I first came across Carolyn Myss, the author of this book, about 8 years ago. Since then, I've started this book 3 times and stopped because I saw different aspects of myself in the pages I wasn't yet ready to confront. If you were to put one self-improvement book on your summer reading list, I'd highly suggest this one.
Many of my clients initially come to me because they suffer from chronic pain and chronic fatigue. Naturally, they feel angry at their body and that they can't live their lives to the extent that they would like. Feeling stuck and depressed is an understandable companion to this anger. That said, the more anger we project back onto our bodies, the longer and more fraught the healing process is. A more effective path to healing is seeing the pain as a point of entry to explore deep within ourselves. In Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Myss offers some ways to identify if we're suffering from what she calls Woundology and belief systems that could stifle our healing process.
These are the author's top 5 belief systems that most people get caught in when they're in pain or are ill. To move forward, we have to detach from the belief.
5 Myths of Healing
1. My life is defined by my wound (Woundology).
Seeing life through the lens of a traumatic experience means projecting that onto every future relationship and experience (though a book I wrote about last year here says the brain naturally will do this after trauma). Those stuck in this pattern will seek out a social support network that will be sympathetic to their experience and then they never have to move past it. Moreover, they connect with others by comparing wounds and feel empowered if they are more wounded than someone else. She specifically mentions survivor and addiction groups and that they are helpful at certain stages. To continue healing, however, one has to move past that identity of survivor or addict.
In short, we can get stuck in the healing process if we define our identity and live our lives through our wounds rather than evolving past them. It can be a tricky process because someone may think they're addressing their wounds, but what they're really doing is carrying them around like a badge of honor. Over time, our wounds accumulate and gradually suck our energy, leaving us prone to depression, pain and illness. To move past your wounds, focus efforts on things that feed you rather than deplete you. If a current event triggers you to recall all the other times this has happened to you, rather than listing the wounds, look at what you're doing in your life that is creating part of that pattern.
2. Being healthy means being alone.
This is a system that I've personally been guilty of over the last couple of years until I acknowledged that by engaging with others means I have to grow through the things that trigger me. When I envisioned myself as healthy, I was the only one in the room rather than being surrounded by those who I know love and support me. Myss contends healing is an ongoing process that is best done in a community that can help support our changes; "Healing does not represent the closure of the needs of the heart; rather, it is a doorway toward opening your heart." She cites American individualism as a culture block to realizing this yet also acknowledges that sometimes we do need to separate from someone or a community to grow.
3. Feeling pain means being destroyed by pain.
It's normal to believe that pain or illness is negative, yet these feelings can also push us to explore within ourselves and move away from destructive habits and behavioral patterns. She cautions against relying too much on prescription drugs or painkillers in general because they can mask the symptoms of what our body is asking us to heal. She suggests using a mindfulness practice like yoga or meditation to help with healing consciously.
4. All illness is a result of negativity and we are damaged at our core.
Myss encourages readers to not immediately blame a failure to heal on a past experience or negative belief. Illness is complex and there's plenty of toxins in our environment and genes that can be an aspect of illness. Our focus should instead be on our ability to create change over controlling our thoughts. Sometimes it's better to just let go of the negative thoughts or past experiences over trying to dive into them and understand them....that can do more harm than good.
5. True change is impossible.
Most of us don't really like change and to change but healing and change are the same thing. We associate illness with fear and negativity so it can be intimidating to confront the illness and look at how much we really take care of ourselves versus the needs of others. Try shifting the belief that healing will be hard or depressing to relieving and exciting.
This is one of the few books on healing that I've read that actually provides a structure for analyzing one's beliefs and how to better understand and forgive--she actually encourages making a chart/spreadsheet and guides readers on specificially how to structure it. That said, it's a very East meets West, spiritually-minded approach, so if that's not your bag, this may not be for you. If it is, Myss has a unique perspective on understanding how American culture looks at pain and illness that I found to be eye-opening in forgiving myself and others because we're all stuck in some collective, old mindsets that we can let go of reacting to individually.