When the pain gets too great, many choose to stop feeling. They choose to shut down. They stop caring or connecting beyond functional levels. They live inside of an invisible barrier meant to filter out future pain.
I am currently counseling two women as they walk through the pain of past miscarriages. Both have lived in partial shut down for years. Both are experiencing intense levels of pain right now. But, both are seeing new levels of relationships open up as they hand their pain off to God.
You can't get healing from a distance. Those who hide behind the wall of shut down will never experience life the way it was meant to be. Nor can they be life to others.
The deepest part of us as human beings is our spirit. It is the place of intense feeling and connection, but also the location of the deepest pain. If our spirit is walled off, life is forced through the mind and the emotions. This makes the level of pain more manageable, but this also means that intimate connection with God and with other people must be sacrificed. For many, less relationship is a bargain if it means less pain.
A person in shut down can make relatively good choices in life, but that doesn't make him good at life. In a marriage, good actions do not translate to having a fulfilling relationship. Especially women are created to crave a higher level connection. If her husband is in shut down and yet his actions are good, she often will blame herself for the deadness of the marriage. The resulting negativity toward self can over a period of time cause depression to set in.
As I was describing how shut down impacts a marriage to one of the women, it set off a new round of travail in her. The pain of living through a miscarriage basically alone was being felt all over again. She had a husband, but he was in shut down. He was a "good" man, but he went on with life as if nothing had happened. He gave mechanical support, but she felt a deep sense of abandonment.
God has created us to love one another and good actions fall short of love. Love desires connection at a higher level and serves others in a way that is empowering. Love brings a sense of safety and trust, leading to a deeper level of connection and influence. Genesis 1:26-28 clearly says that man was created to rule—not control, but rule in the sense of being godly influencers. When we are positively impacting the lives of others, we feel good about ourselves.
The opposite is true as well; when we have a lack of influence, we do not feel good about ourselves. Fathers will sometimes struggle because they feel inadequate to pour life into their children. Husbands will struggle if they don't feel respected. Wives will feel inadequate if they don't feel loved. The person in shut down doesn't have life to give. Over time, the person who is on the receiving end of a shut down life will feel the effects of not receiving and will struggle with his self worth.
As human beings, we can only handle so much pain. If we don’t have a place to connect, to draw strength, and to transfer our pain, shut down is inevitable. When we know God as a healer, we can face the pain, stay open, and live life as a godly influencer. We can walk in love.
We can’t get healing from a distance. The only way for healing to happen is to open up that wound to God. It has to be seen, felt, and re-lived for a time. Once inside of the pain, a person can then genuinely give that pain to God. He can invite God in as the healer. He can receive comfort and life (2 Cor. 1:4).
When the pain is retriggered, many get stuck in that pain all over again. For a person to get healing, there has to be a transfer. The wounded person’s eyes must shift from the pain to the healing work of God. The person has to notice and give thanks for the comfort God has sent. If he does not shift his eyes from the pain to the healing work of God, the pain will not leave. With no healing, all he has done is reopen the wound. With no healing, he will continually guard himself from future pain in a way that he is incapable of giving or receiving the deeper levels of love.
I marvel every time I see a person with the courage to draw near to his deep pain in a way that he can get healing. That seldom happens until he finds a safe place and is loved and encouraged. We all need to draw strength from God and others before we face the deeper fights. But drawing strength from others while in shut down is difficult. Shut down acts as a barrier to receiving.
Look for a safe place where people practice the unconditional love of Christ. Break through the shackles of shut down and face your pain. Learn to love powerfully once again. This is the life Christ desires for you.