Sunday, December 11, 2011

Visiting the Old Hot Spots

No, this is not a suggestion to go back to the bars and old haunts, but rather to visit, from time to time, the old "hot spots" that we discovered while working on our Fourth and Fifth Steps.  When we revisit these hot spots, we take away their power. We realize we don't need to be controlled by them anymore, rather we confront them and use the occasion to ask God for His grace to remove the resulting resentments and anger.
I have a good friend who has lots of good years in the Program, but she complains she is still plagued with bouts of anger. Most all of us share her outbursts from time to time.  It may be worthwhile to look again at the roots of that anger.  In her case, it was a terrible relationship with a stepmother. The stepmother had a razor-like tongue and foul mouth and used both as cruel, abusive weapons.  When my friend was working on her resentments, she discovered the stepmother was the cause of her anger and her own resentments. 
The word resentment, comes from the Latin root, re-sentire, or the ability to re-feel.  When we were deeply hurt as a child by someone who should have been protecting us, we can re-feel the same anger today, just as we might have felt it ten or twenty years ago. Today when someone does something which hurts us deeply, we can go back to the well of anger that still exists inside us as a result of what we experienced as a child.  When triggered, we can re-feel the same anger over and over again.
I suggest that we revisit our hot spots not to wallow in them, but rather to defuse them.  If we difuse our anger we can stop the cycle and keep from passing it on to anyone else.  We don't blame the person who caused our hurt, in fact we are better off forgiving the perpetrator of the hurt.  We can learn to believe they were doing the best they could with what they had.  In fact, they were probably passing along what they learned as a youngster. Years ago, when my father was complaining about me and my behavior, his pastor told him, "the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree". My dad didn't like that retort, but it is true. We learn a lot from our parents and caregivers, good and not so good.
Once we can identify where and from whom we learned the lessons we can understand the impact on our own behavior.  The irony is, the things we learned about ourselves were wrong then and are wrong now. We are not the dumb heads we were told we were, but we may still see ourselves that way.  We need to let go of this kind of old idea about ourselves. 
While attending a retreat this fall, I met a man who was working on this topic and experienced a strong awakening.  He is a successful businessman and very popular.  He told us as he made decisions over the years he could always envision his dad standing along side him, criticizing and telling him his ideas were wrong.  Now he realizes his dad was wrong and he can move out from under that negative influence.  The things his father taught him, in many cases, were wrong.  Now with God's help, the direction of the Steps and the encouragement of a sponsor, he can live knowing that he doesn't have to listen to that voice any more.
We all have voices that need to be tuned out if not turned off.  Once we know where the voices come from, we can identify when we imitate them. For example, my anger and frustration with the clerk in the super market, goes back to the anger and frustration I had with----- fill in the blank.  We don't need to pass our anger on to the next generation.  If we have passed our anger on, we can make it part of making our amends in Steps 8 and 9.
John Bradshaw, the well known writer and professional counselor, developed an exercise, where he teaches his clients to emotionally go back in time and confront their hot spots. He suggests they see themselves as the little child who was hurt by the parent or caregiver.  He has his clients take that little child's hand in their now adult hand, and go back. In the example of my friend who was abused by her stepmother, my friend would take her younger self by the hand, calmly see her stepmother and tell her that her abusive words and actions were inappropriate. She would then express her hurt and disappointment, and tell the stepmother to stop her abuse. Tell her she was wrong.  By completing this exericise she could, as an adult, calmly and simply confront the situation she could not cope with as a child.
If you have resentments and anger that still have power over you, try the exercise above.  Take your younger self by the hand and go back to the cause of that anger and tell the person you feel was responsible that they were wrong.  Once you have laid your anger and resentments out in the open ask God to take them all away.

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