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Some Reflections on the Person Known as the Wounded Healer
© 2000 by Sandy Matthews
Prometheus, the schemer, creator of humankind, concocted a dangerous plot to bring fire to the world. He did this in direct defiance of that control freak Zeus, archetypal dysfunctional father.
Prometheus (Foresight) together with his brother, Epimetheus (Hindsight) carried out the plan. However, Prometheus, true to his name, anticipated that Zeus may have discovered their transgression. He warned Epimetheus to be careful of anything unusual that may take place in the near future. There might be a trap laid for them as revenge. He then left on a journey.
Indeed, Zeus did discover their conniving, and devised a trap. He had his workmen create a woman, and he sent her with a 'gift' to the two plotting brothers. Epimetheus received at his door a beautiful guest bearing 'gifts' in a jar. Her name was Pandora, and having fallen under her charms, he invited her in. Forgetting the warnings of his brother, Epimetheus opened the jar and let loose on our world all the things that make it the ambiguous place it is.
Prometheus returned and castigated his brother for his blindness. But Zeus did not stop by releasing pestilence on the world. He apprehended Prometheus and suspended him on a crag above the pit of Tartaros in chains. Every day, he was visited by an eagle who bore into his side with his beak, and to his agony ate out his liver. At night the liver grew back, and every day the eagle fed. This was to go on for all eternity. Zeus was totalistic.
Earlier in time, Zeus' son, the heroic Herakles (meaning: His Mother's Son [ Hera + Zeus = Herakles ]) was involved in a skirmish with the Centaurs over wine. He fired an arrow at one of them, missing the intended target but grazing and severely wounding Chiron, that beautiful creature with the upper body of a man, and the lower body of a horse. Chiron was already known as an inventor of the healing arts. The wound suffered at the hands of Herakles was a wound which never healed.
Here is where Chiron enters the tale of Prometheus in the guise of Wounded Healer. Herakles shot the eagle tormenting Prometheus, and subsequently pleaded with his father to let Prometheus go. Zeus, according to Aeschylus, would free Prometheus from his chains if another Immortal could be found to complete his suffering. In so doing, that Immortal would also relinquish his immortality
The Immortal proxy turned out to be Chiron who descended into Hades' kingdom and completed the suffering begun by the Titan (Prometheus). Chiron died. But he was then resurrected by Zeus, and immortalized in the heavens as the constellation, Centaurus. (We could stop for a moment here and see that if the characters of Chiron and Prometheus were blended, we could see many of the characterstics of the individual later known as Jesus Christ, himself a Wounded Healer)
Chiron, wounded by heroic divinity, becomes a sojourner in both the Underworld and Olympus. In myth speak, Chiron's wound shapes his destiny. His wound is a divine selection. He is not himself heroic, that is left to Herakles. He is wounded by a hero. We learn that his wound (his mark, his identity) is what enables him to travel between the human world, the Underworld, and the Divine world.
It is also notable that he was wounded by Prometheus' rescuer. We might also say that he walks in everyday life(visible life) and the invisible (the worlds of Spirit and Soul). It is the characteristic trait of Chiron that he is adept both in the ways of this world, and the next.
The origins of Chiron speak to his qualities as a healer. The image of man and beast joined together as a single being show how Chiron was a successful union of the rational and the instinctual. The images and myths surrounding Chiron are complex and multiple, and I could go on and on here. At this point, I will refer you to two books: The Gods of the Greeks, by Karl Kerenyi, and Chiron and the Healing Journey, by Melanie Reinhart.
Kerenyi's is the finest text available on the incredible interwoven tapestry of Greek myth. It is written in a first person narrative, in the voice of an ancient Greek guiding the reader through the maze of myth. Reinhart's book deals explicitly with the complex tales of Chiron and is a great analysis of the archetype.
My point here is to speak the way the individual as healer is selected by destiny. He is born into it. He is the bearer of an unhealing wound. In our contemporary world, the Herculean arrow is fired typically by one's father. That is, in his blind heroisms, father fires arrows of contempt, rage, physical abuse. Or, maybe more often, the softer, less visible arrows of abandonment, disinterest, absence.
These deep soul wounds are felt as sadness, loss, emptiness. A sense of shame, of being less than. Not as good as. This is a restless young person. Underlying his restlessness is a sense of shame. In his youth, he develops an outer persona that may be modeled on the heroics of the distant father. He develops a mantle of rage. It covers the sensitive tissues of the Wound. hyperlink to lotuseaters poem
Inwardly, he regards himself as 'soft', or worthless, weak, insignificant. His path in life forks at the onset of adolescence. He either becomes a criminal outcast, dangerous to his mother, and goes to live on the far side of the world. Or, he pushes his rage and shame down enough to become educated while playing at criminality and rebellion.
A vision develops, one that is grandiose, and which features him as a central figure. He will see himself as the possessor of a special insight, and he will develop a charisma. This charisma is really brought about by his fatherlessness, and willingness to contest received wisdom. He is a liminal character. That is, he stands at the aperture between 'normal' society, and the Outlands.
Remember that the Centaurs were willing to fight Herakles over wine. They didn't care if he was the son of the biggest Big Daddy in the universe. Like Brando in The Wild One, they rebelled against 'whatever ya got....' It was their placement outside the society of gods that created one such as Chiron.
If he has not chosen a criminal life, then the Wounded Healer will eventually be drawn to fields of medicine, law, politics, psychotherapy. Wherever there are wrongs to be righted. Remember the old saw in college that the psych students were 'really only looking for solutions to their own problems'? Completely true. The only thing missed in the remark is the fact that the psych students saw being psychologists as their solution. Not anything that they would learn. It was the honors bestowed and the imagined powers that appealed.
The true Wounded Healer will think like a criminal. This enables him to never accept others at face value, to not be shocked by the shadows of the human soul. It also enables him to see the prisons that people construct for themselves, and to identify paths out. Unfortunately, it also leads the Healer to act out his own criminal side.
The Healer always tries to appear perfect. To bury the Wound. He identifies with the Healer, and forgets about the Wound. But the Wound will not forget him. He is pulled into the Underworld.
Wounded Healers you know or have heard of are psychotherapists having sex with patients, lawyers committing crimes, doctors addicted to their own drugs, politicians who believe their own lies. They are driven by the Wound, to act it out, to anesthetize it. The Wound is their compulsion. Thus they are prone to addiction, and self medication. If they are lucky, their skirmishes with the Wound will lead them into the Underworld of their own souls. They will return with the humility necessary to enact true, compassionate healing.
It should be obvious by now that I am a Wounded Healer. Check out the article regarding my father, and my article on the Shadow and Depression. I am addiction prone, and early in my adult life developed a compelling attraction to the notion of Being a Therapist. The stuff we learned along the way was interesting enough, but the real attraction was being able to wear the uniform. To be seen in that special light of Healer, wise one, sojourner in the Underworld.
The naive fantasy of the the young Wounded Healer is that he has risen above his wounds when his degrees and licenses are achieved. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. His difficulties have only begun, as he remains in denial of the Wound. Thus that part of his identity lies in the dark, and sends out its cries for relief, which he can only respond to in secret. There is that terrible side of himself, always calling out saying, I'm over here, I need your help!
The Healer will try to treat that side of Self as a debilitated relative, kept in shame in squalid quarters in the basement. Or kept narcotized with hidden doses of alcohol, marijuana, Vicodin. Made euphoric in a secret sex life too shameful to mention to his mate. For the Healer is good at compartments, and he will work at maintaining his compartments for many years. And why wouldn't he be good at compartments? That was the method taught him no doubt by his mother as she set aside her suffering and got about the business of raising her child(ren). It was how he faced the world of normalcy in his abnormal (fatherless, abused, molested, neglected) condition and survived.
To heal oneself is the destiny of the Wounded Healer. It is his fate to forego that. He will choose one or the other. If he chooses the latter, then he will collapse in shame, forced to surrender the hardwon credentials of his craft. This nearly became my own story very early in my career when I had a relationship with a young female client (remember Pandora?). It was my good fortune that my supervisors sent me on my way without serious censure. Early on, I tasted the possibility of self inflicted disaster in my denial of the Wound.
The ensuing pain and compelling need to understand myself led me instead in the direction of destiny. But not without other missteps: marijuana, alcohol dependancy, sexual acting out. (see the last paragraphs of my article hyperlink Listening to the Dream for the distinction between Fate and Destiny) The true identifying feature of the Wounded Healer is the impulse to heal himself ( remember? 'the psych students were really only trying to solve their own problems'). All of these attempts at pain relief only created more pain.
I became a searcher in therapy. I began a long relationship with a very experienced, much older psychotherapist who was very autocratic in his methods and committed to his techniques. I wanted him to love me. Of course, I didn't know this. I simply saw him as someone who would make me well. I applied myself to his style of therapy, determined to become 'good' at Redecision therapy. Truly, I only wanted his love. The Wounded Healer is one in search of a father. After many years of attempting to be good at Re-Decision Therapy, I realized what I mentioned above. I wanted the therapist to love me, which he never would. I left, because I felt that the therapist never wanted to listen to me. He only wanted me to do Re-decision Therapy.
About three years prior to leaving therapy, I began to see a glimmer of the shape of my problems. I realized I was rapidly losing control of how much, how often, if, whether, and when I drank alcohol. I tried drinking only on weekends, which rapidly became Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday were my days during the 'week' when I abstained from from drinking. It didn't take me long following this system to realize that I was only trying to fake myself out.
On my birthday in 1991, I made the decision to quit drinking. It has been one of the best decisions of my life, but not without ramifications. The Wound awakened. Never really quite anesthetized, only made tranquil, at best, the Wound now demanded attention. After a period of about 30 days of the most sublime euphoria I could recall (AA's call this the 'pink cloud'), depression set in. It became very difficult to know how to proceed without the warm comforting blanket of alcohol to pull up over my head every day. I still depended on my workouts ( See Searching for Adrenaline, I Found Water) to discharge the huge amounts of unmanageable feeling I experienced.
After years of working in addiction centers, and being around Alcoholics Anonymous, I chose a route to sobriety that in spirit was defined by AA, but without the daily meetings. I had no trouble staying away from alcohol. It was managing my feelings of failure, shame, inadequacy, incompetence that was my difficulty. I relied on therapy with the therapist I mentioned above to get me through the truly bleak spots, but I left him in 1994.
As outlined in the Big Book, my spiritual revolution came at that same time. I understood that Faith could not be understood, which I had been trying to do for 30 years. I allowed Faith to return, and began haphazardly to explore how I could accept and act on my own need for belief.
As the Wound continued to instruct me, I found my need to be actively involved in creation. Since high school, I had been a private scribbler of 'poems' in journals. I kept these journals very private, as I was terrified of them ever seeing the light of day. Of course, I also worked hard over them, making sure they were 'good' for the imagined readers who would never see them, I supposed, unless it were posthumously. I was now compelled to take this private world of mine public.
I moved out into the arena of literary groups in the Dallas area. Fear and shame stalked me like a predator. I would attend a group, read a poem, and go home swearing to myself to never return. But I did. I eventually moved fully into the small but vibrant literary world in the Dallas area. When the Wound speaks, we must listen. As I continued to move along the path illuminated for me, I discovered my need to act. hyperlink to 'Scuba Diving and the Art of Acting'
I would have no trouble saying that the latest project to come from Wound exploration is the development of this Web page. Although I reject the idea that creativity is really only some kind of masked therapy, it has nevertheless been an ongoing therapeutic enterprise for me to explore the different paths I speak about here in my page. I lived for years ashamed of my own creativity.
I felt that my need for spontaneity, new experience, performance; my love of language, conversation, story, verse, interaction, drama, were somehow elements to be repressed as shameful nonsense. Fortunately for us, Shakespeare, Yeats, William Carlos Williams and the rest were not similarly restrained. Or, at least if they were, they didn't let it stop them. I recall Wallace Stevens saying to someone who requested he do a public reading that he was "not a troubador, and further, I regard the public reading of poetry by poets to be ghastly". But he never stopped publishing.
With a Wound, there is a Genie. I kept my Genie quiet, or tried to, while keeping the Wound quiet. That has changed. Now, they both speak.
He will eventually take the Underworld journey, traveling there to recover the lost part of himself. His greatest gift. His wound.
To communicate further, please e-mail me at james.dolan
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