EXPLORING THE LANDSCAPE OF PAIN AND HURT
Prof Wentzel Coetzer
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 the painful emotions of 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 counsellor could fulfill a vital role as part of such a process as described by Arterburn
- Soul wounds
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 we: The accumulation of more and more pain and being emotionally wounded
With reference to the sad story of a girl with the name of Jenny, Sara Trollinger (2007: xxii) says in her book, Advanced triage counselling (I visited one of her counselling centres in Florida):
Young people like Jenny have emotional wounds just as deep as the wounds they would have received if they had been in a terrible car crash.
Some authors refer to this kind of problems as ‘soul wounds’ (cf. Rogers & Rogers 2009:29)
And every soul wound contains a message and the problem really intensifies when this 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 defences 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.
- 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 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 goodness of God can be learned by analogy from the goodness of a father, the comfort of God from the comforting of a dear mother.
Christian parents thus have the privilege of conveying the reality of God as a living Person – Somebody who is vitally concerned about each individual.
In this way parents interpret life events to the young in ways which reveal the many-faceted nature of God (Wakefield & Clark, 1986:349).
Tragically the total opposite of the above-mentioned process is taking place in so many persons’ lives during these first vulnerable years and therefore as counsellors we do have to focus on these aspects
- 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 that our parents and caregivers can meet our needs – which includes, perhaps most importantly, the need to feel loved and secure – we are able to develop a sense of being okay. To the degree our parents and caregivers are not able or willing to meet our needs, including the pivotal need to feel loved and secure, 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 received from the way they treated us – as well as the messages we received from cultural and religious sources. In this regard Burney (2012) then makes the statement:
We are set up to be emotionally dysfunctional by our role models, both parental and societal. We are taught to repress and distort our emotional process. We are trained to be emotionally dishonest when we are children.
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 of 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.
If a culture is based on emotional dishonesty, with role models that are not honest emotionally, then that culture is also emotionally dysfunctional – because the people of that society are set up to be emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional in getting their emotional needs met.
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 behaviour patterns we adopt to survive in an emotionally repressive, spiritually hostile environment, is the dance we keep dancing as adults.
We are driven by repressed emotional energy – we live life in reaction to childhood emotional wounds.
We keep trying to gain the healthy attention and affection, the healthy love and nurturing, the being-enhancing validation and respect and affirmation, that we did not receive as children.
Burney (2012) then refers to this dysfunctional dance is Co-dependence or Adult Child Syndrome.
It is the tune that humans have been dancing to for thousands of years – vicious, self-perpetuating cycles of self-destructive behaviour
- Basic needs
Rodgers and Rodgers (2009:132) point out a number of things humans need to feel healthy and whole
If these things are absent, then emotional woundedness is one of the definite consequences
- Love – unconditionally accepted for who you are
- Security – you will not be harmed or abandoned
- Safety – there will be no tissue damage (physical), no soul damage (emotional) or property damage.
- Nurturance – you will have food, shelter, and clothing, and be hugged and touched appropriately and often
- Understanding – you can be who you are, understood for whom you are, and loved for whom you are
- Affirmation – to have your gifts and abilities recognized (so many grew up without this basic need being recognized)
- Connection – to belong and be part of something that is greater than yourself
- Support – to have someone to help sustain you and hold you up, to have guidance and advice in life
- Significance – to feel special and important to someone and know that your needs and desires matter
Rodgers and Rodgers (2009:133) refer to these needs as ‘soul needs’.
And these are the needs that are most likely to result in ‘soul wounds’ if they are net met
Humans do not have these soul needs met when abandonment, abuse and neglect occur
And then Rogers and Rogers (2009:133) make the following important remark:
Some parents neglect these needs as an act of omission. The work-addicted father or the stoic mother may not intend to wound their children, but they do so by default.
Meier et al. (1992:217) proposes the following five general characteristics as very typical of healthy families:
- Love – the total absence of love (rejection) can destroy a person emotionally and in some cases physically.
- Discipline – it can take many forms like for instance communication, positive reinforcement (reward a child for good deeds) and imitation (continuous setting of a good example)
- Consistency – research has shown that emotional illness is not as closely related to the degree of discipline – the severity or leniency – as to inconsistency of its application.
- Example – children learn much of their behavior from their parents. They do what their parents do more often than what parents say they should do.
- Authority – struggle for leadership between father and mother can produce neurotic children, as can the absence of a parent.
Minirth et al. (2004:118) describes the total absence of physical touch, cuddling and hugs as passive sexual abuse which communicates to the child the message that nobody loves him/ her.
There are three key ingredients that each child must receive from his/ her parents, which are also strong deterrents to love hunger that eventually leads to co-dependency:
- Love (affections)
And then Minirth et al. (2004:118) adds:
“If it’s too late for prevention, one must work for cure by saying good-bye to the old pain and the legacy of codependent relations that keep replicating in adult life.”
In most cases facilitation by a counsellor will obviously be needed for such a ‘saying good-bye’ process
- Shame and anger from the womb
Bradshaw (2005:22) refers to one of his clients who had an intense problem with deep seated feelings of shame and rage.
The story was that this client’s mother had been pregnant with this daughter when she married.
The mother was a strict evangelical fundamentalist whose family insisted that she marry the guy who made her pregnant – the guy’s family agreed and pressured him to marry her. She felt ashamed and angry – when her child (Bradshaw’s client) was born, the child took on her mother’s shame and repressed anger.
Bradshaw then points out that in his book, Family secrets (1996), he showed how secrets (in this case, unexpressed and concealed feelings) operate destructively in the interpersonal relationships in families.
- Children not allowed to cry
Mat 5:4: “God blesses those people who grieve. They will find comfort!” (CEV)
Montagu (1989:77) makes the statement that “The freedom to weep contributes to the health of the individual and tends to deepen our involvement in the welfare of others” According to Bradshaw (2000:36) children who are shamed for weeping are severely damaged in their development.
In the majority of families, the child’s weeping touches the unresolved sadness in the parent’s wounded inner child – most adult children had their weeping curtailed.
Some parents (especially from dysfunctional homes) have also systematically repressed weeping in their children believing that they were making their children strong – this is blatantly false
And against this background Bradshaw makes this very strong statement (2000:36):
This book would be unnecessary had most of us been allowed to fully express our tears. What I call ‘original pain’ work is primarily grief work, which is the key to reclaiming your wounded inner child.
- 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 this regard Cloud and Townsend (2002:263) very strikingly quote the words of one victim who said: “I didn’t want to move out of hell. I knew the names of all the streets.”
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
One of the consequences is that there is no basis of trust that you could 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
- 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 over and over, 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
We thus say that people are reliving the original trauma over and over again as long as the trigger, connected to the original incident, is still active, and the lie connected to the original trauma, is still believed, namely, that the trauma ‘has not yet ended’
The implication of healing 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!’
Another problem with emotionally wounded, hurt and lonely people, is that they often tend to become terribly aggressive and in this way often act out their pain
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
- The power of the lie
The power of the lie eventually became so strong that all their talents and gifts and potential abilities were incapacitated.
In this regard Josh McDowell (1993:53-54) shares an analogy in his book, His image, my image, that is very appropriate:
We’re like a circus elephant tied down by a bicycle chain. We ask how one small chain could hold a powerful elephant. The trainer explains that the chain doesn’t hold him; it’s the elephant’s memory that keeps him from trying to escape.
When the elephant was very young, he didn’t have the strength to break the chain or pull free. He learned then that the chain was stronger than he was and he hasn’t forgotten that. The result is that he tried to break the chain and couldn’t. So he never tries again. His memory, not the chain, binds him.
The power of this mighty creature is thus totally incapacitated by his past
But then McDowell (1993:53-54) adds that,
Occasionally an elephant does discover he can break the chain, and from then on his keeper has trouble controlling him.
The message that we as pastoral counsellors have for wounded and hurt people is that there is always the possibility in and through Jesus Christ, that they can break away from their painful past
This is the basic message of Luke 4:18 that we can keep on proclaiming:
“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)
Among other aspects this process will go hand in hand with the following:
- The replacement of all the lies of the past with the truth
- The renewal of their mind through a process of deep inner healing
- Restoration of relationships
- 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 behaviour 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 time
- Physical problems as a possible result of unmet emotional and spiritual needs
Ps 32:3 (ESV) says: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.”
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 favourite doll to the neighbour’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.
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 illness may then be an easier adjustment than realignment
Others would choose alcoholism or any other addiction as the basic way to possibly produce a new personhood
McDonald (1995:152) refers to many cases of asthma that have been tied to memories of an oral rape or a choking incident – after the recovery of the associated memory the asthma stopped
Physical problems are numerous for victims of trauma and very common are, for example, headaches, hormonal problems, ulcers, back pain, colitis, high or low blood pressure, Crohn’s disease, ulcers and allergies (McDonald, 1995:66).
However, some counselees would rather suffer some of these diseases than be 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 pray for the perpetrators
Again, what a big calling and what an obligation on every counsellor to live out this message!
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 In this regard James, Friedman and Matthews (2002:14-59) refers to the following six myths (that in most cases started very early in their lives) that they usually first have to identify with their counselees and then delete them before they can start making progress with the grieving process after some big loss: Don’t feel bad; replace the loss; grieve alone; be strong; keep yourself busy; time heals all wounds.