I recently had someone ask me, "Why doesn't he change? Is he lying when he says he wants to or is he truly incapable? I don't get it..."
There was a large forest behind the house I grew up in. It had trees and brush and little ravines. It had hills and dips and thorns. We would ride our bikes from one end to the other, up and down the ravines, jumping the cliffs and weaving in and out of the brush. Over time, our bikes formed paths through the woods. The frequency of our rides cleared the brush back, smoothed the dirt beneath our wheels and created an open route for us, avoiding the thistles and connecting all of the corners of the woods together.
Our brain is like those woods. Beginning when we were little kids, paths were formed in our brains, connecting all of the pieces together. Every time we cried and our mothers and fathers met our needs, chemicals were released that told us that human connection was a way to soothe. Every good and bad experience released chemicals that connected cause and effect. As we lived and experienced needs in life, we learned to find ways that could address our needs. Sometimes these ways were healthy, like love and connection, and sometimes they were unhealthy, like blame and isolation. Over time the consistent cause and effect of life created the pathways, clearing the brush and thistles back, just like the woods behind my childhood home. The pathways we chose were a compilation of biological and environmental factors. Sometimes the unhealthy ways were the result of our emotional needs not being met. Dr. Sue Johnson said on a Love Rice podcast (found here), "The main survival strategy of our species, the reason we've made it this far, strange little clawless animals that we are; the fragile animals that we are... is to know that we can turn to another person and when we call, they will come. That is our main survival strategy." We were also born with personality traits that would encourage or discourage the formation of healthy neural pathways. It was our personality traits and the environment in which we were raised, that worked together to determine the paths that were created in our brain. Although, both factors contributed, they are not equal. A child with multiple personality risk factors could be raised in an extremely loving and healthy family and still develop unhealthy coping mechanisms.
But, the beautiful thing I find about this, is that our brains are muscles. They can be strengthened and weakened depending on how we use them. So now, that these unhealthy pathways are formed, we aren't stuck, we can change them. But, it's hard. The forest is filled with thick brush, thistles and briar patches. In order to create new, healthier pathways, we have to get pricked and scratched and sometimes we even fall down, right in the middle of the briars. It is painful and hard and it takes time. And no one can do it for us. The change happens inside our own brains, one choice at a time. It can't be forced or coerced. We have to choose it ourselves. No one but me can forge a path in my brain.
So yes, there is a good chance that he wants to change for the better; we all do. We all want safety and connection. We all want belonging even though the paths that we sometimes create lead to isolation and push those we love away. We can see what we really want through the thick brush, but it feels so far away and there are so many obstacles we must overcome to get there. And even if we forge through and we get pricked and scratched and tangled up, but we make it, that one time, the old path is right next to us. And it is clear of thorns and bushes. It looks so much easier. Less bloody. Less overwhelming. Sure it leads to what we don't really want, but we also don't get pricked along the way. Creating a new pathway is hard. It is painful. It is doing all of the things we have spent our lives avoiding. It is honesty and accountability and facing all of the demons we have worked so hard to hide. It goes against everything we've built ourselves upon. But, as we forge ahead consistently, the path becomes clearer. Easier. Less obstructed. And in time, the old path can even become overgrown and filled with thorns. Maybe it begins to do this about the time your scabs have healed.
I once again live in a home with a forest behind my house. It has hills and trees and brush. It isn't as large as the one behind my childhood home (or is it? time and age have a way of changing our perspective) but it is a forest none the less. This past summer, my kids wanted to build a dirt bike path. They wanted to clear a trail through the woods with jumps and turns to ride their bikes on. My teen went out and plotted the path he wanted to create. He grabbed some tools and began to work, for a while. But, then he became lonely and discouraged. So, he came in and gathered me, his brothers and the neighbors and we all got back to work. There is now a trail clear from one end of our property to well past the neighbors. Whereas we can't carve a path in someone else's brain, clearing the path in isolation is usually too painful and complicated, so we give up. Having adequate support, encouragement, accountability, and ideas is critical. That doesn't mean that we have to subject ourselves to abuse and mistreatment, but it does mean that our chances of real change are higher when there are others who offer their support. I believe that accountability is the first major step. When you recognize that your actions have lead to consequences that you no longer want to cause and you own that. True change begins when you see the path you have created for what it really is and determine where you actually want to go and you grab your tools and head for the briar patch.
This summer we'd come in at night covered in sweat with sore, achy muscles. We had scrapes and cuts and blisters. But, the moment we jumped on our bikes, it was all worth it.
According to Webster's Dictionary, the word 'redeem' means "to free from the consequences of sin." Although, it was not my sin, I still desperately need to be freed of the consequences.
"Redeemed women of God have tender merciful hearts, backbones of steel, and hands that are prepared for the fight." - Staci Elderidge
"Even though my heart has been broken at times, I want to retain a tender merciful heart- the kind of heart that is vulnerable, open to all emotions, and engaged in honest, intimate relationships. If my heart is hardened, no matter the cause, I cannot live to my fullest potential.
By setting and holding emotional, physical and spiritual boundaries and standing up with courageous determination to what I know to be right, I continue to forge my backbone of steel.
As women, I believe we want to fight against evil, and we have power greater than we've ever imagined to aid us in that fight."
- Rhyll Croshaw