Our lives are made up of a million moments that have influenced, directed, and shaped who we are today. For many of us, how we ended up here remains a mystery. We may be able to rationalize various parts of our past—both good and bad—that give insight to some of our current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Yet, the question remains: how did we get here?
We’re not talking about a philosophical “beginning of time” question, but more of an individual question: How did we get here, right now, to this place in our lives? Why do we continue to struggle in relationships? Why do we misinterpret the meaning of connection with others? Why do we relentlessly chase after love, only to find ourselves feeling rejected, discarded, and lonely?
Some of our current struggles and compulsive behaviors come from past experiences. Someone we expected to support us—to be responsible for us—failed. We have been disappointed and disillusioned by others. We survived, but not without scars. Our scars, while we hide them well, hinder our relationships, affecting the way we have learned to relate, trust, and love others.
We are not blaming others for our problems. None of us had perfect parents. In their brokenness they did the best they could. We are not blaming them. Instead, we are working to discover and reclaim what God wants to restore in our lives. We cannot make sense of our current relationship issues unless we understand the full impact of our brokenness.
We have to recognize that our brokenness—our relational scars—are internal, not external, causing us to be oblivious to their effects. In many ways, we develop a blind spot—a place unnoticed by our peripheral vision, out of our natural line of sight.55 This is significant. When we experience pain and fear in our lives, it can create a blind spot—an area we can’t heal unless we are aware of its existence. Whether we know it or not, our blind spot has a direct line of sight to our soul—to our heart. When we experience brokenness, it leaves us vulnerable. As we begin to recognize our blind spot, we can be proactive in bringing our brokenness back into view, allowing us to heal in a healthy environment.
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.
PSALM 34:4 NLT
I grew up in a very religious home and went to church three times a week. I heard very little about God’s grace and much about His wrath. My mom and dad were separated off and on during my childhood; when they were separated, my siblings and I lived with my mom.
My mom struggled with depression and was overwhelmed most of the time. She would lock herself in her room for extended periods of time, so we learned to take care of ourselves and each other. When my mom was not in her room, she disciplined us in physical and harsh ways. We were taught that anything sexual was dirty.
Our home was not a safe place to learn, talk openly, or express negative emotions. Anger, sadness, hurt, frustration, and fear were not allowed. I learned to put all my negative feelings in a deep corner of my mind and lock them away.
I didn’t know what it was like to feel safe and accepted for who I was; my mom never seemed happy with me. I felt like I was supposed to be someone else, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. Many times, I was punished for things I didn’t do. My mom called me a liar and told me, “God has shown me that you are a liar and need to be punished!” This was incredibly confusing. Over the years, I started to believe that I was a liar and didn’t know how to tell the truth.
When I was seven years old, I was molested by the pastor of our church. He told me that I was worthless and that if I ever told anyone what he was doing to me, they wouldn’t believe me. This reinforced what my mother continually told me: I am a liar. If my own mother thought I was a liar, then why would anyone else ever believe me? My little mind was so confused that, for years, even I didn’t believe that the pastor had done anything to me. I learned to compartmentalize my pain and trauma. During the abuse, I created a place in my mind to escape my reality, a place I never went otherwise. The sexual abuse lasted for eight years, until I was 15 and my family moved away from the area. For years I struggled to trust myself, questioning whether the abuse had even happened. Every time I thought about it, I heard a voice in my head saying, “You’re nothing but a liar. Everyone knows it.”
I grew up, got married, had children, and became very angry. Anger seemed to control me. I began to take out my anger on my children. I knew I needed help but didn’t know how or where to get it. I longed to find a safe place.
When I was 30 years old, my husband’s sexual addiction brought me to a Pure Desire group. As I worked through the material, it became obvious: being raised in an environment where I was unable to safely show emotion had disabled me. I was numb, moving through life without feeling—not feeling extreme pain, but also not feeling true joy. The abuse I experienced caused me to close myself off from others. I didn’t know how to trust people. I lived with a crippling fear that if people really knew me, they wouldn’t like me, so I lived under a guise of perfectionism.
I had never met women like those in my group. They were so open and honest: never judging or condemning, simply listening, understanding, and accepting. I found so much freedom when I went to group each week. Telling my story was painful, more raw and real than anything I had ever before felt. I cried tears of shame, regret, and loss. I cried for the little girl who never got to be a little girl— the little girl who had to grow up way before her time. That little girl had never known what it was like to be carefree, to run, play, and laugh without a big black burden following her around.
Today, I continue to experience how much God loves me, how much grace and compassion He has for me. I am learning to embrace all of the emotions that life brings. At times, I still want to shut myself away, where I feel safe, keeping people at a distance. God is showing me who I am in Him—loved, treasured, adored, worthy, chosen, redeemed, healed, and whole. Some days, these things are hard to believe. When I hear the old voices telling me lies, I remind myself of the experiences I’ve had in group and that God’s Word is truth. His Word says that I am greatly loved. “For God so loved Kit, that He gave His one and only Son.” John 3:16
Kit was able to experience healing through her group and God’s promises in her life. It is only through new, positive experiences that we change our brain—that we begin to reconstruct new neural pathways in our limbic system, creating lasting and lifelong change.
So many of our internal messages—both positive and negative—were developed during our childhood through experience with others. For most of us, our primary relationships were with our parents. Use the following questions to further explore the impact of the relationship with your parents.56
If you were raised with a stepmother or stepfather, answer the questions pertaining to that relationship. This also applies if you were raised by any other person who took on a parental role: grandmother, grandfather, aunt, foster parent.
Identifying triggers can be challenging, but is a necessary part of the healing process. If we intend to change our behaviors, we need to understand why we do what we do. This level of awareness is directly tied to recognizing how we are triggered by our environment.
Simply put, a trigger is something that elicits or stirs up a feeling or an emotional response; and a trigger can be anything—a person, place, smell, object, or even another’s behavior. In the moment, anything that propels us back to a time when we experienced pain, trauma, or a lack of control. In many ways, our triggers often magnify an area in our life where we continue to struggle: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sexually.
Since we are all different and respond differently to similar situations—even among family members—it is important to recognize when we are feeling triggered. A good indication is when our emotional response to a situation is either extremely elevated or nonexistent.
Here’s an example: Caroline enters the break room at work, where Matt, Caroline’s colleague and friend, has brought in a box of doughnuts. In a kind and gracious gesture, Matt offers Caroline a doughnut. Caroline is immediately angered and responds, “Why would I want a doughnut? I’m gluten-free; and I don’t even like doughnuts! Why did you even bring doughnuts? You look like you’ve had your fair share of doughnuts!” Caroline stomped out of the break room, leaving Matt shocked and confused by what had just happened.
Was Caroline’s response appropriate to the situation? No. When Matt offered her a doughnut, wouldn’t a simple “No, thank you” have sufficed? Yes. Was she triggered by something in her environment? Probably.
Here’s what Matt doesn’t know about Caroline: she has struggled with her weight most of her life, has bouts with bulimia, and is currently in Weight Watchers. She has been doing well with her eating behaviors over the past month, but at last night’s weigh-in, she had gained three pounds. She feels frustrated, discouraged, and hungry. Although she knows her father loved her, she has memories of him joking with her and calling her “chubster.” Every time she looks in the mirror, that’s what she hears in her head. Caroline doesn’t like being overweight—it makes her feel worthless and unlovable. She really does like doughnuts and feels horrible about what she said to Matt.
Caroline was triggered when Matt offered her doughnuts. Her response to Matt was out of proportion to what the situation warranted.
We all have triggers: pressure points that are directly tied to our past pain and trauma. As you work through the following questions, be specific and detailed in your answers.
When we work to identify our triggers, it helps us uncover the past pain and trauma that is interfering with our ability to cultivate healthy relationships. While this can be difficult at times, it is an essential step on our path toward healing.
Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.