Why Past Wounds Control the Present (And How to Find Healing For the Future)

Jen Wise // Healing, Self Care, Brighter Future

I crashed out of my seat in the Barnes and Noble café. I fell straight to the ground, with such force that the wooden chair shot across the floor like a rocket. I had been, of course, checking out a hot, tall dude with curly hair. And let’s just say my little stunt didn’t go unnoticed – he asked me out 24 hours later, and the rest was history.

OK, not really. We did go out once or twice, but I married a different hot, tall dude with curly hair. (I guess I have a type.)

Still a pretty good story though, right?!? I think it is – which is probably why I trot it out whenever embarrassing moments become the topic of conversation. After all, it is embarrassing. I did make a fool of myself. And my boy-crazy past is a pretty easy target.

When I think of embarrassing moments I can quickly arrange a list of less-than-graceful missteps, awkward misunderstandings, and unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions. There are plenty to choose from. But what about those embarrassments that aren’t funny later? What about the ones that cut deep?

These are the experiences that we tend to hide from our friends and family. We feel more than embarrassment, we feel shame. And in some cases, they’re so painful that we hide them even from ourselves.

I experienced this when I was fifteen. We were at the home of a family friend, and the daughter had big news for me. She had shown one of her guy friends a picture of me, and he was smitten. In fact, she had promised to bring me over THAT DAY. Nothing gets a fifteen-year-old heart close to bursting like the news of a secret crush. I was elated.

Later that day we hopped in her car and drove to my destiny. We stood on the porch, and I wondered if I looked alright. I wasn’t accustomed to taking off to meet guys, and I wasn’t accustomed to catching their attention. I watched with nervous excitement as she knocked, he answered, and then everything went sideways.

He was mad. She was laughing. I was confused.
What was going on? What was the joke?
And then it hit me: I was the joke.

And it sure was a good one. He had seen a picture of my family, and wanted to meet my gorgeous older sister. She said she’d bring her over, but instead brought me. Because it’s a funny trick. See? Because I wasn’t gorgeous, LOL. Hilarious, right?

He slammed the door in my face. I couldn’t react.

I felt like such a fool – who would bring ME to meet a cute guy? Shouldn’t I have known?
I felt so ashamed – my mere presence was laughable. I was worse than a disappointment.

And I was so embarrassed. So embarrassed that I couldn’t tell a soul.
And I was so hurt. So hurt that some primal self-preservation instinct kicked in and I just buried it. Deep. And I never cried. And I never, ever, allowed myself to remember.

Until a couple years ago. One minute I was walking down a sidewalk in NYC, my only care being the oppressive heat and 99% humidity. The next, I was having the wind knocked out of me by a vicious adolescent wound.  

Isn’t it interesting that past hurts can still feel so strong, so deep, and so NOW, when we never really allowed them to heal? While I hadn’t cried then at fifteen, it was now, as an adult, with the band aid ripped off, that I cried. And by cried I mean WEAPT. And not just once. For the next few weeks the memory kept popping up. I’d be in the shower, or making lunch, or driving alone, and just burst into tears.

There was no way around it – I couldn’t just burry this wound anymore. I had to address it. I had to look back in honest reflection at how this had affected me. This one incident didn’t change the trajectory of my life. It’s not solely responsible for the insecurity I struggled with for the next decade. But it had held unchecked influence, tucked back into the corners of my heart.

It told me, falsely, that I was second rate (or worse).
It told me, falsely, that I was unlovable and unworthy, based on my looks.
It told me, falsely, that I needed to keep my head down, hang back, and fly under the radar.
And there’s no doubt that those false beliefs dominated the narrative in my mind for years to come.

It’s scary that we often don’t know why we feel what we feel. We don’t know what hidden wounds and experiences are shading our view of everything – from our interaction with a co-worker, to what we see in the mirror, to an odd glance from a stranger.

We have hidden wounds, buried so deeply that we can’t see what they’re doing to us, and to those we love. Big or small, past abuse or a cruel trick, we’ve all brought pieces of our past into the present… yet our refusal, intentional or not, to really SEE and FEEL these experiences holds us back.

Until we acknowledge what’s down in there, we’ll never recover. We’ll never deal with it, call it what it is, and move on. We can never claim truth over the lie, or freedom from the shame, if it’s tucked away in the dark corners of our hearts. “Out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t really apply here.

We need to bring those painful memories into the light. We need to weep. Maybe we need to tell someone – maybe saying it out loud will help us believe that this is real, that this experience really happened, and that it hurt, it shaped us.

And then, once we’ve acknowledge the wound, we can finally begin to heal. We can understand how and why we’ve been limping along. We can put a name to that thing that added a filter to our view of the world, of our relationships, of God, of ourselves.

Maybe you’ve buried childhood abuse. And maybe it’s wreaking havoc on your adult life.
Maybe you’ve buried shame or loneliness. And maybe it’s holding your relationships hostage.
Maybe you’ve buried the loss of a dream. Maybe you’ve buried a painful regret. Maybe a betrayal.

Whatever’s down there, let’s bring it out into the day. Let’s give that wound fresh air. It’s only then that we can heal, and move forward with the truth and confidence of a life with no filter.