There are a lot of things you can do to raise your happiness level and live with greater vitality, and many of them are simple and fun, as I described in previous blogs. There's another thing you can do that can make an enormous difference in your life, but it isn't fun or simple. In fact, it's hard! In last week's blog I talked about becoming your own best friend. For many people I've met, though, that would be just about the hardest thing they ever tried to do. Maybe here's why...
None of us reached adulthood without collecting some scars along the way. Some of those scars are really big ones and would be called "trauma." For example, if you were young and someone died that you loved dearly, it may have felt like it left a big hole in your heart. Or perhaps something catastrophic occurred, like a hurricane, that destroyed your home, and everything was chaotic for some time after that. Or maybe you grew up in a home where angry words and violent actions occurred, and even if they were directed toward someone else, they still left a scar on you. If they were directed toward you and involved some kind of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, that would have been devastating. Or maybe your parents loudly conflicted much of the time and finally divorced years later, each one pulling at your loyalty to them. Any of those experiences and others like them would feel hurtful and confusing to a child and would leave painful scars.
Sometimes scars came from things that happened that wouldn't officially be called a "trauma" but they still may have felt traumatic, like being bullied by peers or a sibling, or having the whole class laugh when you made an embarrassing mistake in school, or always being chosen last because you just weren't good at sports. Or maybe both parents loved you but they worked long hours to be able to provide a home and food, and you were alone a lot and had to take care of yourself. Or perhaps you made a series of mistakes in your late teenage/early adult years, and you now live with regret and remorse.
Whatever scars you accumulated during your younger years could have resulted in negative beliefs - in other words, lies - being tattooed on your heart and mind. They're called lies because they feel true but they aren't really true. Here are a few examples of lies I've heard people express about themselves: "I'm not good enough." "Good things come to other people but not to me." " I'm responsible for making sure everything goes right, and if it doesn't, then it's my fault." "I can't make a mistake." "I can't let anyone down." "I have to make everyone happy." "I can't tolerate someone having a different opinion than me, because that must mean I'm stupid." Here are examples of lies people believe about other people: "I can't trust anyone to really be there for me." "I can't let others get emotionally close to me because I'm going to get hurt." "I can't let someone have space because I'm going to be abandoned." "I can't tolerate someone having a different opinion than me because that means they're stupid." And here are some examples of things people have come to believe about God: "God only accepts and cares about me if I follow all the rules all the time." "I know in my head that God loves me, but I don't feel loved by God." "God must not really care or so many bad things wouldn't keep happening in this world."
So, what happened in your life and what did you come to believe about that?
Here's the deal: The pain you carry around and the lies you believe about all of it, even if you aren't consciously aware of it, affect who you are today, what you are able to do with your life, how you feel about yourself and other people, your spiritual connections, and it impacts whether you mostly feel happy and energized about life or you stay stuck in feeling anxious, sad, or angry. In addition to impacting your life, it can negatively affect those around you. As Richard Rohr says, "If you do not transform your wounds, you will transmit them." At the heart of all addictions is a wound someone has experienced and a lie they now believe that grew up around it.
But how do you transform the wounds you experienced?
First, identify your wounds and lies. We can usually find pockets of them when we examine any patterns of anxiety, sadness, shame, or anger that we regularly experience. Notice how often those feelings occur, what activates them, and where you feel those feelings in your body. If that is something you experience fairly regularly, there is a really good possibility it might be connected to a place of pain and a lie somewhere in your life.
Second, follow the emotional or physical trail back to a memory where those lies first felt true. It might be something that happened to you as a child, teenager, or young adult. It could be something that happened to someone else that you observed or heard about. Or it might even be connected to some generational pattern in your family.
Third, once you have identified the memory and the origin of the lie, bring love into that place of hurt. In his book, A New Psychology of Human Well-Being, Richard Barrett (the author, not the lawyer) says that, "Healing is the application of loving to the places inside that hurt."
Application of loving to the hurts you experienced can take several possible forms: You could invite God to lead you on a journey of bringing love, light, and peace into any painful memory you have experienced, and you can ask for truth to be made known to any part of yourself who carries sadness, anxiousness, shame, or anger. God desires for us to live our life with joy, peace, love, and a sense of purpose and meaning. Getting free of the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, about other people, about life in general, and about God can make a very significant difference in that. A wonderful tool that can help in that process is Immanuel Prayer (see the page about Immanuel Prayer on this website for more information).
Another way of applying love to the pain and scars in your life is through the power of your God-given imagination: Find the part of you who is wise, strong, and compassionate, and using that part, imagine bringing protection, comfort, love, and truth into any memory that still carries pain. Hint, recalling a time in your life when you felt or acted in a wise, strong, or compassionate way will activate the networks in your brain associated with those feelings and can help you connect with the "Adult Ally" inside of you. Going through an Ultimate Journey group has been powerful and freeing for many people. (See the page on this website about The Ultimate Journey for more information, and stay tuned for an announcement on future The Ultimate Journey groups.)
Examining the memories about painful experiences in your life, and owning and changing the resulting lies and the accompanying emotions and behaviors is NOT a fun or easy process. Sometimes it's painful and hard. Sometimes it's even scary. But it is so worth it!
(Photo credit: Tutye)