Pain Not Transformed is Transmitted

When my dad was six months old, my grandmother placed him too close to the fire. Life as a sharecropper in the 1920’s provided little more than the necessities. So, when the blankets caught fire and severely burned my father’s feet, they lacked the necessary resources to adequately address the crisis. With feet permanently disfigured my father sat out in life.

My grandparents were of good stock and I’m sure they handled the situation as best they knew how. In fact, had I been in their shoes, I’m not sure I could have done as well, but even the love and good intentions endowed by parenthood were not sufficient to keep them from making mistakes. As we all do, they both had to struggle with the wounds inflicted by their own parents, who in turn were struggling with the wounds they had received from their own well intentioned parents. I think perhaps what we call inherited sin may, in part, be the pain passed on from one generation to the next. This pain lurks in the wounds passed on by previous generations and is sustained by the pride and shame of the wounded. Instead of embracing our woundedness, we tend to hide it and unintentionally pass on that pain to our own children.

My father coped with the pain of his inadequacy by pretending to be normal. In fact, he was informed by his parents that they couldn’t afford a cripple child so he’d just have to adapt. A sharecropper’s family was no place for a child who couldn’t pull his own weight. There was no maliciousness in their intent; they were trying to equip him to live in a hard world. It was survival of the fittest and their child had to be able to compete with the rest of the world in order to survive. Dad worked diligently at hiding his handicap and shame. His parents taught him well. Too poor to buy orthotics, they would stuff cotton in his shoes to make them appear as if he had feet. He once told me a story, when he was in the first grade, of challenging the class bully to a race around the school house. He said by the time he reached the back of the house he had lost sight of his competitor. “I was so ashamed,” he said, “I just quit running and went back inside”. He told me that was the first time he realized he wasn’t normal.

As the father of three boys, my father shared the rules by which he had lived. Always keep up appearances. Never show any weakness. Any job worth doing is worth doing right. In his mind he was teaching us how to survive. Truly he was sharing how he had survived life. He failed to anticipate the back side of those messages which is: if you don’t keep up the appearance, then people will discover who you really are and you will be judged and found wanting and that if you ever fail, the charade will be over and the world will discover who you really are. Our shame would be discovered and the jig would be up.

Unintentionally, my dad began to transmit his fear of being discovered to my brothers and myself. His shame somehow became our own as we lived in a world where being perfect was tantamount to survival. As a result of these well intentioned messages, all three of us boys began to live double lives. We made sure to keep up appearances while at the same time hiding the shame of our less than acceptable behavior. There was no room for failure so failure had to be hidden.

Please understand, in no way do I blame my dad for my decisions. My father also refuses to blame his father or mother for his struggles. Regardless of how much well intended passion there is to not blame, there remains the undeniable reality that our pain which is not transformed will eventually be transmitted. I learned that truth from Richard Rohr, and as I grow older I find it to be an amazing truth. From generation to generation, we pass on the pain that was passed down to us. Not only that, but if we’re creative we’ll be able to produce new points of pain in our lives that we then pass on to our children. A painful cycle indeed.

Personally, the last thing I want to do is pass on my pain to my loved ones. I would much rather allow the God of love to have his way with my life to transform my pain rather than deny the reality of my condition and pass my pain on to those I love. I want to bear responsibility for my failure and seek healing for both self-inflicted wounds as well as those perpetrated against me by others. I want to admit my weaknesses, understand my wounds, and do what is necessary to protect others from my maladies or the consequences of them.

You may be asking yourself “Why is Rick rambling on about this stuff and what does this have to do with surviving an affair?”, but this has everything to do with recovery. The last thing you want is to avoid dealing with the pain of your own personal train wreck and leave the cleanup for the next generation of your most precious loved ones.

Once again, pain that is not transformed will be transmitted.

Here are some basic ways we transmit our pain to those we love and some steps to transforming your pain, even in the midst of surviving an affair:
1. Pain Transmission: We fail to be honest and we never reveal our faults. Rather, we pretend to be something we are not and in the process we push our pain onto the lives of others, believing they are the problem. And when they fail to respond as we want, we focus on their flaws rather than having the courage to look at our own and seek help from qualified, expert sources.
Solution: I need to take my own personal inventory and focus on my faults rather than the failure of others. If you spot it, you got it.
2. Pain Transmission: We fail to understand and accept our personal inadequacy and unworthiness.
Solution: Accept my inadequacy and realize that apart from God I can do nothing.
3. Pain Transmission: We fail to accept the fact that we are not in total control and our lack of surrender to this gut wrenching fact, leaves us trying to handle an unbearable pain by our own power. We live under the illusion that we can self-correct and finally get it right by our own passionate self efforts. We fail to remember that only one person in the entire human race ever got it right and the probabilities of any of us being number two are incredibly slim.
Solution: Let go and let God. I’m already as good as I get and the sooner I can accept that and begin to seek a power greater than myself, the better off I’ll be.
4. Pain Transmission: We fail to honestly look at our own failures and instead focus on the failure of others, especially our spouses. My resentments serve as a distraction, allowing me to avoid my own self-introspection and my own culpability.
Solution: Accept that I’m not “all that”, nor will I ever be and for once take a deep and honest look at myself. I need to accept that my best efforts have fallen short and let that be ok. When I finally move into acceptance, I can begin living in, and experiencing the solution, rather than only the never ending problem.
5. Pain Transmission: We fail to acknowledge that we’re just plain messed up. Surviving an affair, regardless of which side you’re on, means realizing this truth- I’m not perfect. We need to quit justifying the bad behavior caused by our own personal flaws, and recognize our defects of character, even if they are natural, or unable to be easily seen by us.
Solution: I need to accept that it’s not ok to be this way and acknowledge my unloving nature. I need to be willing to allow God, his people, and his methods to transform me.
6. Pain Transmission: We avoid pain by blaming others and fail to consider the impact of our actions on others.
Solution: Learn to love. If need be, get help learning how to love by trusted sources. Take necessary steps to develop a heart of empathy where I am more concerned about how my actions impact others than I am with my own image management. Get help to do this now, in an effort to minimize the transmission that is already in progress.
7. Pain Transmission: We try to handle life on our own and believe that self-effort will prevail and win the day.
Solution: I need to accept the fact that I’m not in control and move into daily contact with God, a recovery plan and the daily posture that apart from him I can do nothing.
8. Pain Transmission: We live in a self-centered state, falsely thinking that life is all and only about us.
Solution: I must remember that life’s not about me, rather I’m supposed to be about life. Reach out to others and share; give life to others. I’ve got to remember that I’m just not that important.

Infidelity causes a pain like no other. One of our staff members often times says “it’s one of the most incapacitating emotions a person can encounter.” But never forget that the wounds created by this form of betrayal and abandonment last far more than a lifetime; they can actually last up to four generations.

I know it’s not fair, but if we want to give our children a better world, then we have to discover ways for these wounds to be transformed.

Let me take this moment to share with you a very hard truth. It was one of the hardest truths for me to realize, but set me free to walk in the light. It’s the simple yet profound warning to please don’t think you’re the exception or that somehow you are different. You’re not, and your situation isn’t even unique. Begin acknowledging the hurt and have the courage to face your reality. Be willing to do the necessary work to avoid passing your pain on to those you love. This is crucial in surviving an affair. You may not see how, but I assure you, it’s coming if it hasn’t taken shape already.

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