Not All Wounds Are Self-Inflicted

“Most wounds are self-inflicted,” so goes the popular cliché. When I heard it last, it cut deeply, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. Not at first. I decided to look up the origins of this phrase, because most calloused and thoughtless remarks give me reason to think.

The original phrase is “Most gunshot wounds are self-inflicted.” And the definition of a “self-inflicted wound or injury” is one that you do to yourself deliberately, according to Collins Dictionary online. Medical News Today clarifies it as “the act of intentionally harming one’s own body without meaning for the injury to be fatal.” Merriam-Webster claims it is “the product of poor judgment and bad choices.”

I want to dispel the reasons this is used as a generalization, particularly towards a person’s emotional state, behavior, or choices.

First, claiming that a person’s wounds are self-inflicted implies that the individual somehow caused the problem, issue, hurt, pain, etc. Philosophically, we can analyze this according to the famed but flawed law of attraction, while theologically, this idea is rooted in Joel Osteen’s popularization of the prosperity gospel.

The law of attraction states that “thoughts can change a person’s life directly.” It is based on the New Thought spiritual movement, which, fleshed out, indicates that we can improve our health, wealth, and personal relationships. This is dangerous thinking.

When Sarah was born, I was told that all forms of her disability stemmed from sin. The same neighbor accusing our family of not having enough faith blamed my asthma – a chronic medical condition – as a “manifestation of the devil.”

Here is where the dubious intersection of the New Age law of attraction and so-called Christian movement of the prosperity gospel converge. Here, we find that faith, positive speech (an echo of positive thought, which is essential to the law of attraction philosophy), and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.

Further distortions of these beliefs happen with remarks related to the original problem we’re discussing here – “most wounds are self-inflicted” – or, in other words, “your problems are a manifestation of the devil,” as I was told. We might hear other variations, such as “If your faith were stronger, this wouldn’t have happened.”

As I write this, it’s reminiscent of Old Testament practices, that blindness or demonic possession or physical deformities were a result of personal or generational sin.

Didn’t Jesus redeem our brokenness? Isn’t that the entire point of needing a savior and acknowledging our dependence upon Him? Without our wounds or brokenness or flaws or deficits, we would not need redemption. The very reason we are often permitted a cross we did not create, ask for, or cause is so that we can humble ourselves and abandon ourselves at the foot of the Cross.

Pride says we can control our lives through thought, that when things go wrong it’s somehow always our fault. Humility admits the need for total reliance upon God, because suffering, especially extreme crosses borne with patience and trust, break us of the illusion that we are capable without grace.


JEANNIE EWING is a Catholic spirituality writer and national inspirational speaker. Among her eight books, From Grief to Grace: The Journey from Tragedy to Triumph, is her most popular. She is a frequent guest on podcasts, radio shows, and has appeared on EWTN, CatholicTV, and ShalomWorld. Her deepest desire is to accompany those who suffer and are lonely. Visit her website at for more information.

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