I've been feeling unsettled lately. I think there's a significant change on the horizon for me (more on that perhaps in another post), and it's thrown me off-center. Nothing I was doing on my own really helped more than a few hours...before I knew it, a vague sense of anxiety would creep back in.
So I saw my wonderful therapist this morning. MR combines incredible life wisdom with a compassionate heart, not to mention amazing therapeutic knowledge and memory. Today she incarnated Christ for me.
MR knows my history very well. She carries an image of me as a two or three-year old, standing in the middle of the room screaming--she's thinking of a photograph that I brought in a few years ago when I did group therapy with her. One has to wonder about my parents having a camera ready to catch me doing this, but my mother told me once that I was "always" doing it: I'd just suddenly stand up--arms at my side, hands in a fist--and scream at the top of my lungs. That photograph is one of the clues I have regarding the wounds in my level of basic trust.
Erik Erikson wrote about "basic trust" being the task of infants and very small children. I've conjectured that I didn't complete that task. My mother was pregnant again when I was only four months old. It's not hard to imagine that having two babies in such a short period of time, in the midst of a marriage that was never great, left her stressed out, to say the least. I think her care for me was probably ambivalent--the best she could manage at the time. I'm sure I never lacked anything I needed physically, but emotionally I'm betting that the care was not enough to help me establish a really healthy level of "basic trust."
That would explain many things, including the existential crises that haunt me at times. As MR was commenting this morning on my sense of unsettledness, I suddently felt a twinge--not the full-fledged crisis, but a reminder of the existential plunges I've taken in the past. She was commenting that I go through a clearly identifiable pattern each time significant changes threaten, when that old feeling--it's primal, I think--drew near. At the boundary of my awareness was that terror of being All Alone. In the past I've likened it to Paul Tillich's "threat of nonbeing," but MR was saying something about my fear of having to negotiate life alone, so this time it wasn't death that threatened so much as what if there is no God? What if God does not really exist?
Haltingly, I was able to tell her about the feeling. Yes, she said, at its deepest level, this is part of the pattern for me. When significant change threatens, I return to the "little Katy" response. Those early neural pathways are deep and wide in my brain. As a toddler receiving ambivalent emotional care, I didn't learn to trust that significant changes can be negotiated in life without pain/fear. There was some level of existential terror that accompanied change. I needed more reassurance than I received. The "little Katy" response is to get thrown off-center and immediately start to think (much of this is unconscious) what if I can't handle this? There's no one to help me. I can't be sure that there even IS a God, much less that that God would help me. How can I trust?
MR: "It's true that God is so big, so awesome, that we can't really know, we can't be completely certain. Trust is difficult. Even trust that God exists."
K: "I guess there is some rationality involved in faith." I was thinking then of the way I've learned that God is with me and does offer help. My mind had gone to the way some children are taught about God before their ability to reason is fully formed. In their "pre-critical naivety," they never have a problem believing in God and simply accept it. I didn't get that, so I've had to learn and understand some things before I could take that "leap of faith." I have wrestled with epistemology my whole life. How can I know? How does anyone really know anything? But I have experienced Paul Ricouer's "second naivety," a coming to real faith after a struggle to understand. Yes. But MR didn't let me stay with just that.
MR: "Let's talk about all the times in your life when change has threatened and how you've handled it."
She knows how I've handled it. When push came to shove, I have eventually chosen to trust, to have faith. And where is God in that? I think it must be the Spirit of Christ at work within me that nudges me toward this choice each time.
It helped tremendously to see this so clearly. Yes, this is my cross to bear, so to speak. Given the depth and breadth of that neural pathway in my brain--the pattern established at such a very young age, I doubt that I will ever be able to completely overcome my response when significant change threatens. I'll probably keep improving, but it's highly likely that I will continue to respond with some amount of fear, vague anxiety, or feeling "off center." And I will continue, at times, to become aware of the much deeper existential primal threat that underlies it all, as I did this morning in my conversation with MR. This does feel like a cross to bear.
At the same time, to see so clearly how I am always offered a choice to trust anyway is so freeing, so exciting. I told MR that I'm aware of both sides of this. It's "pissy," I said (in my natural eloquence), that I bear this woundedness from childhood, a wound that will likely cause me distress and pain the rest of my life. Yet part of me is also so grateful for the way that same woundedness has led me to who I am today. Each time I finally reach the point where the choice is visible to me, I realize that choosing the way of trust is the only way I can continue to grow and mature and learn to be authentic. Choosing to trust is the only way I can continue to heal the woundedness and move toward wholeness.