The Horse that Got Away Part II–A Core Wound

Last week I wrote about not getting a Shetland pony at the Chagrin Falls, Ohio Blossom Time fair when I was seven. I turned away from my loss at the time by turning away from my love for horses, with the exception of doing artwork of horses. Yet, horses doggedly pursued me in my dreams, artwork and meditative experiences decades later. I am now 51 years old and have never owned a horse, or even been in their company on a regular basis. Why, then, did I just devote five years of my life to a unique piece of research on the amazing and wondrous relationship between women and horses and what it means for our times?

Somehow, last week, in writing First Love: The Horse That Got Away, I felt my childhood loss and betrayal in a new way, especially after talking to a dear friend and lifelong horsewoman. Pamela spoke compassionately about the enormity of that loss in a way that evoked long-unshed tears and caused me to look at this loss with more respect. She also said that losing that Shetland pony, especially when my dad bought the ticket for the other girl who won it, may have even caused me to lose faith in God as a child. 

The Gifts of Core Wounds

Therapists and psychologists, if they are rigorously honest to their soul work, typically specialize in the areas of their greatest wounds—core wounds. A core wound can both be the worst and best thing that ever happens to us. I say that it can be the best thing because if you work with your wounds with courage and respect, they may reveal special gifts. Indigenous cultures, the ancient Greeks, and modern-day psychologists work with a concept called the Wounded Healer. In indigenous cultures, a healer was chosen by their ability to heal themselves from a life experience/wound that could have killed them or led to insanity. Wounds reveal gifts—often healing abilities, empathy, and spiritual awareness. We all know someone who has taken a tragic situation, and instead of being shattered by it, has instead used it as a springboard to new growth and awareness. One example is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s concept of death awareness, which is the person who lives vibrantly because of the awareness of death. In archetypal psychology, founded by James Hillman, illness, wounds and symptoms are seen as the soul’s way of getting our attention.

Trauma Healing

The core wound cuts deep into our psyche and helps define the way that we experience the world. We try to avoid our core wounds because it hurts so much to feel their pain. Core wounds are typically caused by a traumatic incident. Yet why do different people respond so differently? Two people may experience the identical traumatic incident such as a fire, or a sudden deep loss, yet one recovers and the other is held hostage to the trauma, coming back to it over and over again, unable to “move on.” Like a dog chewing on a bone when the meat is long gone, trauma victims often are stuck in a kind of time warp, forced to re-live their experience over and over.

The interesting thing about trauma, is that it is not what happens to us, but rather how we think about what happened to us that makes it traumatic. Often this thinking has us believing that we are bad, unworthy, or unlovable. Other mistaken beliefs may be that we are alone, and do not need or deserve help from anyone else. We may also, as my friend pointed out, end up with a lingering sense that we are unlovable in the eyes of God, or however we imagine the Divine.

I have worked through numerous issues of loss, betrayal, physical and sexual assault, the sudden deaths of loved ones, and family issues of alcoholism. I have grieved two divorces. I have also been an art therapist to combat veterans, incest survivors and child victims of violence. Currently I work as a hands-on healer with people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.Yet in all my years of personal therapy, training and schooling in psychology, and deep psychological work, until last week I managed to tiptoe around one of my own deepest core wounds—the loss of a horse when I was a young girl. Even as I write these words, my inner critic (posing as my logical mind) is trying to minimize the loss as a way to keep me from feeling its depth.

Next Week: Working With a Core Wound

In the next posting, I will demonstrate how to engage the imagination in working with my own core wound.

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