Nursing the primal wound

Every now and then someone will treat you really badly, whether it’s accidentally, incidentally or intentionally, and trigger all this horrible emotional stuff, right? Maybe it’s your boss, your current or former lover/partner, your best friend, mother, father or child. Maybe the’re triggering anger, detrayal, anguish, fear. Maybe you react assertively or barely react at all but either way the feelings are there. The projections run wild: “That bitch!/bastard!/creep!/idiot!/scoundrel!” How dare they? We feel wounded, underneath all the other emotions. We feel hurt. We probably feel like the other someone else has hurt us and is doing us damage, but most probably, the damage has already been done – was done ages ago – and we are re-living it over and over, and over…

The primal wound is the center of all other turmoil.  It probably comes from the drastic post-natal separation from the womb or some other very early childhood trauma and every other painful experience has compounded it. It is what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body. He describes it as a tangled mess of wounded ego – of trauma, abandonment, betrayal, hurt, fear and general suffering. The pain-body is often dormant. We wander around living pretty sweet lives until something nasty happens and triggers all this shit.

The wound is primal because it predates narrative-memory, it is part of primary human experience.  It is the wrenching separation from the feeling of being connected, of being absolutely safe and warm, of floating in the center of the universe. It is so difficult for us to learn that we aren’t the center of the universe – at least not to everyone else – because everyone is struggling to learn the same thing. This traumatic separation triggers our base survival fear. We are terrified of our limitations, or our mortality, of our insignificance. There is only so much a young ego can take before it ruptures and becomes wounded.

Although it’s obvious that living life through this woundedness is not in one’s best interests, we can become awfully attached to our wounds and the traumas and dramas that inevitably surround them. We construct our identities around them: “I am so-and-so and I am ____” insert addiction/trauma/negative label here. We can even be proud of what we’ve suffered to the point that we refuse to stop suffering. Our woundedness gives us an excuse to opt-out of life-obligations, it gives us an excuse to be nasty because we were once treated that way. Really, you don’t need the excuse. If you want to opt-out, do it, if you want to be nasty, go ahead. Excuses are just more unnecessary justification. If you want drama, there is plenty to create and share. If you’re over it and want to move on then begin the disentangling process.

We feel justified in our suffering, in our anger, in our vengeful thoughts. Maybe we are justified, let’s assume we are, either way justification isn’t useful. If we just stay ‘justified’ we tangle the wound even more. We can hold onto all the crap. We easily get stuck. Let’s try something different. Let’s try disentangling from current projections and old trauma. Drop the other people from the equation for a minute. Good work. Now, what is left? That wound. Over the years it has been pushed down into the unconscious to fester, it has been covered over with all sorts of ugly and pretty things. It has become like a boil, an infection seething under the skin and this new trauma, this new trigger of pain/fear/anger has brought it to the surface. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a chance to clear out the pus, clean the wound and let it heal.

Awareness is always helpful, like a flashlight in the dark. If we can focus on this wound – not in an unhelpful dwelling-on-it-going-around-in-circles kind of way because that will only get us more tangled up – but in way that is clear of projections, in a way that regularly cleans it out and wraps it in safe thoughts, in a way that occasionally squeezes out more of the pus until there is none left, then we can give it all the right things to heal. We don’t do the healing in our minds, we just remove the barriers. Healing is automatic in the right circumstances. To speed it up we can nurture ourselves. We can eat the foods our body really wants (not the kind our wound-wrapped-mind craves for comfort), we can move and stretch and exercise in the way our bodies prefer. We can create and be with friends and in nature and do all those things that feed us. We can listen inwards to what we really need instead of looking outwards into projections of happiness on the buffet-table of life that may be all empty-calories and no nutrient-density. A special kind of freedom is possible when we can separate ourselves from the drama and projections of the mundane world, and freedom can be terrifying too, but at least it’s not tedious repetitive cycles of pain.

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Letting go of symbolic parents

Many stories begin with letting go: one must let go of the safety of one’s home to adventure into the woods, a sacrifice is made, the protagonist surrenders their dreams only to rediscover them later, the good parents must die in order for the transformational journey to begin. There are so many stories of orphans (or half-orphans) – the Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Vasilisa, and so on. Aside from the fairy-tale romanticism with orphans, there is a necessity involved in the death of the ‘too good’ mother, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls her, and sometimes the ‘too good’ father as well.  The safe world created and maintained by good parents is torn away and the story really begins.

If you came from a safe, nurturing family, there is a point at which you are likely to break free of the comfort zone and begin your own journey. Internally, you let go the ‘too good’ parental archetypes, they have become suffocating in their love and you need room to grow. Just as Maui split his parents apart, you crack open the protective world of childhood and emerge into a more dangerous place with more opportunities for suffering and learning. This is the process of the bud blooming into the flower, the seed sprouting. After a while the safety of the shell gets to be too restrictive, the pressure build and a new metamorphosis must occur.

If you had a tumultuous childhood, however, you may not know where to start. If you didn’t get enough of the ‘too good’ mother or father archetypes there is no pressure of safety to break free from, just a yearning for love and nurture and comfort.  If there are no parents with the ability to meet your needs now you may turn to friends, lovers or various addictions, no doubt repeating the same insecure attachment patterns you grew up with. To begin the journey you must let go of the ‘too good parents, but how can you do that if you don’t have them to begin with?

It is possible to cultivate the nurturer archetypes in oneself. I believe it takes practice and repetition – visualising and imagining what that delicious safety must feel like, the warmth, the love, the unconditional nature of the bond. Hold it, feel it and then let it go, bearing in mind that none of the fairy tale orphans wanted their good parents to die, but they all had to let go of the ledge to experience free falling.

There is mourning here, because with loss and life shattering change there is always grief. If you grew up with insecure attachments to your primary carers you experienced that loss over and over again and developed protections against it. You may be chronically tired – chronically mourning the loss you suffered repeatedly, continuously. It is perhaps similar to re-living a nightmare every night. With every new attachment comes piercing anxiety for the inevitable loss. Perhaps you avoid attachments all together, or chase them, or perhaps you have closed off against the pain. Either way, acceptance is always the best medicine.

Of course, I speak from personal experience, and in exploring this archetypal journey I’m treading on my own damaged emotional nerve-endings. This is an attempt to re-wire my brain, to heal my damaged or under-developed archetypes and to move past the acute pain.  I have transferred my often unmet childhood needs for love, attention and nurture onto lovers and particularly nurturing friends, repeating the same painful cycle. It is so hard to cut yourself off from people you feel you need. It is a terrible sacrifice to let the ‘too good’ mother die, but one that is necessary in order to break out of the dependency cycle. I suppose it’s a bit like psychological weaning; it creates the space for solid sustenance and growth.