Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
by Peter Scazzero, p. 141
“When we are children, creating a defensive wall to shield us from pain can serve as one of God’s great gifts to us. If someone suffers emotional or sexual abuse as a young child, for example, denial of the assault on his or her exposed humanity serves as a healthy survival mechanism. Blocking out the pain enables him or her to endure such painful circumstances. It is healthy to not fully experience painful realities when we are that young so that we survive emotionally.
The transition into adulthood, however, requires that we mature through our “defense mechanisms” of denial in favor of honestly looking at what is true–at reality. Jesus himself said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Unconsciously, however, we carry many offensive maneuvers into adulthood to protect ourselves from pain. And in adulthood, they block us from growing up spiritually and emotionally.
The following are a few common defenses:
- denial (or selective forgetting)–We refuse to acknowledge some painful aspect of reality externally or internally. For example: “I feel just fine. It didn’t bother me a bit that my boss belittled me…and that I got fired. I’m not worried in the least.”
- minimizing–We admit something is wrong, but in such a way that it appears less serious than it actually is: “My son is doing okay with God. He’s just drinking once in a while,” when in reality he is drinking heavily and rarely sleeping at home.
- blaming others–We deny responsibility for our behavior and project it “out there” upon another: “The reason my brother is sick in the hospital is because the doctors messed up his medications!”
- blaming yourself–We inwardly take on the fault: “It’s my fault Mom doesn’t take care of me and drinks all the time. It’s because I’m not worth it.”
- rationalizing–We offer excuses, justifications, alibis to provide an inaccurate explanation of what is going on: “Did you know that John has a genetic disposition toward rage that runs in his family? That’s why the meetings aren’t helping him.”
- intellectualizing—We give analysis, theories, and generalities to avoid personal awareness and difficult feelings: “My situation is not that bad compared to how others are suffering in the world. What do I have to cry about?”
- distracting–We change the subject or engage in humor to avoid threatening topics: “Why are you so focused on the negative? Look at the great time we had as a family last Christmas.”
- becoming hostile–We get angry or irritable when reference is made to certain subjects: “Don’t talk about Joe. He’s dead. It’s not going to bring him back.”