What do you think of when you think of healing?
Do you think of a cut or bruise regenerating into toughened skin? Do you think of bones being reset or a full recovery from a debilitating injury? Do you think of processing and releasing internal emotional and energetic weight in a way that allows you to feel lighter, more whole, and stronger?
Healing is a term that can manifest in a multitude of ways. From an objective outside perspective, healing can be something beautiful—a reformation of the body, a conscious process of reawakening, shedding, and coming into a new level of inner knowing.
From the inside, however, the action of healing is not quite so simple and streamlined. The journey is (more often than not) slow, at times painful, and sometimes gets worse before it gets better.
Recently, there has been a real cultural emphasis on healing. Similar to terms like self-care and mindfulness, healing has become something of a buzzword.
But what does it actually mean to heal?
What does it mean to take action toward our healing, and is that even possible?
What does it mean to look at and tend to our wounds?
Physically, the process of healing is something we’re likely more familiar with. We know that after a bone has been broken, it needs to be set and stabilized. We know that a cut requires cleaning and a Band-Aid. We understand that healing in a healthy way doesn’t just begin—sometimes we have to undo the wound in ways that start us at neutral to allow the wound to heal productively.
We also understand that in order to not be wounded in the same way again, we have to examine how we found ourselves hurt in the first place and actively choose not to make the same choices.
These processes can sometimes be easy, and other times applying the metaphorical peroxide and adjusting our choices or habits feels like we’re re-wounding ourselves all over again.
Because a physical wound can be more easily understood due to its external and visual nature, we can look to this process of healing for insight on the steps of internal and emotional healing. The steps are essentially the same, although not usually linear, and inner healing requires a different form of internal medicine, belief and habit reorganization, and mental restructuring.
We may be less familiar with the process of healing emotional and energetic wounds simply because it’s been less discussed and less encouraged. We may have been taught simple practices like apologizing for our wrongdoings or allowing ourselves to feel sad when we’ve been verbally or emotionally hurt by someone. But often the education ends there and sometimes it’s even encouraged to dismiss and ignore the difficult feelings that come with being emotionally wounded in order to keep the peace and keep up the hustle.
Thankfully, we’re coming into a collective moment where healing is a buzzword. Mental and emotional health are beginning to be regarded as just as important and, in fact, intertwined with physical health.
So how can we look to the physical experience of healing to inform our education and experience of internal healing? Why would we engage in such a difficult and amorphous process in the first place?
Have you ever left a relationship that wasn’t working, only to find yourself in a similar relationship with a similar person, dealing with the same challenges all over again?
When we carry the weight of unhealed wounds, we unconsciously seek out ways for these wounds to be healed by others, whether we consciously want to or not.
Not acknowledging and doing the work to heal our own internal hurts can often lead to unhealthy attachment styles, misdirected anger, and the inability to be honest and vulnerable with others. Just as if we were to ignore a bleeding cut, if we ignore our own internal wounds, they will only keep bleeding and potentially bleed all over others.
For this reason—for ourselves and the people in our lives—it is just as important to tend to these wounds as it is a broken bone. It may be incredibly tender, and even painful, to turn inward and examine our inner wounds of abandonment, trauma, loss, and heartache. But when we choose to do just that, we also choose our own lightness, our ability to trust and be open and the building of our own strength and resilience. We become all the more fortified in ourselves and relationships and are able to live with more consciousness, kindness, and ease.
We can look to our physical healing as proof that our bodies instinctually and intrinsically know the healthiest choices for us—whether it be by organically threading our skin fibers back together after a cut, or guiding us (just as quietly) toward taking the steps to mend our heartbreak. With a physical or emotional wound the body takes its time, utilizing the resources available to it in order to rebuild what was damaged.
This means that when healing in any way, the process may require timing that does not align with what our head (or our ego) wants, but rather it asks us to trust in the intrinsic wisdom of our internal systems. It’s a process that requires time and patience, asking us to live within the discomfort of restitching parts of ourselves together in order to eventually become whole.
We can consider the process of healing similar to the process of growth—as a spiral. The first circle is the first layer of recovery and adjustment after the wounding. The second circle is a little lighter, a little higher, but asks us to honestly address another layer of what is no longer working and what needs our care. As we spiral upwards, we may come back around to the same things over and over from different perspectives to heal little by little.
In that same sense, the process of healing can sometimes look like walking around the pain over and over, and entering into it through the side rather than the front door. It can be taking the same level of the spiral over and over again in order to truly understand and heal what’s been damaged.
It can be a long process as we’re exposed to new ways of looking at and acknowledging our pain as it is confronted by different situations. It’s about staying with ourselves and holding ourselves through those moments. Our bodies will only ever give us as much as we can handle; it will use the knowledge, information, and nutrition (literal and energetic) it has at hand and nothing more, and as we work our way up that spiral, we bring with us more and more insight, health, and strength.
Metaphors can be helpful, but let’s break down the actions of healing into simple, understandable steps.
Although every wound is different, we can follow this framework toward guiding us to make the decisions unique to the healing process, while also taking out some of the guesswork and empowering ourselves in the process.
Five steps of healing:
1. Acknowledge the pain.
A great way to acknowledge that you’re carrying something that needs healing is if you find yourself saying, “I just want to feel better” or “I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
This is your invitation to acknowledge where you’re hurting. From there we can start to turn toward the pain, look at it, recognize it, and give it form. Naming what it is, giving it shape, and definition allows us to be able to handle and shape it anew.
Example: I feel this discomfort in my body and I recognize it as heat. This heat is anger. I see this as a ball of fire inside me, and I will work with this ball of fire to move this energy and heal this wound.
2. Be honest about the wound.
Where did it come from? Where does it live in your body? How does it show up, and what triggers it?
This is the story of the wound, or the narrative that we carry around with us. Once we understand the story, we know how to work with it even more, potentially rewriting it entirely or changing the ending. Additionally, bringing mindfulness to the triggers—when you feel the pain rising to the surface either in the moment or later—can help us work with the wound in real time.
Example: This anger came up because she lied to me about what she was doing. I’ve been hurt by people lying and deceiving me in the past, and it makes me feel disrespected and small. When she lies, even if it’s a white lie, it feels like I can’t trust her—or anyone.
It’s about honesty—as much honesty as we can give ourselves moment by moment. The clearer we are about our experience with the wound, the more we can start to listen to what it needs.
3. Give it airtime.
Give the wound the metaphorical mic. What is it asking for from you? What does it need?
Physically we can think of this as a cut that needs oxygen to heal. It doesn’t need a Band-Aid, it needs to breathe. Similarly, trusting and listening to the wisdom of your body—letting it communicate to you—will naturally guide you to the healing salves. It’s the part of ourselves that has been hurt that holds the answers to how we need to heal.
Example: If I listen to this heat and ball of fire in my chest, what does it say it needs? What does it want to say? What does it need to feel seen and heard? What does it need in order to release some of its heat?
At the same time, doing everything you can to not add to the wound (i.e. stay away from sharp objects, don’t sit in a sandbox, and so on) will add to the healing power of your body. If it’s impossible to avoid sharp objects, take time to pay attention to what it’s asking from you to keep it safe. What are the emotions that come up in the process, and how can you use the information of those emotions to guide you toward safety and equilibrium?
Example: Do I need to stay away from this person for a time while I understand my own emotions? Do I need to check in with myself regularly while I’m in their presence in order to stay grounded and connected to how I need to communicate my emotions and needs?
Note: Sometimes when we’ve been hurt by someone else, we may feel that the other person needs to take responsibility for how they hurt you. There are some opportunities when this is possible, but many times we won’t get the apology or the relief of their acknowledgement. In this or any relational dynamic where we’ve been hurt, being able to step in and be the person that we need(ed) the other person to be is a radical step toward healing our pain. Giving ourselves what we missed or didn’t get not only proves how much we can rely on ourselves but also shows us how we can be resilient and build strength from the inside out.
4. Follow its guidance.
This perhaps is the most important step—following through on what you hear from the wound. If it’s to rest, take the rest. If it’s to seek outside help from a friend or therapist, reach out. If it’s to go for a walk, take some alone time, or stare at the ceiling. Whatever it is, do it.
What you become hungry to draw into your life in order to heal these wounds is the necessary work that will guide you forward.
Remember that if you find that you’re mentally going in circles, that is your invitation to drop into your body, drop into the internal hurt, and listen from that space rather than your mind or ego. This means that you might need to give the wound some time to breathe and open before it can easefully communicate to you.
That said, the mind will open endless possible solutions to you, but only the place of the wound will know the true answer.
5. Trust the process.
No matter how long it takes, trust that by following the steps above you’re doing your best to help in the process of your healing. Imagine what you and your life will look and feel like once you’ve made it through this process.
If your heart has been broken, does your heart feel strong? If your ego has been hurt, do you end up with a stronger sense of self?
Hold that vision in your mind in the toughest of times. Allow space for yourself. Stepping up the tenderness, care, and kindness will support the natural flow of your internal rebuilding. Be gentle with yourself, just as you would a wounded friend.
The process of healing can be messy and painful, and sometimes it gets worse in order to get better. We might be required to do the things that really make us uncomfortable, bitter, and in more pain than we initially started out with.
But it’s when we go into the parts of ourselves that are the darkest and most tender, that’s where we discover our internal gold mines. The Japanese practice of Kintsugi, using gold to fill the broken part of an item, is a perfect representation of this. When something becomes broken, there is an opportunity to make it even more durable and long-lasting. The care put into filling that broken space makes it all the more worth it, because you not only still have the treasured item, but it’s all the more beautiful and valuable.
Scar tissue is the most durable part of our skin and physical connective tissue, and therefore our wounds create the strongest parts of ourselves that we get to build through our own journeys. Just like the gold used to fill the broken items in Kintsugi, we are also made more valuable and resilient for the action we take to heal.