I had a really weird social interaction yesterday. I didn’t think I was going to write about it, but here I am, sitting in my bed in my pajamas under the down comforter, exhausted from the day, and my mind feels restless and preoccupied. My husband described it as carrying a charge and needing to ground oneself. Yeah, that’s it. I’m charged from the true oddity of the social exchanges, and I’m looking to ground myself.
So, what happened?
Well, have you ever had a chance to meet a person years after they betrayed you? It’s an opportunity to take your own emotional temperature. Essentially, I was invited to brunch by a former mentor who, in my perception, betrayed my trust profoundly. We used to minister alongside each other way back in 2003. I look back at that time in my life and I see how young I was. My fourth daughter was only a babe. The last ten years of my life hadn’t happened yet, and, as painful as the last ten years have been, I wouldn’t trade this journey for the world. That betrayal was the catalyst for my healing process. I see that now. I needn’t harbor bitterness, resentment, or a jot of unforgiveness. God has truly used those events to enlarge me and lift me out of the mire. I look back at the woman I used to be, and I don’t recognize her at all. She was so scared, wounded, and paralyzed. She had no sense of who she was or who God wanted to be for her. She tried hard. She tried too hard to please everyone all the time, but deep down she was afraid of being discovered. She was afraid that she was just a fraud. She was terrified that every dark deed done to her and every despicable word said over her was really deserved. She was trying so hard to prove to herself that she was worthwhile all the time fearing that she was really worth nothing.
That’s not me anymore. What happens though when the people from your past treat you as you used to be in the present? That’s what I experienced yesterday.
I had a feeling it was going to go that way. I was the only woman at a table of ten men who all exceeded my age by at least fifteen years or more. All the men, save one, inquired after my husband. Not me. There was no interest in my personal life or interests. Only my husband’s. My former mentor told me a story or two about his current ministry. Whenever I engaged him in conversation he looked away and showed little to no interest in what I was saying. I wasn’t discussing ministry, therefore, it wasn’t valuable. This is a very gnostic view. I listened to these men at the table discuss addiction and the men they sought to reach through ministry. I wasn’t sure what to make of any of it. I wasn’t sure why this brunch was arranged. Weren’t we called together to see each other? Catch up with each other after all these years? I hadn’t seen a few of these people in close to a decade.
Aside from being shunned, the oddest part of this brunch was the seating arrangement. Guess who I happened to sit next to? My former therapist!! Can you imagine walking into a brunch and finding your former therapist there? This was the man with whom I did most of my work. He knows almost too much about me, and I haven’t seen him in a few years. Lo, he’s the man I’m sitting next to at this brunch. It all felt like some weird set-up. Perhaps it was.
I felt compelled to go to this brunch. I didn’t want to go. I don’t want to go hang out with a bunch of men I haven’t seen in almost ten years many of whom I never knew that well in the first place–particularly men who seem to be a bit misogynistic in the name of a few lines of Pauline scriptural text. There was more to this gathering, however, than some story swaps about the good ol’ days of ministry. This brunch was about identity–my identity.
You see, we all see ourselves differently depending upon the context. Some people would call this self-view a ‘persona’. The word ‘persona’ comes from the Latin word for theatre mask and refers to actors playing a part. So, when you interact with your mother, you inhabit a persona, if you will, that not only identifies you as a child but also carries with it the messages you received from your mother throughout your childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. If you were a much loved child, then the persona you occupy before your mother might bring forth feelings within you of security, a sense of belovedness, self-esteem, happiness, and the like. If you were mistreated or even abused, your persona before your mother would be quite different. You might be angry, defensive, and deeply insecure in your attachment to your mother. You might have the traits of a victim in that relationship, thus, exhibiting very poor boundaries which may cause you to always feel run over by your mother. Your persona with your boss, on the other hand, might look very different. Perhaps your boss is supportive and empowering; he sees your strengths and seeks to release you into a higher level of performance. In this relationship, you are freer to take risks because you know the boundaries so your persona in this context is one of strength, openness, and joy. And, of course, our persona with our spouse is very different than with anyone else. We express our sexual selves within this context. Depending upon our life experiences, the sexual persona will either be empowered and relational, predatory and exploitative, or helpless and that of a victim. The point here is that we have many different “personae” that are expressed daily within different contexts depending upon the people with whom we interact.
What if, however, we are interacting with an individual or group of individuals who attempt to apply a false persona to us by treating us in a certain way? This is what happened to me yesterday. It is a ridiculous assumption to believe that anyone is the same person that they were ten years prior. For a Christian to hold such a belief about another Christian is preposterous because this presumes that God is not actively working in the lives of His children to bring about their highest good. What sort of faith is that? I know that not one of those men whom I met today is developmentally the same as he was a decade ago. If he is, then he’s been living under a rock as a hermit. A lot happens in one year. How much happens in ten? How much can happen to a person and within a person in ten years when that person is completely committed to a dynamic relationship with God? If God is committed to us and that commitment includes our personal development, then the heights we can achieve in character development within a decade are almost unimaginable. How much healing, reconciliation, expansion, restoration, and development might we experience in ten years if we were committed to God’s way of doing things in our relationships? It’s an astounding question to ask. This is why I found yesterday’s interactions so…pitiful.
I was not perceived as ‘me’. I was viewed through a filter of who they all thought I used to be, and this is how I was treated. A persona was applied immediately, and I was not allowed to expand from that set point. Who was I ten years ago? I was a victim of human trafficking and the daughter of a pedophile. I needed help. I was the “woman with the problem”. I needed therapy or some sort of “healing ministry”, as they put it. I became an Untouchable simply because I had been victimized by other people and admitted it. I admitted that I was in pain over it, and no one knew what to say about it.
I am not that woman today, and what I discovered, sadly, is that most of the men I met yesterday are still largely the same as they were ten years ago. I went into the meeting expecting growth, change, compassion, and open eyes. That’s not what I experienced. I bumped up against a great big wall of passive judgment. My worth was tied to my husband, and I felt marked simply because I was a rape and incest survivor.
The application of a false persona or false self by others to another person is often a huge stumbling block for people. Many of us work very hard to learn what is really true about our essential identities. We seek out the most powerful truths that will override the lies spoken to and over us so that we might build an identity rooted in truth and empowerment. This takes a long time, but it’s one of the most important efforts that we can pursue. To make a comparison, it’s akin to repartitioning your hard drive except that you have to reprogram each partition at a time adding new code to replace old data files that are no longer needed. This is, in large part, why we go to therapy. A good treatment plan does not exist so that we can sit in a chair and talk. Our talking in a clinician’s office merely provides the bread crumbs which lay out a trail that leads the therapist to the source of improper thinking–the partition gone bad. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is one way in which therapists repair improper thinking which fuels false personae. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is another way. For those people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders, in vivo and imaginal exposure therapies are essential to getting rid of false personae.
In my experience, however, the most powerful way to cut through all the false selves is a power encounter with God. I could write about this at length and perhaps I might, but, at this time, suffice it to say that God has a way of clearing a path in the heart and mind for immense growth and healing that would be impossible in a therapist’s office alone. Collaborating with a gifted clinician and the Holy Spirit will produce remarkable results and lead one to the discovery of what is most true about oneself completely apart from life experiences be they traumatic, middling, or negative. What I have discovered is that God’s intention for each of us is that we know experientially what it is to be renewed in our minds and hearts, and this renewal is possible regardless of past experiences. It doesn’t matter how bad your prior life experiences were. In fact, I have found that God excels at creating something magnificent from shit. The worse you feel about yourself at the outset of your journey, the more wondrous God intends for you to feel about yourself later on. This is the nature of God, and every encounter He intends on giving you will be to show you exactly who He wants to be for you so that you not only truly know Him as He is but also so that you shed the skins of all those negatively applied personae in favor of the true self that is most authentic to you–the new creation that you really are. This new creation is how God sees you. You are new. You are perfected. You are clean. You are whole. These are very basic identity statements upon which we build a true identity. Our feelings about ourselves don’t speak to us of who we are. Often they speak to us of how others feel about us.
How many false selves are we carrying around with us that have nothing to do with who we really are but have everything to do with how we perform and please others? One of the primary goals of our healing journey is that we find our true placement in life by discovering what it means to wear our true self at all times forsaking all other personae. Then, we occupy that place at all times regardless of who we’re in front of. We no longer feel triggered by that predatory boss and fall into the victim persona because we know that we are an empowered individual who has rights. We occupy a place of strength in front of our parents regardless of how they speak to us because we know that we do not have to sacrifice ourselves for anyone else. Blood is not thicker than water. No indeed. In fact, the true saying goes like this: The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.
There is immense joy in discovering who we really are, who we are called to be, and what God’s intentions are toward us because only good exists here. What might we look like completely free of a victim persona or some other kind of false self? What might we look like walking in complete freedom, expanded and certain of who we truly are not bound by dependencies on others’ opinions, judgments, and slights?
That was what I tasted yesterday. I sat amongst people who attempted to apply an old persona to me, but I didn’t allow it. The result? I was shunned by almost everyone at the table. You know what? I wasn’t that bothered by it. I found it to be weird and a bit sad, but I found closure. God made promises to me years ago that I didn’t understand at the time, and yesterday I felt in my heart that I had grown past the experience of being hurt by the man who mentored me. God’s promises came to pass. I didn’t require his approval anymore. I didn’t belong in that group of people, and that was okay. My not belonging amongst that group didn’t mean that I was weird or didn’t belong anywhere at all. It simply means that I can fully move on now. I needn’t look back anymore. There will always be people who don’t truly see us for who we are. They will always want to apply a false persona to us based upon their own biases and life experiences, and it’s not our job or calling to accept that persona. We are in no way required to wear a mask in order to make another person or group comfortable. We are to show up, be authentic, and let them feel the weight of who we are and who we are becoming. If they can’t accept the truth of our authenticity and the genuine work that God has accomplished in our lives, then shake the dust of your feet and move on. There are better communities to offer your peace where you will be loved and accepted.
Truly the healing journey is never dull.
What, what would have become of me had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living! Psalm 27