Series Two: Blog Eighty-Nine
“Healing doesn’t have to look magical or pretty. Real healing is hard, exhausting, and draining. Let yourself go through it. Don’t try to paint it anything other than what it is. Be there for yourself with no judgment.”— Anonymous
My brother Jimmy and my dad fit into the category of wounded warrior. Jimmy did a 13-month tour in Viet Nam as a Marine. He came home disillusioned, traumatized, and angry about a war that didn’t matter but destroyed lives of friends who did. My dad was a World War II warrior. He was a foot soldier for 2 years. He was shot and received several medals. He was a hero, as was everyone who made it home alive. The greatest wound for both was the soul wound that penetrated deeper than was ever discussed. Jimmy died a few years later from cancer after being exposed to Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a mixture of toxic herbicides that the U.S. military forces sprayed in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was used for the dual purpose of defoliating forest areas that might conceal Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces and destroyed crops that might feed the enemy. My dad died with not only the unresolved horror of war etched in his memory but the wounds of a horrific childhood left unresolved.
People salute men like my dad and brother who served their country by going to war. What gets lost is the psychological and spiritual wounds that are never addressed. My brother and dad dealt with their wounds with machismo. There wasn’t any bravado. It was the only way they knew to survive and go on with life. Jimmy’s way of burying his pain was to focus on making money. My dad’s was to turn to religion. Neither ever healed their inner wounds from war or childhood.
There are few World War II vets who are still alive. There are Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan war vets who fit the description of wounded warriors. Some are homeless and displaced. Others are successful and admired for their accomplishments. Likely, most have never healed their wounds from their war experience or childhood trauma.
The damage inflicted from both tragic experiences has infected their lives and the lives of their children. Men learn to be warriors on a field of battle but don’t know how to champion emotional healing. The result is that they wound their children at the same places they were wounded. They give their children the same tools to address the wound that didn’t work for them. The tool of be silent, be tough, and suck it up mentality is a tool that doesn’t work toward emotional healing. It’s applauded and lionized but simply is woefully inadequate. It is not about physical or mental strength. It’s about the courage to heal and be present during shaky tender moments—no macho here.
The role of a parent is to teach their children how to be a warrior of healing. While protection of children is an important parental role, no one gets through childhood unscathed. How do you address the hurt, pain, and trauma that exists in every childhood? Telling a child to be tough or to be a man only buries the pain and hurt for a lifetime. It gets repeated in the lives of the next generation. When your parents don’t teach you to be a warrior, you have to teach yourself.
It is common to create a parental relationship with someone who will meet the needs that were not met by your parents. This usually occurs subconsciously. When you feel relationally abandoned, it feels like a de ja vu moment from early life. So you attempt to fix the problem like you did in childhood. You may attempt to control the problem through possessions and performance. When that doesn’t work you freeze because you have never addressed that part of healing in your relational life. Your response to the situation can be incongruent and is often inappropriate. You don’t validate or empathize when your partner is deeply hurt or frustrated by your behavior. You’re stuck. You may even get angry that they are tearful or hurting, even when it is not about you! You are helpless to fix the problem.
To be a warrior of healing is to observe your lack of empathy and to learn why you don’t have compassion in the moment. When you are emotionally abandoned as a child, your survivor response is to fix the problem by emphasizing performance. In childhood, you do what is necessary to please so you won’t be abandoned. When that doesn’t work you are stuck. So you learn to disconnect from feelings.
As an adult, to be a warrior means to learn self-parenting skills that help you with your inadequacies. It can be tempting to look for someone who role-models self-care and make them a parental figure. However, you must champion your own capacity to create self-care. As a warrior, you must be introspective regarding unmet needs and borrow from those who role model healthy self-care. Then you must practice self-validation and affirmation. This is a lifelong development and conditioning process. It does not result from one week of intensive therapy or of EMDR, or from one healing conversation with a dysfunctional parent.
Figuratively, emotional healing requires you to adopt a concept of being a warrior. There is a rolodex of traumatic memories that need lifelong management. Healing past trauma will require you to get on your horse, ride into battle, and address unresolved trauma that fuels intimacy disability in the present moment. The Iroquois people are credited as saying, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”. This warrior mentality will change the legacy for generations to come.
Subscribe to receive the latest stories, thought leadership, and growth strategies from PCS therapists.