Leaders regularly come into our counseling and coaching offices depressed, burned out, anxious, angry, or leaking behaviors they are not proud of, and they just want it fixed.  The reality for many is that things cannot get fixed unless we connect emotionally to the hurts and wounds in our lives first.  Often times this means entering into the deepest wells of our sorrow from the past in order to understand and effectively address our present circumstances.  Surprisingly, there is a connection!

In aspiring to help leaders live with integrity, whether a mom raising her children, non-profit leaders giving their lives to many, or business executives who run large corporations, we have found that many, maybe even most, have never taken time to know their story and to understand the impact it has had on their present way of doing life. 

We all want our frustrating symptoms resolved. Brene’ Brown, social researcher and author, reminds us that we all want to avoid pain, it’s human. To the degree that we have compartmentalized our lives, where our outside does not match the inside, and our head is moving in a different direction than our heart or body, there are red flags being waved and  sirens sounding off warning us of our unhealthy patterns of avoiding real emotional pain. These kind of symptoms are often the weeds connected to roots called abuse.

All abuse survivors minimize their story and resist looking back. It hurts too much, and because minimizing is a clever coping strategy to keep from feeling the agonizing pain, most abuse survivors prefer to ignore their childhood all together or only remember the good. It’s similar to a getting a cavity filled. Abuse survivors would rather bare the pain of the cavity over the inconvenience and cost of getting the filling, or waiting until there is no other choice. In the mean time, the cavity is causing more damage in the waiting and tolerating.

The following is the story from a woman who most would never guess struggled in the ways she did. She minimized. Figuratively, her smile never revealed the cavities hidden in her mouth to the ordinary eye. She is beautiful, capable, a strong follower of Jesus, and married with three wonderful children. Due to her gifted skills, like many leaders, she was quickly put into roles of leadership within a wonderful non-profit without ever addressing the pain of her childhood. Here is her courageous story.

“I always knew what I grew up with was crazy and abusive, but I always thought others had it so much worse; and I shouldn’t waste time talking and remember my childhood pain. My dad was from Palestine and my mom from Jordan. They were arranged in their marriage and sixteen years apart in age. My dad was verbally, physically, and emotionally abusive to me, my 3 sisters and my mom. My mom was so tired from my dad’s abuse that her retreat was at work. She neglected my sisters and me. I felt like I had no one.

About two years ago I hit a low when suicide became my plan. I was depressed. I am a Christian and Christians are suppose to have joy. I didn’t have joy. I loved my husband so much but we weren’t connecting the way I knew in my heart we should be. As much as I wanted family time with three kids and my husband, being together brought anxious feelings and quick anger to those I loved most. In my moments of anger I verbally abused my family. I was addicted to chaos, with plenty of Christian service duties and ministering to everyone that entered my circle. I didn’t understand healthy boundaries nor did I really believe in them. I was neglecting my family and I was tired and drained.

Many verses I read in the Bible didn’t match my inner life. Verses like, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) I could serve my life away but how in the heck could I achieve the fruit of the Spirit? I battled if the Bible was more than just words and if God really cared about my inner struggles.

This last year I joined a group called Mending the Soul. In this group I had to almost re-live some of the painful memories I endured in my childhood. I also confessed the pain I had knowing the verbal abuse I did to my own family. I remember one day after my MTS homework I sobbed realizing my father came close to killing me and my sisters in one of his many angry moments. Those who know me would say I don’t cry much but this study brought many painful tears of healing.

I am thankful to say that recognizing, accepting, confessing my abuse has brought so much healing in my life. I actually enjoy bed time with my kids. I look forward to our time as a family instead of dreading it. My husband and I are at deeper levels in our relationship. The best part is I am finally accepting the words I read in the Bible. I am accepting God’s promises for my life. I am accepting that He has come to give me life and give it more abundantly (John 10:10). He is giving me joy and I am seeing the fruit of the Spirit becoming a reality in my life.

I didn’t realize remembering my childhood pain could change my life the way it did. I am thankful for my counselor, my mentor and Mending the Soul for the opportunity to live the life God has called for me.”

Not all leaders have abuse in their lives, nor do all leaders need to go through a group like Mending the Soul, but all leaders have a story and must face it in it’s entirety. There are no short cuts, but the road to healing can surely be a more direct route to an integrated and more free life, the abundant life.

Written by Terra A. Mattson, LMFT, LPC  Clinical Director & Owner

published with permission by client