As a child and young teen, I thought the world revolved around me. The adults and my friends did little to convince me otherwise at the time. When reality set in as a teen mother, that the world didn’t revolve around me, I realized very little was about me. Most of my family still expect me to respond as the center of the world, despite the fact my children are all grown now and I haven’t thought that way for a long time.
As a parent I turned the tide completely opposite, like most parents do. My world became about my children, their activities, needs and desires quickly took center stage. With a career in social work, the needs of those I served also took priority. As a wife, I failed to put my husband in the correct place before my children. Eventually God took center stage in my life, and things started to fall in order, and God’s grace covered my shortcomings as a wife (and really every other area of my life).
However, my past as a selfish, self-centered, person haunts me in another way. It is a struggle now because I don’t want to feel that I’m being self-centered and all about me. So I tend to neglect my needs and emotions, because I have fallen into the lie “It’s not about me.” In the past few years, I have successfully learned to put my needs on my priority “to-do list”, but the emotional part is a much bigger battle due to my personality and upbringing.
I don’t know when that lie “It’s not about me.” started to take over my life. Several different events come to mind, where that thought process came into play. As a result of believing it, I have years of suppressed emotions, fail to form close relationships where someone might make it about me, and have almost silenced that voice inside of me that shares the more intimate personal thoughts and feelings.
A few years back God started working with me on getting in touch with my emotions. Looking at some of the deep-seeded lies I believe because of the dysfunction in my family and my interpretation of events because of my skewed childhood interpretation. It has been very slow work.
As a social worker there are theories that I am aware of because of training and by witnessed experience in others, believe to be true. As a Christian there are truths that I know to be true from God’s Word. Both of which I am skilled at applying to others’ lives. Yet somehow getting those truths from my head, into application in my own life are harder because they go against the very grain of the lies I have believed for myself.
Again, God has been working in this area. Right now, I’m at the point that if I can really have some time alone to process, He can bring out those emotions and thoughts. This blog site has been a small part of that process. Time however, is not always easy for me to make for dealing with emotions that come up due to circumstances around me. I keep my schedule pretty full (and yes, I am aware that part of this has been an avoidance technique for dealing with those same thoughts and emotions) and the downtime I have built-in still often gets taken up with making time for the people who are a priority in my life.
That’s where I am this week. A friend lost her father unexpectedly. My heart breaks for her and her family. But loss of any kind, tends to bring up other losses – as a social worker I know this. It is a normal response. I have lost both my parents, not unexpectedly though. My father has been dead for twenty years, but his birthday was just the week before. My mother’s death was just about eighteen months ago. Those losses came back with intense emotions this week.
So did the lie “It’s not about you.”… that was the first thought that crossed my mind as I heard the news and tears started to well up in my eyes. Followed by, “This is about your friend and what she is dealing with right now. Don’t be so self-centered. Get over yourself.” I have spent the rest of the week with an intense physical pain throughout my body as the stress toxins build up in my body. I am full of emotions I can’t seem to release. I thought if I took some down time that might happen, but it hasn’t yet. Instead I have discovered a little more about myself.
As a therapist, I don’t have to enter my client’s pain. My goal is to help them walk through it. Even if I shed tears with them, it is about what they are going through at the moment. I want to fix it, not enter into their pain, connect through it, and walk forward. There is a distance in the empathy. It is not so with friends, especially ones that you see daily. I will walk through it with her. I can not fix it. I should connect with her and walk with her as she journeys along. My empathy is not distant, because I have been there even if it was under different circumstances.
I also realized I never learned how to enter into other’s pain. It is either their pain or mine. I have grieved along side people when our loss was mutual, even if it was at different levels. I know how to be “in it together.” Although if I’m honest, even that is a little uncomfortable because I want “their pain” compartmentalized from “my pain.”
Even from the earliest of losses in my life, I never had an example of someone entering my pain. I lost my best friend as an eight year old child. When my mother got the phone call I can still remember standing in the door saying “I’m not gonna cry.” I did, there was no comfort from my parents. My sister took me for ice cream the next day. My aunt took me to the funeral – picking me up from school and taking me home after the ceremony. And then it was over, my emotions were suppose to be too. I have never seen someone allow their emotions to surface in my pain even when they didn’t experience my loss.
I also realized that my own grief does not make it less about them. As I was worried about how my friend was doing, our friends were also wondering how I was coping with it since my own pain was so fresh. My pain is still my pain. My pain is about me and it is okay not to deny the pain. It is okay for me to release it, even in the midst of someone else’s tragedy. It is okay for me to cry, even if my tears are for a different reason – with my friend, for my friend, with others, and alone.
I wish I could say that in the midst of my processing and learning more about why I am the way I am, that I was able to find that release. I have not. The heartache I feel for my friend, and for my own loss just sits on my chest like a weight. The tears that fill my eyes, won’t flow. Every now and then, a single solitary tear will sneak its way out. I pause, wondering if the rest will flow, but they don’t. I know I need to. I want to, but for now… I just can’t. Eventually, I know I will, and I let go of another lie I believed.