Twisted like a Bonsai: The Radical Truth About Our Wounding

I’ve been thinking a lot about wounds for the past couple of weeks. Specifically, the kind of wounding that seeps through a lifetime, like oil through paper, forever staining it.

Our life shapes itself around a wound like this, which, if it happens early enough, can affect the development of our entire personality.

Wounds are like the wire that shapes a bonsai tree. In the case of the bonsai, the wire is later removed and we admire the twisted branches for their unique form.

Even as we recognize that our wounds aren’t removable like a wire, how often do we praise the resilience it took to grow and twist while being bound by them?

Let’s not forget the wire shaped the bonsai into a form we see as beautiful. Could we also learn to see our own twists as beautiful?

We could begin by admiring the shape we’ve made out of survival. In the way the bonsai turned and thickened in response to both wire and nourishment, so have we grown through the wounding and nourishing events of our lives.

The radical truth is that our wounds are intimately bound up with our strengths and gifts.

The radical truth is that our wounds are intimately bound up with our strengths and gifts. Click To Tweet

For example, my family spans three countries and three very different cultures. Though I was born and raised in New York City, my first two languages were Spanish and Swedish. I didn’t learn English until I went to pre-school, experiencing disorientation and rejection when no one understood me.

I didn’t fully fit in anywhere. I experienced wounding around being an outsider and feeling invisible. In response, I developed a fluid sense of self and would change myself to try to fit in wherever I was.

Because of this wound, I’ve spent my life figuring out who I really am. I developed an inner sense of belonging so I no longer try to fit in. I’m able to connect with people across historical lines of division and can tune into to what a person in front of me needs to feel seen and valued.

Here’s another example: When my partner, Patrick, was 7 years old, he lost his father to cancer. For years he couldn’t talk about his father, or even the idea of “father” without getting emotionally overwhelmed.

Because he had to learn how to be with himself through this loss, he’s now brilliant at being with others as they go through their own pain and loss. He innately knows not to try to fix it. Instead, he’s able to witness it with loving presence, because he learned to do that for himself. Surviving that loss also gave him access to a place of trust that things eventually turn out all right, even if in the moment it’s not clear how they possibly could.


Grab a journal and begin to write about one of your core wounds. Trace how it has shaped you, like the wire around the branches of a bonsai. Make the link clear between the wound and who you are now.

Next, consider your strengths. What are the qualities you like most about yourself? In your interactions with others, what gifts do you bring?

As you journal, look for the ways you were shaped by your wound to become the person who has these specific strengths and gifts to offer.

When you’re done writing, take a moment to celebrate the beauty of your particular twists, the exact constellation of strengths that emerged from such a wound.

In this way, you expand your view beyond the wound’s harm to the tenacity and power you summoned to grow around and through it.

When you fully get that this wound, and the specific ways you grew to survive it, are integral parts of your strengths, you’ll be able to more deeply access your power in any given situation and live with buoyancy and resilience.