Emotions. Trauma. Insecurities. Fear. PTSD. Sadness. These realities ruled our lives in so many ways when I was growing up.
Extreme emotions can rule a person’s life. They did, for my dad. They have, for me.
Yet, our responses have been so very different.
My dad struggled with his emotions due to two important factors. First, he was adopted. He never felt loved primarily because his birth mother gave him away. Second, he experienced some form of PTSD as a result of his experiences in Vietnam.
Dad always felt insecure since he was “given away.” He didn’t view the fact that his adopted parents “chose” him. He simply felt devalued and unwanted by his biological parents. I imagine him trying to reconcile that wasn’t easy. From the stories he told us when I was a kid, much of his rebellious nature and consequently the discipline he experienced in his adopted family was a result of this insecurity. Being a teenager can be difficult enough on it’s own, but particularly with these types of challenges.
Dad barely drank alcohol and definitely never did any drugs before he went to Vietnam. Yet, he described his short time there as one of extreme fear and wanted out badly. Even if he didn’t live through battle himself, many soldiers and friends did. He knew their stories well.
My dad turned to alcohol and marijuana to help him manage his emotions. He quickly became an alcoholic who could turn on you in an instant once he had been drinking. His temper often resulted in violence or threats of violence. He lashed out in an instant—tearing down anyone and everyone within earshot.
As a counselor, thinking back on my dad’s emotional struggles, I truly felt for him. He went through some really challenging times. I often wonder what it would have been like to put myself in his shoes. It’s easy to judge someone from your own shoes, much more difficult if you have been given the same circumstances.
I had my own emotional issues thanks to how my dad dealt with his. Grief, from losing so much, moving constantly. Anger, from how he treated my mom and us kids. Insecurity, as he would lash out, tearing me down as a person and cussing me out. Sadness and despair, from never having much hope for our lives to get better. Yet, I responded to my emotional challenges quite differently.
First, long before I met Jesus, I determined I wasn’t going to be like my dad—I would strive for non-violence as the best route in any conflict.
Second, I would never drink alcohol. I could see a genetic predisposition and feared that I would end up just like my dad. I chose early on, to never drink.
Third, I wanted my words to be used for good rather than tearing others down. I was determined to never treat my kids the way he treated me.
Lastly, as a teenager, I ended up hating my father for the way he treated us, his family. Yet, after I met Jesus, I realized that emotion of anger and hatred was misplaced and had to be dealt with. I chose to forgive him. Instead of blaming him, I chose to let him off my hook. I chose healing.
This was most difficult and the end of the book goes into much more detail of this challenge, yet it was such a necessary response to that emotion.
I believe, without a doubt, that none of our emotions are invalid or unwarranted. There is NOTHING wrong with the way we feel. It is all a matter of what we do with those emotions and how we decide to manage them.
There are healthy ways and there are unhealthy ways. There are healing ways and there are hurtful ways. There are productive ways and there are destructive ways.
Which ways do you choose?
Yes, we all have a choice.
What do you choose?