This blog is Part 1 of a 2 part series on living with anxiety disorders as a Christian.
In this blog we will explore:
- some of the common internal challenges that Christians encounter when dealing with anxiety disorder
- some of the challenges Christians living with anxiety encounter amongst well meaning fellow Christians
- how Christian counselling can help
In Part 2 we will explore:
- how common anxiety is the general population
- some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders
- some of the causes of anxiety disorders
- ways to help yourself
If you only read one paragraph in this entire blog, it is this one:
- STOP beating yourself up in guilt and shame.
- STOP letting others heap guilt and shame on you , even if they are well meaning friends and pastors , ministers , priests etc….
- God is on your side, HE is with you, HE is NOT going to let you go.
I have seen enough clients suffering with some form of anxiety disorder to know that living with it can be an absolute nightmare. Worse still it might not be the only disorder you are dealing with. Life can be totally unpredictable. You just don’t know when fear or compulsion is going to come over you and hijack your life. You know you have the potential to achieve so much but it holds you back like chains around your ankles. It is so unpredictable it is like living with the Hulk inside you and just don’t know when and where life is going to get totally out of hand. On top of that you have to deal with the shame, guilt , embarrassment and isolation.
If there is one thing you need to to know is that there is hope when treating anxiety disorders.
Even if you have already gone to seek professional help, and it didn’t seem to make a huge difference.
Sometimes it takes the right match between client and therapist to see results. Sometimes it might take the right match with therapeutic approaches for you to see improvement. Sometimes it might take all these variables to fall into place.
My point is – Please DON’T give up hope, keep seeking help from well trained professional counsellors and psychotherapists.
NOTE: If you haven’t already done so it is best to see your GP or a counsellor to clarify your symptoms rather than trying to self diagnosis.
So in brief :
5 things you need to know if you suffer from an anxiety disorder
- Stop blaming yourself , stop living in guilt and shame over your struggles with anxiety disorder
- You are not alone in your struggles
- God is for you
- Healing from anxiety disorder is not through mindless repetition of Bible verse nor is it from deliverances only
- Healing from anxiety disorder is through relearning on a subconscious level what it means to be have safe relationship with others and with God
In more detail:
Anxiety in the Christian context:
I am putting this as the first section because if you don’t read anything else you need to read THIS section……….. because it isn’t talked about enough
Far too often I come across anxious clients who are riddled with guilt and shame from false teachings and well meaning friends and pastors who do not understand the complexity of anxiety disorders.
Ironically, if there is one place where someone should be able to find refuge from anxiety it should be in the company of fellow Christian brothers and sisters. This happens because most people do not understand anxiety disorders nor have they experienced it themselves.
Anxiety is not something that you can just wipe off by solely repeating Bible verses. Although meditating on Bible verses has its place as part of spiritual exercises that can assist in healing.
If you hear yourself say:
- “I don’t have enough faith , that’s is why I am not better.”
- “I have to find the root and take the axe to the root of my anxiety”
- “I should be free from emotional struggle because I am supposed to be a conquerer”
- “I can’t speak about anxiety because it will give it life”
- “If I keep professing healing, then I will be healed”
- “I must be demon possessed… I need a deliverance and all will be fine”
I have heard teachings that say anxiety comes from lack of faith.
I have heard of some preachers teach that you have to “put off the old and put on the new”. By this they mean you have to “repent” from unbelief or falsehood which they think is the basis of your anxiety. In addition to that you have to confess the truth repeatedly. And if it doesn’t work it just means that you don’t have enough faith.
I have also heard that you must find the root cause and take the axe to the root.
I am sorry.
This is an over simplistic view of how to treat anxiety disorder. I also think it is taking scripture out of context.
By engaging in mindless obsession in repetition ,in trying to isolate the root , praying prayers to exorcise a demon or believing it is due to unbelief, these supposedly “fixes” actually feeds the anxiety , and the OCD behavior.
Our Christian faith is meant to be relational. The path to healing is also relational.That is healing occurs in the context of relationship with God and with others. Healing is definitely NOT through the mindless use of biblical verses.
We don’t have to look out for demons under every rock. Nor do we have to obsessively vigilant in order to guard against demonic entry…….. think of this one…. “Greater is He who lives in me”.
If you truly have a sense that God is with you , a deep deep deep sense that He is with you and for you, do you think you need to be so vigilant. You can live free knowing Christ is in you. But this inherently is one of the issues.
We might know this fact intellectually, but we don’t really know it in our hearts. There are good reasons why someone might not know it in their hearts BUT you are not to blame!!!!!!
It is true that false belief is one of the contributing factors in anxiety but the foundation of anxiety has already been laid in place in our childhood (most probably) years before you can confess any theological truth.
From a psychodynamic perspective the basis of anxiety is the fear that you cannot cope with the dangers in life or the fear of abandonment. This fear is most likely modelled to you in your childhood and it has been the prevailing template in how you would expect people in authority (parents/caregivers) will treat you. This is the basis of disrupted attachment to parents and can lead to other emotional issues. More of this discussion in other blogs.
In turn, most of the time our image of God is the very image that our parents have modelled for us of how caregivers will treat you.
If you have had parents who have done less than a satisfactory job in protecting you , calming your fears , attuning to you fears and affirming you , being there for you when you need them, giving you affection when you need it, you will most likely struggle with regulating your emotions (more of this later). This becomes the basis of fear.
In turn you would have subconsciously constructed an image of God ( a wrong image at that) who is ultimately just like the caregivers in your childhood. This image of the God in your head is a God who is unsafe, untrustworthy and distant.
This is the Catch 22.
As your image of God is constructed according to your broken experiences with caregivers, how can you possibly feel safe to approach Him in times of desperation. You will subconsciously expect God to dismiss you, ignore you , or even mistreat you and cause you pain just like your experiences in your childhood.
This is the very core of the existential crises for my Christian clients who struggle with anxiety disorders. They have nowhere safe to go.
Plenty of people are telling you that you SHOULD go to God , but in your heart you are unsure if God is safe.
You might know God is safe intellectually. But, there is a huge difference between what you know in your head and what you have come to know in your heart.
Fortunately, there are two things you can do to change this.
The first is to bravely step out and ask God to reveal to you who He really is. Ask Him to reveal to you His Father Heart and what it means for you to be His son or daughter.
The other way for this to change is through relational experiences with those who can remodel for you the Father Heart of God. Through relationship with a caregiver, he/she can remodel for you over time an authority figure who is kind , compassionate , merciful and loving. In psychotherapy terms we call this “corrective emotional experiences”. One way to gain this is through counselling/psychotherapy.
Christian counselling for anxiety disorders : (my perspective)
When you come to therapy with me, I will teach you techniques to regulate your fears but our relationship is actually the key to your healing.
But it is these corrective emotional experiences (mentioned above) that I am more aware of creating for you as a longer term priority.
In our interactions I will do my best to model for you what a safe relationship should look like and feel like. By doing so, our relationship will help to provide a safe alternative template of how you might expect a caregiver should treat you.
Hopefully when you have experienced enough of these experiences they will become your norm. Through experiences alternate neural pathways form. Overtime through repetition in your experiences these neural pathways become the dominant pathway. You will start to come to expect safety in caregiver. You will expect safety from God. You will expect safety in your everyday life.
Through our interactions you will also come to discover what you have come to believe about your God , and discover insights about your relationships with key caregivers that may have shaped your view on life.
You will gain understanding of your emotional responses that are previously out of your awareness.
I have to make this point very clear. Therapy is not about parent bashing. Parents often try to do their best with the tools they have. But despite trying their best sometimes there will still be deficits in their interactions with their children.
Overtime , the combination of all these elements hopefully will help you heal and live a fuller life.
In Part 2 of this blog we will explore more about:
the prevalence of anxiety disorders in our society
what are anxiety disorders
some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders
some possible causes of anxiety disorders
things you can do to help yourself