Hurting people hurt people. This is a simple phrase, but it's filled with a lot of truth. I know it because it was the unintentional mission statement of my life for years. I went through life hurting people as a result of my own wounds and insecurities. Sometimes it was on purpose, others were accidental. Either way, the trail of hurt was far to long to ignore.
When we are hurting, we will often pass that hurt along to others. Many times, it's not on purpose, and often we are unaware of our wounds. Or, we just don't slow down enough to allow healing to take place. We try to power through it.
Men can be notorious for this. We are fixers by nature, so we search for whatever the emotional equivilent for duct tape is and try to patch things up. But our woundedness leaks out of us in many forms, including anger, depression, people-pleasing, perfectionism, laziness, shame, addiction, etc.
Although there has been progress, there is still a stigma about men and tears. Many men grew up hearing that crying makes you weak and less of a man. (I'll save the post about how "unmanly" this statement is, for another day). So, as a creative person (and a man last time I checked), I felt it necessary to illustrate this in a way that even the most stubborn of men can understand...
Our emotions are Leonardo DiCaprio, and we were just mauled by a bear.
Hurting? Not Me...
Although I shined the spotlight on men, this message is for everyone. Even the strongest or most guarded of individuals can get emotionally mauled or wounded.
Leo's wounds came as a result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mama bear was just protecting her cubs. Our wounds might come from the sudden death of a loved one, the ending of a romantic relationship, or a result of childhood trauma. Even feelings of failure or rejection can start off like a papercut but grow infected and cause serious problems.
I'd argue that the most common response in our culture to being wounded is modeled by the Black Knight from the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this ridiculous (but AMAZING!) scene, both of his arms are cut off. As he looks to each side and sees the blood spouting out, he says to his foe, "It's just a flesh woud." Unfortunately, while still in denial, he loses his legs as well. At least he's finally able to admit the bout is "a draw."
No matter what our wounds are, or how they came about, they are affecting our lives in ways we might not fully recognize. But like the Black Knight, we'll end up a stumpy mess unless we open our eyes.
Often when I'm hurting, I default into people pleasing mode. Regardless of how the hurt happens, it will often affect my self-worth and cause these tendancies to kick in. So, when I see this desire growing, it's usually an indication that I'm wounded. I also find it very hard to take interest in the lives of other people when I'm hurting. Pain has this crazy way of making us self-centered and selfish.
Maybe our hurt is causing us to be short-tempered with our spouse and children, or much less patient with the shortcomings of our coworkers. We may have been the compassionate friend willing to help others in need, but now we don't even notice. And if we do, we have no desire to help. Our hurt might be deep enough that it's prevented us for years from making friendships or telling others how we are really feeling.
As much as we'd all like to have the emotional resciliancy and healing powers of Wolverine, it just doesn't work that way. We have to slow down and heal.
Leo's Healing Journey
**Minor spoiler warning**
While most of what I write about is included in the trailer for The Revenant, I do talk about a couple of specific moments from the movie that could be considered spoilers. Just scroll past the "End of Spoilers" heading. Otherwise, bookmark this article and come back after you've seen the film.
In the film, Leo gets mauled by a bear and is essentially left for dead. He's physically useless, litterally crawling and dragging himself through nature. He begins to rush himself back to health in pursuit of survival and revenge, but his body is still torn up and broken. At one point, he starts to drink water from a nearby stream. As he drinks, the wound on his throat rips open, causing water and blood to pour out. He stuffs gun powder in the wound and ignites it to prevent himself from bleeding out.
His desire to exact revenge is preventing him from healing. Even if he was to catch up and confront this person, he's in no physical shape to do anything about it. He needs to heal. Eventually he runs into an Indian that helps save his life. Leo passes out and is unable to travel further, forcing the Indian to uncover and address each of the deep wounds covering his body. Then, Leo rests inside a make shift shelter until his body heals enough for for him to wake up and continue his journey back to his camp.
**End of spoiler talk**
Becomming The Revenant
The Revenant is a great film, worthy of the numerous Oscar nominations it has received. But the name for the film wasn't chosen at random. A Revenant is a person who has returned, especially from a long absence or supposed death. If we embrace the healing process, we too can become The Revenant. We will see our capicity for love, compassion, and grace return. We'll see our desire to share and connect with others return. And we might even come to a place where we use our stories and scars as a way to help others still in need of healing.
I realize that a quick blog article won't fix everything, and that's not the purpose. Primarily, I want each of us to take the pressure off ourselves to be something that we are not. We don't have to pretend we are invincible. We aren't cyborgs, programmed to power through life. We are humans with real emotions. It's ok to pause and admit that we are hurting. It's ok to change our expectations of ourselves.
I struggled with this concept after my mom passed away. I wanted to compare myself to other people and analyze how my grief response measured up. I felt like I was letting everyone down when I began scaling back my volunteer involvement at church. But here's the thing: the only person I was hurting was myself. I knew that I would do more damage to myself and those I care about if I DIDN'T slow down and embrace the healing journey. The long term effects were too great. Too many people lose their capacity to love and care as a result of unresolved grief, and I wouldn't do that to my wife, family, friends, and those I serve at work and church.
As a result, I feel like I am in a much better spot right now. I can see a difference in my responses to other people. I feel my capacity for love and grace increasing. But I also know that it's an ongoing process, one I must be patient with.
I wanted to share a few key principles that are helpful in beginning the healing process:
1. Acknowledge the wound: we are hurt and it's time to slow down and heal.
2. Find a safe place to heal: Consider sharing your story or experience with a counselor, pastor, mentor or trusted friend . Or perhaps there's a nearby support group with others who can relate.
3. Be patient: The healing process takes time. Extend yourself grace and be honest about how you are doing.
4. Know your limits: Don't over-extend yourself. You might reopen the wound.
5. Embrace the process: It might not be possible to go back to what life was life before you were wounded. But there might be opportunities for new beginnings in life. It's our job to keep an eye out for what they might be.
I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comment section below. Or, you can contact me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.
Local Resources (Michigan)
If you are looking for a safe place to start your journey, I wanted to share a couple of local resources that could be a good starting point:
New Hope Center for Grief Support: www.newhopecenter.net
New Hope has no-cost workshops and support groups across Southeast Michigan led by individuals who have also gone through the grief journey, focusing on equpping individuals to face some of the unique challenges they may face.
Lifechurch Livonia: www.lifechurchlivonia.org
Lifechurch has three campuses (Canton and Southfield are the other two) in Michigan. Their motto of Real People, Real God, Real Life has helped hundreds of people explore issues of faith and spirituality in a safe environment.
PCS Counseling: www.pcs-counseling.com
PCS has a team of counselors, therapists, and psychologists on staff, each with varying areas of specialty. They also offer group therapy and life-coaching.