Discovering Life as a Fearful-Avoidant?

I’ve been digging into attachment theory a lot lately.  And I really don’t like what I’m finding, if I’m to tell the truth.

If you’ve never looked at attachment theory, it is a psychological concept that tries to describe how we behave in our relationships.  The basic idea is that our relationships (or lack thereof) with our primary caregivers lays the foundation for how we will relate to other people, particularly when we feel threatened.

I am thinking about writing my own little series on these types.  There is a lot of information out on the web, but no one person seems to have a ton to say about any of them.  That means it can take a while to really piece together an understanding, or at least it has for me.

For now, I’ll just say that I’m coming to the conclusion that I’ve got the shittiest one of the bunch that you can have.  Basically, there is one that is good (Secure) and two that are bad/insecure (Avoidant and Preoccupied).  Then there is a pretty rare third one that is wacked combination of the two bad ones called Fearful-Avoidant.   Even the name of that one leaves a lot to be desired.

The more I look at them, the more convinced I am that I’m more in line with that uber-shitty combo.  What’s weird, though, is that it doesn’t upset me like I would expect.  Normally, the idea that there could be something really wrong with me would be pretty…  I don’t know… not okay.  In truth, it doesn’t bother me that much.  I’ve been working so hard on healing, even without necessarily understanding the depth or breadth of what needs to be healed.  So, to me, I’ve already come so far down the path.  I’m not out of the woods yet, but I also can’t see where I started from either.  I’ve come a long, long way.

It’s also a little comforting, as crazy as that might sound.  I’ve known for a long time that it seemed that there was something in me that didn’t make sense, as though there were competing beliefs inside me at the same time.  I’ve felt as though I’ve believed some contradictory things at the same time.  For example, I’ve believed that I don’t need relationships, but I’ve been lonely.  I’ve prided myself on the fact that I don’t need anyone, but I can be hypersensitive to rejection.  In a lot of ways, I’ve been at war with myself.  I am one part fiercely independent and one part desperately needy.  Understanding attachment theory is the closest I’ve come to being able to make peace between those two poles of my existence.

There is so much more I want to say about this.  I’m not certain yet that this is the case.  I’m not sure that I’m right, but there is so much about it that makes sense, even as I don’t want it to.  More than anything, I’ve realized that none of the others fit better than this one fits.  Although, this one isn’t a complete fit, either.  I don’t really expect them to.  Nothing is a perfect categorization.  Personality typing doesn’t work that way.  Nothing in psychology does, actually.

Still, it’s hard to get away from the fact that it offers some compelling explanations.  But that’s the thing about truth, isn’t it?  The fact that you don’t like something doesn’t make it not true.

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Certainty is the Enemy of Discovery

Every now and again, some small phrase will get stuck in my head.  I don’t mean like the little snippet of a song that plays over and over again in a loop until you want to jump off a bridge.  No, I’m talking about some little sentence that defies the way you’ve lived your life, and demands that you pay attention to it.

Certainty is the enemy of discovery.

Think about that for a second.  The more certain you are, the less likely you are to dig any deeper into something, the less likely you are to learn.   The degree we believe we’re certain about anything is inversely proportionate to how open we are to grow and to change.  Ouch.

Ever seen someone who is so convinced that they are right that they can’t be swayed?  Those people who are completely unwilling to listen to anything anyone has to say?  They are maddening, and they are frustrating.  There is a whole world of possibility in front of them, but they probably will never see it because they’re convinced there is nothing new to discover.  And what’s worse is that they often don’t realize they are doing it.

And do you know what’s even worse than that?  I’ve had this very problem.  I think we all do to some extent, but I can be pretty bad about it.

A couple of months ago, I took a personality test at a marriage retreat my wife and I attended.  I don’t remember the exact name of the test, but it was basically the True Colors test that you can find online, only this was really well done.  Anyway, there are only four types and they’re named by color – blue, green, orange, and gold.  My primary type is green.  Basically, it says that I’m an intellectual type who loves to figure things out.  What’s more, is that my type is allegedly convinced more often than not that we are right and other people are wrong.  There was a lot to be said about the type, but that is one thing that really stuck out for me.

Now, that isn’t just because the test said so.  As with a few group tests I’ve taken like that, they put us into groups by our type and then have us do some exercise.  Well, as a part of that, one of the things we did was just talk.  Every single one of us talked about how self-assured we were when it came to being right about something.  We were all extremely confident in our ability to be right.

And so that got me thinking….  How much of life do I miss out on when I’m certain?   What happens to the notion of curiosity when there’s nothing left to discover?

Anyway, this is a shorter post today.  I just thought I’d throw this out there as food for thought.  How do you kill discovery in the name of certainty?  Or is it just me?

The Uncharted Territory of Grief

Do you ever have those moments where you wonder if you are the only person on the planet who is clueless about something?  Everyone else sees it as completely obvious, but you’re left scratching your head.

Until recently, grief has been one of those things for me.  As it turns out, I’ve never really understood what it was.  Maybe that sounds silly, but I’ve always associated it with death or maybe even divorce. Continue reading “The Uncharted Territory of Grief”

Beautiful Emotion

For most of my life, emotion has been a hidden thing to me.  It was something to be feared, to be squelched.  Controlled.  It was distant, pushed down into the blackest depths of my consciousness.  I don’t know how it happened, although I do remember when it happened.  But that is a story for another time. Continue reading “Beautiful Emotion”

There and Back Again

It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything, but I think that is for the best.  I’m not sure I know what I would have posted.  For that matter, I’m not even sure where to start now.  This past year has really sucked.

Sometimes we act as though pain is relative.  I didn’t find out I had cancer.  Neither of my children did either.  My house didn’t burn down.  My body isn’t covered in sores.  I didn’t get a divorce, and I wasn’t abducted by aliens.  I have a good job.  I make a lot of money.  I have friends who care about me.

But it still sucked. Continue reading “There and Back Again”

I’m not Religious

I try really hard not to be religious. I really do. Now, I’m not talking about the mantra that seems to have become a little cliché even if it is true: “It’s not religion, it’s a relationship.” I’m talking about something much deeper than that.

If you’ve never read anything by Donald Miller, he is sometimes criticized for not using the Bible enough in his writing. Some say that he isn’t spiritual enough or that he doesn’t present as a great Christian leader. But he always teaches about Christ, even when he isn’t talking about him. I admire that, actually.

I don’t like everything he writes. I got a little – I don’t even know what to say, bogged down? – by Blue Like Jazz. The second half was really weird and rambly. To be honest, I couldn’t finish it. And now he’s got some weird Life Plan thing for $100. But none of that is the point. The point is that I am extremely impressed by his willingness to be real. I was introduced to him when someone gave me a copy of To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up without a Father. It was, to me, amazing. It was real. It was authentic. I had never heard anyone who called himself Christian be that brutally honest.

For me, authenticity in Christianity could be characterized by a particular radio ministry message I heard years ago. The speaker went on and on about how he had sin in his life just like everyone else did. He said that he struggled just like we did. He gave this detailed example of how someone had cut him off in traffic, and he got angry.

Yeah, you read that right. Let it sink in for a second. He. Got. Angry. And everyone gasped. Oh, the horror.  Can you even imagine?

I seriously wanted to kick my own radio in. At that time, I was in the middle of the slide into what I coined as “My Implosion.” I almost lost everything, including my family. I was unfaithful, I was selfish; I was resistant to anyone and everyone who tried to help me. I was angry at God for how He made me. I pushed everyone away. Everyone. Including God. Not only that, but I had just been betrayed by my best friend, who was “Christian.” He had been verbally abusing his wife and kids, had drained his bank account and disappeared. Turns out that he hadn’t even paid taxes in five years or more. He left his family with tons of unpaid debt and unpaid taxes, and his wife had no job or education. She lost everything. I knew they were working through issues, but I had no idea. None. To say I was feeling disillusioned about what it meant to be Christian is an understatement.

And so here is this guy who is talking about how he struggles with sin, and his big reveal is how he got angry. A huge part of me knew he had to be lying through his teeth. But there was another part of me that felt like I was Satan himself. I felt like I must have been the literal antichrist if that was his idea of sin. Except that I knew better. I knew that he wasn’t being real. He couldn’t have been. I couldn’t stand it if he was.

Because if he was being honest and that was all he had, I was so far gone that there was no coming back. I had descended into depravity so deeply that I would never be forgiven. I couldn’t. I was a lost cause, and I was never going to be okay. I was never going to be loved or admired or accepted – or loveable, admirable, or acceptable. I was defective and broken and dejected and rejected. And I was going to be alone. Forever.

It was another few years before I had the opportunity to read To Own a Dragon. I had just finished that Grace Adventure thing I’ve written a little about. I was light years ahead of where I was when I heard that sin message. Still, I had almost written off authenticity from anyone in public ministry or maybe even in Christianity. Before Grace Adventure, I didn’t think it was possible to be real and be a Christian. Or human for that matter. Grace Adventure changed my perspective because it is all about being real and seeing that no one runs away. It is hands down the most powerful healing experience I have ever encountered. It can accomplish more in three months than years of therapy.

Anyway, my understanding had evolved, but I was still very leery of “public” ministry. Then I read that book, and it planted the seed that it really was possible to be Christian AND in ministry without being super fakey spiritual. You don’t have to be right there ready to pounce with a scripture. You don’t have to be condescending. You don’t have to protect your image. You don’t have to make people think that you’ve somehow reached some peak of stupendously awesome amazing spiritual superhero-ness.

Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m minimizing the importance of the Bible or even the importance of knowing or sharing scripture. It is immensely important. The Word of God IS life. But it is not a club to hit people with. My spirituality should never ever ever make someone feel inferior or hopeless. I only want to give people hope, not take it away.

So, why am I bringing this up? I guess I’ve been thinking about why I have this blog. What is it that I’m really doing here? Why do I want to write about things that have nothing to do with my fiction? There are millions of blogs out there. Why do we need another one?

I guess the only answer I have is that I want to be real. I want to show people that you can walk right up to the brink and come back. I want to show people that it is possible to be a Christian without being super shiny perfect. I sin. I make mistakes. Big ones. Really big ones, and I’m probably going to write about some of them. Yet I’m still loved. I’m still loveable. God’s grace is bigger than my ability to screw up.

Get Real

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog post all day, but I have a problem. I really don’t know what to write about. Today is one of those days where I don’t feel particularly inspired. It is one of those days where I’d love to have just spent the day in bed, leaving the world to do whatever it wants to do, so long as I don’t have to come along. I would have been just fine as a recluse. I would have been just fine letting everyone and everything truck right on by.

It’s a funny thing for me to not feel inspired to write anything, or at least it is today. I’ve certainly got plenty on my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about work and a lot about life. Emotion, thoughts, beliefs, faith, other people and their emotions, thoughts, beliefs, faith or lack thereof.  You know… Life.

There are some days where I feel like I have a whole lot of questions, but very little in the way of answers. There are other days where I feel like I’ve got answers, or at least a perspective. Today isn’t one of those days. Today is one of those days where I feel like all I have are questions.

Last night I met with my church small group. We do that every Monday night. We went around the room and did a check-in, sharing where we are emotionally or spiritually.  I said I was fine, and I meant it. Today, I don’t feel fine. Today is one of those days where it feels like things have snuck up on me. When that happens, I have to slow down for a minute. I have to pay attention to what’s going on inside of me. I have to let my emotions have a voice.

Sometimes that’s hard to do. Sometimes it is easier just to keep on moving, never minding those pesky things that want to weigh me down. But then there are the times I can’t do anything else but be weighed down. When that happens, those things scream and shout and stomp their feet until I look at them.

Right, so we did a check-in. Focus. There were some of us who were not doing well at all. One of us was doing quite badly, in fact. Actually, there were two of us who were. One of us felt overwhelmed and alone. Another felt hopeless and depressed. We did what we could to talk them through those places. We did what we could to help. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. But it reminded me of just how powerful authenticity is.

Authenticity is one of the scariest things on the planet. It can make bungee jumping seem like child’s play. Granted, it can be that way for some more than for others, but it is still terrifying. It makes you feel naked and vulnerable and exposed.

When was the last time you were vulnerable? I mean really, really vulnerable?

When was the last time you looked someone in the eye and told them that you feel worthless? That you feel like no one loves you, or that you aren’t even loveable? When did you last admit that you are afraid? Or lonely? Or overwhelmed? When have you told someone that you don’t know if you’re smart or pretty or thin enough to be accepted?

Don’t say that you never feel that way. You’re lying if you do.

Sometimes it is hard to admit those kinds of things even to ourselves. Sometimes we do everything in our power to cover them up, to hide them. Sometimes, we manage to convince ourselves that everything is okay. That everything is good. That by itself is a huge topic that I will have to leave for another day, so let’s focus on the obvious for now. Let’s focus on the feelings you know are there – those feelings of being inadequate or unlovable or unlikeable or unwanted or whatever. In essence, the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere, that you aren’t good enough.

When you are in that place, what do you do with it? Do you hide it away and wait for it to pass? Do you blog about it, anonymously pouring it out into the world? Do you plunge yourself into the darkness? Or do you find a trustworthy person and spill your guts to them, holding nothing back?

It seems that very few of us (especially men) are willing to do that. It really is a terrifying place. It is the place where you take your greatest fear in the entire world and hand it to someone. What will they do? Will they crush it? Will they laugh? Will they turn their back apathetically? What if they tell us that we were right to be afraid? What if they tell us that our greatest fears are well founded because we really are stupid or ugly or fat and we are worth nothing more than that?

Such an idea is horrifying. It really and truly is. But to be accepted anyway is amazing medicine for our hearts if we can take the risk. What would happen if you were to take those things to someone and that person didn’t run away? What if that person loved you anyway? What if that person loved you not just in spite of it, but because of it? What if they didn’t try to fix you or point out how what you are feeling is wrong? What if they just hugged you when you needed hugged or listened when you needed to be listened to? What if they were a friend?

What if you were that friend?

What might be different?

What if You were Nothing? (Part 2)

There’s a man I’ve known for over a decade who is dying of cancer. It feels like it happened so fast.  He went from healthy to nearly dead in a matter of months.

I don’t know that I could say Harry and I are close. But we are close enough. He means a lot to me. He reached out to me many years ago when I was at the darkest point of my entire life. I call it “My Implosion.”

In a phrase, everything went to hell, and it was all my doing. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. And the person I thought I might be wasn’t good enough. That man was a failure, and he wasn’t a nice person to be around. He wasn’t the sort of person you would like. He wasn’t the sort of person anyone would like, or so I told myself. I would cry out to God, asking him why He made me that way. I wanted to know why He made me at all. I wanted to give up. I wanted to quit. But I also wanted desperately to feel like I had some value in this world, that there was someone somehow somewhere who thought I was okay just because I was me.

My marriage was in shambles. I was completely self-absorbed. Harry was my pastor. He still is, I suppose – although he could very well be gone today or tomorrow. He tried to help me. He really, really tried, but he couldn’t. No one could. I had to go down a road that no one should have to go down. I had to continue imploding until I hit the point where my pride was done. Until I hit the point where I was finally ready to admit that I couldn’t make myself better.

Harry and I met for breakfast on Saturday mornings at least once or twice a month for over a year.  He did everything he could to help me, but when I left the church, he let me go. I know that I left people in my wake. I dropped responsibilities, and let down people who were counting on me. I let down people who trusted me, and it was at a very tumultuous time in that small church. Besides all of that, I know that Harry still felt like he failed me and like I failed him. That was a long time ago. 2005 or 2006, I believe.

Years passed. Several years. There is a lot I could write about the road I had to go down, and I probably will, but not today. The point is that I eventually got off that road (that Grace Adventure thing I’ve mentioned). And when I did, he was there. When I changed, I really changed, and everyone could tell. I could tell. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. I remember that he was there. I remember that he looked me in the eye, and then he hugged me.  Then he said to me, “I’ll let you be different.” That was 2012.

I don’t know how this might come across to someone who wasn’t there for all that had come before, but it was huge. He was saying to me that he could tell I was different, and that he would accept that I was different. People don’t always do that. Once you betray them, you can become that betrayal, and you can never come back from it. He was telling me that it was okay, that he forgave me.

I went to see him last night. My wife and I took him and his family dinner. He is in hospice care, and they don’t really need to worry about things like cooking for eight people. So last night was our turn. We were able to go in to see him for a few minutes, and he was weak. His body was a shell of what it was. But he wanted to tell me how much he has seen me grow. With the little strength he had, he wanted to tell me that. He believed in me when no one else did, when no one else seemed to even care. When I didn’t even believe in myself. When I wasn’t even sure that I cared. And now he’s going to die.

And, you know, that’s just it. He knows exactly where he is going. He is the greatest example of faith I have ever seen in my entire life. When you talk to him, you don’t get the impression that he hopes he knows where he is going. You don’t get a sense of fear that says he doesn’t want to consider any other possibility. You don’t feel like he has resigned himself to the only thing he has left. He is a man who knows where he is going. He knows who he is going to see. He knows that he will not be nothing. He will not cease to exist. He will simply be waking up, and he knows it.  Even if there are slivers of doubt, he knows it.

It is that faith that I was talking about in my earlier post. No, not faith. It is conviction. It is the understanding that we are not blips on the timeline of eternity. It is the rejection of the idea that we simply wink out of existence, because it goes against everything we are. It goes against the way we were made. Still, we do hit those dark points where we don’t want to continue, where we want nothing more than to wink out of existence. We want to be snuffed out like a candle – gone as though we never existed.

But hoping for an end to our existence isn’t the same as believing we will stop existing. Hope isn’t the same as belief, and existing isn’t the same as living. What I believe is that the notion of eternity is written into our DNA. I believe that we can’t accept the idea that we will become nothing. That’s why we are fascinated with the afterlife, with ghosts, with religion, even with things such as evolution. We need to believe that there is more to ourselves than this brief little time on earth – even if that belief is limited to being a microscopic step in the evolutionary path.

Of course, I believe the same thing that Harry believes. I don’t know that my faith is as strong as his seems to be, but that is my wish for myself – to be able to one day look death in the eye and know with everything I have that it will not be victorious. You see, it isn’t death that we fear, it is being destroyed. And if death cannot destroy us, then there really is nothing to fear.

Update: 11/19/2014

Harry went home last night.  He was loved by many, and he will be missed by many.  I will see you again, my friend.

Self-Confidence versus Self-Esteem

What is the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem? Is it even possible to have one without the other?

The way I think of these two things is fairly simple. Self-confidence is all about what you can do. Self-esteem is all about who you are. Self-confidence is based on your abilities. Self-esteem is based on your worth.

These two things are very different from one another, but also very similar. And I do believe you can have one without the other. Or at least that you can have self-confidence without self-esteem. It’s possible, but not pretty.

That’s how I have spent most of my life. I have always been one of the most confident people I know. I don’t know if that sounds egotistical, but it is true. Or at least it used to be. I have always been confident in my ability to do anything I set in my mind to do. Granted, I typically only set my mind to do things I believed I could be successful at, so it was a little self-fulfilling. Still, the point remains. I was very confident in what I did.

What I didn’t have was self-esteem, but you never would have known it. First of all, I wouldn’t let anyone get close enough to know it. Heck, I wasn’t even close enough to see it, believe it or not. The fact was that I was getting my sense of personal value from what I did. I was a human doing rather than a human being. I was my salary. I was my position. I was the sum total of my successes, and I took great care to make sure I was successful.

But then I went through this thing called  Grace Adventure. It’s the ministry I’ve brought up once or twice. I think I described it as “peeling back the layers of our defenses.” And that’s exactly what it is. That’s exactly what it did. I was able to see myself as I really was. I was able to see myself as God sees me. I was more comfortable in my own skin than I’ve ever been, before or since.

But there was a problem.  Seeing myself (for the first time) how God sees me, means that I saw myself from an eternal perspective.  It is the craziest thing in the world, but so much of how I measured myself as a person fell away.  It was as though I suddenly had a different pair of glasses to look through.  Career and position and money and all that stuff suddenly didn’t matter like they did before.  All the things I used to measure my worth were just things I did.  I was in a brand new world, and I didn’t know what to do.

I would love to say that I was able to live happily ever after.  I would love to say that this built my self esteem up and that confidence and esteem came together in perfect harmony.  I would love to say that my sense of value only came from what God says about me.  If I did say that, I would be lying.

It turns out that isn’t something you can learn overnight. It takes a while. I’m on a path toward removing myself from my abilities and from what other people think about me.  The point in all of this is that self-confidence and self-esteem are different things, but confidence can impersonate esteem if you try really hard.  I would think that it would be harder to mask a lack of self-confidence with self-esteem. Or, rather, I would think it would be harder to have self-esteem, but not confidence.

Knowing you aren’t good at something doesn’t necessarily mean that you lack confidence. Typically, lacking confidence is only a big deal if you are trying to get your value out of it. Why be nervous if it doesn’t matter? Why be nervous if it doesn’t mean anything to your self-worth? I don’t know how to do ballet, but I can’t say that I lack confidence in my ability to do ballet because I don’t feel the need to know how to do it. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

The more I think about this, the more I’m realizing that this is way bigger than a blog post. I’ve barely typed an introduction to all I could say.  This has been such a big focus of my life these past couple of years.  I’ll have to give this some thought. So, until later, I guess…

What If You Were Nothing?

Can you imagine yourself not existing? I don’t mean dead; I mean not existing. There is a difference.

Go ahead, picture yourself being snuffed out like a candle. Once it is out, it is out. Maybe there is a wisp of smoke for a moment afterward, but in a second or less, there is nothing. Perhaps you are remembered; perhaps you made history and things you have done were written down. Perhaps you have family, a legacy to carry you forward. I’m not talking about any of those things. I’m talking about you.

Can you imagine yourself being nothing? Go ahead. Close your eyes. Picture yourself not existing. Can you do it?

Were you picturing what the world would be like without you?  That isn’t what I mean.  And I’m not asking what you believe. I’m not asking if you believe in God or life after death or evolution or any of those things. And I’m not asking about those really dark days where you might wish that you didn’t exist. What I’m asking is very simple: Can you imagine yourself as nothing?

I can’t do it. I can’t. Something inside of me just pushes back against it. Something says, “No. I can’t not exist.” At my very core, I believe that I will always exist, even if I’m dead. And even if I don’t always form it into the positive (I will always exist), I cannot accept the negative (I will not exist).

Interesting thought.