Breaking the chain of linked emotions...
Three years ago I had a catastrophic back ‘event’. I can honestly say that it was the scariest thing I have ever really experienced. I say ‘really’ because I also have an anxiety disorder and I have a habit of imagining a lot of scary things that never actually happen. Ironically my spinal disk explosion was largely a result of the intensive running I had been doing to keep my anxiety in check. I was the fittest I have ever been, even the ambulance man commended me on my remarkably low resting pulse!
Emergency spinal surgery and 6 months or rehabilitation later, I was miraculously back on my feet, (never allowed to run again), but more than grateful for the healing I had received. This I believed was one event I could put behind me, and to a level it has been. But you know what they say, “You leg bone is joined to your hip bone and your hip bone is joined to your back bone….” In the years since, I have experienced all sorts of interesting and painful ramifications to that injury. Two that were particularly hard to overcome were a hip injury that resulted from nerves damaged in the original operation and a rotator cuff injury in my shoulder that was a result of using a standing desk for 2 years! I won’t bore you with my medical history for much longer, save to say that you cannot recover from a spinal injury without considering the whole body!
Everything is linked....
In terms of emotional health recovery, I am also concerned that we are in danger of creating binary categories of classification that fail to consider the whole person. Labels can be liberating and a core tool for recovery, but they can also be misleading. I have an anxiety disorder, but my emotional health issues cannot be reduced to the simple category of worry and fear. Just like a spine, the primary presenting emotion is connected to a network of behaviours, beliefs, affects and emotions which interrelate. For those who suffer with emotional or mental health issues like me, keeping the classification contained can feel reassuring, but it is unhelpful if it limits the scope of our efforts to see emotional change.
When Rob and I wrote The Worry Book, I was a man on a mission! This was my subject, I had been teaching on it within the Christian world for several year already and it felt seriously cathartic! Rob helpfully tempered my enthusiasm with his measure genius and I vastly overwrote but our editor kept me from going down too many rabbit warrens. I guess I felt, “Great, now everyone is going to understand what its like to shadow-box your way through the day!” The trouble with authorship is that, you always think your last book is the definitive until it’s in your hands. Having actually completed the book, I had to face the reality that there were other issues in my own life that were strongly connected to my worry problem. As a psychiatrist Rob was un-amazed by my revelation, but I think he was just being gentle and making sure I got there in my own time.
Admitted that there is more....
Guilt was problem that I really didn’t want to talk about. As a Christian leader, being worried a lot of the time felt disappointing enough. Feeling perpetually guilty seemed to fly in the face of everything Jesus had done for me on The Cross. Feeling guilty was a secret I was reluctant to share with the world. That is until, I realised that I was not alone, and that it wasn’t even real guilt!
Psychology has sometimes been something that the church has avoided, but Rob and I have found that it is often a tool that can help us draw even closer to scripture. Realising how many Christians were struggling with the feelings of guilt, despite having received the forgiveness of God, was a huge motivation to write The Guilt Book. Hearing how it has transformed the life and faith of so many Christians continues to make it the piece of work that I am most proud of.
If guilt was like my hip injury, perfectionism was like my shoulder! It was something that developed out of good intentions but ended up harming and not helping. Perfectionism was something that the business world had identified as being hugely damaging but it seemed to exist unchallenged in the Christian world. Rob and I identified a strong link between the emotions of anxiety, guilt and perfectionistic behaviour. So much so that we describe theses three collectively as The Cycle of Dysfunction.
Seeing the interrelationships...
In essence; people worry about failure, then feel desperately guilty when they perceived that they have failed and determine to get everything right from there on (perfectionism). In this way perfectionism was necessary to challenge if the work we had done on worry or guilt was going to stick. Of course, there are more issues to be address. Yet, this triad of worry, guilt and perfectionism seemed like a negative cycle that we believe God wants to address in peoples lives. Seeing emotional interrelationships can motivate us to break the chain of linked emotions without getting blindsided by the issue we aren't addressing directly. Whichever of these three you address, know that you are working on the whole and that you can find even greater freedom than you anticipated.
We pray that you would find His path to freedom and know more of the Love of God made known in the person of Jesus Christ.
Find out more about Worry, Guilt and Perfectionism HERE