Vulnerability and Support

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They aren’t difficult questions to answer.  Actually, one word will do it.  The answer is either “Yes” or “No”, but the questions may bring up issues you’d prefer not to think about or consider. There are no right or wrong answers to the questions, but it is interesting that 75% of those answered the questions, answered “No”.

Have I baited you to want to know more?  Do you think your answer will be “Yes” or “No”?  Drum Roll – These are the questions:

  • Was it safe in your family to be vulnerable and talk about difficult feelings?”
  • Can you recall a specific instance in childhood when you were deeply distressed and received comfort from a caregiver?”

Maybe part of it has to do with the environment in which we grew up.  Folks in my generation were the children of World War II veterans who came back from the war, married and had families.  Many, probably most, had come through the most horrific of circumstances known to mankind. They survived foxhole experiences while buddies adjacent to them did not.  They witnessed the unspeakable and they opted to relegate the memories to that same category in their lives.  For the most part, they didn’t come home and share their story.  They didn’t talk about the horror. They simply chose to try to forget.  They forged ahead and did the best that they could.

My dad was part of that regiment of soldiers that stormed Normandy beach.  Reportedly, the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998 was notable for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war.  That was particularly true for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes which included a depiction of the Omaha Beach assault of June 6, 1944.

At the suggestion of friends, both licensed professional counselors; I accompanied them and watched the movie because they thought it would have therapeutic value for me.  I’m not sure what they were thinking, but I do remember there was nothing therapeutic about it.  Besides that, I’ve never been in a war situation, the very thought I’d find it helpful was ludicrous.

My dad had no interest in seeing the movie. Of course, after I saw the movie, I would have discouraged his having an interest if he had wanted to see it.  He never talked about the war until toward the end of his life.  I remember as a kid there were times we wanted Dad to take us hunting.  He always responded, “I had enough of rifles in the war,  I have no interest in ever carrying one again”.  That was the end of the story. We never went hunting.

As you might suspect, the movie “Saving Private Ryan” had a disturbingly profound emotional impact on WWII veterans.  According to reports, most re-experienced the horror on a feeling level. Some even associated it with the smell of death.  One veteran said, “The first time around he had been too busy fighting to absorb the horrors of battle to let terror grip him”.  Reliving it was worse for him.  His chest tightened, he had difficulty breathing and he shed a lot of tears.  “I felt like I was there again…It was so damned real.”

Shortly after the movie was released, William Weitz, a clinical psychologist said: “Seeing the movie opens up the floodgates of emotions for many veterans.  The screen becomes an emotional experience. They don’t just see it; they feel it.”

For those of us in the baby-boomer generation, we observed first hand a home environment where the head of the household had employed the survivor skill of attempting to separate themselves from their feelings. The simply followed the orders they were given, did what they could to disassociate themselves from the hell on earth reality they were experiencing and came home with an established pattern of not dealing directly with issues or talking about the experience.

Perhaps the culmination of that pattern of behavior is one of the reasons that family conflict, broken homes, and a sense of carelessness is pervasive in families.  Too often, the thought of working through issues is alien to our thinking.  We simply opt out and close the door, move on and duplicate the same level of brokenness in the next relationship.

Several years ago I had a delightful friend who experienced a turn of bad luck regarding husbands.  Despite her level of awareness of what miserably married feels and  looks like, repeatedly she found herself living the same nightmare again and again.

If our need for safety is such that we have to distance ourselves from being open and honest about our feelings, how far do we get in ever experiencing contentment and fulfillment.  For that matter, how do we ever effectively resolve conflict?

The questions mentioned earlier are important questions.  Do you remember them and if so, what’s your one word answer.  It isn’t important that you share you answers with me, but it is important that you find the level of self-awareness and honestly answer them for yourself.

  • Was it safe in your family to be vulnerable and talk about difficult feelings?”
  • Can you recall a specific instance in childhood when you were deeply distressed and received comfort from a caregiver?”

Without the ability to be transparently vulnerable, honestly express feelings, find solace and support in the care of others and move toward wholeness, what chances do we have of ever being true to ourselves or to others?  “Slim to none” is my final answer.

Tomorrow, I’ll share my answer regarding the aforementioned two questions previously mentioned.  My answer may surprise you.

All My Best!

Don

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