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So during COVID, my husband and I, like many around North America, watched the complete and utter train wreck that is the Netflix series Tiger King.

It depicts something so unbelievably awful that you almost can’t turn away (although turn away I finally did. I only made it through episode 5 1/2; all the swearing, etc., finally just got to me, and I felt like I at least understood enough of what everyone else was talking about that I could walk away).

And this is NOT an endorsement of Tiger King, or saying that everyone should watch it. The language is atrocious (and while I don’t mind people swearing in front of me, the sheer volume of it can be too much eventually for me). There are a LOT of women running around in tiger bikinis. There are extremely questionable life choices, to put it mildly. I understand people steering clear.

But apparently this series is even more popular in Canada than in the U.S. (perhaps because Canadians relish the chance to stare at strange Americans?), and so we watched.

I don’t want to comment here on Carole Baskin too much; I do think that Netflix slanted its coverage, and in doing some more reading, things are not as black and white with regards to her as they make it seem. I just want to talk about everyone else.

As a teen and young adult, I had a real fear of alcohol. I had a real fear of people getting drunk and a little out of control. While others may have found drunk people or high people funny, I just found them scary. Being around anyone like that made me feel profoundly unsafe and panicky, for reasons I still can’t fully explain.

Because of that, perhaps, I’ve always judged alcoholics or those who use drugs a little too harshly, I think.

In watching Tiger King, my real feelings were profound pity and profound sadness.

I kept asking, as each character came on screen–whether it was Joe Exotic himself, or any of his many “husbands”, or any of Doc Antle’s women, “who hurt you?”

I saw Joe Exotic trying so hard to be the best; to be admired; to be famous; to be loved; to not be laughed at. And the harder he tried, the bigger the hole he dug for himself.

And he surrounded himself with people who would look up to him and hang on his every word. He collected wounded people who would need him, whether it was ex-cons with no prospects or drug addicts who were so wounded he could even manipulate their sexuality.

And I saw all of these women in Doc Antle’s “harem” living in what is basically a sex cult, without even realizing it. What makes a young woman give up everything and give her life over to someone else to control? Profound brokenness and woundedness.

(The only one in the series I didn’t feel particular pity for was Doc Antle, whom I believe is actually evil. But that’s not the subject of this post).

Most of them, it seemed to me, were absolutely desperate. They were doing everything they could, keeping as busy as possible, surrounding themselves with as many other broken people as possible, numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol and sex and danger, so that they wouldn’t have time to confront their inner world of fear and loneliness.

This is going to sound so terrible of me to say, but it was one of the first times I honestly looked at drug addicts and had pity rather than a degree of condemnation. I think in some way Jesus used this series to wake me up to how I can be judgmental. It made me understand more why Jesus would hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes and “sinners”. They were just very wounded people, that’s all.

Sin tends to be caused by one of two things, I think: woundedness and selfishness.

I am not saying that the wounded are not morally to blame for things. But I do feel like there is a difference between one who has been profoundly wounded and one who is acting primarily out of selfishness and evil. The effects of acting out of woundedness can be just as evil and just as devastating–what Joe Exotic did especially to Travis and John was pure evil. But I can understand better his motivations.

Wounded Child Abuse - On Tiger King, Brokenness, and Seeking Help

And woundedness seems to attract the wounded.

I was talking to my daughter Rebecca last week about how both she and Katie zeroed in quite young and quite quickly on men who were NOT very wounded, and who had good character. Why was that? Because they were raised healthy, and when you’re healthy, you gravitate towards other healthy people.

But when you are not healthy, too often we repeat similar dynamics in our relationships. Those with bad relationships with their fathers tend to marry husbands who will make them feel the same way. It’s quite tragic, really.

And you see this in all the characters of Tiger King. Even Carole Baskin’s first husband (if I can go there) apparently married his first wife when she was 14 and he was 17. What kind of a parent gives permission for their 14-year-old daughter to marry? That’s profoundly messed up. (And don’t tell me that was normal back then; I’ve been doing a ton of genealogy lately, and it was never normal to marry when you were 14 in the west).

What is my main take-away from Tiger King?

Deal with your stuff. Seriously. Please, please deal with it.

Maybe you’re in a bad marriage because, in your woundedness, you chose another very wounded person. Seek licensed counseling (many will do counseling by Skype, so this is a actually a good time to start!). Get healthy yourself. Surround yourself with a healthy support system. Cut yourself off from toxic people or toxic family members or anyone who encourages you to deal with your woundedness in counterproductive ways.

Please, get healthy as much as you can, so that your kids can change the pattern.

I know it’s hard. I know that when we’re scarred and wounded, it can seem like too much work to get to the bottom of it. Counseling can often be expensive. But if you can swing it, it is so much cheaper to spend a few thousand dollars on counseling now than it is to deal with this for the rest of your life and see relationships blow up.

If you just can’t, then read some great books about trauma, getting over shame, or dealing with toxic relationships, like these ones:

I asked on Facebook for some recommendations for books, and there are some great ones on this thread. I didn’t want to put them all here because I haven’t vetted them, but you can check them out (always read bad ratings on Amazon to see if they resonate with you before buying a book that deals with trauma or abuse!). 

Oh, and PS: playing with tiger cubs should be against the law. Period.

What do you think? How can people best deal with deep hurts? And do you have any resources to recommend? Let’s talk in the comments!

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - On Tiger King, Brokenness, and Seeking Help Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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