On the taste of toothpaste and security

Recently I spoke with a friend about the devastating consequences of a child having to take upon themselves the burden of providing protection (security) to their parents. It is unnatural and it shouldn’t be that way. As soon as a child’s source of security is endangered, her sense of being okay and safe is taken from her. She has no energy to explore, learn, take risks and push boundaries since she is forever trying to build a sort of fence to keep the baddies out, not only in her life but also out of the lives of her parents. In one sense the child is forced to grow up, put her “big girl’ panties on and in another way her development is stunted, the privilege of making mistakes and still being okay is not extended to this child.
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Placing the responsibility on the child to protect that which is supposed to be the source of the child’s security will, later in life, lead to an adult who is never at rest, easily rattled, confused by the wealth of choices in the toothpaste aisle and consumed by fear and anxiety.

Parents are the keepers of children’s sense of safety and security until God can take their place when the child is old enough to grasp what it is to have a relationship with God and ready to put their lives in His hands. But because they couldn’t rely on their parents, they struggle to trust God – “why would he concern himself with me, if the mortal who gave life to me did not even stretch out their hand to protect me?”. The mechanism of trusting someone ‘bigger” than you, who can fight off any bully, was never cultivated. The basic instinct that says “it’s okay, I’m safe” whenever something bad happens, isn’t there. There is, in its place, a deep belief that at some point, everything will fall apart never to be put together again. That is why the adult is always anxious; life, which is in itself an unpredictable minx, is now also an insurmountable mountain.

The symptoms of this lack of security in a child’s life has far reaching repercussions in the adult’s behavior. The need to be in control is insatiable and spills over into the smallest details of the every day. A great panic arises when the toothpaste you’ve always used, the beacon of predictability, is out of stock. These children, now all grown up, are easily angered when they are confronted with something that is contrary to what they believe or if their worth is brought into doubt. Only when you are 100% convinced of something, for example that your brand of toothpaste has a minty taste, will you be unaffected, not even offended by a contrary statement. You will think to yourself; “what a silly person to tell me my toothpaste tastes like sausages, surely he has never brushed his teeth!” The doubt will be focused on the party questioning what you believe instead of on your belief (which is inextricably connected to your worth of course). You will not feel threatened, you may, in fact, be amused by the attack on what you know to be true.

The need for control and the short temper is only outdone by the all consuming fear that life will one day present you with a challenge you (and your valuable collection of coping mechanisms) will not be able to overcome. Therein lies the rub; you only trust yourself to protect you, but you have no proof that you can do the job. We have come upon the twist in the tale: self-worth, the other casualty in the battle for security.

Worth and security are like two sides of the same coin. The one is affected by the other. A child left to fend for himself or even worse, put in the position of protecting their protectors, will most certainly struggle to value themselves. It makes sense doesn’t it? “If I’m not being protected, it must certainly be because I’m not worth protecting” A child’s world revolves around the self. The notion that there might be other reasons why there is no protection and security doesn’t even enter the mind of that child. Even the adult, many years later, will struggle to see with their hearts the truth. The adult reasons with it’s nifty logic calculator; “see here, I have a family that needs me to supply toothpaste, I am worth something” but the heart is still a child in need of reassurance from the ‘bigger’ person that they are worth being protected. The inner conflict between head and heart tires the adult. When after a gruesome struggle, the head thinks it is finally in control,  the standard demands of life are tackled, only to consume the last bit of energy the adult had left. No strength to attempt the extraordinary, no sense of purpose, stuck in survival-mode.

So the adult fights their way through life, One group turning to themselves, “I’m a self-made man, I can buy my own toothpaste”, some turning to others, putting unnatural pressure on a friendship, even a marriage. And those who are left over turn to ritual, routine, even religion, a recipe that they can trust, that will deliver the safety promised if all the rules are followed. Since it is a ‘bigger’ person that failed them, the concept of a ‘bigger’ personal God is pushed out to the edges of the mind, deemed causally in conversation as the “opium of the people”

The true God, the one who died so that you can feel safe is the only cure, not the opium of the people but their saviour. Everything else is bound to fail the adult. Only an unchangeable God can be trusted to always be there to fight the bullies off. Only a personal God, can change the child’s beliefs and in doing so release the adult to live fully. It takes time and trust, which is graciously supplied to those who ask, for this change to occur. It is a painful process, letting go of perceived control is probably the hardest part. For a while, you are aware of your nakedness, your need to be protected and saved. Then the joy fills you as you realize the ‘biggest’ person in the universe is your protector, your security. You are now ready to grow up and let go of childish things.

You have become that person that can trust without fearing rejection, love without expecting it to be returned, you approach life with an open mind and gusto since your fate is not in your hands. All this is now within your reach because the fundamental truth concerning self-worth and safety is as real as the minty taste the toothpaste leaves in your mouth.

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2 thoughts on “On the taste of toothpaste and security

  1. SuperMommyofTwins says:

    This resonates with me greatly because in my early teen years I had to grow up quickly and take care of my father (role reversal). Though I’ve never had trouble with toothpaste in particular, I understand what you mean! You are so right when you say, “It takes time and trust, which is graciously supplied to those who ask, for this change to occur.” It has taken me years of therapy and God has put me in so many situations to prove to me I can trust him. Thanks for writing about this!

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