Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mental Health and Truth

I read an interesting book recently called The Road Less Traveled. It's about phsychotherapy. A major premise is that mental illness is often the result of being unwilling to face reality. In our minds we build paradigms that we use to make sense of the world. The facts of life usually assimilate well into our paradigms. But sometimes they don't. When they don't we have a couple of choices. We can either modify our paradigms or we can ignore reality. Modifying your paradigm can be frightening. For a while you may not be able to make sense of the world. This is like traveling without a map. But when you ignore reality you set yourself up for problems that are usually worse.

One example of this in Peck's book was of a woman that was experiencing severe anxiety attacks. She was married and thought of her marriage as a happy one. She said she enjoyed her job as a clerk in a supermarket. She lived modestly, but thought she was happy.

Therapy brought out some realities though. It turned out that she was a very intelligent person, but during college while getting excellent grades she had suddenly dropped out. She immediately married the "boy next door." He was a mechanic. She took her job as a clerk. Then she started to experience these anxiety attacks. It was always when she was alone, without her husband. She would try to get with her husband as soon as possible, and this would help her cope with her fear.

Further realities began to surface. Why had she dropped out of school? She felt like it just wasn't the right place for her. Everyone was into sex and drugs. This was an effront to her Catholic sensibilities and upbringing.

The real problem was this. She had thought that perhaps she wanted to experience a freer lifestyle, with sex and drugs. But this was a challenge to her Catholic paradigm. The thought of changing that paradigm frightened her, so she withdrew and got married. But those fears resurfaced during moments where she was alone and again free. So she needed to face reality and consider changing her paradigm. Maybe freedom to follow ones desires isn't always so bad, as the Catholic church might suggest.

Ultimately she realized that perhaps she wasn't so happy in her marriage. Her husbands' lack of ambition annoyed her. She conquered her fears and returned to college. This was followed by more financial success. Her husband also became more ambitious and also returned to school. But the woman was forced to shift her Catholic paradigm in order for this to happen.

My own experience was like that somewhat. When I first discovered apologetics it was great. I was voracious in my appetite for knowledge. The more I learned the more it confirmed the paradigm that I already held. But that study lead to other truths that didn't assimilate well into my paradigm. I tried to fight through them, but struggled. I withdrew. I stopped studying Christianity. But I still went to church and I continued to hear the Bible. Every now and then problems with the Bible would again become evident to me. I continued to try to ignore them, but this all came crashing down one day and I resolved to face this issue. But I didn't. I continued to ignore it for a year or so until finally my own conscience demanded it. I faced the issue desiring still to sustain my Christian paradigm, but with a willingness to change it if the facts demanded. And the facts did demand. I changed my view, and in the process probably staved off mental illness.

I've been going through another paradigm shift over the last few months. That will be the subject of my next post.

1 comment:

DagoodS said...

Then I am looking forward to the next post...