Differential Diagnosis: Woundedness or Brokenness

Having referenced the difference between Woundedness and Brokenness in a previous post on Loneliness and Aloneness, I suppose I should explain the difference for those who do not know. Here is something I came across nearly 20 years ago that helped me understand the two. Maybe it will help others recognize their own or others’ woundedness and begin to seek to have it transformed through relationship with Christ into the brokenness that is the beginning of becoming whole! Interestingly, those who have not yet made the transition themselves often mistake brokenness in others for the woundedness with which they themselves are most familiar.

Wounded or Broken? by John Coblentz
(Gleaned from the June 1998 newsletter of Deeper Life Ministries)

In the Bible we read about a “wounded spirit” and also about a “broken spirit.” In some ways the meaning of these two terms is similar. Both terms indicate distress. It is possible even that one person may have a wounded spirit in response to the same situation that results in a broken spirit for another person. But the two terms stand in contrast. First let’s consider how they are used in Scripture.
“The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14). The same Hebrew word is translated *broken* in Proverbs 17:22, where we read, “…a broken spirit drieth the bones.” The Hebrew word literally means “stricken.” In both verses the NIV says “a crushed spirit.”
A *wounded spirit* is one that is hurting, but one in which the hurt has festered into unbearable attitudes and responses. A person with a wounded spirit lives in inner misery that focuses regularly on her injuries. Out of this focus come the following “unbearable” characteristics:
– A NEGATIVE MIND-SET. The person with a wounded spirit is preoccupied with past injuries. She views incidents in life in the worst light. She sees the bad and ignores the good. Her mind is filled with woes, suspicion, and assumption of evil.
– VICTIM REASONING. With a wounded spirit, a person views herself as a sufferer. She can turn even kind actions of others into additional grievances, into added pain in her life. She is pleased when others notice his misery, and hurt when they do not.
– GRIEVANCE MANNERISMS. Out of a wounded spirit come sighs, groans, and exclamations that draw attention to the hurt. There is body language such as shaking the head, throwing dark looks, rolling of eyes, facial misery, and slumped shoulders.
– BLAME TACTICS. A person with a wounded spirit holds other people responsible for the misery in her life. In truth, others may have done her wrong, but those wrongs become the means of blaming others. The wounded spirit is able to cough up old injuries no matter what the present subject. The stories that are told put others in the worst light. In addition to direct blame, there are ways of insinuating–giving details in such a way that worse is implied.
Is it any wonder the proverb exclaims, “A wounded spirit, who can bear!” Out of the wound oozes the stench of self-pity, bitterness, and accusation.

In contrast to this is the *broken spirit*. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
The Hebrew word translated *broken* is a strong word. It means “wrecked, shattered, even crippled or maimed.” The Lord delights in the person with a broken spirit. In Psalm 51, characteristics associated with such brokenness include:
– ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF WRONG. A person with a broken spirit does not make excuses or blame others. She takes full responsibility for her wrongdoing.
– CONTRITION. A broken spirit produces genuine sorrow.
– HUMILITY. Self-will has been shattered. There is no attempt to lift oneself up.
– SEEKING AFTER GOD. The person with a broken spirit has faced her own poverty and sin. She has no righteousness of his own to promote, but rather, she seeks to know God.
– TEACHABILITY. She is done with her own answers to life and is ready to turn to the Lord for help. She does not want her problem explained or justified; instead, she wants help to change.
– UNWORTHINESS. The person who is broken is spirit does not demand, she asks. Her focus is not on getting all that she deserves because she knows she has been spared from what she really deserves. She is grateful instead of complaining. She has tasted mercy, and she is done with demanding rights.
Much as a wounded spirit makes a person difficult to live with, a broken spirit makes a person a joy to be around. She has a tenderness in manner, a gratitude for what others do, a humility about herself, and a gentleness in relating to others who have faults.
God heals the broken-hearted. He declares that He will dwell “with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15). When we experience brokenness and the blessings that follow, we wonder why we resisted such joy and freedom for so long.
I am told that one village that received the Gospel for the first time and experienced genuine brokenness began the custom of greeting one another, “Do I meet you broken, brother?” Perhaps this would be a good practice to begin.