I always recognize women with certain kinds of emotional wounds.
It’s never been intentional. It’s not even conscious. But some wounded part of my heart seems to silently spot the wounds in another, as though certain people are marked with an invisible tag — one which can’t be seen with physical eyes.
It’s only from this tiny group of women who share this invisible tag that I somehow choose someone with whom to fall in love. In this way, I’m unconsciously confessing my emotional wounds — and the woman who falls in love me with me is confessing her own woundedness, too.
It was years ago when a psychologist pointed this out to me. I had been going through a great period of self-discovery — about my childhood wounds and my adult failures to heal them — when I found myself in therapy about a relationship that had ended in a confusing way.
The psychologist acknowledged that she didn’t know the woman, but she said she could assure me that my ex had her own issues which were the equal of my own. She told me that I wouldn’t have fallen in love with this ex-girlfriend if I hadn’t been deeply wounded — and she said that the woman wouldn’t have fallen in love with me if she hadn’t had matching wounds of her own.
This past week, I heard someone express the idea in a far simpler way.
“Wounds attract wounds.”
Those who haven’t come to terms with their emotional wounds might be insulted if I told them such a thing. There was a time — not so long ago — when I would have rejected it for myself. But I’ve found the pattern is undeniable in my life.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to fall in love with any emotionally wounded woman who I meet. And it doesn’t mean that any woman who falls in love with me is making an irrational decision with her heart. I’ve come to believe that it’s simply that we choose among people with certain types of emotional markers that we recognize — because those with complementary emotional experiences have the best chance of understanding one another.
I thought about this one night recently when I talked with a college student at dinner — someone I barely know — about some things going on in her life. From the first time I met her, I recognized something familiar in her — something that told me she was one of those who had hidden suffering of a familiar kind. It wasn’t a romantic interest, but just a recognition of something invisible and unspoken.
Something had happened that day to upset the woman and she ended up telling me all about it — and then she told me about the life that had brought her to that point. It was a story of abuse and hurt and disappointment. I realized why something had felt so familiar to me about her. I had recognized woundedness in her, even though I had no idea how I knew that.
Wounded people can hurt each other — or they can help heal each other. It all depends on how much growth and self-discovery that each has done.
Two wounded people who’ve done little emotional work on themselves are likely to hurt one another — or at least to set up an abuser/victim relationship. People who are emotionally hurt and haven’t worked through the issues can be like wounded tigers — ready to strike out at any new perceived threat, even if they don’t understand what they’re doing.
Two wounded people who’ve engaged in a lot of psychological work and self-discovery have a chance to be very good for one another. The more each of them understands himself or herself, the more he or she generally can understand the other — and such people who are committed to vulnerability and growth can make each other healthier within that safe relationship space.
There are many criteria by which we believe we’re choosing each other — and many of those are important, too. But what I’ve learned — first from my old psychologist and then from long observation — is that we first have to be attracted to something in someone which we couldn’t possibly articulate.
People who’ve never experienced trauma often pull back in horror when they discover what’s hidden inside wounded people. That’s understandable. They might believe — consciously or unconsciously — that they don’t want to get involved with someone who has so much baggage.
But some of us have a different perspective, often without even consciously knowing about it. We’re walking around in this world — pulling our baggage behind us — and something wounded inside of us has emotional eyes open to spot the people who are pulling matching baggage behind them.
For those who have the emotional maturity to deal with it in healthy ways, this can help us find the love and understanding we’ve always wanted. For those who don’t, it can be a missed opportunity for growth and happiness.
For good or bad, wounds attract wounds.