15 April 2011 6 Comments

Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 12: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 2

Positive people who have not experienced or do not accept emotional pain radically limit their ability to include and support others. This story shows how social contexts can suppress inner wounds:

One of my most vivid memories from seventh grade involves a lovely young man, a Christian in my singing class. He came from a loving, intact family. One day he made an overture to me, to join inP1040675 an after-school activity. I remember vividly the intense sensations that passed through me and the aftermath of this tiny moment. His eyes were so happy, so full of light. I so much wanted to join him. I actually sensed IN and THROUGH him his family and community support, and how loving they were to one another. I hesitated in terror that they would reject me, and asked a few questions to try and find out if I were truly welcome as myself. The light faded from his eyes. He did not meet me as I was. I could see the shroud of “other” settle between us. It felt like becoming a non-person.

Over the next few weeks I turned this event over in my mind. I realized at some point that his group was looking for recruits. They wanted me to believe something. Part of me wanted to believe it because I thought it might make me happier. I watched. What I saw struck me deeply. I noticed that the people in that group turned away from any expression of distress, however subtle.

I almost judged them for dismissing the people who needed them most. Then I realized that they simply were not equipped to deal with anybody who did not come from the same mold. They had great hearts and intentions. But they lacked depth. Their lack of depth diverted their compassion to the extent that they had no idea whatsoever that they were exclusive and closed to people who were in pain, people they could help.

I am not saying this is true of Christian groups in general. I am saying that the same thing happens, to a lesser or greater extent if more subtly, at a cultural level. Those who have not experienced suffering are generally incapable of compassion for those who hurt. And why not? It is not in their realm of experience.

I thought about that young man on and off in the course of my life. I wondered how he unfolded, whether he ran toward the arrogance of assuming that his way was better and isolated himself within his comfort zone, or whether his lovely heart gradually opened him to new people and experiences. He could have gone either way.

Those who come from families who seem to “have it all” and do not have a heart focus as his DSC_2892did often become hardened to feeling and focus on external attainment. Their children tend to lack compassion and even look down upon those who are in pain—and themselves when THEY are in pain.

Serious competition is not compatible with compassion. When we get caught up in trying to be better than others they become heads to walk over. This is an extreme state of ego with the wounds hidden and denied. It’s all about the outside.

Even being ‘all about other people’ can become an ego defense. It can be another way of being all about the outside. Those who study what it takes to please others and do it in order to avoid pain by securing love for themselves have not processed their wounds. They may have authentically loving natures and values. In general they get by well in the world. They may even get by in close friendships with clearly defined roles. Profound intimacy challenges people who use this defense because it goes beyond roles, brings up wounds for healing, and requires receptivity.

Forgiveness asks of us to feel first what is going on inside and to understand that others too are molded by life circumstances and conditions.

How do YOU feel around people who are in pain?
Are you able to be present with them, or do you turn away?
What do you tell yourself about people you perceive as being better than or not as good as you are?

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6 Responses to “Full-Spectrum Forgiveness, Part 12: Social Appearances & Inner Wounds, Part 2”

  1. Therese 15 April 2011 at 11:27 am #

    I was unable to relate to pain for a very long time. My family didn’t allow for pain; if you showed it, you were punished. So, when I started getting very ill, it was really hard for me to accept. Thankfully, I’d married a man who has stood by me and, unfortunately, has started finding himself in an equally challenging position. Fortunately, I am now able to support him in his challenge because I’ve experienced it. I realized I needed my challenge or I would never have been understanding towards him being challenged.

    I am able to be more compassionate. I am unwilling to support wallowing and hearing about how someone’s life is over because they are challenged. I try to redirect them to the fact that there is always someone worse off than they and there are benefits they can bring to the world, if they are willing to find them. Being “down” is perfectly fine for a period of time but prolonged wallowing is still something I find challenging. It depresses me, I cannot change it for them, and I find it impossible to be supportive of feeling worthless and unworthy. I do still have to remove myself if the other person refuses to see any light in their situation.

    I don’t believe anyone is better than or not as good as myself. If I do find myself feeling judgemental towards someone, I quickly redirect my thoughts towards myself because those thoughts are telling me about ME not them.

    This series is a marvelous series! I’m so happy you are doing it. Your story brought up a lot of feelings for me. I had a similar experience of being invited by a group of christians to attend some non-religious events. They were accepting but, after a few gatherings, my father forbid me to attend because he didn’t like me exposed to other religions. They didn’t discuss religion but that didn’t matter to my father. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I’d continued to be exposed to the positive supportive environment of that group of people.

    • Teresa Dietze 1 May 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Therese thank you for your considered and candid comment. I found myself deeply moved by it as you are sharing such an important transition and so openly exploring your experience and its meaning in the course of your life. This long-range self observation and cultivation of values is precious.


  2. Leah 15 April 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    It is interesting to watch this all unfold. I am grateful to have the chance to read all of these. They really help.
    I was thinking about your question and was thinking about how I have always been drawn to help folk. Not due to feeling like I SHOULD but that I feel empathy for their pain. However! As I got older, I realized I used to ‘take on” their pain as if I could relieve them of it somehow. It took awhile to figure out compassion with boundaries. I think this is still a work in progress for me, as boundaries are just tough for me. But this part of the conversation helped me realize that when I was younger, part of that compassion was ABSOLUTLY fueled with my desire to run from my own pain. I hope that it was not ALL of it but it was a significant part.

    Now, I still can empathize with people when hurting, but as you pointed out, if you have not worked on your forgiveness there is less room for compassion, especially with people who have transgressed against you or hurt you in some way. Always a work in progress. Thank you once again T.

    • Teresa Dietze 1 May 2011 at 2:08 pm #

      Dear Leah,

      Taking on the pain of others inadvertently has been a huge challenge in my life as well. The more we work those wounds the less we feel it necessary to help them unconsciously, out of the needs the wounds make–the ones that mess up the boundaries. The more we forgive Self the more able we become to feel for others without compulsively interfering. We become able to respond intentionally instead of accidentally and become much less porous. Deeply understanding our own pain leads to understanding the pain of others (also see Therese’s comment). Then we are much more able to release them to their lives instead of replaying the hurt they caused out of their own (usually unconscious) pain.



  3. Claudia Lientz 17 April 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    13 yr. olds are typically enormously self-centered balls of insecurity with raging hormones. Regardless of their sex or backgrounds, they care most about wanting to both fit in and stand out. The personalities/belief systems are in the early stages of formation. Isn’t it just as likely that your hesitancy was interpreted by him as rejection hence no further overtures? What if instead, when you noticed his fallen expression you’d explained your hesitancy on the spot. You thought it was about you, he thought it was about him. Could be that he also erected an elaborate criticism over the years as an ego defense. Could be he doesn’t remember you at all. Attending a class reunion is good for correcting old beliefs about old acquaintances. I doubt I believe anything anymore from that age or time frame.

    Personally I’ve found it dangerous to pigeon-hole and generalize about any group. When I catch myself doing this (my bias is western medicine)I invariably find it’s my ego doing the rationalizing –who’s only purpose is to keep itself alive. It’s never really been a friend. Just some thoughts. . .

    • Teresa Dietze 1 May 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Claudia,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m sorry if my text left that impression. My concrete example was only meant to make the message less abstract. It is not “about” Christianity at all, or that boy, who was lovely. He always had a beautiful smile. I doubt if he felt rejected. We were eye to eye in sustained contact and I was moving toward, not away. Also I did explain my hesitancy, but it was not useful to my example.

      My point is that when we are not in touch with pain or have not experienced certain kinds of pain we may not be able to relate to the pain of others. Each type of pain I have negotiated in my own life has developed specific types of compassion and understanding.



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