Category Archives: Self Defeating Behavior

Bitterness: Drinking Poison and Wishing Someone Else Dies


What happens to a person when they are exposed to continual invalidation, isolation, and abandonment while they are experiencing one of the greatest personal and emotional crises of their life?  There are many  answers to the question that could result in a book instead of a blog post describing dimensions of biochemical, neurological, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological components that trigger damaging, and destructive emotions. On a personal level, the travesty for the individual in crisis during the process of feeling  pain and loss of all that important in life, they also are faced with the task of coping with others inability to face crisis, suffering, and death of someone they love.

Alone, Isolated, Feeling Rejected

As it begins, you are left alone emotionally and face the feelings of rejection, isolation and then as if that was not enough, the invalidation experienced leaves you with the sense that what you causes you to question if what you are feeling is not real, and not or important enough for anyone to recognize the deep loss and the pain of losing your primary connection to life.  This feeling of emptiness felt is more than you can bear because it seems that what you are feeling is a solitary pain and not important enough to be heard or acknowledged by anyone around you. So, it seems in these moments, you are left alone in your sackcloth and ashes to suffer the loss of someone has been your whole life and it seems that the whole world has gone away and is darkened by loneliness, pain, and despair.

Inaccurate Empathy

Sometimes people say “I understand” and mean well, but If the speaker has not had a similar  experience, there is not a remote capacity they have to understand what this experience is like. So the well meaning words kind people say are wasted words used by people trying to say the right thing at a emotionally difficult time to say anything, it is inaccurate empathy. Sitting in the Hospice care room and thinking back about the years I had spent efforts taking care of others and their families through moments of crisis life for most of my life, compounded by my own experience of  Thyroid cancer,  a misdiagnosis of Parkinson’s disease; managing diabetes, an encounter with a steel pipe to the head and; then, the final blow of losing a wife to cancer; I needed to know that someone cared.  In those moments I recalled something that I had read by Albert Ellis that reminded me that it wasn’t the circumstances of death, personal suffering of others responses, but how I felt about the experiences that I was having and I had some faulty expectations that left me feeling empty.

Abandoned and Alone

Even though it may not have been true in other peoples eyes, at that moment in time, my experience of life magnified abandonment and isolation in every moment. It seemed that some people should have cared enough to sit with me, talk to me,  like I sat with their dying family members through the years.  In those moments while Linda was dying,  I was was plagued by the moments and the memory about the time when I chose to be transparent enough to share with the church, the deacons, and leaders that I was very sick and could not perform at the level that I had before because I had cancer.  The response that I received was not compassion, but pressure and opportunistic anger leading to further responses organizing efforts to place greater pressure on me to perform.  Four years had passed since I left that church and while I was waiting in the Hospice center not one person came from congregation that I had served, not one card, not one flower, not one call. In these dark moments, I was reminded of these painful emotions and remembered the way I felt Christian people showed no empathy to a dying woman who had been a part of their church for six years. I pondered the thoughts about the way that my wife spent her last weeks and last last memory knowing that the response of people we had once believed in and thought were friends were not giving a hand up. There is no greater pain in life than the feeling of being abandoned and left alone to die. In the valley of the shadow of death, the feeling of abandonment and loneliness reminded me of the lies that we come to believe in life about other people.

The Sounds of Anger

If it sounds like I was angry and that I had anger that needed expressed, let me assure you that I was angry and it was churning a tune that would have expressed an unpleasant song given the opportunity to be heard. In that experience, I felt that I had good reason to be angry with people whom I believed were not acting like I wanted them to act in this situation, so I was angry because they expressed no empathy.  It appeared to me that I had not been very effective at teaching them to show mercy and I just could not believe that people we had served could be so calloused while my wife lay dying and not a one of them had the common courtesy to call, visit, or express any concern.  After living through an experience of wishing the worst things on people whom I believed were the source of so much, I realize that emotional pain and  bitterness leads to a counterproductive way of living.  Bitterness only hurts the person who is bitter, so in those moments I surrendered my bitterness to a loving God who did care and I resigned myself not live in bitterness and unforgiveness. However, I will always be impacted by the actions that were unjust behaviors of those who claimed to know the Lord and acted as reprobates.

Lost and Alone

After my Linda died, I felt like my life was over and I felt the sting of emotional and psychological abuse from angry people acting out who claimed to know Christ, but were less than compassionate in every way.  I moved away and in my new place, I did not have the constant reminder the aggravation of seeing the people who had religious conversation characterized by concepts of expressing love, acceptance and mercy, but behaved with judgment, pain, isolation, and abandonment. I have to admit, I really did not understand why people were acting the way they were, while I was trying to find some way to refocus life amidst the blur of grief compounded by the absence of support from most people that I would have expected to be helpful. If that sounds ominous, it was and in those dark moments I knew that if I did not do something drastic to change the direction of my life, I soon would be destroyed and on the street with no one to help me build a bridge to whatever road was ahead, so I followed my instincts and made a clean break from everyone and everything and did the things that I knew to do as a place to start.

Refocusing my Spiritual Life

As a recovering church and ministry junkie, I had come to realize that living inside a religious life only offered redemption as a concept and not as a transformational principle. It took the accumulation of the worst tragedies in life into a single  event and understanding that I had spent my life in a religious world of no substance, around shallow religious, and among many people who merely practiced cultural Christianity. The element that was missing was relationships with people who actually lived their life through the gospel lens. Broken people who lived the kind of relationship that Jesus modeled and proclaimed.  Personally, I felt victimized by religious do gooders when, in fact, my problem was I had a distorted perception of reality because I was fooling myself with the appeal of the broad way that looked to people for answers, instead of looking to God and it ended in destruction. I expected people who were not conformed to the gospel to live in accordance with its demands for total sacrifice.  I somehow thought Christians would be Christians when called upon. However, this belief could not have been further from the truth– people always act in their best interest and out of their own need justifying what they do.  The problem is that this religious narcissism offered pretentious platitudes with no commitment to caring for anything that did not make the churchy people feel good about themselves for doing nothing, but criticize another’s pain. The whole experience made me think of how Jesus must have felt while hanging on the Cross and people passing by jeering, mocking, and ridiculing Him in His suffering –what monumental invalidation of the worst kind. How unfortunate, the lies that that are taught, modeled and reinforced among the morally religious.

Church People are as Fallible and Wicked as anyone Else

It is with great sadness that I have to report that I had to come to terms with the painful realization that the heart of a man is deceitfully wicked above any other thing without redemption, mercy, and love.  I witnessed people acting destructively with surgical precision, while all I could do is keep my hat on in the storm. Unfortunately, my disappointment was compounded by my expectations of people and about the character of human behavior that justified evil acts while holding the bible in one hand and a dagger in the other.  When a person has false expectations about people and life; then that individual ends up disillusioned and disappointed by the false ideas believed, the result can be tragic.  Disillusionment leads to failure in life, bitterness about experiences and alienation from cultural Christians whose lives have not been transformed by the Gospel.  Indeed, things experience has taught me educated me that the church is ill-equipped at helping people who have real problems. It is because many churches are led by religious cripples with their tin cup held out requiring alms from the wounded and broken. I am sorry to say that I have discovered that a religious crowd of cultural Christians are very good at is creating emotional invalids, while religious authorities demand conformity to the status quot to find acceptance. The best organization in the world is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is made up of people who are a part of an organizational system that has no fail-safe approach for people who experience brokenness outside of the finite norms created by the mainstream dilettantes.

What is a person to do when all that is right goes wrong leaving you in a pile ruins, then in one fell swoop everything is lost, hope is gone, and you’re left alone?  You have a choice to grow bitter and spiteful or get better and move on with life. The myth that we need freedom from is that our hope is in the people of the church. The truth we need to give hope is found in the sufficient savior of the church

The Valley of the Shadow of Death is a Solitary Journey

I remember as I sat in the hospice with Linda dying and thinking– remembering how many times I had been there with other families who had a family member dying.  I remember thinking to myself, “Where are those people who I served and where is the church, the pastor, the family now?”  Death is one of those solitary experiences that you have to go through alone, but it is a time that no one should be alone.  If you want to invalidate someone, leave them alone when they get older and when they are dying.  I remember very clearly the isolation and loneliness of those moments.  As I sat there I waited hoping that anyone would come that I knew would care.  As I called and talked on the phone with one person who hoping for encouragement, what I heard was that she had that she had received a word from God and that Linda was going to be healed, but she wasn’t because she did not have enough faith.  I found out that in the valley of the shadow of death religious people commit some of the worst atrocities at the expense of the dying patient in the name of a religious deception. The power of denial turns the religious mythology into invalidation by refusing to accept that death brings the healing and encounter with God. I remember the particular sting of guilt and feeling anger when the same person told me that I should take Linda out of Hospice because that was where people went to die and again reminded me that we did not have enough faith.  As I understand the fear of loss of control in the moments of dying, the reality of death and others readiness to face death helps to explain the confusing behavior.

What I discovered through this process is that I had faulty notions about people that made expect things from people that they were not capable of giving in the way that I expected.  My interpretation of that made me believe at that moment that if they were really Christians they would show love and if they were family, they would show respect, but it did not happen as I thought it should. I was disappointed and the moment came when she died with my hand on her chest, there along with my daughter and son I felt her last breath, her heart stop and a tear trickled out of the corner of her right eye. The lie that I believed was that my expectations would be met and that people would care as much as I had and they did not. I learned in death to see the light of day.

People are Heartless

What I discovered is that people can be seem to be heartless at times like this inside both and outside the church.  The difference is that people inside the church have one set of answers about life and people who are outside the church have another set of answers.  A mutually exclusive truth I learned about myself and other is that people do act according to their personal interests, needs, and beliefs and this was not one of them for many people, but it was for me.  Mistakenly, I believed that somehow people would act as I thought that I used to –go sit, pray, or give support.  The result, for me, was disappointment and disillusionment.  The point is that I thought they should, would– show interest and it made me angry, and not for myself, but that people could show such a lack of feeling about someone who was innocently and undeserving dying such a horrible death. At the end of the day, the anger that I feel has not gone away and probably never will about the injustice, but I have learned to manage what I felt, experienced, and is a lifelong reality. The unfortunate thing is that when such emotionally charged memories become a part of existence that it changes life forever.

I will probably never get over what has happened, but living with bitterness is no more an option that living false religious beliefs and expectations about people. Consequently, Linda’s life is over and I regret that people who should have expressed compassion did not and left her with the empty morbid reality of death without time to say I love you and that you are important enough to me that I will set aside my personal interests and show love and care as the shadow hovers over your life and death awaits the time of its arrival.


Looking Through an Abused Child’s Eyes

Cover of "Adult Children of Alcoholics"
Cover of Adult Children of Alcoholics

Intelligent people, through their ability to analyze, often realize things which are disconcerting, which others would not see. They also are often capable of feeling more deeply, both pain and joy.

This list is from the work of Janet Geringer Woititz. She did her original work on adult children of alcoholics, but I believe her findings can be generalized to people who were emotionally abused in general. Certainly all children of alcoholics were emotionally abused.

Perception is Altered and Internalized Abuse Produces Self-Defeating Behavior

  • Can only guess at what healthy behavior is.
  • Have trouble completing things
  • Lie when they don’t need to. Lying might have been a survival tactic in the home. (She explains that perhaps the child learned from parents who lied to cover up problems or avoid conflict. Or simply to avoid harsh punishment, or to get needed attention. But as an adult, that tactic is no longer appropriate.)
  • Judge themselves without mercy.
  • Have trouble accepting compliments.
  • Often take responsibility for problems, but not successes.
  • Or they go to the other extreme and refuse to take any responsibility for mistakes while trying to take credit for the work of others.
  • Have trouble having fun since their childhoods were lost, stolen, repressed.
  • Take themselves very seriously or not seriously at all.
  • Have difficulty with intimate relationships.
  • Expect others to just “know what they want.” (They can’t express it because they were so often disappointed as children that they learned to stop asking for things.)
  • Over-react to things beyond their control.
  • Constantly seek approval & affirmation.
  • Feel different from others.
  • Are extremely loyal, even when facing overwhelming evidence that their loyalty is undeserved.
  • Are either super responsible or super irresponsible.
  • Tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. (This impulsiveness leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. The result is they spend much energy blaming others, feeling victimized and cleaning up messes.)

Parroting The Behaviors of An Abuser

  • We perpetuate these parental messages by judging ourselves and others harshly. We try to cover up our poor opinions of ourselves by being perfectionistic, controlling, contemptuous and gossipy.
  • We tend to isolate ourselves out of fear and we feel often uneasy around other people, especially authority figures.
  • We are desperate for love and approval and will do anything to make people like us. Not wanting to hurt others, we remain “loyal” in situations and relationships even when evidence indicates our loyalty is undeserved. (I would say not wanting to lose them, having an extremely hard time “letting go.”)
  • We are intimidated by angry people and personal criticism. This causes us to feel inadequate and insecure. (I would say it further adds to our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.)
  • We continue to attract emotionally unavailable people with addictive personalities.
  • We live life as victims, blaming others for our circumstances, and are attracted to other victims (and people with power) as friends and lovers. We confuse love with pity and tend to “love” people we can pity and rescue. (And we confuse love with need)
  • We are either super-responsible or super-irresponsible. We take responsibility for solving others’ problems or expect others to be responsible for solving ours. This enables us to avoid being responsible for our own lives and choices.
  • We feel guilty when we stand up for ourselves or act in our own best interests. We give in to others’ needs and opinions instead of taking care of ourselves.
  • We deny, minimize or repress our feelings as a result of our traumatic childhoods. We are unaware of the impact that our inability to identify and express our feelings has had on our adult lives.
  • We are dependent personalities who are so terrified of rejection or abandonment that we tend to stay in situations or relationships that are harmful to us. Our fears and dependency stop us form ending unfulfilling relationships and prevent us from entering into fulfilling ones. (I would add because we feel so unlovable it is difficult or impossible to believe anyone can really love us, and won’t eventually leave us once they see how “bad” we are.)
  • Denial, isolation, control, shame, and inappropriate guilt are legacies from our family of origin. As a result of these symptoms, we feel hopeless and helpless.
  • We have difficulty with intimacy, security, trust, and commitment in our relationships. Lacking clearly defined personal limits and boundaries, we become enmeshed in our partner’s needs and emotions. (i.e. become codependent)
  • We tend to procrastinate and have difficulty following project through from beginning to end.
  • We have a strong need to be in control. We overreact to change things over which we have no control.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

The Power of Words : When you speak, do your words build up or tear down?

I have found that one of the easiest ways to decide what a person is like to listen to what they say in a conversation. Words betray a person or instill confidence in the speaker.  People who are successful in life are people who choose the company they keep carefully. Words can be bad company if they are not chosen carefully. The Bible says that kind people speak kind words and the evil hearted people have words filled with harm. People who have learned this find that words spoken either can destroy people or can be used to build people up. If your words were a company, would it be a Company of Demolition or a Construction Firm?

Three Ways Our Words Can Tear Down

Speaking Untruthfully Are the words you speak true and honest? Or are you deceptive in your words and business practices? “The Lord hates every liar, but He is a friend of all who can be trusted.” Proverbs 12:22
Speaking with Anger You have heard it before, but often counting to ten before opening your mouth has helped many relationships. “A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.” Proverbs 15:1

Speaking Gossip Would you say that about them if there were standing next to you? Would you want someone to say that about you “Gossip is no good! It causes hard feelings and comes between friends.” Proverbs 16:28

Ways Words Can Be Constructive

Speak Words of Encouragement . Any fool can tear something down, but it takes a wise man to build something or someone up. “Kind words are like honey they cheer you up and make you feel strong.” Proverbs 16:24

Speak About Others With Constructive Words. No matter how hard you have to look, find something good and talk about it! “If you can’t say anything good, then don’t say anything at all “Focus you attention on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worth of praise.” Philippians 4:8

Speak Words that Elevate Others Well placed words at the right moment brings wholeness to others. “Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.” Proverbs 12:18

Words are the building blocks of success in life. Are you in the business of construction or demolition?