We’ve all got them – wounds, past injuries of the soul that still show themselves, either in the way we relate, or the pain we feel. I’ve learned a lot by examining my own, and those of the people I’ve been blessed to work with over
Wounds can show up in current pain through memories that just won’t die. Sometimes a mental picture of a traumatic event, like a childhood humiliation or tragedy, keeps intruding into your thoughts. Maybe you let yourself relive it, and all the pain of the event comes flooding back, reopening the sore and making it worse. Sometimes a person will deliberately dredge up these memories, then, like the director of a movie, rewrite the ending to come up with a more satisfying conclusion. (I can’t ell you how many bullies from my childhood met their demise when I mentally rewrote my own history, and nailed the suckers!)
Or it can itself in your behavior, when it affects the way you relate. Wounds can become the root of adult isolation, fear of intimacy, a craving for power, or extreme passivity and dependency. In those cases, the wound affects a man’s ability to love and trust.
The Medicine of Pleasure
I find all of this to be common among men involved in sexual sin. Often the sin itself isn’t just the result of lust. It can also indicate a relating. And at the root of that problem there’s often a wound that he’s been medicating with his private vice. The sin is a problem, for sure. He’s got to repent of it. But it’s also been his drug – his way of numbing the pain from his wound – so when he repents and stops using his painkiller, the wound may start hurting more than ever. (No wonder so many guys relapse! Their painkiller gets removed before developed new ways to deal with the pain.)
If that’s your story, then over the years there’s a good chance you’ve taught yourself that certain sexual pleasures are not only enjoyable, but effective painkillers as well. And if you’re a man with a significant amount of emotional pain, that’s an appealing product. I’ve worked with homosexual clients, for example, who said a man’s embrace helped alleviate the pain they felt over the father who rejected them. Others have confided that when losing themselves in Internet pornography, they created an imaginary world of beautiful women who adored them, and that eased the pain of earlier feminine rejections.
When your wound hurts you, you’ll be tempted to medicate it with the tried and true sexual sin you used in the past. That’s when emotional pain becomes an internal and non-erotic trigger, because it comes from discomfort, not just sexual arousal. And while it’s great to repent of overt sins, you really can’t repent of your wounds. They’re still there, and need to be dealt with.
So what’s a wounded man to do? Four things comes to mind: Identify, Address, Release, Relate
Does the very thought of a certain person – or the mention of that person’s name – flood you with fear, rage or sadness? Is there someone you avoid whenever possible because the idea of interacting with her or him puts you into a panic? Do you indirectly punish someone – a family member, perhaps, or former friend – with silence, or sarcasm, or gossip? Then you may have a wound associated with that person. Usually the wound is made up of a series of events that happened between you and him/her, a few of which especially stand out. And usually, the person involved is someone you were close to – a family member or friend – so he could hurt you at the deepest levels. This is exactly why Jesus said to address a problem directly and immediately:
“If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” – Luke 17:3
When you’ve been wronged, although you’re commanded to forgive, you’re also commanded to be honest about the wrongdoing. If you aren’t, you’ll feel unresolved about it, and that lack of resolution easily gives way to resentment.
If this comes close to describing your history with a person you’ve experienced a deep wound with, then you need to address it. To do so, ask yourself four questions: First, is this person accessible? (Meaning he or she is alive and can be located.) Second, is a conversation about this feasible? You may still see this person at times, and the wound is still a painful wall between the two of you.
If so, move ahead with plans to address it. Third, is your perception of this person, and what happened between the two of you, accurate? Fourth, what do you want to say to this person? What questions do you still have? What do you want him to know about you and the way you feel? What, if anything, do you want to see changed in your current relationship with this person? In addressing these questions, you’re finally getting some resolution and clarity, which is a way of cleaning the old wound out.
Release the Wounder and the Wound
If you’re able to talk out an old problem with someone who’s hurt you, you should. But even if you can’t, you’re still mandated to forgive. Jesus offered no wiggle room on the matter:
“If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:15
The Greek word Jesus used for “forgive” is aphiemi, meaning (according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon) “to let go of a debt by not demanding it.” When you release someone who’s wounded you, you give up the right to punish them. You relinquish any tactics you’ve used in the past to “hurt them back” – the silent treatment, coldness, sarcasm, or hurtful remarks – and you release the emotional battery acid that’s been welling up whenever you think of this person.
If the wounder is unrepentant, unwilling to admit his wrong, or indifferent to the pain he’s caused you, there’s a punishment waiting for him that’s worse than anything you could dish out. Meanwhile, you’ve got a life to live, so does it make sense for you to allow someone’s sin to keep distracting you from what really matters? When you release the wounder, you relieve yourself of the negative, crippling feelings that weaken you. That, too, is the logic of forgiveness.
The key to dealing with emotional pain is to admit it, address the source if possible, forgive, then develop relationships that strengthen and heal you. Because wounds are generally not healed unless we attain, and maintain, healthy intimacy. My first clinical supervisor told me to remember that when someone came to me for pastoral counseling, they were there because something went wrong in their relationships. And, he stressed, the real solution would come not through analysis, but through intimacy. When people learned to develop strong ties with healthy, loving friends and family, they would heal.
Over the years I’d have to say he got it right. So if you’re wounded, I hope you’ll take your wound to God. Offer it up; ask Him to help you deal with it. Confess any bitterness you’ve allowed yourself to hold onto, and ask for the grace and wisdom to address the Wound. Then go to the source, if possible. Talk it out; clear the air. Then release the source, whether or not you’ve been able to talk it out together. And if the old pain resurfaces, make a habit of releasing it as soon as you’re aware of it. Here’s a trick I learned years ago, which is no trick at all. Jesus advised it when He said:
“Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” – Matthew 5:44
Whenever I remember someone’s sin against me, whether in the distant past or the here and now, it helps to remember them in prayer. I don’t always do so, but when I do, I pray God’s blessings on their lives, and His correction in their lives of any sin that needs correcting. In doing so, I’m released from the burden of hating them, thinking ill of them, obsessing over them. Because who, in the long run, is punished by my bitterness?
No one but me, and I’ve quite selfishly decided I’d rather not punish myself any longer.
I hope you won’t, either.