I have struggled immensely with identity issues. So, who hasn’t you might ask? Everyone has or will at some point wonder who they are or will question their purpose on this planet. As a victim—I wish there was a better word—of child abuse, my emotional, psychologically and personality development was profoundly interrupted. That’s not a cop out for bad behavior or an excuse to live by a different set of rules, but it can be the very real consequence of childhood trauma, particularly unaddressed trauma.
For years I wasn’t able to put my finger on what was lacking in my personhood, I simply knew that I was different from others. I seemed to view life rather than live it. The world was on one side of a giant window, I was on the other. I felt empty, nervous, rigid, guarded, analytical, calculating, reactive, reserved and artificial–mostly I felt disconnected. I felt like a shell that housed a reasonable amount of intelligence and a handful of natural talents but no core identity to speak of. I was in a perpetual state of confusion and uncertainty–I second-guessed virtually everything and everyone.
I filled in the blanks and gaps of my ambiguous and unanchored personality by studying people and situations. Like an understudy on Broadway, I played out the roles I had considered. I imitated, parroted and scrutinized social behavior. I did this without realizing that I was simply trying to discover what was missing inside and figure out how to install it. I not only needed a program upgrade, large chunksto of code were missing as well.
To make up for the identity and self-esteem I lacked, I focused on others. I had an ill-proportioned commitment to their good, their success, and their happiness. I jumped on their bandwagons, rode the wind of their interests and championed their causes all while modeling behaviors appropriate to the need.
I had no problem whatsoever believing in the dreams and aspirations of others. Sometimes I could spearhead their projects and ambitions better than they could themselves. I readily saw their potential, equipped them with tools and encouraged them vigorously. And it didn’t even matter to me that my name wasn’t printed on their Acknowledgement page. When it came to me–to my dreams, I needed others to convince me of my possibilities, potential and purpose. It was never enough.
Helping others was what connected me, made me feel alive–it’s what anchored me. I altered myself according to the current needs of those around me. I was brilliant at acquiescing, pleasing and placating. It was the only way I knew to fit in and function relationally. I hid my empty self behind the ego of others. As you can imagine, it was a cheap substitution for real living. It also further damage me, I had unwittingly added my own name to the list of my abusers.
All this impostership culminated into angry frustration. A fire was being banked inside me. The tinder lay un-kindled for many years, hidden behind duty, loyalty, obligation. And fear. Predictably a spark ignited and I became an angry, angry woman. The accelerant to my harsh words was deep, unaddressed pain. What others experienced was simply an angry, hyper-sensitive, reactive woman. Naturally, they backed away and I felt more rejection and disqualification.
I couldn’t articulate preferences, I couldn’t voice my opinions, I didn’t have the confidence to dream or to aspire. I didn’t have personal boundaries or the ability to recognize when I was being taken advantage of and if I had, I didn’t feel courageous enough to refuse what others required of me.
It would be difficult to characterize my soul malaise in one word. The pervasive sense of emptiness and disconnect could be described as invalidity. Invalidity doesn’t dream dreams, and when dreams percolate to the surface they are disqualified. When dreams surfaced in my heart, like writing and speaking, I reasoned they were insignificant and inconsequential–why try? Dreams weren’t permissible for someone like me. My life was better utilized by serving the dreams of others.
I may have refused myself permission to dream, but God would not allow the ember in me to be extinguished.
My sense of vagueness meant that my life, my self-esteem, and my dreams required the invitation, initiation, and approval of others to buoy validity and give me permission to be–whatever that may have looked like. In other words, I couldn’t step out into my life and all its potential without the permission and approval of others; my husband, my family, my friends. Who has the energy to perpetually huff and puff at a smoldering fire?
The apostle Paul tells Timothy to do his own fanning into flame! (2 Tim.1:6).
My life unfolded in what seemed like a meaningless course on a Packman Screen (that certainly dates me). I scurried about trying to keep from being eaten, proverbially so. My purpose seemed random and chaotic at best. The rules kept changing, the path redirecting. Finally, in extreme fatigue, I hit a high and unyielding wall.
I dropped in an exhausted and frustrated heap of surrender, exactly where God wanted me—where He had been waiting for me all along.
I wish I could say that all the pieces of broken Sherrie came together in some miracle version of Humpty Dumpty. They did not. Much like people who have had catastrophic injuries, God employed divine triage with a specific hierarchy of care.
I know a pilot who experienced a horrific airplane crash. It was uncertain if he would survive the ordeal. After intensive surgeries and recovery time, it was discovered that the persistent pain in his face was from a knob from the airplane’s control panel that had lodged upon impact inside his mouth then hidden within his swollen facial tissue. The knob wasn’t initially discovered because the focus of his treatment was on saving.
It seemed my injuries were treated the same way, based on urgency. My recovery came in stages.
That knob represented for me connectedness and purpose. While I was preoccupied with the pain of feeling invalid, disconnected and without purpose, God was focused on revealing His fathomless love for me.
A revelation of God’s love must be the genesis of purpose for any of us, regardless of where we came from.
God held me close in the most gracious of mercies. Layer upon layer He has been reconstructing my life with the very Breath of His Own. I believe I’ll always be in the process of restoration, it’s the nature of psychological trauma in early childhood–it’s part of being human in a fallen world. BUT today I have confidence that my life matters—that I matter. I have the conviction that, I’m not only responsible to live my life fully, but I also have divine permission to do so. I also have the compass of an intimate relationship with Him by which to navigate life.
My path doesn’t look like hers and your path won’t look like mine. But if I have learned anything on this broken road it is this: each life has value and purpose. Unquestionably. No matter how busted up your life may look or how bruised your soul may feel, will you just take a moment to consider something?
God does not glue our shattered souls and broken lives back together in some haphazard, makeshift fashion. He graciously handles each jagged piece, one by one, and creates an intricately designed, light reflecting mosaic of His grace, for His glory. He puts us on display, beloved! That is a story that waits to be told.