We Move Through The World With Wounds: A Lesson My Daughter Taught Me

Over the holiday break, I took my daughter to get her ears pierced. At the tender age of six years old, she has already spent two entire years asking me to take her to get it done. I was on the fence, and since she would, at times, also express a hint of uncertainty about it, I invited her to wait. This week was the moment when her uncertainty burned away and she was fully ready. So, I took her.

I thought it might help her if I went first, just so she could see what will happen when it’s her turn. So, I made myself an appointment to get a second Helix piercing, and for her to get her lobes pierced after me.

She was absolutely fearless. So fearless, in fact, that she asked to go first. It turned out I didn’t need my appointment after all. But I had committed to the bit, so I got my Helix piercing anyway.

Last night marked 48 hours since the piercing, and we both have some swelling and soreness where the jewelry sits. When I tucked her in at bedtime, we accidentally squeezed each other’s ears as we embraced for a hug. Immediately, we both yelped and drew back, clutching our ears. I did my best to cover up the pain I was feeling because she’s a sensitive girl who is easily upset by other people’s pain. But it was too late. Within seconds, she was sobbing. Sure, some of her tears were for the pain she felt. But the majority of them, as she made clear, were for me. She wailed out loud that she didn’t mean to hurt me; she never wanted to hurt me. And she’s done the worst thing in the world by causing me pain.

Her anguish brought me to tears, which I promptly choked back.

I asked her, “did you do it on purpose?”

Of course, she said no.

Okay, I said, “Do you think I did it on purpose?”

Again, she said no.

“Alright. So, it looks like we accidentally hurt each other. Is there any reason to feel this bad over an accident?”

She smiled, shook her head, and said no.

We gave gentle apologies to each other—ones that were rooted in the joint guilt over causing each other pain, but that weren’t the frantic kind she was giving before—and I kissed her goodnight.

As I went to bed, I began thinking about what a perfect metaphor our little hiccup was for what it’s like moving through the world as people with wounds.

We carry these wounds everywhere we go. Sometimes, we are acutely aware of them. Other times, we forget about them altogether. By the same token, we try our best to be aware of other people’s wounds. But when we are lost in our own pain, tending to our own wounds, it’s easy to forget about theirs.

One minute everything’s fine, but the next, something bumps up against both of your wounds—yours and theirs. Instantly, you are both hurting. You’re both irritable that the other person hurt you. At the same time, you’re both processing the realization that you’ve hurt the other person, too. Guilt and anger and pain swirl about in a cocktail of emotion that leaves you both not really knowing what to do next.

It’s difficult to pay close attention to other people’s pain while we are processing our own. Hell, most of us are barely keeping our own wounds bandaged and medicated, not to mention trying to take care of someone else’s. In a world where everyone has wounds, it can be tricky navigating relationships where people’s bumps and bruises are bound to get smacked around a bit. How do we show empathy and compassion to other people’s wounds while tending to our own? How do we hold space for other people’s feelings when they’re actively hurting ours? Furthermore, how do we learn to hold our relationships together even when we keep accidentally hurting each other?

The only answers I can find to these questions come from my daughter.

It’s nearly criminal for someone as young as her to have as much empathy and wisdom as she has. She feels deeply for her own pain and attends to it. She also feels deeply for other people’s pain and does her best to avoid picking at their wounds. When she hurts people, she apologizes. When she is hurt by people, she hears them out and offers forgiveness (when it’s earned).

I want to be more like her. I want to be a wounded person who knows my wounds—who tries my best to keep myself out of situations and relationships that threaten to open those wounds back up. I want to be a more observant person—seeing other people’s wounds and doing my best not to do things that cause them to fester and bleed. I want to have the kinds of relationships that do their best not to cause harm to each other, but when harm happens, they are quick to make amends and find the healing through the hurt.

I imagine most of us have a long way to go to get there. Maybe we were once that way, back when we were young and the world hadn’t left so many of its marks on us yet. But perhaps, with time and lots of work, we can get back there again.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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