We've all heard some version of it during a painful breakup , if not in our own lives (lucky ones), then on TV or in movies:
It's not you. It's me.
The significant other often blabbers on and on about how wonderful you are and how he doesn't want to break up with you, but he just doesn't feel ready for a relationship or needs to work on himself or *insert some other made-up reason here.*
We all know that this is some fake attempt at humility; this person is in a relationship and wants out, and instead of addressing the actual problem, they're saying the fault lies solely on them.
But when it's come to relationships in my life, I know (now) that I always play a part in the problem. It's very unlikely that I have zero responsibility in a conflict, disagreement, or argument. TJ and I learned this when we were about a year into our relationship. We had started to get really serious, but I was getting so frustrated with him because he corrected my grammar in front of other people. (I'm a grammar nazi when it comes to writing, but in talking, I'm a free spirit.) Fortunately, we were both going through a book called Pursuing Peace, where Jones talks about how, in Christ-centered relationships, we should pursue peace over being right. He discussed in detail the parable of the guy who was forgiven a debt only to turn around and force his debtors (who owed far less than he had owed) to pay him back. His point in the book is that, no matter the level of sin involved, we have sin in relationships that we can repent from and ask forgiveness for. We all take part in the conflict and we all can take part in the reconciliation.
*I would like to add a disclaimer that this does not include those who have been emotionally, physically, sexually, or mentally abused by someone. That is a much different situation, and I wouldn't put it in the category of "conflict"*
So, I asked TJ to forgive me for the way I responded to his grammatical nazi-ness (he's going to laugh at that line), and he asked me to forgive him for correcting me when I didn't want to be corrected. Who was more in the wrong? I'll leave that for you to decide. Just Kidding. The point isn't who is MORE in the wrong. The point is that we're both wrong, we both need Jesus, we both need to reconcile and come back to each other and to God. So what will it take for us to move in that direction?
This concept has helped TJ and I tremendously during our dating and married life, and now it has carried over into our relationships with our kids. But even more specifically, in our journey of trauma-informed parenting.
Our agency informed us in our training about attachment styles and how that impacts your parenting. The four different types of attachment styles are secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. If you don't know yours, you can take this quiz to find out. Since I grew up in a stable home, I figured I had "secure" attachment, which meant I was confident in my relationships and didn't really need to worry about how this was going to impact my parenting. But we all have pain from our past that carries over into other relationships, causing us to respond poorly. Sometimes, we aren't even conscious of the ways that we are doing this.
For instance, I went into detail in my last post, Being Strong in Parenting Through Trauma, that I often respond with anxiety and in fear when conflict arises. I'm afraid I'm going to lose them if we have an argument, so I push to make the conflict end. When I function out of fear, that often leads to poor responses that aggravate the issue and make things worse. Acting out of fear makes the love shrink. Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18); it doesn't let it stick around and enjoy the ride.
1 John 4:18
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
When children in foster care come to us, we quickly discover that they have difficult behaviors that sometimes feel impossible to manage. And sometimes (read: many times), they say hurtful things, respond in disrespectful tones, can even act aggressively towards other people in our homes. As strong as we may be (and as securely attached as we think we are), all of these destructive behaviors trigger us as parents. They can remind us of those past hardships and bring up fear responses in us. I generally have a peaceful nature, and I hate conflict, so I genuinely believed I would be able to handle these issues with a calm, tranquil spirit. Never did I think that I would exacerbate their behaviors through sarcasm, a raised voice, or hurtful words. And yet, here I am, three years into our journey, and I have done all three of those things when I respond out of fear instead out of love.
I spent a lot of time at the beginning of our parenting journey examining my children, pointing out their behaviors, and trying to "diagnose" them and figure out what was causing this unwanted and unwelcome behavior. When I started going to counseling, I realized that my counselor wasn't super interested in talking about the behaviors. She was interested in talking about how their behaviors were impacting my responses. I honestly was kind of annoyed. I wanted someone to listen to all of the horrible things I was enduring in my household (which don't get me wrong, is also necessary) and feel sorry for me. I wanted my counselor to tell me what I could have my children do differently. And instead, she challenged me to start thinking about what I could do differently.
My counselor was essentially using the break-up speech on me, but she turned it around:
She was saying: "It's not them, Karly. It's you."
And it's true. I was was choosing to see everything that was wrong with them: the control, the manipulation, the inattention, the meltdowns, the trauma fits. I wasn't choosing to see how my responses were impacting them. I was only choosing to see their contribution to the problem, and in doing so, I neglected to see how I could do better. And most of my contribution to the problem was lack of surrender.
I had a major log stuck in my eye, and I needed it removed.
“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye."
When I focus on my contribution to the problem, I focus on what I can control. But more than that, instead of trying to fix everything myself for pride's sake, I can surrender it all to Jesus - the One who drives out my fear and draws me into His perfect love. I can trust Him to handle it all - my fears, my kids, my anxiety - because He's already won the victory over those things.
Now, if I can just remember this in the heat of the moment...