When I think about “wholeness” I have seldom given much thought to my own mental health. As Christians, we are encouraged to walk through our own journeys, which often bring trials and suffering. Many of us unable to “see” in our childhood where we might have experienced “trauma” that might mitigate therapy.
There is a Christian guilt that can weigh heavily upon us as well. Do we have meals? Check. Do we have a warm house with people who love us? Check. Did our parents beat us or did we encounter abuse? Nope. In that case, we are taught that we are to be grateful and thankful. This notion of us having our basic needs met can minimize the relevance of real emotions that we are feeling. What does an 8-year-old child do with feelings of loneliness? Or feelings that no one cares about her? Are we to assume that they are not allowed to feel this way? What if she struggles with not being “good enough” to receive the small hugs and kisses that her friends’ parents dote on their children? Where does than 8-year-old go with those feelings?
Throughout my childhood, my feelings have always been unwelcomed. Always inconvenient in the current state of my life, I usually stuffed them down deep only to be processed at a later time, or actually, not at all. I can clearly remember being told that I needed to stop “being dramatic” and that “things aren’t that bad” or that “other people have real problems.” Not the most supportive words to a young child who just needs help problem solving.These phrases only created a child who seldom shared her frustrations and felt that no one really wanted to hear what she wanted to say. It also created a person with a quick temper, and mostly emotionally unstable, prepared to overreact to sad situations or grow very angry when it wasn’t warranted. We cannot stuff our feelings and truly believe that they will remain hidden forever. We are only becoming enslaved to our feelings, allowing them to control us. There is no freedom or peace in the heart of someone who tucks away hurts and feelings.
In order to try to cope with some of these emotions, I became a really good listener. I would listen to my friend’s struggles and find comfort in the fact that many of us were struggling with the same things. I became really good at looking like I had it all together, while often crying myself to sleep at night. My faith was integral for me during most of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I clung to mental images of crawling up in the lap of God the Father, knowing that my dad was not capable of loving me in that way. I would envision God the Father surrounding me in a huge bear hug, allowing the tears to fall. I would recount my day, and all the hurts and disappointments. Other times, I would stuff those feelings down because I didn’t want someone to feel like they could hurt or disappoint me. I felt more comfortable with smiling when I was hurting, than crying and feeling vulnerable.
I had grown up with pre-fixed emotional states, meaning I knew the appropriate response to certain situations. Like preset radio stations, I knew when to be excited and happy, when to offer condolences and prayers, and how to walk along side someone having a rough time. I had “programmed” my mind to avoid conversations that would leave me feeling vulnerable and exposed with my emotions. I kept my friendships at a comfortable distance, always guarding my heart.
But what happens when there is no preset for your emotions? No learned response to feeling “out of control” or “fear”? What happens when the boundaries you created around your emotions are too much for even you? When the boundaries that were meant to provide structure are only preventing true feelings from emerging? What if the same boundaries that provided emotional protection when you were a child, were now providing barriers to your freedom as an adult? What if the Lord was asking you, as an adult, to start to process some of those emotions with Him? What if He was calling you to trust in the freedom that His tender love and patience could provide?
After years of hearing people talk about how beneficial it was to talk out their feelings with someone, I couldn’t justify why I would need that. What did I need to talk about? Always a storyteller, I was very comfortable with my story and who I was. However, the Lord was asking me to allow Him to start to purge my heart of these emotions that I was clinging to. He knew my “interior castle” needed order and deeper restoration.
Fast forward to my personal journey, the past two years of really allowing the Lord to restore my identity to whom I feel like He has called me to be. The Holy Spirit started to unveil for me the origin of many of my weaknesses and struggles. Why did I hear “nobody is going to help you; you have to do it yourself” on repeat most of my teen and young adult years? Why was I so independent as a young child? Why did I burst into tears the first time that my husband had asked me about “my dreams and aspirations” beyond being a young mom? Why was it so hard for me to see myself as wanted and lovable?
When it comes down to it, the Holy Spirit was showing me that I feel stifled. I feel that my thoughts and dreams don’t matter. I am chasing the dreams of a young child who just wants to be loved and cared for. I have felt shut down verbally and physically by those whose job it was to encourage my growth and inspire my dreams.
What I have come to discover about myself is that I have a lot of things that I want to do. My mind, given the ability to remove all constraints, can be a place teeming with life and dreams. However, when you suppress feelings and dreams so often, you can forget that they are there. It’s hard to break down the barriers that hold those thoughts captive.
When you allow a trained therapist or counselor to ask you questions and “peek” behind the curtain of who you are, It’s the first step of setting those feelings and denied thoughts free. These are people who are trained to pick up lies that you have believed about yourself, and question truths that you may falsely believe about yourself. They are trained to listen to what you are saying and challenge the words that you use to deeper clarify what you mean. They help you explain yourself on a deeper level. They often give you greater insight into who you are, probing your thoughts, as you hear yourself unfold before them. For this music lover, it’s like finding a song with the most amazing lyrics only to discover that someone has taken your words, from multiple occasions, and written out your thoughts.
In one of my sessions, my therapist said the most profound thing to me. She said, in regards to my relationship with my husband, “Sometimes the brain does not like to have empty spaces of understanding, so it’s easier for us to fill in those blank spaces with our own assumptions. Through our conversations, we can actually go through what assumptions you have made about your husband’s feelings and what he has actually said about you.” Essentially, I could be holding my husband to assumptions that I believe he has about me, which he never actually vocalized. Wow! What a profound concept. It made so much sense. My mind began to probe where I was doing this in other relationships that I had. Where was I doing this with my relationship with God as well? Where did I have him holding me bound by accusations that He didn’t claim over me?
The fruits of uncovering who I am and what I want for myself and my family is a happier version of myself. I was able to see the same “gates” and “roadblocks” in my children if they feel like someone isn’t listening or encouraging them. When my children seem concerned or worried about something, I want to talk them through it. Teach them how to solve their problems through allowing themselves to express and handle all their feelings. I want to create children who sit with their thoughts and feelings, not discard them or stuff them away. I want them to learn how to process their thoughts and feelings with people that the Lord has placed in their lives that they love and respect.
Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the importance of guarding one’s own mental health. I don’t want my children to find that their emotions control them but that they have control over their emotions and how they react to them. I want them to honor their feelings, sitting with emotions that are invoked within them. I want them to see how important their peace of mind is, as well as their physical health.
The Lord comes to restore us mind, body and soul. When we acknowledge our need for healing, and accept His grace, we can journey toward a new, everlasting level of happiness and contentment with whose we are and who we were made to be.