Sunday, January 29, 2017


Does understanding our past relieve us of its influence? A male complained that he had consistently taken abuse from friends and acquaintances. He didn’t feel that he had the right to assert himself against their abuse. However, through psychotherapy, he saw that this had been the way he had been treated by his caregivers. He then “understood” that not speaking up for his welfare and setting boundaries were behaviors and a self-concept he had inherited and that they no longer had to dictate his life. He therefore began to set needful boundaries with his friends and acquaintances.

We don’t like seeing anyone abused, so we regard this as a “success story,” but is it? There are two problems here. For one thing, our memories can be either distorted or highly selective. Therefore, this male might not be connecting the right dots in his analysis of his past and how it impacts his present.

However, we might think, “Well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he is now finding relief from his feelings of unworthiness and is now setting necessary boundaries.”

This might be true, but he is left with a problem that will eventually resurface. Even if he has correctly assessed that his failure to set boundaries was a product of his past, it still fails to give him the rationale he needs to resist victimization.

Let me try to illustrate this point. If we realize that our past “nurturing” inculcated us with the idea that we should tolerate abuse, all this realization tells us is that we need not be led by our past. However, it fails to tell us what we should be led by or to give us an objective standard of behavioral and cognitive rightness. It doesn’t tell us why we shouldn’t tolerate abuse.

It is like the girl who was taught that it is wrong to abuse others. While this might help her to understand her disdain for abuse, it does not answer the question, “Is it wrong to abuse?” It would therefore be absurd for her to begin to abuse others, because she now understands that her disdain for abuse had come from her parents.

It is not enough for us to merely connect the dots and to understand our present inclinations from the perspective of the past. Instead, it is more important to have an objective standard for right behavior.

When I first began going to church, I felt strongly that everyone who came to shake my hand was a hypocrite. However, I found that it is more important to live by the guidance of the objective truths of Scripture and love others than it was to understand why I felt this way. When I began to treat others with love, miraculously my opinions of them changed.

It wasn’t enough for me to know that my feelings of self-loathing came from the way I had been treated as a child. Instead, I needed to know that I was lovable and had value. This was something that I was unable to obtain through psychotherapy. Nor did it seem to matter how many times the psychotherapist would assure me that I am a “good person.” My deeply ingrained feelings of self-loathing would just laugh at these reassurances.

What could assure me that I had value? The psychotherapist’s words were only his opinions and were unable to penetrate to the depths where my feelings were preaching their life-controlling messages.

It was only Jesus who was able to break through my deadly waves of self-loathing. I became assured that if He loved me so much that He had died for me, while I was His enemy, He would love me all the more once I became His friend (Romans 5:8-10).

This awareness didn’t come overnight. Since I had not known love as a child, it was hard for me to believe/feel that God now loved me. I had hated myself and therefore projected that everyone else, including God, hated me. And I felt sure of this. I was also sure that I had to produce a steady stream of successes in order to be worthy of anyone’s love. This, of course, caused me to envy and even hate those who had more success.

However, Scripture began to rewrite my own script. I began to experience the “love of God that passes all understanding” (Ephesians 3:19) and the assurance that He would never leave me (Romans 8:38-39). Even through suffering, the words of my Savior became more real to me:

·       “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus does give us a “yoke” and a “burden,” but these can become the instruments of freedom from many of the things that oppress us.

No comments:

Post a Comment