In last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, the very logic-focused Sheldon was jarred into the realization that he does not have the ability to suppress all emotion. Unlike his hero, Mr. Spock, he has the capacity to hurt. So do we all.
Not all of us are as uncomfortable with emotion as Sheldon is. (Although I find Sheldon to be very relatable, truth be told!) But most of us do attempt to “offload” our hurt in a number of ways. If you’re interested in what those tricks look like, Brené Brown does a great job of identifying and describing them in Rising Strong (pp. 59-66). This unwillingness to feel the feels, though, only kicks the hurt down the road. It will have to be dealt with again later, often in messier form.
So it’s healthier – and easier, in the long view – to look hurt in the eye. But there are big differences between:
- feeling hurt and acting out hurt
- feeling disappointed and living disappointed
- acknowledging pain and inflicting pain
- caring about what others think and being defined by what others think
(Brown names these dichotomies in her introduction and first chapter.)
In the first half of each pair, we acknowledge our humanity and seek to understand what we’re feeling and why. When we can see the issue more clearly, we can deal with it better. If we lean toward the second half of these pairs, though, we’re really looking to avoid pain by passing it on to someone else. We disconnect from our inner life and from other people, making up stories instead about someone else and his/her intentions.
I believe much of the conflict in congregations comes from the desire to pass on pain rather than feeling and owning our discomfort. Church involvement is very personal. We encounter God and mature in our faith at church. We talk about close-to-home and sometimes controversial topics at church. We make some of our best friends at church. We invest much of ourselves and our resources at church. All of this growth-inducing vulnerability leaves us exposed to hurt, and we often don’t have the skills as individuals or communities to handle our disappointments in a healthy way.
In my next post I will outline what I believe to be the most helpful tool Brown offers us for reflection. This examination is the first step toward communicating, understanding, and connecting.