Welcome to day 28 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others. I won’t attempt to tie them together.
“The human race tends to remember the abuses to which it has been subjected rather than the endearments. What’s left of kisses? Wounds, however, leave scars.” ― Bertolt Brecht
What’s left of kisses? No mark. No sign. They live perhaps in memory, but they’re not recorded like wounds are, by scars, calluses, adhesions, jagged and smooth lines across a living surface.
It’s a researched phenomenon, that humans, as Brecht says, recall negative events — the traumas, crises, breaks, wounds — more than we remember positive events — the help, the resolution, the kisses: “‘The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres,’ said Professor [Clifford] Nass …. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones, he said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.” There are signs of this propensity in other animals as well, in experiments with rats.
Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, says in a 2001 article on the topic, “‘Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.’ So … losing money, being abandoned by friends and receiving criticism will have a greater impact than winning money, making friends or receiving praise.” Not only do they have more impact but the effects of negative events wear off more slowly in our memories than those of positive events. All of this makes some sense in terms of evolution, because “[s]urvival requires urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”
Scars, scabs, calluses, and other ways the body mends wounds leave the wounded place hardened against future injury. Experience and observation tells me that this occurs with emotional wounds, as well: when we feel hurt, we seem to keep picking at the virtual scab, continually re-wounding ourselves, perhaps as a reminder to ourselves to be on guard against this kind of suffering in the future, and/or we eventually let the scab alone and a scar of some kind forms over the hurt, leaving us less vulnerable to that particular kind of injury. We think. We’ve created (our minds, our bodies have created) protection against harm, but in its own way, that protection leaves us vulnerable to harm as well: When we’re defended, we’re closed off to experiences that may be risky but that could also be rewarding. Inordinate self-protection can “protect” us from living life fully, from feeling what it’s all about. Scabs and scars prevent us from bleeding out in a crisis, they patch us up so that we’re able to continue breathing and moving along our path, and they’re useful to the degree that they do that; in fact, they are the signs of a healthy, living being, one who’s been vulnerable enough to be wounded. If I were looking for a strong, resilient person (or tree), I might look for one with a bunch of scars, testimony to suffering, healing, and getting on with it. Or for someone who kisses the scars of others.
Thanks for checking in. And be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers wrote about.