Saturday, April 23, 2011

Primary Hurts Produce Maladaptive Coping Behaviors

Influenced by a mini seminar that Nan & I took, I have been concentrating on primary hurts and the resulting wounds that drive our fears, which in turn drives our coping mechanisms.

What are you afraid of? Being alone (physically or emotionally)? Being controlled? Losing your identity (sense of self)? Being taken advantage of in relationships? Being unsafe?

All of these fears will determine the kind of behaviors you may adopt in order to cope with life. Unfortunately, many of these protective actions are relationally harmful – and ultimately work against the very things you are trying to achieve.

You may become angry, controlling, hostile, or manipulative – or clingy, needy and self-pitying.  

You may resort to blaming or shaming (yourself or others), withdraw to isolate or pout, surrender to depression, anxiety or addictions such as drinking, drugging, shopping, eating or entertainment.

If you were to trace backwards from these behaviors, you would probably become aware of the primary hurts that you are reacting to.  Did you feel rejected as a child (unheard, unimportant)? Was there abuse or abandonment in your past? Were you shamed or harshly criticized and made to feel inadequate, ugly, stupid – never measuring up to some unreasonable or unknowable standard?

Whatever the wound might be¸ there is usually a coping behavior that resulted (stimulus-response). So what can you do about it?

The first thing is to acknowledge the hurts. You may have to search for them or pray for God to reveal them to you before you have a full inventory. Some of the hurts are obvious, but some might be more subtle. Were there movies or art or music that triggered a feeling that surprised you? Was there ever a release of tears that caught you unaware and didn’t seem to make logical sense? What was happening at that moment? What might you be remembering at a feeling level?

Once the hurts are known you must grieve the losses. You most likely will have already felt the pain of the losses, but you may have not fully accepted them. Accepting the losses means you will give up your expectation of anyone having to make up for the deficits whether they are the source of your pain or someone else (like a mate). It means forgiving, letting go and moving on. I find that it is especially hard when it is unrepentant parents, ex-spouses, siblings and the like who are still around. If you hold reconciliation, repentance, restitution or sometimes even their acknowledgement of your hurt as your goal, you may become stuck.

Lastly, you must invite God into the painful memories and ask Him to comfort you. This can be done alone, but often it helps to do this with a caring friend or perhaps your life group (if you are in a safe one).

Forgiveness as the end product of grief is a spiritual and supernatural process. It is done on faith, with the hope of growth that produces maturity and joy.

Psalm 147:3 (NLT) He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

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