The healing journey is a third distinct arc that includes elements in both the hero and heroine journeys. The focus of a healing journey is a physical and mental/emotional/spiritual paradigm shift that enables the protagonist to accept his or her circumstances and him/herself and view herself with compassion. The arc generally involves an individual although sometimes a community or group is treated as an individual.
The steps of the healing arc are similar regardless of whether the abuse, injury, or illness is mental, emotional, physical, or some combination and regardless of whether the source of the injury is natural, inflicted by another, or self-inflicted. Although there are several versions of the arc, we have found this one, from the Buddhist Library website, to be helpful and adaptable to most healing arcs.
The stages in the Healing Journey include:
- HURT. The protagonist gets hurt, ill, is betrayed, or receives news or diagnosis of injury or illness. Hurt is life-changing and protagonist’s expectations are disappointed.
- FEAR OR ANGER. Protagonist has urge to flee, deny situation, or play the victim because he is afraid, or reacts with anger at self, illness, others or god/fate. May feel that situation is unjust and that because of this there has been mistake or someone ought to fix it.
- FEAR AND ANGER GIVE RISE TO CONFLICTS. Protagonist experiences anxiety, develops obsessions (as if activity or information is all that is needed to change situation), excessive grief, guilt or false guilt, shame, resentment, envy, jealousy, remorse for one’s own role or depression.
- LOSS OF LOVE FOR SELF AND/OR OTHERS. As conflict intensify and coping strategies fail to work, protagonist loses initial faith or fight and loses love for self and /or others. Protagonist no longer feels joy of life and may become indifferent to others and future.
- ACTIVATION OF THE DEATH OR ILLNESS WISH. Protagonist hits bottom and consciously or subconsciously may wish for things to be “over” may try to give up or in to illness or addiction. Either death follows or the body/mind/soul isn’t ready for death.
- LIFT IN LIFE ENERGY. Protagonist experiences slight lift in energy, if only because giving up isn’t an option. May feel others’ love and concern or glimmer of self-caring.
- DECISION TO GET WELL WHATEVER THAT MEANS, WHATEVER IT TAKES. Protagonist makes a decision to get well even if it isn’t on his/her terms. Protagonist also makes decision to do whatever it takes rather than trying to bargain with god or doctors or put limits on what he/she is willing to do (other than harm others).
- DECISION TO FORGIVE/ FORGIVENESS PROCESS. Even if primarily physical, healing journey always involves psychic transformation and forgiving and letting go of wrongs that were involved in the source of the illness or someone’s inability to prevent or treat it or respond in an optimal fashion. Protagonist usually also has to forgive self.
- UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Whether protagonist recovers, partially recovers, or is going to die, he or she must let go of grievances to reach health (however that is defined).
- HEALING AND UNDERSTANDING. Protagonist resolves internal conflict which leads to experience of health and acceptance/ understanding of self and world. Protagonist now knows self far better than when story began.
- WHOLENESS AND HEALTH/ BEING TRUE TO ONE’S SELF. Protagonist is neither in denial nor passive. He has come to terms with his strengths and limitations and knows something about his future and that there will be unknowns. Protagonist brings him or herself fully to her world, relationships, and future whatever that is. Whatever it is, it is not the world that he imagined or experienced prior to the hurt.
Below is a pictorial representation of this journey.