In my last post I gave a snapshot of what it might look like to grow up in an environment filled with security, mindsight, empathy, consistency and constancy. While life has challenges for all of us, those who grow up with such a degree of security are able to navigate life’s challenges with resilience that others do not have. They also are able to be this type of environment for others to heal and grow within.
It is a worthy and desirous goal for us to grow into people with an ‘earned secure’ bond, living life with more enjoyment and fullness while offering security and safety for others.
Let’s think now about those who grow up in dismissive environments. In actuality, I am describing myself to a large degree, acknowledging that I also have threads of anxiety running in my veins! I will introduce you to my character in the snapshot of “Danny” and then tell of some practical ideas I have used to address the woundedness that came into my life. Ways that I have intentionally worked towards growing towards security, and becoming a safe and secure person for others.
SNAPSHOT: DISMISSIVE ATTACHMENT PATTERN:
Danny lives with a focus on following rules. Since he has not developed an inner confidence in handling hard situations, he feels a need to have clear guidelines to follow. This becomes more important to him than entering into the emotional pain or disturbances occurring with those he meets.
Danny’s creativity and ability to problem solve are limited due to his main focus on following rules.
It is fearful for him to let people have possible negative opinions of him. Thus, he is motivated and guided by a strong shame focus. He is defensive when problems occur and afraid he may be found ‘wanting’. This inhibits his capability to learn. Due to his need to keep life seemingly in control, he is not able to enter fully into a difficult situation. To do this, he must dismiss or minimize the full significance of what he or others are experiencing.
Description of Upbringing:
Danny quickly learned the rule that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. Of course, he was just a child, so what did he know? He did not experience the faces of his parent’s lighting up in the delight of who he was. His emotions were dismissed as being unimportant and ‘incorrect’. The significance of his needs was not recognized and often went unmet. At times, he learned that his need presented an inconvenience to his parents and if he wanted to avoid the pain of being ignored or shamed, he must not let it be known. Although he did want to be loved and given attention, he learned not to expect it or seek it. He knew that his needs, opinions, feelings and desires were unimportant. In order to navigate in his world he focused on being a good child. He appeared to be well adjusted since he did not voice complaints or appear to be a clingy child. This ‘getting it right’ added to the cycle of not receiving focused attention. There was no need to be met and no behavioral problems to be disciplined. This inflexible and non-spontaneous pattern led him into the path of a rigid relational style.
Danny grew up in an environment in which his needs, emotions, opinions and ideas were disregarded. His mind internalized the belief of being unimportant and later, he is not able to easily recognize his own value. Memories are ‘recorded’ through a process that includes emotional ‘wiring’. Not getting the message that who he is and what he thinks is of any importance, laid the groundwork for life’s events not to be ‘logged’ well in his memory. Thus, he has a limited view of himself. His life awareness is limited to ‘non-emotional’ domains. Spontaneous and creative thinking has been discouraged, resulting in his interpersonal relationships being stilted. His view of life is inflexible as he takes a restrictive approach to living in the world.
Relational Connection with God:
Danny has little awareness that God cares about how he is doing. He is certain that what matters to God is obedience and having a ‘right attitude’. He experiences God as distant, mostly uninvolved and a taskmaster. While knowing the theological truth of God’s love being unconditional, his experience with God is characterized by a dryness and dissatisfaction.
Danny mistakes ‘rules’ for relationship and thus pursues obedience as a way to secure his standing with God.
So, how do those of us who identify with Dismissive Danny practically address the impact of our bias for shutting down and minimizing awareness of the impact of life on ourselves? How do we intentionally strive to relate with those who live from a stance of ‘shut down’ and minimizing the fullness of their lives?
As I wrote at the beginning, ‘Danny’ gives you a glimpse into my own life journey. I will now share with you some of the practices I have engaged in.
- In early childhood I became un-aware of what was happening in my body. I tuned out the awareness of being thirsty to tummy aches. Even the significance of what turned out to be chicken pox. I did not recognize how emotions resulted in my ‘losing my voice’, an increased heart rate or shallow breathing. The extent of my ‘shut down’ has a strong correlation to the auto-immune disease I currently live with.
Dr. Gabor Mate has stated, “When you shut down emotion, you’re also affecting your immune system, your nervous system. So the repression of emotions, which is a survival strategy, then becomes a source of physiological illness later on.”
It is still a challenge for me to take time out to ‘scan’ my body and recognize what I am feeling, both emotionally and where it is settling in my body. I am learning to be curious as to what my body might be telling me, even if at this point I am only hearing ‘whispers’. I continue developing habits like taking deep breaths or rolling my shoulders (and there are many more you can discover) for the purpose of waking up my shut down system.
In relating with others who I discern are minimizing the impact of life on themselves, I attempt to gently ask questions in a way to bring attention to the importance of what they are experiencing. I may make statements like, “That gives me a pit in my gut. What about you?” I have written responses such as, “I’m taking some deep breaths on your account.” I want to slow down the fast pace of life in a manner to acknowledge the importance of life’s impact, including the impact on our bodies. Hopefully, my response will saturate within in a way that seeps validation and comfort to the soul of those I cross paths with.
- In order to address the schema in my life of dismissing the significance of it’s impact, I have practiced ‘making a mountain out of a mole hill’. At times I have emotions surface while watching a movie or tv show. These reactions are revealing something that matters to me and gives me an opportunity to be curious about what is churning within me. I attempt to notice any emotion that even remotely passes within me (anger, frustration, sadness, disgust, fear, anxiety, powerlessness, hopelessness , despair, shame, embarrassment, guilt) and leaning into them with curiosity. When I become aware of something that matters to me, I try on efforts to be a ‘drama queen’ with safe people, who I am pretty confident will acknowledge and validate what concerns me.
It still at times feels like I am exaggerating. But I am discovering that I am getting closer to reality. I am caught off guard at times with how literal it is that God keeps track of every minute detail and nuance of my life. I matter so much to Him that He lovingly sees me this intricately. Every detail of life is worthy of noticing and validating.
When encountering someone who does not feel free to know or express the fullness of something in their lives, I have given responses such as, “You mentioned a headache earlier. How is it now?” “That would be *unnerving* for me. What is it like for you?” “Your voice got quiet. What are your thinking and/or feeling?”
I want to slow down the fast pace of life in a manner to acknowledge the importance of another’s life. Again, hopefully, my response will saturate within in a way that seeps validation and comfort to the soul of those I cross paths with.
- Growing up with the mindset that following rules is paramount, I have intentionally tried to find rules that I can break that will not bring harm to another. Jesus is my example in how He and his disciples picked and ate grain on the sabbath. When He consistently broke Sabbath rules to bring help and care to those suffering, He exemplified that rules were made for the people and not important in themselves. He lived from a stance of freedom. The ultimate law to guide us is the one of Loving God and our neighbors.
It is not the outward behavior of ‘rule breaking’ that defiles, but rather the broken and sinful attitudes lurking within our souls. It brings my soul into a new arena of life when I live from the awareness that people and relationships are more important than rules. I have pushed myself to go against some of the ‘shoulds’ that present themselves in daily living. At the vet when the sign says I am to stay in ‘the room with my cell phone off’, I have recognized that I am more important than the rule, goning to my car to get something to work on, and kept my phone on to respond to emails.
While in childhood I was taught that tattoo’s and body piercing was defiling the temple of God, I am now the happy owner of a nose piercing. At times it is still uncomfortable, but I am grateful for times when I can ‘push the limit’ and color outside the lines. Living with more freedom and being governed by love rather than rules.
- Mindfulness is a valuable skill to develop regardless of our attachment pattern. But it is not a ‘one size fits all’ skill. For those in the dismissive mindset, as we bring ourselves into greater self awareness, it will be helpful in allowing our minds to grasp more and more of the fullness of our experience. Tuning into what is happening in our bodies, we can notice what it is like to take deep breaths and exhale slowly.
Using mindfulness, we can bring curiosity to the manner of how our minds and thoughts flow. (Fast, slow, circular, shut down…?) We can become cognizant to the manner and depth of our breathing. We can tune in to the intricacies of our emotions and be curious about them. The goal for those of us who live in the stance of minimizing life, the goal of mindfulness is to increase our awareness of nuances in our lives, giving them the place of value our God would allot.
The more we wake up to the heightened value of ourselves and others, along with the significance of life’s impact, we are being restored to the place of dignity given by God to all creatures. We grow in confidence of our value and can pursue being cared for in ways that increase security. We expand into the fullness of ourselves as we are acknowledged, validated and comforted. We can allow others to experience their value, helping them into a place of increased dignity, honor and security.
In my next reflection, I will introduced you to “Distracted/ Anxious David”. We will then consider some practical ways to help bring our nervous systems back to a place of calm.