Observing Painful Patterns
If you are a woman who learned to hide or make yourself small, please know this is not the life God has for you. If you are a woman who has felt like you have to mute your personality, your take-charge attitude, or your leadership abilities, please know this is not the life God has for you.
God wants the best of you.
And God wants the best for you.
God wants for you to heal, for you to come out from hiding.
God wants for you to learn how to grow big inside yourself, full of His Spirit and might.
God wants for you to learn how to stand up for the convictions inside of you.1
But I have found through my work as a counselor that many women are slowly giving up on these truths. Don’t get me wrong: most women are not giving up on being helpful or kind to others. Most women are not giving up on God. But after working with women for over two decades, the truth is that many are slowly and subtly giving up on parts of themselves that need healing.
In fact, this is exactly where I found myself well into my thirties. I loved God and sought to care for other people. But I had almost given up on the idea that maybe, just maybe, God wanted me to bring out the best of me.
The Hidden You
It started with an “almost” breakup.
“I love you, but I don’t think we’re ready to get married,” the man I was dating said one night as we sipped drinks at a local restaurant. I was stunned. At the age of thirty-seven, I had never been married. We had dated for more than a year, and I was ready for him to put a ring on it.
Joe was a widower with two young children when we met. He had loved his first wife, the mother of his kids, and had cared for her and for them through her debilitating illness as she passed away. Based on what he’d been through in life and the way God made him, he wasn’t someone who shied away from hard conversations.
“I’m committed to you. I’m not leaving. Please hear me say that. But we have work to do,” Joe said. “I love your mind and your heart. But I can’t get to the root of who you are and what you want out of your life. Sometimes it feels like you’re hiding from me. If we can’t both put all our cards on the table — the good and what’s hard — it won’t be healthy for either of us.”
As he spoke these words, the life force sucked out of me. I felt as if I’d left my body and was floating above the table, where I watched myself nodding and listening attentively, somehow willing myself to move a water glass over to my mouth. Shame had washed over me, and while I was aware of a terrible feeling, I was simultaneously aware of myself staying calm and present with him.
I was witnessing my own fawn response in action.
As an adult, I had traded the invisibility cloak of my teen years for the expert position of full-time helper, otherwise known as a psychologist. I had honed my ability to focus on other people. No longer just a helpful daughter or an encouraging friend, I was now a bona fide doctor of healing. I made my living tending to other people’s problems, and I was good at it — so good that I could lose myself in it.
I worked for God now. I was His helper. I didn’t need other people.
I was proud of the way that I helped others. But part of me longed to be seen. I hadn’t yet learned to let God’s healing light shine onto the inside of me, let alone let someone else into my longings, fears, and vulnerabilities.
Hearing these words from this man I deeply admired touched on a wound that went all the way back to my childhood, back to that sixth-grade girl buried deep inside who longed to show up big in her own life.
I am not going to leave you.
I love you.
I’m committed to you.
As I sat there listening, still detached from my body, those words somehow reached me.
Wait, he’s not leaving me. Then what is he saying?
I love you. But I can’t find you.
I could not make sense of this message.
On one hand, it sounded as if he was saying the exact words I feared — he could not see me. On the other hand, he was saying something new, words I had always longed to hear.
I won’t leave you. I want to find you.
The shame lingered, but I smiled and nodded through the rest of our dinner.
The next day, the battle within me began.
That jerk! What gives him the right to tell me to work on myself? Look at all his flaws. They are way worse than mine.
I’m being like Jesus by always focusing on other people. What does he have to say for himself?
Tempted to pick up the phone and download all the terrible things about him to my friends, some part of me wouldn’t let me. (Well, maybe I did a little bit.)
“He’s not wrong,” I wrote in my journal.
Something deep inside me knew that he was right. When you have lived decades of your life camouflaging who you are — even while you’re doing “good things for God” — you get that it might be hard for someone else to find you, to know who you really are.
Joe had my attention.
God had my attention.
But here was my dilemma: How in the world do you stop being camouflage when it’s all you’ve ever been? How do you let someone in when you’ve worked overtime to stay hidden?
I had learned to cope in relationships — and feel like a valuable person — by always focusing on others. Yet God had brought into my path a man who had exactly zero interest in all my efforts to focus on him. To experience the kind of love I actually wanted, I had to learn to make myself visible.
Understandably, part of me experienced Joe’s words as a rejection. But he wasn’t rejecting me. Instead, he was desperately trying to get a message to the hidden me buried deep within:
- I want you.
- I want the real you that is hiding.
- This camouflage keeps me from the person I want to spend my life with.
I knew he was right. He wanted to know all of me — not just the pleasing, helpful perception of me I was so good at creating. And I was the only one who could open that door. Instead of focusing on others, I had to start focusing on the deep, life-changing work of bringing forth the person I really was.
In order to be known by other people, you have to show up as your true self. In order to show up as your true self, you have to face your wounds.
In my case, it was Joe who served as a catalyst for me to dig deeper into the work of facing unhealed wounds and confronting aspects of my conditioning that had encouraged me to hide. But the truth is that
- God was the driving force behind the healing I would subsequently find.
In the same way, God wants to heal and draw out the real you, including the parts of you that have learned to stay hidden. To join God in this effort, you have to start paying attention. You have to become aware of the ways you’ve been wounded, the methods you’ve used to cope, and the countless subtle and not-so-subtle messages of your conditioning. This work is tender. It requires compassion, courage, and care. And it requires a strong foundation of trust, the cornerstone of which is developing trust with yourself.
After all, how can you trust someone else with the real you if you aren’t sure what they’ll find?
- Ephesians 6:10.
Excerpted with permission from The Best of You by Allison Cook, copyright Dr. Allison Cook.
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God wants the best of you for His Kingdom. God is always good, always loving, and always wants the best for you. Are you ready to heal and quit hiding behind Christian structures that have held you back? Are you ready to be so full of the Holy Spirit that He flows out of you in beauty and strength? Are you ready to be the true you that God intended for you to be? ~ Devotionals Daily