Physician, Heal Thyself
Sending Peace to all of you during this Christmas season and into the New Year! As the new year begins, let’s pause and take a moment to reflect on the past year and our current state of mind and heart. Take a moment now to check in with yourself. Notice any sensations you are experiencing in your body. What are some of the emotions that are coming up for you as you reflect?
Have you experienced coming back from holidays with your family and friends feeling emotionally exhausted? If so, you are not alone. Going back home to our family of origin can remind us of the roles that we played as children and patterns that we may have been trying to break since we left home. We can even end up falling back into these roles when we’re spending time with family and friends, which can bring up memories of past hurts and discord within us. So, what does this mean? Are we all dysfunctional people with dysfunctional families? Were we wrong to play the roles in the family that we did? While it is important to recognize dysfunction, seeing everything through this lens can lead to feelings of hopelessness.
Perhaps there’s another way of looking at this. The lens of neurobiology and polyvagal theory agree that human beings are incredibly adaptive. Our ability to adapt and change to the needs of our environment is a strength- ultimately a gift from God. Another word for this is resilience. We all learn as young children how to survive and adapt to get our needs met. When we live in the house with an alcoholic, drug addicted or rageful parent we learn adjust our narrative to adapt to an unsafe environment. Children who grow up in families with abusive parents often adapt by becoming fragmented inside. They need to split off parts of themselves to feel safe in an unsafe world. Even generally good parents with the best of intentions can rely too much on their children to meet their emotional needs or encourage them to deny their own feelings to meet the needs of younger siblings. When these children grow up to be adults, they may have difficulty experiencing and taking responsibility for their own emotions and focus instead on the lives of others. This leaves us feeling emotionally exhausted because we are bearing the burdens of others and focusing on things that are ultimately beyond our control.
The Greatest Commandment
When asked about the greatest commandment in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 29-31).
In this passage, Jesus is teaching us about boundaries and how to properly order our lives. He commands us to love the Lord with our WHOLE selves and all our wounded parts: to put Him first. Secondly, he commands us, “love your neighbor as yourself”. This presupposes that we know how to love ourselves! If we do not love ourselves, we cannot love others. Ultimately, God is the source of Love. We cannot truly love ourselves or others if we are cut off from God.
Trauma damages our sense of boundaries. Because our boundaries have been violated, and internal fragmentation has resulted, we often experience confusion about what and who we are responsible for. Our bodies are an example of a physical boundary that separates us from others. We are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We are not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. When we neglect to care for our own thoughts and feelings and the needs of our body how can we expect to love others well? You can’t draw water from an empty well. We must first go to God for the healing that we need, to receive the love that the Lord has for us, so we can then pour forth that love unto others. He is the source of love and healing that we are searching for.
Understanding our Parts
I recently came across an advertisement promising that through this growth program they could be the hero that their family, friends, and community needed. This struck me as particularly unhelpful as it is another example that reinforces this need to be the hero in the lives of others. We cannot be the savior for others…only God can do that. But we can be the hero of our own story. By being who God has called us to be, we play an irreplaceable role in the larger story of salvation.
Take the time to sit with yourself and the parts of you that feel over responsible. What are the burdens they are carrying? Do they feel responsible for actions of a family member? For their healing or salvation? Do they feel responsible for the thoughts of others (are they worried about what others may think of them)? Do they feel responsible for the feelings of others (for another’s ability to forgive for example)? Do parts feel that they must rescue others from the pain of their lives?
Dialogue with these parts. What do these parts believe about who God is? My faith tells me that God is a perfectly loving Father. In my heart I know that God will not allow anything that he will not use for my good and for His glory because that is who He is. When I struggle, I ask the Lord, what are trying to teach me here? How are you calling me to grow? To heal? To expand my capacity for love?
Sometimes it’s hard to listen. I challenge you to listen to the part of you that’s angry without being afraid of it. It has a story to tell, a reason for its pain. If you wonder where to find these hurting parts, become curious about when they’re showing up. Are there evenings when you can’t wait to grab that drink to take the edge off? Have you found yourself mindlessly finding the bottom of a bag of chips or finishing the box of Christmas cookies? What about binging on Netflix, mindlessly scrolling social media or making impulse purchases online? Are you struggling with addiction to pornography or drugs? These are symptoms of neglected parts that are crying out for help.
Go find the parts of you that need to be rescued from the past and let them know that you are listening now. Let them know you’re ready to be the hero and take care of yourself.
Bringing Our Wounded Parts to the Lord
I recently had an experience with the Lord after communion. He allowed me to see sitting in front of me several people that I had walked with throughout the years on different assignments that the Lord had given me. I was able to see that each one of these people had experienced significant healing in their lives. Though I was a part of their journey, the Lord had done a work in them that was beyond anything that I could do or give them. He said to me, “See, I have taken care of each of these, my children, do you trust me now to take care of you?”
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30.
Jesus calls us to be yoked with Him. He wants to carry our burdens, to do the heavy lifting for us. He will lead us through the healing we desire for ourselves and others.
About the Author
Christine Wisdom, M.S. LCMHC is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Owner of Wisdom Integrative Counseling, a private practice located in Davidson, NC. Christine and her team of Catholic Counselors are dedicated to helping people heal in mind, body, and spirit and to live more fully alive. Christine founded Wisdom Integrative Counseling in 2015, after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and recognizing the importance of treating the whole person, mind, body, and spirit. Presently, Christine specializes in marital therapy and working with men and women recovering from different forms of trauma and traumatic grief. Christine is a speaker, retreat leader, counselor, contributing author, wife, and mother of 3 children.