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Judy Lair is a licensed counselor and owner of Counselorplace Christian Counseling. She is the author of “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.” Judy’s personal struggles with fear led her through the valley of hurt and sorrow. She now embraces a joy-filled life grounded in God’s truth and freedom in Christ. Judy uses her professional counseling expertise to tell stories that help people find healing and freedom. Her vulnerable, godly approach helps people find courage to move from Fear to Freedom. For more information or speaking requests, email JudyLair@counselorplace.com or sign up for blog posts at http://judylair.blogspot.com

 “Freedom is attainable. Trust me, I’ve been on the anxiety side, gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and now I’m praising God, eating at the banqueting table, and helping others make the same journey. Whether you find yourself stuck in anxiety, disappointment, grief, or confusion, your heart can be set free.” Judy Lair, “From the Other Side of the Couch.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It’s Not About Dumb or Stupid, It’s About Safe and Unsafe

How often do you beat yourself up? Tell yourself that you must be dumb, stupid, an idiot, etc.? How worried are you that someone else thinks all those same negative things about you and your actions? Join the club!

I moved into a new apartment complex a few months ago. My relationship with the management staff was tested from the very first day. Every question I’ve asked and every maintenance request I’ve made has resulted in me feeling ignorant and stupid.

After moving and unpacking all day, what I wanted most was a shower and my bed. I finally unearthed my shower curtain and as I was hanging it, the entire rod pulled off the wall! Maintenance request #1. The next morning I spent time setting up my bedroom, moving lamps around to get the best lighting. There are three light switches next to the door. Scout’s honor, I tried every combination of every light switch/wall outlet and could not find a way to turn on a lamp via a light switch. I emailed staff who told me to try again and if I couldn’t figure it out, they would send maintenance once again. When I got home that evening, maintenance had left step by step instructions explaining exactly what to do. I felt like a kindergartner. Uggg! How stupid am I for not figuring it out myself!

Trash in this complex is taken to a compactor where I need to put in a specific code to open the door. I tried several times and the door would never open. I emailed the office and received a very condescending reply, telling me to call next time I was at the compactor and someone would come and show me how to do it properly. Grrrrrr! So fine, the next time I took out the trash I called the woman to come “help me.” She smugly showed me how to enter the code, pulled on the door, and it opened easily. Undeterred,  I asked if I could try. She closed the door and I repeated the steps – but the door would not budge. She pulled on it and it wouldn’t open for her either. Saying the last person must have messed it up, she showed me how to give the door a body slam to fix it. Although I felt justified, her attitude left no doubt she thought I was lame.

The most recent debacle happened a few days ago when I emailed the office about seeing some small, black bugs on the wall and ceiling. I thought they were coming in because it’s starting to get cold outside. Management sent a pest control inspector who immediately identified them as flour beetles and began searching my kitchen cabinets. Now I’m exactly 5’ tall and even when I stand on a step stool, I’m not eye level with the second cabinet shelf and can barely reach the third shelf on my tip toes. The inspector opened a bag of flour I had on the top shelf. Gross! It was full of those beetles! I was immediately overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame. How stupid can I be??? He’s going to send a report to management and they will now be convinced I am the biggest idiot in the apartment complex!

When I feel dumb, my immediate coping mechanism is to call myself names, apparently believing this will remind me to be smarter next time. But we all know that doesn’t work! What I need to do is move from isolating self-condemnation to feeling cared for and loved. This takes place when we recognize it’s not a matter of being smart/stupid or right/wrong. It’s about feeling unsafe and unprotected.

King David is the best example of this principle. If anyone had reason to beat themselves up all the live long day, it was David. But I never get that vibe when I read his journal. Psalms is full of David confessing his foolishness without the name calling. Instead, he acknowledges his stuff and thanks God for protecting and caring for him even in the midst of it.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord; “O Lord, save me!” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. Psalm 116:1-6

I grew up feeling emotionally unprotected and unsafe. I can remember events ranging from elementary school to this week where I’ve felt stupid and trace it back to feeling unprotected. My coping mechanism was to become mature, dependable, and responsible as quickly as possible – hoping that by acting like an adult, I'd finally feel safe. But here I am at age 54, still triggered by condescending property agents who terrify me because I feel unprotected when I don't know something.

David acknowledged his immaturities and weaknesses without shame because he knew he was supposed to be imperfect. The job of a child is to experience life, letting their parents decide what is and isn’t safe. When I took my son Ben to the playground, I expected he would try to climb too high on the monkey bars or want to swing high enough to touch the clouds. It wasn’t his job to understand physics and determine safe/unsafe play, it was mine as his parent. Same thing when he went to his first school dance. He knew I’d share a couple suggestions that could help him avoid embarrassment, whether he wanted them or not:) I love watching Ben’s approach to the world; secure and confident.

I’ve learned that each time I start down the “I’m stupid” path, I reinforce my helplessness. Instead, I can choose to run to my heavenly father, tell him I feel scared and unsafe and ask for his protection over my heart. Calling on the name of the Lord allows me to grieve what I did not receive in the past and anchor to his trustworthiness in the present. 

I've been processing this event all weekend so when I open up the, “You’re stupid” letter from the office this week, I'll be able to deal with it functionally and move on rather than taking an emotional hit to my personhood. What do you do/believe when you feel stupid and helpless?

Photo located at flickr.com

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