The Wounded Healer: Archetyping Of An Empath

Are you empathic? Are you a healer? And have you suffered mental, physical, and emotional anguish, of varying degrees, throughout the span of your lifetime? In asking these questions, it does not matter what age you are, nor what gender you are. We all experience pain, sorrow, and suffering in the same way, even as our experiences differ from person to person.

The Definitions

Before we move further, lets look at some definitions:

– Empathy is: the capability to share and understand another’s emotion and feelings. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes,” or in some way experience what the other person is feeling.

– A wound is (in the case of this discussion): 1. an injury to the feelings. 2. a state of physical or mental suffering.

– A healer is: 1. one that heals or attempts to heal. 2. a person skilled in a particular type of therapy. 3. a people who treat illness or suffering by calling forth divine help or by attempting to control the body with the mind and spirit. Since prehistoric times healers have used such techniques as anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and prayer.

– An archetype is: 1. the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies. 2. an inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual.

Lets weave all of these things together, so that we understand what this discussion is truly about. What we are focusing on here is a healer that is empathic. The empathic healer is also emotionally wounded and/or scarred (stemming from any number of reasons and experiences). So in this case the metaphor of the ‘wounded healer’, who is empathic, is the archetype we are going to look at in more depth.

The ArcheType

Archetypes are metaphors, which we, as human beings, can relate to. There are archetypes for how we relate to others, archetypes for stories, and archetypes to describe the various parts of our psyches. The reason why archetypes work so well, in relation to the human mind, is that the unconscious mind is hardwired for metaphor (ie. dreams).

Have you ever had a dream, of say an animal who was fierce, strong, and dominant? Did this seem to frighten you, because in your waking world, that creature is the complete opposite of who you believe yourself to be? This type of archetype, or metaphor, is what Carl Jung would call the Shadow, or a hidden part of yourself that is primal and uncontrolled, thus rejected most of the time.

Carl Jung continues on in his theory of archetypes, to broaden the scope from the internal faceted archetypes to the external archetypes of how we each relate to one another. So here we will list the different types of archetypes, as noted by Carl Jung, and look at them in a little bit of detail.

The Internal Faceted Archetypes:

1. The Shadow derives from our prehuman, animal past, when our concerns were limited to survival and reproduction, and when we weren’t self-conscious. It is the “dark side” of the ego, and the evil that we are capable of is often stored there. In reality though, the Shadow is amoral; neither good or bad, just like animals. It is also the easiest of the archetypes for most people to experience. Because beyond animals, we tend to see our own ‘dark side’ in others, projecting ourselves on to them in the form of ‘enemies’ or ‘villians’.

2. The Anima is the female aspect present in the collective unconscious of men (ie., the complete grouping of archetypes within the psyche). The Animus is the male aspect present in the collective unconscious of women. Together, they are referred to as syzygy (ie., yin and yang), which is also known as the divine couple. The Anima can be represented by a young girl, a witch, a mother, or any other number of ways. The Animus can be represented by a wise old man, a sorcerer, or any number of other ways.

3. The Self, for Jung, is the God image. Human self and divine self are incapable of distinction. All is Spirit. Images of Spirit abound. The self is the ultimate unity of the personality and is symbolized by the circle, the cross, and the mandala figures that Jung was fond of painting. The personifications that best represent self are Christ and Buddha, two people who many believe achieved perfection.

The External Archetypes:

The archetypes which stem out of the main categories, as described by Jung, are used to describe our interaction with others in the external world and in stories, so we are able to relate better to the characters being portrayed. Here is a list of some of those archetypes:

1. The Syzygy ~ Divine Couple, King & Queen
2. The Child ~ Tommy Pickles from Rugrats
3. The Superman ~ the Omnipotent
4. The Hero ~ Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker
5. The Great Mother ~ Good Mother, Terrible Mother ~ Glinda, Good Witch of the North
6. The Wise Old Man ~ Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Albus Dumbledore
7. The Trickster or Ape ~ Bart Simpson, Bugs Bunny, Loki, Eris (goddess of discord)

Here is another list, which you might find familiar if you try to match them up with characters in a story. Take Cinderella, for instance.
1. Mother ~ Fairy Godmother
2. Father ~ King or Absentee Father of Cinderella
3. Hero ~ The Prince
4. Warrior ~ The Prince
5. Martyr ~ Cinderella
6. Villain ~ The Stepmother, two stepsisters
7. Victim ~ Cinderella
8. Maiden ~ Cinderella

The Totemic Archetype

There is another archetypal form, which is much more primitive in nature, when compared with the more psychological view of Jung’s archetypes. It stems out of the more primitive communal tribes of Native America, and in the spiritual beliefs of Shamanism.

Shamanism is: A complex pattern of diverse rites and beliefs, shamanism is a tribal religion in societies without a literary tradition. Healing is one function of the shaman and the most important along with prophecy. The shaman uses mystical powers to journey to other worlds or realities and communicate with spirits in order to bring about a balance between the physical and spiritual worlds.

The Totemic Archetype is a metaphor of you, represented usually by an animal, a plant, a mythical creature, a human, or even an inanimate object. Most people, who practice a earth based or animistic religion, go in search of their spirit guides. The spirit guide has a two fold purpose. One is that of guide, protector, companion, teacher and confidant. The other is that the guide is a metaphor of you, or a facet of you. And in that metaphor it carries a message from which you can learn more about yourself and your purpose here in this reality. Here is an example:

The Bear Totem
Taken from this website:

“Bears in general teach us to slow down and reserve our energies. Bear medicine also has to do with awakening from within. Bear teaches us that life’s answers are no further than your own subconscious. There is no need to look outside of yourself when bear is nearby. Bears are also climbers and can teach us how to reach new heights. Bears love honey and teach us to appreciate the sweetness life offers. “

An Explanation

The reason for this long winded explanation, is so that you begin to understand exactly what an archetype is, before we begin to bring you into this equation, as an Empath. The next stage of this discussion will explore in more detail that of the Wounded Healer Archetype, as it pertains to all of us as Empaths.

The Wounded Healer

Here we return to our original questions. Are you empathic? Are you a healer? Do you work in a helping/healing industry, like nursing or therapy? Are you a counselor, by nature, whether or not you work professionally as one? And have you suffered mental, physical, and emotional anguish, of varying degrees, throughout the span of your lifetime? Of course, one does not have to be empathic to be a healer, a counselor, or a wounded healer. All of these types of jobs require that those who work in this helping/healing field be empathetic, if not empathic.

As Empaths, we naturally have the ability to feel what others feel, walk a mile in their shoes and see through their eyes. So chances are you do what you do because you wish to help other people while using your gift of empathy. You are compassionate, caring, loving, giving, and generally selfless. You are a natural caregiver, nurturer, and confidant.

But at the same time, the things and events that helped to produce an Empath out of you, are also the things that make you a Wounded Healer. What is offered up here is one supposition, and will not apply to everyone. But whether or not it applies to you personally or not, it will help bring into focus what connects the two ideas of an Empath and a Wounded Healer.

If you suffered psychological and physical abuse as a child, you learned at a young age how to gauge the possible reactions which stem out of your own actions. This was done to placate the one who was abusive to you. It began as a form of protecting yourself.

In later years, these same skills continued to evolve, until they encompass your entire personality. Things that could stem out of these skills, are being passive aggressive, a people pleaser, an individual with low self esteem and/or no self worth, a martyr, and a perpetual victim. It can also take the form of empathy, in which the Empath is constantly overwhelmed by others emotionally until the point where they do not know where they end and other people begin.

But I digress, all of the suffering that helped shape your empathic personality, also turned you into a Wounded Healer. What this means is that when you meet someone who has suffered the same kind of abuse and/or trauma as you, or a similar form of abuse and/or trauma, you begin to relate to them on a much deeper level than you normally would with others, even as an Empath.

Carl Jung, the psychiatrist, stated this phenomenon that may take place between the patient and the analyst, “The psychiatrist, through the nature of his profession, is consciously aware of his own personal wounds. However, these wounds may be activated in certain situations especially if his patient’s wounds are similar to his own.”

A clear example of a Wounded Healer is a woman who was the victim of rape in her past. If she has chosen to work with other victims of rape, she will understand what they are going through on a level, a person who had not been raped can not understand, because of their shared experiences and emotions. This does not mean a person who has not suffered such a thing will have no understanding of the other person’s suffering. Its simply a difference in the level of understanding between the victim’s advocate and the victim, as they relate to a victim of this nature.

Your pain, your suffering, and all of the sorrows that you have been through (whatever it may be)….those become the lessons that you teach best because those are the things that you have learned first hand. This is what the metaphor of the Wounded Healer means. And when you add to that an empathic nature, you have a person, with an amazing gift.

But even as you learn to heal yourself, the scars of all of those old wounds still remain as a reminder of what you suffered. And because of that, the lesson is always there to offer to others who are in need of it.


~ by Misuchi Sakurai on April 13, 2009.

3 Responses to “The Wounded Healer: Archetyping Of An Empath”

  1. hi i am in my 1st year in a theology course in dublin and i am struggling witht the content. however, your article above has helped me undertand metaphors of monstry better. i was wondering how i would go about creating my own metaphor for the role of pastoral carer. i’m a novice in relation to this subject

    • A pastoral caregiver is one who teaches, by example, by word, and by deed. The Archetypes would be Caregiver and Teacher, as well as Leader. A pastor is a spiritual and moral leader and teacher, who offers help and understanding to his flock or congregation because he cares enough to try to uplift them both here on this plane of existence and the next. It is a metaphor of altruism. One could almost say it is one of empathy, as well, because you are giving the congregation, not what they want to hear, but what they need to uplift themselves spiritually and morally. It is one of psychology, as well, in that one must know the human mind and the human heart, what people crave and desire, and how to help people through words. Try looking here for more information that might help you: and my other empathic perspectives website which is updated regularly,

      I hope all of this helps.

  2. I’ve been a nurse /psychotherapist for many many years. I was also married to a priest for 30 years. In the latter years as I grew a more distinctive pathway spiritually and truly sort to integrate body mind and soul; my husbands SHADOW grew and he acted out his denied shadow in violence and hatred; physically abusive and emotionally contepmtuous: he had been wounded by his own father but always retorted: the past is dead and gone etc! he did no inner work and had no spiritual practise. I divoced him due to this cruelty. I am deeply wounded by this and the patriacrhal system that in turn turned againts me–lying and misrepresenting my truth!
    My father was part jewish and had suffered shame and humiliation and his parents and other generations. I feel I carry /have carried the archetypal wound of the victim.
    Currently I am locked into a horrible patriarchal dispute with my BOSS I work with the dying and find at time the most unscrupulous cold ‘hearts of stone’ amongst managers etc they have no idea of their blaming gaming that goes on day in day out.
    This has broken my heart; I am thoroughly misrepresnted and they argue from the most trivial of places: ‘you put an exclamation mark in the note’ no I didnt I put a ; so it runs on. Whatever can I do; how can I respond–if I am never seen or heard in my truth at times I feel suicidal because of the wound and their wounding–I feel I carry their denied shadow in Jungian terms. Can any one HELP ME??

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