Crippling Emotions

Q: What do Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Worry, and Anger have in common?

A: They are all emotional responses that can be debilitating. Depression can result in a lack of hope and a lack of motivation. Anxiety, fear, and worry can result in a lack of confidence and an inability to make decisions. Anger can cloud judgment and break down personal relationships.

Emotions, in and of themselves, are good. God gave us emotions and a proper response to emotions should cause us to direct our hearts and our minds towards Him. However, our response to our emotions is often wrong. An incorrect response to emotions can result in being controlled by our emotions, rather than controlling our emotions. When this happens, emotions can become crippling and debilitating.

Depression, anxiety (along with fear and worry), and anger not only share similaries in that they are all emotional responses. I believe they also share similar causes concerning how these emotions can become crippling. In each case, the fundamental reason why these emotions become crippling is the same. The underlying cause is facing a reality (or potential reality) that you believe to be unbearable.

In his book Out of the Blues, Wayne Mack identifies three causes of depression. 1. A refusal to deal with sin and guilt biblically. 2. Mishandling a difficult event. 3. Clinging to unbiblical standards. I think the same three causes could be applied to fear and anger as well. In each case, the result leads to facing a current reality or a potential future that is thought to be unbearable.

The depressed person sees an unbearable situation, and is crushed by it. The fearful or anxious person frets over how they will deal with it. The angry person lashes out at the situation. The response is different, but the cause is the same. There is also a further underlying reason why people struggling with crippling emotions come to see a situation as unbearable. In each case, it can be traced back to a desire to be in control. A person may become depressed when they see that they cannot control the outcome they would like. A person who wants to control a situation, but does not know how (yet thinks they should be able to), becomes anxious. A person who lashes out in anger is trying to control the situation. Sometimes these three responses may overlap, and a person may experience more than one of these emotions. Anger and attempts to control a situation can be expressed passively also. A person who exhibits “passive-aggressive” behavior is attempting to exert control by giving limited control to another person and assigning responsibility to another person for their own actions.

Q: When emotions have taken control, what is the proper response?

A: It starts with a recognition that you are struggling to be in control of your own life. Without a willingness to let go of control and allow God to be in control (and trusting God with that control), none of the other steps toward recovery will be effective.

The next step is to identify the current reality or potential future that you find to be unbearable. What is unbearable and why is it unbearable? Once the situation has been identified (there may be more than one situation; in fact, there may be many–each needs to be identified and dealt with individually), there are only two possibilities. 1. The situation is not unbearable. 2. The supposed situation cannot be true.

I’m not sure which will be harder: identifying the unbearable situation, or believing the right things about the situation. It may take a long time to pinpoint the situation that seems unbearable. However, identifying the concern is necessary to gain an understanding of why the situtation is either not unbearable or not possible. Even when the concern has been identified, it may be difficult to know whether or not the supposed situation is truly possible or not. However, I submit that one of the two cases is true. Either the situation is bearable, or not possible.

Should the latter be true, recognizing that a potentially dreadful situation is precluded by God’s promises means that whatever situation you find yourself in is bearable. Recognizing that an unfortunate situation is bearable does not remove the hardship, but it does offer hope that it’s possible to have peace and joy in spite of the circumstances.

By focusing on these two possibilities (as opposed to focusing on the situation itself), the consequences of accepting and dealing with sin are seen to be bearable; the circumstances of a difficult event are seen to be bearable; letting go of values you have clung to is seen to be bearable.

Mental Illness

Is mental illness a true physical illness, or a spiritual condition caused by sin? What does the Bible have to say about mental illness, and how we should treat a friend or family member who is mentally unstable?

Orginally posted 3/11/2005 on

Unfortunately, the Bible does not specifically address every situation that we encounter. Mental illness is one of those areas where we’re left to use our understanding of general biblical principles and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Mental illness is just that–an illness. It’s not a personality flaw or a spiritual condition, although those are usually involved too, so it can be hard to separate the two. However, the physical illness must be addressed before someone can think clearly enough to evaluate their own spiritual condition.

James 2:16

If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

I think a principle we can take from this verse is that offering spiritual advice without practical help is of little value.

I have had [close] dealings with two different people who suffered from different forms of mental illness. One was my father, who became extremely depressed and obsessive/compulsive, to the point that he could not function. Our entire family agreed that he needed to go to the hospital, and although it was an immensely humbling step for him to take, he was willing to listen to us and voluntarily admit himself. He stayed in the pyschiatric ward for a while, and between the medicine and counseling, he regained the ability to function. He does not like being on medication, but if he cuts it back too far, he starts to slip into deep depression again. He is a devout Christian, who places a very high priority on holiness and adherance to God’s Word. I am convinced that his depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance.

I have another friend, who I can only describe as a psychopath. He refuses to seek help or admit that he has a problem. He does not think rationally; he is angry and bitter and thinks the world is out to get him. Once he gets an idea in his head that he has been wronged, he absolutely cannot get it out of his head. For a number of years, I tried to be a friend and provide a listening ear. He would call me on the phone several times a week, and talk for an hour or more if I let him; I barely got a word in edgewise. However, he decided that there were some things I had said that he did not like, and that became the only thing he could talk about. It reached a point where we could no longer have a normal conversation, so I stopped talking to him. He would call me many times a day, all hours of the day, and leave nasty messages on my answering machine. I haven’t spoken to him for months, but he still calls occasionally just to leave an angry message. In this case, I cannot help him. There is nothing that I can say that is of any value to him, and just listening to him has no benefit to either of us. Since he is unwilling to seek counseling or a medical evaluation, I just stay away from him.

Rom 12:18

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

There will be cases where it’s not possible to live peaceably with someone. Read the Old Testament; God is not a pacifist. We are not to take judgement into our own hands, and we are to consider others as more important than ourselves, but we ought not let others walk all over us (see Luke 22:36).

1Co 5:11

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

If someone claims to be a Christian, then they have an obligation to obey the Bible. If they refuse to listen, then it may be necessary to keep them at a distance.

Gal 6:2

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

If someone is unable to deal with their mental illness, then it is appropriate to take the necessary steps to get help for them. This can be difficult to make happen if they are unwilling, and someone else in the family does not have some sort of power of attorney (POA) for making medical decisions on their behalf.

Luk 18:7

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

Don’t give up on prayer. The widow in this parable had to pester the unjust judge to get a response, but God is not unjust; He will provide a solution. Loving someone means doing what is best for them. If someone is doing harm to those around them, it is better for their own sake that they not be left to continue behaving that way. They may not like what is best for them, and they may fight it. But if it’s within your power to help them, the loving thing to do is to endure the short-term pain of doing what is necessary to ensure their best interest in the long run.