Re-scripting Your Life, Part 13
Cycle of Pain, Continued…
In the last post we left off describing the first of the five steps in the Cycle of pain - expectations. Let’s now outline the remaining four steps...
At some point, unmet desires have to be classified as losses in life in order to move forward and embrace the future. A good working definition for loss is the state or feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value. In Elaine’s case, the loss amounted to the belief that she would never have a husband or a family. She placed a very high value on these two desires and when she would think about a life where these desires would never be fulfilled, she felt the pains of the deep longing that was still in her heart even though she told herself that there are no good men and even if there were, none of them would want to marry someone as ugly as her. This emotional tug of war between longing and loss would expose the root cause of her pain on a regular basis - what her uncle had done to her. She would be catapulted back to her past and see so many places where her life could have taken a turn for the better. What if her father was not an alcoholic? What if her mother had stood up to her father? What if her mother had taken the kids away from that awful situation? What if her uncle wasn’t a pervert? What if she was a stronger person and had confronted her uncle when she found out? What if… All these “what if” questions would open the floodgates of negative emotions that would reach a tipping point and drive her into the next step in this cycle, resentment.
When needs/wants go unmet for long periods of time, a deep-seated resentment can set in. Resentment can be defined as bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly. At this point the blame for the pain is projected onto the people, places, and things that are responsible. In Elaine’s story it was her father, mother, uncle, and even herself. Constantly rehearsing this resentment creates a bitter emotional cocktail that boils over and begins to contaminate many areas that were not part of the original problem.
The writer of the book of Hebrews exposes the damaging effects of this bitterness when he states:
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
Resentment is one of these poisonous roots, that if left unchecked, will not only deeply affect the one who is holding on to resentment but it will spill over and negatively affect the people that come in contact with the resentful person.
Anger is one of the fruits of the root of resentment. Anger is manifest in MANY ways, and some of those ways may look nothing like what we might expect it to look like. In the exercises that will follow, you will identify your anger expression (aggressive, passive-aggressive, shut down, etc...) to get a map of all the places that resentment may be lurking. In Elaine’s story, her anger expressed itself as abruptly ending relationships that she felt were getting too serious without any regard for the feelings of the men who were interested in her. She also expressed this anger towards herself in the many horrible names she would call herself and the severe binge eating she would inflict on her body.
Unresolved anger and resentment will eventually turn into a judgment. A judgment is a definitive decision that is made regarding what we see as the “facts” of the case against others and ourselves. If this case were being tried in a courtroom, the resentful person would act as the prosecutor, jury, and judge- and the outcome of the case would certainly be condemnation. This judgment must be followed up with some type of sentence or punishment in order for justice to be served. In Elaine’s case, the real criminals (her father, mother, and uncle) could not be prosecuted and punished so Elaine projected this guilt out into her life (and over herself) and as a result it locked her up in a prison of pain and locked her out of all the good things her heart was longing for.
These bitter-root judgments must be located and rectified in order for freedom to be possible. Here is a good analogy to understand the power of a judgment hanging over our lives. A young man was traveling in his car out of his home state. He was in quite a rush to get where he was going so he was speeding and changing lanes recklessly on the interstate. He didn’t notice that one of the cars that he passed was an unmarked police car. In short order, he was pulled over and the officer asked for his license and registration. In the rush to get on the road he had forgotten to bring his wallet, therefore no license! He was promptly given a few tickets and one of which required him to show up in court with his driver’s license.
The court date was written on the ticket, which this young man carelessly stuffed in his pocket. When he returned home he went back to life as usual but never bothered to record the court date on his calendar, and thus never showed up in court. When his name was called to appear before the judge, he was a no-show and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. As many times happen, the paperwork processing can be long delayed from the actual event, so this young man did not get a notice in the mail for quite a while.
During this interim period, he applied for what he called his dream job. He was one of the final candidates and all that was left for him to cinch the job was to pass a background check. A few days later he received a notice that he was not eligible for the job (even though he was the best applicant) because there was a bench warrant out for his arrest. He was shocked and confused until he remembered about the court date that he never showed up for. This judgment hanging over his head had the power to lock him out of the job he really wanted even though the original offense had nothing to do with his present situation. If he didn’t want this to happen again he was going to have to deal with his past and clear up the judgment with the court system. This is the same requirement that was hanging over Elaine’s head (and ours, if we have judgments unresolved). She would have to resolve the judgments (decisions and defining statements) in order to successfully move forward.
The final step in the cycle of pain involves the accumulation of emotional and relational debt. When you place a judgment over someone you will hang a debt on the relationship (“you owe me”). You will respond to the relationship out of a need to collect and be paid back rather than out of a desire to love and give to the other person. This debt is tied back to the loss(es) that happened as a result of the original offense. These losses get compounded after every painful setback and begin to add insult to injury in aspects of life that are seemingly not even connected to the offense.
For example, when Elaine made the judgment that she needed to gain some weight to keep men at bay, she was inadvertently adding stress to her financial situation. With every pound she was gaining she was drawing closer to having to buy bigger sized clothes and her food bill was slowly creeping up. This extra drain on her budget required her to take money from what she was spending on entertainment, and thus her social life was drying up as she was spending more and more time home alone. The more disconnected she felt from life, the more depressed she would get, and her self-medicating eating would increase, triggering more weight gain. As this cycle continued, the anger and resentment would grow as she rehearsed the reason for her present state in life.
As the debt increased (her realization that all of this mess was caused by her uncle many years before), she felt closer and closer to being hopelessly lost and buried in unresolve-able debt. Her life was at the brink of bankruptcy.
Elaine’s story may be much more dramatic than your story but the cycle looks the same. If Elaine was to get out from under the crushing weight of the debt, she must make some difficult decisions about reconciling her emotional books and balancing her budget. Here is another example of what this cycle looks like that may be more closely attuned to some of the situations you have experienced in your life.
Jason was the father of three teenage boys. He was sitting in my office talking about his inability to control his anger related to some of the decisions his boys were making. He was bordering on crossing the line of violence with his discipline and his wife urged him to get help before something bad happened. Jason was actually pretty mild mannered so the outbursts of anger shocked everyone, including himself.
Up to this point he had tried various anger management techniques but the trigger always seemed to be there, ready for him to aim and shoot. As we went through the cycle of pain steps, Jason was able to identify some of his past pain and outline and map out his thought process that was leading him to this unwanted destination - anger outbursts. Here is what it looked like:
Expectation: I wish my dad had spent more time with me when I was younger and had taken more of an interest in my life. I needed his affirmation. I wish I knew if he was proud of me.
Loss: I guess I’ll never really be close with my dad. We won’t be able to do the things I really wanted to do with him. I had hoped to make some really good memories with him.
Resentment: I resent the fact that he spent more time at work and doing his “own things,” rather than spending time with me.
Judgment: When I have kids, I’m going to be a parent who really takes an interest in his kids. (Judgment against the dad). I guess I am not a good person if my dad did not want to be with me. Dads are supposed to spend time with their kids. (Judgment against self).
Debt: I feel like I got ripped off with time with my dad. I feel that he owed me at least some time and attention. I feel like there are many things he should have taught me about life. Now I feel that I am not equipped to be a good father.
The next post will get down to some practical exercises that you can use to map out your own cycle of pain and use it as a guide to your re-scripting the difficult and dysfunctional parts of your story. So, stay tuned, and tune in!
by Pastor Jim Anan