A journey from trauma to authenticity

Old Friends and New

I sit here, not knowing quite where to start. I have spent 3 years now, reflecting on, deconstructing and grieving so many of my past experiences and beliefs. It has taken so much emotional energy, as I have raged and wept, and come to recognise the false identities I had constructed for myself. It is those moments when I feel my true self show up that keep me going. That, and the deep desire to stop passing on the traumas and damage to my children.

Shame, judgement, reputation, image, hunger for approval, thirst for love, perfectionism, fear, anxiety, silence, desperate need to please other people, denial of self, search for attachment, desire to belong: these have been my companions for longer than I can remember. They have proven to be necessary for survival for a part of my life. But now, it is time for them to gracefully retire. I thank them for their faithful service. And gently ask them now to rest.

Gingerly – it seems too good to be true – I gather within me now my new companions. Loving Kindness first wraps her arms around me. That makes me tear up every time. What a blessing! Trust In Myself takes a firm stance. She needs a lot of practice asserting herself, but is getting stronger every day. Compassion surprises me daily with the ability to forgive myself, and cut myself some slack. It does seem the more I do this for myself, the more I can do it for others. Permission To Set Boundaries gives me the gift of a sense of safety and peace, and the ability to rest. Awe and Wonder grant me glimpses of something more, a bigger story, a sense that life is a miracle to marvel at. And on the days that I welcome these new friends, Enjoy Being Me shows up with her delightful sense of fun. And I can laugh again, with a deep joy that bubbles up with authenticity.

I would love for you to join me on this journey, as I try to write about this experience. Come with me, if you will! 


Let’s start with my old friend, Deny Yourself.

Self-compassion is sitting with me today. She whispers gently in my ear, as she gives me a hug. “You’re tired and have been so busy recently. Take a day to rest. Do something fun!”

Immediately my old friend Deny Yourself rushes up in a panic. “You can’t do that!” She screams. “You need to be busy serving others. There are people that need you today. It is very selfish to take time for yourself to rest. And you certainly can’t waste your time having fun! God has done so much for you, you need to take up your cross and deny yourself for Him. And what will your family and friends think, if you just have a rest? They’ll know you are a selfish, lazy, worthless person.” I feel ashamed. Trapped. Exhausted.

And then I pause. “Oh, Deny Yourself, you’ve misunderstood!  I was never meant to be a doormat, or to care so much for the needs of others that I neglect my own. I don’t find my worth or meaning in my service for others anymore. Addiction to busyness, my need to be needed, my pride at being the hero – all these things were false self, feeding my ego, but hiding my true valuable-just-because self.

Denying myself is a casting off of posturing, people-pleasing, consumerism and over-working. It is allowing myself to be freed from their bonds, to be healed of old wounds and freed to be my authentic self, with intrinsic value.

Self-compassion is teaching me I am just as human, just as valuable, as everyone else. She is showing me how to care for myself, forgive myself, and receive healing. She is teaching me to love and value myself.” I take a deep, slow breath, right down into my abdomen. “And I feel whole. And I can give myself permission to rest. And to have fun. And I can then also let this transforming love and help flow gladly and generously to others.”


“Deny yourself” was such a powerful part of the religious conditioning I received as a child, teen and grown woman in the Evangelical context and particular family and community I grew up in. I think gender had a large part to play in this, as the message was still, “Leadership in the church is male”. Only men could have the status of priest/minister/elder in the churches I was a part of, and women were described as the “Helpmate” of her spouse. Women and girls were encouraged to serve, but always ultimately under the authority of a man.

The perfect woman was one who served tirelessly and unconditionally, happy to be unnoticed and unappreciated. The more she did, and the more unobtrusively she did it, the greater her reward would be in heaven. She did not have needs, and certainly not wants. She deferred to others as default.  To be holy, was to be utterly unselfish.

There was a deeper, even more damaging interpretation given to this idea of denying yourself also. This was the prayer we were encouraged to pray – “Oh Lord, here I am, wholly available. I just want to be what you want me to be, and do what you want me to do. I give up all my own desires and lay them at the foot of the cross. I slay them in Jesus’ name. Just fill me and lead me in your path for me.”

At the root of this teaching is the understanding that we are all worthless sinners, with nothing good to offer. This came from Augustine’s doctrine of original sin (Psalm 51:5, Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”) It is the idea that only by completely subjugating ourselves, and ridding ourselves of our natural evil nature that we can be filled by the divine and be holy, good, worthy people.

What happens when a child grows up believing these teachings? As a child, I heard preachers say, “Yesterday my child disobeyed me. I never taught them to do this. It comes naturally to them. See what a depraved nature they are born with.” Immediately, I felt shame. I was that child. “The only solution is to believe in Jesus. He died for you. He can make you clean. You must deny your natural desires. You must serve Him and be the person He wants you to be. He will probably ask you to do the very thing you least want to do, to test your love for Him. You must do it, and then there will be great rewards.”

And so, a child grows, believing themselves to be worthless. Believing they must do what their spiritual leaders tell them to. Believing they must suppress their own needs and wants. The person they really are is evil. They must become the “perfect Christian”. Their true identity and personhood never develops. They neglect themselves. Their identity becomes the people-pleaser, who is always busy doing things for their family, church and community. They can never stop, because then they are not good enough.

How far this takes us from unconditional love and acceptance.

If we start with the idea that we were created/born as good, beloved people, then a different story can unfold. The goal is not to deny who we really are. As we go through life, and accumulate false egos and identities, we can notice these and do the work to heal the wounds and insecurities that caused them. As we deny these false selves, our true, wonderful self will be able to develop and shine more and more, blessing communities with its presence and giving its unique contribution to this world.

Did you encounter this idea? What does it mean to you?


  1. Matt

    Great blog Andrea, I remember being taught the theology of original sin, and that we were born depraved. That view of humanity has allowed religion to accept and even condone the devaluing and destruction of others. I have come to the understanding that all people have a “Divine Spark” which is their true self, created in the image of the one who created them. At the core, we are all treasured and possess original blessings. God looked upon his creation and saw that it was good!

    Thankfully as I get older, I can see how I have played along with this warped game of trying to be perfect when I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to be me and am loved unconditionally, warts and all. Man do I get it wrong sometimes, but then who doesn’t, and the important thing is accepting our imperfections and knowing that we are loved unconditionally not despite them, but because of them.

    I read somewhere that a true saint doesn’t know he is one, whereas the one who thinks he is a saint is not one. I’ve come to not just accept my imperfections, but to actually love them. A discordant note within a musical piece actually adds to its beauty and depth.

  2. Ron

    Very thought provoking. I don’t think I have ever understood us to be evil from birth. We all need the saving grace that comes from the death of our Saviour. But surely God would not have made that amazing sacrifice if he did not love every one of us dearly. We are each so precious to Him.
    I am sad to learn of your experience of church life. I was personally never aware of different attitudes toward girls and fortunately my parents didn’t share such views. But I am very aware of the serious and long lasting effects of trauma and I pray that your healing will continue. Bless you Andrea.

    1. Oh dear, Andrea, when you reach thr age of ninety, try your mind excercises again and you will find, as the French say, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. However I have learned one thing which Betty Clark discovered: God LOVES me, truly, madly, deeply and the more I think on that, the less any struggles seem to matter. You probably know Marilyn Baker’s hymn Rest In My Love.. I tell myself so often that it has all been done for me and within minutes I’m fretting about it again.
      Maybe we have both come to the same conclusion by different routes.
      Audrey the Aged

  3. Hilary Lyndon

    A passage which challenged my distorted view of Self-denial many years ago is the phrase Jesus said, “to do the will of the Father is food and drink to me”. The things I am called to do are meant to feed me, to nurture my growth, to be in line with the wonderful character God has given me.
    I still struggle with the tendency to put self denial on a pedestal. And there are times when I know denial is indeed in some circumstances the right thing to do. But this passage reminds me that God’s plans for me are for my good.

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