Saturday, October 17, 2009

You Are Normal

Nearly every week I speak with someone that wonders why they are prone to depression, anxiety, or nervousness. Almost without exception they score 4 or more on the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scale.

Recently, a woman and her husband came to me for counseling. The woman was anxious, nervous, prone to depression, and wondered why her family was having problems. I asked about her childhood, and I felt the floodgates open. She told how her father physically and verbally abused her and her siblings (2 ACE scores). How emotional abuse was common in her family (1 ACE score). Her father and mother abused alcohol (1 ACE score) and mental illness was present in the immediate family (1 ACE score). A family member attempted suicide (1 ACE score), the father often hit the mother (1 ACE score), and the parents then divorced (1 ACE score). Out of 10 possible ACE scores, she scored 8. (Too bad you don't get a prize for a high score.)

After telling me all this, she looked up and said, "What's wrong with me that I am so nervous?" I explained that there was nothing wrong with her. She was reacting normally (albeit wrongly) to the stressors in her life. Her emotional tempo (being high strung) was set as a child and she could not function without keeping herself and her family on the razor's edge.

The human brain is an amazingly plastic organ. It was once thought that after you reached 5 years of age the brain was no longer subject to change. However it has been found that the brain can adapt and somewhat repair itself after a stroke. It has also been found that the physical shape and size of certain brain regions can be changed by repeated learning.

When one is exposed to stress early in life the portions of the brain in charge of "fight or flight" are enlarged at the expense of the portions of the brain in charge of exectutive functions. Thankfully, you can retrain your brain to think executively (or spiritually) rather than react fearfully.

One can reset their level of stress by repeatedly reacting to stress in a proper manner. The proper manner to handle stress is not the result of positive thinking but the result of a Spirit-filled life. The Bible says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance" Gal 5:22,23.

The Spirit-filled life is a result of receiving Jesus Christ into your heart (John 1:12) and yielding to God in every area of your life (Romans 6:16). When we learn to trust instead of fear, when we learn to yield to God instead of panic, we change the emotional and chemical reactions of the brain. By so doing, we allow the brain to make new connections and establish new patterns of behavior. It is a constant work in progress, for the old patterns are hard to be broken. But have hope, for the old patterns can be broken "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Isaiah 26:3

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