Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lies We Tell Ourselves

I'm in DFW this week, commuting back and forth from my parent's house to Ministers' Week.  I've gone through a workshop on how to do Funeral Ministry well (which was very helpful) and yesterday morning was challenged to consider the way shame impacts people and their behavior.  But this morning, the lecture was all about emotional health, and one particular idea stood up tall and waved its hands frantically at me.  Our speaker, a former Rector, told us "many times, the emotion that someone is expressing to you is not the one they are actually feeling.  They've learned somewhere along the way that certain emotions AREN'T APPROPRIATE.  And so they don't give them name."

That's the truest thing I've heard in a long long time.

Lots of times when I'm working with congregation members, I have to remind myself to parse conversations down to their actual root.  Is this person really angry about the weight of the paper we've used?  Or are they actually really afraid because their spouse is dying and they feel out of control - and DAMN IT they CAN control the paper weight!  Does this person REALLY think that anybody who doesn't speak English steals?  Or are they actually sad because the world is changing so quickly and they feel disconnected from a place and time they loved?

We lie to ourselves.  We lie to others.  And not because we're all secretly pathological liars.  We lie because we don't feel free to express the truth of what we feel.  We lie because we aren't in the practice of being honest with ourselves.  We lie because it's easier to deal with surface problems than to uproot life-long practices that have become poisonous.  

All this, of course, reminds me of Cliff.  I may not be as emotionally fragile about the whole 
"incident" as I used to be, but I still have lingering anger.  And incredulous disbelief.  But this idea, that all humans learn to substitute one emotion for a more acceptable one, gives me a new avenue to consider his choices.  

You see, Cliff and I fought.  A lot.  And by a lot, I mean we had screaming, name-calling, sometimes wall-punching fights at least once a week.  Once he smashed his fist into our bedroom window and we had to have it replaced.  Sometimes my belongings were smashed in front of me.  And on more than one occasion, I asked Cliff "You're so angry.  Why are you so angry all the time?"  He could never tell me.  I would try to get him to turn inward and examine himself, but he seemed to shie away from introspection like a scared animal avoids a hornets nest.  He denied any deeper problem, any root issues existsed.  

Which obviously turned out to be untrue.

Perhaps Cliff wasn't really angry all the time.  Maybe he was substituting anger for what he truly felt - fear at the direction his life was taking and how it wasn't playing out like he expected.  Fear at what being deeply intimate with another human being would cost him.  Fear at failing as a husband, as a father.  But he couldn't call it fear, couldn't deal with that percieved "weakness."  And so anger took its' place and took its toll on our marriage.  Perhaps.  I speculate on things unknowable, things only Cliff will discover if he is ever able to get psychological help to unspool the knotted thread he has made of his life.

If I cannot uncover the dark places of Cliff's spirit, I can turn my attention inward and ask these questions of myself.   Am I really truly angry?  Or is anger a more comfortable substitue for grief?  Am I really convinced this is the right path to take?  Or am I covering up past shame with assertive power?  Am I lying to myself about the true nature of my actions?  Am I lying to others because I haven't done the necessary work to be really truly healthy?

The New Testament calls the early Christians Children of Light.  And Jesus speaks of the light that shines out from us, that reveals what is truly in our depths.  It may be that being a Child of Light, being a Light bearer of the God who IS Light (and Life, and Love) requires me to disperse the darkness of emotional lying I am prone to.  It may be that being a Child of Light means I have to be able to say "this is what I am feeling" and seek to discover those same truths in the lives of other people.  It may be that being a Child of Light means I bring light into the darkness of other people's lives and offer to walk alongside them as they disperse their own darkness.

What lies are you telling yourself lately?  And what are those lies covering up?

1 comment:

christine said...

Beautiful thought. Wish I was at MW with you.