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Living with unhealed emotional wounds is like running a marathon without knowing you’re strapped to a hundred-pound backpack. I didn’t know I was handicapped by my unhealed past. I really believed that because I had survived it, there was nothing left to do with it.

There is a famous scene in the movie, Good Will Hunting. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) tells Will Hunting (Matt Damon) that what happened to him wasn’t his fault.

It’s hard to get through life without getting hurt emotionally. I’ve learned that when it happens, it’s possible to heal.

Michael Singer, in his book, The Untethered Soul uses a metaphor to describe what many of us do when we get hurt emotionally. The hurtful event is a thorn that gets lodged under the skin. He describes an elaborate series of accommodations made to avoid touching the wound.

Many of my thorns happened at home growing up. By the time I went out on my own, I was deeply wounded. My choices in life were unconsciously made to build a buffer around my emotional wounds. Consciously, I didn’t know I was bringing the past with me into my new, liberated life.

Almost immediately, I surrounded myself by other broken-hearted people. I married my first girlfriend who was deeply wounded. Unconsciously, she could probably see that I wasn’t emotionally available and that I lacked the capacity to get anywhere near her broken heart.

My first roommate and I used cannabis, cigarettes, and alcohol to hide and numb our broken hearts.

I thought I had walked away from the past. I had survived. I had endured. All I knew how to do was try and protect myself from further pain.

The deeper the wound, the greater the handicap. And the deeper the healing, the greater the capacity.

Living with unhealed emotional wounds is like running a marathon without knowing you’re strapped to a hundred-pound backpack. I didn’t know I was handicapped by my unhealed past. I really believed that because I had survived it, there was nothing left to do with it.

The effort required to succeed in life surrounded by others who were less burdened was incredible. I was baffled by my inability to remain emotionally steady in the face of normal life challenges. Angry people and beautiful women scared me to death. I compared myself to those who seemed to navigate life with ease and judged myself as less than, incompetent, and stupid.

At the age of 27 when I stopped drinking alcohol and using cannabis, my healing journey began. Because I didn’t know what I didn’t know, I hoped that sobriety would make everything okay. But it didn’t. Abstinence from my self-prescribed pain killers only seemed to make things worse.

I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to remain sober if not for all those meetings. I was surrounded by broken-hearted people who, like me, found a new identity in sobriety. I had been a member of the Retail Clerks Union and knew the value of seniority. I equated that to my length of sobriety and remained sober despite my increasing emotional discomfort.

After seven months of abstinence, I had a spontaneous emotional release. It moved up through me and continued practically non-stop for a couple of hours. My old roommate rescued me from under a desk where I was hiding in shame and took me to chemical dependency unit. There, I was introduced to counseling and therapy.

Gradually, over years, I began to heal as the many therapists I worked with helped me extract the festered thorns. It was a slow process and I vacillated between embracing the process and hating it. After each round of therapy, I believed I had “done my work,” only to realize within a few months that there was more healing to do.

As I healed, my capacity in life increased. The transformation was subtle, but I began to crawl my way out of anxiety and depression as I spent complete hours without fear, worry, frustration, or anger. Hours turned to days and weeks over the years. I became more emotionally stable, less insecure, and had more confidence.

Eventually, I accepted healing as a way of life. On my journey I have had many mentors and guides. No one method, model, or approach has provided all that I’ve needed to heal my emotional wounds. But the sum has been greater than the parts.

The Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy model refers to the authentic, true self as “Self.” The IFS model recognizes that Self is the essence of a person and that it cannot be harmed.

An emotional wound remains unhealed until it is given an environment that supports healing. The Self can provide that environment if given the opportunity. I now understand that each time my heart was broken, parts of me devoted themselves to managing the emotional pain. In my younger years, when my essential Self wasn’t as powerful as the toxic and dangerous external environment, the thorns remained embedded in my psyche.

Beginning with sobriety, my external world grew safer and healthier. This was the environment needed for my internal world to heal. My “Self”; who I am, has matured and become the internal healing agent that my parts need to release their emotional burdens. This is the healing process that IFS is helping me with.

I have learned that Self is contagious. The IFS model provides structure to help my pain management parts know what to do until they make enough room for the healing qualities of Self. When, with self-compassion, I get curious about my thoughts, feelings, and actions, my parts relax and surrender to the wisdom and love of Self. When this happens, my pain management parts release their burdens and I become more whole (healed).

And when I lead with Self and am around other broken-hearted people, their burdened parts respond. Increased presence and influence of the Self seems to relax the parts of those around me which gives them more room for their authentic, core Self.

Just as a broken arm can heal, my emotional wounds can heal in a loving and safe environment.

“It’s not your fault,” spoken in the safety of love and trust, can be healing words.



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