What do we need in order to realize our full potential as a human being and walk successfully through life? What special endowments must we have to experience the wholeness and well-being that God designed for us? Parents and significant others are to be instruments of the Lord, helping us become all that God intended, teaching us to rest secure in our identity as His child. Parents and significant others are supposed to provide us:
*A safe and secure environment
*Constant reinforcement of personal worth
*Repeated messages that we are valued, unique, and special
*Unconditional love and acceptance
*Basic care and nurture
*Encouragement to grow and develop personal gifts and talents
*A pathway to fellowship with God
These important people in our lives were meant to love, cherish, nurture and believe in us. They were to delight in us and be thrilled to see the beautiful human being God created. They were each meant to recognize and rejoice in our unique gifts, listen to and value our opinions, and encourage us to fulfill all the special dreams dancing in our heart. When we failed they were to look beneath the mistake and affirm the wonder that we truly are to them. Their arms were to be a safe place for us to grow, a hiding place against the slings and arrows of a hostile world.
But what if some of these endowments were never given to us? What if part of what we needed was stolen by insensitive or uncaring people? What if the one called to love us, ignored or abandoned us? What is a loved one gave us far more criticism than love, shame and blame instead of nurture and encouragement? What if our opinions were ridiculed, dreams ignored or gifts and talents rejected? What if we turned to a loved one for affirmation and acceptance, but instead were sexually abused. The affect of such things would surely have compromised our ability to function in life appropriately.
The pain is great when part of the treasure that was meant to empower us for life is stolen. Rather than moving into life fully equipped to succeed and experience abundance, we feel empty and insecure. We struggle with deep despair and humiliation, and wear the shame of brokenness like a coat made of iron. We feel fear so powerfully that we want to run away as fast as possible. The constant gnawing deep within threatens to undo us, and no matter where we go or whom we are with, we feel unsafe. There might be days when dark clouds settle in, bringing a debilitating depression that feels cold and endless. Instead of believing that life makes sense, we feel confused and constantly at risk.
From whatever the source, deep wounds impact what we believe about ourselves and our world. The experience of insensitivity and abuse, especially at an early age, can lead to seriously distorted thinking. This is particularly true when the adults who are called to care for us actually injure us. As a child, we are far too young to process all that happens, and there is nowhere to turn for help. Strong emotions lead us to draw conclusions about life based on what we have seen or experienced. Granted, our assumptions may rest more on feeling than rational thinking, but a very strong belief system gets formed just the same. These values and judgments are often shaped subconsciously, empowered by negative feelings that drive us to act in unhealthy ways. Unchallenged, they will continue to operate into adult life.
Being wounded, we may intuitively conclude that we are now damaged goods, unattractive and worthy of rejection. We might believe that if people knew what had happened in our lives, they would make fun of us, or worse, injure us even more. We may easily presume that all people are unsafe and out to get us whenever possible. We may even assume that God is not there for us, allowing bad people to hurt us without care or concern. We might believe that all the loss we have experienced was somehow our fault, that we are bad and out of control. Possibly we could think that we are all alone to provide and care for ourselves. Or we may conclude that we are powerless victims, destined to limp through life, able to receive crumbs to exist, but never food enough to truly thrive.
The deep pain and the distorted belief system lead us to react in destructive ways. We develop a multi-layered coping system not even aware of the relationship between our reactions and the deep loss. In childhood this unconscious strategy may have helped us survive. But as an adult what once served to enable us only further compromises our emotional and mental health. The undressed wound hidden beneath the layers continues to eat away at the core of our inner being. And the older we become, the more difficult it may be to see the connection between certain unhealthy behaviors and deep loss. Just the same, a cause and effect relationship does exist, and it must be identified and acknowledged on the journey toward personal well-being.
The Pain Layer
The first layer of the coping system represents our reaction to pain. Stolen treasures and broken dreams do not happen without great physical and emotional agony. Abuse and abandonment, regardless of the form they take, pierce to the most tender and sensitive places in the human soul. Although the initial hurt seems unbearable, the chronic pain threatens to undo us long after the wounding occurred. How do we attempt to silence the pain? Consider the following list of possibilities:
Dissociation – food – sexual addictions – gambling – work – shopping – sleeping – alcohol – drugs – religion – television – exercising – tobacco – recreation
Any one or combination of these could temporarily anesthetize chronic pain. But they do not address the deep wound that generated the hurt in the first place. The relief seems to be a welcome alternative to the daily agony of deep hurt. In fact we initially seem to feel and function better. However, years of inattention to the wounds deep within simply intensifies the inner agony. And over time a person develops a tolerance for the “drug” of choice. This usually results in the need for higher doses or a change to more powerful pain killers. The cycle that results is very destructive. Eventually both the original wounding and the painkillers of choice exact a grave toll on our emotions, body and relationships
The Protective Layer
The next layer of defense is a wall of protection. When we are significantly hurt, the pain and trauma of that wounding motivate us to be much more cautions. We would do most anything to keep from experiencing the anguish a second time. Self-protection is not an improper reaction to the threat of wounding. It is quite healthy to learn to set appropriate boundaries with people. We have both the right and obligation to set limits on those who consistently hurt us, be it by intention or insensitivity. No one should be permitted to take or destroy any of the treasures that were intended to help us fulfill life’s dreams. However, many methods of self-protection are actually personally destructive and often harm friends and family as well.
Fearful that we might not be capable of discerning who would or would not bring us harm, we construct shields to keep people at a distance. The underlying wound remains undressed, causing the infection to grow and threaten greater pain. People never really have the opportunity to know us or call forth the wonder that is ours’ in Christ. This self-protection can grow out of embarrassment and shame. The wound not only robs us of some life endowment, it left us believing that we are essentially deformed and unattractive. We can grow fearful that if anyone saw the brokenness and weaknesses that lies within, they would openly reject and ridicule. And so, the walls go up through such reactions as:
Pretense – denial – avoidance – silence – anger – aggression – isolation – shyness – hiding
The Layer of Provision
When part of our well-being has been compromised, the absence creates a noticeable emptiness. In a perfect world, mature adults would step in to provide what primary caregivers neglected to give. They would, with God’s good help, nurture us where once abused, and call forth all that had been forced into hiding. Love, acceptance and affirmation would flow through them to fill the places in us that were robbed. But, this is not a perfect world, and as a wounded person, we seldom experience such gracious infillings from others. And so we begin to provide for ourselves. Unfortunately, what we often turn to gives little more than further pain and heartbreak. Sexual promiscuity might seem to promise acceptance and love, all the while tearing away at the soul and ultimately leaving us more intensely alone in a bed of guilt and shame. We might turn to people pleasing as a pathway to approval, only to discover that we have lost our own identity in the desperate quest to be found acceptable by others. Hungry to feel that we have worth and value, we might embrace some performance addiction. But satisfaction lasts only as long as the applause continues, leaving us alone and frightened when memories of our latest performance fade in people’s minds. We might find a way to grab what we so desperately need, only to watch it turn to dust in our hands. Any of the following could become the substitute for genuine love, acceptance, worth and approval:
Sexual promiscuity – career – academics – fame – control – success – money – athletics – people pleasing – manipulation – popularity – unhealthy relationships
It is obvious that some of these are not in themselves problematic. But whenever we try to fill the internal void with any one of these, we will find that they are far from adequate. Most attempts to do this will fail to meet our deepest needs.
The Punishment Layer
Pain often births an anger that drives us to strike back at the one who has perpetuated the injury. While we may not actually act upon the demand for repayment, the deep feeling is often there. We may have even gone so far as to extend the words of forgiveness to the offender, yet struggle with the desire to punish someone, anyone, for the robbery that left us in such pain. Sometimes, the desire to punish turns inward, causing a reaction of self-hate and self-abuse. We can believe that there must be something personally wrong for such bad things to have happened. Reactions include:
Blame – abusive words – criticism – fantasies of harming someone – aggression – slander – self-contempt – shame – physical abuse – unforgiveness – bitterness – withholding – rejection – self-abuse
Where Do We Go From Here?
We must understand and believe that God wants to meet us at the place of our own deepest pain. Jesus knows the heartache we experience and the unhealthy ways in which we may have tried to deal with the lost treasures of life. The Lord is also well aware that any coping system we may use is ultimately compromising our own well-being. Christ offers a better way. He is willing to help us systematically identify and set aside any multi-layered reaction to deep wounding. The prospect may be frightening and there will be some initial discomfort when painkillers are surrendered to the Lord. Laying aside coping mechanisms may cause us to feel vulnerable and at risk. But through the tender guidance of the Holy Spirit, God will take us back to the loss, meeting us there with great love and care.
God is willing to touch the places where pain gains its power and to bring His healing to bear upon our lives. And most important, He stands ready to replace the stolen treasures and lost endowments with something far greater. He will give us Himself. The fellowship of His Presence will far outweigh the pain of past wounding. Empowered by His Holy Spirit, we will be able to move forward in life to realize more and more our full potential as God’s miraculously endowed child.
THE WOUNDED STRUCTURE OF LIFE
WOUNDS–> LIES/DISTORTIONS–> EMOTIONAL
UPHEAVAL–>DYSFUNCTIONAL BEHAVIORS–>LIFE SITUATION
THE STRUCTURE OF HEALING
EMPOWERED LIVING–>LIFE SITUATION