Neville Symington (1993), an incredibly influential psychoanalyst suggests that Narcissism is at the root of all pathology. Loosely, he defines narcissism as a choice to turn away from the “Life force,” and any other outside force to meet my deepest needs.
John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, and Allan Schore, the father of Modern American Attachment Theory (the 21st century’s version of attachment theory) point out that our early experiences with our primary caregiver shapes how we view the world. We all have “attachment styles:” Secure, avoidant, anxious, or disorganized. In oversimplistic terms, our attachment styles demonstrate our narcissism.
“Wait a minute,” many argue, “attachment styles aren’t chosen. They are foisted upon us by imperfect parents who are incapable of being perfectly in tune with our needs, and therefore, fall short of meeting all of our needs.” We absorb their anxiety or evasiveness. Controlling and anxious mothers produce controlling and anxious children; avoidant parents produce avoidant children. If you need to be convinced of this, look at your friends’ Facebook pages and observe the pictures of their’ infants and toddlers. You will see the expressions of the parents carved into their children’s features.
The most chilling, bone-shaking video of this reality can be seen in the still face experiment revealed on Youtube. Watching this seemingly innocuous, short video still rattles my core. Symington’s argues that attachment’s cause and effect features are, in reality, choices for self-preservation and Narcissism on the part of the preverbal infant.
While Symington is correct, he is missing a step. When there is a breakdown in attunement, the child most certainly is confused, not understanding why this all-powerful force in his life, who provides sustenance, care, and love to her, fails her. She naturally asks, “Is the problem with them or with me? ”
It is much easier to assume that the problem is in me: “I’m not good enough… I’m not beautiful enough… I’m not strong enough… I’m missing something important…I’m repulsive… I’m misunderstood… etc…” Or, “I’m too much for them… they can’t handle me… I’m too needy… I’m too scared… I’m too loud… I’m too hungry… etc…” The two refrains of “I’m not enough” and “I’m too much” come from a dark foreboding chasm of a sense of unworthiness. This sense of unworthy inadequacy is “shame.”
Shame leads to our narcissism. Our narcissism leads to all of our other pathologies and psychological issues.
In Genesis 2 God tells Adam that if he eats from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he will surely die. Sunday school taught me that the death he and Eve experienced in the Garden after they ate was a spiritual death — and it surely was that. And it was far more than that. The first thing that happened after they ate was that they discovered their nakedness. They had to hide, and so they fashioned leaves as clothes to cover and hide. This is the first record of shame. This is also the first hint we are given that from God’s perspective, shame is death.
The God of the Bible is Trinity and in a perfect relationship. Ontologically (in his being) he exists in triune relationship. Shame destroys relationships. Therefore, shame is the death that was foretold in the Garden. If it grew large enough, it would threaten the existence of God Himself. It is at the root of all sin. It is at the root of all pathology. It is Death. It is Evil.
As Curt Thompson, in his book, The Soul of Shame (2015) alludes, shame is not stagnant, but mimics life itself. It continually besets and torments us. It will destroy us if given the opportunity. It is the defiant and Satanic urge to replace God with ourselves; freeing ourselves to finally feel as if we are “perfectly enough.”
If we want to address our ongoing relational and internal issues. We must face and address our shame. It is seen most easily in our relational styles, and in our stories of hurt and betrayal. It always manifests “between,” or, in our relationships. If we don’t address it, we will never realize the fullness that God has for us. Addressing it is not as easy as you might think, however. It requires courage, perseverance, and the company of friends along the way.
Heather Plett is a gifted writer and thinker. If you don’t subscribe to her blog, I hope this guest post by her will inspire you to do so. I wrote to her asking to republish this particular piece because, her description of emotional colonization, is a description of what the church often calls discipleship. It isn’t. It is far more insipid. It is spiritual abuse.
I hope you will read her timely, and horrifically beautiful description of emotional colonization below.
During an interview for a podcast recently, I was asked, “what’s the opposite of holding space?” Though I’ve done many interviews on the subject of holding space since the original post went viral, that’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. As is typically the case for me, the right question can crack open months worth of thought, and this one did just that.
As I contemplated, I searched for a term or word that might describe the opposite of holding space, but I didn’t find one that fully satisfied me. Finally, I came up with this:
The opposite of holding space is emotional colonization.
Wikipedia describes colonization as “an ongoing process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components (people).” Colonization involves overpowering, dominating, and taking away the autonomy and sovereignty of other people. Normally we think of colonization… (for more click here)
In the last post in this series, we discussed three general areas of the brain: the Prefrontal cortex, the Amygdala, and the Limbic Brain. Explaining how the prefrontal cortex is the power plant of empathy and relational connection. Trauma and emotional memory are stored alongside our creativity and imagination in the limbic brain. We also stated that our conscious, recollective memory is merely a memory of the last time we remembered an event, rather than being a memory of the event itself. Finally, we wrote about the amygdala being our reptilian brain. It is our built-in early warning and security system. The amygdala responds to threats and danger with one of three generalized ways: fight, flight, or freeze. It is the quickest reacting portion of our brain. Its sensitivity to threats is determined by the thickness of the cortisol in which it swims. If the layer of cortisol is thick, the amygdala is more hyper-vigilant. Thick cortisol also allows more “lethal” responses to danger, simply because of practice.
The amount of cortisol surrounding the amygdala is determined by the amount of trauma or danger one has faced during life and the amount of long-term security that they feel. Finally, we noted that the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex cannot each operate optimally at the same time. If the prefrontal cortex is online and functioning at a high level, the amygdala is resting and at ease. If the amygdala is hyper vigilant, the mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex and the ability to feel empathy are turned down or completely off. This is the biological explanation for John’s statement that “perfect love casts our fear” (1 Jn 4).
Finally, we noted that the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex cannot each operate optimally at the same time. If the prefrontal cortex is online and functioning at a high level, the amygdala is resting and at ease. If the amygdala is hyper vigilant, the mirror neurons in the prefrontal cortex, which determine one’s ability to feel empathy connect emotionally to another, are turned down or completely off. This is a biological explanation for John’s statement that “perfect love casts our fear” (1 Jn 4).
Conflict always hides or reveals fear. The closer you are to another the more room there is for fear, for there is much more to lose. This is why people choose not to let people get close or push people away. The walls people build or the exertion to drive others away from them and keep them at a distance are defense mechanisms. What would happen in your relationships if you were mindful of these tendencies and what laid behind them?
Typically, when a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a friend responds defensively, our first reaction is to become defensive ourselves. The amygdala creates this response. We’ve been, “triggered.” To love, we must move beyond our amygdalin response and jump start our mirror neurons. This requires something I call “psychic space.”
Let me explain that concept. I ride a motorcycle because when I ride, I feel free. I have space around me. The world seems bigger than when I am in a car. I feel nimble, quick and even fast. When I am in a small dark place, I tend to shut down. I may or may not be scared, but I am aware of the constraints surrounding me, and I do not like them, so typically I try to sleep and escape to the wide open spaces in my mind. For some, the feeling of freedom occurs when they hike, or when they look at the ocean, or the mountains, or the plains or forests. Some find it while sailing or skiing; others backpacking; still, others when they swim or run or lift weights. But that feeling of space that we create when we are in those places rather than feeling constrained and hemmed in matters and affects the way we can respond to those we want to love.
The question arises, how do people create space. Our bodies play a role in that. First, we need to activate the Vagus nerve. That is most easily done by deep breathing while focusing on our breath. Our minds need to “re-enter our bodies,” and leave the fantasies that our loved one’s defensive posture triggered. We have to return to the present moment in our physical bodies to realize that the danger is a creation of our minds. We do this by breathing in deeply through our noses, filling our diaphrams that are housed below the lungs. Only then can we begin to move away from an amygdalin response.
Once we’ve started to breathe and focused our attention on it, we may need to create more space to respond well. Because sometimes the physical space we occupy is not a safe space because of the angry, defensive presence of the one we want to love. At that point, we need to create physical space to find psychic space. There are other tools you can use when you are alone to create space. Exercise can help, stretching, and yoga are other tools that bring us into our bodies and the present moment. EFT tapping is another useful and easy tool. The purpose of creating “psychic space” is to allow a more loving entrance into conflict. If this can be done a stronger relationship will form. Arguments and conflicts are not bad, nor are they to be avoided. Avoiding the person and / or the situation is a the amygdalin response: flee. Instead, enter into those conflicts cognizant of the effect of the engagement has on both your and the other’s brain having created space so that your mirror neurons are engaged as much as possible.
When people involved in the conflict can see the conflict through the other’s eyes, it changes the nature of the conflict and allows for creative and synergetic solutions and partnerships to emerge.
One other important outcome of understanding how the brain works is that suddenly everything doesn’t have to be about me. Sometimes, something occurs that triggers a loved one sending their brain to crazy places and causing them to act in ways they typically would never choose to act. If we can understand this while not excusing their behavior, we will avoid creating new unnecessary conflict. After a traumatic event: a car crash, accident, break-in, embarrassment, or shaming; people are not able to respond well to life. We have to allow them to find space to change gears. When we choose to challenge them because we don’t like how they are engaging with us, or we only want them to feel better because their emotional state worries us, we create unnecessary conflict that needn’t have occurred.
From all of this, it is easy to see that even our physical posture in these conversations matters. When I turn away from you, your amygdala informs you that I must not like you. It can’t help it. It is part of the reptilian brain and simply reacts in set fashions. That message is sent based on the fact that I am not fully facing you. We need to physically turn toward one another. We need to be able to meet but not demand the other’s gaze. Tone affects our amygdala more than the words that are said. It hears inflection, reading the emotion and the threat behind it. Since it is nonverbal, it only evaluates visual cues, energy levels, nasal, and tonal issues when assessing the risk.
Please be aware that memory can also trigger amygdalin responses. A nasal memory can trigger memories of trauma and set off a powerful, visceral, emotional, mental, verbal, and physical reaction.
I can say things differently to my wife than I can to my daughter or my son. When engaging with my ex-wife I need to be cognizant that I am communicating on a completely different plane. People are different with varying experiences in the world. That reality means that their amygdala may act differently than you think it should. And I will say to you that you cannot judge another’s amygdalin response. Because you have no way of knowing why it developed the way that it did. To engage another cautiously does not necessitate that I am fearful and not loving. Sometimes caution is a function of love rather than fear. In those instances, caution is wisdom.
Knowing how our minds are wired does not solve all the problems. It can lead to manipulation in the wrong hands. It can also help us love more wisely and avoid creating needless conflict while walking into necessary conflict with a posture that allows synergy rather than destruction. In the end, we simply need to pay attention and be present. When we do so, we imitate Christ, who became incarnate to be present with us here.
I was introduced to Rob Grayson by another friend. He reads and is touched by the same authors I am. He writes gloriously, and when I read this post, I asked if Gracefall could repost it. Please take it to heart
Last week I wrote about how it is in our collective brokenness that we find our true humanity. Today I’d like to continue exploring the idea of brokenness a little further.
First, it might be useful to unpack what we mean by “brokenness” (or, at least, what I understand it to mean).
We often think of brokenness as a place we come to either when we’re faced with the consequences of our own actions or when the actions of others, or events beyond our control, leave us wounded and in pain. This is, I think, an entirely (continue to read here)
The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture: men* increasing their capacity to nurture, and becoming whole.
The Ghomeshi trial is back in the news, and it brings violent sexual assault back into people’s minds and daily conversations. Of course violence is wrong, even when the court system for handling it is a disaster. That part seems evident. Triggering, but evident.
But there is a bigger picture here. I am struggling to see the full shape emerging in the pencil rubbing, when only parts are visible at a time.
A meme going around says ‘Rape is about violence, not sex. If someone were to hit you with a spade, you wouldn’t call it gardening.’ And this is true. But it is just the surface of the truth. The depths say something more, something about violence.
Violence is nurturance turned backwards.
These things are connected, they must… (to see more click here)
Thanks Nora for such a beautiful and majestic piece.
I couldn’t get sober and I couldn’t take the third step.They say, if you are having a rough time working a step, it means you didn’t take the previous one. I discovered at the International Convention for my fellowship that I was primarily struggling because though I thought I had taken the second step, I’d missed it entirely. The second step simply states,
“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Sitting in meetings, you’d hear an old timer explain the second step like this: The first step states, “We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” ”
“The first step states, ‘We admitted we were powerless, and that our lives had become unmanageable.’ So, first, we came. Then, we came to. Then we came to believe.”
For many addicts, God (or a higher power) is a brand new concept and so the old timers cliche says it all: We started coming to meetings, woke up, and realized that we couldn’t recover by ourselves. When an addict gets to this point, they are ready for the second step. “If I can’t fix myself, I choose to believe that something more powerful than me can fix me.” However, for many of us religious types — especially those of us in sexual recovery — there is necessary deconstruction that needs to occur.
At my fellowship’s International Conference, as I sat in the conference room at the PDX Sheraton, the 12 step seminar leader asked us to open our spiral notebooks (that we’d all been invited to bring) so that there were two blank pages open. He asked us to reinforce the pink line that ran down the left page to create two columns on the left page. At the top of the narrow one on the left he said, “In this column, I want you to create a list of all the people that were higher powers in your life as you grew up. It will probably include your parents. It might include a brother, sister, aunt or uncle. There might be coaches, pastors, babysitters or teachers on the list. Think about all the people that had power over you and impacted you growing up. They are the higher powers in your life. Don’t be afraid to add to the list as others come to mind as you write. ” My list wasn’t very long: Mom, Dad, some pastors, some coaches, and a couple of teachers.
“The second column is harder,” he said. “At this point, you may find it easier to work across the page. For each higher power, write about times that events occurred that taught you something about what your higher power was like. Were there specific things that come to mind that they did? List both what they did and what that action taught you about what a higher power must be like.”
This column was harder for me. As you’ve already read, my Mom was an angry depressive who directed her anger at my brother and me. Meanwhile, my Dad was on the road more than he was home when I was little. I knew that there were things much more important than me to him. And so my list went on and on. The more I wrote, the more I realized how much God often resembled the people who had been my higher powers growing up.
The third column lined up with the second. Where my God always abandoned me to rescue someone else who needed saving more than me, I chose to believe something different, and I wrote it down. Where I thought God was moody, angry, and disappointed with me, I opted to believe something else, and I wrote it in the third column opposite the corresponding action from the higher powers from my youth.
In the final column, our “old timer” directed us to create either a pithy phrase (affirmation) or prayer that we could look at every day to remember who our God was. I taped one copy of my right column list to my bathroom mirror and carried the other with me in my wallet. Throughout the day, I began catching myself believing in the God of my childhood. Looking back with twenty/twenty vision, He resembled an alcoholic.
Without working this step, I’d never have come to understand how wonky my view of God was. If someone argued that I thought my God was an alcoholic, I’d have laughed in their face. Nothing was further from the truth. Or was it? Working the second step is the first example I cite where it’s obvious I needed to work the steps to find faith, Jesus, and life. Following the steps led me to Him. It was after working this step that God granted me sobriety.
For more of the story try these previous posts:
Is there anything that all healthy humans want in life? In other words, is there anything that crosses social, economic, and cultural divides that is a desire or longing for all humanity? I ask because if we don’t understand for that which we all long, we will never grasp how people respond, develop, and break.
Before answering, however, let’s quickly sketch the human brain using very broad strokes (like creating a picture using google maps from 30,000 feet). For the sake of perspective in our overview the brain will have three primary regions: the amygdala — also known as the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the pre-frontal cortex. The Amygdala is the part of our brain that keeps us safe. Typically it employs three responses: Fight, flight, or freeze. Additionally, it has the power to override the other areas of the brain to keep us safe. If it is fully turned on, the pre-frontal cortex is either turned off completely or barely activated. In those moments, we describe people as “acting on instinct.”
The limbic brain is a catch-all region of the brain that includes: most of our emotions, our long-term memories, and our motivational and pleasure centers. It also guides our intentional muscle movements and is involved in how we learn. It comprises most of our brain mass.
The prefrontal cortex is central to our personality, our social choices, and sophisticated planning and thinking. This is the area of the brain that helps us filter our behavior while simultaneously guiding our thoughts and actions so that the are consistent with our internal goals or drives.
While the above paragraphs contain the most general of outlines and are not comprehensive or complete, they set the scene. The main characters in the story, however, are our “right and left brains.” For they process life differently. Their interaction about how to get that which everyone wants becomes the human script.
The right brain is the originator of our dreams. It is intuitive, visual, seeing the forest before seeing a singular tree. It is artistic .and non-verbal, the place of imagination, creativity, emotions, and rhythms. The right brain allows you to sing in tune or stops you from carrying a melody. The right brain is where fetuses and infants start to think learning life. It is also the place that stores trauma for not just children but also adults. It does not require words to feel or see. In many instances, words only get in the way of creative expression. It is important to note that the right brain also contains what Freud called, “the unconscious.” And finally, to recognize that it is the birthplace of shame. Shame is a critical player in this drama because, at its root, it is the feeling or sense that one is undeserving of their longings and desires; that either, they are not enough or are too much. It has devasting consequences for us physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Physically, both the right and left brain encompass the prefrontal cortex that connects them, allowing them to communicate and the limbic brain. So as you think about our left and right brains, please simultaneously remember the limbic and prefrontal cortex functions.
The left brain is analytical, logical, and verbal. It is linear, likes math, facts, and learning languages and always uses words or numerals to think. While the right brain gives birth to shame, the left brain is the uterus for our guilt. This is a primary difference between guilt and shame: Guilt always begins with words, while shame always starts with emotions to which we later give language.
The above aids us as we consider humanity’s desire(s). As a Trinitarian, I believe God created people both corporately and individually In his loving, relational image; Therefore, every human’s deepest desire is for a relationship with another. However, this desire is not innate, but rather developmental. For early on, infants have no sense of “inside/outside” or “otherness.” Those concepts are learned. There is no way infants’ minds can grasp that everything “isn’t me.” They learn that there is me and you and that we are separate and other. That is only one of the billions and trillions of things that infants learn as they grow. How they learn to be other and relate to the other will make a huge difference in how their minds develop and grow.
The child’s prefrontal cortex isn’t online at birth. It is still under construction. The connection between the right and left brain is not operational. Dr. Alan Schore argues that the development of the prefrontal cortex and children’s ability to utilize it to regulate right-brain emotions is of utmost importance developmentally. In other words, our ability to integrate our right brain with our left brain is crucial. When it does not happen early in life, feelings overwhelm the child and trauma ensues.
20th-century theorists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth developed attachment theory based on these observations. Subsequent discoveries in the 21st-century of mirror neurons have made this theory almost as accepted as gravity. Alan Schore, mentioned above, used attachment theory as a foundation to create the 21st century’s version of it, calling it, Affect Regulation Theory.
Schore theorizes that mothers lend their brains to their children, using their mirror neurons to do so, allowing their infants to cope with overwhelming emotions swirling in their right brains. When parents succeed in doing so, the infant learns over time how to “contain” their feelings, creating neural pathways between the right and left brains that regulate emotions. When parents fail, they must work to repair the rupture addressing the failure with the child, thus allowing the child to continue to process their feelings and grow. Clearly, all parents fail, in this task and children are left picking up the pieces, needing to find other ways to live safely with emotions that threaten to consume them. (To be continued)
If you are only just now joining the story, I’ve just checked into rehab…
Keystone felt like a cloud of cotton, protecting and engulfing me. The old house became my safe place. I don’t think I’d ever felt that secure before. The hardest part about rehab was getting over myself so that I could go. Once I was there, it became the only place I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that sex addicts are at the bottom of the addiction barrel.
While we did most of our work in groups, we each had an individual therapist with whom we also worked. Susan was mine. She gave me three gifts that I hang onto fifteen years after leaving.
On Saturdays, we had a household outing. We’d vote for what activity we wanted to do that week. Staff rotated working the weekends and on Susan’s weekend, I rode in the front seat with her as we drove to a theater to watch Ice Age. I prattled on, proud of the recovery work I’d done before getting to Keystone. For some reason, I recited the 3rd and 7th step prayers. She interrupted me, asking me to slow down and pay attention to what I was praying; urging me to view prayer as something more than an item I checked off my list to stay sober.
A little while later she asked me to read pgs 416-418 in the Big Book of AA each day. I ended up reading them every day for three weeks. Old timers in AA know those pages deal with “acceptance being the key” to recovery. Susan was ahead of her time. These days, ACT or “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” is a hot commodity in the therapy world and is at the forefront of addiction work. This was 2002, and she was already working to help me accept who I was and what I did while not allowing my super ego to tread on hope and empathy.
Right next to my bed, so that I see it when I get up every morning, is a framed print of Rembrandt’s, The Return of the Prodigal Son. It hangs there because Susan asked me to buy and read a book by the same title by a man named Henri Nouwen. It became my favorite book. If you remember, from an earlier post, it was while reading this particular book that I got a letter from one of my former staff. I will never forget one of his statements he wanted me to understand, “I will not go down to the pig trough to eat with you.” The spiritual abuse that sent me reeling into rehab was boomeranging back at me; as pastors I trained, responded to me and my sin the only way they knew how — abusively.
My new friends knew the importance of this book to me. During our last session before I left, they have me back my book on which they had each written messages to me on the inside covers; everyone that is except “C.” C wrote on the cover. He circled the Father, drew a line to him and then wrote “You.” Then he circled the kneeling son, drew another line to point at him and wrote, “the church.”
There are two other vibrant memories from my time at Keystone. First, it took me three weeks to realize and stop engaging rehab like a chess game. I always scanned the horizon, trying to figure out the staff’s next move so I could be ready for it. Writing this makes me really sad. I was so messed up! And though sorrow never feels great, in a strange but very real way, it gives me hope. That same sadness grows when I realize lots of people see life as a game. Playing exhausted me. And it scared me. I didn’t know how scared I always was. I don’t want others to live that way. That is why I became a counselor as well as a pastor.
I had at least one other, “Aha” moment while there. During a group session, I realized I had no integrous core. I was a holograph. Until that moment, I was proud of that fact that I could be “all things to all people.” I’d learned from childhood how to be a chameleon in order to successfully navigate life in other peoples’ homes. Later the commitment to “being whatever I needed to be,” was theologically solidified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.
I didn’t realize that I became a holograph partly to dodge my shame. Patricia DeYoung, in her remarkable book, Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational and Neurobiological Approach (2015), talks about splitting off parts of ourselves that we find shameful. Later, she creates three ways we label those parts: The “Ideal me,” the “bad” me, and the “not me.” The “ideal me” is who we think we need to be and know we are not. The “bad me” is the “me” we believe stops us from being the “ideal me.” The “not me” is the “me” we can’t bear to acknowledge. It is humanly impossible to be aware of “not me.” Something inside us recognizes that if we even recognized “not me’s,” existence we’d die. While growing up, nearly the only thing I knew was
While growing up, shame ruled my family and me. So it is not surprising that I “stuffed” more of myself than I held onto. This is the reason I work as a Kintsugi artist of the soul. I want to work to help join my clients’ fragmented and forgotten parts with gold so that they become beautiful to them and their world.
This isn’t the end of this story. Leaving Keystone, I had no clue that the darkest days of my life were still ahead of me. And, while acknowledging that truth, it is important to add that I am not certain I’d still be alive if it weren’t for the time I spent there. I still carry Keystone with me. And I am incredibly grateful for the gifts I was given while there.
Larry Crabb wrote, Understanding People, that helped me create categories and lenses through which I viewed people early in my ministry life. This post is not a rejection of Crabb’s ideas. Rather, it is an addition to them.
I want to get a tattoo of a “&” somewhere yet to be determined. During one of my first “reading groups” at seminary, I realized that “and” needed to achieve a place of prominence in my thinking as I pondered life. I knew I served the God of “the and,” but didn’t know why it mattered. My philosophy crush, Dr.Esther Meek helped me understand why it’s important to posit that God is “the God of the &,” Nothing has been more life-giving, and door opening for my mind than Dr Meek’s thinking about thought. It shifted, not only my relationship with the written Word of God but the entirety of my relationship with the God who gave the Word to us. Additionally, her epistemology helps me explore souls. Dr. Meek created and then flung doors open so I could explore worlds previously unknown, in ways I never considered; enjoying a growing relational knowledge that morphs when love requires it.
While I realize why Crabb’s publishers came up with the title for his book, the idea of “understanding people” is a hindrance to love. If I am merely trying to understand you, I am not free to love you or enter into a relationship with you. Borrowing from Martin Buber, attempting to understand you means that I am objectifying you. Though it may seem like I am straining at gnats. And, I might be doing exactly that, I need to do it because, as a pastor, I objectified people for much too long. This does not mean that I don’t want to have ways to think about people. I need categories and lenses to help me make sense of things and love people, but I will never “master” people, as the term “understanding” suggests.
I am a synthesizer of information and I’ve never synthesized more than during the past three years of study. I told my Psychopathology professor and mentor, Dr. O’Donnell Day — who holds a more detailed blueprint for the human mind in her heart than I could hope to learn in the 25 years of the ministry work life I have left — that I didn’t understand much of what she taught from September until February in “Psychopathology.” Suddenly, though, the dime dropped, and it started to make sense. My process of “Making sense of it,” is very Meekian and it is still happening.
In a phone call with O’Donnell, I stumbled badly while talking about the mind’s structure and how I want to work with it. Shame rose quickly in my breast. What does my mentor think about my inability to think about this after three years of hard work? And so, I sat down with my Evernote and began jotting down thoughts about people, their minds, their brokenness, and healing. Since Evernote is with me on my laptop, and my cell phone, as I have thoughts, I keep adding them. My ideas address not only how a human mind is constructed but also where and how it shifts to embrace unhealthy and damaging patterns, and how I want to work with souls seeking care. That “Evernote” is still in process. As I take in new information, I work to synthesize it, seeing where it fits in the overall picture I am creating. I hope I never quit adding to that sketch. May I never think it complete.
One of the last classes I took at The Seattle School was entitled, “The Battle for Shame.” Dr. Steve Call assigned two books for the class: The Soul of Shame (easily digestible by anyone, whether a psychologist, a student or an interested party) and Understanding and treating chronic shame: A relational/neurobiological approach (a much headier book for practitioners and students of relational psychoanalytic psychotherapy). As I absorbed the latter book, the last two years of training started to fit. Professors who approached counseling from different perspectives, beginning from different positions all of a sudden could peacefully co-exist. Theories began to build on one another rather than competing for neural bandwidth. Though I do not think it was his intent, Dr. Call’s assigned reading was a fitting capstone to three years of grad school.
Reading through the Gospels, I am struck by Jesus use of metaphor to create pictures that people could hold as they considered such issues as The Kingdom of God, grace, faith, money, position in society, and love. As any biblical scholar worth her salt will explain, Jesus’ parables were never meant to be complete theological treatises. Because of this, it ‘s hard to build doctrine around them. We can attempt to stack his pictures, but systematizing the parables is like trying to stack Jenga blocks — eventually they all fall, and they are never stable. The parables are windows that allow Jesus’ listener or reader to catch particular views or perspectives of truth.
I want to communicate like Jesus, creating windows or parables that help people glance behind the curtain of the mind; helping us think and love God, ourselves, and our fellows in new and freeing ways. Because “What we are seeking isn’t insight, but freedom to be different than we were.” (DeYoung, 2015,159).
So in the coming weeks, I’m going to create pictures that point at ideas about how humans might be seen, loved, and changed. I’m intrigued and curious about how we might be different if we allow the Spirit to work through whatever means He chooses. Who knows, it might include a Trinitarian therapist.
For a glimpse of my theoretical orientation click here