Personal Growth

Hidden Insecurity and Fear

»Posted on Mar 29, 2018 in Personal Growth | 0 comments

You ever feel this way or is it just me?  Maybe it seems like nothing you do will ever be enough.  The tapes that play in your head say that if people REALLY knew what was going on inside you, they would lose respect for you.  If they knew you ate that second donut after your spat with your husband, they’d think what a loser you were. If they heard your inside voice when that gorgeous woman showed up beside you at the store, then, whoa…

Maybe you keep trying to pretend you’ve got it all together, so that you can try to make everybody happy, including God, and you are exhausted, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Hidden Insecurity and FearAnd for women, even more so, there is pressure to conform to a certain image, to look a certain way, to be a certain size, and to act a certain way.  But deep down, we all know that we will never measure up, and so we try harder and harder to keep up the mask of what we think we should be.  And in today’s world, women are celebrated for being confident, “take-charge” women, and so we hide our insecurities behind this “Wonder Woman” persona. I know I do. I even have a Wonder Woman cup to prove it.

But deep down, we know that we’re all just one step away from failure or being discovered as a fraud, and so we are filled with – actually, CONTROLLED by – hidden insecurity and fear.  Some of you reading this do everything in your power to mask that insecurity, even from yourself.  You deny it and even scoff at the idea that it could possibly affect you. You are Woman, hear me roar.

But I see it for what it is:  it’s a mask – it’s your survival instincts to protect yourself.  I see you.

EVERYONE struggles with this, because we live in a broken world that does not tell us of our infinite worth in God’s eyes, and in fact, does everything in its power to steal that from us. But because of our fear and insecurity, we learn early on to hide our vulnerabilities and fears. We deeply struggle with feelings of shame because we know our mess-ups and failures, and we are so afraid of rejection if others REALLY knew what was going on in our lives. And so we hide.

The age-old battle with shame.  And the problem with shame is that it isolates, it makes us go underground, it keeps us hidden – and unfortunately, it prevents us from healing, from reaching out to others and God.  It makes us feel all alone, like no one would ever understand the darkness in our hearts – if they REALLY knew me…

From the work that I do as a psychologist – and from my own personal experience – I am realizing more and more the devastating bondage of shame in our lives.  I am also realizing that shame isn’t just about the awful feeling of failure because of our sins that hurt us or others – but that shame is based on the negative messages we get growing up – through abuse, abandonment, rejection, failure – that there is something WRONG with us, that we aren’t lovable, that it’s somehow always our fault because our personhood, our identities, are deeply flawed.

You feel worthless, YOU are bad and therefore without hope, since your shame becomes a part of WHO you are.  You feel like you’re flawed, worthless, useless, so you need to hide who you are. But when I hide in shame, it keeps me from being known, from receiving the grace of God.  Shame feels so bad that I feel I must work to earn others’ love and God’s.

Wrong behaviour can be confessed and forgiven.  But shame is a root problem, hidden below the surface that bears the fruit of self-contempt. But because shame is so difficult to experience, many of us deny and push it aside rather than walk through the painful events that lead to our insecurities and current struggles.

I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned as a shame recoverer in the hopes that my experiences can encourage you and bring you a sense of hope in your own struggles.  I’ve learnt that there are 3 important truths that are critical for you to know about yourself in your journey of healing.

First of all, you matter.

There is something within the heart of every one of us that longs for acceptance, approval and affirmation.  This is a core need for all of us.

Instead, from birth, we are assaulted with hurtful experiences and wounding words that tear away at our sense of worth, or from emotional vacuums that fill us with emptiness and a sense of being forgotten. When affirmation and attention is given to us, it is usually in response to our accomplishments, or for being “good”, or for our external looks, so we learn from an early age the importance of performance and personal effort in receiving the love and affirmation we so desperately want.

And so we pour ourselves out in the different roles we play, while deep down feeling like we have no identity apart from what we do for others.  Any of this sound familiar to any of you?

Lost in our secret fears and doubts — which we’ve all learned to cover up lest it leads to more rejection or judgement — we enter the world, only to be assaulted by the messages of our performance-based and success-driven culture.  Perfectionism is at an all time high, as we struggle to measure up to some invisible standard of acceptability in the world’s eyes.

And so, we struggle with feeling like we are a failure, because we can’t seem to keep up with everyone else.  Or we literally work ourselves to death to keep up, ending up with a host of physical, emotional and relational problems that we try to mask with medication, shopping, electronics or other distractions.

We are children of the Most High King – and yet many of us live as if we’re not.  Or we believe that we have to EARN our place in his affection, and so we push ourselves and push ourselves in the mistaken belief that our efforts are what earn my identity as His child.

Well, Jesus wants to say to all of you today, “YOU MATTER”.  You matter deeply to him.  He came to this earth for YOU personally, and when he was dying on the cross, YOUR FACE was in his mind’s eye, your name was whispered under his breath.  Can we choose to accept this truth about our worth to the Most High King?

The 2nd truth that is core to understanding and accepting our deep value as God’s children is, you make a difference.

When I was a child, my mother told me that I was an accident, that I was an unplanned pregnancy.  She went on to tell me about the incredible stress she was under trying to raise my older two siblings and all that was going on in my family’s life at that time, and how she tried everything short of abortion to get rid of me.  As an adult now, I can understand the strain that she must have been under to have felt so desperate, but as a child, that conversation marked me for life.

If my conception was an accident, then was my whole life an accident?  Am I just here taking up space in this world?  Does this mean that my life really doesn’t count for anything? Some of you may be feeling the same way if you’ve had similar messages of invalidation growing up. We may have drawn wrong conclusions about our lives based on our experiences, and the lies spoken over us.

You may feel like your life is just a blip in the radar screen of the universe, especially as your life today seems to be only about repetitive and meaningless tasks that seem so insignificant in the bigger picture.  For others of you who are more on the introverted and shy side, you may feel like you tend to fade into the background when you’re in groups, and so you start to feel like you’re really kind of insignificant.  Like, who are you that God could ever use you to do anything remarkable or impactful?

One of my greatest sorrows in working with people is to see how many of them fail to reach their God-given potential because they have listened to the lies of the enemy and don’t believe the truth about themselves.  My heart breaks at the many lost opportunities for healing and change, as people hold back in fear, self-doubt and inability to give their pain to their Father and trust Him with their lives.

I wonder at our Father’s sorrow, too, as He watches his beloved children struggle because of believing lies. How His heart must break to see us move away from his purposes for our lives. I know, I know, I know, that he never intended for us to suffer as a result of believing lies about ourselves.

The last truth that I want to share with you is this:  You are known.  When you grow up like I did feeling like a forgotten child, and you really don’t know who you are deep inside, the thought that you are deeply known by your Father may be hard to grasp.  Even if you were rarely affirmed as a little girl growing up, or you lost sight of who you were apart from the roles you play and all the people you try to care for and please, your Father has never lost sight of who you are.

You may be sitting there reading this, thinking that I must be so sure of who I am, that I’m a confident woman who is comfortable in my own skin, that somehow I have it all together.  While there’s a part of me who is slowly getting there, there’s another part of me that still struggles with the age-old question of, “Who am I?”

But a number of years ago, God really challenged me to take a good honest look at the masks I wear.  During a time of utter weariness when I was serving in 6 different ministries (yes, it’s true), moving very quickly to burn out – and also feeling short-tempered and unable to cope with the challenges of my life, he led me to a book that has been transforming for me.  It’s called, “Posers, Fakers and Wannabes” by Brennan Manning.

It felt like a giant kick to my gut, but at the same time in some weird twisted way, it was also a time of deep encouragement for me.  It led to the start of a journey that has been so freeing for me in my life.  I realized that I would never discover my true identity as God’s Daughter unless I began identifying and laying down my masks.  And so began a process of stripping away the defenses that I had built up over the years, but at the same time, the walls that had prevented me from growing in an intimacy with God that could only come from meeting with him as the true ME.

As I began to let down my masks and my fears and I began to let go of what I perceived to be others’ expectations of me and the roles I thought I had to play, out of that grew a freedom to experience God in a deeper and more intimate way that I ever thought was possible. I began to understand how I could go to him in all my raw, true self and receive his complete acceptance, grace and perfect love for me, flawed and sinful as I am.  I began to little by little accept how truly beloved I was, and how treasured I was.

I learned that God DOES REALLY know me – the total me, that he already foreknew all of my sins, my bad choices, my failures before I was even conceived – and that upon that basis, God chose to put his hand on my life and make me a beloved and chosen daughter of his.

I learned that I needed to allow God to define me – not my sins or my failures, but in my identity as his chosen daughter.  I also realized that I needed to let God and others pursue me in my shame.  After God exposed Adam and Eve’s sin, he covered them with garments made of the skins of animals that he sacrificed – he offered them grace and clothed them with dignity so that they wouldn’t feel ashamed.

Just like back then, if you allow him to, God will enter your shame and pursue you to love you, forgive you, clothe you in dignity and restore in you an awareness of who you really are in Christ.  He will also bring people into your life who will see the real you and love you anyway, the people who will enter your shame with you and offer you grace.

Do you know that when God sees you now, he sees you as holy and blameless, clothed in righteousness because of Jesus in you? No matter how much you fail, no matter how many times you fall and sin, no matter how many times you mess up – NOTHING will ever take away from you the love of God.

But you have to open yourself up to true love – because true love heals – true love knows who you are and sees everything about you.  That means coming before the Lord unmasked and honest, laying it all down before him.  Not because he doesn’t already know, but because YOU need to experience his love and grace in the face of your shame and brokenness.  Counterfeit love, on the other hand, is based on my masks, what I can do for others, how holy I can try and be – there is no power in counterfeit love to heal.

Our Father is a very personal Father, and he has carefully crafted each one of us before the beginning of time.  He thought about your personality, your physical body and every tiny detail of you.  And when he was finished creating you, he sat back and was pleased with what he created.  Even though he knew that his precious creation was going to sin – and to continue to struggle with sin every day of their lives this side of heaven – he was still pleased with his creation. Just like when you create a work of art, you are deeply familiar with every stroke, word or intricate detail of your creation – so God knows every single hair on your head.  His thoughts of YOU are more than the grains of sands.  (Psalm 139).

So what does God want to say to you today?  Will you choose to invite him into your shame and allow his grace and love to bring healing in your life?

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Co-Dependency

»Posted on Dec 16, 2014 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth | 0 comments

codependency

Do you ever find yourself in a pattern of rescuing or taking care of the emotional needs of others? Do you ever feel like it’s up to you to stop them from doing irresponsible or harmful things? Do you find yourself placing a lower priority on your own needs, while being preoccupied with the needs of others?

While this is an issue of boundaries, it’s actually a deeper issue of co-dependency between you and your spouse or friend. This type of relationship is not uncommon when one person struggles with an addiction, an unhealthy habit, or troubling behaviour that the other person tries to help them overcome. Often, one partner may have trouble controlling their impulses or addictions, or simply not show much interest in the partnership. Then the other partner — who is the codependent one — goes all-out to try to “fix” the problem. Continuing to step in to “help” your loved one is a classic pattern of codependency.

Take the time now to be honest with yourself if you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship with someone in your life.  Here are some questions to ask yourself:  Am I finding myself exhausted and frustrated after spending time with a friend, spouse or family member? Do I sometimes feel as if I am working harder than they are to deal with their problems? Am I finding myself stuck in a pattern of doing things for others that deep down, I know isn’t healthy? Do I secretly find my sense of worth and identity in what I do for others? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please watch the video below.  You CAN change.  Freedom is awaiting you!

 

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Stress and Burnout

»Posted on Nov 18, 2014 in Family Life, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

stress and burnout

I’m seeing an alarming trend of clients coming into my office: Overworked, overtired, and stressed-out. They come complaining of depression and anxiety symptoms, but when I assess what’s going on in their lives, it sounds a lot like they’re well on the way to burn-out. Stress is becoming one of the number one killers in North America today.  We all know that, I think.  We’ve certainly all heard the warnings and likely most of us know at least one person who died prematurely due to stress-related diseases.  Many of us are now living at an unsustainable pace but we don’t know how to stop.

I have kids as young as 6 coming into my office suffering from stress symptoms.  Families suffer, marriages break down and kids fail out of school because of stress.  Corporations lose billions of dollars each year due to stress-related illnesses.  It costs all of us. So take heed and make some healthy changes before it’s too late.  Not only is this important to your life expectancy, your health and your happiness, but it’s also God-honouring to live a life that is paced according to the way our bodies were designed to live. So what can you do?

 

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Healthy Boundaries

»Posted on Oct 30, 2014 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

boundaries

One of the biggest issues that crop up time and time again when I work with people is that of boundaries. As Christians, we often confuse the mandate to love others with tolerating all sorts of boundary violations.

Learning to set healthy boundaries is essential for maintaining a positive self-image. It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect, and we will not allow others to define us. They are the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Without boundaries and our willingness to communicate those limits directly and honestly with others, it would not be possible to enjoy healthy relationships. Respecting ourselves in this way is honouring the worth that God sees in each one of us. To set personal boundaries means to preserve your God-given identity and integrity, to take responsibility for who you are, and to take control of your life.  So what should you do?

Here’s a short video clip to get you started on setting healthy boundaries!

 

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Self-Care for Women

»Posted on Oct 21, 2014 in Inspirational, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

exhausted woman

Today’s post is primarily for women because they are often neglected in their focus on caring for others and their responsibilities. But it’s also helpful for men to watch this video so they can better understand and support the women in their lives.

In fact, many of the women I counsel are overloaded with too many demands, and they struggle with worry, guilt and failure. They will often take care of others, but leave no time to take care of themselves. And as Christians, the stakes are even higher as we’re taught about sacrificial living and serving others, and so we “should” ourselves into a breakdown.

One of the things I’ve noticed about women is that we are terrible at self-care. And we struggle with feeling guilty if we were to be so “selfish” as to care about ourselves. On top of that, women today are expected to be educated and successful as professionals, yet we’re also expected to be great wives and mothers. But doesn’t it sometimes seem as if we can’t win? We’re judged if we’re too career focused, but we’re also judged if we chose to be stay-at-home moms. And so, we struggle with feeling like we’re a failure in both realms. How do we pursue the calling God has placed in our lives– whether as a professional, pastor, or stay at home mom? And how do we move forward in spite of how we may be judged, criticized or misunderstood?

My hope is that the video in this blog will encourage us to a place of greater self-acceptance and self-care so that we can be authentic women after God’s own heart.

 

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Hope and Healing for Relationships

»Posted on Jul 9, 2014 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth, The Fully Lived Life | 0 comments

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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