We need to use both reason and emotion in our choosing of people. We get into danger when we ignore our reason, when we find our hearts are attracted to people that our heads ‘know better’ than to choose. At those times, we find ourselves picking people who cannot satisfy our needs and whose character does not measure up to our essential values. Our hearts become disconnected from our values and in conflict with our true needs. Because our hearts have been programmed to seek some sort of sickness inside, we find relationships that match the sickness inside our hearts.”Dr. Henry Cloud, Safe People
The Sickness Inside Our Hearts
Several years ago, I read Dr. Cloud’s book, Safe People. At the time, I registered all the wisdom and neatly tucked his words inside my head. I took strides towards strengthening my emotional and mental health.
Went to Christian counseling. It “must be,” “should be,” “Christian” counseling.
Read many helpful books.
Went to the gym, worked out, and walked three miles at least four or five times a week.
Listened to all the “right” radio programs (no podcasts back in the dark ages).
Went to hear all the top Christian speakers and teachers of the day; buying the most recent cassette tapes to listen to in-between raising children and homeschooling.
I thought I was doing “all the right things.”
It wasn’t until I faced the hurtful words of a fellow leader and hit the wall of a deep heartrift that the words of Safe People made their way into every single corridor of my heart.
As I wrote in Overcoming Hurtful Words, that specific heartrift became a spiritual tipping point in my life. One for which I am most grateful.
I finally realized this truth: For most of my life “my heart had been attracted to people that my head ‘knew better’ than to choose.”
Choose being the most important word in that revelation.
I could choose my people.
I could actually choose.
The Power of Something Called, “Interoception”
Writing that sentence, “I could choose my people,” still feels innately wrong. Less wrong then a year or even two ago, but still sits uncomfortably in my cognition.
The only way to resolve trauma is to know yourself and cherish yourself. Self-observance is observing yourself, knowing yourself, being curious about yourself, befriending yourself, taking care of yourself. To feel and know yourself is an essential ingredient of healing.Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
I have some thoughts as to why. I share a couple in hopes my story informs your story
- For most of my life, I’ve been disconnected from “me.” Somewhere in childhood—those early years living in the emotional atmosphere of an alcoholic home and family—I developed unhealthy behavior patterns, i.e., coping skills and defense mechanisms. Yes, these are not “bad things,” as they help us get through tough times, but they are not “best things.” Dr. Bessel van der Kolk writes, “Neuroscience research has shown that the only way you can change your survival orientation in your brain is by accessing your interoceptive world—the part of your brain that allows you to observe yourself. Accessing the interoceptive world is not a strong skill in the Western traditions. Getting to know yourself and to feel yourself—being still—is not part of the dominant culture of Western civilization. Basically, our culture suggests if you feel bad, simply take a swig of something or take a pill to make whatever symptom go away. There is very little understanding here in the West that you can actually change your physiology.
- For most of my spiritual life, I’ve been disconnected from authentic, healthy faith and connected to pressurized, unhealthy “systems.” This is where Dr. Cloud’s words ring so true. Because I had “some sort of sickness inside,” I repeatedly chose people and places that matched “the sickness in my heart.” In simplest terms, somewhere and somehow, I released my ability to think and feel to the hands and minds of others. Not “consciously,” but released it nonetheless.
Interoception is a lesser known sense that helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside of your body. Children who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, cold, hot, thirsty, etc. This sense aids in self-awareness.”Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Real Love Offers Space to “Be”
Since writing Overcoming Hurtful Words, I’ve learned even more. So much more, I had to write another whole book. The beauty of our brain is in its’ phenomenal capacity to heal itself—sometimes it needs professional guidance from those trained in the rewriting of neural pathways. Other times, it just needs space to feel and know and “be.”
Getting to know our true self is at the core of living a truly authentic, God-breathed life.
Sometimes this “looks like” disconnecting from any and all “disordered attachments” and “good, not best, systems,” in order to breathe and find out who we really are—underneath it all.
For me, it was finally learning to listen to myself, trust my ability to make wise decisions, and most importantly, spend time getting to know God, my Creator and Father, for myself. That His love is real love.
Safe. Really, really safe.
He doesn’t want anything from me, but wants everything for me. Love. Peace. Joy. Fullness. Depth. Expansion. Maturity.
He doesn’t want me to work or serve “for” him, but “with” him. Together, we offer our united efforts, abilities, and relationship to the world.
He doesn’t want me to burn out, he wants me to bring out the best in myself and everyone in my sphere of influence.
Most of all, He wants me to live anchored in the reality of His Real Love—the safest harbor for our hearts.
Additional Resources on Real Love is Safe:
What are Safe People? https://www.cloudtownsend.com/what-are-safe-people/
Video on Safe People: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-WxnWkcdCM
Excellent Teaching Video by Dr. Cloud: https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/1041
Top Ten Traits of Unsafe People: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-and-sensitivity/201311/the-top-10-traits-unsafe-people