Beware of Woundology


Caroline Myss

We all suffer at times. Regrettably, there are those who use the authenticity of their suffering as an excuse to not heal. Caroline Myss coined the term “woundology” to describe how some people define themselves by their physical, emotional, or social wounds.

In Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can, Myss writes that many people hoping to heal “are striving to confront their wounds, valiantly working to bring meaning to terrible past experiences and traumas, and exercising compassionate understanding of others who share their wounds. But they are not healing. They have redefined their lives around their wounds and the process of accepting them. They are not working to get beyond their wounds. In fact, they are stuck in their wounds.”

Indeed, the last thing that many who are wounded, grieving, or ill are seeking is the full recovery of their health. Pain is their primary “relationship currency” and, consciously or not, they fear making their way in the world without it.why-people-dont-heal-book-cover-myss

Pain has its privileges. Those who adopt a victim mentality may use their wounds to manipulate and control situations and people; after all, suffering can be a convenient excuse for dodging responsibilities. Others discover that, after a lifetime of attending to others, they relish being attended to.

Pain is also the ticket that gains the wounded entrance into well-meaning support groups where members receive, perhaps for the first time, validation, understanding, and acceptance.

A support group’s purpose is to help members heal so they can move freely on in life, and many do just that; some go on to serve as positive role models and providers of hope for those who continue to struggle. But other members choose to not heal because that would mean leaving the only community that has ever offered them support.

It takes courage to explore your suffering, to peel away layer after layer of beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions and rigorously hold yourself accountable to life.

Just as a silversmith holds a piece of silver in the middle of a fire to burn away its impurities, so must we lean into the fire of our pain . . . and burn. Only the searing flames of relentless self-honesty can cauterize our wounds, blunt the jagged edges of our agony, and prepare us for the journey back to wholeness.

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8 Responses to “Beware of Woundology”

  1. Kim Wencl Says:

    I occasionally attend a support group for parents who have lost a child. I must admit I don’t attend very often because it’s painful to see parents who are 10, 15 even 20 years out in their grief, but yet they are still completely stuck in it. Somehow they have the mistaken belief that if they move through the grief, heal and go on with their lives, they are doing a dis-service to their child. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best way to honor a loved one who has died is to live a good life — to laugh, to love, to learn, and to grow.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks as always for your insightful comments, Kim. It reminds me of stories I’ve read in books and seen in movies which the departed ask those they left behind to let them go instead of holding them back in this realm by the force of their emotional pain.

  3. Ed Madara Says:

    In terms of self-help support groups – yes, there are a few who do remain “victims” by their failing to recover from the trauma and regain control of their lives.
    But the vast majority do recover, and become “survivors.” A few of the latter go on to become “thrivers,” and do indeed “redefine their lives around their wounds” by remaining in the support group primarily to help others, to serve as positive role models, provide hope, and discover a special purpose in their lives in the process that those who “haven’t been there” cannot ever provide.

    “Trauma survivors… they become thrivers, and they become teachers. They can go back and remember various things, and answer all those questions we have. They have hope, and they have sense, and the ability to care about other people… to look into the eyes of others who have gone through the things that they have gone through, and to be at peace with that, and to show that they did it.” – Dr. Charles R. Figley

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Well said, Ed. I did note this, but only briefly. I agree that it should be emphasized more. I have already updated the post accordingly. Thanks for you suggestion!

  5. Deb Reilly Says:

    As someone who escaped a permanent case of ‘woundology’, I can testify to the truth of this phenomenon.

    It was extremely difficult for me to listen to a physician tell me that the pain, fatigue and stiffness of fibromyalgia was a result of the way my brain perceived sensation, and had no tangible physical cause. I remember saying, “You think I WANT to feel this awful?” I am proud of my recovery.

    I’ve told the story of my ‘come-back’ to other sufferers, but most nod their heads and tell me how their situation is so much worse. It’s a sad thing to fear good health.

    Great post, Phil.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Deb! Kudos to you for proactively healing yourself ad choosing to be well!

  7. Ginnie Faye Liman Says:

    Two years ago my “boat of life” was capsized when my car jettisoned
    up in the air and left me a paraplegic. In and out of two hospitals enduring two spinal surgeries I had much time to reflect. Living day to day in a wheelchair (long before an age when I would have one), I earnestly sought a
    route to take people on a journey far beyond the boundaries of the seat they now sit in.

    i am starting to affect a following of people who are disabled or those whose loved ones are. I have been re-reading your book, especially the section on “woundology,” hoping to lead them more into re-purposing their lives. My purpose has begun to be “them.” That is, serving, inspiring them, injecting fresh hope. I hope you have a chance to read my page and feel it reflects that purpose in the largest sense. You words inspire me.

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Bless you for making a difference in the world, Ginnie. Your story reminds me of Jim MacLaren’s:

    Also, here is the URL for your blog should other readers wish to visit it:

    By the way, it’s Caroline Myss who wrote about woundology in her book, “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.” She undoubtedly has inspired millions.

    Thank you for being a gift to the world!

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