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Can God Cure Personality Disorders?

Personality Disorders are “a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving” ("Personality Disorders"). Personality disorders are usually divided into three clusters: Cluster A includes paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal disorders; Cluster B includes antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic disorders; and Cluster C includes avoidant, obsessive-compulsive, and dependent disorders.

Here's a description of a few taken directly off of Mayo Clinic's website cited at the end of this article. 

1. Histrionic personality disorder
Constantly seeking attention
Excessively emotional, dramatic or sexually provocative to gain attention
Speaks dramatically with strong opinions, but few facts or details to back them up
Easily influenced by others
Shallow, rapidly changing emotions
Excessive concern with physical appearance
Thinks relationships with others are closer than they really are

2. Narcissistic personality disorder
Belief that you're special and more important than others
Fantasies about power, success and attractiveness
Failure to recognize others' needs and feelings
Exaggeration of achievements or talents
Expectation of constant praise and admiration
Arrogance
Unreasonable expectations of favors and advantages, often taking advantage of others
Envy of others or belief that others envy you

3. Avoidant personality disorder
Too sensitive to criticism or rejection
Feeling inadequate, inferior or unattractive
Avoidance of work activities that require interpersonal contact
Socially inhibited, timid and isolated, avoiding new activities or meeting strangers
Extreme shyness in social situations and personal relationships
Fear of disapproval, embarrassment or ridicule

4. Dependent personality disorder
Excessive dependence on others and feeling the need to be taken care of
Submissive or clingy behavior toward others
Fear of having to provide self-care or fend for yourself if left alone
Lack of self-confidence, requiring excessive advice and reassurance from others to 
                make even small decisions
Difficulty starting or doing projects on your own due to lack of self-confidence
Difficulty disagreeing with others, fearing disapproval
Tolerance of poor or abusive treatment, even when other options are available
Urgent need to start a new relationship when a close one has ended

5. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Preoccupation with details, orderliness and rules
Extreme perfectionism, resulting in dysfunction and distress when perfection is not 
                achieved, such as feeling unable to finish a project because you don't meet your own 
                strict standards
Desire to be in control of people, tasks and situations, and inability to delegate tasks
Neglect of friends and enjoyable activities because of excessive commitment to work 
                or a project
Inability to discard broken or worthless objects
Rigid and stubborn
Inflexible about morality, ethics or values
Tight, miserly control over budgeting and spending money

These disorders are said to be a result of environmental and genetic factors as well as variations in brain chemicals. They can be treated with therapy and medication as well as lifestyle changes. I find this all very interesting, and certainly this research can inform a Christian who may be suffering from one of these disorders.

But I’m really interested in knowing what Jesus would’ve said if someone in the first century had said, “Lord, I suffer from histrionic personality disorder. Can you heal me?” Would he have said:

“Okay. BAM! You’re healed! You’ll never have to deal with this again?” 

OR

“Alas, I cannot take this burden from you. You must learn to live with it. Here’s some medication. That will lessen the effects.”

OR

“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

I wish I could know. Would Jesus have been able to heal that person or not? I ask this because I’ve heard conflicting opinions on the subject. Some people talk about anxiety attacks and depression and bipolar disorder like they’re a permanent physical handicap, much like being blind or an invalid. Disorders can’t be willed away and Jesus doesn’t seem to want to heal them either.

And yet, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here saying that mental disorders seem awfully similar to the affects of growing up in a fallen world; that is, being born (genetics) and growing up (environment) outside of a relationship with God who is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. I think the bible calls it being a slave to sin and living a life in the flesh. The bible talks about the life of the flesh like this:

“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32 NIV).

All our wrong thinking is a result of our living in a fallen world. We don’t know who we are in Christ, so we feel we must defend ourselves with lies or an insatiable pursuit of praise or bombastic opinions on social media. We don’t believe God can take care of us, so we panic whenever circumstances are out of our control. We don’t understand God’s grace, so we assign people motives or we keep track of other’s wrongs or assume we know how others ought to act. For the believer, who by definition has accepted God’s grace and become a new person, this means a disconnect between what they say they believe and what they do.

Perhaps this sounds too harsh. After all, there are genetics and environment to consider. A person may grow up in a difficult home with verbal and physical abuse. They may have been neglected as a child and experienced some kind of brain damage that altered the way they think. They just can’t will themselves to believe rightly. There’s a disconnected between what they want to believe and what they do. 

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:14-20 NIV).

When we believe that what Christ did on the cross covers our mistakes, when we take the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we invite the most powerful healer in to transform us. There is no wrong thinking that he cannot change. There is no chemical in the brain that he can’t alter. There is no horrific childhood that he can’t heal. But unlike Christ’s healing miracles, the remaking of our crooked minds and the healing of our broken hearts takes a lifetime of living in communion with him and his body. 

I am not suggesting that reading the bible, praying, and being in communion with believers will heal all personality disorders through the course of a lifetime. I am not saying that medication or therapy or lifestyle changes are unnecessary. But I am saying that the most powerful force for healing our damaged brains and skewed minds is a relationship with Christ and His body.

"Personality Disorders." Mayo Clinic, 23 Sept, 2016. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354463. Accessed 31 Jan, 2018.

Comments

Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
Yes- the most powerful force. And on that vein: here is another young woman’s aha moment you may find interesting.
http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/01/breakpoint-your-desires-dont-define-you/?utm_source=Colson+Center+Master+List&utm_campaign=f24feda7b5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_06_16&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_84bd2dc76d-f24feda7b5
I've thought about this post for about a week. I don't know the full answer to the question posed by Abby and, I agree that relationship with Christ and His body is crucial towards healing and/or managing symptoms of personality disorder.

I'm glad we aren't told what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, and that we know it bothered Paul sufficiently to pray that God would remove it from him. For Paul to pray on three occasions that God would remove the thorn that so vexed him tells us it was no small thing. God did not remove Paul's thorn and communicated to Paul that His grace was sufficient.

God is Omnipotent; able to completely heal a person and raise the dead.
Apart from the Vine (relationship with Christ), we can do nothing.
Relationship with the body of Christ nourishes, teaches, encourages and protects us.
We will have tribulations and we must learn to deny ourselves & take up our cross daily.

Each of these avenues is crucial in Christian development and the sanctification process.

Medications will never heal a damaged personality. But they can facilitate some level of normalcy or chemical balance to aid in the working out one’s salvation in fear and trembling.

At age 55 I reacted with horror when my then physician wanted to prescribe an anti-depressant. My internal revulsion was, “But, I’m a Christian! Shouldn’t I be be able to overcome this with the Holy Spirit?” I have come to view the medication as part of God’s grace. I still have to deny myself and take up my cross daily. I still have to cling to Jesus. The medication isn't cheating. It merely levels the playing field to some degree and all I know should be very grateful; I am.

Do I still beg God to remove this thorn from my flesh? Yes, I certainly do. All of us are damaged goods. I hate when my disorder overrides. Am I ashamed of the medication or does it in any way diminish the work of God's Holy Spirit in me? No.

Thanks for sharing, Susan.

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