By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to [email protected].
Doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists and other healing professionals are quick to inform us about the impact of stress on our bodies. They point out the negative impact of stress, and then move on with the task of helping you deal with the symptoms of your stress.
The negative impact of stress cannot be denied, but it does not stop with physical needs only. It is equally important to review the impact of stress in our emotional lives, more specifically the impact of emotional tension on our bodies and minds. It is critical to understand that living in a constant state of discontent, or worse, endless unhappiness, leads to an unlimited number of both physical and emotional maladies.
Additionally, while living in tension, we miss out on the opportunity to live in emotional relaxation—where we face each day with renewed joy, energy and peacefulness. I believe God wants us to live in peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Consider the following scenario.
Carrie, a forty-year old woman calls having finally reached the end of her rope. The mother of two adolescents who will be leaving the nest in the next two years, she has lived in a loveless marriage for years. She copes by staying busy in her vibrant career, volunteers in church, follows the city political actions and dreams of a day in the future when she will actually be happy.
"I’m sad all the time,” she shares. “No one knows how sad and depressed I am. I have told one friend, but am afraid to tell anyone else. My husband is prominent in our church and the community. I don’t trust anyone to know my secrets.”
As we talk further, Carrie shares the impact of emotional tension on her body. She has myriad physical symptoms, and not even her doctor knows the full extent of her emotional pain. She has told no one of her increasing fantasies of running away from home, and everything she feels ties her down. The emotional tension she holds in her body is taking a toll.
Carrie’s emotional tension is part of her. She wears it like the clothes she puts on every day. She hasn’t known true happiness for years. She doesn’t know where to look for help, and has serious doubts that she can ever recover the joy she knew as a young adult. She is paralyzed.
Contrast Carrie’s story with Laura’s, a sixty-year old client of mine.
Laura had a life much like Carrie’s until she finally hit her bottom. Completely unhappy in her marriage, she screwed up the courage to leave her job, take her friend up on her offer to house sit a cabin in the mountains, and take two months to consider her life hoping her husband did the same.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” Laura said, sitting in my office with her husband, Donald. “Donald was furious with me and threatened that if I left he would divorce me. Well, he didn’t divorce me. After he got over being mad, he participated in depth counseling, and I started to feel alive again. I never knew how much emotional tension I carried in my body until I felt emotional relaxation.”
“Share some more,” I said to Laura.
“You can’t be unhappy day in and day out without your body, mind and spirit keeping score,” she said. “I was fighting with Donald over everything. I didn’t like him anymore, and I didn’t like myself much better. We needed to step back and decide how we were going to live the rest of our lives.”
“That took amazing courage,” I said.
“Yes, it did,” she beamed. “Nobody but my best friend supported my decision. But, I did it. Donald hit bottom too. The past 6 months, coming to you has taught us some incredible tools and produced amazing changes for us.”
“What do you say about this, Donald?” I asked.
“I’ve learned women are often afraid to set firm boundaries on their husbands,” he said. “I was a typical man, and I insisted she keep doing things the way we’ve always done them. But she knew what was best, and her decision to leave me was the best thing she could have done. I’m not perfect now but I’m a whole lot better. I want to work on this marriage. I love her.”
We’ve all heard the cliché, ‘Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got."’ This is a powerful piece of wisdom. Not only will we keep getting what we’ve always gotten, but we often carry a great deal of pain and tension in our bodies as well. Unhappiness is often the product of living a life without healthy boundaries, tolerating emotional abuse and living in a constant state of tension. When we finally hit the bottom we make changes that can lead to emotional relaxation.
Consider these practical action steps.
First, take an emotional inventory. How are you doing—really? Do you live in emotional tension or relaxation? If you live in tension, what impact is that having on you? Don’t live in denial about the impact stress and tension have on your mind, body and spirit?
Second, understand the sources of your emotional tension. While we like to point to others as the blame for our depression, we often contribute to our unhappiness with attitudes of passivity, feeling like a victim, failing to face the truth of a problem and refusal to do effective problem-solving.
Third, take action. You alone are responsible for your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Emotional relaxation doesn’t just happen. We must actively create an environment where we can thrive physically, emotionally and spiritually. We must take care of our minds, bodies and spirits.
Fourth, set healthy boundaries on anything and anyone that rob us of well-being. We must protect ourselves from “crazymakers” who create chaos and invite us into their world of tension.
Finally, protect your Self. Learn what is important to you and how you have been created. Where do you feel emotionally relaxed? How can you replicate that experience? Live a lifestyle and promotes emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. You have one life, and God wants you to live in peace and to care for your mind and body as His temple.
I’d like to hear from you. Have you been living in emotional and physical tension? Is it time for you to take more responsibility for your life? Please read more about codependency in my book, When Pleasing Others is Hurting You or explore more about my Marriage Intensives and Wildfire Marriage Interventions.