permission to learn::self-protectiveness (2)

>> May 11, 2011

Adel Torres writes from California, where she is wife to Pastor Jose, mother to toddler Toby, and is expecting baby #2 later this year. She is a missionary at heart, and spent time in India, Nepal and other countries before marrying a pastor in the States. This series of posts was originally published on Adel's blog "This Journey, My Home", where she writes about her life, insights, and mission stories. 

...From Judgment
Once a church member pulled me aside after church and told me I should never correct my husband in front of other people. I smiled and agreed, but inside I was a ball of rebellious emotions.

Was she sexist? What did she know about my relationship with my husband? Who was she to advise me on marriage issues: she’d only been married once, and he tried to run her over with a car! In fact, because my husband preached to that group in his second language, she and the other listeners corrected him throughout his whole sermon!

Even though in the back of my mind I knew it shamed my husband to be corrected in front of other people, and I was willing to try not to, I allowed a wedge to come in my heart between myself and that woman. I did not like feeling vulnerable to someone who I felt was judging me and misunderstanding me. I didn’t like her to think she had that liberty with me.

I put a wall of protectiveness up and kept a careful rein on myself in that circle from then on.

...From Hurt
We’ve all had someone who has hurt us. Sometimes the people closest to us know how to push our buttons like no one else does. They know where are weakest points are, and they love to drive an ice pic into them now and then.

Sound familiar? How can we learn from people like that? I’ll let you know when I have the answer. I just know the important part is being willing to learn.

...From Being Wrong
Some of us have this funny idea that we must be right all the time, and if we’re every wrong or make a mistake or fail, it will be totally devastating. This can be even more pronounced in those of us with religious convictions. Ironic, since the Bible doesn’t ever condone this kind of self-standard. In fact, God assures us that when our heart condemns us, to remember that He is greater than our hearts. (1 John 3:20)

This kind of impossible standard leads to all kinds of pit-falls. Besides preventing us from learning from common mistakes, it separates us from others. We cannot allow people to see our imperfections, because it hurts too much. And if we are ever nuts enough to convince ourselves we have arrived at flawlessness, then we become superior too, and often critical of others. Then we become the kind of person that others protect themselves from, and the cycle continues.

Ironically, the person we can learn the most from is often the person we feel the need to be most RIGHT around—that’s right, our spouse.

...From Being Consumed
I’m realizing this is one I especially struggle with. In trying to figure out why I shut myself off from vulnerability to certain people, I've concluded that sometimes I’m just afraid to be sapped. These people aren’t exactly harmful. "What do they want from me that I’m afraid to give them?" I have had to ask myself.

It’s not money. They want time, some of them, which I try to give. I listen politely, but not with my heart.

I think it’s really affirmation that I’m afraid to give. I don’t know if this possibly makes sense, I’m only beginning to recognize it myself. There are some people that seem to desperately need to be recognized, acknowledged, agreed with. Sometimes I don’t think they deserve recognition, sometimes I disagree with them, and usually I find their approach simply irritating. Something in me senses their vacuum for a connection that for some reason I am unwilling to give.

And what exactly would it take from me to do that for them? I don’t know. I only know sometimes I don’t feel capable, I don’t feel like I have enough for them, there are so many of them, and then to have enough for my family and myself. Enough of what? I don’t know. I don’t know!

Then there are cases where people do want more of our time and resources than we can give. And we do put up walls to protect those things. We need God to show us where the balance is on that, but I don’t think the answer is ever to close our hearts to anyone.

...From Being Devalued
Once I complained to my husband about feeling like I needed help from someone who had a good eye for style. He recommended someone he thought could help me. I couldn’t do it, because I already felt like a pathetic country bumpkin in that person’s eyes. I felt misunderstood, and couldn’t bear to confirm what I perceived was their opinion of me.

I’m not saying my reasons were right or wrong, simply that shame can prevent us from being learners.

Self-protectiveness causes us to build barriers around ourselves that keep us locked inside. This is something we do to ourselves, a survival mechanism in an unfriendly world. It's a natural result of a healthy mind, in most cases, and serves a purpose, but we also need to recognize when it is limiting us.

There are other things that can keep us from learning, most of which could be categorized under self-protectiveness, but may not always be as easy to identify.

(To be continued...)

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