So many of us are dealing with hidden pain, hidden traumas. We long to heal, but we don’t always know how. In my own healing journey, I’ve met several times with this wise, cruciform woman, Dr. Alison Cook and have been anticipating her new book, The Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God. Dr. Alison Cook writes with wisdom and compassion about how to take brave steps each day to heal past wounds and show up more authentically as the beautiful, light-bearing person God made you to be. It’s a grace to welcome Alison to our farm’s table today…
Angie flashed a big smile as she sped into my office. Setting her gigantic water bottle next to her, she perched on the couch’s edge, her body taut. “Thanks so much for meeting with me. I know how busy you are!” she said, as if she didn’t want to take any more of my time than was necessary.
She explained to me that she ran a well-respected nonprofit, hosted get-togethers for friends, and spent much of her free time helping others. But, inside, she was feeling hopeless and distressed.
“I’m depressed,” she said without showing any outward sign of it. Eyes wide, she sat up straight on the couch, ready to bolt like a young colt the minute the clock told her our time was up.
“It makes me so mad. I try everything—working out, eating healthy, praying. But no matter what I do, the truth is, I feel so empty inside. Alone. Invisible.”
Here was a woman who was doing everything “right.” She was tending to her physical health. She prayed regularly and helped other people. Yet some part of her remained deeply wounded and downcast. She couldn’t access any real sense of joy or wonder. She struggled to experience God’s love, even though she believed factually that it was real.
Angie knew how to work hard and care for others. She knew how to pray and seek God’s guidance.
But inside she felt discouraged and disconnected.
Every week in my work, I witness this inner tension.
It happens to married women and those who are single, to moms, executives, and ministry leaders. All kinds of women, and men, who are spiritually strong but emotionally struggling.
Thy are here, sitting in my office, wondering, How did I get here? They’re overwhelmed, anxious, and running on empty. They’re working hard, trying to be kind, even learning to care for themselves and set boundaries. Yet, they’re torn up on the inside.
“You can trust God and still feel anxious, lonely, overwhelmed, and broken inside.”
Each of them has bumped up against a painful reality: You can trust God and still feel anxious, lonely, overwhelmed, and broken inside.
You can be strong spiritually and remain stuck emotionally at the exact place where you got hurt in the past.
You can have confidence in God and be completely ill-equipped for the landmines life will inevitably present.
Why does this happen?
After decades of integrating faith and psychology, I believe there are three realities that lead to women feeling stuck and disconnected. I call it the Cocktail of Codependency, and one of the key ingredients in that cocktail is childhood wounds, otherwise known as trauma.
When you hear the word trauma, you might assume that it only applies to extreme situations. But when understood correctly, trauma is a reality that touches more people than you might think.
Trauma more simply defined is unwitnessed pain. When left alone with any sort of pain, a wound is created that can fester for years.
“Trauma more simply defined is unwitnessed pain. And God didn’t design you to be alone in your pain.”
God didn’t design you to be alone in your pain.
Angie grew up in a highly conflicted home. Her dad would scream at her mom for hours. Her mom would cry, plead, then flee to the bedroom. All the while, Angie watched, fearful and wide-eyed.
The fighting left her feeling terribly anxious and alone.
But, as a young child, she had no idea what that uncomfortable feeling in her stomach was. She only knew that she wanted to feel better.
Desperate to soothe the searing pain in her belly, Angie made herself as small and unthreatening as possible. When the fighting died down, she tiptoed in to clean up whatever mess they’d made, and started dinner. One time in particular, when her parents returned, no one said a word about the fight. But her mom said, “You’re such a good girl, Angie.”
In that moment, Angie learned a powerful message. She learned that when she felt anxious, she could get a hit of relief if she would only shrink herself down, camouflage her own pain, and make someone else feel good.
Unbeknownst to her, Angie had been conditioned to survive through what psychologists call the “fawn response.”
“Staying small and blending into your surroundings can keep you safe. But it is also incredibly damaging to your core sense of self.”
In the face of her arguing parents, she became small, tiny, “safe.” If she could be helpful enough, calming enough, and pleasing enough, her mom would feel better and her dad would de-escalate. If she pretended that her own needs weren’t important—and took care of others—then she could feel better. Without realizing it, Angie’s parents had conditioned her to betray her own needs to get the love and attention she craved.
And this type of self-betrayal is a reality I encounter in all kinds of people, including myself.
Staying small and blending into your surroundings can keep you safe. But it is also incredibly damaging to your core sense of self.
It’s what I call the armor of invisibility.
If you are someone who learned to hide or make yourself small, please know this is not the life God has for you. If you are someone who has felt like you have to mute your personality, your take-charge attitude, or your leadership abilities, please know this is not the life God has for you.
I have found through my work as a counselor that many are slowly giving up on these truths. Don’t get me wrong: most are not giving up on being helpful or kind to others.
“At some point, you have to stop hiding, rip off that invisibility cloak, and start showing up in your life.”
Most are not giving up on God. But after working with women and men for over two decades, the truth is that many are slowly and subtly giving up on parts of themselves that need healing.
At some point, you have to stop hiding, rip off that invisibility cloak, and start showing up in your life. You have to become your true self. Who God made you to be.
If these words resonate with you, can I encourage you to get curious: What are some ways you have learned to stay hidden? What are some messages you have picked up, such as:
“It’s better to stay small”
“I shouldn’t feel angry or sad.”
“My voice doesn’t count.”
What is a new message God might be inviting you to consider instead?
What if walking with Jesus means to learn how to say yes to reclaiming your God-given light?
What if there is no shame in any of this, no matter where you are in your journey today?
God named you Beloved before parts of you believed otherwise.
Dr. Alison Cook is a psychologist and writer who empowers people to heal from past wounds, develop a strong sense of self, forge healthy relationships with others, and experience a loving God who is for them. She specializes in bringing faith and psychology together in a practical, accessible way.
The story she shares today is from her recently released book, The Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God, in which Dr. Alison reveals a breakthrough strategy to develop your voice, set wise limits, and still be a loving person.
[ Our humble thanks to Thomas Nelson for their partnership in today’s devotion ]