When it’s a rainy gray day and you are feeling down do you ever get the urge to pull out the ice-cream and turn on a TV show? Or if you are feeling especially stressed after a long day of work and instead of getting your gym clothes on you start shopping online or scrolling through Facebook? I do. These seemingly little habits of “escaping” rather than facing life’s stressors can easily turn into addictions. The examples of maladaptive coping skills I provided above have the potential, if continued, to become disorders called internet addiction and binge eating disorder according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, volume 5 (DSM-5). These addictive behaviors can be formed simply from the use of maladaptive coping skills when dealing with stress or depression. There are often co-occurring disorders with addiction, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, Schizophrenia, etc. Another cause for addiction that is often not spoken about is the unfulfilled need to belong.
Need for Support
Without realizing it many of us are going through life feeling alone and misunderstood. We may be married with a house full of kids, or single with or without friends, yet still feeling alone. We live in a very individualistic culture where friendship and fellowship is not a priority, but a burden because of our extremely busy lives. We like to look like we have it all together with our Facebook and Instagram pictures capturing perfect, but temporary moments of our lives. Authenticity and vulnerability are often seen as weakness rather than strengths. But authenticity and vulnerability is exactly the elements needed to create a true friendship as opposed to a superficial acquaintance. Are we brave enough to let down our guard and let someone see our true selves? This type of authentic friendship is one of the most powerful tools to minister not only to others, but to our own souls. Learning to be a good friend is as important as being a good Christian. (I am speaking to myself here). A part of being a good friend is no shaming.
One of the biggest barriers to success that I have seen with my clients in counseling is shame. Shame takes away the belief that one can be better than they are. Often times clients will shame themselves (judge themselves) for even needing to see a counselor, for crying, for not being strong enough to overcome addiction, depression, etc. without the help of another. So when they fall they kick themselves verbally, which makes it much more difficult for them to get back up and keep trying. The difference between shame and guilt is that guilt inspires change, whereas shame inspires “learned helplessness.” In other words, shame looks like, “I am messed up.” Guilt looks like, “I messed up.” One is defined by their sin, while the other is not.
My favorite example of “no shaming” in the Bible is when a woman and a man were caught in adultery. The Pharisees dragged the woman outside to stone her and questioned Jesus’ opinion on the matter. Jesus did not join in on the condemnation of this woman, instead, he said, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Rather than shaming her for what she had done, he inspired her to change. And because of His belief in her she tried to “go and sin no more.” She did fall seven more times before overcoming. Jesus cast the demons out and forgave her seven more times. Addiction is hard to beat, and it’s important that we not give up on those struggling with addiction, but to continue believing in them. Mrs. White states that “If we wish to do good to souls, our success with these souls will be in proportion to their belief in our belief in, and appreciation of, them. Respect shown to the struggling human soul is the sure means through Christ Jesus of the restoration of the self-respect the man has lost. Our advancing ideas of what he may become are a help we cannot ourselves fully appreciate.” 1MCP 255.1
Positive coping skills
Whenever one kicks a bad habit or addiction it is important to replace it with something good. Jesus said, “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. When it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Matthew 12:43-45). I am not implying that anyone is demon possessed, but looking at the principle of this story we can draw an important lesson. The demon returned with many more demons (bad habits) why? Because it saw that things were tidied up, but remained unoccupied. Now obviously we want to fill this unoccupied space with Jesus. But practically speaking when removing the maladaptive coping skills (drinking, doing drugs, obsessively shopping or binge watching TV, etc.) we must replace them with positive coping skills.
An example of positive coping skills would be to instead of drinking after having a fight with your wife you take time to think, pray, and cool down and then confront the issue by respectively communicating with each other. This is an oversimplified version of positive coping skills, but I want to make sure this concept is understood. So rather than escaping we are facing. Other positive coping skills are talking to a friend, journaling, exercising, eating healthily, seeing a counselor, etc. Sometimes we need help in facing our pain. When we decline the struggle of life and succumb to our trials, we decline the gratification of experiencing true growth. “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).