Archive for the ‘self-support’ Tag

I’m Mad   1 comment

Irritation has been bubbling over for the last few days, quick sparks of anger at things and people that don’t work right.  This morning I wanted to heave the piece of 2×4 in my hand through the TV screen.  I pictured Kimberly seeing the broken set and asking what happened and my anger then turning on her.  I have too much sense to actually break anything valuable or start unnecessary quarrels, but my imagination runs wild with clubs and bricks, torches and car crashes.  And my anger, bridled and checked though it is, still leaks out in an unresponsive, tight face.

Ongoing irritation is always a tell that I’ve got a burr in my soul.  Sometimes I can find it and pluck it out, but other times it is hidden down in some forgotten niche.  A sharp emotional memory was poked, some reminder of past failures or insults, and it threw me into defensive mode to parry the assault on my sense of worth… but the picture faded before I recognized it and only the feeling remains.

Lord knows I have enough failings in my past to keep me trapped in shame for the rest of my days: memories that sting every time they rise up to my consciousness–people I have hurt or ignored, good advice I scorned, blindness to obvious faults, arrogance and criticism and foolishness of a hundred kinds.  I have discovered that I can only apply grace and forgiveness specifically, a balm for a particular wound.  For best results, I need to identify the thing that is niggling my heart and bring that to be bathed in God’s love.

A parent or spouse may say, “I don’t care what you have done, I love you anyway,” but we fear that if she knew THIS evil of ours, it would create a barrier to her heart.  Something whispers inside us, “She only loves me because she doesn’t know how bad I have been.”  We need to hear the words of God’s grace applied to each individual failing, for as many times as it rears its accusing head in condemning us.  It is so reassuring to show Him that fault with our doubts, and hear his resounding, “Yes, I love you still!”  Blanket forgiveness is a weak alternative to working through the details of our wrongs both internally and inter-personally.

But sometimes like today I don’t know the cause.  Perhaps it was a slowly accumulating list of smaller incidents or a subconscious sting, a dart that zipped through my heart leaving behind only the pain.  It is hard even to love myself if I don’t know what is blocking that self-compassion, to look that specific failing in the face and say to my heart, “Yes, you are still loveable in spite of your brokenness.”  Unlike shame, grace calls us to grow better from a place of full acceptance rather than out of a striving for acceptance.

I think part of my problem is failing to deal fully with each remorse as it occurs, but instead feeling bad about it and then letting it fade into the random fog of my emotional context.  I should rather recognize the full weight of it on my soul and take the effort to deconstruct and sort out the turmoil stirring beneath.  I will take some time to do that now with the last few days cache of self-blaming, a very bad habit of mine.

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Posted July 26, 2015 by janathangrace in Personal

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Why Worship Scares Me   Leave a comment

It was the last straw.  Pastor Rick had already cancelled the men’s group, just because, and it was the only reason I was attending his church, the one touch of real grace.  Without that solace, I found myself struggling to survive the Sunday service, trying to keep my soul intact under a less than gentle preacher.  Then last month he cried out, “I can’t STAND negative people!  I won’t have anything to do with them!”  That flash of accidental irony pushed me out the door.  I can’t listen to a preacher who hates others, publicly, in a sermon… especially when his contempt may be directed at depressives like me.  That was not a slip of his tongue, like dropping an F-bomb, but a slip of his mindset spilling out in the open, a thought so comfortable that he didn’t flinch to hear himself say it, out loud, in the pulpit.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive… but if so, I need to stand up for that vulnerable part of myself.

This morning I sat in a different worship service and felt the singing stir my emotions, but I ducked tightly inside myself like a threatened turtle.  In the stadium or theater, my emotions splash out with abandon, so why does it feel unsafe in church? Because my feelings about basketball are incidental, but my feelings about God are deep and core and private.  In the genteel South of my upbringing, only real friends were invited from the living room into the kitchen, but God alone got into the bedroom.  Shared intimacy requires safety, because the deeper in you go, the more power you wield for good or harm.

I realize that many folks have a public persona to protect their true hearts from danger: polite banter, chumminess, faux cheerfulness and interest.  They invite you so warmly into the yard in order to divert you from the house.  But I was born with a glass facade–you can see everything from the yard.  If I don’t feel safe with you, I will give you a tight smile and a polite nod before averting my eyes because I’m no good at using politeness as a shield.  I can go for about three sentences before tripping into a genuine heart issue.

However, the real vulnerability for me comes not from reporting about my feelings, but actually showing my feelings.  I can emotionally keep folks at arms length while talking all about my feelings, but to express my feelings directly is the real risk, allowing them to react to my heart rather than my words and thoughts, which are my own protective layer against the harshness of others.  For me intellectual validity has always been an escape, but emotional validity a pitfall.  If you invalidate my ideas, I made a mistake, but if you invalidate my emotions, I AM a mistake.  Showing my feelings invites you into my heart, and once you’re inside, I’m no longer safe.  A new church is a new challenge emotionally, especially for those of us who aren’t good at shallow connections.

Posted July 13, 2014 by janathangrace in Personal

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The Subtle Power of the Subconscience   2 comments

This morning a cool breeze was blowing through the windows and the sun was bright and inviting.  I decided I’d like to walk the dogs on my favorite country road.  Kimberly asked if I wanted to use the new dog harness she bought for Mazie, and I declined, but while getting the leashes, I felt a sudden shadow settle over my soul from somewhere vague and indistinct.  As I loaded the dogs into the car, I tried to sort out the feeling.  Something about the new harness was upsetting me.  We recently got a second dog Mitts, and last week we bought him a harness that would inhibit his tugging on the leash.  They have clever designs that force a dog into a turn when they pull, and I told Kimberly that I could add the feature to Mazie’s harness so we would not need to buy her another one.  Two days ago Kimberly mentioned that I needed to do it soon because she was not able to control Mazie on walks, then yesterday she phoned to tell me that she had bought Mazie a new harness.  I kept quiet, but I was exasperated.


Neither of us spends much money (we don’t have much to spend), but I am more austere than she is, so minor conflicts like this come up on occasion, especially when I feel I can solve the problem for free.  Of course, that means she has to wait, especially if my emotions are dragging their feet.  She is pretty patient, but eventually she asks me to either finish the project or agree to spend the money.  This time there was little waiting, no discussion, and a unilateral decision. Naturally, she had every right since by agreement only large purchases require joint decisions. In fact, if we hadn’t discussed it at all, I would have been only slightly and briefly irritated because the bottom line was loss of money, not loss of self worth as it now felt.

As a child, I was highly sensitive, believing that others did not care about my feelings and latching onto anything that might be construed as evidence.  As kids do, I blamed myself, sure that I was unloved because I did not deserve to be loved.  I assumed my own inadequacy until it shaped my heart into a subconscious outlook, easily flaring up into depression as it bypasses any conscious thought process.  I don’t stop to make a rational conclusion: “He was impatient with me because I’m too slow… I shouldn’t be this slow… it proves that I am a failure as a human being.”   I  just feel bad without knowing why.  Sometimes even my emotions take time to settle in–my initial reaction may be a self-defensive anger covering over the sense of shame that gradually seeps in unrecognized to color my days.

As I walked, I started pulling loose the tangled threads of subconscious assumptions that triggered this current sense of worthlessness.  Simply identifying the source released a good deal of its hidden power to subvert my heart.  The next step was to validate my own worth independently of how Kimberly thought of me or treated me.  My value cannot rest on another person, even on one so vital.  My worth is anchored in the infinite and unconditional love with which God values me.  Then having found some level of security, I took another look at what Kimberly’s behavior meant… and decided that objectively it had nothing to do with her opinion of me.  She may have been acting from a sense of urgency or expedience or need for resolution.  Buying a dog harness was not a telltale sign that she didn’t care about me.  It was a sign that she wanted a dog harness.

MITTS

MITTS

Befriending Myself   4 comments

I woke up this morning with spare change on the clock to get to church on time, but my soul was out of sorts, so I lay still, sensing its pulse instead of pushing myself out of bed.  For the last decade I’ve honed the skill of listening to my feelings without judging them, but I’m only gradually learning to then respond with compassion, a crucial second step.  Since I spent most of my life judging my feelings and driving them out with shame–calling them stupid or weak or petty–it was a giant step for me to learn to accept them as legitimate and meaningful, and it took years of stiff work.

That tenacious acceptance opened a huge cache of information about myself, a way to sort through my junk and set the furniture back on its feet.  But with my cognitive bent, I’m slow on intuition, a key conduit to feelings.  I often get stuck in my head, my thoughts going in circles like bugs around a rim, emotionally trapped, unable to move forward until I understand it.

I failed to realize that understanding someone and embracing him are quite distinct, and I don’t need to diagnose him in order to love him.  Empathy can be profoundly healing even without an emotional biopsy.  When I focus on fixing a “problem,” I default to analytics, but I can’t support the feelings when I treat them as the problem, a roadblock instead of a signpost.  A hug is often better than a flow chart, not just for my wife, but surprisingly for me, the thinker.

When I’m busy dissecting feelings, I can forget compassion, especially for myself.  Love seems a distraction from analyzing and engineering a solution… unless love IS the solution.  “1+2 = love” does not make sense because feelings cannot be reduced to equations or formulas.  But if love is not the answer, then perhaps I’m asking the wrong question, and if I’m not ending up at compassion, then I’m really off track.  How would it shape my experience of life if I lived for love, not just for others, but for myself?

I know how to be a good friend to others: to listen, love, be gentle and patient, kind and thoughtful.  But I don’t treat myself that way.  I bully myself.  I push and prod, roll my eyes, belittle pain, ignore my needs, devalue my efforts.  I’m a really bad friend to myself.

So this morning I lay in bed, fully present to God and myself, ignoring the clock, being patient and gentle and sympathetic to my struggles like a good friend should.  I took a feel-good shower instead of skipping it and rushing to church, and I discovered that being a better friend to myself made me a better friend to those I met.  I’ve found a new buddy, and I think I’m going to really like him.

The Thanksgiving Trap   Leave a comment

happy people

As Christian fads go, “30 days of thanks” seems to have some potential for good.  If you’ve missed it, it’s the practice of giving thanks for something each day of November (often posted on social media).  Hopefully it makes us all happier.  Gratitude is seen in church as well as in our society at large as a foundation stone of mental health.  On a TED talk last week  the positive psychology guru Shawn Achor listed thanksgiving as his first choice to improve life’s outlook: find 3 things daily for which to be grateful.  On the surface, I think this is a good idea.  On the surface.  But like most things, the real story is under the surface.

 

gratitude

My first question is about motivation, which can sour so many good practices.  I remember as a child being ordered to write thank-you notes for gifts I hated.  It did not improve my life’s outlook!  Legislating gratitude spoils it.  But following cultural norms, my parents shamed my “ungrateful attitude” as a child… and it seemed to fix my attitude, but it damaged my spirit.  In compliance, I trained myself to “feel” grateful, not as a natural response of delight, but as a way to avoid shame.  On the surface, it’s hard to tell the difference, but natural gratitude gives life and forced gratitude suffocates life and relationships. Based on how I react to ungrateful people, I’d say I need more of the natural kind. When I choose thanksgiving as a “discipline,” my spiritual growth may only be in pride or resentment.

Honor-Emotions

But even if my motivation is healthy, I can still misuse thankfulness.  Both pop psychology and pop Christianity  suppose we can fix hard events and feelings with positive thinking (often labeled “faith”).  On the surface, that might be a good idea.  On the surface.  That is to say, if the bad feelings are superficial, then I can easily “shake it off” with some uplifting thoughts.  But for anything deeper, positive thinking will only mask the problem, like taking ibuprofen for a ruptured appendix.  The real solution for difficult feelings is to recognize and accept them in a spirit of compassion, try to understand them and find a means to truly support the needs that my soul is expressing.  Using thankfulness to resolve significant pain just minimizes and belittles our true feelings and fosters false lives and relationships.

If you are lonely, for instance, not just this particular evening, but in life generally, you cannot rectify it by reminding yourself of all the people who love you and so talk yourself into being okay.  If you are hurt by rejection, by loss, by trauma, you cannot find healing by “counter-balancing” it with happy thoughts or smothering it with praise music.  Massages are nice, but they don’t cure ear infections.  Paul tells us in Romans to “weep with those who weep,” not “cheer up those who weep.”  Some of us need to learn to weep for ourselves in compassion.  I never use thanksgiving to shout down my feelings.  Joy is most truly experienced when I genuinely embrace my sorrows.  So any takers for “30 days of pain”?

joy and sorrow

Posted November 21, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Healing Takes Time   Leave a comment

Forgiveness 5: Sorting Out My Feelings

When I am insulted or slighted, abused or betrayed and the offender won’t discuss it, at least not honestly, I try to decipher her on my own so I can better shape my response.  In every conflict I want to be as gracious as I’m able, starting with grace to myself so that I will have the resources to be gracious to the offender, genuinely gracious—out of freedom, not obligation.  Self-acceptance, not shame or duty, is the soil from which true forgiveness springs.   When I am wounded, it may take time to recover my own sense of grace (that is, to settle into God’s grace).  It takes as long as it takes.  It is crucial that I not sacrifice my own well-being by rushing to work through emotional issues.  I do not nurse my hurt, but I should not belittle my hurt either.  Neither of these is an honest and healthy approach.  Doing a quick patch-up job is disrespectful of and harmful to myself as well as our relationship.

Again, my focus is on my own pain, not on blaming the other person, but since I have been hurt, I no longer feel safe with her.  Until I have found some personal resolution, our relationship will also lack resolution.  I may need a break from our usual level of interaction… whatever I need to stay emotionally safe long enough to work through my own stuff.  I should tell her clearly that I am not punishing her, that this is about me and what I need and not an effort to manipulate her into feeling bad or changing her behavior.  (And I need to be sure this is true.)

Ultimately I want to somehow get to the point that I feel no ill will towards her.  Whether I reach this through exonerating her or through forgiving her is not crucial as long as I am respectful towards myself (my perspective and feelings) in the process.  I may decide that this is primarily my own issue and not hers.  I may determine that she is at fault, and that I will need to forgive her.  I am not her final judge, so I may fault her wrongly, but forgiveness still works: it frees me from suffocating on my own anger and bile.

Posted March 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Care for the Wounded Self   5 comments

pain-and-shots

Forgiveness 3: Postponing Blame

“Why can’t we learn our spiritual lessons over a box of chocolates instead of through suffering?” a friend once asked me.  Unfortunately this fallen world is thick with pain, especially relational pain, but there’s a flower in the nettles: it’s the hard stuff that grows me personally in patience and courage, and it’s the tough stuff that deepens and strengthens my friendships.  When we brush up against others, our tender nerves jangle us alert to something in our interaction that needs tending.

If I feel the arrows, I snatch up my shield to defend myself, which is natural and healthy—self-protection by flight or fight—but it hurts me if I use that to dodge rather than pursue growth in myself and my relationships.  My emotions yelp when some wound needs my compassionate attention, a wound that may be decades old.  My friend (or enemy) may be the occasion for my pain without being the cause of it.  Her soft words may strike against a sharp emotional edge in my past.  On the other hand, her innocence does not invalidate my pain.  My feelings are what they are regardless of her role.  They carry within them their own legitimacy and don’t need outside validation.  They speak the truth, not about her but about me, about the cuts and bruises on my soul.

crab

When I am hurt in some interaction, I need to slow down and pay attention to the ache, and I need to provide enough emotional space to tend to my injury.  Sometimes, at least initially, this may get messy for the relationship.  I may withdraw for a time or push back, but the goal in padding my emotions is not to avoid, but to embrace this opportunity of self-discovery.  So when I have cleared enough emotional room, I slowly disentangle my pain from her actions and take ownership of my pain.  I do not mean that I blame myself for my pain! If I barge accusingly into my soul, it will duck for cover.  The wounded need compassion, not condemnation.  By taking ownership I mean identifying the agitating source inside me and not outside me (so I can take charge of the healing process).  The diagnosis starts with a caring “Why?”  Why do I feel bad, especially if my feelings are more intense than others would be in this situation.  If I try to fix the relationship before I understand my own heart, things are apt to get more twisted.

blame-her

I am slowly learning, but I still habitually jump past this necessary groundwork when I feel stung.  I quickly assume blame—either he’s at fault for hurting me or I’m at fault for feeling hurt.  But if I blacken the other guy in order to justify my feelings or in order to get him to take responsibility, I overlook what my wincing heart is telling me about my own wounds and need for support, compassion, and healing.  I’m not suggesting that we should deny our feelings about the other person.  That anger, doubt, and fear is the very emotion I must identify, feel, and discern, but I make sense of my feelings by listening to them with gentle care, not by blaming the other fellow.

When I make the other person’s behavior the focus of my attention, I undermine my own self-support, even when he is clearly at fault.  He has leveraged power against me by his hurtful acts, but if I continue to focus on what he’s done, I keep myself his prisoner.  Even if I induce him to apologize and make amends so that I feel better, I will be worse off for it because my good feelings are still dependent on his response, and so I am still under his power.  Whenever I make someone else responsible for my feelings, I lose control of my own emotional life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I have to sort out my own stuff by myself.  We often need the help of a friend who knows us well and accepts us as we are… not someone to “side” with us against the other, but someone who helps us understand ourselves better.  If the issue is not a powder keg, then I may be able to talk it through with the person who upset me, but the focus should really be on discerning my own wounds and needs, not on venting or “correcting” the other person.  The apology I want so much to hear may dull the sting but will not heal the lesions in my heart.  My heart needs comfort, acceptance, embrace—love that is enduring, unquenchable, unconditional, inescapable, unbridled, and passionate.

Mother-Hugging-Child