Jane stands in front of her sink rewashing the same glass for the fourth time. She knows it is silly to do it and she tells herself that there cannot possibly be germs still left on its surface. But even with that self-talk rattling around in the thought-process, she can’t stop washing the glass five times…exactly five times. She does this with every glass. She also wipes down the counters three times, the silverware twice, the plates four times. There are almost two parts to her thinking. One part says that this is not necessary and that it won’t make any difference at all if she doesn’t complete the washing sequences. But by far the stronger part tells her that she will not be ‘safe’ if she doesn’t complete her required round of cleansing. Like the muslim that prays toward Mecca five times a day, she completes these almost religious washings every time they have a meal.
Psychologists call this OCD…obsessive-compulsive behavior. They may treat it with Clomipramine or one of the newer drugs like Prozac. Jane attends support groups and regular therapy sessions. Her husband and kids do not tell anyone about the obsessive washing, hoping that one day it will disappear like the clouds of a winter season. But they wonder if one day it will actually get worse, emerging with such strength that they will no longer be able to hide it.
Let’s leave behind for a second any arguments about the physical origins of these sorts of disorders. Let’s assume that some people with affective disorders did not acquire them from birth or illness. Certainly some people can see a genetic origin to these problems, but some have no such proof. Can these lie-based ideas begin somewhere completely different? I believe they can and do all the time.
All of us struggle to some extent with lie-based thinking. The clearest picture I can give would start early in our lives. Let’s say a first-grade boy is ridiculed at school for having big ears. For some reason, all first-grade boys have big ears (I suspect the ears grow faster than the rest of the head…but that’s my unscientific opinion). He comes home in tears and announces to his worried mother: “Everyone at school hates me”. The experienced mother knows this cannot possibly be true: Everyone at school doesn’t know him yet. He has believed a classic Extension Lie. An “extension lie” is one that may have some basis in truth but is made “universal” by someone who lacks experience. This boy goes through the trauma of rejection by other boys at school and assumes that all kids feel the way they do. He assumes that he will be rejected again tomorrow. In all likelihood, this will not happen, for the ones who made fun of him will have moved on to other targets. But the lie stays with the boy.
How will he handle this dilemma? His mother is bigger than he, so she can force him to go to school. There are many decisions he can make based completely upon that lie. He might decide to punch any kid in the nose if they laugh at him. Or, he may decide to poke fun at himself first, thereby establishing a reputation as the class clown. He might decide to play in another part of the playground, or go to school late and come home early, to endure it in silence, or even wear a hat. Each of these coping mechanisms just drives the point of the lie deeper into his heart. Like an arrow also does, the lie embeds firmer, the deeper it goes.
The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “when I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. As I’m becoming a man, I put childish things away”. The word for “thought” in Greek means to “come to a conclusion on a matter”. This is what the little boy did coming home. He made a false conclusion based on little information. The word for “reasoned” in this same verse means to “draw up a course of action”. He may decide any number of courses of action, each one contributing to the uniqueness of his personality. But once those “reasonings” enter into adult life, the roots of them are gone, but the fruit can be deadly.
For instance, he may be sitting in a bar with a hat on his head. He has worn a hat consistently since first grade, but he has long since forgotten why. Someone walks by and accidentally knocks it off his head. He goes postal and tries to knock the guy’s teeth out. He is arrested and becomes an embarrassment to his family. Now, does he have any idea why that hat has come to mean so much to him? Like Jane in the story above, he has lost touch with the original lie and continues to act out the coping activity to deal with the lie’s implications. This action will continue to get triggered until the pain of the original lie is dealt with.
Next time, I will look at how the original pain can be accessed.