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The Lies from Isolation

it-is-only-through-connectionOur job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

-Thomas Merton

I have several friends in my master's program that also work in psych hospitals. This week one of my friends described a group therapy session that was powerful in both its message and outcome. This friend works with a lot of women who have experienced trauma, abuse, and years of minimization. While incredibly resilient, these women have internalized a lot of messages about themselves that are destructive and horrifying.

The therapist had the group take their normal circle of chairs and turn them so that everyone was facing outward. Each member of the group could not see the others but could hear them talking. The therapist stood in the middle of the group and reassured these women that they were safe and that she would stay in the middle so they knew someone “had their back,” so to speak.

She then asked the women to think through words that had defined them in their life and asked them to start making a list of all the words that were hurtful and untrue about them. As you can imagine, some of these lists were long and contained unimaginable things.

The women were invited to share some of what they had written down out loud. One by one, through tears, they began to speak: “you aren’t worth anything”...”you deserved what happened to you”...”you are filthy”...”you are trash.” As they faced the walls and recalled the words that had been spoken over them, the sadness and isolation hovered in the room like a dense fog.

Years of abuse and torment spilled out through popcorn words being shared out loud, some for the first time. Words we would never consider using to describe someone or hurt someone, bounced off the walls and crashed back into the circle.

The therapist asked the women to all turn their chairs around and face each other. What do you see?

We all have these messages internalized. You did not have to grow up in an abusive home or have been bullied at school to have the seed planted. It takes a moment of doubt...a careless word...sometimes it’s what was never said rather that what was...but we begin to doubt the veracity of how we view ourselves, and instead listen to this small seed planted.

“Maybe I am worthless...maybe they see something I don’t...I do a lot of stuff that proves them right…” and the seed grows.

When the women faced each other in that group, they started to realize something. With their backs turned to each other, it was not hard to imagine these words being used to describe them. But when they were facing each other - who would say such things about these beautiful women in the circle with me?

In isolation, we feed the messages inside of us that are not true. It is only through connection that we can begin to combat the lies we believe every day. And this is not about some shallow pat on the back, cheerleader, pep talk - it’s about really allowing someone in. If these women had been sitting in the circle facing each other and told to ‘connect,’ the result would not have been the same. They first had to be authentic and open a piece of them that they have likely held onto for their entire lives.

We may hate these messages, but they become comfortable roommates in our head. We become so familiar with these messages that we can’t imagine life without them. But when we let someone in, when we take the risk to connect with another person, we allow these messages to be challenged. Yes - partially because they might give us words that begin to supplant what has been in there - but more because we were made to be known. And when we are open to letting others know us we can begin the process of knowing who we are in Christ better.

It’s not a magic formula and it will sometimes lead to more pain...but in the process of letting others in, we find the truth of the Gospel becomes more and more necessary to us. We have been set free from the tyranny of our own thoughts and from the words we have allowed to define us.

What lies have you believed about yourself? How can connected with someone help you challenge these messages?

UncategorizedMichael Pepper