By Jenny Harrison
If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
~~ Abraham Maslow
For twenty-nine years I have been married to a carpenter/cabinet maker, and while I don’t know the names of all my husband’s tools, one thing I have noticed is that when equipped with the proper tool for a particular project, the task at hand can be accomplished with ease. Attempting a project with tools that are flawed or inadequate will lead to inevitable delays and unnecessary frustration. The worst case scenario would be totally botching a project beyond repair.
Sometimes the solution to the problem involves maintenance of the needed tool, such as cleaning or sharpening. But there are times when the tool has seen better days, and the only option is to discard and replace it with a new one.
Through personal reflection and observation in my profession as a mental health counselor, I have found that people tend to carry an emotional toolbox. This toolbox consists of a collection of learned strategies to manipulate, adjust, or improve our environment. How we use our tools depends on our perceptions, world views, relationships, expectations, and experiences.
In healthy environments, children learn to use a variety of functional tools to thrive in their world. In most cases, they are not afraid of new and challenging situations and are able to adjust when necessary. For the most part, they act with confidence due to healthy perceptions of themselves and how they believe the world perceives them. They learn their place and their role and are confident in relationships. Notice I used the word confident, not arrogant.
But what about children of neglect and abuse? (emotional, physical, or sexual.) Often children of neglect show signs of defiance, anger, and the tendency to sabotage relationships due to deep-seated trust issues. While these actions are not considered healthy, the reality is that these “tools” were likely used to survive in a scary, volatile world.
When children are removed from an abusive situation, or adults voluntarily move to a safer more nurturing environment, it would seem logical to assume that the coping mechanisms or use of “faulty tools” would cease. Although unfavorable actions may decrease, the tendency to cling to familiar behavior remains.
Proverbs 18:14 summarizes this inner conflict in a nutshell:
A healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed? (MSG)
Praise God, we don’t have to look far to find the answer and His promise:
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. (Psalm 34:17-20 NIV)
For the adult child of abuse, it is always advisable to seek Christian, professional help. Abuse is not without emotional scars and recurring pain. But with faith in your Heavenly Father and a strong Christian support system, you will not only survive but gain the adequate tools to live a productive, happy life. Praise God, there is hope. You are not alone!
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Jenny Harrison is a professional counselor, speech pathologist, public speaker, and Christian writer. She is the owner and operator of the Heart of Texas Speech and Counseling Center in Gustine, Texas and founder of Breath of Life Women’s Ministries.
Copyright © 2014, Jenny Harrison, all rights reserved, Breath of Life Women’s Ministries. Images from Pinterest. Quote by Abraham Maslow. Scripture from The Holy Bible, New International Version and the Message.