If we meet a person and judge their lives by what we see on the surface—how they dress or look, or what they have done, we are not loving him or her. If we don’t get to know their story and why they are the way they are, then we are not open to them. Lately, I have read a book about trauma and then more recently I’ve been watching a tv series on Netflix called “Criminal Minds” and both have brought home to me this idea: that trauma forms who we are and what we do until we are able to deal with the original injury.
Trauma, of course, has many levels and intensities, but the first sign of it shows up in our upbringing wherein we form our basic self-image through our inability to follow precisely our parents’ teachings and demands. Psychologist figure that we have internalized what our parents are teaching us by the age of six, but for our part, as young children, we do not understand that it takes a long time for a child to be obedient to its parents’ every wish. That, in the meantime, we experience a lot of guilt and shame because, oops!, we failed again. We have no way of processing our failures in the context of training children, so we take on the notion that we are flawed and have to make up for our failures. This understanding is formed in us by the age of 5 or 6.
So already we have a negative self-image, but what if we add to that abuse, either physical or sexual, or the death of a parent or a defining illness in our young life or any other traumatic event? Then the child doubles down on the initial self-concept and takes on more guilt and shame. If the child is neglected or his or her parents are alcoholics or absent, then more guilt and shame piles up, as the child takes everything that happens to him or her personally. By the time we get to adulthood, we have this negative self-image that drives so much of our decision-making and behaviors.
The more toxic our self-image, the more likely we are to act out negatively to express our anger at ourselves. So not only do criminal behavior and indifference to other people’s needs result from these traumas, but our culture has little understanding of these underlying causes of anti-social and even criminal behavior, (or the opposite of living out of a false persona, a facial mask, so to speak),so there are few programs that help people address these basic flaws that befell an innocent child way back when. Think how long it took us to get a handle on PTSD in returning soldiers from the Vietnam War—more than 35 years. It’s been a recent change in psychiatry that has facilitated a better approach through the physical body first and then on to the mental and emotional areas of these ex-soldiers’ lives.
But to a lesser degree perhaps, all of us suffer from this assault which I would call the “human condition.” As long as we cling to these negative self-images, we’ll be projecting our pain onto others and rejecting them. We’ll be calling out bad behavior in others and not claiming our own. We’ll be talking about another’s sin, but ignoring our own. This is rampant in our culture as we prefer to run from these old decisions about our self-worth, rather than examine them for truth and falsehood. These are the thoughts that cause us to bury our heads in our phones or play endless games or go shopping all the time or do anything which will help us forget this early decision and the “shoulds” and “have to’s” that resulted from them. We are hiding from what our parents implied about our failures well into our 40’s or 50’s and maybe until the end of our lives. If we’re especially fortunate, we may at mid-life confront these images of ourselves that we hold and see them for what they are—a flawed image of ourselves.
If we love God and know that He loves us, we have an even greater chance to give up these thoughts which drive so much of our behavior. We can take the fact that God loves us and, using our own will, decide that if God can love us, surely, we can love ourselves. And then we can change the lens through which we have judged ourselves into a lens of love and forgiveness which embraces and accepts all that we are. We do not have to live in this pain for the rest of our lives. We can be free of it!. God can heal all pain and suffering if we will give it over to Him and let Him lead us out of it.
And then, when we no longer have anything to fear about ourselves, we can be loving to everyone else, because we know that we all have the same kind of flawed self-image to a greater or lesser degree, that we are all sinners. We will remember that all humanity was created in the image of God,  and we will begin to treat everyone else, yes, even our enemies, as people who are loved and forgiven by God. We will have no need to judge anyone else, because we have nothing more to protect or to project onto others—our whole lives are accepted/embraced by us. We no longer live in the past or fearful of the future. We are content, peaceful in the present, in the presence of our God.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I aware of how judgmental I am of other people? Do I understand the source of this judgmentalism? What are the things that I can’t accept about myself? Things I have done or things that were done to me? Can I see that not acknowledging all that is true about myself means that I am not wholly devoted to God? Will I put all of myself, warts and all, before God? Will I let Him heal these things in me?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who have invited God in to heal everything in us that was full of pain or suffering. May we embrace all that we are before God who knows everything about us anyway. May we live in peace with all that we are.
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 Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, 2014, Penguin Books, NY.
 Genesis 1:27