I Feel Alone…

By Keith Miller | March 9, 2009

I feel alone in my own house sometimes. How did we become so afraid to share our intimate thoughts?

No one, it seems, is really sure about how human development takes place. And it is apparent from reading in the field of developmental psychology that crucial direction changing experiences can happen to different children at different ages. But in order to get a rough picture of how our identities may develop, imagine with me for a few minutes that it is a simple story (which it is not, of course).

From the time it is born a child responds naturally and openly to the people and events in his or her life with tears, contented looks or laughter. Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss Internist and founder of the concept of the “medicine of the person,” calls this natural responding self the child’s “person.” Along with the needs for food, water, air and sleep, the child has an inherent need to be loved by its parents or caretakers. And all goes well as long as the natural responses of the child are not in conflict with the desires or belief of the parent figures.But when the youngster unknowingly crosses a no-no line, life is no longer simple.

For instance, a guest may be entranced with the cooing noises a baby is making in its high chair while waiting for breakfast. And the mother is delighted. But five minutes later when the baby blows a mouthful of warm oatmeal all over the guests’face and Sunday clothes—a trick very similar to cooingfrom the baby’s perspective—the mother is furious, says “NO!’AND SLAPS THE BABY’S HAND. And after a few more tries the baby realizes that he or she will not get love from mother by blowing oatmeal on guests. So the child learns to hide the urge to blow oatmeal.

But there is a problem. The child has never hidden anything. Remember that the little “person” responds naturally and honestly. How then do we learn to hide our unacceptable feelings?

Tournier says that something happens at this point (at some point) which allows us to hide. We develop what he calls “personages.” A personage is like a selection of painted masks with expressions of the thoughts and feelings which I feel will get me love and acceptance from the people around me. All of us develop several of these personages/personalities, each with its own presenting language.

A child develops a “parent” personage—with a language all of its own for dealing with its parents. In every major area of our lives, it seems, we develop a personage which is designed to portray to the people in authority in that group the proper images whereby we can gain their love or approval—regardless of what the actual feelings of our inner person may be about that group or activity.

The personage is not like the “mask” we speak of inAmerica. The American mask is opaque. But a personage is partially transparent. That is, I amafraid for you to see through my personage for fear that you’ll reject me, but I alsolongfor you to see through the personage to the person hiding behind it—hoping that you will know me and love me. But in actual experience we are usually not conscious of the fact that we even have personages. We just vaguely notice occasionally that we talk and act differently in different situations.

***

This information may shed some light on how we get to be afraid to share our intimate thoughts even with the people we love the most.So what can we do about it?When the separation of our personages from our person gets great enough that we repress our person’s feelings and get terribly anxious, we often go for help.Let’s say that I’ve decided to go to a counselor…Here I may enter what Tournier calls a “person-dialouge.”This happens when two people are willing to lay down their personages and talk about their real feelings—their persons.All healing starts when the client or patient quits communicating through his or her personages and begins to talk directly about her feelings.

But the process is long and sometimes fearful.When you are a counselee and you get one honest unflattering feeling out, it feels as if you have found a little thread sticking out of the corner of your mouth.By expressing the feeling you are handing the thread to the therapist.As he or she responds, it’s as if the thread is pulled a little. And you find there is a string tied to the thread—a deeper feeling—and as the string is drawn out, there’s a rope tied to it.And there is a chain tied to the rope.But as you feel the chain coming out you can almost hear a “bucket of garbage” coming up tied to the chain.

For some, learning to do this may require help from a counselor or minister or perhaps in a safe small group*.For some this process may take a long time, and be very frightening.But the miraculous thing about a person-dialogue is that when a person “comes out” and is honest about who he or she really is—with true feelings attached—and feels sort of emotionally naked before us on any significant level, I have found him or her always to have a haunting family resemblance to Jesus Christ.Realpeople being vulnerable are, it seems beautiful and lovable.And if that’s true, then you and I can be included.

Lord, thank you that because you are with us, we are never really alone.Help us to move toward the real people you have put in our lives and to be willing to come out from behind our masks, lay down our personages andreallytalk to each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

One such truth: “you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32, NIV

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!You know meinside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” Psalm 139:13-16, The Message

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on I Feel Alone…
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