I shared this video a while ago on Facebook. It’s a talk given by Caroline Myss some years ago called “Why People Don’t Heal.” In case you didn’t get a chance to watch it then, or aren’t into watching it now, here it is in print format.
I think it takes a lot of courage on Caroline’s part, to talk so directly about this somewhat sensitive issue. I wanted to bring some more attention to this, as I’ve seen this dynamic in my work as well.
Simply put, one important reason that some people don’t heal from trauma, illness, or emotional suffering, is because they get stuck in their own victim-hood; their story of pain becomes deeply enmeshed with their sense of identity, and they cannot let go of their stories or move through to healing. Often this is accompanied by lots of self-pity, and martyrdom patterns. To them, letting go of their victim story feels like annihilation, that’s how serious this issue is.
We all know that avoiding dealing with your pain can cause more pain. This is the other side of the spectrum; these are the professional victims. (There is a pejorative quality to that term, intentionally.). The people who are prone to doing this learn how to hold on tightly to their wounds and use them, in a rather manipulative way, even if they don’t consciously intend to do so. This has the effect of draining vital spiritual and emotional energy from themselves, and from those around them.
Any attempt to move people like this out of their pain and victim stories is received as callous and lacking in compassion. You can offer lots of alternatives, and compassionate patient loving kind help, but they will find ways to sabotage that help and then blame you for being insensitive. It can be very frustrating and painful to watch someone you care about become entrenched in their own misery.
This is a telling, somewhat extreme, example from the article:
I met one woman, for instance, who stated upon our introduction that the “rules” of being a friend to her began with agreeing to “honor her wounds.” When I asked her to tell me what that meant in practical terms, she said that she was only now beginning to process all of the violations that had happened to her as a child and that in the course of healing these wounds, she would frequently have mood swings and bouts of depression. “Honoring her wounds” meant respecting these moods, not challenging them. She claimed the right to set the tone of any social event of which she was a part. If she was in a “low space,” she expected her support system not to introduce humor into the atmosphere but to adjust their mood and conversation to hers. I asked her how long she anticipated needing this intense level of support. “It may take years,” she replied, “and if it does, I expect my support system to give me that amount of time.“
The reality is that wounds need to be attended to. The victim stories need to be honored; consciously, subconsciously, and all the way down to their source in childhood. But then those wounds need to be processed and healed. Forgiveness needs to be found. And the person has to let go of the victim story. Otherwise, he becomes something of an energetic vampire, constantly (even if unintentionally) pulling on the sympathy, pity, and attention from others.
Spirit does not support this kind of victim mentality, that’s why healing can’t happen for a person in this state of mind.
People don’t heal, because subconsciously they don’t intend to heal. They are often unaware of their own attachment to suffering, and the psychological payoff that suffering brings them. (It’s a way they get love, a way they feel safe, a way they dominate interactions and generate a sense of importance. It’s all designed to feed the ego.)
And when you point it out to them, as Caroline describes in the article, they become extremely defensive. I’ve encountered lots and lots of people in the last few years who love their suffering. They glorify it endlessly and with great fanfare, and they glorify the suffering of others as well. Any attempt to reduce suffering or offer alternatives in a compassionate (but direct) way is met with hostility. Not just from the sufferer, but from the enablers as well.
I was in an online support group a few months ago, having a conversation about healing trauma. We were talking about the merits of different therapeutic approaches, and whether a person could administer the therapy himself, or whether he would need a facilitator. Out of nowhere, a woman interjected aggressively, saying that she knows trauma better than anyone, and no one can begin to know trauma like hers. (They always seem to have this kind of monopoly on suffering). And since her trauma makes her the ultimate expert and authority on this topic, she let us all know that we were wrong, and that none of what we were talking about could ever work. (It does work, and has worked for lots of people.) But the aggressive nature of her interjection quickly shut down the entire conversation. And yet, unsurprisingly, the very next day, this same woman, shared in the group that she’s experiencing suicidal depression, and she’s been in tremendous suffering for 20+ years, and no one can ever seem to help her out of her pain…
I want to say here that I’m not indifferent to suffering; as I’ve written about lots and lots of it here. Without recounting a litany of stories that will solidify my status as someone who knows about trauma, I’ll just say that I have had my fair share of pain. Catastrophic levels of pain which, thanks to my spiritual work, I’ve been acutely re-living and re-feeling and healing, step by step, for the last few years. Pain and trauma happen to be subjective – what was painful and traumatic for one person, is not necessarily so for another. That’s why comparisons of “who had it worse” are rather silly.
But the one thing I’m shown over and over again is that you have to want to heal, and take complete responsibility for that healing, and you have to be your own advocate in that healing. You have to make every possible self-reliant effort to heal.
Healing isn’t something we actually have control over the way we assume. Healing comes from Grace. Healing is a gift given to us by Spirit. There is a sacred element to how it happens and when. It works in cooperation with the person – we do our part, and Spirit does its part. But within the sphere of what we can control, we have to do everything we can and focus our intentions as directly as possible towards that end. Emotional wounds don’t heal on their own. It takes time and effort to move towards healing.
The people described in Caroline’s article, and those I’ve met along my path, don’t have the determination or commitment to marshal their inner resources, and to pull themselves up and out of their pain. They are deeply deeply attached to their victim stories. Sometimes you can hear a sort of helplessness that accompanies their mental state “I can’t do it on my own. I want someone to do it for me.” They sit around and wait for someone else to initiate the process, while they take the time to wallow in misery. (But then when someone does come along and says “come on, I’ll walk with you through this. I know the way,” that too is rejected.)
The truth is: if you don’t do it for yourself, no one can ever do it for you. No doctor, no pill, no famous shaman, no magic spell.
This is, of course, not to say that you shouldn’t seek help and support when you need it. You should. Traditional therapies or spiritual or holistic approaches, it doesn’t matter. There are lots of resources (free resources) available for healing these days. But you have to really really want to heal, and to let go of all the egoic benefits that are attached to victimhood. The process isn’t easy. You have to be willing to confront the pain and the darkness, and take responsibility for a lot of unpleasant stuff. It requires that you be the one who is most committed to your own freedom from suffering. You have to want it for yourself, and you have to want it more than wanting someone else to come and rescue you out of your pain.
It’s the only way it will ever happen.