CHRISTEN’S CRYOUT COLUMN

Isolation

By Christen Bensten

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“Prayer is an end to isolation. It is living our daily life with someone; with Him who alone can deliver us from solitude.” – Georges Lefevre.

I found this little quote a few years ago and printed it out on a little, blue card. Sometimes I forget to read it. Sometimes I feel so lost in my head that it feels just too real in there. I get lost in the maze of thoughts and feelings that it MUST be real. Right?

Shift.

I have been reminded to check in with my body. What is my body telling me about the storm in my head?

Interesting.

Well, my shoulders are slightly curved in. My posture in not straight. My throat feels closed up. My head hurts just a tad. My stomach feels tight like it does most of the time. My face is pulled down. Tears could happen at any time.

Ok. Let’s adjust. A short body scan.

Start at your feet. Ground them in the solid floor, move up to your ankles, your shins, your quads, lower back. Feel your gluts in the cushion, up to your spin, shoulders curve out. And breathe.

What do I notice? (Noticing is the secret.)

I feel more air. My hands tingle just slightly. My face smoothes out from a frown. I am breathing.

Notice.

My tummy gurgles. I feel space around my neck. My temples relax.

Notice. Huh.

You can start to move now. How are you feeling, Christen?

Better.

I have been told that shifting your body, noticing your body will change the synapses that automatically fire in the brain. You know those thoughts that take you down the rabbit hole until you feel like it’s your reality and you are just plain screwed? Notice it’s happening and shift your body. A body scan right in your office chair. In your minivan. Before checking email.

The brain will react to what is happening in your body. Facinating, yes?

Just to remind you, there are loops in your brain. When we are triggered negatively by a flippant comment someone makes, a questioning look from a friend or even tripping on the sidewalk, we can be triggered based on our past experiences. The trigger sends our brains down a trail that is very familiar, into a memory that is etched there. It is bad. It makes us feel terrible. It feels like reality.

Notice.

When you notice you stop the trail; the loop. Breathe. Set your body right and stop the cycle. I am told that eventually you etch new trails in your brain so that instead of down the rabbit hole you say, “Huh, there that feeling is again.” You notice. You then have the freedom to go down the much nicer, friendlier path that you have consciously carved.

It’s hard work. It is a practice. But, I think it’s worth it, don’t you?

Tell me about the thoughts that get stuck in your head. What do you do about it? 

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A Million Sundays

By Christen Bensten

Sunday was a very difficult, sad, confusing day for me as a child. It was a day where I would sit in a long row at church with my family, with Her staring at me throughout the service to see how I was affected by the singing and the preaching. I was being watched. My space was being invaded. My reaction documented.

We made our way home where there was too much space, too much time. I was vulnerable, a sitting duck. There was no schedule in place, no where for Her to be. I was subject to more. More looks, more criticism, more shame.

I hid. I hid in my room all day long. No one seemed to notice.

I would sneak down for dinner, quietly, and push the food down my throat. With knots in my stomach, I’d hope that She didn’t notice me; call me out; find something on me that was not right.

There were a million Sundays just like this. Every Sunday the same fear.

I wake up this day, Sunday, at 37-years-old and feel the long, heavy stretch of the day before me. I feel the rumbling in my stomach, my shoulders tighten, my jaw clench. I am not living with Her, but She is here. She is inside of me.

What can I do for the little girl now? I think of her and imagine hugging her.

She is blonde and little and freckly. She is quiet and she is perfectly small. She is not flawed and she is not too quiet and she is not ugly. She is not dumb, she is not evil, she is not disgusting. She is perfectly girly. She is perfectly curious. She is perfectly careful. Her laugh is perfect, her hair is perfect. It is not too thin and her legs are not too boney. Her growing chest is not too big, her nose is not too wide, her freckles are not meant to be hidden with her sister’s make-up. She is perfectly little and beautiful.

She is a child that I want to hug. I want her to feel safe. Now.

I see her in my own children. I see the same freckles, the same pale skin, the same littleness. It is dear to me. They are birds in my nest, delicate and lovely. They grow like flowers, each one a different color, each one a different shape. They wander away investigating their world and they wander back. Their curiosity is celebrated by me.  Their shape is joy! And their freckles are like sparkles of glittered gold placed in perfect arrangement on their little faces.

I touch my own face, my freckles and imagine the warmth of a hug.

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Feeling like God is mad at you?

By Christen Bensten

Feeling like God is mad at you? That bad things are happening to you right now and that you are being punished? Maybe it is just the opposite, Dear One.

One of my unhealthy go-to feelings is shame. When something goes wrong in my life, a hard day, an accident, friend-issues, etc. It is really difficult for me to not feel like it is something that I’ve done wrong and I’m paying for it now.

This is a lie.

This is an old feeling, an old memory, old shame. I grew up in a household where we did not talk about feelings. If I had an issue and did not know how to process it I was looked at with condemnation and told to go read scripture. It was cold and painful and it left me feeling as though something was wrong with me. I had done something and was being punished. That God and my parents had decided that I was in trouble and my feelings were wrong.

This is a lie.

It has been through many years of therapy that I discovered it was my parents that could not handle navigating through my feelings and my issues. They did not know how. They were limited. What does this mean for God, then? Did He want me punished and to shame me and that is why I was having trouble in the first place?

This is a lie.

I believe we serve a loving and BIG God. An understanding God that is compassionate. A God that is capable of great storms and devastation, but also one that loves us so deeply that He gave us his child as a demonstration of His love. I also know that it is so very hard for us because we cannot see Him. I heard a quote recently that reads, Failure is a call to change direction.” I think that speed bumps and trouble in this life can sometimes be a call to change course. I DO NOT think it has to be God mad at us. It could be that He loves us so greatly that he wants to see us change course.

I had an accident at this time last year where I fell down my stairs breaking a rib, fracturing my scapula, suffering a killer concussion that lasted over 4 months and had staples in my head. I really struggled deeply with thinking that God must be mad at me for this to happen. What did I do wrong?

This is a lie.

This is an old memory of the feelings I had living at home. This was not truth. But, I did make it into a call to action to adjust a few things in my business. Blue Egg Brown Nest is my business that God has blessed beyond measure. I’ve been published as many times as I have fingers, I have had clients from all over the country and I’ve sold hundred of hundreds of pieces. I also get to blog about it every day and converse with all my readers. I had reached a point were I was burning out, however, with all the work I was putting into it. Since that time I have slowed down, spaced out my clients and only took design jobs that I wanted to work on. I started caring for myself more and loving myself. Is this what God wanted for me? To put myself first and give myself a huge hug and say, “You are so loved, Christen. You deserve to slow down, Sweet Girl. You will not lose anything by making changes to what you know. You are okay. You are okay.”

What tenderness. This is not shame. This is not a lie. This is not punishment. It is love. If you are confused about the message that God is sending you today then start with love. I think so many times we jump to shame. I believe that the message of Jesus and the entire Bible is to start with love. The amazing love that a father sends his son to be murdered. There had to be a sacrifice and so he sent the most precious thing to us. This is love, Friends. Start with love.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING KNOWN

By Christen Bensten

What is it to be known?

My parents gave me the name Christen. A perfectly fine name. However, they spelled it as such. This posed a problem for teachers, adults and kids around me. It was confusing with the “Ch” and I was often called Christian or Christine or Christina. I still am. I realize that many people have this issue with their own name and at first glance how could this cause such issue? I think when you are already feeling invisible, having no one call you by the right name pushes you even deeper into the place of feeling unworthy. It was very painful for me.

I felt like I had no idenity or if I did have one that I was misunderstood by everyone around me. I was so painfully shy that I could not speak to my feelings. I could not tell people what I wanted for lunch or what I liked to play. I actually had very strong opinions about what pleased me, but somewhere along the line I was told that it was wrong to express myself.

I think to be known by someone is to have them recognize the unique & SPECIAL light inside of you; to really see it even if it is different from what they know or are themselves. It is someone taking delight in you!

I also think being known is a two-way street. You need to be open enough to show who you are. This means you have to be vulnerable. The other side of the street is the other person’s responsibility. They need to do the listening and observing if they are to understand you. They are watching you and taking delight in your uniqueness. If they do not – THIS IS THEIR SHORTCOMING. Not yours.

What happens when someone does not like what they see in you?

This happened to me somewhere long ago as a little child. I was told in so many words that I was not okay. I was too short, to freckly, my chest too large, my dancing too big, my friends too loud. Every time I did something out of joy or saddness, it was too much. Too much here. Too much there. What happens when you are pushed into a corner because you are too much? You stuff it all down and get really, really quiet. Or at least I did. Why bother talking when I was going to be made fun of or shamed or not understood. But, you can’t function in the world if you are quiet. You can’t just lock yourself in your room, you will get stepped on out in the world. I learned that quickly when I was forced out of my house after college and got an apartment on my own and paid for it with my first job. I was quiet. I had serious anxiety because I could not speak. I was not getting my ideas across professionally and I certainly was not being know by the people around me.

I needed to find a voice.

I found it through writing. Ah, yes, writing. What freedom. You don’t have to speak, but you can express yourself. What joy!

But, this was also not enough. I wanted more. I have always had some little girl in me that is stopping her feet and saying “NO!” I am not going to just be sweet and nice and play quietly. I want to dance! I want to sing really loudly. I want to have a second slice of pizza! Damn it. I know this part of me cannot always get her way, but I am able to listen to her more now.

I have learned that it is so important to be known by others because there is joy & security in creating a community around you. It can be warm and loving to feel known and approved of. Not everyone in your life may want you feel this freedom. They may want you to think like they do and act like they do and they may get really upset when you say, “NO!” finally. But, you need to. Just like you need air to breathe, Friend. If you are trapped today then find a way to let yourself get loud.

Your responsibility is showing the world who you are. Your family and friends have the responsibility of letting you say and feel what is already inside of you. Don’t be shy. Tell your mom you want the fucking vanilla cake with CHOCOLATE frosting for your birthday. If she once again buys you the dry chocolate cake then throw it out and buy yourself the one you want. You DO deserve the cake you want. It is too good not to.

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Rapunzel and the Borderline Mother

By Christen Bensten

Do you ever feel like something is “bad” just because it’s new to you?

Or do you know someone that told you something was “bad” because they did not understand it or it was new to them?

If you have little kids you have seen the movie, Rapunzel. I was really struck with some of the parallels that I have experienced in the representation of the complicated mother/daughter relationship.

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The dynamic is between a little girl, Rapunzel, that grows up under the care of a women that is struggling with her own self-worth, lonliness and insecurity. Rapunzel lives with her for 17 years so we can assume that Mother Gothel actually does like or even love Rapunzel. However, as we see in other relationships where a mother is struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), love is not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Mother Gothel insists that world is a scary place and she must stay in her tower to stay safe. The reason for this is really because Mother Gothel wants to stay safe herself and not deal with her own self-loathing..

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Rapunzel creates a world for herself where she paints, cooks, knits and fills her time. However, she knows that there is something higher & brighter out of her scope that she needs to discover. The lanterns. Her will and her feisty curiosity keep her pushing to move forward despite the fear that Mother Gothel tries to manipulate her with.

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Oh, those lanterns!

It is that little bit of light out of her window that gives her hope and understanding far beyond what she’s been taught. They are beautiful. They are good. And they are the one thing that will lead her home and lead her to her true identity. I saw lanterns from my own bedroom window where I locked myself away for fear of the storm down in the heart of my home. I busied myself and found joy in my space, but I knew there was more. I knew there was light outside if I could get there.

You many recall that at the end of the movie, Rapunzel’s eyes have been open to the world outside and a broader understanding of the truth. She finds new strength and power. Rapunzel turns to Mother Gothel and says, “You were wrong about me and you were wrong about the world.”

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I love that line. I have used that line.

It was such a breakthrough after all those years of being locked away in what she was told was a safe home. She had to figure out for herself that the world was not all bad and that she could create safe relationships and experiences for herself if she could only break free. And not only would she find freedom, but she would find out who she really was – the princess. It was so dramatic because breaking the chains was something she had to do herself. Her mother was never, ever going to let go and just change her mind about things. She was planning on keeping her imprisoned for FOREVER.

What if we all dug deep and tried to find the strength to move away from something that was told it was home, but we knew it was really a prison build by someone’s fear? Maybe the people that built the home had the intention of keeping us healthy and out of the elements of life and that would work just fine. I think it is the spirit inside all of us, our compass, that knows that there is more and we will strive to find it at any cost. This may mean estrangement and broken relationships, but the feeling of being held under water and just needing that one breath is stronger than the ties that bind. We were all born with the right to pursue our own freedom. This is why our bodies and minds grow stronger and bigger and sometimes they surpass the rules we had when we were little and weak.

It is dramatic and scary to jump through the tower into freedom, especially if those we were with are not supportive and are downright angry that we are creating change for ourselves. It may take us a few times to actually jump out. We may feel like we need to stay to make others feel better and happy. This will only work for so long. We need that breath. We need to breathe. We need to jump. Out.

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There is always hope that approval will come. There is hope that our captors will say, “Oh, she needed to move on and look at her go! How wonderful!” This approval and healthy attachment would be an amazing feeling. But, we need to know that if this does not come that we are still okay. To break away is still okay. We have the right to jump out and be safe and free.

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I do think keeping everyone happy and calm is secondary to freeing ourselves.

Freeing yourself can be overwhelming and sad. We grieve over the attachment that we wish we had. One that would encourage us to seek our own path. But, we are okay. This is what we were meant to do. We were given will and ideas for a reason. We grown physically and mentally and emotionally for a reason. This is natural. Holding us back is not. We can do this. I can do this.

Godspeed, Friends. I will see you in the open fields below, where we can feel the cool grass under our feet.

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NOTE:

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Have you struggled in a relationship with someone you believe has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? The first step is to take care of yourself. “Your physical and emotional health, and the health of your relationship, partly depends upon your willingness to look after your own needs, such as taking time away, setting limits with love, and having a hearty life of your own separate from your borderline family member.”

“People with borderline personality disorder see people as all good or all bad and have extreme, blink-of-an-eye mood swings. Their fear of abandonment, combined with feelings of emptiness and self-loathing, makes others feel like they’re constantly walking on eggshells. People with BPD suffer, and so do those around them. About a third of people with BPD also have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD); they are especially unwilling to look at themselves and their own behavior.”- BPD Central

For more helpful information and support, visit BPD Central. I have found it very helpful.

 

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Do the Shy Girls become the Bitter Girls?

By Christen Bensten

Do shy, polite girls end up the most resentful?

Some girls are raised to be polite, soft-spoken, and kind. Of course we want our children to have all of these attributes, but what happens when they display these characteristics at the expense of what they are really feeling?

I remember in elementary school when my mom took me school shopping at the end of the summer each year. She told me I could pick out a few pieces at the mall. When I picked up the Jams that I saw all the kids wearing she stuck out her tongue and said “Eww.” I hung them back up. I picked up a shirt with a glittery pony. Same expression and the same “Eww.” It went back on the hook. This happened with a few more pieces and over many more years. Eventually I started shrugging my shoulders when she took me shopping. “I don’t know.” I would say. “What do you think?” I would ask. She would pick up the pink shirt she wanted me to wear and the pants and said they were cute. I said “Okay.

This may seem like a small example, but stacked with all kinds of similar experiences, it slowly it broke my sense of self and I started distrusting my own will and opinion. Allowing a child to pick something out when the offer is there offers a lesson in trusting their own opinion and develops a sense of freedom. (Of course, I mean everything in reason and budget.)

My “What do you want?” attitude and ministering to other people and their wills grew and grew. It made the other person happy and kept me safe for a very, long time. That is until I left my home for college and felt the freedom to say I HATE ANN TAYLOR DRESSES! I HATE CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH WHITE FROSTING. I don’t want to pretend I like it! I have asked every birthday for 20 years for the vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. I have eaten the cake you wanted me to have for the last 2 decades of my life and I hate it!

I started exploding in other areas of my life. Like mines going off in a perfectly manicured garden. I was tired of swallowing my true thoughts and opinions and feelings about things just to keep the other person from shutting me out. I started thinking that I didn’t care if they showed me love because swallowing it all was making me more and more bitter and angry. Super angry.

Do all painfully shy girls get angry? Were you a shy child or were you a child that feared those around you and didn’t want to speak your mind because the cost would be too great?

My Dear Therapist says I was not shy. I was afraid.

My own voice scared me. My own thoughts scared me. When they came out of my mouth they were looked at with that same expression, “Eww.”

Anger is much more powerful than silence; than saying “Okay.” I am not saying anyone wants to live an angry life, but if it becomes a catalist to live a freer, more authentic life then I say use it, Shy Girl. It is another part of you coming out of the shadows that wants to scream and say, “I want chocolate frosting!”

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Cryout #17

By Christen Bensten

The night I was almost raped, my mother refused to look at me. I was so confused at her cold response when I called and asked her to pick me up and take me home. She was silent. She stared straight ahead with her eyes on the road. When we pulled into the driveway she walked ahead of me to the door, unlocked it and went upstairs. I went to the cold bathroom floor, closed the door and alternated between crying and throwing up. I spend hours on the cold tile feeling more sick by my waiting for her to come in and ask what was wrong. I wanted to feel her warm hand on my back. I wanted her to kneel next to me and be horrified with me as I told her what had happened an hour before. But instead I felt like I had done something wrong to not receive her comfort. I felt like I was in trouble.

She never asked what happened. It was clear that she blamed me or had jumped to a conclusion that I was drunk or high or had done something so ugly and bad that I could not drive home myself. The truth was that I was starving myself that day. I had not eaten because I wanted to be skinnier. I was 17 and 86 pounds and that was not small enough. My guy friend was rough-housing with me, picking me up, spinning me until I got sick. I could not stop getting sick and eventually had to make him stop the car on the side of the road. My friends that were also riding with us did not know that he had come up behind me as I climbed into the woods to get away from the road, gotten on top of me and told me he was going to rape me. There was a pause that seemed to go on for eternity while he decided. It was interrupted by my girlfriend’s voice calling out to me. He climbed off my body.

What I remember most from that night was my mom’s stern face. If I had been raped would she still have looked right past me like that? Would she have taken me to the hospital, helped bathe me, call the police for me? Would I have been alone like I was on the bathroom tile. Would I be trying to make sense of her reaction and the shame I felt instead of my broken body?

Even writing this I feel sick all over. I will lie down now. I will try to warm myself.

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9 Comments:

  1. Dear Christen, my heart goes out to you as I read the posts you have put here on the safe nest.They have made me question my own relationship with my own girls. They tell me I’m too critical and controlling at times and it hurts but I know they are right. I try to protect them from the pain I have endured at times. I see things in them that I have hated all my life about myself and try to stop history repeating itself.Your words have made me question myself now and my actions. They know they are loved and I hope to think that they would be able to turn to me in a crisis. Only time will tell but your words have struck a chord with me and I will do my best and be more conscious about what I say to them. I’m so proud of them , they are beautiful, caring and very witty girls and I tell them this often. People tell me what lovely girls they are and I’m so proud and feel at last I have done something right. Thank you for sharing your own personal experiences with us. Much love . Xx

  2. Yes, I have had similar things happen to me with my mom. She is now elderly and I am much older than you. What further complicated and still complicates my situation is: I come from a large family. My siblings refused to call my mother on her controlling, demeaning behavior. This made it hard for me to voice my opinion since my mom always pointed to me and said “you are the only one who feels that way”. My mother knows how to divide and conquer….
    By nature, I am an optimist. Yet, I do experience bouts of anger when my feelings are being suppressed. I do not think of myself as bitter, just highly sensitive to abusive behavior. Great post!

  3. I’m so sorry you were left alone in your suffering. How heartbreaking, especially at a time when you most needed comforting. 🙁

    As you cried, your mom may have abandon you, but the Lord was very near. He was
    collecting every one of your tears in a bottle and recording each one in His book. (Psalm 34:18)(Psalm 56:8) He cares so deeply for you, His heart was also breaking.

    I want to encourage you to keep on keepin’ on in your pursuit of healing! The day is coming! “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) It’s a promise.

    “Somehow” (God’s grace is the only explanation!) my heart has been healed from the many painful experiences in my own childhood – abandonment, abuse, etc.

    One day when my oldest son was only 5 years old, I was watching him as he sat on the floor and played. It hit me in that moment… that once upon a time my dad had been a 5-year old boy too… and someone treated him horribly. In that moment, my heart was flooded with compassion for my dad. And forgiveness. I realized that he had loved me the best he could, with what he had to give. Not excusing his abuse or abandonment, but realizing that it wasn’t premeditated or personal. He just didn’t know how to deal with his own “stuff”. My heart was freed from pain, and in it’s place resides joy, and even gratitude for my dad.

    I pray that you, too, will soon be freed of all the painful memories from your childhood. And, that your heart will be full of joy, and perhaps even some gratitude.

    Blessings to you! And a great big hug.

  4. My heart goes out to you as I read this very personnel part of your life. I truly believe that those as victims need to talk and share to help others today before they too become victims themselves. Sexual assault is not just rape as you know. There is. “Safe Place” and other organizations that can help and educate as well as counsel girls and women and tell them “its not there fault” Blessings to you on this day.

  5. I’m sorry that you had to go through this, did your mom really know what happened? My daughter was raped, I was confused what had happened at first. My initial response was very confused. Now, I ache and ache for her everyday now. Please accept my hug.

  6. Thank you for launching this site. I found you because of your painting but what I loved about your writing was how you share your “self” with us. You are transparent and real. I so appreciate that, it is like cool water to drink (or delicious hot, strong coffee…..). Thank you, Thank you dear, sweet, adorable woman.

  7. I am in tears. As a mother, I can not imagine leaving a child to cry & vomit alone in a bathroom. She must have had her reasons but you needed her! Stephanie is right. Our arms are around you now, warming you up. So sorry for such a horrid memory.

    • I’m a sorry that you have to go through this. It must have been so scary. I’m so thankful you were not raped. Did you mom know exactly what happened?

  8. I feel the deep pain in this. I want to say I am grateful that your girlfriend’s voice got the boy to get off of you so you were not fully raped prior to having your mother not see after you called to her for help. I feel some feelings of my own under the surface that do not want to come fully to the surface in this moment, yet I think I, the adult, a woman that is a mother, an adult that was a young girl with a mother unable to see me …… I love you. I hold you today in my warm arms …..

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