5 stages of healing hurt

(Based on the book –  Healing life’s hurts, By Mathiew Lynn S.J & Denni Lynn S.J)

The First Stage – Denial

healinghurtLet’s take an example of cancer patients. There is not a single patient who does not deny it by talking about something else and pretending nothing has happened.

Denial brings in psychological defense mechanisms and each one has his/her own, It can be rationalization justification, glorification – “It could have been worse “It is O.K. That is only his opinion”. “He would have done it because he became momentarily mad.” “It would have been worse” – “It happens to everybody”. In all these process we deny it is so. By denial you not only is just swallowing the pain, but also the fear and anger. Sometimes we repress the hurt feelings by alcohol, drug or with more subtle escape such as TV, Over work, sleep, over eating etc. At times people go from one escape to another without enjoying them. Defense mechanisms are many Rationalization, intellectualization, repression projection, fantasy, reaction formation etc.

Sometimes Denial can be healthy for instance when we have a sudden physical hurt, the system gets into a shock to conserve energy and keep us off our feet. Just as physical shock is part of the healing of a physical trauma – When emotional shock occurs we go into emotional trauma, the emotional shock is manifested in the form of denial. It is a necessary response to bring back emotional health and should not be fought .Breakdowns can come when we are forced to face something we need to deny. So until we are ready to feel with a hurt it is best not to face it. Denial like worrying or grieving if moderately present helps us to work through our fears.

Studies have shown like worrying and grieving denial, moderately present, help to work through our fears and helped patients recover from surgery. Patients were classified into those with excessive, moderate, and no worry groups depending upon how concerned they were about upcoming surgery. After surgery the excessive worrier [with too little denial] had the slowest recovery- The some was the case of no worries [too much denial] who were upset by the pain they hadn’t expected. The quickest recovery was with the moderate group [ with moderate denial] who were content going through the pain they expected. Their sedation need was also only half as much for post opera rate pain because the proper combination of worry and denial eliminated the emotional pain

 Second stage – Anger

Once the person passes the denial stage of any hurt [news of cancer] he/she becomes angry and starts criticizing everything and anything blaming the other. Very few drivers meeting with a car accident admit that it is their fault he/she blame the other drivers, the blind approach the slippery pavements or the car’s poor brakes.

Anger needs a target

Ways of expressing anger depend on how deeply we are hurt & how readily we express anger. Anger has as many shapes as people have. When angry, children wet beds, husbands withdraw behind work and newspaper, , gossip over the phone, some drown in drinks, food, pills drugs etc, if anger is swallowed long enough body will rebel with asthma attacks, ulcer, hyper tension, headaches, colitis arthritis, coronary disease and mental illness. Unresolved anger is equal destructors to emotional healing as well as physical health because swallowed anger often results in self hatred and depression. When we say I never feel angry we probably will convert our anger into illness.

Anger also can be healthy

Something is wrong if we don’t feel angry. Anger energizes us to change what should be changed so that we can live on a better more loving environment. When we are detached from the suffering of the poor, unemployed, rape victims, people who are subject to social injustices, we sit back and let others correct these injustices only when we are angered against these injustices do we fight. Anger also helps one to fight what one fears. Anger can pinpoint a fear one needs to face and overcome. Burying anger can build fear that may lead to depression and suicide victor Frankle relates how in the concentration camp his fellow prisoners choose either to feel the concentration camp horrors or become angry or to feel none of the brutality and bury their anger in apathy. Thus denying anger is unhealthy and can destroy us. Feeling anger on the other hand is as healthy reaction to being emotionally hurt as to feeling a pain is to being physically hurt. When emotionally hurt, people who love themselves get angry, people who don’t love themselves get depressed and even suicidal as in Frankle’s concentration camps. Because depression is often displaced anger turned against oneself, a good psychotherapist heals the depression by helping the client express anger in a healthy way and at the proper target. Many depressions begin to lift when answering “who or what makes me angry?” Feeling of anger makes me enable to identify the hurt and heal it in a healthy way. Anger is a warning that I have been emotionally hurt. I am in danger of losing myself off from God and others, so can alert me to share with a friend and God all the hurts that prick my anger. Anger like pain pin points what gets under my skin and most needs healing. So when we feel angry it is a sign that we lose either the person hurting us or we love ourselves enough to dislike feeling hurt.

Anger must be dealt with or it will deal with us Dr.Ring of the University of Nebraska Medical School diagnosed 400 patients on the basis of a 15 mt personality interview with each patient Dr, did not ask anything at all which will reveal medical symptoms. Solely on the basis of personality he diagnosed correctly 100% hyper thyroid 71% coronary problems 60% Asthma , Diabetes, hypertension.

There are many ways of positively dealing with anger, as there are angry people some with anger work by chopping wood, scrubbing floor, taking a hot shower. These are ways to drain present anger, but past hurts remain and fester continuous anger.

Many find when they can pin their feelings down into words and then share how they feel; the anger from past hurts begins to heal.

 Third stage – Bargaining

After a patient facing death quits blaming Drs and God he realizes he needs Drs and God if he is to escape death or at least postpone its hour. If I quit smoking help me to live longer I will fast Thursday and Friday let my child live. I will accept death let me see my Friend happily married – The relations are endless. Bargaining is a common reaction to hurt which is other than death, we are tempted to talk to a traffic police may be a little cash to stay out of punishment. If someone scratches our car, we are willing not to report the accident if he produces the cash for repairs. If a neighbour spreads a malicious gossip we are willing to forgive her, if she makes a public apology. We forgive sinners, if they suffer criminals if they go to prisons. Variations are again endless….

Since Bargaining is primarily a mixture of anger [blaming others and wanting him to change] and depression [blaming myself and wanting to change myself] symptoms vary depending on whether i am more angry or depressed.

Bargaining is stage of measuring – cup love – always measuring what I get [because anger says he should change] against what I gave [because depression says he should change] Bargains come in many varieties of [if and only if] you change, I will forgive you….

Bargaining can also be healthy because bargains are like X-rays highlighting hidden areas. They pinpoint where my strengths that have become weakness and my weakness is not yet a strength. Bargains pin point not just strengths that have become swollen with pride but areas of weakness those are tender and easily hurt.

Fourth stage – Depression

A patient feels his strength ebb away he knows he will not be saved by his bargains – He falls back into a gloomy silence and over questions like why didn’t I go to a Dr, sooner before it was too late why didn’t I get the best Dr. right away? Why didn’t I take that family trip and spend more time with children and grand children. Now it’s too late I should have … should have …

The dark clouds of depression strike with recriminating thoughts like I should have – It is a vicious circle when I am down on myself because I am feeling guilty [I should have…] I do all the wrong things which make me feel guiltier.

Although there are many ways of depression as people depressed in the healing process depression is described as anger turned against oneself. In the depression stage, my anger turns inward producing guilt to have over allowed myself to be hurt or over hurting – whether I am angry at myself or at my actions makes the crucial difference between unhealthy and healthy depression. I must love and forgive myself for ways I have hurt myself or another, whether it was intended [ sinful ] or unintended [ evil ] hating the sin and loving the sinner helps me change what needs to be changed. Like in TA we confront the issue and not the person. For e.g. in a car accident I can rationalize that the accident was an unintended evil because I drove carefully. But if I didn’t fix the brake as warned, then deep down I feel guilty for not braking in time Dr.Carl Menninger famous psychotripist points out that to deny that I have committed no mistake is a unhealthy attitude if I am hurting myself or another I have a choice of ignoring it and letting the patterns continue or of recognizing the evil and correcting it.

If we don’t deal with depression we can end up mentally ill or even physically ill if the hurt is deep it may take months to deal with depression and reach the acceptance stage, when depression is long term fear, involving suicidal thoughts or bringing major changes in patterns of sleep, or appetite, then professional help is needed. With less serious depression the processes is speeded up when I can share with an understanding friend or in a group and be affirmed by those around me.

 Fifth stage –  Acceptance

Walk into any hospital room and you usually find get well cards, flowers, candy for the visitors and a smiling patient. Even if the patient is facing surgery or death, if you ask him how he feels he smiles with confidence. A moment later he is back to complaining about the nurses never bringing ice water. How do we distinguish a smiling patient really has accepted his fate or is he just denying it? Denial and acceptance almost seem alike. In denial stage wounds are Camouflaged by rationalization, patterns of sin , escapes, hunger for approval and all other way by which I cover up insecurity. In acceptance I am free from these symptoms and instead experience gratitude for growth from the hurt an openness to feel all my emotions, a reaching out to others and a commitment, not possible in denial. In acceptance a person wakes up more rested, everything seems good, even the lukewarm coffee at breakfast. One can enjoy things around and enjoy what one is doing rather than hurrying to finish—— Finally in acceptance. I can accept others as well as myself at new levels when I hear a compliment I say less often but….. and more often “Thank You”.

It is this stage of acceptance that is the basis of health and growth. What psychotherapists and psycho analysts do is to help surface and then accept the hurts buried deeply in the unconscious – To all psychologists and thinkers, psychologically healthy person accepts himself and offers the same acceptance. Victor Frankle asked himself why some could take the brutality of his concentration camp and become healthy people who gave away their food to the sick while others stole food, gorged themselves and apathetically collapsed. In observing his fellow inmates he discovered that some grew not because they suffered less but because they had a reason to accept the suffering. Those who accept suffering and forgive become healthy with power to relive the suffering around them.

Eg : Mother Teresa Martin Luther king, Nelson Mandela,Gandhiji


To reach serene acceptance of death, a dying person wants to silently hold the hand of an accepting friend. We too reach acceptance of our hurts when we have the hand of friend to hold and that is what – we counselors can do. Thus healing a hurt is a process and these are the stages that a hurt person goes through, but there are times when healing process is dramatic. But most of the time healing a hurt is a process hidden as deeply as some of the hurts themselves.

Author: Asha Editorial Team

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