I spent a quarter of a century sustaining compounded traumas caused by various forms of abuse, but particularly psychological (mental/emotional) abuse and spiritual abuse. These traumas manifested externally as well as internally in the forms of rampant anxiety, panic attacks that lasted for months, sudden weight loss/severe lack of appetite, loneliness, deep resentment, uncontrollable anger, lack of empathy, and a perpetual, limitless sense of shame.
After I married and moved far away from my tragically toxic family, the fog started to lift. I began to see many truths clearly for the first time, but this brought with it plenty of cognitive dissonance. I spent years floundering, and the only thing that allowed me to progress out of my fearful bewilderment and malformed relational behaviors was the consistent compassion and companionship of my husband, his family, and a few new confidants from church. Without them, I would have remained as lost as ever, ultimately returning to the destructive, debilitating home I grew up in.
Thankfully, God ushered me out of the hopeless “boomerang” cycle I had been in all my adult life: returning to the only thing I knew, despite the hazy awareness of it being holistically harmful.
It took a few years to clear my mind enough to start being able to identify even general areas in which my approach to life needed to change. It wasn’t just that my family had hurt me; it was that I had unwittingly adopted countless ways of navigating life that were simply destructive. I knew no other way. But the years my husband spent building a baseline foundation in me of being loved unconditionally, no matter the mess and the heavy reconstruction that needed to happen, gave me a secure base of operations to start from. Tackling the labyrinthine dysfunctions of my psyche would not have been possible without it.
Getting the motivation to even start doing that would also not have happened were it not for the direct and compassionately compelling kick in the pants I received from my pastor and his wife. They gave me one, clear, straightforward, achievable, concrete first step to take. They removed any sense of obligation to make it look pretty or feel convenient or comfortable for anyone, and they impressed me with the freedom to believe this first step was God’s compassionate desire for me.
The first step was volunteering exactly how I felt as often as possible.
They called it “communicating” or just “tell him about it,” but it was a much more momentous paradigm shift for me than that indicates by itself.
For the first time in my life, I was convinced, by people actively, eagerly, insistently pressing me to do it, that sharing exactly what I was thinking all the time was a seriously positive thing. As in, “Why YES I want to wake up to a five-star breakfast in bed tomorrow morning! Why wouldn’t I?!”
So, for the first time in my life, I believed that this is what God wanted me to do, too.
I have never looked back.
It took a couple years after activating the first step for me to take the next step: seeking professional counseling. Pregnancy and new babies and VERY little sleep have a way of pushing everything to the back burner because survival mode is all you’re doing ALL THE TIME. But God was gracious and gave me more of a break from infants after baby #2, enough that I found the gumption and energy to pursue getting professional help. I’ve been receiving counseling for about five months now, and it has been utterly life-changing.
I know good counselors are hard to find, so here I will share mine: Jerry Evens of Liberated Living Counseling Services. Jerry works from a Christian background, so bear that in mind if it’s not something you’re comfortable with, but he does a great job of utilizing the academic and scientific knowledge we now have about attachment theory. He is trained to recognize personality disorders and identify victims of abuse. He is an excellent listener, a clear communicator, and a fountain of insight and resources. He has helped me to make very concrete, measurable progress going forward, and after twenty years of stagnation and running in circles, I really can’t thank him enough.
Through Jerry I discovered How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. This is the singularly most helpful written document I have ever encountered for understanding and dealing with my psychological and relational dysfunctions. Milan, an ordained minister and pastoral counselor, and Kay, a licensed marriage and family therapist, have combined their academic credentials, decades of professional expertise, and personal experiences into a clear, concise, and well-researched explanation of where maladapted attachment styles come from and what specific steps you can take to move past them into a secure, connective way of relating. Their “Love Style” Quiz is a fantastic resource for taking stock of your own emotional and relational health and providing a starting point to work from, as well as achievable improvements to work towards.
Before I began How We Love and shortly before I began counseling, I also started reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Scazzero is not a licensed counselor or therapist; he’s a pastor with a life full of hard knocks and a remarkable capacity to learn from his mistakes. He also has a remarkable capacity to self-educate; his book is FULL of footnotes to a wide array of resources and wisdom. I feel that his writing itself tends to vacillate between deep insight and triteness, almost as though there is so much more he could add, but he doesn’t know how to put it into words, so he cuts his explanations short. But Pete is also a compelling, relatable storyteller, and his accounts of what he has learned and especially how he has learned it ring true and provide great hope and understanding for how those of us stuck in emotional stuntedness might start to find our way out of it. A great book for broaching the topic with yourself or others.
Finally, I have found the deepest solace, reassurance, and connection with the heart of God through reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. I experienced on a visceral level, far more wholly than I ever have, how far and how deep and how wide is the love of Christ and the security, the joy that comes from an awareness of this that transcends knowledge itself. The Ragamuffin Gospel dispelled so many lies, so many misunderstandings, so many self-inflicted wounds and wrong beliefs, it was utterly transformative. I don’t think I will ever be the same again, even when I continue to feel the pull of the old, catastrophic belief system I ascribed to for decades. You can read the first several pages of this book, including the first chapter, for free here: The Ragamuffin Gospel PDF. It may be the most healing thing you ever do for yourself and your loved ones; don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity. ❤