I have been told several things about the way potential relationships begin. The way we carry ourselves outwardly determines largely the type of people that will want to connect with us. We also attract what we believe about ourselves, which might be considered part of the way we carry ourselves inwardly.
I believe there is more to that last line. I believe we can include in that our mannerisms, innuendoes, dispositions…analyzing this aspect could get complex very quickly. But perhaps it can be summed up by saying our persona reflects our true self, although it does not generally mirror it.
Persona—public and interpersonal perception of who we are—is our doing. It is the make-up on our inner ‘face’, the clothing over our inner being. It is the way we choose or allow ourselves to be perceived. Some of us are more intentional than others with this. I might venture to say that many of us are lazy or careless in this area, while others may overdo certain things in an effort to gain attention or approval in some way.
Persona is telling in its own way of a person’s character. But there are things that can be carefully masked beneath persona that only the trained eye or revelatory gifting can reveal without knowing the person on a deeper level.
Years ago, Barb (pen name), a colleague and acquaintance friend of mine shared her story of abuse, neglect, divorce, dysfunction, crash, and redemption. I listened, had compassion, but within the last couple years only have I really begun to learn and grow from it. [From this point I will simply share insights as a result of learning from her, along with practitioners and family members with experience of their own.]
People who have experienced abuse, neglect, exploitation or other forms of trauma in a relationship (from parents, siblings or significant others, etc.) have the unfair task to take initiative at some point beyond themselves to seek healing, a restoration beyond the mechanisms of coping and managing that secular psychology and spiritualism offer. Unfortunately, many do not realize this, or they may be too entrenched or complacent (or simply wore out, unmotivated) to take this step with God. Or they may simply not know or believe this place of restoration truly exists, deep down inside.
They have been through so much, but any one act they have endured is far more than anyone should ever have to face. The sad reality is that we are certainly in a fallen world, and despite the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and the potential of humanity, we have a bent towards sin and laziness because it is in our DNA (thanks to Adam and Eve, but would any of us have been different in their shoes…or, I suppose, bare feet?).
So, we inevitably get involved in relationships with unresolved issues. Some call this ‘baggage’. I personally think it is a little crude. And note, we all have unresolved issues in some way or another because again, we are all imperfect, in the same boat.
The concern comes when the one facing the manifestations of these issues from their partner will often if not almost always be ill-equipped to manage them. When the one with unresolved hurt engages with someone who is not capable of these things, it will lead to virtually unresolvable conflict. This scenario further complicates when present are also unhealthy coping mechanisms, undesirable habits, or other areas where change is desired but not yet realized.
Barb experienced this, and she felt horrible about herself. First, she knew deep down, despite her extensive efforts to bury, that she needed help with the deep-rooted hurt and resultant bitterness that had affected so many areas of her life. She also felt bad about the crutches she was relying upon that were not only unhealthy for herself, but were often pushing people away from being close to her or being able to love her fully.
And the presence of any given man of her interest in her life, especially a couple she really cared for, were only reminders of what she needed to do to maintain a special relationship with them. They became a hovering presence of constant scrutiny over her, even when they did not talk about the differences and issues between them. This pressure felt like judgmentalism. One of them actually was being very negative and degrading. The other was far more gracious and genuine in character. But to her, they both felt the exact same because of what lied beneath the surface, not to mention the triggers she was still going through in emotional and sometimes visual flashbacks.
She was in an emotional whirlwind. She was insecure with herself, her looks, what her man and other men thought of her, and what other women thought of her and her man. She had a very difficult time trusting her partner, operating in paranoia and fear in certain situations involving other women. She accused him of what she actually did herself: she was fixated, in her own eventual admitting words, on women of a certain look, type and age, always suspecting her man and every other man in the world of being the way she actually was with them. Here is an excerpt from how she put it…
“I didn’t lash out at others, but I focused on other women, compared, was in competition with them, was jealous, not loving toward prettier women (especially if they had any attitude, intellectual deficits in my harsh opinion or personality faults), etc, etc. Deep down I was scared I wasn’t enough. Scared some other woman would make more of an impression on my man or any men around me and then I wouldn’t be enough or admired anymore. It was all a part of me feeling unworthy, not enough, not pretty. I used to think I would fool people into thinking I was pretty with doing my hair, makeup and clothing certain ways and the days I had a bad hair day, looked tired even through my makeup or clothes didn’t fit or look quite right, I was so upset I wouldn’t be able to fool people and they would be able to see through me and see the truth- that I was ugly. I would try to overcompensate also with learning, working, accomplishing things, knowing things, having things- anything to build me up and make me more than what I was, and what I was was not enough. And it was all vanity, all not enough. Never enough. And if I had a good day, I came home and washed my face or took a shower and looked in the mirror and saw the truth- I had hidden it from others that day I thought, but I knew the truth myself. It was a dirty secret that I didn’t think I could let anyone see or know about. This kind of deep stuff just isn’t about having it and speaking the truth to it, but finding out where it comes from (and you always find many other things there, too) and working it out from that place (usually childhood and parents, you know).”
She told me the first thing she had to do to come to a place where she would even admit she really needed help and would begin to actively seek it was that it was okay to admit she had a couple big problems, that she was not ‘messed up’ for having them, and accepting responsibility for her own mistakes, bad choices and sins, and releasing the things that were NOT her fault despite her choices. (No one deserves abuse even if they make a poor choice in fellowship with someone.)
When she came to a place of dissecting her responsibilities and the wrongs done to her, took them to Christ, and made a concerted, personal effort during time with Him to pour each out at His feet, this is when the pivot came. This is where the healing began. This is where she began to experience what she had heard in the bible and from other people’s stories. There was a release and a freedom within that began that she had no idea was even possible before then.
But she emphasized to me the importance of doing this by herself, on her own terms, and not on the terms and timeline of her significant. Anything he did or said made her want to resist, kick back, although part of her was dying to be closer to him, and to Him for that matter. She felt trapped with him, although she did not want to be apart from him. She said the healing and restoration does not come from the love of a godly man, even though she thought for so long that was the answer, or at least an answer.
She had to learn on her own how to lover herself in healthy ways, and how to accept God’s amazing and adoring love for her. The self-hate had to be laid down for all the things she was learning and reading in the bible about God’s love and her beauty. Her relationships with men she wanted were only rushing the process, like forcing flowers to grow by hand instead of allowing the sun to naturally draw it up and open.
Her specific admonishment to me was that this is hard, energy-consuming, emotionally wrenching work, which is why many choose not to work it out. She said we have to come to a breaking point, where we begin to want the healing more than the comfort of complacency, and then call to God and begin to lay down the differentiated wrongs at the cross. This process is greatly helped when guided by a trained, licensed Christian counselor and some type of support group, if available.
She says now she walks in such genuine peace like she has never known, and while some random things do come up time to time, they are less frequent, and she is fully equipped to manage them now. They no longer have her.
The principles of truth are universal. I have been able to glean so much from this to apply to my personal life, not only from a standpoint of what I have endured, but also from how I have unfairly tried to help others in very counterproductive ways. I believe in grace capable of redeeming those ways in people’s lives, and I take the responsibility now to guide other young men in ways they can stand on my shoulders and reach far beyond anything I have ever been able to do.