One of the single biggest barriers to my own healing from trauma was the Church’s teaching on denying ourselves.
The church warned me about the dangers of:
- My emotions: They were the optional “caboose” in the train of faith, as Bill Bright put it.
- My desires: They were invariably worldly and sinful.
- My judgement: It was pride talking.
There is some truth to all of these cautions—we are all prone to self-deception and pride. However, when you are abused, your abuser strips away even your healthy self-regard, inner resources, and emotional integration.
As Bruce Perry put it, “To develop a self, one must exercise choice and learn from the consequences of those choices; if the only thing you are taught is to comply, you have little way of knowing what you like and want.”
As a result, teaching only self-denial can reinforce, not heal, abuse.
When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, he is talking about our shadow selves, not the healthy imago dei in each of us. But often the church doesn’t make any distinction between the two. It’s no wonder that Christian trauma survivors like me often try to quash even their God-given emotions, self-love, and discernment.
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Eunice Lituanas