Compassioning

I was asked to speak for a Messianic Congregation on the intersection of my faith and psychological expertise. The prompt given to me was:

What are the four big ideas, macro-level, that you believe if every person knew them it would change their life for the better, to have more shalom (mind, body, soul, and spirit)?

You can watch my full lecture here, and read more on my answer to this exploration below the video.


Big idea 1: All healing happens in relationship


I think I would also go so far as to say all hurt happens in relationship. I like to think of it similar to water—say one time you drank some contaminated water and got sick; you don’t then swear off water, you still need it to survive. Relationships are the same way. We get hurt in them, sometimes horrifically, and usually we respond by trying to avoid them or have them at a minimal level, and we end up starving. The research on adverse childhood experiences and trauma is fascinating here. The impact that those experiences have on the rest of our lives and on our physical health is profound. It causes all sorts of things (addiction, diabetes, obesity, inflammation, weaker immune systems, etc.). And what’s more, intergenerational trauma is a very real phenomenon (the sins of the father do get passed on, I believe, in this very real way, until such time as we choose our healing). When we choose our healing, we are working toward secure attachment—to ourselves, our families, our communities, to God. When we experience secure attachment, we experience true safety (the feeling that who we are is safe and we are safe in relationship), and the feeling of having been compassioned (I’m using this like a verb, and I imagine it similar to being filled with the Holy Spirit). We experience our interconnectedness, and we’re able to receive the compassion of others, of God, and be compassionate toward ourselves.


Big idea 2: Self + Relationships + Community


In order to have a truly healthy life, we have to have health in all three domains of self, relationships, and community. When we only have health in one or two areas, we still experience distress and dis-ease. This requires a different definition of health than what we typically talk about today. Health is usually depicted as an ideal, and that ideal is used to shame people for not matching up to it. Health, instead, I like to define as the engagement and experience of being whole just as you are. It’s kind of like light, both particles and waves. Health is both a journey and moment-by-moment experience. Aspects of all three of these areas are, of course, out of our control and will always be, and that does not preclude us from engaging in our healing work. We are not responsible for how other people hurt us, but we are responsible for our healing.


Big idea 3: All of you is worth listening to


You are not the enemy. You are created in God’s image. Part of that creative capacity is self-creation, the innate and natural drive and ability toward self-healing, self-actualizing, and self-transcendence. We treat ourselves as the enemy. People often paint humanity as kind of pathetic and hopeless; “Oh look at us, we’re all just searching.” That searching is a good thing. A thing to listen to and honor. Your body is not the enemy, your body has the answers. Your mind is not the enemy, your mind has the answers. When we actually listen to the distress and dis-ease that we experience in our mind and body, we can understand what we need to do in order to heal, instead of simply trying to stop symptoms (which are just communication) from happening. We are made in the image of the One who created us, and therefore we are oriented toward that—toward the Creator and toward the true intention of our Self.


Big idea 4: Forgiving


Forgiveness is a macro, intentional engagement of all our systems (all our being). The process of experiencing emotions involves receiving information via the peripheral nervous system, assessing risk and harm, making meaning, and choosing response. Forgiveness is the specific use of that process engineered toward our restoration. When we opt out of that process, we perpetuate cycles of hurt and harm, we perpetuate trauma, we perpetuate our own re-victimization over and over, we perpetuate intergenerational trauma, systemic oppression, and all the -isms of our history. When we opt out of forgiveness, we choose not to contribute to a better, more loving world. That is our priest- and priestess-hood. That is the hard work that comes from living a life of healing in light of being compassioned.


We misunderstand forgiveness to include justice or include expectations (e.g., I forgave him, but he’s still an awful person). These are all separate components, and that is part of the safety that we experience in secure attachment. Forgiveness, like boundaries, are for us. It is for our healing and our knowledge of where to go. It is moving the locus of control for our meaning making away from one who did harm and into ourselves so that we can take ownership and authorship of the meaning making process. We can have boundaries (a healthy, conscious version of expectations) and there can be justice, but those function independently of forgiveness. I don’t think there can be true justice without forgiveness. I think of justice as logical consequences. But when we enmesh that with a trauma cycle (lack of forgiveness), that’s when we engage in retribution, revenge, retaliation. Mercy is, again, wholly separate. Mercy is having forgiven, knowing the logical consequences, and opting to remove them.