Hope and Healing for Relationships

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frozen hearts

 

Healthy Relationships: Hope and Healing for the Frozen Heart Syndrome

A few months ago, I was watching the Disney movie Frozen, and it struck me that the characters struggled in many of the same ways that we do too. (Sorry, as a psychologist, one of the hazards of my job is the tendency to interpret everyone, including animated characters!)

One of the main characters is Queen Elsa who has the power to turn everything and everyone into ice. But because this power can cause harm to others, she chooses to protect her loved ones by withdrawing completely to a solitary and cold mountain top where she is going to live on her own for the rest of her life.

There’s a scene on the mountain where she’s singing about how she can finally be herself without fear, that she’ll be fine on her own, that she doesn’t need anyone – that she’s finally free. But there’s also deep sadness underlying her story because she will always on her own. She may be “safe” but she can never experience love and relationship.

Do you know what was underlying her decision to be alone?

FEAR.

In the real world, fear is often what underlies problems in relationships – it’s often why we withdraw but it’s also why we attack in anger and push people away – we want to protect ourselves from pain – we’re afraid of the pain of rejection, abandonment and hurt. Some of the angriest people we know are lonely – but they can’t face the pain of their aloneness so they keep their hearts hard and push people away with their anger – they keep their hearts frozen.

Or some of the most loving and caring people are also lonely; they fill their time with nurturing others but when it comes to their own emotional needs and pain, they bury their hearts. They, too, have frozen hearts because they never expose their own emotional vulnerabilities – they’ve shut down their own needs to focus completely on others – it’s safer that way, right? That way you can guarantee that people will remain in your life, that they will always need you and “love” you for what you do for them.

The Frozen Heart Syndrome

It’s what I call the frozen heart syndrome – not because you’re cold or calculating but because you’ve shut down your heart to protect yourself. If I don’t feel, I won’t hurt; if I don’t love, I won’t lose; if I’m not vulnerable, I won’t be rejected.

But that isn’t the way that God has wired us to live – we are created for mutual and intimate relationships – created for connection to God our Father and with each other. At the end of the movie, Frozen, the moral of the story is that freedom isn’t in solitude or withdrawal but in love – which has the power to heal and save. Don’t you love how biblical Disney movies can sometimes be?

You have been created to love and be loved. You have been created to be in intimate relationships with God and with others. Don’t let fear stop you from embracing this truth and pursuing healing so that you can live the life of true freedom and joy that God intends for you. Yes, relationships can be a source of great pain – I see that daily in my office – but it is also the means by which God teaches you about his love and grace and forgiveness.

Heal your Heart

What do I mean about healing your heart? It means making the effort to reconcile your issues, triggers and unresolved baggage. If you’ve never taken the time to examine how your past experiences and upbringing affect you, I can guarantee you that it’s impacting your life today – and likely not for the best. Beyond examining this, how aware of you of your “hot spots” — the people and experiences that trigger strong, negative emotions in you? And how much time and effort have you put into moving towards healing, forgiveness and resolution?

One truth that is clearly outlined in the Bible: God created us to be in relationship: with himself and with others; God DESIRES intimacy with us and he’s also given us other intimate relationships to help fill our hearts and our longings for love and connection. When these relationships sour, our sense of well-being can sour as well; filled with hurt and maybe with rejection and aloneness as well, we pull inward to protect our hearts. Distancing begins to happen – we begin to fill our emptiness with other things like work, entertainment, addictions – temporary satisfaction that soon becomes emptiness again.

But know that the persistent human need that is built into all of us is for someone to love us – our need for relationship is even more powerful than our need for food. The interesting thing about relationships is that we interpret what happens and how others respond to us by our early childhood experiences and the conclusions we made based on those experiences.

Part of understanding our past relationships isn’t to blame our parents (many times, they really did the best they could with the tools they had) or to feel bitterness over things we cannot change, but to understand WHY we respond the way we do to today’s relationships. Facing your past isn’t about blaming your family but about taking control of your present and future.

It’s very common when we encounter difficulties in our current relationships to get angry at those people in our lives and to blame their failure to love us as we need to be loved – it’s true, they likely play a role in our relationship dysfunction. But more importantly, our difficulties are also shaped by our response and what’s going on INSIDE of us – the good news about this is that we have control over this and can make healthy changes, whereas we can’t make others love us more or better.

Your Relationships can Change for the Better

As you understand more about yourself and your relational style, you can make the conscious choice to stop responding the old way; you can also track your “hot buttons” and chose to stop those patterns. But it takes awareness first, then a willingness to change, then allowing God to give you the capacity to change. Without that awareness and conscious decision to change, we will continue to repeat the same cycles of hurt for the rest of our lives.

The good news is our early attachment experiences don’t have to sentence us to lifelong relationship difficulties. With God’s help, we can overcome the self-defeating patterns of our relationship struggles. People raised with a pattern of abuse or abandonment may start to see why they’ve struggled in relationships for years, which may trigger pain.

But if you feel any connection between this and what you’ve been experiencing, I urge you to pursue compassionate Christian counselling. Attachment injuries often requires the safety of a therapeutic relationship to resolve and heal. Deep wounds are not something spouses can fully help with, or even close friends. While your loved ones can play a very important role in your healing, attachment injuries create insecurities that can push loved ones away and demand too much from them which only exacerbate insecurities about rejection.

Time with God is essential to healing, yet often the tangible warmth and care of a listening ear with wisdom and encouragement can help us experience God’s love. One of my personal mandates as a caregiver is that I represent tangible love to others so they can deeply experience it and begin to internalize it.

In therapy, often for the first time, clients are able to begin changing over time, little by little, through a healthy relationship with their therapist. They begin to heal and develop the emotional capacity (and re-wire their neural pathways) to connect well to others. Research bears this out with the science that’s rooted in God’s complete design. Whether you choose counselling or not, opening our hearts to others and sharing our painful secrets and wounds with one another is vital.

God is Love-Crazed for You

If God’s words of his love for you don’t feel real to you, consider whether you have allowed the hurtful experiences in your life to dictate your loveworthiness. I know I have. Do you see yourself as a reject or a misfit? Do you see yourself as unlovable?

If there’s pain in your heart as you hear my words, consider whether that pain has attached itself to you through wrong conclusions you have made about yourself. When you feel rejected or unworthy of love, you must be careful not to take on these misbeliefs as part of who you are. God never intends us to suffer because of believing lies. He is a God of Truth. Therefore you must see these pains as false, so that they don’t paralyze you or prevent you from loving and being loved.

God is love-crazed for YOU. He created you to love and be loved. You. And me. That is your destiny and your identity, regardless of how life may have tried to convince you otherwise. Fight for this truth. It’s almost impossible for us to anchor ourselves in the truth of our identity as our Father’s Beloved, especially given the competing din and lies we hear in the messy, painful and broken pieces of our lives.

Stop right now and listen to the words of your Father: You are My Beloved Stop right now in the middle of the busyness of your life; put aside all of your neuroses, self-doubts, self-rejection and anxieties. Pause long enough to listen to the words of your Father: You are My Beloved.

Let this truth be the source of your healing and the key to all your healthy relationships.

 

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