Therapist Blog

Out with the Old and In with the New

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Many of us know this beautiful scripture, but who among us truly lives it? Where do we learn who we are and what is our value to the world? Is it possible that these answers evolve over time?

Growing up in a dysfunctional, possibly abusive family has become so common today that it challenges the very definition of “normal.” Divorce rates have maintained a rate above 50 percent for more than a decade. Regardless of the family structure, the reality is that many of us were not raised to be mentally healthy, securely attached children and in fact, many times were being raised by parents whom themselves were not mentally healthy as a result of their own up bringing.

Given this intergenerational pattern of “bad programming,” it is not surprising that so many of us grow up with a less than stellar view of ourselves. Perhaps you learned as a child that the world wasn’t a safe place because you would be chastised or ridiculed by your parent or sibling for making a simple mistake. Or possibly worse, perhaps you learned that the world is a violent place when someone in your home, whom you expected to protect you, became inexplicitly violent toward you. What happens to us developmentally as children when the world around us doesn’t match up with the world we expect to see?

We adapt. Children are amazingly resilient in that they search effortlessly for ways to reconcile in their child mind how someone they love could treat them so harshly. As children, we assume, we must be to blame. We accept what our environment tells us, and oftentimes that message is one of blame. We evolve in such a way as to embed these discrepancies deep within the soil of our soul, ensuring that we will reap the damaging messages we learned as children for the rest of our lives.

As we grow into adulthood, we continue to harvest the same damaging messages. Only now, our minds are much more developed. Enormous effort may be required to maintain the bad programming we learned over decades as evidence to the contrary may be “spontaneously” showing up in our present day lives.

What happens for example, when a woman is rewarded at work for a job well done, but is unable to appreciate her company’s gratitude insisting that she could have done more? She is unable to let the blessing of gratitude sink in because it simply does not reconcile with what she may believe about herself from her own childhood.

Furthermore, if our adult environment happens to be a nurturing one, we may reject those aspects, searching instead for degrading and harsh relationships simply out of an effort to maintain our own status quo.

Consider the woman who grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise abusive environment. Chances are this woman seeks out relationships, be it work or otherwise intimate, that offer negative circumstances for which she will be able to experience the familiar pain of guilt, shame or blame. We know these relationships aren’t good for us, but how do we resolve them?

We amend the soil. In order to challenge what we truly believe about ourselves, we must acknowledge that our lives have evolved and that the primitive survival strategies once developed out of need, are no longer required in our adult state.

What may have been necessary to a child, like projecting pleasing behavior to avoid being hit by a parent, does not need to be carried forth into adult relationships. As children, many of us felt we had few choices, but being an adult means among other things, being able to choose for oneself. But how do we make the choice to evolve when what we really believe about ourselves stands in our way?

We must bear new fruit. To do this means to prune back the unproductive vines in order to allow new growth to see the light of day. This can be a difficult and scary process because it requires change.

Oftentimes we assume that good change should be easy, but the reality is that change can be difficult.

Forging a therapeutic relationship with a licensed counselor can provide a safe space to explore the necessary changes. A good therapist can encourage a client to examine those dark roots and bring forth the blessings that bring joy to their lives. In therapy, we can give ourselves permission to dig deep knowing that the therapist can support us when we are at our most vulnerable. The therapeutic relationship should be filled with empathy allowing us to focus our attention on those difficult changes. It is through this courageous exploration, that we find new life living within us, closer to the surface than we could have ever imagined. We are created in the image of God and therefore can eternally evolve in his likeness. “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (Romans 4:8).

As Christians, we can leave the past behind us and emerge as vibrant new Creations every waking day.