I’m reading an interesting book entitled, “Church on the Couch: Does the Church Need Therapy?” The author, Elaine Martens Hamilton, thinks so. She concludes saying, “We need to tell the truth about who we really are and the struggles we face” in order to become an emotionally healthy community.
I’d like to share some of the insights from my reading. To begin with, though, I’m going to let you get a taste of a larger portion of the opening chapter to set the stage. I hope Elaine’s insights will cause you to think about yourself and challenge you as they are challenging me.
I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY: LEARNING HOW TO FAKE IT
We keep saying to ourselves, “Don’t tell people who you really are because the fake you is easier to deal with.” We shut down or shut out parts of ourselves that don’t fit the picture of who we think we’re supposed to be.
We learn to filter what and how much to share in order to protect ourselves from disapproval or rejection.
DEVELOPING A FALSE SELF
Children aren't born with an impostor self. They have to learn to create one. Think about the young children you know and how they function. They don't screen their feelings or reactions. They just respond. They emote and express indiscriminately, without even thinking about it. When they are happy, they're giddy, silly, grinning from ear to ear. When they are sad, they're devastated. They sob and beg and scream. But over time, the adults in their lives teach them to respond more appropriately. Children learn that people don't want them around if they are having big feelings. So they learn to tone them down, to pull themselves together, to get over it or put a lid on it. Sound familiar?
Of course, this process of shutting down emotionally doesn't end in childhood. Most of us are still experiencing life intensely in high school. Remember how passionate you felt about things then? Causes you wanted to fight for, wrongs you wanted to right, friends you went out on a limb for, the first love you were willing to give up everything for? But over time, we learned to temper our range of emotional experience, to live less passionately, to minimize the intensity, to squash it down into this small margin of acceptable expression. By the time we're in our twenties and thirties most of us have joined the ranks of grownups who are pretending they are fine when they are really upset, pretending that it doesn't really hurt when they are rejected or ignored, and pretending their hopes and dreams no longer matter. We've learned to deny our internal experiences in order to fit in. We've become so socially acceptable, we are emotionally dead!
I'm not suggesting that emotional restraint is all bad. Learning to control your emotions and behave appropriately is important. Certainly it is not useful or healthy to throw yourself on the floor at Starbucks when your latte isn't hot enough, or scream at your family when you've had a hard day. But it seems that what most of us learned was less about dealing with our feelings in a healthy way and more about hiding them or ignoring them till they go away.
Now we are stuck in patterns of relating we have developed to keep us safe. And while they do keep us safe (no one can reject the real us if they never see it), these patterns are killing our souls. We live mired in self-protectiveness, unable to grow, create, or experience real intimacy with God or those around us. We've begun to believe our own game and embraced our pretend self as if that's all there is to us.
THE FALSE SELF COMES TO CHURCH
Tragically, when we come together in our faith communities, we bring these coping strategies with us. We gather because we long to be known, to grow and connect with one another, but many of us are so numb and disconnected that we end up circling around each other, never quite managing to create the authentic, life-giving relationships we came for. We have gotten used to being stuck and afraid together and have little or no expectation that we will experience authentic, transforming conversations with others in our faith community.
What are your thoughts?
The little boy who stole my heart
8 years ago