FULLY LIVING, FULLY LOVING
Richard (Dick) Innes
There’s an old story about a school teacher who injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. It fit under his shirt and was not noticeable.
On the first day of the term, still with the cast under his shirt, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in school. Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, he opened the window as wide as possible and then busied himself with desk work. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he took the desk stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.
Understandably he had no trouble with discipline that term.
Sometimes it would be nice if life were that simple; that is, if we could wear a plaster cast around our heart so our feelings wouldn’t ever get hurt!
Not so. Life isn’t that simple. The problem is that when we put a cast or wall around our hurt feelings, that same cast also blocks out our warm and loving feelings! We turn into zombies. People with shut off emotions live flat-line lives and, instead of being personality-plus, they become more or less personality-minus.
“Life without emotions would be like
playing trombone with a stuck slide.”
We happen to be feeling beings. Can you imagine what life would be like without emotions? As another has said, it would be like playing trombone with a stuck slide; that is, deadly dull and boring. The truth is that when our emotions are repressed, we are characteristically bored with life.
I’ve led seminars and taught classes on relationships and recovery for many years and the number one complaint I hear from women on both sides of the Pacific is a variation on the theme, “My husband doesn’t understand my feelings and doesn’t share his.” No wonder so many relationships fall apart at the seams. Without being in touch with one’s inner self (his/her emotions) there is no intimacy and no real closeness. Such couples live together alone apart—and their relationship dies a little every day.
Furthermore, when we hide and subsequently bury our feelings, we never bury them dead but very much alive. In so doing, in one way or another, they come back to haunt us. What we fail to talk out creatively, we inevitably act out destructively in one way or another. We can act them out by lashing out in anger or hostility at others and those we love the most. We can withdraw and go into silence when we are hurt or angry, which is an equally “dirty way to fight.” We can go into depression, suffer from anxiety attacks, ruin our relationships, set ourselves up to fail, and/or become physically ill. As John Powell put it, “When we bury our emotions, our stomach keeps score.” How true this is.
As I’ve often said, by the time I was five I had learned that “big men” don’t cry so I learned early in life to stuff my feelings, and by the time I was thirty-five, I suffered from miserable hay fever and had bursitis in both shoulders and couldn’t lift my arms above my shoulders without pain. Worse still, while I had plenty of friends, close relationships were non-existent. My marriage of 25 years turned out to be a disaster. Two repressed people living together do not make for a healthy relationship; in fact, they don’t have any kind of meaningful relationship.
Even though professionally I was doing okay, relationally I was at a loss and emotionally I constantly felt empty and had no idea what my problem was. I just knew I needed help. I had grown up with the belief that feelings weren’t important and couldn’t be trusted. In spite of this, I was so frustrated I got down on my knees and asked God to give me some feelings back anyhow. Oh boy, that prayer turned my world upside down and made praying for patience look like a Sunday school picnic. It took considerable pain to break through my cast-like defenses.
My recovery and emotional healing didn’t happen overnight, but the good news is that when I learned to break through my defenses and get in touch with my true emotions and learn how to express them creatively, over time my life changed dramatically. Plus my physical wellbeing also improved dramatically.
Many of our physical ills can be symbolic. For instance, when I stuff my tears where do they go? For me, they apparently expressed themselves in miserable hay fever which I suffered from for many years. I say this because when I was able to sob out years of painful hurt, I was healed of hay fever and have never suffered from it since. And when I learned to resolve years of buried hurt and anger, I was healed of the painful bursitis in my shoulders and have never had this pain recur. And when I was able to resolve lots of buried fear caused by painful hurts in the past, my interpersonal relationships improved out of sight.
In fact, I am physically healthier today than I was at half my age, and I am now in a very happy and fulfilling marriage. I feel that I am now well on the way to fully living and fully loving. My professional life happens to be very fulfilling also.
It may not sound refined, but the fact is that the feelings we stuff, stuff up our lives!
So you ask, how did you resolve all your personal issues? I wish I had a simple three-step program, but I don’t. I believe in miracles but not magic—miracles take a lot longer. There is no such thing as a quick fix. We take years to become what we are and don’t undo that overnight. However, the following are a few principles to help.
First, we need to recognize that we have a problem—and admit it. Without access to the truth about ourselves, we stay in denial and stuck in our life and there is no healing or recovery. So I need to admit, “I have a problem. I need help.”
Second, read good books, listen to CDs and tapes, attend classes, seminars and retreats that deal with personal growth and recovery. Learn all you can but, remember, intellectual knowledge doesn’t produce healing or recovery, it just helps to understand your problem and know how and where to look for help.
“Only to the degree that we are
known can we ever feel loved.”
Third, realize that we get damaged in damaged relationships and get healed in healing relationships. Every one of us—single or married—needs a soul-brother for men or a soul-sister for women. That is, we need someone who won’t judge us, put us down, try to fix us or give us unsolicited advice—someone with whom we feel totally safe so we can be totally open and honest and free to share our deepest emotions (negative as well as positive), as well as our joys, sorrows, successes, sins and failures and thus be known for who we truly are—warts and all.
We all need someone who thus knows us fully and loves and accepts us exactly as we are. This is what frees us to change and begin to experience healing in the deepest parts of our personality. Furthermore, only to the degree that we are known can we ever feel loved. Nobody can love a mask and nobody can ever feel loved who hides behind a mask. As long as we stay in hiding, we can never experience healing and grow to become a whole and loving person.
Fourth, if we have deeply repressed emotions we may need, as I did, intense and skilled therapy. We each need to find the type of therapy and a therapist that work for us. What works for me may not work for you and vice-versa. Group therapy can also be very helpful.
Fifth, many of us will need help to learn not only how to get in touch with our feelings, but also how to express them in healthy and creative ways. Learn from the life of Jesus. When he was sad, he wept.1 When he was angry, he expressed his feelings. At times he did this verbally and when he found the money changers ripping people off in the temple, he got a whip and drove them out.2 What we need to remember, however, is always to speak and act the truth in love.
Last and most important of all, learn to put God first in your life and seek his guidance and help for every area of your life. And learn how to pray effectively by praying the right prayers.3 Ask God to confront you with the truth about yourself. If you are serious about this, God will show you; but be prepared because it usually takes pain to break through our defenses. For me personally, only when my pain is greater than my fear have I been able to get in touch with my inner pain. Remember as God’s Word says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”4
If you consistently follow these six principles, you too, will be well on the road to fully living and fully loving.
1. John 11:35. 2. John 2:14-16. 3. See “How to Pray Effectively” at http://tinyurl.com/kb62w. 4. Psalm 145:18.