Fieldstone counselor, Jessica Gallina
During the holiday season, many of us spend more time with family or thinking about family relationships. Our internal and external interactions with family can bring past or present family hurt to the surface. Family hurt is among the most intimate kind of hurt and sometimes results in prolonged pain, heaviness, and even devastation. If you are ready to begin processing this hurt, it’s important to acknowledge our emotions and thoughts and invite the Lord to speak into all of it. He will carry our familial burdens as well, inviting us to share in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” In stewarding these parts of us well, we can move toward healing and behave in healthy and loving ways. We each are saints, sufferers, and sinners. In this space, we’ll be discussing family hurt through the lens of the sufferer.1
Often in biblical counseling circles, we refer to emotions and thoughts as our hearts and our heads. We can gain wisdom and apply truth by listening to and evaluating both of these important aspects of ourselves. It is important to also bring these aspects of ourselves to the wise counsel we have in our lives (Proverbs 19:20-21). Sometimes, our emotions are lying to us. Our heads can know truth, but past hurt can obscure truth and lead us to feel things that are not true. For example, hurt in your family of origin can lead you to feel that you are not loved by God or lovable to others. However, all emotions share important information with us and can help us understand the healing work that is needed. Many of us need help in moving truth from our heads to our hearts. If this is true for you, as it is for many of us that have experienced familial hurt, generational trauma, or abuse, I encourage you to seek out counseling care.
Counselees often ask what it looks like to process or address difficult emotions. This is a big question that entails further discussion than what can be captured in a blog post. However, I would like to offer a few suggestions to help you get started. The first step is to identify what you are feeling. An emotion wheel2 can help you with this. You can begin in the middle with the general emotion, move to the second row to find specific emotions, then move to the last row to find the most specific emotions. You may feel one emotion or several about a specific topic and they may possibly be vastly different emotions. The next step is to apply care to that emotion. I often share this quote by K.J. Ramsey to frame this time, “Lament names what is broken. Truth names what is still good. Faith says both can be true at the same time.”3 When you begin the process, invite God into your space, acknowledging your need for help.
- For emotions that exist under the category of sadness, you can write about it, cry or talk to a safe and supportive person.
- Under the category of anger, realize that “all of you does anger,” and as such you will benefit from addressing the whole-person experience of it.4 You may initially be helped by finding creative and safe ways to calm some of the physical energy associated with the anger, which will help you move into evaluating it with a clear perspective. Pay attention to what triggers your anger, who it is against, what it wants, how long it lasts, how it shows up, and what objectives it achieves.
- If you are experiencing fear, you can breathe slowly and relax your muscles, along with planning on how to safely address the cause of the fear.
For any emotion, you can read related Scripture and take notes on how you identify with it. A few passages that can be helpful for family hurt are Psalm 55 and Genesis 37:12-36. When you are done engaging in the activity, give your burden to the Lord and ask him to hold it until it’s time for you to process it again. Return to the hope that you have in the Lord. If it’s hard for you to find hope at this stage of healing or hard for you to express yourself to God, that’s okay. You can keep in mind Romans 8:26 and ask the Spirit for this help, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
As you process family hurt through this holiday season, consider God’s promise in Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” You may believe this is true in your head this holiday season, but not yet in your heart. If that’s you this year, that’s okay. Dear friends, I am praying for a gentle holiday season for you and for God’s comforting presence to be near in any sadness, anger, or fear that you may be experiencing.
1 Mike Emlet, Saints, Sufferers, and Sinners: Loving Others as God Loves Us.
2Geoffrey Roberts, https://feelingswheel.com.
3 K.J. Ramsey, author of This Too Shall Last, via Twitter post 2/23/20. To further explore the practice of lament, see this resource from Fieldstone counselor, Karen Corcoran.
4 David Powlison, Good & Angry, Chapter 5.
Jessica Gallina taught and mentored children and adolescents as an intervention specialist for 12 years, before feeling called to become a biblical counselor.