Hillman: Wounds and the Wounded Healer


The Education of Achilles (ca. 1772) by James ...
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James Hillman (1989: pp. 161-2)

“Building the psychic vessel of containment, which is another way of speaking of soul-making, seems to require bleeding and leaking as its precondition. Why else go through that work unless we are driven by the despair of our unstoppered condition? The shift  from anima-mess to anima-vessel shows in various ways: as a shift from weakness and suffering to humility and sensitivity; from bitterness and complaint to a taste for salt and blood; from focus upon the emotional pain of the wound – its causes, perimeters, cures – to its imaginal depths; from displacements of the womb onto women and “femininity” to its locus in ones own bodily rhythm…

We have said that each symptom brings the archetypal condition of woundedness. Although the wound may be experienced through a symptom, they are not the same. A symptom belongs to diagnosis, pointing to something else underlying. But the wound, as we have been imaging it, takes one into the archetypal condition of woundedness and gives even the smallest symptoms their transcending importance. Every symptom would turn us into its fantasy, so that skin spots make us lepers, diarrhoea makes us little babies, and a sprain turns us into old derelicts on the bench.

The magnificatio that wounding brings is a way of entering into archetypal consciousness, that is th awareness that more is going on than my reason can hold. One becomes an open wound, hurting all over, as consciousness is transfigured into the wounded condition. We experience affliction in general, afflictedness as a way of being-in the-world. The wounded announces impossibility and impotence. It says: “I am unable.” It brutally brings awareness to the fact of limitation. The limitation is not imposed from without by external powers, but this anatomical gap is an inherent part of me, concomitant with every step I take, every reach I make.

Because limitation is so difficult and painful for the puer [infantile] structure, its statement, “I am unable,” is exhibited by the painfulness of the wound. He stands before you, still radiant and cheery, as innocent as ever, all the while grossly demonstrating his incapacity by the thick plaster cast on his leg. A puer-man, psychically, hides his wound, since it reveals the secret that weakens this mode of consciousness. It fears feeling its own inability. For, when the wound is revealed at the end of the story, it kills one as a puer [infant]. The wound is one’s mortality. Each complex has its symptom, its Achilles heel, its opening into humanity through a vulnerable and excruciatingly painful spot, be it Samson’s hair or Siegfried’s heart.

Therapy must touch on this spot; it must move from the beautiful wounded condition to the actual present hurt. The archetype, remember, generalises, because archetypes are universals. So drive the nail home! Go into the crippling, maiming, bleeding; probe the specific organ – liver, shoulder, foot or heart. Each organ has a potential spark of consciousness, and afflictions release this consciousness, bringing to awareness the organ’s archetypal background, which, until wounded, had simply functioned physiologically as part of unconscious nature. But now nature is wounded. The organ is now inferior. Deprivation of natural functioning gives awareness of the [original] function. We realise for the first time its feeling, its value, its realm of operations. Limitation through the wound brings the organ to consciousness – as if we know something only when we lose it, in its limitation and decay; as if the knowledge death gives us is the knowledge of what a psychic thing is in itself, its true meaning and importance for the soul. A “dying” consciousness is released by the wound.

The dying awareness, or awareness of dying, may heal the wound, for the wound is no longer so necessary. In this sense, a wound is the healing of puer [infantile] consciousness and, as healing takes place, the wounded healer may constellate. We must admit, after all, to a curious connection in fact between puer persons and the vocation of therapy.

The wounded healer does not mean merely that a person has been hurt and can empathise, which is too obvious and never enough to heal. Nor does it mean that a person can heal because he or she has been through an identical process, for this would not help unless the process had utterly altered consciousness. Let is remember that the wounded healer is not any human person, but a personification presenting a kind of consciousness. This kind of consciousness refers to mutilations and afflictions of the body organs in an organ- or body-consciousness. Healing comes then not because one is whole, integrated, and all together, but from a consciousness breaking through dismemberment.”

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