Maybe it would be better to post this as a submission, yet I felt it might be best to post it in a journal instead of going through all the trouble of submitting it. I may polish it later and post it as an article, though I'm not sure if this counts as a "HISI Fit" as I'm not sure how much of this is my opinion and how much is truth. I suggest you consider what I have to say and make up your own mind.
Now, the thing you'll often hear writers talk about is character flaws. We may not all be able to point them out in our favorite characters, but we do know what it looks like when you leave them out. The popular term for it is "Mary Sue", though some prefer only to use that to refer to fanfiction characters. Regardless, they're important character traits. In my mind, only Jesus could have any real claim to being a perfect person, and even then you can find people voicing doubts on that! Thus, a perfect character tends to turn people off. It's just not believable (even if it's realistic), so our instinct is to find some other entertainment. Making your characters flawed helps people accept the reality you're trying to create, though some go so far as to insist that "flawed" means "doesn't resist temptation well". Which is silly, because that's only one type of flaw! And sometimes, it's not really that fun to follow a character who's all angsty and never seems to get a fair break. People react in different ways to the same things, so it only makes sense that the same character flaws might manifest in different ways depending on the character. Not everyone reaches for alcohol to treat their anxiety, nor porn to soothe their loneliness. It must be unique to the character.
However, flaws are inherent to the character's personality. Some people have no trouble with certain difficulties or temptations in life. Others will struggle for years before they get help, or just resign themselves to a life of misery fighting it. Even so, a character's strengths and weaknesses are part of them, and they would not be who they are without them. They come from internal sources.
Or do they?
We have all of history and science at our disposal. From them, we have learned that the body can be wounded, even scarred. We have also learned that the mind can be broken or injured, and that this is not always a result of physiological problems. Yet how many would consider the idea that the heart and soul can be wounded? Ah, but now we are outside the realm of science, and history is of little help. This is the realm of the Unproven, that which we have no physical evidence for, not as yet. If spiritual wounding is possible, then it must be considered in the realm of philosophy and religion, for these are the realms of thought which extend beyond physical evidence into what is possible and probable. Here, mythology and logic dance together and sometimes wage war. And this is also the realm of fiction, where new ideas and old can mingle together and produce fantastic new concepts.
So why hasn't the idea of spiritual wounding been explored in fiction?
I think it's because it is both a new and old idea. We of the "Modern Age" or the "Age of Reason" live rather godless lives. I mean no offense, yet think about it. How many people of this age consider their spiritual health of any great importance? Or consider it the most important? Very few, I think you'll find, for there's this push to consider everything as having a physical, natural cause, as if anything above or beyond it is superstition or nonsense. Even those of us who claim to be "spiritual" or "religious" sometimes find ourselves living a life that is very materialistic. Myself, I did not come up with the idea of spiritual wounding on my own. I stumbled upon it reading the books of John Eldredge, a Christian who went back and looked at scripture with fresh eyes, a vision free of most traditional interpretations. And what he found surprised him as it seemed nothing like the Christianity he saw in America. The idea that God cared about each person's heart alone was staggering, and it's impacted my own life and faith in ways I'm not yet sure I understand.
This is what I mean by being both old and new though. The idea was no doubt understood by the Israelites, and you'll find many Psalmists wrote as though their very heart and soul were breaking. And it only makes logical sense. If you accept that life is not just material, and that human beings are more than mind and body, then you must take into consideration that the spiritual nature of humankind can be hurt. According to Christian scripture, it's already been infected with sin, and has been corrupted. So how do we know that the deepest, most painful wounds aren't the ones that lie underneath the mind, down deep where emotions come from and are produced? Perhaps a soul can be wounded, not in any way that requires fantastic or magical means, but in ordinary, insidious ways that are as natural and normal (and real) as skinning your knee causes you to bleed.
This, I think, is the difference between flaws and wounds. A flaw is internal, something a character is born with, or develops out of their own choices. But a wound is given. It is external, and often not by choice. In fact, I'd argue it's never by choice of the victim, though it can be an accident on the part of the perpetrator. The point is that it's an awful, horrible thing, and it can impact someone's personality in ways that leave them stunted and weak. Even vulnerable. Many victims of sexual molestation may later come to blame themselves, or experiment with their sexuality. Some may say this is natural, yet if it's a result of struggling with a spiritual wound, the odds say it's a coping mechanism that will only result in more pain. And no, time does not heal all wounds. Physical, maybe. But mental and spiritual wounds? I think those need treatment, not time. Even if it's something as simple as good friends who love you and are willing to help you through your pain, with no benefit to themselves. Or it may be that the only real healing for a spiritual wound is the touch of God, received when your heart is open to him. Who can say? But I think they will get worse if left untreated, and that tends to lead to insanity of some kind, perceived or real.
Those of you who are writers, I would encourage you to explore this in your own works. I must caution you though that it can perhaps lead to you finding your own wounds in your heart, and that can be both good and bad. The good is you may realize why you've had this particular hang-up all these years. The bad is that it will bring you pain as your attention is drawn to the wound and its causes. If this happens, I must recommend you seek out someone you trust for counseling, and that you make efforts to forgive those who wounded you. This will help you a great deal, even if the person you find yourself having to forgive is God (a bit of a weird concept for those of us who believe he's sinless and perfect). In any case, I must stress one point:
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. IT WAS NEVER YOUR FAULT. YOU DID NOT DESERVE IT.
Wounds are a result of violence, and not all violence is physical. Mental violence could be said to be the result of conflicting, unyielding thoughts clashing in one's mind. Spiritual violence is trickier, though one can hurt another's feelings, and it may at times cut down deep into the soul. I'm pretty sure I still have deep wounds from being bullied in school, and it may be why I struggle to get ahead in life. Whatever the case, it's not your fault. (Oh gods, I'm gonna cry every time I read that.) You didn't do anything to deserve that wound. It happened because someone else either over-reacted, chose to be cruel, or because they're living out of their own wounds and refuse to seek treatment.
Trust me, getting these healed is a painful process, whether it's done all at once or in stages. But the relief? Oh, the relief! It's like a burden you did not know you carried was lifted from your heart, and you can breathe a little easier. If you write characters with wounds (and you need to, because there's not a soul alive who hasn't been hurt; even Pinkie Pie got depressed and a lil crazy when she thought her friends hated her), you must consider whether they will seek healing or just ways to numb the pain. Or perhaps choosing a path of discipline and ritual that kills the heart, rejecting emotion and perhaps empathy as well. Whatever the path they take, remember that they often cannot help themselves when it comes to their wounds. They've made them a part of their identity somewhere inside, perhaps at the subconscious level, and it will hinder them. After all, if you didn't at least wonder if the bullies weren't right about you, would you be struggling so much to make life work? You'd be surprised how easy it is to agree with lies about yourself. Most people do it every day without a second thought.
If your characters seek to be heroes, they cannot allow that in themselves. Make them think. Make them feel. Give them friends and mentors that will help them realize that they are wounded. Then give them a choice about what to do about it. They can be hedonists who numb their pain through sensual pleasures (though no doubt many real hedonists will protest that this is not true hedonism, and they may well be correct). They can seek to discipline their minds and bodies and let their heart wither (you'll find many religions that result in this, including many that claim otherwise). Or perhaps they can find healing, either through God or some other source that can heal the soul. Whatever you choose, make sure it makes sense for the character, and be sure not to save them from the consequences. If you write yourself into a corner, don't pull a Deus ex Machina (not unless you make it both obvious and interesting). Pull the story apart and rewrite it. I stopped reading the Sword of Truth series because this happened. Make the consequences real and don't let your character duck them! Not for long anyway. Trust me, my personal experience is that ducking consequences just results in misery and an unfulfilled life. Make them take responsibility so that they grow up and become better.
Whatever you choose, I hope I've helped give you a new tool in your writing. Use it with care. Because once you acknowledge that there is healing available for the wounds of the heart, you will tug on the heart strings of so many people. And many of them will try the method you depict, whether it works in this world or not. Have a care. They're trusting us to get things right. In the matters of the heart, you cannot afford to be wrong.
God bless you, and happy writing. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.
Reading: "Myst: The Book of D'Ni" by Rand Mi