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Sticks and stones
may break my bones
but words –
they go much deeper.
Just a thought as I’m looking at hurts from the past and the effects they still have on me today. Thinking of the time when I was three years old and it is still so vivid and so painful. My mum sending me to play with some children on our street, and those children – maybe four years old? – telling me to go away because “we don’t play with babies”.
And as I’ve been doing the counselling course and digging into my inner self, looking at those bits that I’ve kept hidden because they seemed too painful, I have been seeing how that pain from over forty years ago, that rejection by a bunch of kids, has affected the way I interact with people.
I nearly started to say: it caused me to… and then I stopped, remembering the important truth impressed on us on the course: it isn’t the actual event that shapes our behaviour, it’s our reaction to it – what we think about it – which determines our feelings and consequent behaviour. Two people can experience exactly the same thing, but they may react totally differently.
So no, that rejection by those kids has not caused me to behave in certain ways. So I need to look for my reaction – what was it that I thought, what was it that I told myself about it?
I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough to be accepted by others, to be allowed to play with them, to be part of the gang.
But it’s a painful thought, and what about my very deep need to be accepted? We all have that need. That’s where the behaviour comes in – having taken on a certain belief about myself, the next step is to develop coping strategies. (All this is very subconscious of course, it’s not that a little girl of three sits there and says to herself: okay, what is my conclusion from what has just happened? and what should I do to deal with the hurt it has caused me? No, it all goes on inside at a very deep level, and that’s why it’s only now I’m figuring it out.)
So, what have been some of my coping strategies? (I’ve got to do this for my assignment, and somehow it’s easier to think about it here in this way. And maybe, just maybe, it could provide some encouragement to others who read it – those things that we bury deep inside, it is worth getting them out and looking at them, in a safe context, with a good counsellor.)
Some of the coping strategies I have uncovered: (and as I’ve been uncovering them, they have started to crumble – halleluiah!)
Pretending I don’t mind if I’m accepted or not – not showing when I’m upset; not taking the initiative in trying to be friends with someone (waiting for the other person to show that they want my company).
At the same time I’ve been expecting rejection – will this person still like me when they find out XYZ about me? (This is where God’s amazing antidote comes in: he has searched me and he knows me, and he still likes me! When this truth travelled from my head to my heart, that made such an unbelievable difference to the way I interact with people, it’s been so freeing!)
Making huge efforts to fit in – that has meant that when I find myself in a new group (new job, new neighbourhood, new country) my efforts go first of all into trying to work out the unwritten rules of acceptable behaviour in that group, so that I could try to blend in. (But this is so self-defeating: my real deep need is to be accepted as I am, so if I’m only accepted under false pretences, what’s the point?)
Okay, I think at this point I need to go talk to God about these things, I need to hear from him how he feels about me and let it sink in a bit more. That is the only real lasting antidote to the hurts we accumulate through life.
Thank you for listening.