Part of my job is to counsel people. Everyone’s story is real, and it has always been my privilege to hear them. Some of my greatest joys is watching a brave soul rise from the pits of negativity and walk into a brighter, stronger life. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready to make such a step. I always take note when a person is having an extra difficult time attaining breakthrough. Part of the challenge is to discover where the block is; it could be pain, loss, or rejection.
The matter at hand could be the gravity of the traumatic circumstance. Other times, it may be a matter of negative mental habits that act like traps and prevent the soul from breaking through. Sometimes, these mental habits are difficult to break off simply, because many are not even aware that they have them.
The following list is not an exhaustive one, for there are several more to name. However, these are the five mental traps that I generally see in powerless people.
Comparison is the devil’s playground. It’s a place where self-loathing, depression, and jealousy all thrive. The enemy loves when you allow yourself to measure your worth and progress up against other people. Why? Because you stop listening to what God has to say about you. He says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). He did not just love you, but He loved you to the point that He bled to have you (John 3:16). When you came to the faith, He led the heavens to rejoice for you (Luke 15:7). Yet, those who live with the habit of comparing themselves to others fall into a dark place where God’s words are no longer enough. You stop seeing God’s blessings, and you begin to become consumed with your lack.
You are what God says you are.
Some ways to break the trap of comparison is taking a break from Instagram and Facebook, the ultimate arenas for comparison. You can meditate on the places in Scripture that affirm your worth and identity, such as Psalm 139 and Ephesians 1. You can practice thanksgiving every morning and night, which takes your focus on what God has done rather than what He has not done.
Assumption is poison to one’s faith and to any of one’s relationships. Assumption takes one or two signs and creates a narrative that is most likely not true. It is a very hateful imagination in action, and it usually does not give people grace.
Assumption can even give God unfair labels as well. It looks like someone refusing to pray because “it’s not important to God.” It also looks like someone not partaking in after-church fellowship because “they judge me.” It’s a faulty safety mechanism that deceives you into feeling that you are safe, because you have been thinking ahead. However, it is the fast-track to destroying intimate friendships and a trust in God.
If you struggle with this trap, I would give you the same advice that my own spiritual mentor gave me. Just stop thinking. Yes, you have the power to do that. You are not a victim to your thoughts. You can make the choice to silence the narrative that makes you feel rejected and constantly offended. It is not keeping you safe. It is hurting you instead. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Many people have an instinctive burden to punish failure. That’s why when you have failures of your own, blame-shifting is a real common response. It takes the responsibility off of you and unto someone else. Adam did it.
When God confronted Adam, he said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it,” (Genesis 3:12). Adam knew the deadly consequence of his mistakes. So, he displaced the blame to God, who gave him this woman, and to Eve, who gave him the fruit. Being a victim is easier than being responsible. Just a moment ago, Adam was on top of the world, and he had his whole future ahead of him. Now, his life was in shambles and other people were to blame. In the end, this never took the blame away from him. It did not lighten the load of the consequence. The right thing to do would have been to repent and turn to God for mercy.
If your heart is oftentimes filled with bitterness and offense, there’s a chance that you are a blame-shifter. You may be dissatisfied with being a stay-at-home mom, so you blame it on your husband or any other man in your life that stole your chances to thrive. You may be ridden with guilt over some secret sins, so you blame the church for being grace-less and love-less. Whatever you blame, it will not make you more powerful. It’s a choice to settle for the powerless position. It’s a choice to victimize yourself.
If you are a blame-shifter, begin by putting down your weapons and being honest with what makes you feel so powerless. Admit to the areas of your life that are lacking. Admit to the shame you feel about what you haven’t done or couldn’t do. Start with the honesty, and invite God to minister to you in those areas. You don’t know what that looks like? Read the Psalms. There are several that are raw about failure and weakness. You see, God’s not afraid of those things. You present them to Him, and allow Him to speak back.
Revelations 12:10 describes the devil as an “…accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night…” If this is what the devil does, then self-condemnation occurs when your mind partners with the enemy. It is willingly opening the door for discouragement and distraction — yes, distraction. When you are busy punishing yourself over every sin, you are distracted from what Christ had already done for you on the cross. You are so busy scrutinizing yourself from within that you are not looking ahead towards what God has for you.
Can you imagine if David allowed himself to be in agreement with those that looked down on him on the battlefield? Eliab, his eldest brother, reamed him for being selfish and irresponsible (1 Samuel 17:28). He outright called David wicked! In that moment, if David struggled with self-condemnation, he would have been agreement with Eliab. He would have hung his head low and left the battlefield, immersed with the guilt of leaving the sheep and being a spectator of the battle. King Saul even said that David was incapable of beating Goliath, which was actually true (1 Samuel 17:33)! But, David did no such thing.
David did not have an open door in his heart to allow those words to feed into any sort of self-condemnation. He was not distracted. He had his eyes on what God wanted to do. And, he did it. He claimed the legendary victory over Goliath, a victory that launched him into his destiny. Friends, can you imagine how much you could be doing if you spent less time criticizing yourself?
Some of your self-condemnation can be ridiculous and far from the truth. Some of them can actually be accurate. However, whatever seems accurate to you is not whole truth unless it’s covered by the blood of Christ. David was small and out of his league with Goliath. However, he knew that God was great and that God was with him. You must look at yourself through lenses of grace. You must allow the blood of Christ shift all your opinions of yourself.
5. Demanding proof
Seeking understanding and demanding proof are two very separate things. Deep within an incessant demand for proof (for anything), there’s a stubborn decision not to believe. Have you ever met a girlfriend that demands proof that a boyfriend loves her? Let’s be real, fellas, you aren’t getting out of that black hole easily. The Pharisees demanded proof, and Jesus refused their demand (Mark 8:11).
A demand for proof is something a lot of Christians do without realizing it. They want God to prove that He loves them. They want the pastor to prove that he or she doesn’t judge. They want people to prove they are loyal. Anyone that is constantly demanding proof will always have reasons not to be satisfied.
When an angel of God approached Zechariah with the announcement of finally being able to have a son, Zechariah said, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years,” (Luke 1:18). He was demanding proof. He was going to sit in his unbelief until something even crazier than an angel of God came his way. God made sure to discipline that stubbornness out of him (Luke 1:19).
When an angel of God approached Mary, however, she responded slightly differently. Luke 1:34 says, “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’” To this, the angel of God responded to her with revelation on how the virgin birth will be. Mary was not demanding proof. She sought understanding.
Some need to understand God before going to Him. I encourage you to go to Him first, trusting that you will begin to understand Him. You may be on an insecure footing with some people in your life. Perhaps, it’s time to do a little less demanding of them, and do more to understand them.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)