Here’s another great reason for each of us to clean up our past traumas: for others. We can’t do anyone any good when we’re afraid of something hidden inside us, remaining constantly on the defensive. This comes across to others as if we are guilty of something. And we are… and we know it… until we face our inner shadows.
A dear friend once told me: “You never have to defend yourself.” I thought he was nuts at the time, but now I am so very grateful that he said that to me.
When we’re tippy-toeing around our own minefields, protecting our end zones, so to speak (where all our secrets are buried)… our guards are up. Many of our encounters become wars of attrition. We never really hear what others are saying, we can’t understand (or often even allow!) their different viewpoints; we might even see them as The Enemy. We know when we’re playing defense, because we want to lash out, we want to hurt. What kind of a relationship can we hope for — especially with loved ones — if we’re constantly defending ourselves, worried about lines of scrimmage, holding ground, preventing sneak attacks?
I first noticed this in one of my favourite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, and if you haven’t seen it, I hope you will. I grew up watching it with my family every Christmas, and it has left a great impression on me. There’s a scene in which George Bailey (the protagonist) comes home from work on Christmas Eve to find his happy family singing carols around the tree. George (played by Jimmy Stewart) is distraught; his bank has misplaced $8,000, his world is collapsing around him, and he starts to take it out on his children. His wife Mary immediately sees that something’s wrong. She tries to comfort him. And what has always impressed me about this well-written scene is what she doesn’t do:
She doesn’t get defensive; she doesn’t think it’s her fault; she doesn’t yell back at him. She is innocent and firm. She maintains her inner peace. Thus she is in a position to be the compassionate and loving wife George needs at the moment.
Wouldn’t we all like to be like that when our loved ones are in distress? Wouldn’t we like to be the person our friends turn to when they need a shoulder to cry on?
If so, let’s get busy cleaning those skeletons out of our own closets… those past hurts and insecurities. Only after we’ve freed ourselves — when we have nothing left to defend — will we ever be able to do the same for others.
Then we can finally let them have the whole field… and together, oh boy, what fun we’ll have… playing together!