I like to fly Southwest. But flyer beware: if you don’t pay for their automated EarlyBird check-in or you forget to check in, you’ll typically end up at the end of the B’s or even in the C’s and C stands for “crowded.” Most of the time when that happens you get to pick who you’re sandwiched between. You do a quick scan of the crowd, trying to evade babies (unless you have one with you), football linemen who could eat you for lunch, people who look mean, etc. In recent years I’ve learned to skip over people who know each other, especially married couples and families (I once sat between a family of 5…we won’t even go into that). These are people who want their space and are avoiding that middle seat, but feel the need to have continuous conversation throughout the flight. You’ll spend your time pressing your head back into the seat while they play verbal ping pong. It’s exhausting!
At different times of our lives we feel like we’ve been given the middle seat. Things seem out of place and find ourselves looking around for somewhere else to settle. These are the seasons where we feel lost. Everything seems suffocating, difficult and off (we may not even be behaving like the person we know we are). Many times we look for places where we can just fade into the scenery and not bring a lot of attention to ourselves. Other times, we throw a tantrum and make a scene; we’re looking for someone to take notice and respond to our cry for help.
We need to pay attention to these “middle seat” moments. These are the times when we are being squeezed and we have an opportunity to dig deep and make changes in our lives. My bestie, Angela, has taught me the significance of these times and how to navigate through them. I want to share some of this with you today, coupled with things I’ve learned in counseling.
First, here is a list of some of the symptoms to pay attention to when something is being “squeezed” out of you: Anxiety, frustration (especially with people you normally get along well with), fear, a desire to be isolated, trouble thinking straight, inability to process like you normally do, recognizing that you are being short with people, an overall feeling of irritability, heightened sensitivity toward something that wouldn’t normally bother you, being snappy or responding in a rude or short manner, etc.
Once you recognize these symptoms, it’s time to get to work. Angela has taught me that this is when we stop and ask God to show us the root of what is going on. Often it’s something deep beneath the surface and completely unrelated to what’s happening in the moment. More often than not, it can go back to hurts from or patterns we developed in our childhood. Let me give you an example.
My parents fought a lot when I was younger and it really affected my brothers and me. We went through a lot of healing and God miraculously kept our family together but if you put us in the middle of someone else’s heated argument, we tend to shut down. This is an obvious connection to trauma in our childhood, but it’s not always this easy to connect those dots.
When praying, ask God to reveal the root to you. And then be patient. Open your heart and journal about what He shows you. Ask Him to show you a picture of where the hurt began. Give him time to put a picture in your mind. He will often take you back to an earlier time in life where something happened that triggers the way you respond today. Sometimes these are very serious incidents like abandonment or being sexually or physically abused (or both) and in those cases, I would highly recommend professional counseling.
I’ll share one more example here. Toward the end of my marriage I really closed off my heart and as I have admitted openly, I behaved more like a care-giver than a loving wife. Over time I built a fortress around my heart and there were very specific things that had happened in my marriage that caused me to do that. One of them was something I have shared with you all, when I went to counseling with my FH (former husband) and he introduced a topic to the counselor that was surprising, very personal and 100% directed toward me. I was shocked. I was a new mom who had just gone through some incredible hurt in my marriage, and I felt completely betrayed and exposed in our session that day. I had already placed cinderblocks up around my heart but this particular incident caused me to completely close it off. From that day forward I felt vulnerable, embarrassed and void of emotion in my marriage.
Here’s what I own: I allowed myself to get to this place of complete shutdown. Looking back, I wish I would have gone to counseling starting in my first month of marriage. I wish I would have gotten help early on because I believe that would have led me/us down a different path. At the end I didn’t have the tools, energy or desire to keep my heart open. I felt I was married to someone who cared more about himself than he cared about me. (I doubt that was the case but that’s how I felt.) Today I can trace some of the guards I put up in my friendships to the immense hurt I felt in my marriage. I’m very aware of that and I acknowledge it and choose not to give it power. I remind myself that I am an open person who was made in the image of God…and God is love! He is compassionate and loving, He is generous and kind.
Emotional freedom is a daily choice. I believe it requires understanding, acknowledgement, desire to change and the work required to alter patterns and allow God to work on our hearts. I would say nine times out of ten whenever something significantly negative has happened to us it is causes us to protect ourselves by walling off part of our hearts. The goal is to go through the process of healing so we can open our hearts again. We weren’t meant to live in fear…we weren’t meant to stay in that middle seat forever!
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.