to comparing woundedness for a body to woundedness for a person.
A wound in an individual’s body is anything that effects the physical integrity of that body and causes it to be permanently or temporarily distorted from its created design. Examples of this are; a skin cut, a muscle pull, a disease, an illness, a lost limb, a cancer or a malfunctioning heart.
A psychological wound therefore is anything that effects the psychological integrity of the inner person (soul) and causes it to be permanently or temporarily distorted from its created design. Examples of these kinds of wounds are; identity issues, attachment problems, personality fragmentation, reality distortion, emotional deceit and impulsiveness. A Christian reading this is likely to say or realize that everybody’s soul is wounded to a certain extent and this is true – this thought is supported in scripture:
Rom 3:23 – All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Sin causes the wounds, whether we do it to ourselves or not, and as a result we are no longer psychologically as we were designed. Put another way, we were created in God’s image, and that image has been marred by sin.
Once we acknowledge that psychological (soul) wounds exist, we can see that it is a very logical thing for us to try to treat it; we call that self-medication. No matter what our wound is we all end up with thoughts and feelings about ourselves and our internal situations. And it is the feelings that seem to cause us trouble. Let me use an example:
A boy is told by his father at age 7 that he won’t amount to anything, that he is worthless. (This is usually called a father wound) The boy’s soul is wounded and he grows up thinking this is true and has feelings of shame as a result. When he is a teen, he discovers sex and drugs, and although he doesn’t connect the dots he does know that he feels “better” as a result of using them.
That kind of story can most likely be found in all of us.
At this point we know what soul wounds are, that they are caused by multiple sources and mechanisms and that they so often result in difficult-to-handle emotions in a person that then cause them to self-medicate, which then causes further trouble, and possibly more self-inflicted wounds or wounds to others. The key to trying to break this vicious cycle in us is to understand what we do with the emotional responses we have to our wounds.
When we have a wound, or when one occurs, we take our emotional responses and we bury them alive, we infect our souls. We don’t resolve them or kill them off; instead we put them into the deeper recesses of our soul because they are unpleasant and we try to bury them. The problem is that they are still alive and kicking and as almost any recovering addict will tell us, they come out bigger and meaner than when we buried them. If we have never learned to kill off emotions as a child, we can be faced with the dragons of shame, guilt, hurt and pain as an adult and not know how to slay them. All we do know is that drinking a six-pack, having sex with a prostitute or cleaning our home to perfection helps us to feel better for a while.
So what do we do? We can make a choice! Choose healing or choose to stay infected.
God says this:
James 5:16 – Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Don’t get wrapped up in the details of what each word in this scripture might be – instead see the principles. God says that healing may be provided through confession and prayer, and it is to be done in human-to-human relationships. Confession, the telling of our story, is fundamental to healing because it exposes the infection and it is prayer from righteous people (believers) to God, the maker and lover of our souls, which asks Him to clean the infection out.
That is God’s remedy, His prescription for what ails us, His spiritual antibiotic or Neosporin for our deep infections.
This is a sure way, because God says so, to improve our soul life. Jesus called it an abundant life in Jn 10:10. We all must recognize that we have soul wounds and that they influence all our activity; our thinking, feeling, choosing and behaving. We must decide whether to continue to live with infections or seek healing.