Maybe you have found yourself saying, I can’t help it. There’s nothing I can do. I’m hopeless. Counselor Winston Smith calls this “slavery language,”¹ words that dehumanize sufferers and strip them of options.
Three blogs this week have me thinking about the role of our will in making progress toward health. In particular, what role does the will have for someone suffering with symptoms of schizophrenia? The symptoms can seem so overwhelming that all sense of self-control appears lost. Plus, delusional thought processes and hallucinations disrupt the ability to make decisions and stick with them. End of story?
What Are You?
The symptoms affecting the brain seem to direct a person toward abnormal actions and thoughts due to a disease or malfunction of the brain, but the will is not centered in a body part that has become diseased. The mind altered by schizophrenia might misdirect thoughts horribly and alter the input of the five senses, but down beneath the tousled brain sits a will that you and I can “use” to our benefit.
I say this, fully acknowledging the force of symptoms that disorient and terrify someone enduring hallucinations and commanding voices. But if no one explains the truth about your will, you’re apt to think an illness has hijacked your life and will control you forever. Maybe you have found yourself saying, “I can’t help it.” “There’s nothing I can do.” “I’m hopeless.” Counselor Winston Smith calls this “slavery language,”¹ words that dehumanize sufferers and strip them of options.
Psychiatric Point of View and Athletes, Too
Unfortunately, psychiatry (and cultural change) has led people to overlook the importance of the will. Psychiatry now elevates instinct, genetics, and environment. “Outside of discussion about the achievements of athletes today,” writes Dr. Greg Eghigian for Psychiatric Times, “we seem to have lost our affinity for the notion of human will—so much so that it has now become fashionable to question the very existence of free will itself.”²
The new trends date as far back as Freud. During the 19th century, Freud and others saw the will as a force that could become disordered. Another psychiatrist, Esquirol, described impaired wills leading to actions “which the will has no longer the power to restrain.” Humans out of control due to “moral insanity.”
The diagnoses and treatment styles continually changed, leading to a focus on “behaviorism, experimentalism, and psychoanalysis.”² None of the methods pay much attention to personal will.
Behaviorism: a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli.³
Experimentalism: doctrine or practice of relying on experimentation ; empiricism. 4
Psychoanalysis: The method of psychological therapy originated by Sigmund Freud in which free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of resistance and transference are used to explore repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts, in order to free psychic energy for mature love and work.5
A Christian Point of View
Eghigian closed his article saying, “Twelve-step programs and the positive thinking movement seem to have retained the ideal of self-mastery implicit in the notion of willpower.” His last statement brings me to the third blog by a recovering alcoholic who is also a Christian.
Heather Kopp writes about recovery in her blog Sober Boots and in this week’s post, “12 Reasons I Stayed Stuck”6 she made three statements that in my opinion point to the need for, and the power of, our will:
“While there is no cure for alcoholism, there is a solution for anyone who is willing to work hard.” (She explained that in spite of constant failure in trying to stop drinking, she needed to choose to keep working at the process.)
“I Didn’t Want to Change…I’d have to take responsibility for my life and behavior and relationships in a new way. It was easier to stay unhappy in the same, predictable ways.”
“I Thought I Was ‘Bad,’ not Sick…Now I know addiction is a web that traps the whole person. It’s sin sure, but it is also a spiritual malady, a mental obsession, and a physical dependency.”
In the last statement, Kopp acknowledged the widespread involvement of her whole self—spirit, soul and body, in the process of fighting her way out of the web of alcohol addiction. First, she had to become willing to face the momentous task of working through recovery. For an alcoholic or addict or someone with symptoms of schizophrenia, the will lies buried beneath a mountain and dense fog of symptoms, but it still “works” when recognized and uncovered.
But Really, I’ve Lost My Will (to try, to hope, to live)
When scripture tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” we do not experience the fullness of such a God-given spirit right away. Tormented as we are, though, our scrambled and fearful lives do not erase the nature of what God gave us. In the same way, symptoms of schizophrenia do not erase our will, impotent as the ability to make decisions and commitments might seem at the moment. (Realistically, your ‘moment’ might last for years, but please, never shut the door to hope.)
If you think you cannot muster up the will to do anything to become healthier, start here:
“For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Ask God to work a willingness in you, along with the actual doing, of actions that please him. The actions, behaviors, and thoughts that please him will help heal your soul, your relationships, and your ability to face life. God does not look for you to work this out alone, by your own sheer will, but He asks you to use your will with his enabling power and grace. Inch by inch, many days.
Do not surrender to thoughts that you cannot overcome the terror you feel at night and at noonday (Psalm 91), the terror that seems to paralyze your efforts. Pray, take the smallest step you can think of—you have the will to do this much, and pray some more. Over time you will experience more and more of the grace of God, which surpasses any prize an athlete can win.
1 “How can I help my adult child suffering with bipolar?” by Mike Emlet, Winston Smith, and Chris Carter, CCEF podcast, May 9, 2012. http://www.ccef.org/podcast/how-can-i-help-my-adult-child-suffering-bipolar
2 “Actions Involuntary, Instinctive, Irresistible”: The Disordered Will of the 19th Century” by Greg Eghigian, PhD, Psychiatric Times, April 19, 2012. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blog/eghigian/content/article/10168/2061749?GUID=4EDD48DC-EB6E-4A5B-A452-B31972C1220B&rememberme=1&ts=24052012