If we reflect on our habitual responses when someone hurts us, we see that each of us has developed our own ways of dealing with these. If our memory still hurts, as it did initially, we know then that we still have an open wound. Our coping patterns of rebellion or compliance, for example, have not lead us to our complete healing.
When we feel offended it is usually that something someone says or does now reminds us of painful issues from before. We feel the same feelings as we did when we initially got hurt. It may come as a surprise when we overreact, but this is because today’s issues hook yesterday’s. How we were treated before affects our beliefs about ourselves and our ways of connecting with others currently. We may, for example, have been belittled in class and now find ourselves blocked if we have to speak in public. As a child we may have been allowed no voice and were silenced and humiliated. Now we find ourselves doing what was done to us. We may be surprised when we shout to feel powerful. Someone else might have always controlled our choices and we mistrust ourselves making them now.
As we intentionally engage early memories and see the patterns that went with them, the more we will be empowered to choose what we want or do not want for our lives now. As adults it’s our job to manage our relationships and not simply to repeat what was done to us. Our ways of loving can become deeper as our relational patterns are transformed. We do not need to be victims and remain stuck in our norm.
When we struggle with our outer community it’s often reminding us of something painful in our inner community that we haven’t found healing for yet. The Holy Spirit keeps bringing people into our lives to awaken us to unhealed areas of our heart. When we co-operate with Him, He heals our wounds and makes us whole and free indeed.
All of us carry wounds and we each have our own ways of dealing with them. Some are not easy to brush away. These often lie in our subconscious until someone says or does something that exposes them again. We may try to keep going while our emotion pain tank is getting too full. It may surprise us when it unclogs and overflows and we become over-sensitive or depressed. A sure sign that we are carrying too much is when we just can’t receive another’s pain.
We need to find ways to clean out what’s stored in our pain tanks. We know that not all pain we receive impacts us to the same degree. We take hurt differently depending on whether it is from someone we love or someone we hardly know. We feel offence more deeply if it’s an attack on our person or if we are let down by someone close to us. Instead of addressing it we may try to cope by avoiding that individual, or may choose to pull back and not risk relating again. We may move home, job, change friends or chose sides against the offender.
We all have seen how harbouring offence can be a way to give us identity and meaning. We hear of long-standing vendettas that continue through generations, causing bitterness and cruelty to both sides that refuse to forgive. Here old wounds are continually re-opened, so they never heal.
It does not help to pretend offence didn’t happen and that it doesn’t hurt. Pain does not disappear by trying to drown out our experiences. We may well have to give ourselves time to grieve our real losses and hurts. We are not however alone in this process. Jesus knew we would have trouble in this world. He uses our pain to draw our attention to our wounds that He has carried on the cross, and is wanting to heal. He so graciously wants to partner with us to transform our pain and to then to make it into a gift that can help others find healing too.
Our journey to becoming our full selves is never smooth. Along life journey we will have to learn how to weather the often unpredictable knocks that will come our way – and to realise that how we will interpret an offence depends very much on who we are and where we’re coming from.
Offence is not always outright. It comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s more subtle, and at times when we take offence, it wasn’t meant as we took it at all.
Each of us has a dominant pattern of response that we have learnt, and each way has both a positive and a negative side to it. Though challenging an offender may be our attempt to equalize the power imbalance, we may quickly realise that this actually makes a situation worse and that we have ended up getting even more hurt.
If we tend to take the stance that we are to blame, and back off, we may get stepped on even more and carry unforgiveness for a long time. Equally, blaming others leaves us as victims, unable to free ourselves. Withdrawal gives us a chance to think things through, to clarify what took place and to gather ourselves before speaking our truth.
It takes courage to reflect and to come to understand why a particular nerve was hit by a hurtful comment or gesture. When confronting the offender it will help to avoid reactive accusations like, “You…xyz!!”, to a more personal, “When you…I feel…”. Hopefully both sides can learn from what happened and if not it’s then up to us to have done what we could to be real and transparent in trying to bring about peace. We are not meant to remain the victims of offences, but to grow through them, developing our relational muscles as we work towards resolution and healing of what has hurt us in life.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
Although we may have said this trying to defend ourselves at school, we all know that this is not true. Many of the ongoing wounds we carry are word based. We each can recall offensive things that were aimed at us, whether they were meant to hurt or not. We remember still, when our inadequacies were exposed in some way and we either retreated or fought back, not wanting to show how much it actually hurt.
Those offensive words, often said by someone who wasn’t close to us or who didn’t understand our situation accurately, continue to fester over time. If they came at times when we were feeling vulnerable they more easily eroded our self-esteem and caused self-doubt.
Though offensive words sting, they do not need to continue to define us. Understanding the intention behind someone’s comment may help us let it go, so, if we can, we need to risk asking them to clarify why they said what they did. We help each other when we risk being more transparent and real in our relationships. We need to be very wise and loving in order to be able to speak and receive truth.
God knows and sees our weaknesses, but never reprimands us in a demeaning way. His unconditional love gives us the safe space to risk looking at our sinful patterns. He hurts too at the destructive words that have offended us. Yet He wants us to walk free, to keep our emotional accounts clean and to become safe, life giving presences for others.
We live in a very word based culture in which we’ve developed strong mindsets. We perpetuate our patterns of thinking, believing them to be correct, and allow very little in that will change them.
Jesus challenged this mental rigidity with comments like, “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” He was inviting his hearers to reconsider their habitual stance and to be opened to His new perspective. This willingness to gain a different perception of a person, belief or situation is essential for our life and growth.
All of us have received insensitive damaging words from those who presumed they saw and knew us correctly, or thoughtless shallow words when we were desperate for deep human connection. The words coming out of someone’s mouth may sound right, but may not be touching the receiver in the way they are needing to be touched – our tone and body language are also speaking – so the message may be received differently.
We all long to know what we think of each other and we give another a great gift if we can use our words more intentionally. We may need to hold back our initial response, notice our bodily feelings, become attentive to the other without words, or gently risk asking significant questions. We are being invited as fellow travellers, not just to relate repetitively, but to strengthen the way we use words so that they can become messengers of life, love and transformation.
In our culture, thinking is probably our strongest function and how we think becomes who we are. We may justify our set beliefs which define our norm, but may be totally misguided. We may believe we are choosing freely but not realise how advertising has skewed what we see as acceptable. We might think we are sharing our own opinion and forget how the internet has influenced us. We could want to do something courageous, but because we think we are ‘past it’, we lose out on life.
As we journey through the sea of life we need to be aware of the cross-currents and winds that pull us off course. We will get blown around if we do not manage our thought processes and will end up where we never wanted to go. We can’t always change prevailing currents, but need to be aware of pressures we are facing and to take risks in being original. We can stop blaming our actions on simply following our cultural thought patterns.
We’ve each been created for a specific purpose, not to just go with the flow of our prevailing culture. Each of us has a beautiful and specific calling, yet this has often been smothered under layers of secondary stuff. Jesus tells us not to be conformed to this world. He wants us to use our minds for His creative purposes, to be in touch with how we see and choose to act. We have Him at the helm of our boat on this life journey. He is busy teaching us to navigate and how to get to our destination, despite the many winds and cross currents that threaten to take us off course.
Click here to listen to the ‘Cross-Currents of The Mind’ audio.
If we were learning to master the piano, we’d miss a lot if we only played in one section. Like with us, a piano only comes into it’s full expression when the high and low notes are in partnership.
We are needing to be aware of the interplay between our outer and inner worlds. Each influences the other, whether we realise it or not. Continue reading Playing the full spectrum of our emotions
The importance of a well-matched pair
I (Elizabeth) love the stories of my great grandfather who ran a wagon-making business in Wagenmakersvallei (now Wellington, W Cape). It was from this village that people continued by wagon over the mountains into the interior. Together with the high quality of the carriages, he was also strict with the pairing of his horses to pull the wagons. He was meticulous at matching the strength and personality of each pair. For once, a mis-matched pair had pulled unevenly, overturning the carriage, causing my great-grandmother to miscarry.
Integrating the spiritual and physical realities
Our two realities, the seen and unseen, are like these horses. They are meant to pull together seamlessly, but all too often don’t. We over-drive our physical reality and leave undeveloped and neglected our spiritual one. Instead of being in sync, this disconnection causes us to ‘pull’ in unhelpful directions. We see this when we focus mainly on succeeding in our work arena to the detriment of our family’s well-being, causing grave harm. Or, when we say we believe that relationships are important yet in actuality have them last on our ‘to do’ list.
Slowing down so we can hear our inner drivers
Jesus wants us to find increasing cohesion and integration. If we slow down and stop the gallop of our known world, and create spaces where we are really still with God, we can nurture sensitivity to that unseen and often neglected reality inside us. Within, we find emotions that are taking us along a particular path. We have made assumptions about life that drive those emotions and carry unquestioned beliefs that we hold fast to.
Finding healing in the light of God’s love
If we, with Jesus, can gently see where our emotions lead us, we will come to understand better what causes us to choose the behaviour that we do. We can help the healing of those parts of ourselves as we own and acknowledge them in the light of God’s love. We will find joy as we sense ourselves coming to journey through life in a more integrated, connected way – and like with those horses, enjoy the ride so much more!
There are parts of ourselves we like, and parts of ourselves we avoid
All of us are at home with the parts of ourselves that we like. These we elevate and present to the world. Yet this is not all of who we are. We often don’t have a good relationship with the parts that ‘don’t work’, and have separated some places into ‘No-Go’ zones. So, in order to cope with our lives, we don’t embrace some of our painful emotions that are not working so well in us – like our fear, remorse, guilt. We find it hard to appreciate those unlovely places. We might fill our empty spaces with noise and obligations so that these emotions get quietened or at least pushed down again. For we do not feel comfortable with our powerless feelings.
Continue reading Accepting parts of ourselves that ‘don’t work’ can enable us to have better relationships
Our feelings are accurate gauges of what is going on inside. They are there to inform us of our inner reality so we can become more aware. We’ve all experienced being demeaned, unfairly judged, and put down – some, way more than others. Indeed, if used too much against us, shaming can seriously damage our self-worth, Continue reading Shame