A common term I hear around the seminary, mainly from counseling students, is the idea of “grieving the loss.” I hadn’t taken much time to find out what it meant, nor did I assume it was something I needed. Until last week.
I have the opportunity to take advantage of free counseling that the seminary provides for students. My counselor is an intern going through the Masters in Counseling program, and her time with me is part of her degree. I’ve had nine sessions with her, and I’ve found her to be insightful, thought provoking, and just really good at what she does. But had my counseling really helped me very much? Not really. It helped me understand myself a little better, helped me get over not being willing to talk to another about my struggles, but that was about it.
Then God kicked me in the can.
In one of my classes I am learning about my identity as a leader in the church. Last week our reading had a chapter about “understanding your tuning” i.e., knowing what your triggers are and figuring out why they are a triggers and learning to cope with them. In this context, I found myself wondering why I so frequently have overly emotional responses to things that aren’t a very big deal. So as I began to examine my tuning, I found myself thinking about the last time I reacted strongly to a situation that didn’t merit it. It involved a professor making me feel as though I didn’t take a personality test right I found myself frustrated and dejected, even though everything I knew about this professor told my head that he didn’t mean to make me feel that way. But I did feel that way.
Here comes the hard part, because it’s awful and sad and cliché:
I grew up with two parents who regularly critiqued me for a poor performance – whether it was how I made the bed, how I vacuumed the living room, or how I sang my solo on Sunday morning or baked that bread for 4-H. This became so painful for me that I remembered asking them, after they would yell or critique me, if they still loved me. They typically dismissed my question as silly and moved on to the next thing.
So yes, my counselor led me to blaming my parents for my trouble. See what I mean by cliché?
But the trouble is still there. My heart explodes in fear and panic whenever I am criticized. When something I plan doesn’t go perfectly, I beat myself up. I realize that many, if not all people experience a measure of this, so maybe I’m not all that special. But these emotions have debilitated me unnecessarily. Parents are right to correct their children to help them do better the next time, but they are not to make their child’s worth lie in success. And even if my parents’ intent was never to do that, their reaction to my emotional response should never have been dismissive or disapproving of my emotions. The combination of the two have led me down a path of many years spent in sorrow for my failure, fear of being seen as incompetent, and a stunted ability to grow as a person.
So now what? Typically after I process through something this significant in my life, like this, naming it is enough for me. Or, more accurately, what I thought was the end of the road. Not that I would still experience the pain in some way, but naming it was what allowed me to move on. But I can’t do that now.
My counselor mention in our last session that she thought I was moving on too quickly from things that were painful and difficult. When I asked her what else I needed to do, she didn’t give me any answers (as good counselors do). She asked me to think about how I was emotionally attached or not attached to a situation that was difficult for me. She told me she didn’t think I was “sitting in the emotion” long enough to understand it or process it. (Did I mention she did this before I realized why I am triggered by the slightly hint of criticism?)
So, in short, here is the timeline: a professor triggered me. The next week my counselor asked me to think about why I consistently move on from difficult things (using the situation with my professor as her example). Five days later I read the chapter on “knowing your tuning” and that same day I examined the trigger and realize all this stuff about the way I was parented. To say that God was providential in this is an understatement.
This is the first thing, I believe, in my life where I’ve “grieved the loss”. I’ve spent the last seven days crying at the very thought of how hard it was to feel unloved as a child when I screwed up. I’ve grieved the loss of a joyful childhood where I could have felt delighted in by my father and loved unconditionally by my mother. I’ve grieved the loss of what I thought was a great relationship with my parents to one that is full of sugarcoated thoughts because I’ve buried this for so long.
As self-indulgent and whiny as this feels, I don’t care. This is the first time I’ve feel like I’m experiencing life rather than just going through the motions.