I’ll begin this blog by stating that there is no way to capture a complete answer to this question in brief blog. However, I am hoping it will give you some insights on this question based on the experiences of author Kathy Brous. Her story, chronicled in her book Don’t Try This Alone: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder, offers us a description of her very painful journey towards reconciliation and healing from severe attachment issues that ultimately allowed her to embrace herself with love as she learned that God really loves her. Hers is a very painful journey but most people with deep-seated unresolved trauma experience life journeys that are fraught with pain, confusion, deep sadness and above all a sense of isolation because of feeling so unlovable and unworthy.
Her attachment issues came to light as she not only had symptoms of unresolved trauma but also as she explored the realities of her mother’s lack of interest, connection, affection and attention towards her from infancy on, and quite possibly beginning when her mom was pregnant with her. She describes a lifetime of emotional pain and compulsions to reenact the rejection she experienced as a child by finding relationships where she would be criticized, condemned and ultimately abandoned again.
Repeatedly she wrestles with that core belief of blaming herself for the struggles she was having. There is something very profound when you automatically assume, and believe, that the problems you encounter are your fault. She describes times when she experienced some relief as she went through various therapies, but the relief was typically short-lived because somehow it wasn’t connecting her to the depth of her pain.
For many people with unresolved trauma, they question God’s presence. Just as they assume they are unacceptable to others because of flawed core beliefs, they believe God experiences them in the same way. They have no reference point or experience of a truly safe and secure relationship with anyone, including with the Creator. Deep within their core belief system that develops as a result of being abandoned, ignored and/or criticized early in life, there is a constant wall of fear and doubt coupled with self-hatred that leads to the conclusion they are unlovable and unworthy of being loved. Messages that communicate that God is love, that He is compassionate and filled with grace somehow are for others who are more worthy of such love.
The author’s story penetrates her walls of resistance, fear, self-hatred and self-doubt and takes us on a journey of her very gradual process of reconciling the realities of her childhood to eventually allowing the belief that God could actually love her.
She mentions a moment when she metaphorically she got on her knees and called out to God. She describes herself as “howling down the freeway” as she sobbed uncontrollably. This was a culminating experience after years of struggling and experiencing the depth of despair that occurs when someone has no experience with feeling lovable and worthy of love. Somehow it was the combination of all that she had learned and her discovery at last that she could be open to God’s love that allowed her to actually receive it.
Eventually, she had a moment of feeling something she said, “… Was so lyrical, so glorious, that I began to weep. I put my head down next to the speaker, just sobbing for the beauty of it. “This is what Mom should have felt like. This is what God feels like! This is what ‘people love’ should feel like!” She describes a deep sob that left her body shaking and she allowed her pain to course through her. “It feels like someone’s turning my guts inside out with a meat hook, but when it’s done, boy, do I feel better.” She felt that God had heard her.
She says that in this moment, “… it felt like finally someone loved me.” Her therapist went on to tell her that this kind of comfort “… is what a two-month-old is supposed to learn when emotions flood in. He learns that if he feels all this and screams, people have a good response. ‘Hey, I can feel this!’ He realizes, ‘because somebody comes and helps me, and then it goes away. I can handle this!” He told her that she could now feel her emotions with God and then with others.
For anyone who reads this and struggles to experience God’s love, it can be comforting to know that there are pathways to discover in order to do so. For each person, it is a unique and challenging journey. I found Kathy Brous’ journey to be powerful, poignant and inspirational. Hers is a message of hope. The pathway she needed was through her music. There are other pathways, always sensory in nature because our trauma is stored in our sensory memories. The journey of discovery, especially the discovery to try to find a God who loves each of us unconditionally, can be overwhelmingly challenging and can at times feel like there never will be any connection with God. Finding ways to embrace the messages that you are lovable, you are worth it, and the things that happened to you in early childhood were not your fault, especially if you experienced parental rejection, is something every human deserves to discover. God is the ultimate parent of secure attachment. Sometimes the journey to discover that attachment that is safe, accepting and enveloping is extremely long and challenging. I think deep inside each of us is a seed of hope. We need to find ways to allow it to germinate over time.
Invitation to Reflect
- If you are a person who experienced parental rejection that resulted in insecure attachment, what parts of this blog resonate with your pain? Can you believe that there is some hope that you are wrong about beliefs of your lack of lovability and worthiness? Can you allow a little hope to come into your belief system that can be so negative and condemning?
- Consider some of the resources that might exist to help you on this journey: a caring trauma-informed therapist , a church that focuses on God’s grace and love, friends who can accept you right where you are and also can encourage you to take a journey similar to that of Kathy Brous.
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute