Child psychologists working with families where the child has experienced significant trauma sometimes talk about a concept called “Blocked Care.” The concept is particular associated with Daniel Hughes.
Blocked care/parenting is a state parents can enter when prolonged stress suppresses their capacity to sustain loving and empathic feelings towards their child. Broadly, this happens almost instinctively as a way of protecting oneself from a child’s trauma which often shows itself in fearful, dysregulated and extremely challenging behaviours. In blocked care, parenting tends to become more reactive (just responding to problems rather than a child’s emotional state) and attention gets pulled towards the most negative bits of the child.”
So, blocked care is a specific response to a situation where the child due to previous trauma experiences difficulties in forming healthy attachment with the parent figures in their life. Blocked care is a reaction to “Blocked trust.”
One therapist suggests the following list of clues that you might be in a “blocked care” context.
- Feeling defensive and finding yourself being more guarded to protect yourself from rejection.
- Feeling burned out, chronically overwhelmed or fatigued.
- Being aware that you’re meeting your child’s practical needs but that it’s hard to feel any real pleasure in parenting.
- Feeling very caught-up with the child’s behaviour rather than the meaning of the behaviour
- Noticing a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive.
- Finding it hard to think about different ways of being with your child – feeling very ‘stuck’ with one way of doing things or one preferred outcome and finding it hard to keep an open mind.
- Feeling very sensitive to rejection.
- Being irritable with your significant other or other family members.
- Becoming isolated from friends and family.
- Feeling cynical about your situation and/or the help being offered by your support network.
- Finding it hard to tap into feelings of compassion or nurture and then feeling guilty about this.
- Feeling ‘shut down’
It strikes me as I read through the definition and the list that you could replace words like parent/carer with pastor/elder/ministry leader and child with “church family/members/individual Christians and you would pretty much describe the experience that many pastors and churches report at particular times.
It is possible as a pastor to reach that point where you are struggling to find love and empathy for your church family. When you do, then you are likely to experience a sense of dryness in ministry, you may well become irritable you could find that you have an increasingly cynical outlook both as to why members of your church behave the way that they do (both negative and positive ways and towards the reported experiences of other church leaders. Because of the pressure to perform and to be seen in the right light, it is highly likely that the most immediate impact will be felt by your own family. However, I suspect that this demeaner will leak out. A church will sense a change of tone, that there is a level of exasperation, that the culture is increasingly legalistic and that people do not feel loved.
Sometimes, this may be because of factors that are not actually to do with the church itself. The pastor/elder may be bringing in their experience from elsewhere, their own past or other things going on in their circumstances. However, sometimes it may be because of how the church or significant individuals are relating to them. Pastors and elders need to learn to love their churches but churches also need to learn how to be loved. A church because of its own history or the different histories of its members may struggle with this if the collective experience is of legalism, harshness or even abusive leadership. I have previously written about how the church itself may even suffer from a form of collective PTSD.
So what should we do when we recognise that this is a problem? Well, this is where we need to take a different course to that offered by secular wisdom. The secular therapist would encourage you to delve deep into yourself to rediscover a level of self-esteem and self love first. The therapist rightly recognises that it is unhealthy for the parent to depend on the child for affirmation. However, we know that if we try to dig deep into ourselves for wells of support then we are going to struggle to find anything.
Both church and pastor/leaders must turn somewhere else. Scripture warns us against going to the wrong, broken wells. Jesus promises us water not from a well that runs dry but from a living fountain. What is most needed at this point is a rediscovery of love, joy, affection in Christ as the true fountain of grace and compassion.
Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
Oh, that day when freed from sinning
I shall see Thy lovely face
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace
Come my Lord, no longer tarry
Take my ransomed soul away
Send Thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless days
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
Here’s my heart
Oh take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
Songwriters: Public Domain / Tony Harrell
 See Dan Hughes and Jonathon Baylin, Brain Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment.