And how is that Working for You?

woman wearing blue top beside table
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

One of the MOST common questions a counselor or therapist will ask, after you share how you are, or are not, coping with a dilemma; is this:

And how is that working for you?

I’ve been to enough counseling that I have picked up this phrase and find I am tempted to use it myself, in my conversations with other people.

And that gives me pause. Because inevitably a little voice in my head is whispering “did you really just say that? Did you really just play therapist with someone instead of just being their friend and listening to them and being ok if they are doing things you wouldn’t do yourself?”

I am someone who overthinks everything, from every possible angle. Thank you: childhood full of trauma. Even if said method of coping is working wonderfully FOR ME; to have it questioned in any sense, even in the most benign way that sentence could be said, causes me to start spinning through ALL of my prior actions in my head. Former confidence that I had (that I was doing the best course of action, or else what needed to be done even though I knew it wasn’t optimal) can quickly give way to thoughts like ‘maybe I am struggling in this area.’ ‘I’m really messed up.’ ‘oh boy, now what am I doing wrong?’

Even though I am often not, and was not, doing anything ‘wrong’ at all. I’d already set proper boundaries. I’d already talked it through with the offender. Sometimes you just run into @$$ hats in life and need to steer another direction around their crap.

I am also aware that when a therapist (or a friend who has picked up vernacular from a therapist) asks the ‘how is it working for you’ question, he or she has already determined that whatever coping mechanism I am using is not the most optimal one, in their thought, and he or she is subversively subtly letting me know that there are other options…without telling me those options because they ‘want me to come into my own conclusions.’ Because I am five, and cannot handle being plainly told about alternative courses of action.

Which is condescending. Suddenly they are my teacher and I am the student. I would think it would be better to keep things on the level — friend to friend instead of ‘counselor to counsel-ee’ and simply state: well, I am glad ___________ is working for you. Sounds like you have it figured out then. Myself, I would probably do it a bit differently.

Or a simple, ‘have you considered doing __________ instead? I was in a similar situation and finally when I did __________ I had some peace about it.’

To which they might answer, Yes! I tried that for years. Now I have to do what I am doing to stay sane… Nod and accept it and then ensue sipping coffee and sharing about your grown children’s antics or the sweater you just found on sale last week.

Keep friendship exchanges to friendship exchanges. Rather than condescension and playing therapist.*

And if I find myself back in therapy (doubtful at this point), or with a friend who has picked up this phrase; and it therefore gets used on me — remember that the use of the phrase is about them, not me. Consider, very briefly, that I may not be doing the optimal thing. If a brief assessment of the behavior in question results in a ‘I am doing just fine here’ — then answer ‘it is working well for me!’ and change the subject. If their question makes me realize that I am not satisfied with how it is working for me, then don’t do a thousand mental gymnastics biting on that hook and trying to figure out a more suitable plan. Simply answer their question with the following question:

What would you recommend that I do in this situation?

And then take to heart, or completely toss out, whatever they suggest. Because it is safe that way since you have kept the exchange on an even level, adult to adult, instead of submitting to their attempts at schooling you.*

*note to self.

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 2.

(Continued from part one here)….As an adult, coming to terms with my child abuse, I can remember feeling literal pain when talking with sisters in Christ who had upbringings that fell in line with The Purity Movement. They recalled childhoods wherein their fathers sat around the dinner table expounding upon the Bible. The minister in their family would lead worship songs and take them to summer camps (without assaulting them). Their mothers guarded their encounters with other children and adults. They actually threw out, or burned, the questionable toothpaste and the smut books…why hadn’t God put me in one of those homes instead of the one I was in?  That realization hurt. As an abuse survivor: The Purity Movement can sting in so many ways.

I was jealous for what these sisters in Christ had been given. Their caregivers had shut the door on the devil. Mine had invited him in for coffee! In contrast, I felt even more defiled and abandoned–and unsure if I even belonged within Christianity. I also learned that jealousy can be physically painful. It hollows out your chest cavity and burns your guts. I felt weak; exhausted. It wasn’t fun to sit through these stories others shared. But it was necessary to my healing. It also wasn’t fun to finally share my own stories of defilement. But it was necessary to my healing. Because it was my story. I’m more like Tamar from the Bible than I am Laura from Little House on the Prairie. And owning that made for a whole lot of pain; but it also made all the difference too. My own religious double-mindedness was disappearing, the more I owned the truth.

In time those feelings of jealous pain passed and I began to take a hard look at my relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t following Jesus because someone had been sure that I was ‘kept pure’, leaving me determined to ‘stay that way’ by jumping under Jesus’s Umbrella until marriage. No. Furthermore, my sexuality is only one part of what Jesus purified. The Purity Movement runs the risk of making everything about sex, instead of about Jesus. Sex was a frequent topic of discussion in my perverted upbringing, also with a hyper focus on the ‘sexual status’ of young girls. And so if we are ‘truly guarding’ a woman, then shouldn’t her sexual status remain private? Is ‘ensuring virginity’ something God told His people to do? We know they often made it public in the Old Testament but it is unclear if that publicity was a command of God. Because I grew up with religious people hiding their own perversions, who also loved to find out such intimate details about others, (particularly young people)– I question whether showing off a daughter’s purity cloth, or a modern day purity ring, isn’t simply more evidence of the human tendency to get fixated on sex; and particularly the innocent sexual status of young people. It’s a scary thought, to me.

Furthermore, our depravity goes much deeper than sex, it involves greed and pride and a host of other ills too. True purity is about much more than celibacy. It’s about turning from our very nature as fallen humans. And so ultimately: I can’t credit the way I was raised, any certain movement or published book, for my salvation and restoration which covers everything about me: including my sexuality. I can only credit God Himself for it.

Eventually it became clear that few people are walking in sexual freedom, no matter their backgrounds, or marital status–and that those who had been public about private matters often lived to regret it later (as Joshua Harris now seems to be doing). I had to wonder if it was because they’d never believed they had a reason to wrestle with their own purity status? Or if it was because in their own ways, they were also victims of sexualization (which is abuse, too)–except it would be taboo to ever call it that in a Christian setting! Meanwhile, I wrestled openly with mine, and asked God for salvation from my damnation as well as the healing of my broken sexuality and past abuse. I came to believe that eternity, purity and sexual freedom is found through ongoing repentance. Active trust in Jesus, not my own past or present action (or inaction), is what makes me pure.

Therein is the freedom. In admitting your own defeat and declaring “Jesus makes and keeps me pure!” Having said that, I actually have no problem with people attempting to keep their homes pure, for their children’s sake. I would likely do the same, could I redo some things myself in the way I raised my own. But I truly hope I would never ‘broadcast’ the virginity status of any young person (even with their expressed permission — young people are too young to understand the ramifications of that). Nor would I take part in putting a young person on some sort of public faith based platform or pedestal, as few adults have the kind of maturity and groundedness-in-Christ to handle such exposure. Putting young people into the public eye prematurely is rampant in modern Christianity. (Amending this on 8-23-19 to add: I believe every now and again a young person comes along who does have the kind of maturity to be in ministry at a young age. Often that person has been given an inordinate amount of wisdom AND has also endured so many trials that they are more than ready for a spotlight or platform. However, maturity really is necessary to be in that kind of ministry or have that kind of platform. Unfortunately, I also know ‘older people’ in ministry who still lack maturity.)

The idea that we can even ‘stay pure’ in the first place, is another thing that gave me pause, about The Purity Movement (after I peeled through the hurt, anger, jealousy, and outrage over ‘broadcasting the sexual status of young people’). The way I see it, it is impossible to spend any amount of time on earth, single or married, and not have your mind defiled to some degree by your own thought processes.

Jesus said if a man even thinks about a woman in ‘that way’ then he has committed adultery with her in his heart. Which tells me that even the best homes (and marriages) — are still not pure enough for God’s standards — no matter how careful they have been. The antidote isn’t merely avoidance of the devil; it is utter dependence on Jesus.

I am no longer painfully jealous when I hear about other people’s upbringings. I am all the more aware of what Jesus continues to give me. And I cling to that the way only someone who can’t hear the word ‘kiss’ without flinching, would cling.

Wrong as they were about so many things, and implicit as they were in the abuses of a child (me) — my parents behavior, and the actions of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing— was the conduit for me to respond to the Holy Spirit’s offering of Christ’s purity in every way I needed it.

For that I am thankful.

Nevertheless, Shut De Do is a favorite song of mine and I often think of that song when I think of my upbringing. If only someone watching over me had shut the door and kept the devil in the night.

 

 

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 1.

Trigger warning — details about sexual abuse follow. I have enjoyed reading about the fall out from the I Kissed Dating Goodbye author’s change of heart– here’s a synopsis if interested. So much has already been said, from many angles. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain my own feelings. (Or feel free to move along to another post as this  one will get lengthy!) Update: I have so much to say on this topic, I am turning it into two posts!

Joshua Harris’s popular Christian book was something I’d never heard about prior to leaving the protestant faith I was born into. To date, I still have not read his book! Therefore the things I write here should not be taken as reflections of his former work or current change of heart about it.

Nevertheless, posts about Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye kept triggering me. I sat with it a while before it hit me. When I was a preschooler, a minister in my extended family started abusive contact in the form of kissing. And so I learned that kissing brings with it a whole lot of guilt and yucky feelings. I still have mixed emotions about kissing. Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. And it seems I was as well. Like Judas, my betrayer was also imbedded within Christian leadership. It’s hard to enjoy something that holds a sting inside of it. The very title of the book, with the word kissing being so closely associated with a Christian movement and leadership; triggered me.

Triggers aren’t the problem. Avoiding pain is the problem. Therefore it’s taken me a while to process through this one and again, apologies for the length on these posts and thanks for anyone who ploughs through it all with me!

When I left protestantism and began exploring other Christian faith traditions — The Purity Movement came onto my radar. I was uncomfortable with it. I was still trying to reconcile what had happened to me — with my own sexual purity stolen by abuse, and the discomfort I still felt from the continued voyeurism, and focus on my body, which I had experienced growing up.

I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. I knew that the way I was raised had been wrong. But I did not feel The Purity Movement was ‘getting it right’ either–and it took me a long while to realize why I felt that way. As a survivor of voyeurism, I saw how The Purity Movement, and book’s like Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye zeroed in on young people’s sex lives (a non existent sex life is still a focus on another’s sex life), forcing teenagers belonging to the movement to inadvertently become ‘public’ with very private information — thereby the adults and others looking on were also, in some ways, participating in voyeuristically viewing teenagers in terms of ‘sex’.

That irritated me.

I was also secretly jealous of the homes that had attempted to keep their children pure, adding yet another layer to the convoluted onion I needed to peel.

The Protestant home I grew up in was outwardly Christian (church attendance, having funerals and weddings ‘in the church’, getting confirmed in the teen years, and sprinkling/baptizing babies). But my immediate family was not ‘hit’ by the Jesus movement, that gained momentum in the 70’s and 80’s; or the homeschooling movement that took off in the 90’s. Though there were some charismatic gospel records that made a rotation on the record player.

The minister in the family practiced a strange mix of religious behaviors with licentiousness. When I first began to take my faith seriously, the ‘trained theologian’ in the living room mocked me openly about being a ‘fundie’, asking why I was ‘getting so weirdly religious lately’. He would talk quite skillfully and sincerely about ‘faith’ when needed, but show a very tawdry side if he knew his audience would actually appreciate a ‘minister who cusses’. He was ‘intellectual and modern’, about faith, often arguing from a near atheistic-sounding viewpoint, (that is when he was willing to talk ‘shop’). Ordinarily he avoided religious discussions, preferring instead to start gossip, or share jokes lifted from raunchy comedians.

His influence left a heavy mark.

…But the truth is, many family members seemed to operate with similar double-mindedness, as the family minister had.

My father was often perverted and displayed some serious lapses in moral judgment. He had another side, though, that would surface at church. And in the sweeping Christian movements of the 70’s through 90’s, we had frequent encounters with people who were participating in all kinds of faith movements and new rules — which left impressions on me, and contributed to my longing for a ‘serious’ faith walk myself. My father sat piously, listening to a visiting minister (not the one who abused me), or a religious relative passing through the area, as if in total agreement. One such visitor even insisted that Proctor & Gamble products had a satanic seal and should therefore be boycotted by all Christians, prompting my dad to dig out some deodorant and toothpaste, as well as a magnifying glass to look them over. The next day at the dinner table he was troubled and asked my mother, ‘Maybe we should stop buying that brand–what if that really is the sign of the devil on our toothpaste?’

Like the rest of the family my mother didn’t watch after my purity, storing her vast collection of explicit romance novels on my bookshelf, and ignoring the other pornography to which I was being exposed. Yet she also had her own type of faith and devotion life too. One which she occasionally shared aloud. So I wasn’t sure what to expect in that moment…and my hopes were kindled a bit. But she just snorted and waved her hand in front of her face in response to dad’s momentary crisis of conscience. Our P&G toothpaste continued without interruption. But I remember spending a lot of time looking at that tiny moon-man symbol, fearfully wondering if that’s why I kept getting cavities.

After toddlerhood, all of the abuse escalated, throughout the family. One abuser was beyond reproach, though, being a minister.

I blamed myself.

(See part two for more).

 

 

When You are Little, You Notice the Little Things.

girl lying on road in front of cart
Photo by Collin Guernsey on Pexels.com

I have a little blog with little traffic. Some times, I can tell when someone has liked a post but hasn’t actually read it; or made a decision to follow me based on actual content. (Since they clearly didn’t read any.)

I know, I know, some existing subscribers like to read posts directly in their emails and when they do that; it won’t generate any traffic…

But when the blogger who just liked several posts, without seeming to have read them, is not a follower and is also the owner of a ‘marketing’ blog… or happens to have just posted about a (fee-based) guest blogger opportunity…I call it click bait. And I presume that little blogs with few likes and few followers are more likely to become targeted by the big blogs who naturally think us little blogs can’t wait to grow up and be big blogs; just like them! And so we will be indebted to their ‘like’ or their ‘follow’ and thereby like and follow them right back, increasing their own following and likes…or maybe we might even buy what they are selling.

This actually doesn’t happen all that much anymore, although a few recent likes did give me some pause…but back when I was very little, my earliest ‘fans’ all had very large blog followings of their own, and most of them dropped off liking my posts after it was clear I had become a regular follower of theirs. Coincidence? Or am I just jaded?

Well, jade is a favorite color; so there’s that. Sometimes I wish that WordPress was a tiny bit more like twitter wherein you could clearly see the follower/following ratios. That would make it all far more interesting. All of which has me pondering what exactly Jesus meant by His comment that in order to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven we must change and become as little children. Are we jaded; and need to return to being trusting children? Do we need to regain our innocence? What is truly meant by this comment  that Jesus made anyway?

Little children are still sinful- innocent as we might like to make them out to be- they aren’t. Little children are not exactly trusting by nature either–babies reach a certain age and are often scared to go into the arms of strangers. But, little children are aware of the little things, far more so than grown ups. They are more honest too. They know that darkness is inherently creepy and light is much better. Little children take in the little things in ways that grown ups tend to brush off or rationalize. They haven’t learned to posture themselves and be fake. They are real. They like what they like and ignore what they do not.

And so it is the little things, when you are little… Like comments! That is where it is at; for me. Show me you actually read my stuff with a thoughtful comment, and then I will be intrigued about you, will inevitably read YOURS and probably will comment back. Though I completely understand why someone would be content with a blog with a little OR large following; without feeling the need to comment back or follow back or ‘like’ back. I’m good with it ALL, really. Except, well, being click bait. It’s fake, for one. Plus, it’s kind of voyeuristic when you think about it. To view a mere title on a new post and then click like or follow simply in order to use something you know nothing about for your own purposes…

YUK.

When I was a child, I definitely noticed the little things. It frequently terrified me, being so hyper-aware. Sometimes that hyper awareness saved me from further abuse, other times I was made to feel even smaller and was abused because of having those natural intuitions and fears. Regardless, the way some men would stare at me when I was wearing a swimsuit was never lost on me. I noticed the way adults in my family talked or laughed like a villain from a movie I shouldn’t have been allowed to watch. And I still shudder at how certain grown ups, and one dentist, carefully gauged my mom’s reactions while winking at me right in front of her.

I decided who was trustworthy, and who was not, by the little things. I didn’t figure out how to guard my time and talents from those who would drain it, though, until I was older. Other than that, though: Not much has changed.

I hope to stay little in as many ways as I can; including blogging.

 

 

 

 

The Golden Rule Can’t Be About Me.

smiling woman holding black smartphone
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

I have an agnostic, leaning-toward-atheist, friend who believes all you need to do in life is to follow ‘The Golden Rule’. Always treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. She asserts that if you do that, you will get back out of life what you put into it. Furthermore, she’s been known to say that if everyone simply followed The Golden Rule, the world would not be the world as we know it (I think she meant ‘bad’ in general. But, IMHO: the world as we know it is increasingly narcissistic– we have become ‘lovers of self’, just as was prophesied by Paul to Timothy).

I agreed with her but added some thoughts of my own too. Since I believe all people are capable of evil, by nature–we need help keeping The Golden Rule. Such help comes in the form of Jesus, specifically His Word (Jesus IS the word!).

By the way, friend, God’s word/AKA Jesus is what gave us The Golden Rule…

And, not surprisingly, she didn’t believe The Golden Rule originated in the Bible. Citing chapter and verse did nothing. I’m not one to argue, I’d rather let the seed do what seeds do (die, or, lie dormant and sprout when least expected– six years later, in a crack that developed on hard cement). My Golden Rule friend is actually basing her life on two Biblical principles, without realizing it. The Golden Rule is one, and the idea that we get back what we give out is number two, i.e. we reap what we sow. (I didn’t even ‘go there’ on that point–seeing how the Golden Rule Bible verse played out!)

Anyway, I believe the key to understanding Mathew 7:12 (the famous ‘golden rule’ precept) lies in Matthew 7:11.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:11 that though we are evil, we still know how to give good things to those we love. How much more, then, does God the Father, (in Whom NO evil resides), KNOW how to give good gifts?

Sadly, I know the sin nature of people, myself included. We are capable of committing evil under the right (wrong?) circumstances. And I’ve also experienced what the devil is capable of as well–so there’s no doubt in my mind that the dark dude would LOVE it–say, for instance, if the recent earthquake in California had resulted in total annihilation instead of the fairly serious damage that was caused (sadly). The fact that this world is still, for the most part, orderly, and that many people enjoy long lives relatively free of major devastations, is one of those ‘good gifts of a righteous God.’ His hand still has sway over this world and is undoubtedly keeping order, IMHO. When that restraint is lifted, I believe it will get very ugly indeed–I just hope I’m not here to witness that!

But back to The Golden Rule. It struck me recently that we, in our selfish nature, have twisted even that genius summation of all the law and prophets. Time and again as I’ve been attempting to heal from PTSD, I have received advice and responses from professionals, friends, and family that have come from a place of ‘their experience’ instead of truly trying to understand, and respect, mine.

All too often, when we are faced with another person’s pain, we respond exactly as we presume we would want to be responded to (with all of our personal quirks, belief systems, dislikes and affinities) instead of listening and then selflessly responding as that person would like us to respond (or outright needs us to respond in truth, whether they want the truth or not).

I think we err in this way because treating others as we would want to be treated seems so noble and good. So… without reproach. So… Golden Rule-y! But if we overlook our own ability to be fallen and sinful (and self-focused), we could cause others more damage than help.

  • You are feeling sick and so I’ll just give you space, because I just want to be left alone when I’m not feeling well. (Perhaps the hurting person wants and/or needs someone to bring breakfast in bed–and then lunch and dinner too!)
  • I don’t like it when people talk bad about my family so I am not going to say anything bad to you about yours. (Perhaps the person recovering from abuse desperately wants to hear someone say her parents/siblings/uncles/grandparents are given over to evil!)
  • I don’t like physical affection so I will listen to you cry about this but I am NOT going to hug you. (Perhaps thats person wants a hug, or someone holding their hand).
  • Prayer makes everything better for me so I am going to stop on this sidewalk and pray right here, right now, over you. (Does the person even want to be prayed over right now, let alone in public?)
  • My minister said forgiveness heals and so you just need to forgive it. (even though David spent chapters of the psalms calling down curses on his enemies in order to purge and deal with his emotions!)

I could go on, and on, but perhaps others can add their own thoughts and examples of ways we respond to hurting people based on our experiences; not theirs.

I suggest we get better about asking.

  • What can I do for you?
  • What do you need right now?
  • Do you want a hug?
  • A prayer?
  • Some space?          

Honor the responses to those questions. Get to know someone who is hurting and treat them as they want to be treated. And please stop telling abuse survivors they just ‘need to forgive’. Most of the time they need to get good and angry before forgiveness can happen.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful precept! Yet it can go really sideways when we start seeing everyone else exactly as we view ourselves. Which leads me back to where I started: humans are becoming increasingly narcissistic. And it’s the ultimate narcissistic foible to forget that we are still…self-focused humans ourselves.

All of which makes me want to close with a word the early church used often:

Maranatha!