Every person has some element of his upbringing to overcome. Some have pretty smooth sailing, yet childhood challenges that seem easily manageable still trip them up as adults. Others endure injuries so devastating it’s hard to imagine how they could survive to adulthood, much less to function normally, and yet they thrive. Each of us develops patterns of behavior in response to experience, and we all have hurts, habits or hang-ups to overcome.
Our inner inventory should include not only those choices we made when we had a wide range of options within reach but also those that are reactions to experience, especially experiences that impaired our ability to choose in some way. It may be counterintuitive that taking inventory of our own wrong choices involves examining the wrongs committed against us. Maybe we are eager to point to point those out, as if they absolve us from responsibility for our own action. Or perhaps we prefer keeping old injuries buried because they are too painful to face. If we are to own up to our actions, there’s no room for blaming our victim or our perpetrator, even when they are one and the same. In the process of untangling these wounded-wounding patterns, we can’t escape looking at both.
Start by acknowledging your victimization with tender acceptance and compassion for self. There is no blame for receiving injury. One of the most injurious long term effects of child abuse is the shame that gets wired into a young person’s psyche. If shame’s tentacles reach in unexpectedly and strangle your other feelings, set aside time to focus specifically on shame and the other feelings it crowds out.
Extending compassion to the one who hurt you may seem preposterous. If this task is too great, simply ask God to be present with you in the recollection of the offense. Be present to the compassion God has for you. Then be present to the compassion God has for the one who hurt you. Contemplate the unhealed wounds or the brokenness that led her to act in the hurtful way that she did. Your intellectual understanding your offender’s failings does not make the offense is acceptable, but it can smooth raw emotional edges. When satisfied with your intellectual understanding, set the injury aside for now.
Turn to the reactions. Did I imitate the bad example of my offender, for lack of any other role model? For example, did I imitate the physically violent relationship between my parents in my intimate relationships? Do I try to exert control over those close to me? Or has my mechanism for coping with an overly controlling parent led me to retreat to “the cave” instead of offering an honest response to someone who didn’t mean harm?
Reactive choices include those that result not only from injury but also from some other weakness. Was I so full of entitlement and resentment that I failed to experience or to express gratitude? Did I miss opportunities because I was afraid and played it safe? Did I choose ignorance over action? Selective ignorance is no excuse, but it could explain a coping mechanism. Similarly, poor self-control and preoccupation are not excuses, but they could explain what limited the choices available to me.
Join the conversation. With more wisdom, internal reserve, self-control, or resilience, what better choices might have been within your reach?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.