We live in a time period when addictions to opiates, alcohol, pornography, and sex are running rampant in our culture. Modern American society---sick with emotional dysfunction and given to idolatry---over-values and often encourages long work hours, materialism, and financial success while undervaluing quality time with our family members and a strong relationship with God. We frequently put prayer, Bible reading, and family relationships on the back burner while we attend to the busyness of life.
Feelings of anger, bitterness, shame, guilt, anxiety, and worthlessness fan the flames of emotional pain in our families from one generation to the next. Abandonment, abuse, adultery, and neglect are just a few of the sins that destroy our households from within, and the cycle of self-medication with addictive substances and/or behaviors temporarily satisfies our unmet needs, taking precedence over God's will for our lives. This is idolatry. These destructive ways in which we handle stress and cope with emotional needs are exhibited to our children, and the addiction cycle is passed on from one generation to the next.
Addictions are those activities, thoughts, and behaviors which we turn our attention toward to such a degree that we become fixated upon them. We idolize our desires, craving them, treasuring them, and centering our lives around them rather than giving God first place in our lives. As we give preference to these habits over God’s will, attending to them in an unhealthy extent, we become obsessed with them… enslaved by them. Addiction results when we continually give in to our carnal desires—putting them ahead of God’s will, when we choose the easy way out of painful feelings—self-medicating with substances and behaviors, and when we fill the painful voids in our souls with other things than God. These compulsions eventually become injurious to ourselves and to others, yet we come to be caught up with them so much that we neglect and/or abuse the people whose lives we are meant to touch with God’s love.
These idolatries are not limited to obvious vices like opioid drugs, alcohol, pornography, and gambling, but can encompass an overindulgence in working, in spending money, in Internet usage, in reading romance novels, etc. Smartphones, computers, social media, and TV usage can begin to consume too much of our precious time. Illicit sexual and/or emotional relationships, one’s involvement in multi-level-marketing schemes, and being caught up in conspiracy theories are a few more ways in which we seek to entertain our bored minds and/or avoid our mental anguish. Inner pain relief and elevated moods are often sought in forms that seem harmless and may even appear noble. Good things that we use or practice to an unhealthy extent can become addictive, such as excessive working, overmuch exercise, obsession with health and nutrition, or religious activities that take too much time and mental energy from our families. Even in the church setting, we may seek power, prestige, wealth, attention, knowledge, admiration of others, etc. to cover our insecurity, build our ego, and/or portray an illusion of success to others. Perhaps we attain a high position in church or at work that feeds our ego, but can we allow the subjective feelings and desires drawn from our emotionally sick hearts to get in the way of finding the truth which leads toward healthy relationships with God and man?
Due to the fact that we are all fallible and imperfect human beings, each of our households have some level of dysfunction. Some homes, however, are much more dysfunctional than others, which contributes to lower self-esteem in our children, leading to exaggerated needs and troublesome relationships throughout their lives. As our children mature, they tend to overcompensate for their unmet needs by expecting others to meet those needs in an unhealthy way and/or to an unhealthy extent. They also have tendencies which lead toward a life entrenched with addiction and codependence. Desperately hungering for value, they may demand extra attention, satisfaction, and emotional relief, or they may place walls around their hearts to prevent others from getting close enough to be able to hurt them emotionally. Because human relationships cannot bring them enough satisfaction and repeatedly disappoint them, they often turn toward addictive substances and/or behaviors.
Like magnets, addicts (abusers) and codependents (victims) are attracted to one another. In our desperation to feel valuable within our primary relationships, we addicts and codependents can be addicted to the neediness of our companions because we struggle with low self-esteems. Having someone who excessively relies and leans upon us helps fill the emptiness and hunger within our own souls, as well as dull the pain caused by our self-perceived inadequacies. Because we have often lacked a healthy amount of affection, acceptance, and affirmation when we were growing up, we seek out ways to compensate so we can feel better about ourselves. We tend to be compelled to use those things that alleviate the painful void within, leading us to self-medicate with things like alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, pornography, sex, electronic devices, relationships, religion, occult power, etc.
Depression is usually the root cause of those things which we use to temporarily lift ourselves out of our emotional suffering. Things that invigorate us, emotionally charge us, or dull our pain can develop a strong hold on our lives, but these temporary distractions will never be enough and will eventually leave us in worse shape than we once were.
Many families look successful from the outside, while relationships and emotional health are being destroyed within. We cannot assume that everything is alright with our own families just because there are no glaring problems that are obvious to all. How can we recognize the disharmony and dysfunction in our lives so that we can bring proper function to ourselves and to our families, equipping one another with intrinsic value, strength of character, and sacrificial hearts so our children won’t fall into wrong inclinations and dependencies?
First and foremost, I believe it is crucial that we discover truth about our Creator. We do this by reading the Scriptures which He has given—becoming familiar with His ways and intimate with His thoughts.
“So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. Deut. 11:18-21 NLT
In God’s word, we will find that He loves us with a love that is stronger than death, that it was His desire to present His own life as a sacrifice for our salvation, and that He was willing to endure torture and extreme suffering on our behalf. That knowledge alone should help us understand how much our God values and loves us, and as we welcome this insight into our hearts, we can begin to experience healing from painful and traumatic experiences that would otherwise fuel our addictions.
As we negotiate our passage through this life, we should seek to discern truth from falsehood and to differentiate the real from the counterfeit. Our search for affirmation, affection, and acceptance are of no value if we do not discover the narrow path which leads to an eternity in Heaven with our Creator. Discovering truth about our Creator and finding His will for our lives is absolutely essential because it can make an eternal difference in our lives and in the lives of those we care about. We must not trust the word of humankind alone, for no person (Buddha, Mohammad, Darwin, etc.) has perfect and absolute truth, and all of us have some biases which get in the way of discovering truth. Therefore, it is wise to look to the only infallible One, the God who knows the end from the beginning, the Creator whose inspired word has foretold the future with a 100% accuracy rate. We can trust that His direction will lead us to an eternity of peace and joy forevermore. Once we recognize the truth that saves us from our sinful selves, we can begin to discover God’s plan for our lives, and as we seek His will, He will teach us to develop quality relationships with those we are close to.
We can never feel completely fulfilled and whole until we replace the pain, hunger, and emptiness that is resident inside our hearts with the truth and inner healing that comes from knowing God and understanding the value and love He places upon us. The greater the dysfunction and trauma in one’s early life, the deeper and more profound is a person’s need for God. While medications can be necessary and helpful to change chemical imbalances within our physical brain, we also need to find our intrinsic value through knowing our Creator and understanding His thoughts toward us. We need to allow God to tear down the faulty foundational areas that have developed within our souls and rebuild those areas to make us sound and whole. If we can turn off the inner critic that condemns us and begin to know God’s thoughts toward us, comprehending how much He loves, values and accepts us, we can begin to experience emotional health in the deepest recesses of our souls, which will set us free to turn our minds more fully onto our Savior.