Reclaiming Healing Part I: The Destination Fallacy

This past month marked the anniversary of the death of someone who was like family to me. The pain was intense, and I had my fair flood of tears. No one pointed a finger at my recurring grief to accuse me of not having healed from my loss.

Continuing to miss a loved one who has passed, continuing to hurt when little reminders come up or special days go by—that’s all perfectly fine and normal for death because it’s a huge event in someone’s life.

Most people understand that healing from that doesn’t mean losing the emotion around it.

However, people aren’t always so understanding about other significant events that can happen to people, particularly trauma and abuse. Fairly frequently, when people find out I don’t think forgiveness is necessary for healing…and often detrimental in its universal prescription, people will challenge me by asking if I still have any anger or pain left over from my abuse—as if the presence of either indicates that my attempts at healing have failed.

It’s an interesting measuring stick—one that reveals how confused we are about what it means to heal, psychologically or emotionally.

Is healing a destination, a place you reach where you can say that an event no longer bothers you, that any “negative” emotions associated with it are gone?

I think not.

I wouldn’t want to have zero emotional charge around the biggest events of my life. I wouldn’t want my abuse to be as insignificant to me as the breakfast I ate two years ago.

We understand healing better on a physical level.

When you get a papercut, it’s pretty simple to imagine that you will need to give it a few days to mend. Generally a band aid is all that is needed, maybe some ointment. It probably won’t even leave a scar. Two weeks from now, the papercut will be so far beyond bothering you that it might be forgotten entirely.

Of course, papercuts are hardly the worst injury that can happen physically. If you break a bone or have surgery, healing takes a lot longer.  There might be scar tissue, or physical therapy may be required to regain strength and mobility.

If the injury is severe enough, healing might not mean getting back to former functioning. You might have a limp, or chronic pain, or need to adjust the way you do some things because you’ve lost an ability.

In that instance, healing is more about ending the critical injury and learning how to optimize functioning around limitations.

Which brings me back to the idea of healing psychologically.

Trauma isn’t a papercut.

It would be absurd to expect someone to heal from something life-altering at the rate that we would expect them to get over the frustration of their partner forgetting to put the cap back on the toothpaste.

It would also be absurd to expect that a life-altering event would “heal” to the extent that it was as if it never happened—no emotional charge, no recurrent memories, no resurrected pain on anniversary dates or around significant reminders.

So how do we define it?

I think a big step in the right direction would be to discard the notion that healing is something we do and have done with.

It’s not a destination.

I’m going to be taking the next few weeks to focus on healing, doing what I have done with my series on negative emotions–defining it in a way that works for me. Because I don’t think healing should be set up as an impossible-to-reach standard, nor should it reinforce harmful myths about shadow emotions.

I hope you will join me on this journey and think about how you might define healing for yourself.

Part II
Part III

Part IV