We've now considered the two primary ways that a damaged or immature parent takes from their child (unloading shame and by siphoning back nurture) which we understand results from a parent's disrespect for the child's characteristics (and needs). With that background, we can now better understand how adults, both parents and grown children, cope with the sense of emptiness that they face. As we've noted in the most recent posts, the parent has two drives and needs of their own. They need to both purge shame and gain their own worth, and they pass this “multigenerational faithfulness” down to their children because the have nothing else to give to them. The immature adult must then look to other sources to find worth, peace, safety and soothing elements so that they can cope with the pressures and problems of life.
As we've discussed, the parent uses their child to meet their inner needs. In the diagram, note that the parent holds a part of the child hostage through the dependency the have on the child, and the child draws worth from the relationship. But what happens when the parent disappears or the child becomes separated from the parent?
The child is left with their own sense of emptiness, and they must try to find ways to function. They must do what their parents have done, and they will opportunistically find ways to fill their inner emptiness. The child learns to draw worth form their performance (caring for others as they cared for the parent, through good opinions that others have of them, and through outward things like their appearance, or good circumstances. All people tend to do this to build up their optimism, they have a full hearts and an intact sense of self. The do not depend on these outward things as their sole source of good experience.
The immature, empty, and shamed parent operates only external sources of good feelings. They work very hard to avoid the shame they feel as well as the emptiness, and they become rigid and tired in this process. They tend to become intolerant and demanding because they avoid facing their unpleasant emotions by controlling whatever they can in their world. As mentioned before, the parent avoids shame by punishing the imperfection of their child because they cannot tolerate their own emotions. When successful, they believe that they've conquered the emotion, but they've only managed to avoid it. It becomes a reward for their attempt to control, creating the illusion that they are powerful and free. They learn how to manipulate others so that their behavior works to help them feel better and helps them avoid their internal pain.
The other ways that an immature adult avoids their inner pain comes through performance, basing their worth and peace on their successes. This is often why certain people become very driven to accomplish and why they work so hard in their vocations, as they have learned to find their worth and peace outside of themselves through their own effort. They trick themselves into believing that they are controlling things that are well outside of their influence. Though people can be responsible with money, it is possible to end up in circumstances beyond their control where they can owe more or need more money than they can obtain or earn. People can take impeccable care of their home, but in the event of an earthquake or a flood, that person's efforts to prevent harm to their home cannot protect them. We can do all we can to have good health, but quite often, we can end up developing diseases that are far beyond our ability to control. Or a person can be the very best at their profession, but kind of work that they do can become obsolete. So this system of looking outside of one's self to find worth and peace works well only when a person can perform well and only when circumstances are very good. But what happens on rainy days?
As we all well know when depending on peace and worth from things outside of ourselves, we are destined for heartache. Life is full of a great many things that are well-beyond our sphere of control. When the people from whom a person derives worth dies or becomes parted from them, and when they experience the the painful processes of life, they go right back to the beginning of the process. When they fail or when the illusion of control falls apart (as it does in life at some point), the person is left to again face their sense of shame and their lack of worth which feels like worthlessness. Some people appear to do well in the process, but they mask the pain of the rainy day.
Of course, for the Christian, the solution to the problem should be rather simple through realizing that human beings are imperfect and limited but finding one's identity in Christ will fill our hearts and our emptiness. He heals us of our toxic shame which Jesus bore on the Cross for us that we might have no condemnation. We can put our faith and trust in Him to heal us and fill us up, and then on the rainy days in life, we can have worth in Him and enduring peace in the storm. At its root, the reliance on external things to find peace and worth is no different than original sin. Man tricks himself into the idea of believing that he can control his life, powerful enough and strong enough to build up his own sense of peace and worth. But we can only get so far when we do this.
In my own life and in my own journey out of shame, performance, and low worth because I derived my worth from the esteem of others, I think that a good bit of my life has been the “fear and trembling” of repenting of all of the ways I've tried to deal with shame and low worth on my own instead. Many religious people do the same thing with their attempts to accomplish things in Jesus' Name to accomplish great things for Him. They determine what they think they need to do, then go about doing those things in their own strength through their own effort. We all get tricked into thinking that we are more powerful than we are, forgetting that without Him, we can do nothing. There is no switch that flips that releases us from the trappings of being parented by an immature person, and in fact, that plight is very much the same plight that all mankind suffers – the illusion and desire to be powerful enough that we do not need God. We must spend our lives learning that.
It is sad to realize that many Christian systems teach others to be limited and dependent and that their only sense of self worth and self esteem can come from following the rules that they develop. It is our human tendency to believe, also, that we must merit the goodness that God shows to us in abundance because of His loving kindness and disposition of grace toward us. In unhealthy parenting, the parent primes the child to accept only outside sources of love and worth. This creates a great foothold for manipulators to be able to hurt and use the adult who is empty and full of shame. Religious systems can exploit that toxic level of undeserved shame that we feel, making it quite easy to grab and use as a handle to twist us through condemnation and legalism.
I believe that for the girls who found their way to Hephzibah House, the abuse they suffered there only added to the shame and emptiness that many had before they ever arrived there. It primed them to become the victims of Ron and Patti Williams (the proprietors), as they used the Hephzibah Girls to bolster their own illusion of control so that they could ward off the darkness of shame and emptiness in their own hearts. In that sense, Ron Williams is far more pathetic than anyone who has ever been in his care, as he used people as objects to ward off his own pain. How much pain and emptiness must be in his heart to drive him to go to such extreme lengths to avoid his own negative feelings? But sadly, he chose to make victims of the girls there, teaching them to become even more powerless and greater victims of circumstance.
Upcoming posts will focus on powerlessness, failure to self-protect
and the specifics about the compulsion to repeat or reenact trauma
as well as additional information about PTSD.