Too Tough to Heal: Is That Your Identity?

Jan 18, 2011 by

Too Tough to Heal: Is That Your Identity?

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.
Henry Ford

There’s an old-ish Don Henley song where he asks, “How Bad Do You Want it?” And though he was singing about sex, the topic could just as easily be healing, when that question is on the table. (Even Jesus was known to ask, “Do you really want to get well?” Probably because that question turns out to be a crucial one, requiring as it does “buy-in” from the listener.) Though this conversation could apply equally well to others, for the sake of our purposes here, the conversation addresses veterans with PTSD and their practitioners.

I “dare” you to heal me, some veterans with PTSD almost taunt. “I’m too tough a case,” seems to be the underlying unspoken belief. With a little bit of a swagger, from years of no improvement or setbacks, and an unconscious provocation that there really is no relief to be had, at least for you. Is there a bravado of broken-ness that leaves you “too tough to heal?” And if so, Is that really who you want to be?

The reasons why can be as unique as each individual: from having assumed “PTSD” as the new identity to not wanting to step off the Goodie Train of those who are showering you with opportunities for healing (in case you are so lucky as to have that; most do not).

The bottom line: At some point in the healing process, you have to examine your identity and decide who it is you want to be, Healed or Unhealed. As the old quote goes, whether you believe that you can or you believe that you can’t, you’re gonna be right both times.

Now, this conversation isn’t for people who have just started the healing process, it’s for people who have an almost professional-level involvement with their own healing. In other words, they’ve sampled quite a bit of the wares that are out there, both with the VA and with private practitioners, and somehow, they’ve managed to prove themselves, well, “too tough to be healed.” The question becomes, is this really what you want your identity to be? And if so, WHY – because if this is the chosen behavior, it must have some intrinsic payoff.

Are you actually “proud” of your own ability to “untouchable” on the healing front?

Years ago, a social worker tipped me off to there being a subset of clients that colleagues referred to, and I’m paraphrasing, as “help-resistant, non-compliant complainers.” In other words, those to whom no help offered was ever, quite literally, enough. And who weren’t willing to try the satisfactory options open to them. Their case was unique, tougher, and frankly, they weren’t about to move off the complaint perch, which had become too comfortable. I’ve seen a few of these in my time.

Leaf Framed SkyAs practitioners, we probably ought to be following the old Maya Angelou line, that the first time someone tells you who they are, believe them.

As patients, we ought to challenge our own belief that we can’t be healed, and really give some thought as to why we have to camp out on that particular belief; and why it has to become our identity – and whether there is something better that might be waiting for us, just around the corner, that we’ll miss if our attitude is too negative to accept it.

And there may even be a challenge to be embraced below that level of examination as well. Is it possible that if we march behind the banner of “too tough to heal,” we’ll also manage to stay at the head of the parade of sympathetic civilians giving us stuff? Like the man who prides himself on being “too hard to love” or “not the marrying kind,” in the sometimes not even conscious hope that droves of prospects will still shipwreck themselves on his rock foolishly attempting to try, it’s one way to stay at the center of attention. And negative statements (“I can’t,” which really should be more read more accurately as “I won’t) works just as well as positive, when it comes to eliciting others’ concern.

Are you professionally (no rank amateur here!) UNABLE to be healed, because you are also UNWILLING? Would you have to give up too much – of your identity, for instance – if you did? Would the Goodie Train stop making stops at your door? (Here are some things the goodie train might be filled with, that you would like: love and attention, personal concern, practitioners and programs giving you their services free of charge, etc.) If you weren’t working the “I’m-too-damaged-to-be-healed” thing, would you have to give up some of your stature in your own community, of the also-unhealed?

We’ve all known people who when they give up (fill in the blank with a generally undesirable behavior) find that some of their friends desert them, either because they’re “no fun to be around anymore” or because truly, they realize that much of what they had in common was actually the behavior they now consider destructive. What if your identity is wrapped up in complaining with your peer group that you feel terrible, can’t get well, nothing anyone does works? If that’s your identity, and you suddenly get better – what do you have to talk about and who does your social circle become? Has this become too great a cost to heal? Let’s hope not.

Strangely enough, being un-well can become an identity. The healthy psyche may reject that as a role; but the unhealthy psyche may very well embrace it. Change is possible; but before there’s even change to be had, maybe it’s time to consider: Do you gain more from staying sick than you might from getting well? Are there tangible payoffs to resisting healing that only you benefit from – but which make it too high a bar to cross in order to get well? If so, the first work of healing is actually examining what’s holding you back; and why you’re embracing something that suppresses the best of who you could be. Food for thought.

Editor’s note: The point here is not to create a litany of the “things you’ve done” that should have created healing by now(!), but to simply look inside and wonder if in fact you’ve created your own barrier(s) to getting better/getting well. Health is no different from economics or personal growth in this regard: Sometimes we’re the reason things don’t move forward, and if that’s the case, best to figure out how to get out of our own way, no matter how entrenched that particular groove has become by now.

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