How would you feel if you were known as the “religious one?” I don’t have to imagine how that would feel because this happened to me. For background, I am one of five sisters, and it can be hard for people outside our family to keep track of us all. When one of my sister’s friends was trying to understand our family, I was described as the religious one. Really? I suppose I should have been happy that I had lost the “party girl” label my dad gave me in high school. Oh, sure, I did like to have fun breaking up all the time I spent studying; I was a hard-working student, graduating nearly the top of my class while also playing an instrument, participating in sports, and leading my class as president, but never mind all that. I was given a label that didn’t fit me, and it hurt. For the record, labels never fit. At best, they might describe one tiny characteristic of a person—in my case, that I like to have fun or that I love God—but in no way can it make a person known to another. I was annoyed about the party girl label just as much as I was about the “religious” one. (Although if I had to have a label, “religious party girl” sounds quite intriguing, don’t you think?”) 😜
Joking aside, what does being labeled have to do with being known? Let me explain. In last week’s post, The Journey to Being Known, I suggested that when we allow our pain to surface and share it with God, we step into the process of becoming fully known. Remember, “we come into this world looking for someone who is looking for us” (Curt Thompson); we want someone to see and know us. When we are labeled by a parent, teacher, sibling, or friend—especially when it feels like that person doesn’t really know us—we can feel misunderstood, confused, and lonely. This is part of my story; I honestly didn’t know who I was when I was a kid. Of course, this is something we all go through as we grow up, but if we don’t have secure attachments in our primary relationships, there’s a good chance we will never be sure who we are and where we fit in. This is how a person can get great grades and never feel smart or have lots of friends yet not feel loved. Looking back, I can see that I was desperate to be seen and known (a legitimate need for all of us), but that never materialized for me. My drive for achievement and success became a substitute for being known and loved, which only added to my insecurity because it felt fake. What you and I need is intimacy (IN-TO-ME-YOU-SEE), not labels. Labels stick to the outside of a person, leaving the heart unseen and unheard. I wonder if you can relate to this struggle to be known.
You may be wondering how we become seen and known. Ideally, this happens in early childhood when we become securely attached to our primary caregiver(s). When we are securely attached, we develop an emotional bond that allows us to rest assured that we are known and will be cared for by that person(s). According to therapist Adam Young, a child has six needs that must be met for that to happen. The first need is for attunement. Attunement requires that the parent recognizes and affirms that the child has emotions and that they are tuned into what is happening inside of the child. In other words, the parent recognizes and tunes in when the child is sad, afraid, frustrated, or angry, as an example. They don’t minimize (“If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about”), and they don’t ignore (“Go to your room and stay there until you can act/speak nicely”), and they certainly don’t subscribe to the philosophy that kids should be seen and not heard. No, kids who are securely attached have parents who attune and then respond (the second need) to their child. They take action when their child is distressed—they offer comfort, kindness, and care. My heart hurts just typing these words. What comes up in you? Did your parents attune to your emotions? Did you “feel felt”? If you are a parent, how are you doing with attuning to your children’s emotions?
This may be a good moment to pause and see what comes up in you as you reflect on your childhood. Do you feel sad, angry, numb? Are there any memories that come to the surface that you haven’t thought about in a long time? If so, let that memory wash over you. God is bringing it up for a reason. Painful memories don’t just disappear; they are stored deep in our unconscious until we are ready to process them. Perhaps now is your moment. Let your mind wander back to those painful places, and let the grief (and/or anger) come. Sit with God in this place of pain. As we lay every emotion and every experience before God, we open ourselves up to being seen and affirmed by Him. This is the ultimate attachment we need.
“You have searched me, Lord, as you know me…” (Psalm 139:1)
We will pick up this topic next week, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you experienced reading this post. I appreciate each one of you who comments and shares your thoughts!