Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Self-Image: Three Questions

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by Ed Welch

So much of life comes down to the following three questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You might not wake up in the morning with these questions on your mind. In fact, you might never have asked these questions. But, as a human being, those questions are part of your DNA. You will find them sneaking around in your anger, happiness, contentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, guilt, cutting, sense of purpose, life meaning, decision making, moral choices about sex, friendships, school, work, and so on.

Notice, for example, how jealousy answers these questions.

Who is God?

“He is someone who should give me what I want.”

Who am I?

“I deserve better—better looks, better athletic ability, a better boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“I am a judge who is authorized to stand over others.”

Who are these other people?

“They are below me. They have things that I deserve more than them.”


Sadness or depression? Listen and you will hear their answers too.

Who is God?

  • “He is far away and doesn’t care.”
  • “He is someone who didn’t give me what I wanted.”
  • “He could never forgive me for what I have done.”

Who am I?

  • “I am nothing, literally nothing. It isn’t that I am trash; I am just nothing.”
  • “I am needy, and I haven’t gotten what I need.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “I am God. I deserved something and I didn’t get it.”

Who are these other people?

  • “They are my life. I put my hope in them, and they let me down.”
  • “They don’t care, so I am trying not to care about them, but it isn’t working.”
  • “They can’t be trusted.”

You can see what’s happening. You already have answers to these questions. You just have to uncover them. You might know some right answers, such as “I am a child of God.” But our hearts are complicated. The right answer is rarely your only answer. Instead, you usually have at least two sets of answers: those that are “right,” and those that actually guide the way you live. To discover your real answers to these questions, watch how you live. In particular, track your emotions. Look for what makes you upset, depressed, angry, and anxious, or what makes you happy, calm, excited, and peaceful.

Once you settle into one of your less comfortable moods, who do you say God really is?

  • Angry
  • Far away and not aware of what you are doing in secret
  • Far away and uncaring about what is bothering you
  • Picky
  • Unfair

What about other people? Who are they?

  • Objects you manipulate so that they serve you
  • Protectors
  • Threats
  • Jerks
  • Things that can make you feel really good or really bad
  • Idols that you worship

And you? Who are you? Try to capture your view of yourself with a picture. If the picture is “child of God” don’t stop there. Find some others.

  • I am alone, living behind thick walls. I can see out, and everyone else looks normal, but I am isolated.
  • I am a leper who has to live with other lepers far away from everyone else.
  • I am the black sheep—unwanted, standing out in a bad way and not fitting in.
  • I feel like a baby bird, vulnerable, needy, waiting to be pushed out of the nest.
  • I am a piece of a puzzle, happy to fit in but not stand out.

Any you would add?

When it comes to being controlled by the opinions of others—the fear of man—there is one image that fits most of us: a vessel, cup, bowl, or some kind of container. Listen for words such as need, want, and empty. They hint that we want to be filled with something that only other people can give us. Ever feel empty?

Any thoughts on what you think would fill you?

Picture a cup, something like the animated walking teacups of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There is already something in it; call it self-esteem for now. Some people have more, some less, but no one feels like they have much. You waddle around, hoping that no one bumps you so hard that everything spills out. You also hope that someone close by is in the shape of a pitcher so you can be filled.

What would cause a spill?

  • “Loser!”
  • “We decided not to hire you.”
  • “We regret to inform you that you weren’t accepted to . . .”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?!”

What would fill you up?

  • “Nice outfit.”
  • “Awesome game!”
  • “Good job.”
  • “I love you.”

“I love you” fills you up best. Sometimes it is enough to hear it from a parent. More often, parents can’t fill you with their words of affection, though they certainly can cause you to spill all over the place with words of rejection. The job of filling you is usually reserved for your peers. Get an “I love you,” or even an “I really like you,” from the right person, and life is wonderful. You feel great. Full. Who cares if someone bumps into you? “I love you” is high-octane fuel for your self-esteem.

If you don’t get filled, bad things happen. You wander around with a case of the blues, though you might not even realize it. Some people try to fill themselves with other things: achievements, sex, drugs, music, video games, Internet porn, and fantasy. But none of it really works. Even if you receive love it doesn’t work for too long. It is like a drug that fills you for awhile—about an hour or so—and then you need more. And there will be days when you feel so bad that even “I love you” won’t make any difference. Either your cup has a leak in it, or you weren’t intended to live like a cup. Which one do you think it is? (Both answers are correct, so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong answer.)

Do you have any ideas why life as a love cup doesn’t work?

There is nothing wrong with wanting love. It would be positively inhuman not to want it. The problem comes when we desire it too much—when our desire for love becomes the center of life—which, when you think about it, makes us the center of our own lives. The problem is when we want to be loved more than we want to love. If only life could be a little bit less about us.

Then it gets worse. When we live as love cups, we will get hurt. There is no doubt about that. We can never get filled enough. When the hurts pile up, we feel ashamed and protect ourselves. We hide behind masks. You can’t let others see you or really know you. You try to spruce up your facade with grades, thinness, or some other accomplishment, but you never feel covered up enough. When other people are staring, it’s as if they can see through the mask. So you move on to something less revealing—if masks won’t work maybe walls will. But walls have problems of their own. Have you ever experienced the transition from love cup (or approval cup or success cup or . . .) to mask to walls? We all have, so what was it like for you?

What masks do you wear the most?

  • Intelligence
  • Athletics
  • Popularity
  • Creativity, being different

One problem with masks and walls is that, though their purpose is to protect you from hurt, they hurt you even more because they don’t allow relationships. You can’t have a deeper relationship if you won’t allow yourself to be known. All this leads to a dead end: if you allow people to know you, you get hurt; if you protect yourself from people, you get hurt. It ends in misery. But there is another way. This better way allows us to be open and honest and part of a community where we don’t have to put up self-defensive walls. Ever been there? Have you ever had the pleasure of being open with another person?

Think about it. What’s better than having relationships that let you be yourself? If you have ever experienced that, be sure to thank those people.[1]


[1] Welch, E. T. (2011). What do you think of me? why do i care? answers to the big questions of life. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

What’s The Difference Between True Guilt and False Guilt?

Question: How do I discern true guilt from false guilt? I want to please God and serve others for Him, but I don’t want to give in to manipulators, either in my family or my friends.

Answer:   If a manipulator can make you feel guilty for saying no, he or she is much more likely to be successful in getting you to back down. Their strategy is to make you feel as if you are doing something wrong or you are being selfish when you won’t do what he or she wants. A manipulator’s thinking is simple. He believes, “If you love me, then you’ll always do what I want.” Therefore, if you say no, then you must not love me or you are selfish.

A two-year-old uses this tactic on his mother to get her to buy them something while standing in line at the grocery store. Most mothers are wise enough not to be manipulated by these tantrums. We know that a firm “no” to our child is the most loving thing we can do. The same is true for other relationships. Saying no to manipulation is actually taking a stand against someone else’s sin. This is a good thing.

However, when the manipulator is not our child, but our mother or husband or adult child, it’s much harder not to get sucked into his or her drama. It doesn’t help that they often accuse us of being unloving and selfish because we are not giving into their demands, and consequently, we’re tempted to feel guilty.

So what’s the way out? Let’s first look at Jesus. He never sinned, never was selfish yet he did say, “no.” He didn’t always do what people expected or wanted him to do. Jesus took time out for friendship, rest, relaxation, and prayer (Mark 6:30-31,46). When you feel guilty because you’ve said no to someone, take a moment to read Mark 1:29-39.

In this passage, we learn that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house for a relaxing dinner, but people brought the sick to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door. Can you imagine the pressure Jesus felt with everyone pressing in on him to do something? That evening he healed many people, but he eventually said no more and went to sleep. Those who were left behind unhealed must have felt disappointed.

While it was still dark, Jesus woke up and went off by himself to pray. Peter eventually came looking for him. “Jesus, where have you been? Everyone back home is waiting for you.” Jesus answered Peter saying, “I’m not going back to your house. Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Jesus knew he could not do everything everyone wanted him to do and still do what God wanted him to do. During that quiet time of prayer, Jesus asked the Father to help him discern between the good things and the best things. Just like we do, Jesus had to make some hard choices – to please God or to please others. He chose pleasing God. This priority regularly cost him the disapproval and disappointment of others, including his disciples, religious leaders, and his own family (see Matthew 26:8; Mark 3:21-22).

To break free from the guilt trip, we must all learn to distinguish between true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is a God-given warning signal that we are violating God’s moral law. False guilt arises when we or another human being judges our actions, ideas, or feelings as wrong, even if there is nothing sinful about them.

So next time you’re struggling with guilt, do these three things.

  1. Go to God’s word for clarity. Am I breaking God’s moral law or is it some other human being’s law such as “Thou shall never say no to me”?
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to search you and see if there is any wicked way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). You may find you have more guilt over feeling angry and resentful that you said “yes” when you wanted to say “no” than you would have if you had just said “no” in the first place.
  3. Ask yourself this question. If I say “yes,” am I saying, “yes” because I want to or because God asks me to? Or do I feel I pressured to say “yes” because I’m afraid to say “no”?

Remember, you are a finite, limited human being. When you say “yes” to something, you also always say “no” to something else.

When you repeatedly say “yes” to a manipulator, keep in mind that you are also saying “no” to your own needs, to perhaps your children’s needs, or to the greater good of what God wants for you. When you accept that you can’t always make everyone happy with you, (Jesus couldn’t either) then the false guilt will dissipate.

SOURCE:   Jennifer Williams-Fields

You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship


Just stop asking why a woman is so stupid and so weak when she stays in an abusive relationship. There’s no answer you can possibly understand.

Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me.

There was no punch on the very first date with my ex-husband. That’s not normally how abusive marriages start. In fact, my first date was probably pretty similar to yours: he was charming, he paid attention to me, and he flattered me.

Of course, the red flags were there in the beginning of my relationship. But I was young and naïve, probably much like you were in the beginning of your relationship.

Except my marriage took a different turn than yours.

An abusive marriage takes time to build. It’s slow and methodical and incessant, much like a dripping kitchen faucet.

It begins like a little drip you don’t even notice — an off-hand remark that is “just a joke.” I’m told I’m too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive.

I occasionally notice the drip but it’s no big deal. A public joke made at my expense is just my partner being the usual life of the party. When he asks if I’m wearing this dress out or whom I’m going with, it only means he loves me and cares about me.

When he tells me he doesn’t like my new friend, I agree. Yes, I can see where she can be bossy. My husband is more important than a friend, so I pull away and don’t continue the friendship.

The drip is getting annoying, but you don’t sell your house over a leaky faucet.

When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn’t really mean it.

He forgets he’s stronger than me. When I confront him in yet another lie he’s told, he tells me I’m crazy for not believing him. Maybe I’m crazy … I’m beginning to feel a little crazy.

I begin to compensate for the drips in my marriage. I’ll be better. I’ll be a better wife. I’ll make sure the house is clean and dinner is always prepared. And when he doesn’t even come home for dinner, I’ll keep it wrapped and warmed in the oven for him.

On a night I’m feeling feisty, I feed his dinner to the dog before he comes home. I’m not feeling quite as smug well after midnight when he does show up. I quickly get out of bed and go to the kitchen as he yells at me to make him dinner.

Waking me from sleep becomes a regular occurrence. I no longer allow myself deep, restful sleep. I’m always listening and waiting.

In the morning, I’ll shush the kids to keep them quiet so they don’t wake up daddy. We all begin to walk on eggshells around him.

The drip is flowing pretty strong now. I’m afraid to put a bucket under it and see how much water I’m really losing. Denial is setting in.

If I hadn’t said what I did, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad. It’s my fault; I need to just keep quiet. I should know better than to confront him when he’s been drinking.

He’s right — I really am an ungrateful b_ _ _ _. He goes to work every day so I can stay home with the kids. Of course he needs time to himself on the way home from work each day.

On the rare occasion I do meet with my friends, I rush to be home before him. I never ask him to babysit so I can do something in the evening. I mustn’t inconvenience him.

We attempt marriage counseling. Although neither of us is totally honest about why we are there, the counselors are open with us about their concerns.

We never spend more than one session with a counselor.

I’m working so hard to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family that I don’t take the time to notice there’s water spilling on to the floor.

I know what will make this better. I’ll get really active outside the home but of course, I’ll still take care of everything in the home and never burden him. And I’ll never dare ask for help.

I’m now the perfect fourth grade room mother. My church mentors tell me to read books and listen to lectures on praying for my husband and understanding his needs.

I work very hard to present the front of a perfectly happy family. My kids are involved in multiple activities that I, of course, solely organize and am responsible for.

I’ve begun to drop subtle hints to the other moms but when they confront me I adamantly deny it. No, everything is great, I insist. I point to all the happy family photos I post to Facebook as evidence.

I’m not sure which scares me more: the fear that others will find out my secret, or that my husband will find out I told the truth about our marriage. I realize I’m now afraid of him.

 And then one day, I wake up and realize the house is flooding. My head bobs under the water. I’m scared.

I also see the fear in my children’s eyes. Oh dear God, what have I done? How did we get here? Who have I become?

The night he throws his cell phone at me and narrowly misses my head, I want to pack the kids in the car and leave. The evening at the dinner table when he stands up and throws a fork at me in front of the kids, I want to leave.

Where would I possibly go? And if I do go somewhere, what will I do? How will I afford living on my own?

He’s right — I have no skills to survive on my own. I need his money.

“What, you want to leave and go wh_ _ _ around?” he yells to me. “I always knew you were a slut.”

He’s a master at deflection. His actions are no longer the focus; I’m the one on trial now.

I’m no longer the woman I was on our first date. I’ve become timid and weak in front of him. I feel defeated. I chose this man and I gave birth to these children. It’s my fault.

With every breath I take, it’s my duty to keep these kids safe and keep my life together. It’s the only life I’ve known for twenty years. At this point, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I stay.

The flood continues. My head bobs under a second time.

On a typical anger-filled evening, I say enough is enough and I decide to fight back. But even in his stumbling drunken stupor, he’s stronger than I am.

I see the look in his eye as he hovers over me. He has biologically been given the ability to kill. That look in his eye terrifies me.

“Go ahead and leave,” he sneers to me. “But the kids stay here.”

My retreat that night is all it takes to turn the faucet on all the way and force me to tread water, if not for my life, then at the very least for my sanity.

Despite my best attempts, my secret has been exposed. I can’t just up and leave like well-meaning friends tell me to. It’s not that easy.

I have no money. In fact, he found my secret stash I’d been working on for almost a year. I thought I was so careful that no bank records would come to the house. He must have broken in to my email.

I should’ve known better. He always kept close tabs on me. He hated when I accused him of spying on me, so I just let him snoop.

He made me feel so guilty and ashamed when I handed over my secret savings to him. I wonder what he did with the money? I know it didn’t get used for the kids needs. I assume he drank it or gambled it or used it to impress another woman.

I’m stuck. I stay.

Dear God, please don’t let me go under a third time. My family is beyond rescue, but please save me and save my kids.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m no longer in the marriage, yet my scars run deep.

Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.

I worry that not only have my daughters witnessed a man mistreat a woman, but that my sons have had a poor example to follow of what it means to be a real man.

I stayed for the sake of my children. Now, I blame myself for the effects staying may possibly have on them.

Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack.

I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.

SOURCE:  Nicholas Hemming

Call out to God for peace and rest

After pulling into your driveway and gathering your belongings, you realize you lack the energy you need to stand up, walk to your front door and get on with your evening. So you drop your head on your steering wheel, hoping a 30-second nap will cure your ills. It doesn’t. Fifteen minutes later, you’re still in the car, wondering how your week spiraled out of control so quickly.

In the midst of your chaos—overwhelming work responsibilities, repairs to your house and car, logistics for your family—you’ve lost all sense of reason. That’s why you’re napping in the car. But what else can you do? You’re tired, frustrated, stressed and in desperate need of a vacation.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe your family commitments recently ramped up and you’re struggling to stay afloat. Between keeping your house tidy, cooking at least two meals per day and driving your kids to and from soccer practice, you barely have enough energy to get to your office—let alone accomplish anything on your to-do list.

Or maybe you’ve endured a week when you haven’t seen eye to eye with anyone. You’ve argued with your boss, burned bridges with close friends and constantly fought with your spouse. You keep wondering if you’ve run into a stretch of bad luck or if you’ve simply felt more combative lately. Either way, you’re angry, exhausted and ready for the week to end.

In these moments, when you can’t seem to overcome your stress, you can turn to God’s Word for peace. And you can call out go God for rest. These four prayers will get you started:

Lord, I’m exhausted. Help me to find rest in you.

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11:28 (GNTD)

Lord, I’m frustrated. I so badly want to take a break, but I feel trapped by all my responsibilities. Give me your joy today.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13 (GNTD)

Lord, I know I’ve wronged my friends and family during this stressful week. Help me to approach them with humility.

Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another.Ephesians 4:2 (GNTD)

Lord, I constantly feel unsettled. I need your peace today.

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”John 14:27 (GNTD)

SOURCE:  Nicholas Hemming

When you’re about to lose it at work, call out to God for peace and hope.

With a yawn and a sigh, you grab your lunch, saunter out your front door and casually climb into your car. After years of enduring a miserable job, you’ve grown accustomed to dragging your feet. Why should you hurry?

When you arrive at your desk, you know exactly how the day will unfold. Your boss will walk by and ignore your existence. You’ll have at least two angry emails waiting for you. And your co-workers will give you a half-hearted grumble when you greet them. That’s just how things go in your workplace. And that’s why you drag your feet every morning.

Do you feel miserable at work?

Whether you can’t stand your daily responsibilities, work for a difficult boss or feel overworked and underpaid, the process of surviving a challenging job can feel suffocating. You’d love to start applying for new jobs. But the whole process—updating your resume, interviewing, trying to figure out if you want to relocate, starting over with a new boss—overwhelms you. So where can you turn?

In these moments, you can call out to God for peace and hope. And you can open your Bible and meditate on reminders of God’s presence with you. These three prayers will get you started:

Lord, I’m losing patience with my boss, my co-workers and my entire company. Fill me with your peace today.

You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.Isaiah 26:3 (GNTD)

Lord, I feel trapped in this place. When I’m here, I constantly feel agitated and annoyed. Fill me with your joy today.

Light shines on the righteous, and gladness on the good. All you that are righteous be glad because of what the Lord has done! Remember what the holy God has done, and give thanks to him.Psalm 97:11-12 (GNTD)

Lord, I need a job that better suits me. Fill me with your hope today.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13 (GNTD)

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick

Often triggers and motive are treated as two distinct things, and there are differences. But those differences are more akin to two sides of the same coin than apples and oranges. In this post we’ll examine the things that trigger your sexual sin and the motives attached to those triggers.

As you identify the trigger-motive for your sexual sin, we also want you to begin to see how you are treating your sin like a friend, ally, refuge, etc. These insights are essential for repentance to make sense as a central part of change. Unless we see how our sin seeks to replace God in our life, then our need to be made right with God comes across as if God is unduly hung up about our sexuality.

Your struggle with sexual addiction doesn’t start with your behavior. It begins with what you want, what you live for. – David Powlison in Sexual Addiction (p. 6)

1. Boredom (Sin as My Joy)

When boredom is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin has become our joy. When there is a moment to be filled with something of our choosing, we pursue sin to fill the void rather than God or any of His legitimate pleasures. We begin to lose our appetite for godly pleasure like the child who eats sweets stops wanting healthy food. Even as they feel sluggish from the ups and downs of sugary “treats” they fail to connect this to their diet but go instead for another sugar high as the “obvious” solution.

Sex is not ultimate… Idols begin as good things to which we give too much importance, and few things slide over into idolatry with greater frequency or greater power than sex. We allow a good gift of God to supersede the God who gave it. Sex is good, even great, but it’s not ultimate. –Tim Challies in Sexual Detox (p. 61)

Read Nehemiah 8:9-12. God is a God of great joys and pleasure. Too often we view God as so serious that we believe “fun” must be in His opposite direction. When God called Israel to repentance through Nehemiah and Ezra, He asked them to express their repentance in celebration. If the motive of boredom leads you to sin, then allow this passage to challenge your view of God.

2. Loneliness (Sin as My Friend)

When loneliness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our “friend.” Sexual sin is always relational whether the relationship is fictional or physical, so it fits loneliness well. It’s as if our sin (a person, a chat room, or a video) calls to us, “Tell me your troubles.” We gladly pull up a chair and unload. As we do, talking to a real person or one who is not part of our sin becomes too risky. We now fear being judged or known by anyone but our “friend.”

It’s a perfect world that I can create. Things always go exactly my way. People do exactly what I want. I’m always on top. Fantasy is a great ego-feeder. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 19)

Read Proverbs 27:6. During sexual sin we write this proverb backwards. We believe, “Faithful are the kisses of any enemy; profuse are the wounds of a friend.” When sin reverses the roles of friend and enemy, it traps us until we return the right labels to the people in our lives. If the motive of loneliness leads you to sexual sin, then prayerfully examine who or what you call “friend.”

3. Stress (Sin as My Comforter)

When stress is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our comforter. We run to it, her, or him. Sin or our adultery partner makes things better (at least as long as it, she, or he remains hidden and keeps us to themselves). Yet the comfort takes on an addictive quality. The stress from which we are relieved is multiplied by the stress it, she, or he creates. This keeps us in a cycle of stress and returning to a primary source of stress for relief.

We crave intimacy at a relational level. We feel lonely. But we also fear intimacy. We’re not sure we can attain it or be vulnerable enough to handle it. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 47)

Read John 14:25-31. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Helper” or “the Comforter” (v. 26) and as the source of peace–distinct from the world’s peace which always returns us to fear (v. 27). If a source of comfort doesn’t allow you to be more real with more people, then it isn’t true comfort. It’s a drug that numbs you before it makes you sick. If the motive of stress leads you to sexual sin, then examine whether your “comfort” is real or a form of relational self-medication.

4. Frustration (Sin as My Peace)

When frustration is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of peace. Sin is treated as an “oasis.” When this happens we label sin as our “safe place” as compared to the parts of life that are upsetting. This makes sin our friend and anyone or anything that opposes or interferes with our sin our enemy.

Read Romans 16:17-20 and I Thessalonians 5:22-24: Notice each of the passages refer to knowing the God of peace as the alternative to falling into temptations based upon deceitful desires. Where you turn for peace when you are frustrated is the determining variable of your character. Once you declare something or someone as the source of your peace, you will be loyal to and obey it.

5. Fatigue (Sin as My Source of Life)

When fatigue is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of life. We turn to sin as our boost to get through the day. The thought of our sin keeps us going when we feel like giving up. The adrenaline of sexual satisfaction (physical or romantic) becomes a drug we use to artificially stimulate ourselves–one we begin to wonder whether we could live without.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: This passage uses many words that can be synonyms for or create fatigue: afflicted (v. 8), perplexed (v. 8), persecuted (v. 9), struck down (v. 9), and wasting away (v. 16). Fatigue can make you feel alone, and sexual sin becomes your life giving companion. Paul says that it’s only Christ who can be the life in us that counters the fatiguing death around us (v. 10-12). To doubt this truth reveals that we are believing (or at least listening attentively to) lies.

6. Hurt (Sin as My Refuge)

When hurt is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our refuge. In our moments of sinful escape we feel protected from life and a growing allegiance develops towards our sin. In actuality, our sexual sin provides as much protection as a child pulling the covers over his/her head. But in our moment of hurt, we appreciate even the pseudo-refuge of sin compared to the perceived absence of any other refuge.

Read Psalm 31: This Psalm alternates between a cry for help and a song of confidence. In this, the Psalm reveals the realness with which Scripture speaks to life. Sexual sin is a pseudo-refuge on demand. Even when we can’t have the sin, we can fantasize about his/her presence. However, the real refuge of God is available through the same type of prayerful-meditative exercise as our fantasy, but it’s actually able to deliver us through the guidance of Scripture, the presence of His Spirit, and the involvement of His people.

7. Betrayal (Sin as My Revenge)

When betrayal is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our revenge. We know how powerful betrayal is (especially sexual betrayal), so we decide to use its power for our purposes to avenge those who have hurt us. Blinded by pain we try to use pain to conquer pain but only multiply pain. We continue this potentially infinite domino train that pummels us with alternating experiences of betrayal’s pain and betraying’s shame in spite of knowing how it perpetuates pain.

Read Romans 12:17-21: It’s so tempting to read this passage as God “holding you back” from sweet relief and satisfaction. But, in reality, it is God “holding you back” from turning another’s betrayal into self-destruction. God is not removing vengeance. God is simply saying He is the only one who can handle its power without being overcome by it. Sin can never conquer sin; any more than oil can remove a stain from your clothes. It is foolish to believe your sexual sin could do what only Christ’s death on the cross could do–bring justice to injustice.

8. Bitterness (Sin as My Justice)

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.

Read Hebrews 12:15-17: In this passage a “root of bitterness” is directly linked to sexual sin (v. 16). When bitterness distorts our perspective we will trade things of great value (our integrity and/or family unity) for things of little value (a sexual release or fantasy briefly brought to life) like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

9. Opportunity (Sin as My Pleasure)

When opportunity is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pleasure. Often sexual sin requires no more trigger than time alone with a computer, a free moment to text, or an available member of the opposite sex to “talk” (i.e., flirt or allow to carry my burdens). When this is the case, sexual sin has become our default recreation–our preferred hobby. The more our sexual sin seeps into the common parts of life the more pervasive the lifestyle and heart changes necessary to root it out.

The reality is that often we dislike the shame and consequences of sin, but we still like the sin itself… That’s because porn is pleasurable. Let’s be honest about that. If we pretend otherwise, we’ll never fight it successfully. People like watching porn—otherwise they wouldn’t watch. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. They’re temporary. They’re dangerous. They’re empty pleasures, compared with the glory of God. But they are pleasures, nonetheless. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 15)

Read Philippians 3:17-21: Paul is addressing those whose “god is their belly” (v. 19). These are people whose basic appetites, the mundane parts of their life, were at odds with God. Paul wept at the thought of people in this condition (v. 18). Chances are they had become so comfortable serving their appetites that it would seem odd that Paul was crying for them and “radical” to change. If mere opportunity has become a primary trigger for you sin, let this passage shock you awake!

10. Rejection (Sin as My Comfort) 

When rejection is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our comfort. Our culture has made things done from a “fear of rejection” seem neutral–as if the defensive motive negated the badness of sin, or as if we become the victim of our own sin when we fear rejection. The problem with a fear of rejection is it makes us foolish. Only the fear of the Lord can make us wise (Prov. 1:7). When we react from a fear of rejection, we naturally seek the comfort of people rather than the comfort of God.

Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain—essentially, to control life—we can begin to uncover the core problem (20)… Several tiers below the surface is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ –Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy (p. 24)

Read Proverbs 29:25: Scripture calls the “fear of rejection” the “fear of man.” It’s not innocent because it replaces God as the One for whose approval we live. It is the values, character, and preferences of the one we fear that influence our decisions, emotions, morality, and instinctive responses. If rejection is your primary motive for sexual sin, allow this passage to challenge the orientation of your life.

11. Failure (Sin as My Success)

When failure is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our success. In the fantasy world of sexual sin (porn, romance media, or adultery), you always win. You get the girl. You are the beauty who is rescued. No part of real life can compete with the early success rate of sin. Sin pays up front and costs in the back. Real success costs up front and pays in the back. In healthy marriages, sacrifice is a primary part of the joy. As you give into sexual sin as a form of success, it will drive you to desire the kinds of successes that destroy a family. Even if the adultery relationship is made permanent, it will then become “real” enough that it will no longer play by your preferred rules of success.

Read Matthew 21:28-32: Why would the second son say, “I go, sir” and not do the assigned task (v. 30)? One potential reason is the fear of failure. Doubtless he would then view his father as upset with him and feel closer to someone who only asked of him what he wanted to do (i.e., porn, romantic media, or adultery partner). Using sexual sin as cheap success results in harming real relationships, lying, defensiveness towards being “judged,” and retreating to unhealthy or fictitious relationships. Rather than grading others by how they make you feel, repent of your fear of failure.

12. Success (Sin as My Reward)

When success is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our reward. Has your sexual sin become what you do when you need a break or what you have “earned” after completing something difficult? Has your sexual sin become the carrot you dangle in front of yourself in order to maintain motivation? When sin becomes our reward we feel cheated by repentance. God and anyone who speaks on His behalf becomes a kill-joy.

Read Hebrews 11:23-28: Moses faced a choice between which reward he believed would be most satisfying: the treasure of Egypt or the privilege of being God’s servant (v. 26). Sexual sin gives us a similar reward choice: easy treasure or humble servant. Unless Christ is our hero and God our admired Father, then the choice seems like a no-brainer in the direction of destruction.

13. Entitlement (Sin as My Deserved)

When entitlement is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes what we deserve. When you are confronted with your sexual sin, do you think or say, “How else am I going to get what I need… deserve… earned?” Can you see how sexual sin has become your measure for a “good day” and whether someone is “for” or “against” you? Are you willing to allow anyone other than Christ who died for the sin you are trying to squeeze life out of to be the measure of “good” in your life?

Read Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12: The people of God had lost their ability to blush at sin. Why? One possible explanation (that can explain our inability to blush even if it doesn’t apply to them), is they believed they deserved their sin. When this happens, we believe we know better than God. We believe the unique features of our life trump the timeless truths of God’s created order. Our confidence to debate robs us of the humility necessary to blush.

14. Desire to Please (Sin as My Affirmation)

When the desire to please is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our affirmation. It’s easy to please a porn star or an adultery partner. They have a vested interest in being pleased. The entire relationship is based upon commerce (“the customer is always right”) or convenience (“if I am not pleasing to you, you have somewhere else to return”) rather than commitment (“I choose you unconditionally and faithfully in good times and in bad”). Too often sexual sin becomes a place of escape when we don’t feel like we can make everyone/anyone happy.

Read Ephesians 4:25-32: Notice the type of relational interaction described in these verses is incompatible with an overly strong desire to please others. We cannot live the life God called us to (regardless of whether we are sinning sexually or not) if our driving desire is the affirmation of others. Our conversation must be gracious and good for building up (v. 29), but that assumes we are willing to speak into areas of weakness with those we love.

15. Time of Day (Sin as Pacifier)

When time of day is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pacifier. Do you use your sexual sin to help you sleep, get the day started, serve as a pick-me-up, fight boredom, or kill dead time? What are the common times of day or week when you struggle with sexual sin? When has your sexual sin become routine?

Read I Timothy 4:7-10: When you use sin as a pacifier you are training yourself for ungodliness (contra. v. 7). Often, because these occurrences happen during down times or transitions of our day, we view these occurrences of sin as less bad. We view them more like a child who is still sucking his/her fingers rather than a child who is defying a parent’s direct instruction. If disciplining ourselves for godliness means anything, it must be relevant when we feel undisciplined.

16. Location (Sin as My Escape)

When location is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our escape. The fantasy nature of all sexual sin makes it a perfect escape from an unpleasant location. We can “be there” and “not be there” at the same time. We get credit for attendance (or at least avoid the discredit of absence) without having to attend. We can mentally be with our lover while enduring the boring meeting, stressful kids, uninteresting spouse, lonely apartment, or other unpleasant setting.

Read Psalm 32: Notice the Psalm begins talking about an unpleasant place or time (v. 1-5). But rather than escaping, David ran to God (v. 7) and found the joy you are seeking through escape into sexual sin (v. 10-11). When we escape through sexual fantasy, we use our fantasy as a substitute God. We are, in effect, praying to and meditating on our sin during a time of hardship seeking deliverance.

17. Negative Self-Thoughts (Sin as My Silencer)

When negative self-thoughts are our trigger for sin, then sin becomes our silencer. In sexual fantasy (porn, romance media, or adultery partner), we are always desired and see ourselves through the eyes of the one desiring us. We give ourselves to them not just physically but also imaginatively. Because we know the relationship is short-lived we are willing to do this. If the relationship were permanent the power of silencing-effect would be diluted over the expanse of time and contradicted by our growing number of failures in his/her presence.

Read Psalm 103: Sin (or even a healthy human relationship) will never do  what only God can do. The ultimate “Peace, be still” to our negative self-thoughts is Christ’s death on the cross–affirming we were as bad as we thought, but replacing our deficiency with His righteousness. Sexual sin provides fantasy righteousness. It provides the kind of covering mocked in the classic children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.

18. Public (Sin as My Carnival)

When public is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our carnival. We walk through life like a kid at an amusement park; gawking at every person we see like a new ride or romantic adventure, making a clownish sexual innuendo out of every comment, or treating everything present as if it existed to entertain us and stimulate us sexually. Our private thoughts of fantasy become fueled by a hyper-sexualized interpretation of our surroundings.

The act of looking at porn is itself part of the succor it purports to offer. I can search for women who are available to me. I can choose between them like some sovereign being. It offers a sense of control. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 50)

Read Romans 1:24-25: Can you hear in the description of sex as my carnival what it means to have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25)”? God will give us over to this kind of lustful heart (v. 24). This is why a radical amputation of sin is a necessary and wise response to prevent sexual sin from becoming our carnival (Matt 5:27-30).

19. Weakness (Sin as My Power)

When weakness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our power. The stimulation (both the physical and chemical changes associated with arousal) of sexual sin gives a façade of strength. Having another person delight in you also provides a veneer of significance. As with most of these motives/triggers, sex becomes a means to an end. Sex is no longer an expression of love but an attempt to gain something. That is always a recipe for dysfunctional, unsatisfying sex.

My pastor has preached that the primary issue in adultery is that you want someone else to worship you and serve you, to be at your beck and call. That resonated with me. I could see that theme in my fantasies. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 15)

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30: Are you willing to boast (verbally put on public display) your weakness as a way to make Christ more known and live in more authentic relationships? That is the only freedom that will allow you to enduringly enjoy what you are seeking in sexual sin. If that sounds backwards to you, read what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:20-25) and ask yourself if your “wisdom” is getting you closer or farther from where you want to be.

Identifying Your Triggers

List and rank the top five motives/triggers for your sexual sin.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Porn is always about a symptom of deeper issues. It’s about lust, but it’s also about anger, intimacy, control, fear, escape, and so on. Many of these problems will show up in other areas of a person’s life. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 109)

For some people the motive for their sexual sin will be very self-evident. Maybe you could quickly pick out the motive-triggers that deceive you into believing sin is “worth it” or will “work out” this time. For others, it requires reflection in the moment of temptation to discern what is luring them. If this is you, here’s a journaling tool from the False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery seminar that is designed to help you understand your motives.

When we understand the motive for our sin, it allows us to hear the empty promises sin makes so we can turn to our loving Heavenly Father who is willing and able to fulfill those promises. I hope this post has helped you see the emptiness of sin so that you are prepared to embrace the fullness of God in the gospel.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

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