I recently read a study that highlighted the difference between recalling images and words. There were two control groups. The first was shown a picture of a circle. The word “circle” was written down for the second group. The groups were re-convened 72 hours later and asked what they were shown. The group that saw the picture recalled that it was a circle one and a half times better than the group that saw the word.
We know the power of images. Television is more popular than radio. Yahoo (visual) was used more last month than Google (text) for searches.
Maybe that’s why physical wounds get more attention than emotional wounds.
Our foster daughter is the first child we’ve had in our home that was removed because of physical abuse. We have followed the treatment prescribed by doctors and therapists. She is making progress or as they all say, “her wounds are healing nicely.” This is true of her physical wounds. There is visual evidence that her physical wounds are healing, but is there evidence that her emotional wounds are healing?
Since a picture is literally worth one and a half words we seem to have created a hierarchy of injuries or wounds. We can see her physical wounds therefore they get the majority of our attention. If we can’t see any injuries, then there must not be anything that needs to heal. This is dangerous thinking because things that are very important are often ignored.
What we have learned over the years parenting kids from hard places is that physical wounds leave scars. Emotional wounds remove trust.
Think about anyone who has hurt you emotionally. Think about the great distance that grew between the two of you. Think about the amount of time those wounds have needed to heal. Emotional hurts erode trust. If you are the person who is wounded then you need time to heal. That makes sense to us so we accept that. But if you are a child who is wounded that healing takes a lot longer.
If a child is abused by an adult in the bathtub or swimming pool they will not trust any adult around any water. That means there is no trust when it comes to bathtubs, showers, swimming pools, splash parks or anything like that. You will not be trusted around anything that combines water and people. This is one of the hardest things about being a foster or adoptive parent. You have to earn back trust that you never violated. You have to work to redeem hard places that you never created. You have to heal wounds that you never inflicted.
I remember how Tyler wouldn’t tell us that he loved us for the longest time. It hurt us because he was loved from before he came home. We would always wonder why the words were never reciprocated. But now I realize that even at 4 years of age he didn’t trust us enough to let us in. He wasn’t going to allow anyone into his space because adults had hurt him emotionally in the past. That was a trust we never violated but one we had to earn back.
I love telling this story because it proves that emotional wounds can heal. It took Tyler more than five years to say “I love you” to either of us, but he did let us in and some of his scars are no longer there. We are not deceived into thinking that relationships will be easy for him but he is learning that he can trust and that he can let others in. It takes more time to heal emotional wounds because we can’t see their severity and it is easy to have a setback. But we try and we love because healing establishes trust and without trust you don’t have much.