by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom From MEdom Project
You are not alone…
- 18.8 Million American adults will suffer from depression this year.
- 2.3 Million American adults will struggle with bipolar disorder this year.
- 9.1 Million American adults have an anxiety disorder.
- 2.4 Million American adults will experience a panic disorder this year.
- 3.3 Million American adults will be treated for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) this year.
- 5.2 Million American adults will experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) this year.
When it comes to our fears and our obsessions with trying everything we can to overcome them, it would make the most sense if we could simply stop being fearful; if we could simply flip the switch and stop the feelings of anxiety, stress, and worry.
If only it were that easy.
President Barack Obama, in 2008, said the following: “I was so obsessed with me and the reasons I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people… Whenever I take wrong steps a lot of the times I protect myself instead of trying to do God’s work.” I’m not sure whether he realized it or not, but this might be the most profound statement outside of Scripture speaking to the human condition that I think I’ve ever heard. It’s loaded with insight. It speaks of our addiction to self, failed or unmet expectations and its effect on us and our relationships, the adverse consequence of resulting behavior, the fear that drives us into self-preservation mode, and finally, the distraction from fellowship with God necessary to know and do His will.
We all want that feeling of self-satisfaction—contentment—even though we have never really experienced such a feeling. What we have experienced, and continue to experience, is the feeling or sense of dissatisfaction leading to discomfort and pain. We experience dissatisfaction within our physical bodies, our thoughts and feelings, our circumstances, our relationships, and in the world. Such dissatisfaction is derived from unmet and failed expectations. The scope of these failed expectations can range from the discomfort of a mosquito bite to extreme physical pain; from not getting that bike as a kid to not getting the promotion you felt you were in line for; from being teased by a sibling or friend to physical, emotional and sexual abuse from a parent; from being stuck in traffic to being a victim of a crime; from catching a cold to falling prey to a debilitating disease; from that boy or girl not going out with you as a young person to the experience of divorce and custody battles. You get the idea.
From our history of life experiences comes pain and sorrow, and guilt and shame. Bottom line on the differences is that guilt represents behavior resulting in mistakes, wrongs, and harm that present the opportunity for learning, repentance, and growth. While shame—the internalizing of harm and wrong to the point that it defines one’s belief system, tends to lead to feelings of failure, sorrow, depression, and fear. Guilt allows a person to move forward while shame can completely paralyze and immobilize its victim. The weapon used to slay every single one of us is F.E.A.R.—Failed Expectations Affecting Reality. The devil will club us over the head and stab us in the gut repeatedly utilizing the fear weaponized in our own brains against us—fear manufactured and manipulated out of shame we have defined ourselves by. I don’t know how, but the devil is able to communicate lies to us, trapping us in shame according to so many unmet expectations we have of ourselves in our desperation to also satisfy the expectations of so many others; an insurmountable task.
“Guilt and Shame, Scabs and Scars” makes a clear distinction between scabs and scars as it relates to one’s ability to be functionally healthy versus being stuck in dysfunction. Scars are healed wounds. You can see the evidence of healing while remembering the event that opened the wound in the first place. Since the wound has healed, the memory of the event no longer has power. The memory that’s been healed no longer has ownership of one’s feelings and attitudes. Scabs and bruises, on the other hand, are wounds in the process of healing, but as soon as friction and conflict come to the wound, the scab is ripped off and the wound breaks wide open bleeding all over the wounded person and affecting all who come in contact with the wounded person.
The reality for people with open wounds and mere scabs is that they continue to hurt from their injuries. The pain and suffering serves as an obstruction, impairment, and antagonist in their ability and willingness toward healthy thought-life, relationships, and overall functioning. People in pain tend to get swallowed up by fear and the need to protect themselves. When efforts to improve their circumstances result in more disappointment, they become less and less willing to absorb the risk to themselves and others they come to believe they are protecting.
The most severe consequence of a history of painful events in a person’s life is when history shapes values and beliefs. The person who was physically or sexually abused might avoid physical contact and affection even from those they love the most, whether it be their spouse or even their children. Then children growing up in a home they perceive is cold and loveless in the absence of affection and expression of love, grow up and then enter into relationships and start families that perpetuate the pattern. Men and women from such a history can be just passionate enough to date, get married and start a family, but then passion gives way to apprehension and fear, and then of course, confusion and conflict. There might be verbal and physical abuse. There might be sexual abuse between married spouses. There might be affairs of the heart with others that eventually lead to sexual encounters outside of the marriage. These couples might spend time in therapy before they divorce and split the family.
Theorist, Albert Ellis, wrote that (A) Activating events throughout our life experience will shape and alter our (B) Beliefs about those events as we interpret how such events define who we are in our own minds. Since our interpretations are so powerful, they represent for us truth about who we are leading to both dependent and codependent thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Once victimized, the belief from such activating events is that one is entitled to abuse and neglect against him or her as a perpetual victim. Another possibility is that the abused compensates for his/her beliefs about being repeatedly being victimized, and becomes trigger happy when it comes to vengence and self-protection as a matter of survival. So when the victim is in the express line at the store behind a customer having an item or two over the express-line limit, he/she is quick to pull the trigger and goes on a verbally abusive rampage to ensure he/she is not falling prey to being victimized again by the customer in front of him/her or by the cashier.
The abused woman (pictured above left) may cringe the first time, and perhaps every time her date initiates even mild affection. Ellis calls this the (C) Consequence of ‘A’ (Activating Event) because of ‘B’ (Belief about ‘A’). The person in line at the store allowed real historical events in her life to so affect how she sees herself and the world, that such beliefs have become irrational. For the abused woman to resist the touch of a good caring compassionate man whom she loves and trusts is irrational. These irrational beliefs carry life-altering consequences. We can get to the point that we cannot distinguish the lies within an irrational belief system from what is true and real. Things happen in even our most loving relationships and we conclude that we are no longer, or were never loved, in those relationships.
It is our nature to buy into a belief system shaped by our experience. These are the experiences that affect our reality, promoting the fear that can render us paralyzed by our shame, slaves to our pain. We do what we have to in order to survive our dissatisfaction. We can love God and struggle mightily with a belief system that is rooted in lies about ourselves, other people and the world in general.
The way our brains work is that experiences trigger biochemical transmissions that trigger thoughts and feelings and there is nothing we can do about it. Oh, we can withdraw from people and situations. We can isolate and alienate. We can project blame for our problems onto other people and in our circumstances. We can displace our anger and resentment and others will indeed pay a price. We can suppress our fear and repress our guilt rather than address it in some healthy manner. We can act out through rage, revenge, and/or unhealthy sexual expression. We can try to buy or eat our way out. We can insulate ourselves to the point that we’re unable to feel any sort of joy in our life. There’s a lot we can do and not do in response to F.E.A.R. to try to escape and find relief. But, in the end, where does it leave us? Where are we? Are we really any better off? Or, are our attempts to relieve our discontent only temporary?
The only authentic measure of actual recovery is found in relationship with the One who can heal our wounds, and rearrange the altered automatic processes of our brains. Scripture tells us that when we offer ourselves sacrificially to God in relationship with Jesus Christ—that is by how we act with our bodies, that He will completely transform our brain, renewing our minds, infusing our desires and intentions with His desires (Romans 12:1-2). It is written that as we come to ADMIT that we cannot fix our unmanagable lives; and as we come to really—I mean, really—come to BELIEVE that God is able and willing to do for us and in us what we cannot do for ourselves; and as we COMMIT to letting go of what we can’t control anyway, get out of our own way, and trust Him enough to confess to Him our lack and our need—talking to Him with our voice, that He will empower us to extraordinary things in our lives—at least in relation to our utter inability to heal ourselves. We are promised God’s transcendent peace that will guard our hearts and minds in the midst of whatever’s going on (Philippians 4:6-7).
What drug addict ever said to himself while ingesting the drug, “I sure hope someday that I’m a drug addict. Wouldn’t it be great to be so dependent on this drug that I will be forever sick without it?” Yet how many of us are so addicted to our past of discontentment, pain and struggle that we will continue our futile efforts through sick behavior and thinking to somehow manage in our disease?
The Bible says that faith is the substance (meaning assurance, confidence) of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Like I’ve said and written before, you can’t see gravity, or oxygen, but you accept both as true and real according to the evidence. The challenge for me and for what I have presented to the people I counsel, I present to you. You are not always going to feel confident or faithful, but you can pray because you are hopeful that God is who He says He is. Then, let’s see what happens. Over time, perhaps what you have come believe to about yourself, and the lies you’ve bought into about your world, gives way to what you experience trusting God, experiencing truth, as He changes you into something new. You are transformed in the way that overcomes F.E.A.R. instead of being overcome by the fear of failed expectations.
When that happens and someone says to you, “What’s new?”, tell them. Let ’em in. As truth is revealed to you, be revealing about the truth inside of you. Let it out. You never know when you will be a blessing to someone—the light that shines in their darkness.
Please pray that God will reveal to you His truth about what you just read. Pray that He will do a healing work in your heart and mind about your past. Pray that He will escort you into a NEW LIFE EXPERIENCE, according to what He expects for you. Remember that what He expects is for you to leave your past at the cross and embrace what He can and will do for you from His throne of compassionate mercy and grace.