We are born inherently conflicted.
As I noted in the last article, however, our built-in conflicts are not our daily pathology. According to the apostle Paul, it’s our self-deception. It’s proclaiming ourselves wise then becoming the proverbial fool. It’s our choice to blind ourselves to truth, whether truths about God or about ourselves. It’s not our problems in life that destroy our meaning and joy. We can either solve our problems or not. If not, we work around them. It’s actually our blindness that brings us down…destroying our potential for joy-filled marriages, loving parenting, and dialogue within our political system.
Blindness. Do you really discern that you are, by significant degrees, blind? Be honest. Or do you think you’ve gotten by relatively unscathed. I know I’ve been blind—and have sadly confirmed this to myself over and over again across decades. Not ignorant. Ignorance is lacking information. I’ve been ignorant. But that’s not what I mean by blind. I mean turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to truths we already know secretly in our hearts, but are unwilling to face consciously. I still walk through life with some real trepidation—it’s palpable for me at times—knowing I am quite capable of yet being blind without a conscious clue that I am.
All our defenses—and as a species we use many—are driven by fear. Ever since Paradise has been lost, we’ve been running. Running from our Father. And running from ourselves. We are afraid…of truth. So—all our defenses, driven by fear, have the singular motive to blind us to truth. And the virtually instinctual drive to blind ourselves emerges at a most tender age.
I now see it in my young grandchildren, even at two years of age. The ever so young child can feel a real conflict emerge within herself. Well, it’s a conflict imposed on her by the adults around her. The adults have little choice though; they have to impose it. But imposing it now makes it her conflict. It will, in fact, both become and remain an ongoing struggle whose tense resolution will affect her entire life. That little lady has choices to make, and the choices she makes at two—heck, at 6 months and 12 months and 18 months—matter. And how her mother imposes the conflict, how her mother does and does not set up the little lady’s choices, matters as well. So, mother and child, like it or not, have entered a dance—and it’s a dance with life-shaping consequences.
Out of the blue (or so it seems), the little lady hits her brother. Why? Because she wants what he has: a most intriguing toy. In trying to figure out how to get the toy, her primal aggression kicks in. After all, that’s why it’s there. Her animal aggression provides the core drive—the gut-level passion and even courage—to take whatever she needs to survive. As she develops imagination—which grows quickly at 6, 12, 18, and 24 months—she uses that same aggression to secure what now captivates her imagination. Threaten her space…threaten her imagination…threaten her body, and she’ll also use her aggression to defend herself, even to the death. In an instant, this primordial energy is made available to her to strike out at her brother to get what has so quickly caught her childish imagination. In fairness, that’s simply how she’s built. That’s how we’re all built. That’s why we all argue and fight, whether in our families or in the political arena. We’re all just like that two year old.
BUT—the sixteen foot all powerful Mommy moves in on this little one to block her hostile takeover of her son’s property. Mommy grabs her arm, scolding her, telling her it’s not nice to hit. As a good negotiator on the little lady’s behalf, Mommy asks the brother if he’d be willing to share his toy with his sister…but only if she asks nicely.
Now the little lady is trapped; she’s boxed in. She’s caught between the primal and her mother’s demands. But isn’t it her mother’s right and duty to train her not to strike out at her own brother? She just can’t let her hit her brother, can she? That would be immoral, unloving, unkind…outright barbaric, for both mom and daughter. Yes? Doesn’t mother have a moral obligation to redirect her little one’s passionate drive to take what she wants when she wants it from whomever she wants it? But that puts the little lady into conflict. On one hand, she does indeed want what she wants when she wants it—and the primal is instantly fired up to help her get it. But, on the other hand, she can’t have it. Not on her terms anyway. And maybe never. Whether she gets the toy or not, she’s not supposed to strike out to “steal” it. Not in a civilized society. Not as a disciple of Christ. She’s supposed to “Be Nice!” Mommy is supposed to train her in the fruits of the Spirit. That little lady needs to learn to be kind, and gentle, and understanding. She needs to viscerally come to terms with the fact that this splendid toy is his, not hers, and then, in a world woven together by love and kindness, negotiate with him. Fair enough. But what is she supposed to do with her own roiling aggression—aggression now turned outright hostile because an all-powerful bully has frustrated her to no end by stopping her from getting her way?
She really has only three options.
Frank Barbehenn is an expert on integrating psychology with faith. He is the author of Faith of a Father: from Torment to Trust—Forging Our New Identity in Christ. This book has received industry recognitions including being an International Illumination Book Award Winner and an International Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist.
Frank is a licensed psychologist in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and has been in practice for 35 years. He specializes in relationship and trauma therapy. He also trained in theology. He is a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Fellow with the American Psychotherapy Association.
He is an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pa. and has been on the Permanent Judicial Committee of his Presbytery. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, as well as adjunct faculty in psychology at the college level. He has led seminars, taught Adult Education, year-long discipleship programs, and led church committees.
Frank has been married for forty-four years and is a father of three——Paul, Matt, and Kristen——and the proud grandfather of five (as of this writing): Dylan, Leah, Jacob, Hannah, and Sarah. He loves to sail and play golf, along with launching model rockets with his grandchildren and chasing them around the house as the “Grampy Monster.”
Finally, Frank is the survivor of multiple traumas, including emotional trauma at the hands of his own parents, beginning in infancy.
Sponsored by Frank Barbehenn