I had originally intended on publishing a post about how it is human for us to experience emotions. I still plan on that, but I wanted to take a moment and share with you how God is working in that very part of my life right now. This was originally posted on my personal blog yesterday, and I felt it just fit well with the content lately- friendships, healing, etc.
In Search of Pain
I’ve never been a “feeler.” In fact, I recently took a personality profile assessment, and I am an INTJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Judging). It’s a complex personality type (hey aren’t we all), but probably one of the things that bothers me most is that I easily write off what is illogical.
Emotions simply are not logical, so I tend to discount them both in my own life and in the lives of others. In myself, and others, I see actions, not emotions. I am analytical to the nth degree and it doesn’t bode well for my own personal faith or for the relationships of those around me.
I hate pain. I avoid it at all costs. More and more, I’m thinking it is perhaps because I don’t know how to hurt.
For years, I got close to no one. I could disconnect from people and events as if they never happened. Nothing fazed me.
I could sit here and crack out a couch and tell you all about my childhood. While I don’t blame others for my current choices, the fact remains that we are shaped by our pasts.
Twenty years ago, my dad left. In the months following, I knew pain more intense than I have ever experienced. I was constantly sad. My heart constantly hurt. I would sit in class and just break down crying. I would go home, cuddle with a teddy bear Dad gave me, and cry. It hurt. How could it not hurt?
I was taking it harder than most. My grandparents were angry with him. My mom was in shock. I was just heartbroken- a daddy’s girl whose dad left her. I loved him (and still do) and I missed him. My family didn’t know how to help so they began taking away things that reminded me of Dad. One by one, I lost the pieces of him, all because I was crying. I was, essentially, being punished for crying. I wasn’t allowed to hurt.
So, soon after that, the sorrow morphed into anger- anger at everything, including pain.
Something happens when you bottle up anger. It burns you.
It seers your conscience, and makes you incapable of empathy. You breathe fire without even thinking twice. You are constantly on fire, on edge, ready, at any given moment, to burn down bridges, homes, and small villages if needed. No one will evermake you hurt again.
Pair that inner burning with a strong logic and quick mind, and I could set you on fire and burn you to the ground without you even knowing. Then, I would just walk away as if nothing ever happened, feeling very accomplished.
It got so bad during my freshman year of college; I actually made a grown man cry. They weren’t letting me be on a ministry team I wanted to be on, and I lit into the team leader. He told his supervisor and I was called in to a special meeting where I sat, stone cold and calloused, with fire in my eyes. I listened as he told me how much my words had cut him, and got this weird sense of satisfaction in knowing I had such control and ability.
They sent me to anger management counseling, where I played the part. I cried on the outside, all the while getting twisted joy in knowing I was totally playing this therapist. I went through all kinds of Kleenex in those weeks. The moment the counseling session was over, I would walk out the door and be perfectly fine- cold as stone. I was never genuine.
I mean this in all honesty when I say I can understand how psychopaths and serial killers can do what they do. I know that hollow apathy and burning anger.
I still know how to disconnect from people, but it’s harder now.
Because I am learning to feel.
The process of healing is ongoing. Through the years I developed various, not so healthy, coping mechanisms for life. Whenever it got overwhelming, I just walked away. So, I’ve never really learned how to stand and take it. I always either set it on fire or ran.
But we aren’t supposed to set it on fire or run. I’ve had to force myself to grab life ‘by the horns’ so to speak and actually process it. I have to let God get in there and fix it instead of trying to ignore it. Writing has always helped me do that.
I’ve never really gotten close to people either. The moment I felt them slipping away, I would cut them off. I have a few close friends, but if I were honest, I could probably walk out of their lives and not think twice. It would take effort, but I could do it.
But we aren’t supposed to abandon people.
So, in my mid-20s, I am learning how to deal with emotions for the first time. Not writing them off as illogical, but accepting them as human, and forcing (yes, forcing) myself to cope with pain. That means I have to force myself to endure it. That also means I have to find it.
In an emotional sense, I’m numb.
I can feel joy and satisfaction easily, but when you get into the negative, overwhelming emotions, my emotional nervous system clicks into survival mode and shuts down.
Imagine stepping on a tack when you can’t feel your foot. It still has the same physical manifestations, but you don’t react. That’s how life is for me. Things that would crumple other people don’t bother me, not because they shouldn’t, but because I can’t feel them. I might feel the side effects of injury, but I don’t feel pain. If I develop an ‘emotional infection’ of sorts, I have to actually start looking to figure out where the injury is.
It is one such search that prompted this post.
In the past couple days, I have felt my apathy growing. I even got to the point where I was reading my Bible and thought, “Jesus just sounds like a cult leader.” I actually started to struggle in my faith, which was completely bizarre for me. I knew it was happening, and I hated that it was happening.
I started having these psycho dreams of disaster and death. I woke up sick to my stomach the dreams were so twisted. I would spend my days thinking about how pointless my life was and how stupid this was.
There was a part of me that fought, though. I knew this wasn’t how I was supposed to be feeling. I knew that this all was coming from somewhere, and not of God.
My response before would have been to continue on that train of thought. This time, though, I wanted to figure out where it came from. I was feeling. I was feeling apathy, and I wanted to know why I was feeling apathy. What was the cause of it?
I grappled with that for two or three days, increasingly more frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t snap out of the funk. I was losing my patience with people, even my own family. I was getting really fed up with the kids at school, tearing down people from church. If I had issues with hormones, I would blame it on that, but I don’t.
My heart was disconnected, and it was driving me crazy. It’s like trying to turn over your car and finding it won’t start. I sat there mentally turning the key… nothing. I would reprimand myself for being so short and it’s like my heart said, “Yeah… and?”
I tried reasoning with my heart, reminding it of all the good things God had done. He had just provided in such amazing ways. He had answered every prayer. What kind of ungrateful little worm was I to sit here and be mopey?!
Then, on my way in to school this morning, the thought popped in my head:
I hate saying goodbye.
Tomorrow, I will be saying goodbye to my students. This is my last year as their teacher, and that was all finalized on Monday, the day I started to struggle. I had technically ‘lost’ my job two weeks ago, and had weathered that storm perfectly fine, with joy even. Tomorrow, though, I have to stand up during graduation and say goodbye.
I love these kids. The past five years have led my heart to love them. They are part of my life, and I am leaving them, and that hurts.
I hate saying goodbye to anyone, anywhere. I hate funerals and won’t look at dead bodies. I don’t even say goodbye after family get-togethers and even honk the horn if my family is taking too long. I don’t even end my phone conversations with goodbye. I tell someone goodnight, or talk to you later. I purposefully don’t befriend people who aren’t going to be around!
The past three days, my heart shut off so that by the time tomorrow night rolled around, it wouldn’t care. But I do care, and when you care, it hurts.
So it’s a weird little journey of healing (or perhaps, a big journey). I’ve been on this one specifically (learning to let it hurt) for about six months now. The biggest truth I am learning so far is you can’t have love truly without exposing yourself to pain, and part of love is accepting and processing that pain.