By Pam Luedtke
I have someone in my life, a family member, with whom I have had a long and difficult relationship. It has gotten so that it doesn’t take much, when we have an encounter, for me to get all stirred up and start spinning into negative thoughts about this person. I would get off the phone with her or come home from seeing her and complain to my husband about the upsetting things she did this time! Once that negativity got rolling, it could go on for awhile, and was difficult to get past. I grew to hate these times, hate this person for being the way she was and hate myself for feeling the way I did.
With such a negative pattern in place, it’s no wonder that I wanted desperately to get away from this person . . . somehow, someway. If I kept away from her, I reasoned, then I wouldn’t get stirred up. Problem solved. It seemed the best answer. Except that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Another part of me, every bit as strong as the part that wanted to sever ties, wanted the opposite thing. That part of me recognized that I loved this person, cared about her and wanted to stay connected. That part of me dearly wanted to find a way to fix this mess, or at least learn how to live with it.
And so began my journey to the center of the wound.
I started this journey with the conviction that it was my family member who was the problem. She was the one who did the wrong thing, whatever it may be, to me, to herself, or to others. I was the one on the receiving end. She was the “bull in the china shop”, I was the tea cup on display.
In a misguided attempt to address the problem, I took it upon myself to be the champion of right and point out to her the error of her ways. In my crusade, I tried various approaches, from the heart-to-heart talk to the full frontal attack, but nothing ever seemed to get through. At some point in my journey, the situation became so frustrating and painful that I began to look elsewhere for my answer.
I was gently and patiently guided by my intuition to look at myself. Forget for the moment what was going on over there on her side. Instead, take a deep long look at what was happening on my side. What was going on within me?
This is not so easy to do. It is hard to shine the light on oneself and examine what is there. There is a great temptation to want to throw it right back on the other person . . . it is so much easier to project blame and it works so well. If we blame the other person and claim ourselves to be wronged, we don’t have to feel the pain of confronting what is in us. We are so afraid of what is there; so afraid of it we do not want to look at it. But once we do, we find that it is not so bad. At the bottom of all this, it is just a wound. And wounds can heal.
Somewhere along the line in my history with this family member, something happened. A mishap of daily living perhaps, a poor choice, a mistake made, an error in thinking . . . something happened. And that something that happened created a wound. Not a physical wound, although that could have been part of it at the time, but a psychic wound – in that part of us where thoughts and emotions reside.
And this wound never healed. So the next time something happened that reminded me of the original thing, the wound was touched, like a finger on an open sore. And when that touch occurred, I felt it. It smarted and I reacted.
I reacted in ways intended to protect the wound. I would either stand to fight or flee in flight. But the wound was still there. I didn’t realize it, but each time I reacted, I was putting a kind of bandage over the wound. And then the next time it was touched, another bandage; and then another . . . you get the idea. And this is how it goes as we go along through life. But all those layers of bandages and protections just make the problem worse. Each one hides the underlying wound more and more so it gets harder to see what it is. The wound underneath has no chance to breathe and heal, so it festers, and becomes even more sensitive to the touch. Life becomes more painful.
Now what? We are at the proverbial fork in the road. We can choose to ignore the wound and try to “live with it”, or we can acknowledge that something is wrong . . . that something is lodged deep down in there, causing all kinds of reactions, bad behavior, justifications. If we choose to look for whatever it is, we can start removing those layers of bandages and get down to the lesion itself so it can actually heal. The removal of those bandages, one by one, is the journey. And it can take a while.
Along the way, we learn about what this wound really is. And it is not what we may think. It is not really about the particular thing that happened and what the other person did to us. It is actually more about what we did to ourselves in the aftermath of what we encountered. It is about how we came to look upon what happened and what we decided it meant. When we are finally able to uncover that, we will have completed the journey all the way to the center of the wound.
I am still on my journey with my family member, still removing the bandages, and yes, it is a painstaking process at times. But, I can already tell you that it is worth the effort. With every bandage removed, I learn something about myself, I free myself a little more, and I become a little more sincere, a little more able to be real. And that is rewarding in a way I find difficult to express in words. It is enough to keep me going, to keep me wanting to continue this journey. One day I know I will complete it.
May you find your way in your own journey!