A Christian Perspective of the Systemic Outcomes of Self Injury and Various Other Addictions Part 4

Addictions of every kind are increasingly controlling the lives of Americans.

Addictions of every kind are increasingly controlling the lives of Americans. Self- injury, obsessive compulsive disorder, various conduct disorders, and pathological lying, stealing, and gambling are just a few of these. The self-indulgent society we live in is a prime breeding ground for dissatisfaction and boredom, as gratefulness for what we have is fast becoming a thing of the past. We are probably the richest society in the world and yet we never seem satisfied with what we have, always wanting more of everything. In our boredom and dissatisfaction, we increasingly need the next rush that our addiction brings us, so that we don’t feel these limiting emotions. At other times we have experienced very painful emotions that we wish to dull. Our addictions either fill the void of boredom or cover over our dissatisfaction with our lives, which are filled with painful emotions. As Christians, we are told in the Bible to be moderate in all things, and let nothing control us. Even though something may be ok for us, it may not necessarily be good for us. When any action we are involved in becomes an obsession, it has then ceased to be good for us. We need to hold ourselves accountable and if need be, seek out other Christians we trust to help us be accountable for our over-indulgences.

Self-injury is the act of deliberately destroying body tissue, sometimes to change a way of feeling. Self-injury is seen differently by certain groups and cultures within our society. Christians usually have a strong sense of the sanctity of human life and the idea of the body being the temple of the Lord, but some Christians have participated in this very addictive behavior to dull or replace other strong emotions. This behavior appears to have become much more common lately, and even popular, especially in adolescents. Even though fads come and go, many of the wounds on the adolescents' body will become permanent scars. Often, teenagers will attempt to hide their scars, burns and bruises due to feeling embarrassed, rejected or criticized about their deformities. Societal rejection often accompanies excessive self-mutilation. The severity of self-injury can vary, from somewhat minor acts like excessive piercing and tattooing, to accidental suicide. Some forms may include carving, scratching, branding, cutting, picking, pulling skin and hair, burning/abrasions, biting, head banging, bruising, hitting, and even excessive tattooing and body-piercing. Self-injury is an addictive behavior that can eventually lead to accidental suicide, if not controlled. When Christians realize that they or someone they love are having this problem, they need to seek out a qualified Christian counselor or other professional to help them overcome this addiction. Prayer is a calming behavior that can help deal with the strong emotions that self- injurious behavior seeks to overcome.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood and is seen in as many as 1 in 200 children and adolescents. OCD is characterized by recurrent obsessions and/or compulsions that are intense enough to cause severe discomfort. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are unwanted and cause marked anxiety or distress. Frequently, they are unrealistic or irrational. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or rituals (like hand washing, hoarding, keeping things in order, checking something over and over) or mental acts (like counting, repeating words silently, avoiding). In OCD, the obsessions or compulsions cause significant anxiety or distress, or they interfere with the normal routine, academic functioning, social activities, or relationships. The obsessive thoughts may vary with age and may change over time. An older child or a teenager with OCD may fear that he will become ill with germs, AIDS, or contaminated food. To cope with his/her feelings, a child may develop "rituals" (a behavior or activity that gets repeated). Sometimes the obsession and compulsion are linked; "I fear this bad thing will happen if I stop checking or hand washing, so I can't stop even if it doesn't make any sense." Christians with OCD’s often have fear problems, which are the opposite of faith. The Bible teaches us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of a sound mind. Scripture reading and prayer, along with professional help can teach us to overcome our fears and have the faith we need to trust God.

"Conduct disorder" is a complicated group of behavioral and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as "bad" or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Without treatment, many youngsters with conduct disorder are unable to adapt to the demands of adulthood and continue to have problems with relationships and holding a job. They often break laws or behave in an antisocial manner. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences. Even Christian children are not immune to these kinds of problems, often rebelling against abuses suffered early in life. Sometimes a non-Christian parent or other adult initiated abuses that triggered rebellions against all authority. Children with conduct disorder may exhibit behaviors such as aggression and cruelty to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness, lying, or stealing, and other serious violations of rules. A child with conduct disorder often bullies, threatens or intimidates others, initiates physical fights, sometimes has used a weapon that caused serious physical harm (e.g. a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife or gun), steals from a victim while confronting them (e.g. assault), or forces someone into sexual activity. They will sometimes even deliberately engage in fire-setting with the intention to cause damage, or deliberately destroy other's property. They may lie to obtain goods, favors or to avoid obligations, steal, shoplift, or be involved in breaking and entering. Other serious violations of rules include staying out at night often despite parental objections, running away from home, or being truant from school.

People who otherwise seem responsible, sometimes get into a pattern of repetitive lying. They often feel that lying is the easiest way to deal with the demands of others. They are usually not trying to be malicious but the repetitive pattern of lying becomes a bad habit. Others may frequently use lying to cover up another serious problem. Someone with a serious drug or alcohol problem may lie repeatedly to hide the truth about where they have been, who they were with, what they were doing, and where the money went. Compulsive lying prolongs the secrecy of other addictions in families and society. Christians who find this problem in their life need to immerse themselves in the truth of God’s Word as they seek help to overcome this addiction. Truth needs to become a central theme in their healing process.

People may steal out of a fear of dependency; they don’t want to depend on anyone, so they take what they need, even though this behavior is totally unacceptable within the family tradition and the community. As Christians, stealing behavior is often associated with a lack of faith in the provision of God. We need to trust God more fully to provide for our needs. The Bible teaches us that one who has stolen should attempt to make restitution where possible and that they should work willingly with their hands to help them overcome this habit. A youngster may steal to make things equal if they feel a brother or sister is favored. The Bible has much to say about the consequences of favoring certain children over others. The story of Joseph is one such example. Some people may steal as a show of bravery to friends, or to give presents to family or friends or to be more accepted by peers. Stealing may be a sign of problems in the person's emotional development or family problems. People who repeatedly steal may also have difficulty trusting others and forming close relationships. Rather than feeling guilty, they blame the behavior on others. God’s word teaches us that stealing is wrong, and most Christians try to avoid this behavior. But even Christians can get caught up in an addictive cycle of stealing. A lack of trust in God’s provisions for us is likely the underlying cause.

Pathological gambling is a progressive disease that devastates not only the gambler but everyone with whom he or she has a significant relationship. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association accepted pathological gambling as a "disorder of impulse control." It is an illness that is chronic and progressive, but it can be diagnosed and treated. About 3% of the adult population will experience a serious problem with gambling that will result in significant debt, family disruption, job losses, criminal activity or suicide. Pathological gambling affects the gamblers, their families, their employers and the community. As the gamblers go through the phases of their addiction, they spend less time with their family and spend more of their family's money on gambling until their bank accounts are depleted. Then they may steal or borrow money from family members. At work, the pathological gambler misuses time in order to gamble, has difficulty concentrating and finishing projects and may engage in embezzlement, employee theft or other illegal activities. Adolescents are about three times more likely than adults to become problem gamblers. The Bible teaches us that the love of money is the root of all evil. God’s word also says that we cannot serve both God and money. If a Christian has a gambling problem, they probably need to look at their priorities again. Money is probably the most common form of idol worship today. Gaming activities are less and less frowned on, even in the Christian community. But Christians can take a stand against gambling by refusing even to eat in the establishments that breed this highly addictive behavior, that often wrecks lives and destroys families.

Reference: Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May

©2003 Kimberly Hartfield


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