Monday, June 3, 2013

#2 Lessons from the Empty Nest ~ Perception

Have you ever revisited a place you only knew as a child? Isn’t it amazing to realize how small everything looks, now that you’re grown? The huge kitchen cabinets that had to be climbed in order to reach the cookie jar on the top shelf now seem so small. Obviously the kitchen cabinets didn’t change, but our perception of them sure did. In like manner, have you ever wondered why one particular event can be witnessed by different people and later, when they’re asked to recall the event, it’s as if they’re telling different stories?

It all has to do with perception. Perception is why investigators taking the statements of eye-witness accounts, concerning an accident or crime, must keep their focus on the common details of their stories in order to uncover the facts of the incident.

"Perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. As we move throughout our lives, we create an internal model of how the world works.

This model maps sensations, such as sight of an accident, to certain preconceptions contained within our unique model. Our model is also constantly evolving, as new information is acquired.

Because our backgrounds and physiology are all different, we experience the interpretation of sensory information in different ways.

Thus... different stories about the same event."
(Copied; Unknown) 

 Years ago, through my relationship with my siblings, I learned something that has been helpful to me as a parent with adult children. The lesson I learned had to do with individual perceptions. It is a fact that memories are attached to strong emotions, such as love, hate and fear, and then those memories are filtered through our individual temperaments. What happens then is that our own unique perception of an event is created and a memory is established. But could that memory be wrong? Could it be biased in some way?

Our mom had her hands full with four kids under 5 years of age. Our ages put me as the middle child with a big brother 2 years older and a baby sister 2 years younger and our little brother was only 11 months older then the baby. With this age spread, we shared a lot of the same family events and we made memories together. Later in life, when our younger brother started reminiscing about those family times, I realized he carried away a lot of emotional pain. Having heard my brother repeatedly talk about his emotional pain from those shared events, I finally said to him, "I was there... we were all there... none of us can say we liked what happened, but the rest of us aren’t letting it eat us up like you are. Mom and Dad are not responsible for your perception of what happened in the past, you are. You need to let it go. You need to get over it... it’s burning a hole in your heart."

I know my words were harsh, especially to the ears of a soul that was already hurting, but nothing I said could compare to the anguish my brother had already put himself through. An anguish he constructed through his own perception of what he emotionally felt. We were all there... each of us walking away with our individual, emotional perception of what took place, but it was our younger brother who allowed his perception to lead him into a self-inflicted emotional trauma. An emotional trauma experienced by one... made through the thoughts and mind of one.

As his sister, I had taken the liberty of being harsh with my brother on purpose. No doubt he didn’t like what he heard, but he needed to hear it, and after hearing it, he needed to process it. It was a few years after this that my brother finally desired to trust the Lord as his Saviour. I lead him to the Lord and his story is posted on my blog entitled "After 33 Years".

However, as a parent, harsh statements like that to our own children could be devastating to them. Funny how it works, but even when you children are adults a sibling still has more liberty to address delicate issues than a parent. Let a parent say something harsh to their adult child and they still can be plummeted into an emotional depth of despair, the intimidation and rejection of your words will further alienate your child from you. That’s not parental tough-love, that’s just callousness.

Our perceptions are our responsibility. And it is our responsibility to figure it out, not our parents, they’re not to blame for what we choose to carry as our emotional baggage (nor is anyone else, for that matter). Occasionally, parents need to be willing to "walk down memory lane" through the eyes of their children... and that could be a painful walk, but parents need to be willing to hear the heartache of what was experienced through the memories and perceptions of their child. Looking through old family pictures together is one way to revisit the past with each person having an opportunity to recall the event depicted through their own perceptions. Memories tend to be one-sided so parents need to softly interject the other side of the story, correcting any misinformation that there might be. Did you know that memories are a lot like overhearing one-side of a phone conversation? Until you’re able to put together what you heard with what you didn’t hear, of the phone conversation, all your information could be nothing but misinformation.

If you were to interview our 5 adult children, they would most likely reminisce about shared family events, but I also have no doubt you would get 5 different perceptions of what it was like growing up in the Coley household, as it is also true for my siblings and I. Perceptions are relative to our emotional health.

I read a book by Dave Pelzer entitled A Child Called It, his own story of abuse.
"This book chronicles the unforgettable account of one of the most severe child abuse cases in California history. It is the story of Dave Pelzer, who was brutally beaten and starved by his emotionally unstable, alcoholic mother: a mother who played torturous, unpredictable games--games that left him nearly dead. He had to learn how to play his mother's games in order to survive because she no longer considered him a son, but a slave; and no longer a boy, but an "it."" (Amazon review)

In his book, Mr. Pelzer wrote: "I believe it is important for people to know that no matter what lies in their past, they can overcome the dark side and press on to a brighter world. It is perhaps a paradox that without the abuse of my past, I might not be what I am today. Because of the darkness in my childhood, I have a deep appreciation for life. I was fortunate enough to turn tragedy into triumph." (page 166; A Child Called "It", by Dave Pelzer, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1995)

Painful events do happen, but the power of those memories is always our choice. We choose to let the memories either make us, or break us.

~ * ~ * ~

This article reminds me of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. The Bible says of Elijah that he was "subject to like passions as we are..." - James 5:17. Elijah was subject to his own perceptions of events, and even he struggled with his emotions.

Elijah struggled with:

1. Doubts and questions God. - I Kings 17:20

2. Fears for his life at the hands of Jezebel. - I Kings 19:3

3. In despair and wants to die. - I Kings 19:4

4. Depression sets in and he hides in a cave. - I Kings 19:9 & 13

5. Full of self-pity he feels alone; isolated. - I Kings 19:10 & 14

6. Elisha ministered unto Elijah and encourages him. - I Kings 19:21

7. Still fearful and is told "be not afraid" by an angel. - II Kings 1:15

And yet, with power from on high, Elijah was able to:

1. Stopped the dew and rain for 3 ½ yrs. - I Kings 17:1

2. Restore the life of the widow’s son. - I Kings 17:22

3. Defeated the false prophets on Mount Carmel. - I Kings 18:21-40

4. At his word caused it to rain again. - I Kings 18:41

5. Called down fire from heaven. - II Kings 1:10-12

6. Parted the waters of river Jordan to cross on dry land. - II Kings 2:8

7. Did not die, was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind. - II Kings 2:11


Bettie King said...

Thanks for this Jane. I can certainly relate as to siblings. David is such a mess. It hurts so badly to see him so full of hate and anger. It has totally consumed him and affected his mind. Everything and everyone is out to get him. He will not even talk to his own kids or see his grandkids, because they have a relationship with their mom. He hates her so much. None of us can talk to him. He gets agitated and starts talking about killing himself or anyone else who threatens him in any way. Of course no one is threatening him, but in his mind we all are. He would not go to our Mom's funeral cause he could not deal with it. Then Rickie died the next day and that was about more than he could bear. All I can do is pray. I wish I could say to him basically the same thing you did. We have all been through much hurt, but you have to go on. He needs Jesus so bad. He needs to let go of all this bitterness. It is eating him alive. He had a mjor heart attack 3 years ago and died 3 times, then had a 7 vessel bypass. God allowed him to live for a reason. Thanks, Deb

Bettie King said...

I am Deb Hardman, my sister is Bettie

thisquietheart said...

Thank you, thank you for this. As I read, parts of what you said could have been my very own words. I have an older brother similar to your younger brother, struggling with bitterness and pain from a past that only he remembers. And now I have a co-worker, abused as a child and turned away from God, but not unbelieving. I struggle with how to counsel my brother and how to witness to this particular co-worker. These things you've pointed out are valuable. Thank you.

Jane M. Coley said...

Hi Deb ~ I remember your twin, David. Prayer is so powerful and I encourage you to continue praying for your brother. It was 33 years before I saw answer to my prayers on behalf of my brother, Jimmy. I invite you to read his story further down on this blog, I think it will be an encouragement to you. Praying for David, too.

Jane M. Coley said...

Thank you for your kind comments. Saying a prayer for you as you witness to your brother and co-worker.
God Bless