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Wounded Spirit Syndrome

Is THE Universal Paradox

Posted 2/1/2018

Revised 3/20/2020 

Everyone wants to think highly of themselves and conversely, no one wants to believe they have zero worth or value. Because everyone wants to believe they are attractive, lovable and competent, when they receive negative messages from other people or from their own self-condemnations that imply something different, it places them in a paradox of self-doubt. They wonder am I the good person I want to be or am I the bad person that other people seem to say that I am? This is THE Universal Paradox that everyone faces, and struggles with to some degree or another sometime in their life. 


On whichever side a person lands in their belief of self, this viewpoint determines their course in life. If they lan on the positive side and see worth and value in self then they develop a positive self-efficacy and self-confidence that allow them to achieve things even though they might struggle. Codependency in Relationship, the Cycle of Addiction or Complimentary Schismogenesis[1] are really just different terms describing the same thing. Developmental scientists Eric Erikson, Jean Piaget and others have noted various paradoxical life challenges that many people face at various times of life. One thing that we have discovered from their work is that not everyone faces every challenge that all other people do, and that not everyone goes through the same stages of development at the same time of life except for one. their  Everyone wants to think highly of themselves and conversely, no one wants to believe they have zero worth or value. Because everyone wants to believe they are attractive, lovable and competent, whether from other people or from their own self-condemnations, negative messages places them in a paradox of self-doubt. They wonder am I the good person I want to be or am I the bad person that other people seem to say that I am? This is THE Universal Paradox that everyone faces, and struggles with to some degree or another sometime in their life. On whichever side a person lands in their belief of self, this viewpoint determines their course in life.


Do you believe that you are lovable and competent? If so, then you will likely form friendships with others and perhaps find a mate. You will also likely obtain education and a career. Eric Ericson hinted at this universal paradox when he identified his Psychosocial Stage of Development called Isolation versus Intimacy. Unfortunately, he saw only half of the equation of the universal paradox, the universal paradox goes much deeper than that. Researchers have found that some people resolve the paradoxes of relationship and career simultaneously (such as in the case of a housewife or househusband), while others form careers and relationships separately. Nevertheless, when either or both are acquired, they give a person a sense of self-efficacy and a positive self-esteem. 

They refer to a cycle that is prevalent in virtually all relationships. And, there are both negative and positive forms of it. In the Vortex Model of Development, the basis of this cycle, the thing that gets it started, is referred to as THE Universal Paradox—something that everyone faces of which, we can either accomplish developmentally or succumb to. The paradoxical challenge that everyone faces is how they see themselves. When our integrity, appearance or some other feature of self is challenged by the comments of another person, we are thrown into this paradox. We ask ourselves which is true of me, the way people see me, or am I the person I want to see myself as?

 

Since most people try to resolve this dilemma internally, it oftens results in a negative relationship cycle. Wounded Spirit Syndrome begins with some preliminary injury to one or both person’s self-image during childhood. These injuries can come from either; one very large traumatic interaction or from ten thousand small yet repetitious ones that accumulate over time. Once doubt about self-competency or lovability enters a person’s mind, that person begins to watch for other messages that either reinforce this self-belief or refute it. Over time, people then tend to gravitate toward a belief of self-goodness or self-badness based on an accumulation of evidence from their interpersonal experiences that make one belief stronger than the other.

 

Some people try to refute implications of badness by either becoming defensive or by deliberately testing others in an effort to ease their self-doubts about competence and lovability. Anytime you see someone becoming defensive, know that their image of self is being threatened. Because everyone really values a positive view of self, many will fight back when they believe that they are being attacked in this way. Yet, other people employ a different method. They lie in order to protect a positive image of self while attempting also to protect a soothing behavior that they want to keep, as well as preserve an important relationship. When a wounded spirited person is rejected by, or put down by the comments, action or even inaction of others, this strengthens a poor belief about self.

 

It is also quite common through a person’s own self judgment that they can experience a codependent relationship with themselves becoming their own worst critic. Critical and harsh thoughts in their self-talk, that compare themselves to an unrealistic “ideal self”, help maintain the inner dysfunction. Perfectionistic people, who think they must always say and do everything perfectly, do the greatest harm to themselves. This is extremely prevalent in many churches where congregant beliefs of perfection are reinforced.

 

Dr. Henry Cloud, a Christian psychologist, makes this poignant observation of how Christians themselves attempt to protect their self-images. He writes in his book Changes That Heal:

 

     It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]

     group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being 

     sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In 

    one setting, people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get 

     better…. The sad thing is that many of us come to Christ because we are sinners, and 

     then spend the rest of our lives trying to pretend that we are not![2]

 

Frank S. Page, PH.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, who oversees 46,000 churches and 16 million members, believes that the church is unfortunately the last place where people care to be transparent and honest about themselves and their hang-ups.”[3]

 

Thus, pretending to be perfect (which no person can be), is a practice in denial and self-deceit which simply defers the developmental accomplishment of the Universal Paradox to some later time in life. Accepting the truth about self while striving to be a better person without accepting the lie that one can actually become perfect is a better attitude than “idealism.” Nevertheless, when a person accepts a negative view of self that others have projected onto them, this leads to a need to soothe the emotional pain from this paradoxical dissonance.

 

When the Cycle Remains Active Coping is Prevalent 


A person with an injured self-image often reacts to the pain of negative self-beliefs with some type of self-soothing. Many wounded people tend to “baby” themselves in some way in an effort to exchange physical comfort for emotional pain. As mentioned earlier, this can take the form of: some type of self-medication; lashing out in anger toward unwanted negative messages they want to control or by using denial in the form of lying in order to preempt having to accept a negative opinion of self from others.

A person who has paradoxical doubts about self and who then succumbs to those beliefs, often reacts to the emotional pain of negative self-beliefs with some type of self-soothing or comforting. This can take a multitude of forms including the following:

  • Use food — the stomach has receptors that detect sugar which causes the release of serotonin (a soothing agent) in the brain.
  • Use Substances — people may medicate negative feelings of self with alcohol, drugs, antidepressants, or tobacco.
  • Protect Self-Image — the self-image injured person may lash out in anger toward unwanted negative messages in an attempt to control those from others.
  • Lie — the self-image injured person may hide the truth of their actions in order to protect important relationships yet preserve self-image.
  • Improve Appearance — some may generally seek ways to disprove negative beliefs about self through appearance.
  • Boast about accomplishments — such as the number of degrees they hold, what kind of car they drive or how large their house is.
  • Act Superior — by becoming hypercritical and judgmental of what others think, say or believe.
  • Associate with high status people — including lawyers, doctors, politicians, wealthy people and sports teams.
  • Use sex — the orgasm produces dopamine and oxytocin which cause euphoria in the brain. Also, getting someone to be sexual or do something sexually unusual can be an ego boost.

Addiction

 

Whatever a person chooses as a self-soothing coping response to the pain of their injured image of self, is almost always objectionable in some way to important others (which is why many people try to hide those), but when found out, ensures that the negative critical comments toward them will continue, thus causing more self-deprecating thinking; followed by the need to lash out; make oneself appear more important or soothe-self more. As a person begins to obsess over getting their self-soothing coping methods met, this leads to addiction.

 

As mentioned, enabling occurs when someone either feeds the self-deprecating beliefs with additional negative comments; or may also occur when they actually provide some type of unhealthy coping such as buying food, liquor, drugs or cigarettes for that person; or by condoning the negative behaviors by saying nothing against it at all.

 

Thus, two people help to maintain dysfunctional behavior in each other making both the relationship a schizmogenesis (relational dysfunction) as well as complimentary (both contribute something to perpetuate the dysfunction). In many relationships, both partners can alternate roles by taking turns at being either the perpetrator (enabler) and then followed by the one who copes (victim).

 

In his book The Exceptional Seven Percent, Gary Popcak writes:

 

Many people endeavor to rebuild a broken self-image through their mate. Others look for self-worth generally from:

 

1. Other people (relationships)

2. Achievements and accomplishments (work)

3. Personal appearance

 

Of course, all of these are poor foundations on which to base our self-worth. The opinions of other people rise and fall with our ability to please them, thus sending us on an emotional roller coaster relative to their positive and negative view of us. Achievements and work are based on physical and mental capabilities that decline with age. The incapacities of aging lead us to an inevitable self-image crisis late in life, when we are least able to solve that paradox. Furthermore, while aging reduces our ability to accomplish, it also tends not to add anything to a youthful physique. Basing our self-worth on physical beauty would demand application of multiple reversing cremes, potions and cosmetic procedures that are short-lasting, and poor imitations, which serve only to forestall the inevitable.

 

As for relying on arrogance to prop up a sagging image of self, attempts to build self-image through superiority over others, is also a sham. Paul writes:

 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3— NIV

 

There is an equation in Paul’s letter to the Romans which makes the reverse of his statement true as well. Converse to his statement about thinking too highly of self, we should not think too lowly of ourselves either. He claims that we should hold a sober view. In other words, we should acknowledge that we demonstrate self-value by the things that we can do and say to help others, as well as recognizing that we need help from time to time from others. This is what it means to have a sober view of self; one that is not too high nor too low.

 

The Cycle Can Only be Broken By:

 

  1. Ending the relationship (the least attractive option. Ending a relationship usually results in people starting-up another co-dependent relationship with some other person)
  2. Eliminating the critical and judgmental comments (not entirely a good option as people should speak-up against bad behaviors)
  3. Changing the way comments are interpreted (begin looking at comments as positive or neutral instead of negative or as put-downs). In other words, those involved in a codependent relationship must learn to live in truth by checking out their assumptions of what others say (metamessages) instead of always assuming that comments are negative. Self-image injured persons must become able to speak-up by sharing their observations in an inoffensive and caring way (observational communication).
  4. Helping the wounded spirited person change their view of self (finding their worth and value) which always involves recovering our Imago Dei (created in God’s Image) seeing ourselves as instruments in the hands of a loving God.

The best answer to eliminating codependency (since it is fostered by relationship), generally lies in two parts.

 

  1. The first thing we would want to do is change the negative metamessages from the perpetrator/enabler into positive affirming messages instead.
  2. Second, we would want to repair the negative self-image of the one who is coping (self-soothing).

 

The best way of changing negative metamesages into positives, is to change the way we communicate with each other. This very thing is accomplished with first half of a Level One, Observational Communication Method statement that causes the person being observed to assess their own behavior, which is far better than being judged and having to hear negatively critical comments from others. In the second half of a Level One statement, carefully chosen words affirm the person by showing care and concern through considering their feelings, thus preserving the integrity of the person while bringing attention to behaviors. In other words, speaking the truth in love. This formula then satisfies the elimination of negative judgment while helping to improve a person’s image of self through affirmations.

 

While negative codependency (THE Universal Paradox of all people) is what we have been describing, positive codependency is what God designed mankind to experience. Just the fact that people have the capacity for addiction (obsessing over what they value) tells us that God has intentions for using it somehow. Positive codependency is not a cycle of injury but rather a demonstration of valuing someone through showing love to them rather than devaluing them through criticism, negative judgment and invalidation. 


Everyone enjoys being judged in positive ways. It helps them to see and to believe that they have worth and value. Instead of becoming addicted to some substance or pathological behavior, people addict themselves to each other in a scenario such as this. The best example is in marriage where God gives each partner a second chance to repair the inherent damage caused by what parents inflicted on them as children and a solution to their universal paradox. Dr. John Ortberg, Senior Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, quoting Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of interpersonal psychology, says, it takes people to make people sick and it takes people to make people well.[4]

 

The best way of repairing a person’s self-image, as mentioned earlier, is to recapture the Imago dei (image created in God) and our God-given life “mission.” That “thing” that brings value into the lives of other people.  As we recognize our value to God in this respect, and that He is working through us, what others say about us loses its importance. We become able to warmly and gently say “No” when it is in the best interest of ourselves and others. We need not be people-pleasers.

 

When we see our worth in the hands of a loving God, we no longer need praise from others, our work and/or possessions. To reiterate, God knows this is bad for us because the opinions of what others think about us can fluctuate thus causing our own image of ourselves to go up and down. Instead, God wants our view of ourselves to transcend public opinion and to see ourselves as having worth from what He ascribes to us. This is why God says:

 

     Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,

      Colossians 3:23— NIV

 

We should seek praise from God, not from other people.

 

      Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give 

      yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord 

      is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:58 — NIV

 

This is where we find our greatest source of joy and comfort―from knowing that God finds worth and value in us by choosing us to partner with Him. When we allow other people or things to inform us of our value we are downplaying what God wants to do in and through us as well as giving them more power over our lives than we should. Letting others inform us of our value is especially destructive when that view is negative because it causes us to become defensive. Defensiveness escalates our conflicts causing withdrawal and detachment from one another. God died so that we can forgive one another and keep our relationships intact.

 

Lastly, we know that the longer that codependency persists, the more likely it will result in some enslaving addiction for the Wounded Spirited person. The two most prevalent addictions, that people have, are to food and psychotropic substances. At the Last Supper, Jesus associated two very powerful symbols to send us a metamessage of love in regard to addiction.

 

     While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it 

     and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, 

     and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 

     This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of 

     sins. Matthew 26:26-28— NIV

 

As Jesus associated bread (food) with His body and drink with His blood (which would have been wine a psychotropic substance) He was showing us where to find our comfort (soothing) and worth. He was telling us that we should not find them in food and drink but in Him and in his crucifixion as payment for sin. Dying for us implies that we have infinite worth in His eyes. Dying for the sins that people do to hurt us (through degrading metamessages) removes our need to withhold forgiveness from them. Therefore, Communion with Him involves recognizing that He is the bread of life and that we should find our soothing in what He did for us by shedding His blood so that overeating and the abuse of substances need not be a part of our lives.

 

Of course, our first mission from God is to love our spouse and families well. As Job #1 we must bring much value into their lives before we attempt to do that for anyone else.


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Works Cited:

[1]Gregory Bateson, 1972. In Deborah Tannen (Ed.) That‘s Not What I Meant!: How Conversation Style Makes or Breaks Relationships, New York: Harper, 2011. (p. 129).

[2] Healing the Soul in Community, Sue Kim-Ahn and Monte Fisher, Christian Counseling eNews, January, American Association of Christian Counselors, Forest Virginia, 2016. Retrieved 02/22/2016 from:  http://www.aacc.net/2015/12/01/healing-the-soul-in-community/.

[3] Crossing the Threshold:  When Suicide Hits the Family of God, Frank S. Page, Christian Counseling Today, Volume 21 Issue.2, Forest: American Association of Christian Counselors, 2015. (pp. 18-20).

[4] Healing the Soul in Community, Sue Kim-Ahn and Monte Fisher, Christian Counseling eNews, January, American Association of Christian Counselors, Forest Virginia, 2016. Retrieved 02/22/2016 from: http://www.aacc.net/2015/12/01/healing-the-soul-in-community/.