Exploring the landscape of pain and hurt
EXPLORING THE LANDSCAPE OF PAIN AND HURT
Prof Wentzel Coetzer (NWU) – Session 1
Paper presented at SAAP Conference – Pretoria – March 2016
One of the characteristics of our modern day society is its detachment - and detached societies produce detached and lonely people
Due to technology we could argue that we are today closer together than we have ever been, but as Clinton (2006:64) puts it,
Despite our growing skills at pushing buttons and communicating through modern media, we are more isolated and alone than we’ve ever been.
As counsellors we know that lonely people are usually people with much pain and hurt
And people with lots of pain and hurt are usually people without a vision and without purpose in life
But on the other hand we also know from the Scripture all the many promises that God has in store for those who lost all hope and became hurt and were rejected and abandoned
Just to name one:
Jer 29:11: “I will bless you with a future filled with hope - a future of success, not of suffering.”
What a tremendous obligation and calling on each one of us!
I would like to take you with me on a short journey – a journey, I believe most of you have already travelled many times in the past
A journey where we explore some of the most prominent landmarks of the landscape of those who have been through trauma and crises and pain and hurt
And though some of you may have initially travelled this road on your own and afterwards many times with counselees, let’s repeat it once more and in the process remind one another of a couple of important issues we always need to keep in mind each time God
allows us to tread onto the holy ground of somebody else’s most personal inner life again.
· Red lights flickering
Neglecting some warning signs and flickering lights can eventually have devastating results
Arterburn (2005:41) uses the example of driving a friend’s car to church one morning and then noticing that on the dash was a light shining brightly under the words: “maintenance required”
He mentioned it to her but she did not take it seriously
A few days later she had to replace her car’s engine at an enormous cost because of a lack of oil
… then there was also some further expenses of having to rent another car while her car was being repaired
None of this would have been necessary if she had merely heeded the warning light
In this same sense we can say that repeating patterns of painful emotions like anger, rage, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety and grief are usually indicators that something deep down is wrong
… they are God’s built-in dash-light warning system, there to protect you from future destruction
Therefore, it is critically important that we shall pay attention to these and don’t use excuses to hide them or bury them or numb them
Arterburn (2005:42) adds:
Feel them. Learn to accept them as the price of being engaged in life and a natural result of living life to the fullest.
Emotions like these are a reality and all of us must face them because at some time or other all of us will experience loss, rejection, and hurt because of the actions and the words of others
When we do, we must step into our emotions and feel them deeply so that we can let go of them and move on
A healing prayer facilitated by a counselor could fulfil a vital role as part of such a process as described by Arterburn
The wrong approach would obviously be to ignore such emotions or to put a lid on them
· Deep inner wounds and rejection
Should we ask the question: What would be the results in the long-term if we do not heed the warning lights?
The answer would be: The accumulation of more and more pain and being emotionally wounded
Regarding the devastating effect of an emotion such as rejection, Stephen Seamands (2003:26), son of David Seamands, and Professor in New Testament at Ashbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky (his Dad was there Professor in Practical Theology) writes about a pastor who did some post-graduate studies, who came to him for counseling
The stress of being a pastor, student, husband and father was more than he could handle
In several recent situations his volcanic anger had erupted and to escape his frustration, he found himself turning into Internet pornography
In the process external pressure was stirring up a lot of unresolved childhood pain
Stephen Seamands explained it to him like this.
“When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, it makes the toothpaste inside the tube come out. That’s what's happening to you. The outside pressure is causing what's inside you to come to the surface."
As they began to talk about his growing up years, this guy described his relationship with his father
“All my life I’ve loved football. I played all the time when I was a kid. I played in junior high. I was a star linebacker in high school. I got a scholarship to play football in college. After college, I even played semi-pro football for a while. My father is not a mean man. He would never say or do anything to intentionally hurt you. But my father is a workaholic. He wasn't ever around when I was growing up. And he has never once in my life seen me play
He spoke those words matter-of-factly, but Stephen says that these words stunned him.
Football was an activity he enjoyed and excelled at - yet his father, whose acceptance and affirmation he, like every child, needed so desperately, was never there to watch him and cheer him on.
In that moment, Stephen says, his heart ached for him. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “so sorry.”
His sympathetic response caught this guy off guard and made him uncomfortable.
He was silent, but the look on his face said, “Why are you making such a big deal about this?”
Stephen tried to explain to him that it was actually a big deal and he quoted to him Frank Lake who said that “Children descent into hell when love is squeezed out of them by parental neglect.”
And then Stephen says that this pastor’s unwillingness to own his soul wound of rejection was his way of protecting himself from anguish and keeping a lid on his anger toward his father.
Some other authors also refer to these kind of problems as ‘soul wounds’ (cf. Rogers & Rogers 2009:29)
And every soul wound contains a message and the problem really intensifies when such a person starts to ‘internalize’ these messages and believe them as general truths regarding themselves
Part of the long term results then are possible manifestations on a physical level (any addiction), emotional level (depression, anxiety, rage) or spiritual level (feelings of being rejected by God)
Frank (1995:11) describes this situation as follows:
When painful memories have not been faced, healed and integrated into life, they often break through defenses and interfere with normal life.
Seamands (2001:34) supports this viewpoint when he describes the tremendous impact of traumatic memory as follows:
But time by itself does not and cannot heal those memories which are so painful that the person’s mind cannot tolerate them. The evidence shows that such experiences are as alive and as painful ten or twenty years later
as they were ten or twenty minutes after they were pushed out of consciousness.
As research confirms: traumatic memory never fades - when it is triggered it is just as vivid and clear as 60 years ago
· For many persons their emotional pain started long ago
Especially within dysfunctional homes there is often a long history of emotional pain that is eventually carried with them into adult life and into marriage life
Gaining insight and knowledge regarding this process already provides the first step in the direction of healing regarding our relationship with ourselves and with others (Burney, 2012).
Wilson (1986:84) makes the statement that no period in one’s life is as important as the first two years.
Psychologists and educators agree that never again during life as a whole, will a person learn as fast or as much as he/she does in these first two years.
The statement is made that, during the first three years, parents have already done more than half of all that they will ever do for this child - patterns have already been established during this phase that will affect the rest of this person’s life.
In the Meier Clinics their basic viewpoint is that at age three 50% of the person’s personality is already formed and at the sixth birthday 85% of the personality is already formed (cf. Meier et al., 2005:87).
Children also develop a basic sense of trust or mistrust in the first eighteen months of life. Before they thus understand what it means to trust God, they have formulated feelings and attitudes about trust because of what had already happened to them.
These impressions are not rationally thought through, but felt within. As such, they are inner, unseen forces which shape future concepts toward God, the Bible, the universe, self, and others (Wakefield & Clark, 1986:349).
Something of the working of these inner, unseen forces within a child, as the result of trauma is emphasized by Perry and Hambrick (2008:42) when they describe how neurons in the brain have been uniquely designed to be able to change in response to activity
Therefore, they say, neural networks change in a ‘use-dependent’ fashion.
Because patterned, repetitive activity shapes and changes the brain, chaotic experiences that occur during sensitive times in the child's development, create chaotic, develop-mentally delayed dysfunctional organization in the brain.
But then follows this positive statement:
Neural systems, and thus children, can however change with dedicated amounts of focused repetitive positive activities (Perry & Hambrick, 2008:42).
Our conclusion: although the emotional damage may be very severe and devastating, healing is always possible, especially if prayer and a pastoral approach is added to this advice
One of the preconditions for healing is usually resilience, especially from the side of the counselor, to eventually change those “… chaotic, developmentally delayed dysfunctional organization in the brain” as Perry and Hambrick (2008:42) described it.
This aspect is also emphasized by Di Ciacco (2008:21) regarding children who lost a parent, when he says that counselors will need to have full understanding of the impact of the loss of a parent or significant loved one in the child's life.
This loss is experienced on a very deep intuitive level that effects the mind, body and spirit.
"No words can soothe. Only a deep listening presence soothes a child's suffering" (Di Ciacco, 2008: 21).
But then again the positive statement: such a child's shattered life and devastated dreams can however be put back together again like the pieces of a puzzle,
"... but it takes a very magical glue, hidden from sight, in a child's, wordless, preverbal world of body and brain" (Di Ciacco, 2008:21).
This special 'glue' is the caregiver’s / parent's passion and caring and involvement that will have to be present in a special way through this child’s expanding years.
And then (Di Ciacco, 2008:23) adds a very important statement:
“Be emotionally present, and physically present. Be available throughout the long journey. Be resilient, with steadfast care, attentiveness, and heartfelt wisdom.”
We initially said that children develop a basic sense of trust or mistrust in the first eighteen months of life, before they even understand what it means to trust God
What a challenge then for us as counselors, as Christian parents, as members of the Church in general with regard to those cases where many of our counselees’ basic trust have already been devastated during the first 18 months!
… where they experienced total rejection and abandonment
Then to be able to apply these mentioned principles, namely:
- Dedicated amounts of focused repetitive positive activities (this could include reading a number of Scriptures about the theme: ‘Who am I in Christ?’)
- A deep listening presence
- Emotionally presence
- Physically presence
- Spiritually presence (from a pastoral viewpoint)
- Steadfast care
- Heartfelt wisdom.
Fred Littauer (1994:19) defines the rejection that he experienced as a child, as the intellectual knowledge that somebody loved him, but the emotional inability to believe it.
He describes his experience as follows:
“I knew my parents loved me. They always worked hard to provide for me, my three brothers and my sister. The problem was that although I knew intellectually that I was loved, I didn’t feel emotionally that I was loved. I was a victim of rejection. I had heard the term, but I never dreamed it applied to me.”
Therefore, he says that whenever he met someone who asked for counselling, he often started with the question: “Did you FEEL loved as a child?”
Although some people indicate very clearly that they had experienced no love, the general reactions would be: “I know that my parents loved me.”
Then Fred referred to his original question: “Did you FEEL loved as a child?”
Often then, after having thought for a while about this question, the person would answer, “No, I do not think that I really FELT loved.”
Rejection could thus get a grip in a very subtle way
· Parents already wounded
Saffer (2012a) describes how,
… [F]rom our first days, months, and years as a child, we look around and we try and get our needs met from the people who surround us day-to-day. To the degree our parents and caregivers are not able or willing to meet our needs, we develop coping mechanisms and strategies - patterns that we carry into our adult lives. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve had years of practice with these coping patterns and we begin to believe that these patterns are who we really are!
Burney (2012) gives a very striking description of this process in his book, Codependence: the dance of wounded souls.
He says that many of our parents were emotionally abused in childhood because their parents were emotionally abused in childhood.
Parents were however children’s’ role models who taught them how to relate to themselves and their own emotions.
We learned to relate to ourselves as emotional beings from the role modelling of the adults we came in contact with and the messages we got from the way they treated us
For example, when the role model of what a man is, does not allow a man to cry or express fear, when the role model for what a woman is, does not allow a woman to be angry or aggressive, that is emotional dishonesty.
When the standards of a society deny the full range of the emotional spectrum and label certain emotions as negative that is not only emotionally dishonest, it creates an emotional disease.
And we as counsellors so often in counselling have to battle and spend much time and energy first, to establish a relationship of trust…
And then secondly, to get behind these walls of ‘emotional dishonesty’ being built up, sometimes over generations!
Especially with men and older boys these walls are usually much higher and thicker
Burney (2012) adds that the ‘dance’ that we learn as children, namely the repression and distortion of our emotional process in reaction to the attitudes and behavior patterns we adopt to survive in an emotionally repressive, spiritually hostile environment, is the dance we keep dancing as adults.
He says that many persons are driven by repressed emotional energy and they are living life in reaction to childhood emotional wounds.
They keep trying to get the healthy attention and affection, the healthy love and nurturing, the being-enhancing validation and respect and affirmation, that they did not get as children.
Burney (2012) then refers to this dysfunctional dance as codependence or adult child syndrome and he describes it as the tune that humans have been dancing to for thousands of years - vicious, self-perpetuating cycles of self-destructive behavior
Personally I do think Burney does have a point because over the years in counseling I have so often spent a lot of time battling to get behind such individual walls of ‘emotional dishonesty’ being built up very high because of pain and hurt
· Shame and anger from the womb – validating our feelings
In his book, Family secrets (1996:152), Bradshaw points out how secrets operate destructively in the interpersonal relationships in families.
As children our feelings were seldom validated.
We were angry, and instead of someone saying, ''I hear or see how angry you are," we were told, ''Don't you ever talk back to me again.”
Our anger was invalidated.
The same thing may have happened with our sadness, our fear, even our joy, if we expressed it too exuberantly.
We can however help our counselees connect with their own experience by saying what we hear and see them saying and doing
For example, you might say,
''I hear how sad you are. Your voice is high-pitched, and it is cracking. I see the tears in your eyes and your lips quivering.''
When many of our parents could not let us have our own experience, it was probably because they had a dark secret (Bradshaw, 1996:152).
They had lots of feelings that their own inner voices criticized – their parents had not been able to let them have their anger or fear or sadness or desire or joy.
When we have our feelings, it triggers their feelings, and since their inner voices say things like ''Feelings are weak'' or ''Real men don't cry'' or ''Good women are not sexual,'' they reject their own feelings and project their inner prohibition onto us.
The inner voice that says, “It's not okay to be mad, sad, glad, or afraid,” was once the voice of the parent.
The feelings your father prohibited in you are usually a clue to his dark secrets, according to Bradshaw.
A father who cannot let his children cry (usually his male children) usually has a secret – he desperately needs to cry, but he condemns that need in himself
A father who ridicules his children's fear is also hiding his own secret fear - and that father is actually in desperate need of help!
In this regard the Christian psychiatrist, Dr James Schaller (1999:157), says that we commonly repeat many of our fathers' behaviors – especially those that hurt us
An important step as part of the healing process, according to Schaller, is to make the effort to learn to know your father and his history as well as possible.
... his story, his circumstances, his anxieties, his sadness, his joys, etc., because like Schaller puts it, in a certain sense “… your father is 'in you'.”
Thus, how better you learn to know him, the better you will understand yourself.
“His likeness dwells in your body, his words echo in your mind, his fears move you, and his dreams motivate you” (Schaller, 1999:157).
· Unhealthy surviving mechanisms become havens of security
Eventually the unhealthy surviving mechanisms people have adapted to, in order to survive over many years, have eventually become their security
They have become familiar with the present dysfunctional milieu and for some of them it is a frightening thought just to consider a new and healthy lifestyle, because they also wrestle with a fear for the unknown
In situations like these it demands plenty of godly wisdom, patience, discernment, humility and guidance by the Holy Spirit to be an effective counsellor
These wounded people are usually very vulnerable and because of this, they often have been exploited in the past – in many cases this process already started when they were very little
Therefore, unresolved emotional baggage (including trauma and hurt) from the past is usually one of the main issues to be addressed
So often they have been stabbed in the back
So often promises made, were not followed up and they were left in the dark – so often they experienced total rejection and abandonment
One of the consequences is usually that there is no basis of trust that you can build on
Out of fear they would sometimes rather choose to avoid you or easily cancel the next appointment
Like Clinton (2006:117) describes it:
Wounded people on a ‘Jonah path’ away from God’s presence will board any ‘ship’ (addiction) promising a rapid journey in the opposite direction.
Working with them thus implies that you often have to start with the most basic issues in order to first gain their trust and build a relationship
· Acting out the unresolved trauma
One of the amazing aspects of emotionally wounded and traumatized persons is the fact that they do not necessarily remember past events – they rather relive them over and over again (Clinton, 2006:48)
And by reliving their trauma repeatedly, very often without realizing it, as John Bradshaw (1996:36) says, they are unconsciously acting out their unresolved trauma
In this regard Jan Frank (1995:11) describes the anger against her stepfather who molested her as a child, by comparing it to a simmering teakettle
She says that, by the time she had reached adulthood, the kettle was boiling so vigorously that water and steam were escaping out of control
Against this background her advice is then that only through facing the problem, you can begin to identify the anger and channel it towards its source
What in reality thus happens, is that they are reliving their original trauma over and over again as long as the trigger, connected to the original incident, is still active (it is still empowered), and the lie connected to the original trauma, is still believed, namely, that ‘the trauma has not yet ended.’
The implication of healing then implies, among other aspects, that the power of the trigger must be terminated, and this happens when the lie is replaced by the truth, and this person, often, for the very first time (sometime after years), understands, even in his/her sub-consciousness, that the trauma has ended – ‘the war is over!’
And to facilitate a process through which a severe traumatized counselee eventually reaches this point, often asks for a miracle from above, together with that list of qualities that we already mentioned, as well as the involvement of some members of other specialized disciplines as well
Another problem with emotionally wounded, hurt and lonely people, is that they often tend to become terribly aggressive
In their desperation to avoid more pain they may actually run over other people in the process
But most of the time they are still acting out their unresolved pain of the past, and their actions and their words are actually cries of desperation – SOS signals – but tragically, often not interpreted and heard as such
Bradshaw (1996:49) says unexpressed anger could often be the root cause of severe headaches and backaches and a host of psychosomatic disorders
In this regard he refers to the fact that families with dark secrets for instance often have a ‘don’t feel’ rule...
When anger is repressed, joy and the full expression of all the other emotions is also repressed
And then he also adds:
“When parents withhold and repress their thoughts and feelings, the children have to carry them and act them out or in” (Bradshaw, 1996:48).
In this regard research pointed out that the unresolved issues are automatically passed on to the next generation
And again, in the long-term, many of these counselees will be sitting in front of you and me, seeking desperately for answers and solutions
o Shaming ourselves
According to Burney (2012) the final and most destructive emotional abuse is the emotional abuse we have learned to inflict upon ourselves.
We formed our core relationship with self in early childhood and have been judging and shaming ourselves ever since.
The most destructive thing about the emotional abuse we suffered because our parents were wounded, was that we incorporated the messages we received from their behavior into our relationship with self.
The final consequence:
We emotionally abuse ourselves on a daily basis. If we had healthy self-esteem, we would not allow anyone to emotionally abuse us - including ourselves.”
When we listen to the life stories and histories of our clients and counselees this is so often the typical scenario – only the names and the places and the dates and some other minor detail may differ from time to timeline
The challenge and the starting point here is usually to guide our counselees to a point of self-forgiveness
· Our bodies are often crying out
Ps 32:3 says: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long” (ESV).
Arterburn (2005:123) says that the author of this Psalm realized what science only had discovered many years later, namely that aspects such as guilt, resentment, sin, and silence, have a physiological impact on a person.
They all combine to create an emotionally and physically sick person, who misses the best of life because he or she is stuck in the past and is convinced that it can never be changed
There are usually a number of disadvantages connected to maintaining bitterness, hostility, hatred, fear of being hurt and anger
These emotional states come with increased blood pressure, hormonal changes that lead to cardiac disease, and impaired immune function – there is evidence according to Arterburn (2005:125) that, for example, neurological function and impaired memory may also be a result
And then he adds:
“The lack of forgiveness is a potent internal cocktail that you administer to
yourself to your own detriment every day.”
Eventually forgiveness is a part of healing our future, as well as helping us live a great and a quality life today
We must thus make counselees aware of the fact that they do have a choice to live as forgivers and that there is no justification that will ever make it right to live without finding a way to forgive every person who has or will hurt you, including yourself.
Arterburn (2005:127) then emphasizes:
“The benefits of forgiveness are too great to live without”
In this same regard the Christian psychologist, Everett Worthington (2003:85), describes the case of Mary, a 74-year-old great-grandmother, that typically illustrates on the one hand the tragic results of being emotional wounded, and on the other hand, bitterness that had already started in her childhood and which then spilled over to the next generation.
Mary’s life was focused on her ill health - that was not surprising given her 13 surgeries.
Mary’s past involved severe abuse and punishment by her parents for expressing anger.
She had once been imprisoned in a garage for a whole day because she made a face when told to give her favorite doll to the neighbor’s daughter.
Later during her marriage life her husband was frequently unfaithful.
Mary had a permanent problem with gritting her teeth – she also became sicker and sicker.
Her physical problems included colitis, gall bladder problems, heart problems, upper respiratory troubles, migraine headaches and hernias.
Mary’s daughters, Janine and Sarah, both in family therapy, recalled that, if they expressed their anger, Mary punished them (thus repeating the pattern with which she grew up).
And then Worthington (2003:85) makes a very significant statement:
Unforgiveness sent a cascade rippling through Mary’s body and her family, trickling pain down through the generations.
Christian people often underestimate the extremely difficult process needed to change fundamental aspects of our behavior
There is usually a cost connected to deep radical healing and for many the price is too high
Meier en Wise (1995:187) define this process as follows:
Complex forces are behind everything we do. Rather than make the adjustments, many people simply become ill.
Psychosomatic sickness may then be an easier adjustment than realignment
Others would choose alcoholism or any other addiction to the basic change that might produce a new personhood
Some counselees would rather suffer a number of diseases than being willing to go back and face the realities of the past
It may be too difficult for them to work through aspects like forgiveness and eventually grant forgiveness and release and set others free and speak words of blessing and even eventually being willing to pray for the perpetrators
Again, what a big calling, and what an obligation, and what a tremendous challenge in the first place for each of us to live out this message, and then secondly, to encourage our counselees to do the same!
I would like to conclude with a last example by Stephen Seamands (2003:27), which illustrates the negative effect of ‘n combination of rejection and a lack of forgiveness
He refers to Leanne Payne (cf. 2005; who wrote a couple of thought provoking books on emotional healing) and tells about a time when she was attending a conference on healing prayer for ministers, counselors and health care professionals.
During one of the sessions, while the leader was praying for the unhealed hurts of those at the conference, she had the inner experience of the Holy Spirit whispering to her, ''Forgive your father for dying." (This is how she afterwards tried to explain this somewhat strange experience that she had at that moment).
Her father had died when she was three years old - it had however never occurred to her that she had interpreted his death as a personal rejection.
How ridiculous, she thought, while sitting in that audience, to forgive one's father for dying.
But her experience was that the Spirit's voice intensified - finally, in obedience, she prayed a short prayer in which she forgave her father.
As a result, she later said, Christ came and healed the deep hurt of that very subtle form of rejection and pain that she had carried for as long as she could remember
… and deep seated feelings of hurt finally left her.
According to her, one of the further results from that point on, was that she could relate much more comfortably to men
There was always something deep down, previously, that made her uncomfortable in the presence of the opposite gender and she could never explain it
But after that specific day this problem was solved
Another result: a disturbing recurring dream ceased - one in which she always anxiously searched for her Father and eventually found his casket, meanwhile hoping against hope he was still alive.
“Forgive your father or your mother or your spouse for dying!” – over the years I had to encourage quite a number of counselees to pray this prayer > very often with similar results of freedom in different areas of their lives
What a privilege to be called and equipped and sent out by Him who said in Luke 4:18:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on Me; because of this He has anointed Me to proclaim the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and new sight to the blind, to set at liberty those having been crushed…” (New King James).
The need out there is still exactly the same today as when these words were written down
The answers and the solutions are also still the same
God only needs more messengers who are equipped and willing, to be sent out
Arterburn, S. 2005. Healing is a choice. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Bradshaw, J. 1996. Family secrets. London: Bantam Books.
Bradshaw, J. 2000. Home coming. Reclaiming & championing your inner child.
Burney, R. 2012. Emotional abuse is heart and soul mutilation (quotes from his book,
Codependence: the dance of wounded souls).
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Reclaiming children and youth
Wakefield, N. & Clark, E. 1986. Children and their theological concepts (In Clark,
R.E., Brubaker, J. & Zuck, R.B., eds. 1986. Childhood education in the Church. Chicago, IL: Moody Press. p.347-362).
Wilson, V.A. 1986. Understanding infants and toddlers (In Clark, R.E., Brubaker, J. &
Zuck, R.B., eds. 1986. Childhood education in the Church. Chicago, IL: Moody Press. p.83-97).
Yip, K. 2006. A strengths perspective in working with an adolescent with self-cutting
behaviors. Child and adolescent social work journal, 23(2): 134-146.