How to Heal a Mindset of Damaged Emotions
By Mel Whittington
Recently, I came across these disturbing words: “There is an epidemic at hand. One out of six girls is sexually abused before she is 12 years old. More children under age 5 die from parent abuse than from tuberculosis, whooping cough, polio, measles, diabetes, rheumatic fever and appendicitis combined. The second leading cause of death among adolescents is suicide. Violent crime, child abuse, spouse abuse, mass murder, lack of respect for self and others as seen by increases in theft, rape, sexual harassment, and suicide are rampant in our culture – in our neighborhoods!”
Actually, I wrote these lines in 1985. At the time, I considered that the status of the “patient”, our culture, was “critical”. There was an acute need for healing. In 1999, I re-assessed, and issued a “code blue” and declared us in need of intensive care. Over the years, society has plodded along focusing on eliminating the symptoms and has not dealt with the causative agent. Our condition has really gone past the epidemic stage and become endemic. Currently there is a misapprehension of what constitutes health.
Health is, the complete fitness of body, soundness of mind, and the wholeness of emotions that make the highest quality of effective living and service possible. Health is the condition under which the individual is able to mobilize all his resources – intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual – for optimal living.
Instead of optimal living, about 20% of the population is diagnosed as depressed and on medication. Because employees struggle to deal with the collective impact of day to day stresses, corporate America spends billions of dollars each year due to the costs of insurance premiums, employee accidents, absenteeism, and ineffective job performance. This condition is an infectious disease called damaged emotions. In the first issue of SoundMind we listed a few factors that act as “determinants” or factors that influence the production of ‘damaged emotions’. These “determinants” are environments which make it likely for us to be traumatized and suffer damaged emotions.
These environments seem to arise spontaneously. They seem to have a life of their own.
They can cause and inflict damage on those around us. I don’t believe that any of us intentionally seek to create these environments, nor did our parents. The question is, “What determines the ‘determinants’?” If damaged emotions is an infectious disease, what is the causative agent?
The causative agent for damaged emotions is not a mystery. The cause of damaged emotions is sin. The world is busy explaining away sin by saying: traumas occur by chance; mental illness is a chemical imbalance; cultural influences (society) are to blame; etc. These are all true statements, but they do not get to the root of the matter. They merely point to symptoms and not root causes. Yet, we should not be surprised by this approach. This is the same culture that fights a “war on drugs” by trying to eliminate access to them, rather than correcting the situations that create the demand for them in the first place.
The history of mankind with all its atrocities—wars, power struggles, moral decay, etc.—can readily be explained, I believe, by a simple, yet profound truth. We find this truth in Genesis. We read that God made mankind “…in His own image, male and female He made them.” One major quality of being made in God’s image, is that mankind had the freedom to choose. God gave us the freedom to choose our thoughts, our attitudes, emotions, and actions. God gave mankind dominion over his internal environment. Then God gave this “image-bearer” dominion over his external environment. We “image-bearers” had dominion over all of creation. What did mankind do with this honor? We chose. Adam and Eve chose disobedience over obedience. The consequence of this choice is described in Scripture. All of creation is impacted. Mankind no longer has dominion over the external environment. Everything he gets, he has to work for:
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return”. (Genesis 3:17-19 NIV)
However, mankind continued to have authority over his internal environment (his attitudes, emotions, and actions). Thus, he is accountable for it as well. Look at mankind’s reaction at the moment of disobedience.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Genesis 3:8-10 NIV)
His first response after becoming aware of his sin (symbolized by his nakedness) was to quickly try to hide it by his own efforts (finding leaves to cover his “you-know-what”). Mankind has been trying to cover his “you-know-what” ever since! From then on, mankind has been aware of his “lostness”—whether he knew that’s what it was or not—and he’s tried to cover-up or deaden the pain of being separated from God. Through his own efforts he tries to eliminate the awareness of being in disharmony with God. His efforts are always inadequate.
So, mankind keeps trying to find new ways of dealing with this dissonance. Some try to deal with it by having power. Others try by having and controlling things (wealth). Some try to medicate the dissonance by experiences: sensations or numbing the senses (via food, alcohol, drugs, and sex). When these methods prove insufficient, they up the dosages. If anyone or anything thwarts their efforts to gain these numbing agents, outburst of anger ensue. When anger becomes too intense, they seek to medicate their anger with food, alcohol, drugs and sex. The cycle continues on until death or until they discover their Creator and form a right relationship with him through Jesus.
The dilemma of mankind is his perception of lostness! As a consequence of trying to alleviate the dissonance of being apart from God, mankind attempts to control that which no longer has dominion over—his external environment (including other people) and resists being held accountable for that which he retains dominion over—his internal environment! It never works, but he keeps on trying. In doing so, he creates opportunities for emotions to be damaged. When he faces up to his sin, mankind cries out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Fortunately for mankind, God’s word also says, “Thanks be to God– through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24–25).
Unfortunately, we seldom face up to our sin before we’ve created damaged emotions for ourselves and those around us.
Even when we know that something is wrong, we don’t seem to be able to identify it or doing anything about it. I’ll say it again, the dilemma of mankind is his perception of lostness! If we could “fix” the problem, i.e., somehow correct the sin, we would have already done it. If we could “fix” the problem ourselves, we wouldn’t need a savior.
For those who read this and have met The Savior, Jesus, you will understand already what the first steps of the cure are: repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Much more will be said about this in a later issue of SoundMind. What we need to realize at this time is, that these are just first steps. They are essential; yet, not sufficient in themselves to eliminate the consequences of damaged emotions.
Damaged emotions represent a mindset. They represent an image of one’s self that has been built on a lie. Usually the lie includes ideas like: “I am defective.” “I don’t measure up.” “I am not a good person.” “I am insignificant.” It is the pain of insignificance that triggers us to act out in destructive ways—either aggressively toward ourselves and others—or passive-aggressively toward others (or ourselves). This mindset can become a habit. This why the apostle Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) We still have choices and dominion over our internal environment.
Dr. Whittington is recognized as one of the 500 best therapists in the United States. Dr. Whittington focuses on getting to the “root” problems rather than treating symptoms. This includes most clinical disorders and victims of ritualistic and cultic abuse. He empowers people to find “Freedom From The Past” and the “stinkin’ thinking” derived from it.
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