Learning to Cope

Weird things keep happening to me. When something happens to disturb my peace, even something very small indeed, it seems like tears are never far away.

This is very disconcerting. It feels like something has wound up tighter and tighter in me until it has snapped and now I have become “weak”- that is, susceptible to displays to emotion that I cannot quell.

I have not always been like this, not at all. I have been a tough nut. If someone said something that I didn’t like, I reacted in two ways: I got angry, and then I got detached. Both of these reactions made me the stronger person in the situation. My anger allowed me to squash the other person in furious debate, whether it was about homosexuality in the Church with a stranger online, or face-to-face with someone who wanted to do something different to me, or who called me out on something. And then the detachment let me shrug it off – “I don’t care anyway.” I would – quite consciously – leave the situation. I would stop caring.

My anger and my detachment were my go-to coping mechanisms. And they were OLD, going back right the way to preschool and probably further than that. They were the frustrated “giving up” of the small child that could not make herself understood in an unfair world. They made me strong. I found it easy to be a leader using these same mechanisms – without really realising it, it was my way or the highway.

They also caused me pain. Anger goes, leaving shame and regret. Detachment eventually meant no connection to those I cared most about. The loneliness of detachment is unbelievably sore – like a wrenching of the heart that comes once you have left the situation. I would avoid the pain by picturing myself very small, the size of a dandelion seed, floating away on the wind.

English: Detail of a dandelion seed

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew to understand the roots of these coping mechanisms at the Living Waters Healing Week. I gave over to God. Something profound happened that I can’t explain. I refused detachment at the foot of the Cross. I chose not to float away insubstantially from something I found very threatening indeed – my own healing.

So my automatic reactions have changed. Not straight away, more like a process. This process definitely involved the hard work of facing myself, and accepting the challenge of living away from my old life, in Somerset. If tempted to anger and detachment I repeated my mantra – I choose life, I choose life, I choose life. Detachment felt like death. Jesus had given me new life.

And I am still in the process. And it’s weird and complicated and uncomfortable. Sometimes I still react in anger (who doesn’t?). But anger without the detachment is a lot harder. I have to stay and face the consequences of my anger. I have to feel the feelings that I used to detach from – the feelings that lay underneath the detachment. Fear and “not being safe.” Sometimes these are so strong that I have to leave the space I’m in and seek out a safer place. Not as detachment, but for my own wellbeing.  It is a different kind of coping mechanism. I am still in the process.

I want to be a leader, but I don’t want “my way or the highway” any more. I want to model a vulnerability that calls others to God. I want to live in my emotions and understand those belonging to others.

At first, when the tears flowed so easily, I thought that something in me had wound up so tight it had snapped. I thought something had broken, making me frighteningly fragile.

But now I know, this is part of the next thing. Being real, choosing life.  And if I need to feel safe, there is a place I can run to without detachment.

This I declare:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.
Psalm 91:2

More from Middle Ground on Healing

The Unbearable
The Fearful Self
Where the Heart Is

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One thought on “Learning to Cope

  1. A extra note: detachment happens for a reason. Something traumatic causes us to react by sealing ourselves off from our own feelings. It is this traumatic event that needs to be found, explored, dealt with in a safe environment (not usually alone). Blaming oneself rarely helps, and I don’t believe it is possible to “decide” not to detatch without doing this internal work first. If you recognise this in yourself, be kind with yourself, be patient, be honest, and seek God.

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