CHRISTIANS NEED TO UNDERSTAND CHILDHOOD, RIGHT
(Chapter Taken from “Christians, Beware: The Dangers of Secular Psychology)
By Dr. Magna Parks –Porterfield
The belief that we should focus on childhood experiences to better understand ourselves has become very popular in Christian circles. Over the past thirty years or so, Christians have become increasingly interested in talking about their childhood and learning about how it has affected them. Many have turned to psychologists and other mental health professionals to gain more of an understanding in this area.
In addition, there are a plethora of programs, workshops, and seminars on this topic that have been attended by thousands of Christians. Some of the buzzwords associated with these programs include “healing the inner child,” “healing wounds,” or “binding wounds.”
Many Christians now believe that one must understand and work through past childhood experiences to achieve emotional healing and even spiritual growth. For example, one well-known TV minister states that if we don’t deal with the “little boy or girl inside” we cannot know the “God of the Bible.”
This thinking has also been embraced by more than just a few Seventh-day Adventists. Over the years, the number of Seventh-day Adventists seeking therapy has been increasing. In addition, more and more churches are sponsoring programs that reportedly help members understand how their childhood affects them.
For years, I myself promoted this idea in workshops and seminars that I presented in churches. I believed and taught that in order for Christians to be “whole” they must understand, through the theories of secular psychology, the impact of their childhood on their current functioning. But is this true?
What is the Truth about Childhood Experiences?
To put it simply, the idea that we must understand childhood to resolve our problems is false. I have come to regard this concept as erroneous, and have confirmed it as such in my work with clients. For example, as a therapist, I have had cases in which people have come to me “armed” with knowledge about the impact of their childhood on their current lives. Most of these individuals gained this information from previous therapists, television programs, workshops or self-help books.
However, in spite of all the insight they gained about their childhood, many of them continued to have problems in various areas of their lives. They appeared to be “stuck” and were not making any progress emotionally, and for those who were Christians, spiritually. In some cases, it appeared that the more these individuals thought they knew about themselves, the more difficulties they seemed to have.
Focusing on Childhood Keeps Us In Bondage!
Why isn’t it helpful to focus on our past to help us with our emotional difficulties, especially as Christians? For one, focusing on the past keeps us in bondage to the past. This is why we are told by Paul that we should be “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, (to) press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13, 14).
How can we fulfill this spiritual goal if we spend time analyzing and gaining supposed insight into what our parents and others have done to hurt us when we were children?
In addition, God tells us that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). If we are truly born again, we must realize that whatever we experienced when we were children is now “passed away.”
This undue focus on childhood can prevent us from developing new lives in Christ —just what Satan desires. This is why we are admonished to “cast out of the mind the dangerous, obtrusive theories which, if entertained, will hold the mind in bondage so that the man shall not become a new creature in Christ.” Could such “theories” include those from the secular psychology world? I believe the answer is yes!
It Also Masks the Real Cause of Our Problems!
Another concern with this emphasis on childhood is that it blinds us to the real nature of our problems as human beings—SIN. It is true that our parents, and others in our families, often make serious mistakes that may have an impact on us. However, we cannot excuse ourselves because of their shortcomings. God holds us individually responsible for the decisions and choices we make. He tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14:10). It is only when we recognize that we are personally responsible for many of our problems that we can truly begin to resolve them.
In order to obtain true healing, oftentimes we must identify and acknowledge our sin and then turn to the Savior for the power to overcome. This is something we can never accomplish with secular psychology. *
Can We Truly Know Ourselves?
This belief about understanding childhood seems to be based on the assumption that the more we know ourselves, the better we can control our lives—an idea mentioned earlier (in a previous chapter) as the essence of modern psychology. But, the question is, can we really know ourselves? The Bible tells us, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
No matter how many years one spends in a therapist’s office, reading self-help books, or attending workshops that focus on childhood, the truth is that only the Holy Spirit can reveal who we are and how we came to be that way,
The second danger, or error, in this quest to “know” ourselves is that it is very similar to the ideology Satan used in the Garden of Eden. He said, ‘that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes will be opened and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). Implicit in this statement was that increased knowledge brings increased power. I believe that this is what makes the idea of psychological insight into childhood so attractive. Such knowledge appears to place us on a higher plane, sot to speak—one that almost makes us think we are gods. But this idea is a deceptive trap of the enemy to make us more self-reliant and less dependent on God. Sooner or later, we will discover that self-knowledge is powerless to help us truly resolve our problems.
Memories of Childhood Can Be False
Before ending this section, I would like to discuss briefly, from a secular perspective, a significant concern that must be considered if we look to the past to help us with our present lives: the memories of our childhood can be distorted or even false.
Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who had done significant work in memory research, states the following:
“With the passage of time, with proper motivation, with the introduction of special kinds of interfering facts, the memory traces seem sometimes to change or become transformed. These distortions can be quite frightening for they can cause us to have memories of things that never happened.” Loftus, Elizabeth (1980). Memory: Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget. Reading, MA. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, p. 37.
The fact that our memories can be inaccurate presents a major problem if we are relying on our recollection of childhood experiences to resolve our difficulties. For example, there have been cases of individuals who regained alleged “memories” of childhood events from sources such as self-help books, talk shows, or even a therapist, and it was later determined that such memories were inaccurate or completely false.
What makes this issue even more problematic is that false memories can lead to even more difficulties, such as a breakdown of family relationships. For example, I’ve heard of therapy cases in which individuals were led to believe that as children they were sexually abused by a particular parent. These persons then made the decision (or were encouraged by their therapists) to distance themselves from this parent and/or other family members. As a result, a host of additional problems developed. Thus, the supposed insight gained about the impact of their childhood on their current lives ended up being more hurtful than helpful.
In summary, the “truth” is that…..focusing on the past cannot help us with our present difficulties. When we are faced with problems, we must focus on the present and ask God to reveal to us what we need to change and give us the power to do so. In some cases, there may not be much we can change, but we can seek God’s strength to cope with whatever He allows to come our way.
(*) I do not believe that all psychological problems are caused by individual sin, per se. Some disorders are attributed to obvious physical problems, such as diseases or dysfunctions of the brain or body or both, or even poor lifestyle choices, which I will briefly discuss later in this book. Such problems or disorders must be treated with the help of knowledgeable health professionals.