The psalmist asked himself “Why am I downcast? What’s going on? (See Psalms 42 and 43). Depression is often a response to something that is wrong, either in our inner life, in our outer life, or/and in our body. Today’s question is from someone who struggles with depression and is paralyzed by fear. I’m sure many of you can relate.
But I think we can learn a lot from the prayers of David when he felt this way. When his negative feelings threatened to swallow him up in pain, he shifted his focus. When his situation became so scary he didn’t see any humanly way out, he turned his gaze to the one thing he knew for sure, God’s truth.
Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you. (Psalm 42: 5,11)
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again. (Psalm 42)
Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me.” (Psalm 43:3)
If you need more help in learning to understand and deal with your negative emotions, I have a 3 session class starting September 2, Letting Go Of Negative Emotions. Click here for more information.
Today’s question: How do I overcome the visceral physical pain in my body as terror strikes my heart when I realize things must change? I have neglect, abandonment and alcoholism issues stemming from childhood. I then stepped into a 33 year marriage to a dismissive, callous, insensitive and highly functional alcoholic dependent husband who expects me to navigate and initiate all interaction and responsibilities relationally.I am woefully co-dependent which has left me terror-stricken and confused.I have been suicidal and hospitalized. I have filed several times only to beg for him to come back. I feel stuck in my inability to be free emotionally.The hostility toward me is ever present and the damage in my children has been expressed through eating disorders, obesity, and an unplanned pregnancy and alcohol and drug abuse. Our youngest son is picking up the slack with his abusive ways modeled toward me which is sending me over the edge again. I don't know if I can endure the dismissive disregard from my son now as well. It feels unbearable and triggers the hopelessness and rage I feel daily.Answer: I’m so sorry you are suffering and feel paralyzed and incapable of initiating necessary change. Your biggest problem right now is not your marriage, or your children, or your past. Your biggest problem is your fear. It seems that by your own admission, it’s easier for you to stay stuck in depression, overt hostility, rage, helplessness and family chaos and heartache over your children’s problems than to take a step toward healing for yourself.
You do have a good grasp on your problem. You hate living this way. You’re been depressed, suicidal and have been hospitalized, but you are too terrified and dependent to initiate changing things. The pain of change is more frightening to you than the pain you live with day after day. That pain is familiar and although horrible, you know how to do that pain –barely.
The picture I get as I’ve prayed about my response to you is that you are standing at the edge of a cliff, with someone who wants to harm you chasing you from behind, but you are too afraid to jump off the cliff because you don’t know how to swim in the waters below. Your heart pounds, your legs shake, your head buzzes with all kinds of horrible thoughts about what might happen to you. You say that you experience palpable, visceral, physical pain as you stand there telling yourself that you must jump off but you can’t get yourself to do it. So instead, you turn around and beg the person who is out to harm you to love and value you.
I hear you. You feel absolutely paralyzed. Let me break down the changes you must make into much smaller steps than simply jumping off the cliff. Perhaps then it will be less frightening.
But before I get into that, I want you to realize an important truth.
Change is going to happen, whether you want it to or not. Life never stays the same. (tweet that)
In the 33 years of marriage think back to all the changes you have already gone through. Marriage, your children’s births, their growing up, leaving home and getting married. There have been changes in your health and body over the years, mostly negative. Perhaps there were changes in where you lived or friendships were gained and lost.
Everyone also experiences unwanted change that interrupts our life. Death, divorce, health problems, job losses, people doing bad things to us, and financial upsets are part of living in this fallen world. No one likes these changes but they do usually get through them. And, some people actually not only get through them, they become stronger because of them.
Therefore, the first step in facing your fear of change is to remind yourself that you can’t escape change, it will happen. Second you need to remind yourself that you have handled change in the past, even if it was a change that you didn’t like.
Third, because people understand that change is inevitable, wise people plan ahead where possible so as to manage change in a healthy way. For example, a mother knows she will not always be needed as a mother. She prepares herself for empty nest by going back to college part time so when her kids are launched, she can move into a career she loves. Or, she finds some volunteer work or hobbies she can pour herself into so that she won’t feel lost when her job as a mom is finished.
Right now you know your marriage is on shaky ground. Even if you wanted to stay, what if your husband decides to leave you? What if he dies? How would you manage yourself? Are you preparing yourself financially? Emotionally? Mentally? Spiritually?
You’ve already said that you have your own work to do. You are depressed, have been suicidal, co-dependent, have abandonment issues, etc. Instead of thinking about what to do about your marriage, maybe you can start your change process by addressing some of these issues within you. In other words, if you get healthier and stronger inside, then from that place confronting problems on the outside whether it be your marriage or adult children won’t seem so terrifying.
A movie that illustrates an abused woman taking a first step to achieve a big scary goal is, Sleeping with the Enemy. Her husband was a sociopath, an evil man who totally controlled everything in her life. They lived in an isolated beach house and she was terrified of water, because she almost drowned in childhood. She couldn’t fathom leaving her husband safely. Her only hope was to fake her own death but that would require her looking like she accidentally drowned so that no body would be found. That seemed impossible. She couldn’t swim. She was terrified of water. She felt helpless and trapped.
She realized that the only way she could overcome her fear of the water was to face the water safely. She signed up for swimming lessons at her local YMCA. Week after week she faced her fear, got into the water with a swimming coach and practiced her swimming strokes until she got strong enough to initiate her plan and know she was capable of actually executing it.
You mentioned that you separated several times but then got afraid and begged him to come home. Even though you wanted a change, you weren’t strong enough to maintain the change for it to really benefit you or him.
As I see you trembling on the cliff of your abusive marriage, I wonder if the first step for you is to back away from the cliff and take your own swimming lessons. What is one safe step you can take right now so that you face your fear of being alone? Face your co-dependency? Your rage? Your depression?
You can also start right now to make small changes that will make a big difference in how you feel. Get up earlier every morning and take a walk. Read your Bible. Pray, ask God for strength and wisdom. Eat healthy. Join Co-dependents Anonymous, go to Celebrate Recovery. get a counselor to help you with your depression and/or a coach to help you stay accountable to your goals. These are all things you can, and must do if you want to get healthy enough to initiate a change in your marriage that you are actually able to execute and stick with.
There are many women who read this blog who know exactly what it feels like to be frozen in fear. But they have learned that fear often masquerades as the boogeyman. It keeps us hovering in the corner of our life but if you face it straight on and start to walk towards it, you’ll discover it’s mostly bark with little bite. But if you don’t start taking small steps forward you will stay paralyzed by your fear.
Jesus asked a man who was physically paralyzed for 38 years an interesting question. He asked him “Do you want to be well?” (John 5). It seems disrespectful, even crazy to ask someone who was totally paralyzed if he would like to walk.
Jesus recognized this man’s fear. He had been lame his whole life. Healing his legs would solve one problem but then what would he do? This man would need to live in a way he never functioned before. He would now have to be independent, get a job, and support himself. He would no longer be allowed to be dependent on the good will of other people. He would have to be responsible for himself. Scary indeed. A challenge and an opportunity. If all you see is the challenge you feel afraid. If you can see the opportunity, you might also feel excited.
Dear one, God wants to heal you. He doesn’t want you to stay stuck in fear. He tells us “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” more than any other command in the Bible because he knows what a grip fear can get on our hearts, our minds and our bodies. Here is a sampling of many of those passages.
Click here for Fear Bible Verses.
Click here for “Fear Not” Scriptures.
He also assures us that “perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18
God will give you all the help you need to take small steps forward because it is his will that you mature and live a holy life, God-centered (not husband centered or fear centered life). 2 Timothy 1:9.
Start today by confessing your fear and ask God to help you be a woman who walks in faith. Trust him as you take each wobbly step forward and that that he will show you the next step and the next step. Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalm 32:8. Psalm 118:5-8
Next, will you believe what he tells you? – That you are loved, forgiven, precious, and important to him? That he will take care of you?
This past Sunday my pastor preached his sermon on Caleb. Caleb did not give into fear despite all the scary giants around him, despite all his peers who told him it was impossible to conquer the people in the land God had promised. In spite of what it looked like on the surface things, Caleb chose to believe God.
But the rest of the story is tragic. Those who stayed back frozen in fear, those who refused to believe God’s promises of deliverance and victory, were forgiven, but lived in the consequences of their own poor choice. They wandered in the desert for forty years, not one of them entering into the promised land because of fear and unbelief. Please don’t let that be you. See Numbers 13 and 14 for the story.
God doesn’t ask you to take reckless risks. But he is asking you to believe him and trust him. Will you step out of fear and into faith?
Friends, when you have been paralyzed by fear, what steps did you take to help you get unstuck?