Years ago, the Lord gave me a vision of a woman. Inside of her was a barren world with dead trees and storm clouds in a desert landscape. Outside of her was a mirror image of the same landscape with the same clouds, dusty terrain, and blackened trees. I struggled with the metaphor for a bit and then the words of Ed Smith, the founder of Theophostic prayer ministry came to me. The basic principle is this: What you feel is what you believe, and what you believe might as well be true, because the results will be the same. For me, after enduring years of narcissistic abuse, the vision rang true. My internal version of reality drastically affected my ability to correctly perceive my external reality.
Inside, I felt unsafe. Somehow, over and over, I would find unsafe people and then attempt to make them safe by placating them. I had a special gift for repeating my mistakes. Put me in a room of random people and I would immediately gravitate towards the narcissist. My internal reality informed my external reality. After twenty five years of teaching and a decade of ministry, I believe this is true of all of us. If on the inside you feel empty, you will try to fill it, to no avail. If you feel cheated by life, your external reality will manifest reasons to feel paranoid. If you feel unloved, no matter how many people in your life love you, their love will not land in you. Do you feel rejected? Your life will reflect that exile.
The Way Home from Exile
I find the stories of the pioneers moving out into the great unknown very moving. If you visit the roads they used in their rickety covered wagons, the grooves from their wagon wheels are carved deep into the hard packed soil. Our minds and emotions are like that. We have worn deep grooves in our neural pathways and so we repeat our cycles. I would love to give you a pat, formulaic answer that solves it easily, but in truth, learning to perceive what is true takes practice. If introspection does not come easily to you, find a mentor, pastor, or therapist. If you know your cycles and the emotions that propel them, then here are some new paths for your wagon.
- Mindfulness is crucial. I learned how to be safe on the inside by listening to my body signal danger. I carefully gauge my surroundings and far more often than not, my body flashes emergency lights when it should be giving the all clear.
- Practice, practice, practice. When anxiety sounds its warning bell, I first ascertain whether or not it is accurate. If in actuality, I am safe, then I practice feeling safe. Sometimes I picture myself in a peaceful hammock, swinging gently on a summer’s day. I practice relaxing. After a year, peace began to chisel its own neurological route in my mind and body.
- Learn self-compassion. I am my own primary caretaker. No one but God knows me like I know me. At least, when I choose to know myself. Be patient with yourself as you fill in those grooves and lift the wagon wheels out of their ruts. The wagon is heavy, but you have a lifetime.
- Rebuild self-trust. If you engage in a dialogue with your mind, heart, and spirit, you begin to realize that many of these truths, you knew all along. When I began my quest to heal from PTSD, I found that I knew that some of the people I chose were not safe. By listening to myself and exploring the emotions I had always avoided, the compulsion to make safe what wasn’t faded.
At home and at work, we are doomed to repeat our own histories unless, by the grace of God, the light of His truth, and the working out of our salvation, we allow the transformation we so desperately need. So often we look for a one-time event to change us. We must get out of our own way in order to walk in the Way. I believe another name for it is the Calvary road.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:4