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Christian Counseling - When Your Heart and Brain Don't Agree

As humans, we all occasionally experience disparity between what we feel and think. Our range of responses to them vary from curious to seriously anxious, depending on the value we place on the issue at hand.

Most of us have experienced or heard of someone who believed God loved him or her, but didn't feel it. We've also known what it is like to be generally angry without it being attached to anything in particular. And some think it is right to fully rely or depend on God, but feel they can't completely trust Him. I'm sure you can fill in many of your own examples.

What causes the incongruence of thought and feeling and what can we do about it? There are two primary reasons this happens--dissociation and the lack of knowledge. Dissociation is a psychological defense. (Our defenses are unconscious until they are brought to light, so you may not immediately connect this with your own behavior even thought it may exist.) Dissociation is a splitting or unplugging of feelings from thoughts. We can disconnect from any part of an experience, which serves to protect us from a harsh, scary, and unacceptable reality. The extreme end of this is dissociative amnesia. It occurs when a person fails to recall important information about oneself, i.e., memories, in the midst of a traumatic situation.

It have been common, in my 30 years of counseling, to find most Christians dissociate their anger for God or consciously minimize it to the point of avoidance. Most view being angry with God as sinful. Yet, it's a frequent reason biblical characters wrestled with God (Jeremiah, Jonah, Moses, Habakkuk, etc.). There is no scriptural evidence supporting God's rejection of or retaliation against people having angry feelings or thoughts about Him. However, carry that out into behavior and God will lovingly provide some discipline.

The lack of knowledge is the second reason that incongruence between thoughts and feelings exist. We all need to be more knowledgeable about ourselves. This comes by way of facing and analyzing the depth of our feelings and thoughts, which permit the cut off parts to surface. This then gives a person the chance to integrate the two into one, or to connect thought with feeling, which leads to a sense of the experience and oneself being whole.

Our knowledge helps us reason that God is never wrong, and that can leave us thinking our anger is unjustified and we are refusing to accept God as He is. Yet, correcting our thinking through getting knowledge doesn't always resolve our anger or other negative feelings, such as doubt or fear of God. This can be a result of other assumed facts which are unrecognized and in error. Sometimes it's simply a matter that we disagree with His choices or decisions. This is the exercise of free will, which God not only permits, but encourages. In our wrestling we have a responsibility to be truthful and respectfully disagree with Him when that is our experience. This helps prevent disparity of heart and mind.

Further, it is important to clarity what knowledge is and not. Our Western understanding of knowledge is not the same as a biblical understanding of knowledge. We Westerners think of it as acquiring facts and information. People say they believe Jesus is God who came in the flesh to save us from their sins, and that it is sufficient evidence of salvation. But scripture's view of knowledge is quite different. The bottom line is that if the facts and information don't translate into transformation, then the person doesn't biblically know. God's view of knowledge is that it must affect the entire person and not just a part of the person, such as the mind or feeling. This is why the demons believe Jesus is God and Savior of the world, but since it only influences their thinking, they don't have salvation. When we truly know something our feelings and thoughts will be in harmony with one another.

The ancient philosophy of "Know thy self" is critical in resolving the incongruences within ourselves. Any differences between thoughts and feelings need to be evaluated. We must also face our cut off or unacceptable emotions and thoughts, correct our faulty theologies, and allow ourselves to wrestle in truth with God and others about our struggles, all of which help prevent disparity.

1 comment (Add your own)

1. R wrote:
great post. thanks.

03/01/2010 @ 2:15 AM

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