A friend and I were chilling on her front porch with no agenda other than to connect. As we sipped our fruity beverages, we reflected on how so often marriages around us have been rocked by multiple affairs. Her response, “once a cheater, always a cheater“, was not without merit. It’s a totally expected reaction. Isn’t it?
Of course we were talking about infidelity, but couldn’t the same expression be used for any repeated offence? “Once a gambler always a gambler”, “once an addict always an addict”, “once a gossip always a gossip”… Are you one of these people? Do you find yourself doing things you don’t like but can’t seem to avoid?
In short, we struggle. We hide it.
We all have things we don’t want others to know about us, about our families, about our past. You may be carrying old wounds from abuse, abandonment, mental health issues, or any number of other un-dealt-with hurts.
When we keep our secrets in the dark, we live with guilt or shame or anger… in isolation – we think we are strong enough to manage it. This is fertile ground for a myriad of problems: stress, ulcers, sleepless nights, irritability, frustration, low self-worth, lack of confidence, and a host of other yuckiness!
We are creatures of habit and our nature is to soothe ourselves with things that provide pleasure which is a real part of our biological psychology. According to researcher, Dr. Helen Fisher, this pleasure centre is triggered by chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin released in the brain which affects our motivation towards certain stimuli in healthy and unhealthy ways.
Habits are hard to break
It’s the unhealthy habits and repeated poor choices that play havoc on our soul. We love to be distracted by exciting things (sex, food, shopping, alcohol/drugs, even anger) that bring pleasure and reward.
Sometimes we do it to feel alive or happy and sometimes we do it to numb our pain. The tension, anxiety and ugliness we feel is when we think there is no end to this toxic cycle. We desire to change but keep doing the things we do not want to do (refer to Romans 7 for the biblical perspective on this phenomenon).
Ugh, so basically we’re trapped right!?
God is in the renewal business
On the contrary, it’s not hopeless, in fact this is where science and scripture meet. God is in the renewal business for those who are willing to let go of the thing that’s keeping us there and instead embrace courage, vulnerability, truth and transparency.
I’m not going to lie, it’s work.
It does take courage to be vulnerable.
There will be effort.
But there will also be great freedom and reward when you participate with God in His plan for your emotional and spiritual restoration.
Here are some practical applications to making those changes!
1. Confess your crap. Coming before the Lord in prayer with earnest remorse is the first step. If you do that, He will surely forgive you. But the healing begins with the next part of this step – to also confess your sins to one another and pray for each so that you may be healed.
Are you thinking “What?! Let someone else know my junk, are you crazy? What will they think of me? You don’t know what I’ve done!” Yes, this is what God is instructing us in James 5:16. True healing and real change won’t happen otherwise.
Believe me on this one, without it being spoken out loud you will never see it in the light. It’s too easy to backslide into your old patterns. Find a trusted friend, counsellor, pastor, coach, someone you know who will hold a safe place for you to be honest.
A cool thing happens when you ‘gift’ someone your pain and secrets, there is a real chemical release physiologically and some of that burden has now been lifted and given to another to help carry as Galations 6 instructs us to do.
According to Dr.Dan Allender, psychologist, we are more able to gently speak into another’s life and invite engagement with their self-destructive patterns in a way that says “I see you because I see myself.” His research shows that the more you do this, sharing your secrets, the more you no longer feel bound to them. Accountability is where healing happens.
2. Boundaries. Knowing your limitations will help you build boundaries around the areas of temptation. Once you have admitted your tendencies to doing the wrong thing and recognized that you are powerless over it, you can design boundaries to minimize the triggers.
If you struggle with lust and sexual infidelity for example, you need to put a boundary around how and when you engage in relationship with the opposite sex. Do not allow yourself to be alone with someone you are attracted to, do not share private intimate information, do not communicate by text/email/facebook in secret and do not flirt or show unnecessary affection.
Similarly, if you struggle with substance abuse/addiction do not be in situations where these items are being used. If overeating, over-spending, or gossiping are your strongholds establishing rituals and boundaries that eliminate triggers should be developed.
First notice where you are, who you are with and when this is happening. Can you remove yourself from this environment? Even if it is for a short time until a new healthier habit is formed, generally 21 days.
Journaling or keeping a log of when temptation is the strongest and what you did to ‘flee’ from it will allow you to be more aware and ready for the next attack. Setting boundaries helps you gain control because you operate from an active stance and not a passive one where things ‘just happen’ to you.
3. Renew your mind. Replacing the lies and negative thinking with truth. Romans 12:1-2. Sure, you say, I get that and I even believe that but I’ve tried and tried and the ugliness persists, it’s relentless, it keeps coming back, it’s useless!
Actually, you can do this through a number of ways that are proven very effective. I use a method called ‘CTL, ALT, DELETE’, you control the ugly thoughts entering your mind by taking them captive, choosing an alternate healthier thought and delete the crap. This takes practice. Keep at it!
There are other methods that you can explore with your counsellor such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, positivity exercises, and understanding your identity. It takes some time, diligence and willingness but I’ve witnessed the freedom it provides!
You can break the cycle – you are not your past. So, can people really change? Yes. An emphatic, YES! Not only change but profound transformation! It is possible!
Stéphanie Rourke Jackson is a practicing Co-Active Life Coach trained through CTI (Coaches Training Institute), marketing specialist, story enthusiast, human potential encourager, and blogger. She has a passion to see people live life to the fullest.
Beacon Coaching & Leadership