Keeping Faith Amid an Invalidating Environment

by | Jun 29, 2015 | 8 Persecuted

Segregation_1938bBlessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).
Emotional pain is not simple.  Yet, all too often, we want to simplify it, reduce it to something like an attitude, idea, or gene. Then we can manage it, such as changing a hopeless assumption to a hopeful one.  Or we can resign to it, as when we attribute someone’s depression to genetics. One way or the other, we just want to fix or dismiss and move on.
In our hurry to avoid the pain of people we don’t understand, we make the suffering worse by invalidating it.  When pain is invalidated, so is the person.
As discussed in a recent post, “Validation and Comfort,” people need validation and respect for their pain rather than minimization or denial of it in a rush to comfort.  Meanwhile, that need often arises from too much time in invalidating environments.  For example, a family does not tolerate tears after a loss.  The child learns not to trust herself, not to be herself.
Invalidation also comes in what goes unsaid, as when a spouse often criticizes but never praises.  It comes in double-binds, as when a father claims family health and safety as his prime motive but beats the children.  Or a grandmother declares love with a cold glare and demands reciprocation.
This happens not only in families but in entire communities.
For example, imagine your racial ancestors were slaves, and you live in a community that fought a losing war to keep them and their progeny in slavery.  Now community leaders declare slavery long gone and bestow to your race the same rights as the majority.
Of course, they imply that since you have those rights, they blame your race for having so many live below the poverty line.  Never mind the segregated country clubs where the majority make business connections, the private education, healthcare, and legal services beyond the minority population’s reach, or the extra vigilance of police to keep your race in check.
At the state house, this government flies the flag of the former government that lost the war to keep your race in slavery, and that same flag flew at lynchings of your later ancestors. The majority holds power, and they love to sing the anthem of that fallen nation and speak derisively of those whose ancestors fought to free you. Meanwhile, they go to church and love their country.
You and others of your race also go to church.  Segregated there from the majority race, it is one of the only places you find validation.  Then one evening, a young man from the majority race shuffles into your Bible study group.  How do you feel?  How do you treat him?  What do you hope for?


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