Thursday, March 5, 2015

Reconnect With Yourself

Have you ever run into an old friend you haven’t seen for years and found yourself picking up right where you left off? If you analyze for just a minute what is happening when you meet up with an old friend, you are initially thrown back into the memories of experiences you had together. Quickly those memories catapult you to the present where you realize that your present selves can still relate to each other. It can be a wonderful experience.

But imagine if the person came up to you and was trying to connect over some amazing escapade you had together but you didn’t remember it. It would be very hard to have a relationship with that person, no matter how much it meant to your friend who still had intact memories. In fact, you might suggest it would be impossible unless you wanted to start over in the present.

Imagine a person who has had a background of abuse and what they have had to go through to survive their traumas. If you have lived with a “normal” amount of difficulty, or challenges in your life it is possible you have weathered each of them and still stayed connected to your core self. Or perhaps you might call it your true self. But, what happens to victims of abuse is similar to the losing of friends. Only in our case we lose parts of ourselves.

When we experience repeated abuse or trauma our minds do an amazing job of protecting us by shutting down on our own feelings and cordoning them off so we can’t feel them anymore. But there’s a huge challenge with that. Your feelings are connected to your day to day life. And your feelings are connected to your memories of your life. If you disconnect from your feelings you are in a very real sense disconnected with yourself. A big part of what trauma or abuse therapy is all about is to reconnect us with ourselves.

Therapists who are wise and experienced at their work understand that abuse victims need to reconnect with their feelings. In my last blog I explained a little bit of how that worked for me with therapists who understood something I didn’t. What they understood was that if I didn’t reconnect with the legitimate feelings and responses to my abuse that I should have been able to express long ago that I was not going to be able to reconnect with the real me.

There is something profound about reconnecting with yourself and choosing once again to truly live. It is like coming back to someone you once were and picking up those pieces but at the same time you will feel yourself able to go on at some point in your adult life with your past and present self reconnecting. Connecting with yourself, since you are with yourself all the time, is a truly amazing step that comes with true healing. It is a wonderful feeling to realize that the person you carry around with you every day is someone you are growing to like, growing to respect, and someone you are championing in a new way.

Just like you might champion a friend or other loved one! You will begin to see yourself as a person who is worth loving and worth listening to and taking seriously, and when this happens you will begin to experience all of life differently. Once this takes place, you will never again be deceived or tricked into believing the lies of the abuser. The reality of the feelings testifies to the truth of the abuse! And the reality of the feelings testifies to the fact that you are still a valuable human being who had the right not to be abused and hurt. And who has a right to go on with life! In a very new and different way!

Immediately following these experiences of connecting with the feelings of my abuse and learning to understand how wrong it was I remember, I had a different feeling in my body. It felt as though more light was getting in through my eyes and more life was awakening in my mind. As I worked through the loss of not having really lived and was able to make the heart decision to live fully alive it felt like I had finally been brought back to life! I had reconnected with me!

I felt the affirmation of the Lord’s love in my heart during these hours of work. I felt a deep sense of His presence, a deep sense of His love, a deep sense of His approval and His approving of the work I was doing. I began to feel more valuable instead of feeling like a piece of trash or just garbage to be discarded. It is a strange thing to have had your abuser treat you like a non-person and to step into the reality that not only are you a person but a loved person! I began to feel the Lord really did love me and He cared for me and He had made a strong commitment to me. It is very difficult to put this experience into words. It was an overwhelming sense that life was okay and that I was now going to live instead of just choose to avoid life as I had done for so many years.

I imagine the feelings I began to feel may be similar to the feelings of a normal new born baby as the baby begins to experience the wonder and the splendor of the world. Or maybe it could be better explained as the baby beginning to feel the feelings of his mother’s love and the elation of being held and adored and loved so deeply as only parents can love a child. The Lord began to give me these wonderful feelings in my heart as I would go into the depths of the wretched feelings in my heart, with Him, and squarely face them.

The Lord was faithful, every time, as I would ask Him to help me and accompany me every time. I honestly did not know what I would find or learn or discover, but I knew my complete need for Him. I would earnestly beg the Lord to go with me into these times of encountering what terrifying pain was in my heart. He was faithful every time to lead me into, through and out the other end of the wretchedness, into an incredible sense of light and hope. I was coming alive and there was hope and a desire for life and a feeling of worth and value instead of feelings of being wretched and ugly and worthless.

I was stunned the day I realized that I had learned how to hate but that it had been explained to me as love. My father actually used the word ‘love’ to describe hatefulness. He used words from the Bible about love, but demonstrated these words with behavior that was the exact opposite. It was truly hateful behavior! There is a verse in the Old Testament that says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” I have thought of my father many times for the way he did just this by twisting words into their opposite meanings and doing such damage to our young hearts.

During experiences of healing therapy and working on my own, part of what occurred to me, as I began to truly experience what love was from God, that I had NO emotional memory of real love as a child. Not only had my father taught me how to hate, instead of how to love, he also never showed me love. I honestly had no emotional memory, from early life, of love. This was because there was simply no love being shown in the family where I grew up.

By definition, attachment is a deepening affectionate, psychological connection between two people that endures over time. Psychological attachment influences not only our relationships with primary caregivers and later significant relationships and other social interactions, but also our internal senses of identity and the organization of our brains and neurological system (including how we respond emotionally to life experiences). Attachment helps develop a sense of safety, encourages socialization, stimulates intellectual and psychological growth, and influences identity. As a young infant, I did not attach!

I did not attach to a father who slapped me with his open hand and back hand when I was 9 months old and a mother who was unavailable to take care of me. Of course there was some emotional attachment to my mother. But there was a closing; a substantial closing; actually a profound closing off of my heart caused by my parents’ abuse and their neglect. And I and my siblings suffered for it. It saddens me so much to think I did very little attaching as a young baby. When you think of my father’s demands on my mother to sit with him most of the time and that this reality meant babies were strapped in high chairs to either cry alone or be cared for by siblings and not by parents, it is amazing so many of us in our family have married and been able to build family relationships.

As I began to do the healing work, in both cognitive and emotional ways, a significant thing happened in that process. I began to learn who the Lord was. By His Holy Spirit working within me I began to learn what His love was. I began to feel where before I had only been able to experience things through what I read or thought about – things I put into my intellect. I began to feel love. The Lord’s love!

I began to feel God’s love in my soul; I felt it in my heart, instead of just having the words about God’s love in my intellect. I experienced the reality of God as my strong tower, as my strength, as my shield, as my shelter, as my hope, as my very present help in time of need. Such passages I am borrowing from in these phrases relate to the truth about the Lord, that I had put into my brain, but now, through healing, I was beginning to feel this love deep in my being, to my very core. The Lord steadily impressed His love upon my heart and I will forever know His love! It was truly an amazing process and one that has changed my life.

Because I began to experience the love of the Lord something else happened that was incredible . . . I began to experience the love of my wife. She had always loved me, just as the Lord had always loved me. But I had only sort of existed with her, though all the while she had loved me. Living in that sort of dead, unfeeling state was very hurtful and painful for my wife, though at the time, I had very little sense it was even happening.

Part of the challenge with growing up with abuse is you think your experiences are normal. The sense of deadness you feel in your spirit is just the way you think life is. So you don’t have the ability to even connect the dots to your lack of feeling and other people’s very great pain. But I had begun to trust, by faith, that the hard work of therapy would help, and that it would truly make a difference. And I was certainly helped along by therapists with years of experience with abuse who were able to tell me that I was indeed making progress and to hang on for more change! I had made the decision to get some help, to do the work of healing therapy, but I just could have never imagined what good and life-giving results would come.

When you have never experienced love, deep in your heart, you don’t have a frame of reference to understand how love even feels. How would I have known what love felt like having never experienced it? The truth is my wife was THE first person who had ever loved me. It was a brand new experience for me and I had no peg to hang it on. But the good news was now that I knew the difference things would never be the same, ever again.

I often describe the recovery work I was doing reconnecting with the pain of my past abuse as being analogous emotionally to the experience of waking up in the middle of surgery when the anesthesia has worn off too soon! You would feel a searing pain from the surgery that you know you should not be feeling. There isn’t anything you can do about it! Here you are in horrible pain and now you have the work to do. You have to make the choice to do the work necessary to work through the pain. That is truly an apt analogy for some aspects of the grief work and the trauma work that come from abuse.

I awakened metaphorically with such a grief and agony and fear as I began to feel pain coming back. I felt so frightened and insecure and truly disoriented. And then after several months came the anger over the way my father had treated me. Some of my emotions during that time could have been expressed by sentiments like ‘I don’t want to be here! I didn’t ask to be here! This is the last place I want to be! How did this happen? What did I do to deserve this? I was born without choice. I was given this horrifying situation without anybody consulting me about it! I want to be away from here; I want out of here now! Who do you think you are doing this to your family? This is going to stop and I mean NOW!’

So many times I experienced darkness, fear, anxiety, despair, terror, hopelessness, rage, profound sadness; and all these emotions were simply what came as I reconnected with my feelings about my abuse. These feelings were in my heart, down deep in there. I just had no conscious awareness of it. When the emotions surfaced I realized the way God made us, the way He made our hearts, the way he made our minds and our bodies would naturally have had me experiencing just these types of searing and gut wrenching emotions both in my body as well as in my mind as I thought about the injustice and the cruelty that was done to me and my brothers, sisters and mother.

God gave us the capability of healing. He made us with the ability to eventually experience the pain of war or trauma or abuse or whatever terrifying emotions, to be open to them, completely aware of the circumstances, so that we could ultimately heal. We can only be open to it so much at one time, and the healing process really does feel like it happens one day at a time. But because He made us in such a way as to be able to experience the real pain of the emotions, He gave us a true gift.

By slowly reconnecting with the original events and emotions of our trauma we eventually are able to experience the pain fully. And once we have done that we find the pain subsides, it reduces, and its negative unconscious control over our lives subsides, too. The blessing that comes from this is we are able to live our lives without the effects of that pain having unconscious control over our emotions and over our behavior.

Finally we are living our life in the present, with an ability to connect to our past as we need to. And having dealt with and felt the emotions of our past, those emotions can no longer blindside us as we live our lives out. The control the unconscious pain had over me was reduced over time. Perhaps the reducing of the pain was only a little bit each time, but it is truly incredible the difference it made in my heart and my life. Each small change felt like big change to my heart.

It is incredibly good news: God made our minds and our hearts with the capacity to heal. He gave our minds the ability to get through wars and natural disasters and concentration camps and child abuse but He also built into our minds the ability to re-consider decisions made and emotions experienced and to change them. God equipped our hearts with the capacity to re-experience hurts. And when this is done in a supportive environment, the healing effects of tears, crying, mourning and grieving is nearly as real and complete as if we had been able to cry, grieve, mourn and resolve the matter at the time it occurred. It is truly an amazing gift, this gift of healing.

The only way out is through. Truly . . . the only way out of abuse is to go back through it and live it again, this time with support, love, and understanding, all resulting in a different resolution than earlier in your life.

As the Lord restored my heart he taught me that being a man involves strength and courage as well as humility, gentleness, kindness, peacefulness and goodness. God helped me understand balance. My father had taught me that being gentle showed weakness in a man, and that kindness and gentleness were bad. Sometimes when I think about the way my father lived it is as if he never read the Bible he preached. He mocked humility and kindness and most certainly showed disdain for the demonstration of love and understanding. My father instinctively exploited and seized upon weakness in every person in whom he found it, and crushed the person in whom he found any vulnerability!

If you have been abused, you no doubt have anger and would like to reject the abuse and the behavior of the abuser! That is an understandable reaction. Anger and rejection are very good things when they are focused on the right matters and the behaviors worthy of rejection! But anger is a very big and very energizing emotion. And sometimes it wants to destroy everything in its path. However, when we are responding with anger, we have to be very careful not to reject important but subtle truths, as you unravel the lies. The greatest tragedy while striving to restore your heart and life from the effects of abuse and lies would be to embrace other lies, perhaps even more insidious lies, in the process.

The Lord is always good! He is able to save us completely and restore a broken heart and a broken life. He provides light where there had been darkness. He offers hope in place of despair. He gives peace and comfort where there was turmoil and unsettledness and pain. He calms the mind and comforts the heart.

When turning your life right side up The Lord is able to sustain and protect you through it all. You can go into your painful memories and experiences knowing there is an anchor and strength to hold you steady, and enable you to come through the storms of reliving the horrors and anguish of abuse. When you have been orphaned, literally or figuratively, or have been rejected by your family, The Lord is able to restore you back into a family and bring individuals into your life who will love you unconditionally.

Because of who I know the Lord to be, I cannot imagine a greater tragedy than for a person to reject The Lord in response to being abused. Whether you were abused by a church or by your family, or both, I want to tell you something critical to your going forward. The Lord was not the one who abused you. People abused you. People went against what the Lord wanted them to do and behaved wrongly. The Lord talks about these people in His word. He tells the truth about people who mistreat and abuse and hurt little children.

Matthew 18: 6 – but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18: 10-11 - 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

The Lord loves the little children, and that includes you! He says harm may come to little children but woe to the one who brings the harm. He’s not the one who brings the harm! But He is able to save you from the effects of the harm. This is one of the most wonderful truths of God’s word. He is able to restore and heal and establish your life!

If you turn your back on the Lord because of what people have done, you will not be giving Him the opportunity to do His healing work in your life. You are very important to the Lord and He loves you. He does not want you to turn away from His help. He wants you to run to His open arms. If your injury does not allow you to do this right now, He understands. He will put people in your life to help you along the path of healing, if you open your heart. People who can help you and eventually you may be able to run to the open arms of the Lord.

Please don’t close your heart to the Lord. It is understandable for you to do this especially when wrong teachings about the Lord and His Word were used to hurt you. It is understandable that you don’t trust. Your strong intellectual opinions help to protect you from further hurt. And you don’t want any more of the religious stuff. And you shouldn’t. I don’t want any more of the religious stuff either. Religion is what man does. Christ’s life was what was able to save us. Not man. Man can’t save you.

It is difficult to trust again and I understand. It is extremely difficult to see through the fog of pain. Sometimes the fog is more like huge thick dark endless storm clouds and the person lost in these clouds has no way of telling where they are or how near any light they may be.

So I am asking you, would you consider opening your mind to the possibility of healing? I would be glad to listen, if you would be willing to reach out to me. I would be glad to listen to what has happened to you. I want to know your hurt and your sorrow! And I don’t want you to turn your back on the Lord or on yourself!

Mark Phelps

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