Who Is More Wounded?

It often seems like one person in the relationship is more wounded, has more issues to work out, or has had a more traumatic past.

In a recent workshop, Deborah was clear that she was the more wounded one in the relationship. She described growing up in a family with repeated emotional, physical and sexual abuse from her father, and a pervasive lack of love from her mother. Most of her adult life she has felt handicapped when it comes to relationships. Her partner William, meanwhile, portrayed an almost idyllic childhood in which there was an abundance of love and affection. He felt safe and nurtured as a child.

The current issue for both of them was a lack of physical and emotional intimacy. In their relationship of six years, William has often been tempted to blame their problems on Deborah’s abusive childhood. She was often willing to agree.

While observing the way they were interacting at the workshop, it became clear to us that both of them were equally handicapped in the area of intimacy and closeness with each other. Or, put in a positive way, both were equally skilled in intimacy, and therefore compatible. Each had just as much to teach the other as they had to learn from the other.

We pointed out what we saw. They were at first astonished – and resistant. How could William, with his loving and nurturing upbringing, be just as flawed as Deborah? How could he have just as much trouble with intimate relationship?

We explained. First, we have yet to meet someone who has had an ideal upbringing. No parents are perfect. We have seen how people’s human-ness, expectations, conditional loving, fear and anger, have affected their children.

Second, each one of us is unique. No matter what our upbringing, we are impacted differently. Identical twin studies demonstrate this. They each develop their own unique identities and personalities. They respond and adapt differently to the same parents and life situations. Two children may receive the same amount of love. One may become lazy and self-centered, while the other may develop a grateful heart, ready to give that same love to another.

Later in the same workshop, William started to awaken memories of loneliness throughout his childhood despite all the outward attention he received. His father was a religious leader, and William was expected to be a perfect child. He was rewarded for good behavior but needed to keep all his other feelings to himself. He realized he was not accepted for who he was. He felt the impact of these childhood feelings throughout his whole life. It was humbling for him to realize the extent of his woundedness. And this realization drew Deborah closer to him. She no longer had to carry the burden of emotional woundedness by herself. William was now willing to share the burden with her.

We’re all human beings having a divine experience, as well as divine beings having a human experience. Looking at it either way, we must acknowledge our woundedness. The Sufis say the broken heart is the first call to awakening. Similarly, our woundedness need not be judged as bad, but as a starting point from which to learn compassion for all living things. Judging someone else as more wounded is like judging them as more human. Let’s let go of these judgments and get on with the development of compassion.

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