While watching Netflix not too long ago, I was hit with a revelation of something I have struggled with my whole life. I sat there on my bed ugly crying through an entire episode of Queer Eye. This show is always a tear jerker, but it was not just a normal touching story that had my waterworks flowing. I was watching my story. Well, not literally my story. My story and that of the young woman in the episode are vastly different, but our coping mechanisms and the headspace she was in were exactly where I was 10ish years ago. My heart grieved because I could see for the first time much of the heartache I went through in that season of my life was caused by my stubborn choices. So much could have been avoided if I had known I could choose differently.
Growing up, I always thought my family life was pretty normal. When I went away to Bible College, I was hit with the reality of how dysfunctional my family was and how dysfunctional I was. Now don’t get me wrong, I had a good childhood and I love my family dearly. We kids always knew we were loved and were well taken care of. It was the more subtle emotional, relational aspects where we did not know how to do “family” well. My parents did the best they knew how because they did not have the greatest examples of healthy family dynamics either.
The messy, scary, ugly, vulnerable, differing opinions, conflict etc. that come with family were what we did not deal well with, we just pretended they didn’t exist. Being self sufficient was core value. If you needed help from someone it was inferred that you were weak and/or you must have made a mistake in some way. Needing things from others always came at a price or it would be thrown back in your face later. It was better to handle everything on your own. Being vulnerable was not safe. It was an invitation to have your insecurities used against you and your weaknesses exploited. Unhealthy control dynamics were the norm and healthy boundaries did not exist. Conflict was a very scary thing and we were taught to be agreeable, diplomatic and always put the needs of others first to avoid conflict at all cost.
Upon graduating Bible College I was faced with the decision of What comes next. Do I go home or do I do something else? Healthy communication, how to set boundaries or conflict resolution were still not tools I felt comfortable using. The only tool I really knew how to use with my family (or anyone really) was distance and avoidance. It was much easier for me to run away than stand up for myself or have the hard conversations that needed to be had. So I moved to Washington state to help out in a church plant there.
It was great…at first. The freedom and independence to make life what I wanted was a breath of fresh air. Life happens, as it does, and when things got tough it went downhill rather quickly. I embraced what I like to call an orphan mindset, some may call it an orphan spirit. It was a very dark time for me. It was me against the world. I did not want anyone to try and take care of me or help me. I did not need anyone. I thought I knew better than everyone, that I could figure it out on my own. I never asked anyone for help even when I really needed it. I believed the lie that I had to make myself worthy of others love. I rejected honest connection because it came with a price, vulnerability, which I perceived as weakness.
My church leaders were great people, but looking back I can see they also dealt with this orphan mindset. They did not have the knowledge or tools to do difficult relationships well either. Their response to everything was “cut them off”. I did have a circle of friends who were all in similar situations as me. We became a ragtag dysfunctional family to each other. Sadly, it was the blind leading the blind. None of us had the right tools to handle the difficult situations or the mess that comes from people with as crazy of backgrounds as we did. In the end, most of us walked away from that season wounded and offended.
It was not until I got out of that environment that I started slowly realizing many of my core values of independence were misguided. Getting married and having my own children has broken so many pre-conceived ideas I held about what family is. It has cost me greatly to learn
- It is ok to need people and to ask for help.
- Vulnerability is not a weakness but our greatest strength.
- Real love is not a fear-based need to control the other person.
- Boundaries are healthy and a necessary tool to have healthy relationships.
- Confrontation does not have to be scary, but is also necessary to protect and strengthen relationships.
Probably the best example of how far I have come would be in dealing with my in- laws. My husband comes from a very large, loud family. They fight, they disagree, they joke around and play together. They are fiercely loyal and love so so big. In other words, they petrified me. I could not wrap my head around being able to disagree but still love and support the other person even when you believed they are absolutely wrong. Or when someone made a bad choice or had something bad happen to them the whole family would rally to help out even if it was that persons fault.
When we were first married I would get offended when his mom or sisters would come over and offer to help out or make suggestions about things around the house or god forbid about our child. Filtered through my orphan mindset I took everything as a stab that I was not living up to their expectations as a wife or mother. My first response was distance, “Babe, tell your mom to stop dropping by!” But as I grew and as they continued loving me, I learned there was no mal-intent with their offers to help or suggestions on how I could do things differently. That is what family does! I learned I did not have to always be agreeable. I could be honest, I could set boundaries, confrontation did not have to be a death sentence to a relationship. I could be a vulnerable with them and they would cover and respect me.
So there I was, bawling on my bed watching Queer Eye when I realized how far I have come. I grieved for having wasted so much time, but overwhelmed by gratitude for the little family my husband and I have created as well as restored relationships with my natural family. I still have growth to do but I know I am on the right path.
When we lack the necessary tools to deal with situations, distance could be a temporary answer. It gives us a chance to back up and work on ourselves outside of the battle field. My mistake was isolating myself and not allowing others to come along side of me and support me in my growth process. Instead of working on myself to learn how to navigate relationships, the easy answer (that too many of us use today) was to ghost everyone I had difficulty with.
We are not made to go it alone. Confront those areas of your life where you might have an orphan mindset and let people in. Like attracts like, so if you are surrounded by emotionally unhealthy people, it might be a clue that you have some work you need to do on yourself. A great resource that really opened my eyes to healthy dynamics in any relationship were Danny Silks Books Keeping your Love on and Culture of Honor. He has many free resources, podcasts, youtube videos, blogs etc that you can get started with as well.
Check out this chart I found! It is so good at showing the contrast of how we relate to God and inevitably all other relationships when we have a orphan mindset (heart, spirit) verses the mentality of a son or daughter.