The Scars We Bear

#trauma #recovery #kintsugi

We need impact for transformation. Don't mistake the cracks for a flaw in the design. The flaw is in the perception that wholeness is lost.

Dr. Alexa Altman

As a first-time parent to a young child, I often catch myself worrying about the physical and psychological trauma inflicted on my son. They can be as simple as a fall from a bookshelf he insists on climbing or getting hit by one of the many motor-scooters that thrum along the busy street outside our building; to being complex like the long-term emotional scars of moving to a different country when he was just developing a sense of separation anxiety.

I recognize in myself an irrepressible desire to keep my son safe and protect him from harm, and especially, to shelter him from my own missteps in parenting. There exists a strange perception in my mind that somehow my son was born -- not perfect -- but pristine, and my job as a parent is to ensure that he has mostly good experiences -- positive, happy ones -- and only a small amount of highly controlled exposure to the right negative experiences to support his journey to emotional maturity.

Of course, there is no such thing as controlling exposure to trauma. That's sort of why it's called "trauma": there's impact, cracks and breaks, there's falling apart and going to pieces. It can be intentional, but it can also be purely accidental.

As I think about it more, the greater mistake is not in failing to protect my son from trauma, but rather in believing that somehow that trauma is the end of the story. That somehow, my son is made less pristine, less whole, less complete from the experience. And perhaps the greatest mistake of all is making him believe that as well, that somehow, he has been made flawed and therefore less worthy than others who did not suffer in the same way.

How many of us have felt that way at some point in our lives? How many of us have felt that the trauma we experienced made us unworthy? The trauma itself was one thing, but then it was the aftermath that became the most heart-breaking and soul-crushing, because we ended up believing -- no, we knew -- that we are too broken to be loved, even by ourselves, or perhaps especially by ourselves, because we knew too much. We’d seen too much of our brokenness to want to expose anyone else to it, to expose it to anyone else. And so we retreat, sometimes under the suffocating influence of depression, sometimes under false bravado and empty self-confidence. We hid our scars, and perhaps continue to hide them to this day, because to show our cracks means to show we are no longer whole.

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing pottery that highlights the cracks and breaks. Artists may apply gold and silver patina on the adhesive, or use crude staples to stitch the seams together. Instead of hiding or concealing where the pottery had been broken -- or worse, throwing the pottery away, discarding it as useless or unsightly, kintsugi is the art of drawing our attention to the scars, accepting them as part of the story of this bowl or that plate, and recognizing that things are not flawed for having been broken once or twice. The flaw is in our perception that they were no longer worthy of being appreciated, that they are somehow less than what they were before.

As a parent, I can learn so much from kintsugi, and learn so much to teach from it as well. Trauma changes us all, forces us to grow in leaps and bounds beyond what we previously thought possible. Sometimes we naturally come out stronger on the other side, but sometimes it can break us. But the break doesn't have to be the end of our story, the break doesn't have to diminish us. There can be a rejoining, and still so much beauty to behold in each of us.


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