Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance and Bible Study Following Spiritual Abuse: Part IV of V

How Do You Study the Bible After Someone Has Bludgeoned You With It?

Facing Reality

Eight or nine years after I’d left my abusive church, I started to feel comfortable and looked forward to reading and even studying the Bible. I’d kept at it, though I look back and wish that it had been easier much sooner.

Unlike the person who comes out of patriarchy, I found that I could not identify the cultic shepherding church as the single root source of my problems. When I “went back to my roots,” I also found serious flaws and painful problems in this doctrine of Word of Faith as well. Spiritual abuse forced me to come to terms with the anti-intellectualism. I had to come to terms with the doctrines I’d accepted because I was told to accept them.

For those who were in healthy churches with completely sound doctrine, their process will likely be easier.

I also learned that much of my zeal was motivated by my selfish desires to be noticed by those in the church. I was looking for something outside of my own heart to satisfy me.

I desired to find acceptance that I so longed for in my flesh. I’d been looking for something that would heal my very broken heart so that I could be that integrated person and incredibly effective Christian that I’d always dreamed I would become. I had to reject the burning zeal that I thought was coming from my desire for God but was quite often my own willfulness to somehow make God do what I wanted Him to do. I thought that true zeal involved extremes, something that paralleled the drama that I always felt in my home and in my church.

Along with the realization and repentance for my desire to serve the church, a desire that eclipsed my desire to serve Jesus, I had to come to terms with my true motives. The Word does work in our hearts and minds, but it is not the panacea of a magic pill to make me more spiritual. The Word is not part of a static formula, and I had to wait and grow. There was no fast-track to higher living. Maturity in Christ comes about by discipline and perseverance. Jesus was not the “cosmic bellhop.” If I lived my life and never saw divine healing and remained ill the rest of my life myself, I’d have to accept this and rejoice in the Lord, either way. I would have to love the Word all the more, without expectation. I could not go sit on God’s lap like a small child who sits on daddy’s lap only to get the candy that they know is waiting in his pocket.

Why You Can’t “Just Snap Out of It!”

I would later learn something that gave me much comfort. In Bessel Van der Kolk’s lecture entitled “The Body Keeps Score” that he presented in 2007, I heard him explain what happens to the brain when a person experiences the ongoing process of PTSD. Through advances in brain imaging that are now available, we have learned that the PTSD brain floods certain areas of the brain with large amounts of blood and increases metabolism there while other areas shut down.

In the PTSD brain, encouragement and exhortation have a very different affect than they do in the normal brain. When the normal person hears encouragement, several different areas become very active. The pre-frontal cortex (the problem solving area) becomes active, and the part of the brain that says “This applies to me; They are talking about me” floods with blood, indicating high metabolism in that area where those processes are located in the brain. In the PTSD brain, something very different happens.

In PTSD and the depression that results, encouragement and praise affect the brain in a very different way. First, the anxiety centers become very active, and the encouragement is not trusted. Rather than feeling more at ease, the brain of the person with PTSD goes into survival mode. For some, areas of the brain that activate during antagonism flood with blood. The depression has already caused a dulled response in the critical thinking area of the pre-frontal cortex. But most interesting, the area of the brain that activates when a person realizes that information applies to them remains completely inactive. Someone could tell a person with PTSD that they are a new creation in Christ, that they are precious to God and are seated in high places with Jesus. But the part of the brain that says “This applies to me!” never activates. The brain cannot realize what is really being said. Physiologically, the brain cannot comprehend personal encouragement when it is stuck in a loop of the survival response.

This indicates that some significant healing must take place before the encouragement can be received. Spiritual healing comes about in stages. They don’t happen quickly or overnight. Physical activity, mindful walking which activates the medial pre-frontal cortex which helps to naturally heal the basal ganglia, and therapies like EMDR all help heal the mind and brain, correcting these metabolic problems without drugs. As Daniel Amen explains it, the brain is the hardware of the soul. Healing the brain helps the mind and the soul physically recover from trauma. Taking this into consideration can help those in recovery and those ministering to them understand that there are physical miracles taking place as well as the healing of the soul and spirit.

More to come....