Who’s Protecting Me?
Last week, we talked about the Double Minded Man and the 7 Voices that are always speaking to us. The goal is to listen to the Holy Spirit, but the other 6 voices have agendas of their own. With the exception of the enemy, the other voices are actually just trying to do good things for you, even if not in the most helpful or healthy ways. They are a part of you, and think they know what is best for you.
In all honesty, what they are all trying to do is protect you – each and every voice. They may be protecting you from real danger or pain, or perhaps perceived danger or pain. They have encountered situations in your life where there was danger or pain, and they are trying to make sure they never have to undergo those things again. So they step up and try to sway you, and if it is urgent enough, will even kidnap you and take you in the direction they think is best for you.
As you go through your life, at different points, there were events that happened that were never resolved. A problem occurred that was never solved, and so it is like there is a clone of you at whatever age you were who is stuck in time trying to solve that problem. They still feel the original emotions from whatever happened, and when something happens to you today that evokes a similar emotion, they suddenly surface and take control in an effort to protect you and solve the problem.
The problem with that younger clone of you is that he or she is probably a child, or at best, a teenager, and that version of you has a childish view and incomplete understanding of the world and people and yourself. So any type of solution this part of you will come up with will not be a mature, adult idea. It will only be able to use whatever tools you had at that age to think through events and make decisions.
Our Life Patterns teacher told us the story of a young boy who would sing nonsense songs at night to keep the boogy man away. It made no sense to anyone until they discovered that he had been abused (unknowingly by his mother), and at the same time he had been rescued and taken to another home, he started singing a nonsense song because he believed it would keep the abuser away. It happened that he tried that strategy when he moved, and in his childlike mind, the song kept the abuser away. But in reality, DFACS had kept the abuser away by moving him.
For children who have been abused, there are no words to describe the emotions they feel. They haven’t learned enough about emotions yet. They don’t know a lot about the world, but if their abuser is a family member, all they know is that they are supposed to be loved by the family members, not abused. This inability to resolve the two truths that they know – family should protect me and not harm me, but my family is not protecting me but is harming me – means they have to come up with some way to cope with the overwhelming, confusing and illogical thoughts and feelings that arise without the input of a healthy adult.
childhood trauma was “significantly more prevalent and more severe” in the clients who were in treatment for alcohol abuse. Of the five types of abuse looked at, emotional abuse was determined to have the biggest impact on the severity of alcohol dependence later in life, with physical abuse being the second most influential form of childhood abuse.
people who were either neglected or abused in early childhood have changes in the hippocampus of their brains. This small organelle located in the brain is part of its limbic system, which is the region that regulates emotions. It is also responsible for establishing long-term memory.
As a result of these changes in the structure of the brain, the study’s participants were more likely to suffer from depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Of those who had reported being subjected to three or more types of “child maltreatment,” over half (53 percent) had depression and 40 percent had either full or partial PTSD.
55-99 percent— of the women in drug treatment programs reported they had experienced physical or sexual trauma.
(84 percent) stated that they had a personal history that included child abuse and/or neglect.
The clients who had PTSD reported their first traumatic experience happened to them at an average age of 8.4 years, which was much younger than clients in treatment who had not been diagnosed with PTSD. Those clients reported their first trauma occurred when they were further along in childhood, with the average reported age being 13.1 years.
587 participants included in this study, all recruited from medical and OB/GYN clinic waiting rooms at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, GA. Data were collected through both screening interviews as well as follow-up interviews. Results: In this highly traumatized population, high rates of lifetime dependence on various substances were found (39% alcohol, 34.1% cocaine, 6.2% heroin/opiates, and 44.8% marijuana). The level of substance use, particularly cocaine, strongly correlated with levels of childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as current PTSD symptoms.
According to the American Journal on Addictions, 75 percent of women who enter treatment programs report having experienced sexual abuse. And according to the Journal of Traumatic Stress, an alarming 90 percent of women who become dependent on alcohol“suffered severe violence at the hands of a parent” or “were sexually abused during childhood.”
Upon an assessment of individuals who had experienced childhood maltreatment, a study found that being mistreated during childhood caused frequent and extremely high levels of stress that impeded normal brain development. Continuous stress from experiencing frequent maltreatment initiated physiological stress responses that, over time, caused the structural disruptions that were observed in neurological scans and which are likely making victims of childhood trauma vulnerable to substance abuse disorders.
In the Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted with 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients, many different stress-inducing experiences during childhood have been linked to various forms of substance abuse and impulse control disorders.4 Many associate childhood trauma with child abuse, but other stress-inducing and traumatic experiences linked to an elevated vulnerability to addiction include neglect, the loss of a parent, witnessing domestic or other physical violence, and having a family member who suffers from a mental illness. Those who had experienced such things during childhood have shown an increased tendency to become dependent on alcohol and drugs. They may also develop behavioral addictions such as compulsive eating and compulsive sexual behavior.
In most cases, experiences that are extremely traumatic for children would be much less traumatic for adults. But there are a couple key reasons why such occurrences have a more significant and lasting effect on children.5 It’s important to remember that children are limited in their ability to make contextual inferences that would likely allow them to process these experiences more effectively. Lacking a frame of reference, it’s difficult to make sense of traumatic experiences, making the effects of trauma more likely to linger. Additionally, children usually rely on their loved ones for support during times of difficulty. But when a child’s loved ones are the source of abuse, neglect, or other trauma during these experiences, family support is not an option. In many cases, a victim of childhood abuse begins abusing alcohol or drugs as a means of self-medicating, hoping to alleviate the residual effects of being victimized at a young age. On the other hand, it’s also common for substance abuse behavior in adulthood to be modeled after a loved one’s substance abuse behavior that had been witnessed during childhood.6 In fact, the tendency to self-medicate can be similarly modeled and passed along.
⅔ of all addicts have previously experienced physical or sexual trauma.
I believe that growing up with erratic, absent or unavailable, or abusive family members teaches a child one main thing in life – no one will protect me, so I have to protect myself. And the different voices in your head are doing just that – trying to protect you from any harm like what you have already experienced.
In the Internal Family Systems theory:
IFS classifies parts in three broad categories according to how they function in relation to each other . An injured part , or exile , is primary in its influence on the behavior of other parts . Orbiting around exiles are two categories of protective parts . The proactive protector , called a manager , has the role of maintaining the individual’s functioning despite what the exiles feel . The reactive protector , called a firefighter , has the role of distracting from and suppressing the emotional pain of exiled parts , which breaks through despite the best efforts of the manager .
Exiles : Revealed in feelings , beliefs , sensations and actions , these parts have been shamed , dismissed , abused or neglected in childhood and are subsequently banished by protectors for their own safety and to keep them from overwhelming the internal system with emotional pain . A great deal of internal energy is expended to keep exiles out of awareness .
Proactive helpers who focus on learning , functioning , being prepared and stable . Managers are vigilant in trying to prevent exiles from being triggered and flooding the internal system with emotion . As a consequence , they are hard working and use a variety of tactics – not least , determined , relentless , criticizing and at times shaming – to keep us task – oriented and impervious to feelings .
Reactive protectors share the same goal as managers ; they want to exile vulnerable parts and extinguish emotional pain . However , reactive protectors are emergency response workers . They get activated after the fact , when the memories and emotions of exiles break through despite the repressive efforts of managers . Reactive protectors tend to be fierce and use extreme measures that managers abhor , like alcohol and drug abuse , binge eating , excessive shopping , promiscuity , cutting , suicide and even homicide .
The Protectors can actually get into conflict about what is best to handle the Exile.
The Self, however, the core, rational you who is sitting here right now, has the ability to deal with the emotions and memories of the past as well.
If the Self listens to and talks through the issues with the Protectors, and requests that the Self handle the issues, the Protectors can stop fighting over the Exile.
But the Self really can’t promise to any other part of itself that it can protect us from harm. We have no control over others, the world, or even ourselves. In order for us to truly feel safe, we would have to be protected by someone with greater control than ourselves. Some of us have turned to people to protect us, but they can’t protect us either. They are still human.
The only answer is our faith in God, in His power and strength, His goodness and love – in other words, in His protection. That is hard for us sometimes, because we want to know where God was when bad things happened to us. We don’t have all of the answers for the why’s, we only know 2 things for sure – what happened to us, and the character of God in the scriptures. We know and trust in Him, His character, His love, and know that He is always with us, during the good and the bad that man and the world and even we ourselves bring upon us.
The bottom line is that every part of us, especially for those of us that endured some form of childhood abuse, is looking for protection. Our first line of defense is to protect ourselves with our actions, and the next is to have someone else protect us. Until we feel protected, we will continue to act just as we do today, with the Manager and the Firefighter duking it out over us.
Somehow, we need to meet our fears of being vulnerable in a world out of our control with a confidence in the God who promises never to leave us nor forsake us, and to protect us – not from every bad thing that may happen, but protect us from ever having to go through bad things alone, from living a purposeless life, and from being separated from Him eternally.
In John 16, Jesus is talking about what is about to happen to Him in the near future. He knows that He will have to walk through great pain and grief without His friends around, but He knows the Father will be there, and that is enough for Him. If Jesus had to walk through hard and painful times, why wouldn’t we have to? He said that everyone will have trouble, but we can overcome just as Jesus did – through His faith and obedience to the Father. And we have the same comfort that Jesus had – God’s presence, only we now have it through the Holy Spirit living within us.
31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
If we are ever to stop protecting ourselves with our unhealthy coping mechanism from all the things we fear, then we must be free from our past fearful memories, and also trust God to protect us in the present and future. Healing unresolved memories can help you with the past, but the only thing that will protect you in the present and the future is a sure faith in God’s goodness, power and purpose for you.
Memorizing and speaking scriptures about His protection and presence will help you calm down the parts of you that are so protective. You can’t ignore these voices; you need to listen to and address what they are saying scripturally. You also need to access God’s peace and presence through the Holy Spirit to calm yourself and show yourself you don’t need anything but God in order to manage your fears.
2 Thessalonians 3:3
3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.
6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”
Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble.
Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
Ps 91:14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.