“Breaking the Chain”
Rev. Julie Kain
Unitarian Universalist Church of Pensacola
Every person in this room today and every person outside of this room has experienced early in our lives what I am going to refer to as “an original wounding.” This means that somewhere and sometime when we were young, every one of us was presented with one particular situation that caused us to feel deeply hurt. Some particular situation in our early life caused some kind of original wounding in the very heart of our psyche or being.
It could have arisen from a variety of situations, but most often this original wounding happens in the context of our family dynamics. That is, some kind of difficult and challenging habit of interaction into which we were born by destiny of fate. You know some people say –“we don’t pick our parents in life.” But a few other people say that “even though we don’t pick our parents in life, there is something within each of us where our greatest learning in life comes from the challenge we are presented by some part of our relationship with our parents, or whoever was our primary caregiver in,what we can refer to as, our family of origin.
This “original wounding” has such a distinctive impact on the fabric of our personal being, that we often and most unknowingly will frame subsequent difficulties and challenges we encounter in our lives through a perceptual lens that is tainted, you might say, with the original wounding.
For example, perhaps when you were young your mother was compelled by circumstance to be unavailable to you. Perhaps she had to work outside of the home for instance, or maybe it was a relationship in her life that demanded primary attention from her, and left you with a mother who was not involved primarily with you. She was perhaps both physically and emotionally distant from you at a time in your life when she was one of your primary relationships.
And so to continue with this example, if your particular “original wounding” in life came from this kind of being hurt, what you might call a sense of abandonment or even rejection in your relationship with your mother, later in your life whenever you get close to someone, perhaps a good friend or maybe your first love relationship, if something difficult happens in that later relationship, you are likely to experience it in a similar way to this original wounding with your mother. The outside circumstances may be totally different but your internal perception of them will be filtered through the lens of your experience with abandonment or rejection. You will perceive this other person as behaving in a way which is familiar to you because you feel this sense of being hurt. This particular kind of loss. You may even unconsciously anticipate being hurt like this in your next closest relationship and have what we often hear called “trust issues.” That is you are hesitant to trust another person for fear of being hurt, like you were hurt before.
This is an example of “original wounding” and somehow until we are able to work through consciously how we came to cope with this original situation, we tend to find it as a repeating pattern in our lives. That is we will see it occurring in other relationships and situations. We may see it happening actually even in situations where it may not be warranted. For example, your first best friend disappoints you by choosing to do something with someone else rather than going to a movie with you. You respond by feeling that your best friend is going to leave you or abandon your friendship, or that they are, with this one simple action, somehow rejecting you. You take it perhaps too personally that they are going to do something with someone else. You make it mean something big about you when your best friend may simply be making a small decision that actually has no bearing on their feelings of affection and appreciation of you.
We naturally and unconsciously tend to re-experience an earlier painful situation, in our attempts to come to terms with it, to understand or figure out why this happened. Was the pain you felt caused by something you did wrong or some bad quality in you that somehow deserves this rejection or abandonment?
It is incredibly common, especially in young people, that we tend to make sense of something that has happened by internalizing the responsibility for it. “It was my fault that this happened”, we tell ourselves. Does this sound familiar to you? Can you recall a situation in your life when you were young when you felt you had somehow caused a mishap and it turned out that it didn’t even have to do with you really?
And so one of the major ways we have found to overcome the challenges we carry in ourselves as a result of an original wounding, is to bring our conscious awareness to the pattern as it manifests in our lives. At some point along the way, the child whose mother had to work, or whose mother was preoccupied with a daunting and problematic relationship in her life, that child comes to realize that her behavior had more to do with these other circumstances than it had to do with him or her. What we thought and experienced as abandonment and rejection was not intended by the mother. It happened but it was not her intention to abandon or reject.
It’s good to find a way to reflect on the original woundings in our lives. We are presented with a painful and difficult situation early in our loves and we find ways to cope with that. These coping mechanisms work in our loves to manage the difficult parts, but when we keep using them even in other kinds of situations that don’t warrant them, we fall into a cycle which limits us. We can end up defining ourselves by this original sorrow and overusing the ways we found to cope with it. We can fall into a destructive cycle that repeats itself in different areas of our lives. In our attempts to protect ourselves from being hurt again, we cut ourselves off from other people and even from parts of ourselves. The cycle is a destructive one because it limits who we are and our interactions with other people. We inadvertently set ourselves up to actually be hurt in the same kinds of ways again and again like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A few years ago the accomplished actor Denzel Washington made his directorial debut with a film based on a true story calledAntwone Fisher. The story is about a young man who is in the Navy. He keeps getting into altercations with his fellow seamen and so is disciplined by being required to see a psychiatrist, who is played by Denzel Washington. The young man, Antwone, is resistant to talking with the psychiatrist and actually sits through several of his initial sessions in silence. Eventually and slowly, the psychiatrist is able to draw Antwone out of his silent self-protection.
At one point Antwone asks Denzel Washington’s character if he thought it was possible for people with lots of problems to have a regular life. You see, Antwone had told the psychiatrist that he had no parents. His father was killed just before he was born and his mother was in jail when he was born. He was raised in foster care and sent to a reform school as a young teenager when he no longer allowed the abuse he suffered in his foster home.
When Antwone asked the psychiatrist if people with lots of problems could lead a regular life, he was wondering if he should pursue a relationship with a young woman who was also serving in the Navy. He was wondering if he would be able to have a healthy relationship with her and he was wondering, despite how damaged he felt he was, if she could possibly accept and love him. At this point in the story Antwone had not yet fully disclosed the abuse he suffered while in foster care.
The psychiatrist encourages Antwone to be open to the relationship with the young woman and starts to become a supportive father figure for Antwone. But when the psychiatrist tells Antwone that his disciplinary requirement had been filled and that he would make the medical recommendation that Antwone had come to terms with his anger issues and could proceed in his Naval assignment, Antwone feltbetrayed.
Denzel’s character had been the only person he had ever really talked to about his life. Just when he had started to trust the psychiatrist, to even need him for that fatherly support, he was told that he was “fine” and no longer needed to see the psychiatrist.
Antwone was rejected and abandoned again. The process of opening up to the psychiatrist and then being turned loose left Antwone alone with the unleashed feelings over his past and a painful anger from losing this new relationship of trust that he had established with the psychiatrist.
Denzel’s character had not only affirmed this young man’s desire to be emotionally healthy, he had withstood the disclosure of Antwone’s secret pains of the past. In time, the psychiatrist realized that Antwone had opened himself to him and that his vulnerability required more of his professional time. The psychiatrist also came to recognize that Antwone’s process of emotional recovery echoed his own journey of personal healing. And so the relationship continued.
Wayne Muller in his book Legacy of the Heart, the Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood writes—
“When we are hurt as children, we can quickly learn to see ourselves as broken, handicapped, or defective in some essential way.” Muller brings his background as a therapist and a Harvard Divinity school graduate to his writing. He continues in the introduction of his book by saying “you are not broken; childhood suffering is not a mortal wound, and it did not irrevocably shape your destiny. You need not remove, destroy or tear anything out of yourself in order to build something new. Your challenge is not to keep trying to repair what was damaged; your practice instead is to reawaken what is already wise, strong and whole within you, to cultivate those qualities of heart and spirit that are available to you in this very moment.”
Whether the original wounding in our lives left us with invisible patterns such as the inability to easily trust another person, or with the more visible patterns of physical or substance abuse, we are all capable of growing beyond these difficult limitations.
In the same way that our individual sorrow and suffering is a universal human experience, we all have access to tools for healing old wounds. There is a love in our lives that will not let us go.
May we each have the courage to look honestly at our lives and to take the steps that loosen us from the limiting patters we have inherited from the past. May we cultivate compassionate patience with the other people who have touched our lives. May we learn that the scars of our past have the power to teach us great strength and true wisdom. May we maintain our sense of worth and dignity even in the face of thoughtless and pain-provoking behavior on the part of others.
May we break through the chains of our past to embrace the fullness of this moment and the bright possibility of tomorrow.
Amen and Blessed Be.