The Story of Hugh
Understanding the 3 keys of this parable and how it relates to our vision for 2020
By Fern and Audrey
(Fern) Years ago, I read John Bradshaw’s classic Bradshaw On: The Family. While I know I enjoyed the book and learned a lot about myself, it was “The Story of Hugh” that always stuck with me. Through the years when I would downsize my library, I would pull this paperback book off the shelf. The cover was coming off and two pages always fell out when I opened it. You guessed it: They were the pages of “The Story of Hugh.” Each time, I would gently close the book, place it back on the bookshelf, and chose another book to retire. I had to hold onto Hugh!
As I think of 2020, and our vision for Discovering MErcy in this new decade, I remember once again “The Story of Hugh.” There is so much meaning in these few paragraphs; they really describe a key challenge we face here at Discovering MErcy. Before I go into that, let me share with you “A Parable: The Story of Hugh.”
A Parable: The Story of Hugh
Once upon a time a royal person was born. His name was Hugh. Although I’ll refer to Hugh as “he,” no one actually knew whether Hugh was male or female and it didn’t really matter. Hugh was unlike anyone who ever lived before or who would ever live again. Hugh was precious, unrepeatable, incomparable; a trillion-dollar diamond in the rough.
For the first 15 months of life, Hugh only knew himself from the reflections he saw in the eyes of his caretakers. Hugh was terribly unfortunate. His caretakers, although not blind, had glasses over their eyes. Each set of glasses already had an image on it, so that each caretaker only saw Hugh according to the image on his glasses. Thus, even though Hugh’s caretakers were physically present, not one of them ever actually saw him. By the time Hugh was grown, he was a mosaic of other people’s images of him, none of which was the real Hugh. No one had ever really seen Hugh, so no one ever mirrored back to him what he really looked like. Consequently, Hugh thought he was this mosaic of other people’s images. He really did not know who he was.
Sometimes in the dark of the night when he was all alone, Hugh knew that something of profound importance was missing. He experienced this as a gnawing sense of emptiness—a deep void.
Hugh tried to fill the emptiness and void with many things: power, worldly fame, money, possessions, chemical highs, food, sex, excitement, entertainment, relationships, children, work—even exercise. But no matter what he did, the gnawing emptiness never went away. In the quiet of the night when all the distractions were gone, he heard a still, quiet voice that said: “Don’t forget; please don’t forget me!” But alas! Hugh did forget and went to his death never knowing who he was.
3 Keys to Know for 2020
There are keys in this story that I’d like to point out as we think about our vision for this new year:
1. We NEED each other. God has designed us for relationship! Attachment theory explores the importance of a caregiver’s connection (attachment) to the child. Not only does a child NEED an empathetic, nurturing caregiver, a child needs an emotionally PRESENT caregiver.
2. “Mirroring” is the way a child’s brain develops a sense of who he/she is. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, defines “the mind” broadly as our emotions, our memories, and the way we think. This is all mirrored to us early in life by our caregivers. We “pick up” from this mirror who we are, that is part of child development. Dr. Siegel explains that the mind of the parent has a big influence over the developing mind of the child.
3. Each of us has an innate, God-given desire to live from our hearts, to know who we are—founded in our concept of whose we are. We are God-formed, God-filled, God-freed from darkness and sin to live wholeheartedly in LOVE (the very character of God). When we cannot find our hearts, as Hugh could not, there is torment....this doesn’t have to be.
These three keys will be discussed thoroughly in our curriculum, each having its own module of study; developing them here is not the purpose of this article. Most of us will feel Hugh’s plight! The goal here is to begin to understand just WHAT this feeling is. It is our hope after reading this article you will know that there IS a label for this kind of pain and there IS hope for something different.
I mentioned that torment like Hugh’s, which came from not knowing who he was, doesn’t have to be. I’d like to unpack that a bit...Hugh lived in loss: loss of attachment, never feeling secure, safe, and seen. Loss, which is often a part of trauma, is unfortunately a part of life. Loss is the disadvantage an individual suffers from when a valuable and useful person or thing leaves or is taken away. Trauma is a single or repeated event that completely overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope—or comprehend and make sense of the experience and the emotions in it.
Loss is generally a significant part of a traumatic event. Hugh, for example, experienced the loss of someone seeing him; he was cared for but not seen. This repeated event of not being seen—not feeling connected to another so that he could know himself—left him with the inability to understand the event and his reaction to it. He held the pain that came from this lack of attachment deep within himself, trying desperately to satisfy it with various behaviors. This is trauma. Hugh had attachment trauma, wordless pain that drove his behavior.
What to Do with Trauma and Loss
I have worked with survivors of childhood trauma and loss for more than twenty years. I am aware that this paragraph will in no way satisfy the lifelong pain of traumatic events and the losses associated with them. But if you feel deep within your heart that this topic touches a reservoir of pain, I do want to give you hope. And with this hope I want to tell you that God has given you a wonderful ability to process trauma and loss.
It is called grieving!
Therapist Karen Doyle Buckwalter, MSW, LCSW says, “It is not what happens to you; it’s how you metabolize what has happened to you.” In other words, emotional pain comes from believing negative things about yourself because of what you have lived through.
(Audrey) Grieving loss is a way to unveil a heart hidden in fear. Grieving begins by knowing what emotions are connected to the loss and trauma—actually being able to label them. Grieving continues with the ability to process those emotions. Did you know that the grieving process involves all that—naming the emotions that are tied to the loss you have experienced and then processing or feeling them?
You are probably aware of the five stages of grief developed a number of years ago by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Now, I know that some variations of this have become accepted, but this is what we generally find:
- Bargaining/Magical Thinking
Grieving loss—facing these stages—does not make us victims or keep us stuck; it is our very lack of ability to grieve for ourselves that keeps us stuck. We must absolutely develop compassion for ourselves and grieve what we never received, what was never offered in the safety of our hearts.
Grieving losses is the surest way we can walk into unknown spaces where our hearts are hidden in fear. It is the way we begin to help our hearts come out from behind protective walls in order to live and love freely. It is possible to walk forward with gentleness, compassion, and grace to explore what might be possible, once we are free from the false attachments we thought were love.
(Fern) Hugh longed to discover himself, but he needed help do that. If you are on a journey to discover yourself, realize that it is a journey and that you need a safe mirror to look into.
You see, the deep cry of your heart, while it feels confusing, painful, and intolerable, is actually the painful distortion of someone else’s vision—and you hold that pain because of what you lived through. But you don’t have to be held in torment by the skewed perspective of someone else’s lenses. Grieving—understanding emotions and processing those emotions—“metabolizes” the loss inherent in trauma events.
We at Discovering MErcy pray that as your heart’s “2020 vision” becomes clearer, you will recognize emotional pain as a flag, telling you to “dig here” to unearth the lenses of another, and that you will have a safe mirror to help you find who you are.
Journeying with you from our hearts with our OWN 2020 lenses,
Fern & Audrey
Resources that May Interest You:
Bradshaw On: The Family: A New Way of Creating Solid Self-Esteem (Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, Inc., 1996), xxi–xxii.
K.D. Buckwalter, “Dr. Dan Siegel: How Our Attachment History Impacts Our Current Relationships—Part 1,” Attachment Theory in Action (podcast), November 5, 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/attachment-theory-in-action-with-karen-doyle-buckwalter/id1305291387?i=1000456007162.