I was a really good Christian girl, and I was disintegrating in my marriage. I was doing all the right things as far as I could tell – serving in church, praying daily, reading and memorizing Scripture, reading great books about giving Jesus control over every area of my life, and earnestly endeavoring to apply everything I read. Yet I was continually hitting my head against the same walls in relationships, especially at home. My husband and I were experiencing the same painful cycles repeatedly, replaying the same arguments over and over again until we could each perfectly recite the other’s lines. We knew where the arguments would start, where they would go, and where they would end. But we had no clue how to resolve them.
And Jesus apparently wasn’t helping.
A friend invited me to join a group of women who were going to read through a Brene Brown book together. I’m still a part of that group three years later, and it has completely transformed my life, marriage, and family. Not because there was anything magical about Brene Brown, or even about the people who participated in the group. It wasn’t the material we went through that changed me, it was the invitation to understand myself, connect with my heart, and live my life from a place of worth and authenticity.
The self-awareness I’ve personally been developing over the past three years has been an indispensable component in cultivating a connected culture in our family. Why was this so pivotal? Because without self-awareness and an on-going commitment to authentic personal growth, I was unable to be my best self in relationships with others.
Without self-awareness, I had very little understanding of how I interacted or was experienced in relationships. I can’t prevent my bad habits if I don’t know I have them, or more significantly, if I don’t understand why I have them.
I’d been labeled passive-aggressive
by my spiritual leaders, and was told I needed to stop avoiding conflict. So I did my best to eradicate those behaviors, without any real understanding of what their roots were. The result was greater, more subconscious hiding and abandoning of myself in an attempt to eliminate all possible conflict. I wanted to be a person who didn’t avoid conflict. I also dreaded conflict so much that I wanted to be sure that I didn’t unnecessarily create any. Of course, the level to which I was hiding myself meant that I became terribly codependent. And I couldn’t authentically be me in any relationship with anyone, which was a constant source of contention in our marriage.
It wasn’t until I started a journey of 1) accepting the whole person that I am, beauty and brokenness together, and 2) gaining greater understanding of the things that make me me, that I was able to slowly learn to stop hiding. Just like an on-going infection that can’t be resolved until its source is identified, I had to understand the roots of my habits before I could make any kind of lasting transformation. Not only that, in order to grow into a better version of myself, I needed to view myself with value and compassion, instead of shame and judgment.
This journey that I’m describing isn’t one I went on, it’s one that I’m still on.
It’s an on-going process that will continue my whole life. The heart journey that I started in that group three years ago is where I am growing to understand the underlying motivations of my personality and choices. It’s where I’ve been learning about my triggers and reactions to unresolved pain, where they originated, what they feel and sound like, and how they show up in my day to day life and relationships. This is what equips me to regulate my reactions and respond in more constructive ways, and in turn enables me to avoid the tendencies that create distance in my relationships.
Here’s the thing: without sustained effort and consistent pursuit of awareness of myself, I am destined to repeat my patterns. I will continue reacting out of pain, shame, self-protection, and self-promotion. I am likely to abdicate my power to others who I believe are making it impossible for me to get my needs met. I am likely to be triggered by shame, and react by shutting down, projecting, armoring up, or people-pleasing, all of which will further escalate or amplify the problem. I’m likely to nurture the very elements of distance and division in my relationships that I work so hard to combat.
This is why I say that connection starts with me.
It sounds self-absorbed, in a discussion of family culture, to say that myself and my growth are at the center of it. But my experience is showing me that it’s real; that as I grow and learn about being a better version of me, I’m a more present and engaged wife and mom. And what I’m learning about me is rubbing off on the culture and people around me. As I learn to be authentically me, I become an invitation to the people around me to be authentically them.