Published on July 24th, 2013 | by Dr David Crick0
Facing the Mirror: Do you have a Godly self-image or a worldly one?
My name is Dr David Crick, and for over 30 years I was a GP at Faith House Surgery in Hull. We are created as beings with body, mind & spirit, and when it comes to Mental Health problems – which I have always had an interest in – we need to look at all three of these together.
There are 2 broad areas of Mental Health problems:
∎ Severe and Enduring Mental Health such as psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder etc. Although as a GP I saw a number of patients who were affected by these conditions, there were many, many more patients who saw me with mental health issues which were in the other area known as…
∎ Common Mental Health problems. This includes anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and mild to moderate depression. This is the area I am going to address here from my experience as a Christian GP.
Common mental health problems are more common than they used to be say, 60 years ago. Yes, there is a greater awareness but there is more depression, loneliness and unhappiness around despite us, as a society, having more money per person, better physical health, a longer life expectancy, and so on, compared to 60 years ago. Low self-esteem has also been identified as an increasing problem for many. The cause, in my view, is due to less resilience in coping with life compared to years ago. I believe the key behind this is the marginalisation of Christianity in our society, so the spiritual element of who we are is lacking. There are a number of areas included in this change:
∎ Love of neighbour has been replaced by love of self, and selfishness
∎ There has been a loss of community. 60 years ago the numbers in church (= the people who meet in the building) were high, and there was a strong community spirit – look at the celebration of the Queen’s coronation at the time to get a sense of that.
∎ There is a lack of taking responsibility for one’s behaviour. We see this in sexual issues, alcohol abuse, lying and stealing – those last two are only seen as wrong if you get caught. Idolatry is another part of this area, so instead of the One True God, we now have other “gods” with materialism and hedonism (seeking pleasure) being very prevalent. If you would like to learn more about this I suggest J. John’s book “10” as it provides a good insight into how society applies the 10 commandments nowadays.
Romans 1:17-32 describes some of these behaviours that happen in a society where the Christian faith is not influencing society and 2,000 years later could be describing modern UK. Romans 2:1 comes as a reminder that we should not be smug, saying we need to apply Jesus’ teaching from the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) on anger and lust we realise we are just as guilty. Jerry Bridges book “Respectable Sins” is a real help here.
Take a look at “The Wheel of Life” and consider how you would fill it in. I am going to relate this illustration to people I have come across with common mental health problems so you will begin to understand the consequences of the missing spiritual element, and why low self esteem is a likely consequence of the society we have become.
Many people put their SPOUSE OR PARTNER as the hub of their wheel. When that person leaves them due to either separation/divorce or death, then the person’s life falls apart and they would come to see me, as their doctor, with depression or anxiety. You can see why when you look at the wheel – it can still function with one broken spoke, but if the hub breaks it will not function properly if at all. The same applies to losing any person to whom we are very close – family or friend. Over the years many Christian patients have said to me that they don’t know how those without a committed Christian faith cope with bereavement, and that without their own faith in God these Christians felt they would not be able to get through it when someone close dies. One said “I am alone but not lonely” – God was his strength and anchor during the storms of life after his wife died.
In my experience, FAMILY is a hub for many people now-a-days. This is thus the source of much stress that underlies patients presenting with anxiety or depression.
WORK is the hub for others. If you unexpectedly lose your job then stress, with anxiety and depression can follow. This is linked to low self-esteem/self-worth – though perhaps SELF-IMAGE would be a better term, so I’ll use that from now on. If you have tied your self-image into what you do, then if that goes, your hub breaks…or if your self-image is tied into doing your job perfectly, then not being perfect creates anxiety and you “feel a failure”.
IMAGE is a hub for many people, which means it ties into our self-image as “I am what people think of me”. This is actually a very precarious place to have your self-image based – as it is not what people think of you, but what you think they think of you, as people very rarely tell you what they think, and certainly not with depth of true feelings.
You see the idea. I have no idea what you put, or thought of putting as your hub, but only if your hub is 100% secure and you know it will never let you down can you be sure that you can weather life’s storms – which is “resilience”; that is why a committed faith in the Christian God is the key. The God of the Bible will never let us down.
So to sum this up, our self-image can be based on one of 4 areas:
∎ I am what I have (materialism)
∎ I am what I can do (achievement)
∎ I am what other people think of me (image)
∎ I am the person God sees & loves. As a Christian my self-image is in God – who meets my inherent needs for security, self worth & significance.
As a Christian I know God made me, and that I am unique, so knowing that God the Father loves me gives me security. My value comes from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, since the value of an object is what someone is prepared to pay, and Jesus gave His life for me, so my self-worth is in Him. My significance comes from God the Holy Spirit as He lives in me and He asks me to do things according to the will of God, and He equips me to do it.
Why is this important when the storms hit? Although I cannot change my circumstances, I can – with God’s help – change my attitude towards my circumstances, and no change in earthly circumstances can then affect my self-image. This is why committed Christians are less vulnerable to common mental health problems. We are not immune, but the research evidence is clear. It shows that a committed Christian faith works. It needs to be an active, committed faith (intrinsic) so it has an impact on all areas of our life, as opposed to “extrinsic”, where just going to church, following all the rules, and trying to be a “good” person has no effect on physical or mental health – again confirmed by research. The evidence shows that resilience, the inner strength to cope with different life events, is provided by a committed intrinsic faith.
Professional help may be needed for common mental health problems; but there are some simple things that can help.
We are body, mind and spirit, and physical ill health can be linked to mental ill health, it then follows that exercise is good for mental health as well as for physical health. What else can help? A friend who is there simply as a listening ear to give support. The “Wheel of Life” exercise may give some insight and help change attitudes towards any life events that are contributing to common mental health problems. Thus, even if the circumstances cannot be changed, with God’s help the attitude towards those circumstances may be changed.
Finally, have you guessed which Bible verse the rim of the “Wheel of Life” is from? Take a look at John 10:10.