Learning Self-Compassion

Last night memories of my previous church bombarded my mind. Pictures of the building where I had spent so much time drifted into my mind haunting me like a ghost. While every part of my mind wants to block them out completely, I wanted to be sure that I paid attention to what I was feeling about what I was seeing.

I started reading Whole Again: Healing Your Heart and Rediscovering Your True Self After Toxic Relationships and Emotional Abuse by Jackson Mackenzie. The book addresses the importance of paying attention to how we feel after experiencing a toxic relationship. One of the most difficult emotions I have felt has been numbness. At times this feeling has been so overwhelming, that I wonder if there is any purpose left for me. When I am not experiencing this numbness, I know that there are many purposes in my life; my husband and my three children being three big ones. Why do I feel so numb at times?

One of the reasons that comes to mind after experiencing the church memories, is how overwhelmed with what felt like positive emotions I felt when I was with the toxic pastor. He made me feel special, important and like the center of the universe. For someone who had been abused and neglected for most of my life, these emotions were impossible to resist. Like a drug addict recovering from an addiction, adjusting to not having this feeling has been difficult. But what is so strange, is I haven’t missed him at all. I am so glad that he is no longer in my life. I’m realizing there was no real love in my relationship with him. It was always about manipulation and addiction. And him getting what he wanted. It’s difficult to not feel shame about how “good” he made me feel, especially when I experience numbness in my life now. Sometimes the question comes, do I really care about my family now, or do I deserve to be with a toxic person? Sometimes I ask myself if am I a toxic person? How can I know that I am not? One clue that I am not toxic is that I get no pleasure from hurting someone else. I want what is best for my others and my family. I do what I can to make their lives better and to engage with them in healthy ways that encourage and empower them. Toxic people don’t do this. They take for themselves. The wreak havoc in relationships. They try to control everything about our lives. I am not perfect. But I don’t do these things.

When I think about how I felt as the memories drifted in last night, I see an addicted woman longing for anything to make her feel better. I initially feel disgusted by her. This is toxic shame. I wonder who this woman is? She does not feel anything like me. But strangely I remember exactly how she felt, so it must have been me. She so desperately wanted to feel loved and for that feeling to never go away. The emptiness when she doesn’t feel love is hard to bear. I imagine as I remember her what it I might have been like if I could somehow shown up for myself during that time as another healthier version of myself who is healed, but who understands what she is feeling in the moment.

I see myself standing against the wall in one of the church classrooms. The toxic pastor has left me to go home. The sadness and longing for him to still be there is overwhelming. I am trying to talk myself down into feeling normal again. But I don’t feel normal. I feel shame and regret and I want it to go away. I remember our church’s teaching that I am a sinner. I can do nothing without Jesus. I repent and pray and ask Him to forgive. I feel a little better on the surface, but the shame has become a permanent part of my life. I have learned how to carry it. I have carried it my whole life. The only difference is now its heavier. Now I can actually see what I am doing wrong. I cannot escape the decisions I made. My eyes remain dry. I know that I want to cry, want to run away and pretend that none of this ever happened. I want to call him before he gets home so that I can feel better. But it’s too late. He’s home. I send him a text certain that he will read and respond with comfort. I just have to wait until it comes.

I imagine sitting down on the couch next to this past version of myself.

I reveal myself to you. You are taken aback to see the other you sitting there. You are confused.

I am you, I say. But I am the real and healthier version of you who understands and knows what you really need.

You look at me with curiosity. You want to know more. Is it possible that this other version of you can take away this terrible feeling deep inside your soul?

“I am so sorry that you are stuck in this situation,” I say. “I know it wasn’t what you wanted. I know that all you ever wanted was to be loved.”

“But I want bad things now, you say. “I must be bad. I don’t feel capable of ever being good again.”

I take your hand. I say, “Jesus came as a human and experienced every temptation. He also knows exactly what drives our decisions to give into things that are bad for us. He wants you to know that He knows and that He desires only good for you. That’s why I am here. I am the real you. The good without the toxicity. I feel great compassion for you. I want you to know that I am here to walk with you through this horrible pain and help you find your way out of this toxic relationship. He does not care about you. He only wants to feed his own desire to manipulate and control you.”

You don’t want to believe this. You talk about how much he cares. You talk about how his hug and hearing about your abuse as a child changed and healed something in you. You say you believe he was the hands and feet of God. You say you believe if you just stop giving into the bad stuff in your relationship that things will be good.

No. I say. I understand so much what you are saying. I understand that you believe it is good. But it has never good. He’s done this before. He observes people. He is intuitive and knows how to give them what they want. He’s learned to empathize to draw others in. He is a predator. It seems harsh and judgmental to you. He’s talked about his family and how he’s not appreciated. He’s talked about how he gives so much of his life to the church and he feels unimportant. You relate to him and feel compassion. He uses your compassion to get what he wants. He knows exactly what he needs to say. It is almost supernatural how he knows. And maybe it is. You put your face in your hands. You’ve been a fool. You feel shame that you made so many bad choices and now you are stuck and no one will understand. They will call you a hypocrite. They will throw you out of the church. They will blame you for being a temptress. Can’t you just keep trying on your own to stop it?

I take you into my arms and hug you. I won’t leave you. I promise. No matter what anyone says or does it is time for you to take care of you. This is what you need. This is what God desires for you.

You accept my hug. You feel so bad. I keep telling you that you are not bad. You were poisoned. You were duped. But the missing love in your life was the reason it happened. You can love and give yourself what you need. Making this decision will show how much you care about yourself. It will also reveal how much you want to honor the good in you. Honor your church family and God. Yes, you made choices to feed the emptiness and fill the void. But it stops now. You are not unlike everyone else. Others in this church have been duped too and not by you. They will try to blame you, but it’s because they won’t want to look inside at their own lack of love that drew them to him, too. It’s OK. You do not have to be responsible for them. Jesus is there for them. Recieve what I am offering, no matter how you feel, and keep moving forward.

You look at me. You want to believe. You feel relieved that I don’t judge you. You wonder if you are placing too much blame on him. You feel a heavy sensation behind your eyes. You hear that you are cutting yourself too much slack. You should feel shame and guilt and continue to beat yourself up. You deserve it.

I remind you of the truth. The truth is that it is his fault. He was responsible for doing the right thing. He didn’t. He chose to take advantage. You can choose to not be taken advantage of anymore. The heaviness is still behind your eyes, but it lightens. This is your choice. You worry about being able to make it up to your family. What if they hate you? They won’t hate you. They know how much you have been hurt. Deep down they want to help. You will love them best by honoring yourself first.

I feel so much pain as I write this. I am sitting with the pain and receiving it with compassion. I understand where it is coming from. The woman in the church classroom is not the despicable person I thought she was. She just needed help from someone who had her best interests in mind. If he had been a good pastor he would have loved her in the right way and helped her. He would have helped her see a counselor and walked beside her on her healing journey. He would have encouraged others in the congregation to be there for one another. That’s what church is supposed to be.

How do I move forward today with this feeling of numbness and heaviness still there? Will it go away by just paying attention? By just being honest? I sure hope so.

Please Jesus help it to.

Read more in You Deserve to Feel Good Again.

One Comment on “Learning Self-Compassion

  1. Pingback: You Deserve to Feel Good Again | Our Unseen Hope

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