Caroline Myss coined the term ‘woundology’ to refer to some people’s identification with their damage to such an extent that they would much rather keep on suffering with it than get better and lose whatever extra attention or special consideration their condition might be eliciting from others. In fact, sometimes this is so extreme that sufferers (and I use the term deliberately) get so much out of support groups, concerned friends, family members, etc., that the very idea of healing seems not only undesirable but terrifying – it would mean losing all the good stuff! Not that this is a conscious decision, but I’ve seen it in play in myself as well as in others.
When unhappy people lack functional support networks in day-to-day life, the appeal of a ready-made one is very strong. There are tales of people who pretend to have various problems just to take advantage of 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve certainly met a few who appear for all the world like 12-step addicts. Where is the motivation to get better when your whole social life and support group depends on staying ill?
But that isn’t even the whole story. The biggest obstacle to healing of any kind is some form of the fear of freedom.
In an insightful post, Mark Robertson says,
…“do you want to be healed?” Of course! we’d say, but then we’d soon realize that the world of freedom means walking and taking on the radical responsibility of a transformed life. Like the paralytic our whole identity might be formed on neuroses, self-pity, a disease, poverty, or arrogance (which may be the worst). In the First World we’ve cashed in drugs and alcohol for SSRIs and Xanax–and other drugs with nearly miraculous power to heal maladies of the mind and body. But this question remains: do we want to be healed? Do we want to be free from fatalism, poverty, paralysis, illness of the mind?
Sanity has been defined as a commitment to reality at all costs. That means facing up to unpleasant facts like one’s own responsibility in any freely-chosen difficult situation. Arguments are almost never all someone else’s fault, no matter how much it seems like it. And while I absolutely don’t want to blame anyone for a chronic illness, there will generally be facets of it that are doing something for the ailing person, no matter how well-concealed they may be. It could be something as abstract as admiration from others for how well you’re coping with adversity, or as concrete as a disabled parking space.
When I was ill with my thyroid, I perceived that it gave me automatic excuses for not doing things, along with a right to ask for the occasional special consideration. As far as I was concerned, it also absolved me of responsibility for my diet, since my metabolism was messed up anyhow. In my healing, I’ve had to take some long, hard looks at what I was doing and consciously decide to give up these perks.
Most people don’t want too much freedom – it’s hard work! In the end, it’s about having to take responsibility. There are all kinds of excuses for not doing so – “I’m too tired/poor/busy/oppressed/whatever” – but until that happens, no real change is possible. The choice is ours.