One of the most tortuous experiences of healing in life are stories told from those who have suffered with injuries that require their wounds to be scrubbed. Emergency room doctors have shared experiences of cases involving car accidents that have required scrubbing the road rash covering the back of a victim, triggering immense pain. Burn victims describe a healing process that demands cleaning and scrubbing the wounds every day. The pain from the necessary cleaning procedure is unbelievable, yet necessary. Without the cleaning process, infection takes over and provides a negative outcome, including death. As a child, I remember, my mom, washing a wound that I incurred on my knee with a washcloth. I recall the searing pain from the scrub and the application of merthiolate (that red stuff that was later banned) and crying out “Don’t touch it mom” and wanting her to blow on it as she did her cleaning work. No one wants to sign up for this much-needed task of scrubbing the wound.
Since I have been an emotional healer, the analogy of scrubbing the wound is one that has made so much sense. It is one of the first things that is required for emotional wounds to heal. Forgiveness often doesn’t get traction unless the emotional wound is scrubbed and cleaned. The concept of “scrubbing an emotional wound” involves embracing the emotional pain rather than avoiding it. It always includes a deepened embrace of grieving the loss, injustice, despair, and disappointment. While wanting to lash out is a common human response, scrubbing the wound often means sitting with the pain in all of its severity. It suggests that you walk through the reality of violation, tragic loss, etc, and steel yourself with the support of caring others, without escape but with embrace. As a healer, I have observed that when people are willing to do this, the healing of devastation occurs more rapidly. When people choose strategies to avoid the pain through blame, and tactics to find an escape from pain through other relationships or endeavors, then the healing process becomes stalled and at times is never completed.
During my healing journey, I am certain that going through the hell of losing 45 pounds in six weeks in major clinical depression and sitting with the painful reality of sexual, physical, and religious abuse was necessary to stop the destructive life of dysfunctional behavior that included addiction. Through 25 years as a counselor. I have observed that there is an inbred desire to seek instant relief from physical pain, emotional discomfort, and personal struggle. We tell ourselves that life would be better if we could just find that instant fix! Yet, most times there is no lightning in a bottle. Transformation and healing require that we scrub the emotional wound and drain the pool of emotional pain.
It has been my conviction and belief that there is no magic bullet. Embracing emotional struggle and scrubbing the emotional wound is a counterintuitive measure that creates fulfillment in life and clarifies meaning and purpose in the presence of pain and discomfort in ways that are missed by those in search of a magic bullet.
Here are a few practical considerations regarding scrubbing the wound.
- You will need a safe place to embrace all of your feelings. For me, it began in a psychiatric ward at Columbine Psychiatric Hospital. It later included Marilyn Murray’s studio office with a tennis racket wearing loose-fitting clothes that were conducive to expressing all of my emotions. Today, it includes my own homespun safe place with plenty of options to express sadness/anger/hate/shame, etc. You will want to be proactive to create your own safe place.
- Scrubbing the wound requires a commitment to express all of your feelings around your hurt, unedited and without reservation of expression. Take time to write emotion-focused letters for your eyes only (or a therapist), saying whatever comes out about someone who hurt you without edit or protection. Emoting words of pain with explosive expression (hitting a pillow with a tennis racket, etc) in your safe space and doing it as many times or over a protracted season of time as is necessary will be important. Often, it is helpful to have an unbiased support person present to give “fair witness” to your scrubbing the wound.
- Scrubbing the wound will often require more than one healing session. Be willing to scrub your wound as often as needed. Remember, scrubbing the wound for a burn victim is a daily experience. Scrubbing resentment, hatred, and shame will need to be a daily ritual with more intense emphasis on some days and less on other days. It is a process of cleaning out the infection of toxic feelings and that is emotionally healing. Be willing to scrub for as long as is necessary.
- Scrubbing the wound calls for you to cultivate the capacity to sit with the pain of your wound and tolerate discomfort. What happened to you was painful. The accompanying emotions hurt and will require conditioning and discipline to embrace. Sitting with the pain is a way of culturing wisdom. Angelina Jolie wrote ‘Without pain, there would be no suffering, without suffering we would never learn from our mistakes. To make it right, pain and suffering is the key to all windows, without it, there is no way of life.” Life becomes meaningful for those who learn to sit with the wound they have scrubbed.
- There are many modalities that will help us scrub the wound but ultimately it will depend upon your willingness to go there. Seeking a sensational fix or searching for a magic bullet is a testament to attempts to avoid the scrub. Therapeutic modalities are abundant and new ones are being introduced all the time. Some individuals are great at knowing all the latest therapeutic interventions including all kinds of psychotropics to all sorts of experiential therapeutic modalities. Yet, the only ones that are really impactful are the ones that you have determined to embrace. When it is all said and done, you will have to decide that you are willing to embrace the pain and scrub your emotional wound.
- After scrubbing, dress your emotional wound with loving kindness and positive affirmation. Emotional scrubbing is a difficult and vulnerable undertaking. It is an exercise that must be done at various times throughout a lifetime. Once an emotional scrub has been completed it is necessary to cultivate gentleness and bathe your emotional self with inspiring and positive affirmations affirming the reality that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. The combination of scrubbing the wound and dressing it with positive affirmation is key to deep healing.
Leaning into painful experiences, big and small in everyday living is a pathway to meaningfulness and discovery of the depths of human brilliance.