I had so much response to my post about writer wounds, and while I knew others had been wounded by other writers, I didn’t realize how much it hit home with people. I think it’s because we try so hard to do the right thing, and turn the other cheek, that we end up silently suffering for a long time.
Writer wounds are a different animal from a lot of the other wounds we face. There are a lot of reasons for that, but mostly I think it’s because as writers, we’re in this weird place of being in business, but in a way that makes us extremely personally vulnerable.
After all, what is our writing, but our vulnerabilities out for the world to see?
Even though I’m listing out this process, recognize that it is a very personal journey, and these steps might be different for you. So don’t be discouraged if your process isn’t exactly like this. Part of why I am including this in my retreat is that it’s a bigger and deeper process than you can get out of a blog. More importantly, I believe that the unhealed wounds we carry around are part of what's holding us back in our writing success.
Step One: Acknowledge the Wound
Because we’re supposed to be professional, a lot of times, when we’re wounded as writers, we brush off the wound. The editor who just said, “your writing stinks,” is still your editor, and you’re going to have to work with that editor again. Or, the big-name author who stepped on you is still a big-name author and you’re going to have to interact with that person on an on-going basis. So, a lot of times, we push it down because we’re trying so hard to suck it up and move on. The trouble is, pushing it down never heals the wound, and eventually, the wound will come back up when we least expect it. The first step in healing the wound is to say, “this happened, and it hurt me.”
Step Two: Feel the Wound
Part of the pushing down process means that we never fully feel the pain of the wound. Maybe it’s because the wound happened at a time and place where having a good cry isn’t appropriate. But a lot of times, it’s because we’ve trained ourselves not to feel the pain. I’ve talked to a lot of counselors and coaches who all say that allowing yourself to feel the emotion is part of what helps you heal that emotion.
Step Three: Process the Wound
A lot of people stop at feeling the emotion. They feel it, and it hurts, and then they sit in the hurt. But you also have to take the time to process that emotion. Why did it hurt? What did that hurt remind you of? Is there an unexpected gift in that wound? A lesson that can help you grow? How can you care for yourself and love yourself in a way that is going to help that wound heal?
Step Four: Forgive the Person Who Wounded You
Step Four: Forgive the Person Who Wounded You
I have a daily forgiveness practice that I work through, and the thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that it is never about the person who hurt you. It’s about softening your heart, and giving yourself the gift of letting go of the wound. One of the biggest misconceptions about forgiveness is that you can just say, “I forgive you, and move on.” Forgiveness is actually a process that takes time. You’re going to say, “I forgive you,” today, but tomorrow morning, you might wake up and still feel the pain. And you’re going to have to say, “I forgive you,” again. You may have to say that a whole lot of mornings before you actually feel the forgiveness.
Forgiving the other person does not make what the person did to you right.
In fact, you should forgive the person whether that person is sorry or not. Note that I did not make, “confronting the other person,” part of the process. There are a lot of reasons for that, but mostly because this process is more about you and your emotions. You can’t control the other person, or change them. The only person you have control over is you.
Step Five: Use the Wound for Good
I have a journey entry from when I was about 12 years old, and I was processing a hurtful situation. In it, I wrote what has become a driving force for my life. I decided back then, that I was going to use those painful places to help others- whether it be to help others out of a similar situation, or to prevent similar situations from happening. As writers, we also have a third way of using the wound for good. We get to use that pain, that situation, even that emotion, to inform our words as we write.
Being wounded happens to everyone- whether we like it or not. But in the end, we get to choose how we use those wounds. We can let those wounds fester inside us, crippling us, or turning us into mean grumpy people. Or we can heal those wounds, and use them in a positive way.
If you’re curious about my story about Matilda, and how it ended, here’s the result. Matilda and I haven’t spoken in about 3 or 4 years. I gave up after I couldn’t get past her assistant. I have never spoken to her about my hurt. And at this point, it doesn’t matter. If she called me up tomorrow, I would treat her like any other acquaintance who called me out of the blue. I’d be polite, but I also wouldn’t give her unguarded access to my heart. I had some good times with Matilda, but I choose to invest my energy into friendships that are more mutual. As much as what she did to me hurt, I’m grateful for the experience, because it opened my eyes to the kind of person I want to be as a writer. There are people in my life that I’ve asked to hold me accountable to that standard. And I’d like to think that as I become more successful, I’m going to be a person of integrity and love. Not perfect, of course, but hopefully my name won’t be synonymous with jerk. Plus, I’ve been able to use this story to help others, to know they are not alone in their pain.
So Matilda, even though I’m not using your real name, and I know you do not read my blog, thank you. What you did really hurt me. But I forgive you. It does not excuse your behavior, but I’m not holding on to it and letting it define me. In fact, I’m using it to help others heal. And while they don’t know who you are, they thank you, too.
If you want to learn more about this healing process, I'd love for you to come to my retreat. We won't be spending the entire time at the retreat talking about this, but we will go more in depth than I did here on the blog.