Category Archives: wounds

Primary Hurts Produce Maladaptive Coping Behaviors

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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.

Fighting About Fighting

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Have you ever been in the middle of a fight (or argument) and after awhile forgotten what you were fighting about? I know we have. We’ve gotten so wrapped up in wanting to be heard that the issue became secondary. And so we really were fighting about the way we were fighting.

This is such a common occurrence that people often end up in counseling precisely for this issue. They cannot even see what is going on and they label it “lack of communication.” And in a sense they are correct in that primary messages are not being acknowledged. But really what is going on is that there is a lack of agreement – and this is what is being labeled a communication problem.

So what can we do about it? Have some rules and principles that we adhere to in a conflict.

  • Listen first! Make sure that you understand the other person completely. This does not mean that you are giving tacit approval. You do not have to agree. But you do need to hear them out. Then you can acknowledge their point of view and let them know that you do not agree (assuming that you don’t).
  • Calm yourself. You may fear that you are losing power by listening, but you are not. Tell yourself that you are just listening and that you will have a turn. Losing your temper will only prolong the problem and escalate the drama.
  • Stay on task. Even though the other person might try to take the conversation in multiple directions, stay with the original issue and try to be as brief as possible.
  • Take a break if necessary. But come back to the issue in a timely manner. The goal is to resolve the problem or come to a good compromise (or make peace with it).
  • Above all, do not hurt the people you care about. Don’t use language or make statements that you will later regret.

Job 19:2  “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?”

I Can’t Believe You Said That!

Yelling Wife

From Nan to Women:

Prov. 18:21 “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

A while back I was sitting in my counseling room, stunned by a woman administering a scathing attack on her normal, reasonably good guy husband. It occurred to me to ask her, “If he said the exact same words to you, what would you do right now?”

She responded that she would get up and leave him!

Wow! What a self-indictment. Yet she didn’t see it.

When I talked further to the gal who cursed her husband, she explained that since he didn’t seem to respond to her ‘normal’ requests, she intensified the attack, so that he would ‘do something’. And, of course, the thing he did was to shut down more. Often a man will back off during a conflict with his wife so that he does not intensify the conflict.

So, what can I do if my partner doesn’t respond to a question, or need that I have?  I can ask if this is a bad time to talk and ask for a ‘rain check’, or I can kindly repeat the request, and wait for a response. If I still don’t seem to be getting anywhere and feel myself getting angry, I can back off for a moment and self-soothe until I calm down. Then I can think about re-framing the communication. Did I ask for what I wanted in a positive way, or was it more of a criticism? A positive approach is more likely to yield results. If it’s a perpetual problem, we can seek help.

But, speaking for myself when I was a newlywed, I spoke a lot of hurtful words that accomplished nothing. I found that repair work is a lot more painful than good preparation by studying the wisdom contained in God’s word.

“For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:20