The Volcano in Your Backyard: The Micro-Worldview of a Honeymoon from Hell

Part 6 in series Finding God in Hollywood: Soul-Nourishing Practices in a Soul-Deadening World

No one plans on a volcanic eruption in their own backyard, but it isn’t as uncommon as one might think. Not when there are so many unseen forces at work in the depths of our worldview.

by Gary David Stratton • Senior Editor

Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.
Volcán de Parícutin at the height of its eruption.

It was a perfect winter’s day in central Mexico. The skies were clear and the temperatures cool. As Dionisio and Paula Pulido labored side-by-side in their cornfield, they could never have imagined the horror about to erupt between them.

When Dionisio first heard the unusual rumblings, he glanced at the sunny skies and reassured his wife, “It must be thunder from a distant storm.” When they felt the first tremors, they laughed again and joked, “Who’s afraid of a little earthquake?”

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their lives.

Little did they know that deep beneath the unsuspecting couple a massive magma dome was slowly pushing a conduit of molten rock directly towards their farm. Only when the tremors became nearly constant and strong enough to cause nearby trees to sway did Dionisio and Paula suddenly realize something was seriously amiss. Transfixed by the movement of the trees, they looked up just in time to see the ground in front of them suddenly swell 10 feet in the air and crack open like an egg. Smoke and volcanic ash poured out of the crack with a hiss and the foul smell of sulfur. Dionisio and Paula ran for the local village Parícutin for help.

By the time they returned with their friends the next day the build up of ash and lava had created a giant cinder cone.  Scientists rushed from around the world to witness the birth of the massive Volcán de Parícutin. In less than a year, the Pulido’s once tranquil cornfield towered 1,500 feet over the Mexican countryside burying two towns in a massive lava flow nearly ten miles in diameter.

Volcanic Honeymoon

It was a perfect summer day in Saint Tropez . The azure waters beckoned Kevin and Jeannie[1] on the first morning of their Mediterranean honeymoon. Jeannie had always dreamed of spending the first week of her marriage on the French Riviera and the travel site made their romantic hotel look almost too-good-to-be-true. So it came as quite a shock when they quickly realized that the travel site had failed to mention that their hotel faced one of the most famous nude beaches in the world.

Saint Tropez Beach: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcano.
Saint Tropez: The perfect destination spot for a worldview volcanic eruption.

Kevin immediately suggested they find another location, but Jeannie was determined to live out her fantasy honeymoon. A little too determined, Kevin thought. Like rumblings of distant thunder out of clear blue sky, both lovers felt the unusual tremors in their relationship, but nothing could have prepared them for the volcano about to erupt between them.

Kevin’s own life story had prepared him for this very moment… or so he thought.  He had grown up in a family that rarely spoke of negative emotions (even when it was obvious someone was hurting.) He had learned the value of striving to make a hurting person happy without directly engaging their pain. Kevin reassured himself, “She’s just uncomfortable with her own body.” So for the rest of the day, while they kept their clothes on (thank you!), Kevin carefully kept his eyes on Jeannie and never missed an opportunity to tell her how beautiful she was.

It was a strategy that nearly cost them their marriage.

Rather than making things better, Kevin's 'Avoider' Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.
Rather than making things better, Kevin’s ‘Avoider’ Strategy only contributed to the eruption that followed.

Little did they know that deep beneath their relationship, the hidden story of Jeannie’s abuse at the hands of a neighbor (long repressed by Jeannie) had created a massive magma dome of pain that was slowly pushing a conduit of molten mistrust toward the unsuspecting couple. Without realizing it, Kevin had hit upon the exact strategy of flattery and professed affection Jeannie’s neighbor had used to lure her into abuse. As the day wore on, Jeannie strove to stifle a rising sense of inexplicable panic as she bristled at Kevin’s every affirming word and stiffened at his every touch.

It was only a matter of time before the eruption broke the surface. That night the lovemaking that had been so simple and easy the evening before suddenly felt like an unspeakable horror to Jeannie. When Kevin initiated a tender embrace, Jeannie’s soul cracked wide open as a decade of hissing ash and lava came pouring out.

Panicked and confused, Jeannie turned to her own pet strategy for surviving childhood. She had learned the value of being the perfect “good girl” in order to maintain order in her chaotic inner life.  So she willed her way through the rest of the evening like the perfect Christian wife striving to cover up her lack of emotional participation.

Jeannie's life strategy of maintaining 'perfection' now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.
Jeannie’s life strategy of maintaining ‘perfection’ now included her personal checklist for being the perfect Christian wife.

Her strategy was nearly as damaging as Kevin’s.  While he was incapable of addressing it, her dissociation was obvious to him. Fearing she was pulling away, Kevin began redoubling the very strategy that was driving Jeannie away until all hope of physical or emotional intimacy was lost.

By the end of their week in “paradise,” the build up of ash and lava had created a cinder cone over 1500 feet high between them. Within a year, Kevin and Jeannie’s once tranquil relationship was buried in a massive lava flow of pain and rejection neither ever saw coming.

How could they? It erupted from much too deep in their worldview for either of them to detect.


While we inherit much of our worldview from the macro-worldview of our parents, family, church and society there is more to us than the cultural patterns we’ve assimilated. Our highly individualized personality traits and life experiences foster a unique micro-worldview that often causes us to interpret events and make decisions very differently than anyone around us.

Worldview Volcano

Even children who grow up in the same household often end up with radically different worldviews due to the differences in their birth order, family system, and personal experiences outside the home.  Like the layers of a volcano, the Story of our life events, family system, and key relationships (Level 1) often lead to a highly personalized Value and Belief System (Level 2), which in turn gives rise to unique personal Strategies, Rules and Roles (Level 3) that erupt in our lives in our Behaviors and Actions (Level 1).  (See, Casablanca and the Four Levels of Worldview.) [2]

In Kevin and Jeannie’s case, their Christian macro-worldview was no match for the more powerful and personal micro-worldviews formed in their childhood experiences. While both of their parents had strong marriages, and their church’s premarital classes and mentoring had taught them the Christian macro-worldview for building a healthy marriage, there were altogether different stories shaping their marriage.

Intellectually, Jeannie knew Kevin was not an abuser. In fact, she didn’t even consciously remember the abuse. Yet, emotionally, she knew something was wrong. Intellectually, Kevin knew that Jeannie wasn’t reacting to him. Emotionally, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.

Of course, this only increased Jeannie’s sense of self-hatred.  She had built her life around being a “perfect Christian.” Now, she couldn’t even be a decent wife. And of course, Kevin had to ‘fix’ everything not by asking, “What’s wrong?”, but by desperately attempting to alter Jeannie’s emotions. The story, values and belief system, and strategies of their personal micro-worldview was short-circuiting their every attempt to live out the Christian marriage macro-worldview they professed. And Kevin and Jeannie are not alone.

While their eruption may be more extreme than others, it is a reality faced by nearly everyone on earth.

Here’s why?

Gut Level Knowledge

Gut-Level Knowledge 2As Kevin and Jeannie discovered on their volcanic honeymoon from hell, the story shaping our life at the micro-worldview level is primarily shaped by our earliest life experiences. The values and beliefs of micro-worldview are normally not the intentional and rational creeds of a macro-worldview, such as the deity of Christ, the tri-unity of God, the dignity and value of all human beings, etc. They are more the gut-level knowledge derived from our childhood and even our infancy.

Gut level knowledge is what psychologist Todd Hall calls Implicit Right Brain Knowledge. It is the nonlinear, nonverbal, and holistic emotional connections that reach back as far as the womb. They are realities so deeply programmed into our psyches that we just know that we know that we know they are true. (Even if, in fact, they are completely inaccurate.)

Gut level knowledge controls many of our actions and relationships because our right brain processes it automatically, immediately, and emotionally without our even having to think about it. It is not under the direct control of the intellectual value and belief system, which resides primarily in our more explicit and linear left brain.

For instance, if your mom affirmed you only for being pretty (versus being smart, talented, virtuous, or just for being you), you just know “in your gut” that your appearance is the source of your worth.  Slowly and subconsciously you develop a life strategy maximizing your outward appearance, even if you keep telling yourself that looks don’t matter.

If your childhood featured an untrustworthy father figure, you just know “in your gut” that people (or at least men) can’t be trusted. You automatically react with mistrust in most encounters with men and therefore subconsciously develop a set of rules and roles to prevent you from ever having to trust father figures… including the God you profess faith in.

These unspoken and subconscious values and beliefs grow out of the gut-level knowledge of our unique life story and profoundly influence our outlook and our strategy of life. Jeannie’s conscious mind told her that Kevin was trustworthy, however the gut-level knowledge produced by her story of hidden abuse kept triggering alarms that Kevin was a dangerous intruder. It ruined their honeymoon and nearly ruined their marriage.

What’s worse, Jeannie had no idea why she was responding so negatively to Kevin’s loving advances. That’s the problem with gut-level knowledge. It is so powerful and deeply intertwined with our identity (even when it is wrong) that it is extremely difficulty to detect. Still, detecting it is possible… if you know where to look.

Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory BoxesOne helpful tool for exploring how our behavior is impacted by the hidden personal stories in our micro-worldview is the psychological discipline of Attachment Theory. Attachment theory traces how our childhood connection to our parents impacts our adult patterns of connecting to others. If children feel safe and secure with their parents they normally build strong bonds with them.  And if they build strong bonds with their parents, odds are they are going to feel secure enough to build strong bonds with their friends, coworkers, and spouses as well.

If, on the other hand, something has short-circuited our bond with our parents (which is true of many if not most human beings), then we may struggle in our attachments to our friends, spouse, and children in similar ways: Anxious-Ambivalent, Dismissive-Avoidant, Fearful-Avoidant, Preoccupied-Codependent, Secure-Dependent, etc.

Anxious Avoidant Secure

According to attachment theory, children grow into “secure” Connectors only if they develop a healthy view of both themselves and their primary attachment figures. In essence, children need to come out of their childhood with at least two stories functioning in their micro-worldview: 1) “It is safe to for me to autonomous,” and, 2) “It is safe of me to depend upon others.” If you are overly dependent and/or overly independent your value and belief system will inevitably lead to a life strategy subconsciously designed to protect yourself from further harm in line with these powerful internal realities. (Click here to take a Relationship Attachment Style Test.)

Counselors Milan and Kay Yerkovich describe how “For fourteen years our marriage was stuck in the same old frustrating patterns. When we looked at our first lessons in love from our families, we immediately recognized the unseen forces governing how we loved.” Milan and Kay have since identified six types of relational patterns tied to the stories of our life:  Avoiders, Pleasers, Vacillators, Controllers, Victims, and Connectors.

Kevin's MicroworldviewFor instance, Avoiders like Kevin (above), grow up in families who rarely discussed personal problems or negative emotions. Their highest value becomes making others happy and situations peaceful. They therefore make unspoken rules for themselves to avoid conflict, get over things quickly, and never talk about their feelings (even and especially at the expense of honesty and problem solving.) Exploring which relational pattern dominates your life can be extremely helpful in discerning the various levels of your micro-worldview. (Click here to take the How We Love quiz and find out which style fits your worldview.)

Attachment to God

Psychologist Todd Hall takes attachment theory one-step deeper by using it to study the association between human attachment patterns and our attachment to God.  He has identified various types of spiritual attachments functioning in the lives of professing Christians:  Secure and Engaged, Distant yet Engaged, Anxious and Disengaged, Insecure and Disengaged, etc. (See, Five Spirituality Types and College Students.)

For instance, people who are Anxious and Disengaged in their God attachment are highly insecure in their connection to God and therefore moderately low in their spiritual engagement. According to Hall, these people need help “developing what attachment theory calls a secure base; that is, a deep, gut-level sense that God is consistently responsive to their emotional and relational needs.“

Other people grow up in families where they felt love and affection from their parents, but their sense of safety and security was somehow compromised due to factors beyond parental control, such as a childhood illness, an injury, a car accident, a house fire, civil unrest, non-parental abuse, parental unemployment, or military deployment, etc.

Such children grow up knowing “in their gut” that the rug can be pulled out from under them at any moment. If the child becomes convinced that that this reality is their fault (and most children normally do), they may develop a micro-worldview value and belief system wherein they have a positive view of God, but a negative view of themselves.

Jeannie's WorldviewThey become preoccupied by their fear that there is something wrong with them that caused God to reject them or they wouldn’t have had to endure this tragedy. And of course, they do everything within their power to develop a life strategy to prevent God from ever rejecting them again. They have a taste for intimacy with God due to their intimacy with their parent(s), but they are convinced that they need to “perform well” or something horrible may happen to them again.

This is the world Jeannie dwells in. Even though her mind has repressed the abuse to protect her soul (for now), she “knows” something is wrong with the world and that it is her fault.  She strives to maintain a life of the “perfect” Christian, seeking God for intimacy all the while fearing that she will do something to cause her world to fall apart again. (To explore further, take The Spiritual Transformation Inventory.) 

The Enneagram

One final tool that often proves helpful in exploring our micro-worldview is known as the Enneagram.  Derived from the Greek words ννέα (‘nine’) and γράμμα (‘written’ or ‘drawn’), the Enneagram catalogs nine basic personality types interrelated to each other by a drawing (See figure below).  Spiritual directors such as Richard Rohr and Don Richard Riso use the Enneagram to marry modern Freudian conceptions of the Ego with the ancient Christian tradition of categorizing types of sin in order to better combat temptation (e.g. “The Logismoi” of Evagrius Ponticus, “The Seven Deadly Sins” of Gregory the Great, etc.) As such, it can greatly help people discover their core false beliefs and strategies.    

Enneagram ChartEach enneagram “type” is marked by a root fear, which gives rise to a primary desire (Value), which in turn makes each type particularly susceptible to certain temptations (Strategies).

For instance, Type 2—Helpers, like Kevin, fear being unloved, and therefore build their value and belief system around being loved at all costs. Their great temptation is to develop a life strategy that either denies their own needs and/or manipulates others to give them the love they feel they’re missing.

Jeannie is a Type 3—Achiever.  Achievers fear worthlessness above all else. They therefore build a value and belief system centered on “success” (however their family, peer group, teachers, coaches, and/or supervisors measure success). Their temptation is build a life strategy of driving themselves to always “be the best” in their chosen fields of achievement, and/or studiously avoiding situations where they might fail. For Jeannie, her Type 3–Achiever pattern focused achieving her idealized checklist for being a perfect Christian and a perfect wife.

Enneagram teachers disagree on the role of Story in the personality types. Some see our personality types as set at birth, so that a Three-Achiever will always end up living a Three-Achiever story. According to this view, the only question is how family/environmental factors determine which areas she will strive to achieve in: violin, cheerleading, football, business, politics, ministry, character, etc.

Other experts assert that our personality Type is often determined by family/environmental factors more in line with the predictions of attachment theory rather than hard-wired at birth. According to this view, someone becomes a Three-Achiever when their family gives them more affirmation for their successes than affection for their personhood.

It is easy to see both factors at work in Kevin and Jeannie’s micro-worldviews. Since there is no proven way to extricate these two approaches, it is probably helpful to consider both factors when exploring your own micro-worldview. Plus, to make things even more interesting (and personalized), most people have both a primary and a secondary Enneagram personality type–known as a wing–so there is a lot of room for exploration. (Click here to take a free Enneagram Test.)[1]

The Healing Journey

Dionisio and Paula Pulido survey their once tranquil backyard.
Dionisio and Paula Pulido survey their once tranquil backyard.

Here’s the good news. The Pulidos survived their backyard volcano. Their near-death experience made them mini-celebrities in the scientific community and they lived to a ripe old age far from Parícutin. (Although Dionisio never did put in that fire pit Paula always wanted.)

Even more encouragingly, Kevin and Jeannie survived their honeymoon. In fact, their horrific experience was painful enough to get them to seek the kind of help most couples don’t realize they need until they’ve been married for years. Over time they were able to discern their hidden micro-worldviews, name their backyard volcano, and find healing.

Ten years later they are happily (if not perfectly) married and more madly (and honestly) in love than the day they said their vows. They live with their two children as far from the south of France (and all nude beaches) as they can possibly can.

How is such healing possible?  Well, that will take another series of posts to come.

Next: Why I am Giving Up Prayer for Lent, by Margaret Feinberg

[1] Not their real names.

[2] What I am calling the ‘Story’ level of worldview here, is what philosopher James K. A. Smith refers to as the ‘pre-worldview’ level of ‘social Imaginary.’  “The social imaginary’ is an affective, noncognitive understanding of the world. It is described as an imaginary (rather than a theory) because it is fueled by the stuff of the imagination rather than the intellect: it is made up of, and embedded in, stories, narratives, myths, and icons. These visions capture our hearts and imaginations by “lining” our imagination, as it were— providing us with frameworks of “meaning” by which we make sense of our world and our calling in it. An irreducible understanding of the world resides in our intuitive, precognitive grasp of these stories. Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Publishing Group, 2009), p. 68.