What affected me most about my parents’ divorce and all the circumstances surrounding it were the feelings of unworthiness I suffered. Since I was a child — and well into adulthood — I have had to deal with the painful emotion, however misplaced and inaccurate, of being unworthy of love.
This led to self-sabotage of many relationships with people who genuinely cared for me, as well as an unhealthy obsession of having to prove my worthiness through performance. No matter how much people seemed genuine towards me, I always pushed them away or ruined whatever we had. Deep down, I felt that I was not worth loving in the first place. This also came with feelings of loneliness. Since I assumed that I was unlovable, I consistently deflected the affection expressed to me by others. This, of course, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Eventually those people in my life would stop reaching out and pull away from me altogether. Or, I would relate to others on a surface level.
The childhood we have and our early ages shape how we turn out to be. This is why we need to assess our past, determine how it is negatively affecting our present and develop strategies to live better in the future. Subconsciously, the inner suffering I was experiencing came from two sources: Deep, unmet emotional needs from childhood and the pain and disappointment caused by trying to meet those needs through illicit behavior.
When I look back over my life, I spent the vast majority of my free time with members of the opposite sex. I looked toward these relationships to fill an emotional void. I realized that my need was not for sex (though I thought it was). My need ultimately was for love. That need went virtually unmet from an affectionate and emotional standpoint during my childhood.
So, through my adolescence and early adulthood, I lived in a perpetual state of “hunger,” looking for something to satisfy it. Even when I discontinued my illicit behavior, my underlying yearning for love was still not being addressed. Soon I found my good intentions being overwhelmed by a longing that wouldn’t go away.
By the time I was older, things had gotten so worse that I no longer felt complete. There was a void that permeated in my heart. I felt that something was missing and I did not know what it was. I tried to fill that void with exceptional performances in sports, which only helped temporarily. I also tried to fill the void with relationships with the opposite sex, but this was temporary as well. It took me well into my twenties before I would realize what I was really looking for.
All this time, I was looking for people and events to affirm me. But the only thing and person that could was my faith and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This became apparent to me when I was 26 and attended a men’s Christian retreat called The Crucible Project.
It was a transformative weekend in which I identified what was holding me back from being the man that I wanted to be. It gave me the chance to identify where my problems started (which was in early childhood) and then complete a series of exercises to begin the transformative process of correcting the negative messages, patterns and behaviors that had permeated my life.
It was after my experience with The Crucible Project’s initial weekend that I realized that I was part of a royal priesthood and a Holy Nation. I put off the old man and became a new man, which is renewed in the knowledge after the image of Him who created me (Colossians 3:9-10). I realized that I was God’s workmanship, created in Christ unto good works (Ephesians 2:10). That void that I had for so long began to be filled and I have been able to walk in great authenticity and purpose of my calling ever since.
Next week: After experiencing the personal pain of divorce, I’ll share my tips on what parents can do differently for their children, so they have a better outcome than the one I experienced.
Photo Credit: Cordell and Cordell via Creative Commons
By Walter Mendenhall
Walter completed his initial Urban weekend for men in 2013 and is currently enrolled in our Two-Year Transformational program. Having accomplished his lifelong dream of making it to the National Football League (NFL), Walter’s desire for mentoring and teaching young people prompted him to walk away from football to focus on pursuing his passion for teaching the next generation of leaders. He is currently a professor at Northeastern Illinois University (Leadership Development) and South Suburban College (Sociology), and a successful motivational speaker and mentor.