The Road to Depression: By RD

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The Road to Depression: By RD

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “RD” is a pseudonym.

I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I was abused as a child.

While an uncomfortable reality, it was necessary in order to understand what was wrong with me. To be clear, I wasn’t seriously abused (as if one form was abuse was better than another…) but it was there.

While I don’t remember much of my childhood, there are parts I do remember. If I told a lie, it was (10) spankings with my father’s belt. Same thing for if I snuck something. (Stealing only applied if I took something from a store, which only happened once. And even that is debatable; I was between 5 and 6 years old waiting in line with my mom at the grocery checkout, and I took a pack of gum and opened it. Broad daylight, no subterfuge; I think it was an action born out of ignorance than ill-intent. But “sneaking” was taking any food or candy while at home that wasn’t approved.) If I used a “dirty word” I had my mouth washed out with soap.

My mother was fond of the “wait until your father gets home” method as well.

I can remember days that I had really angered her, and she passed that anger on to my dad via a phone call during the day. As soon as I heard the garage door open that evening, I knew the first thing my father would do was smack me upside the head.

It’s a very odd thing to know you’re about to get hit very hard, but to take no evasive or protective action because doing so only increases the punishment.

This abuse works; that’s the tragedy with the Pearl’s method or other methodologies based on corporal punishment. They work. But it is the underlying psychological impacts that belie the merit of these methods. Cocaine or methamphetamines will help keep you awake, but we all know it’s not wise to take these things. So why is the value of “training” or corporal punishment still debated?

My parents were members of HSLDA. I remember their receiving the Court Report and Focus on the Family magazines and other publications that called homeschooled families to action in order to fight the government from over-reaching. I realize now that many, if not all, of these stories were extremely over sensationalized or outright misrepresentations of the truth, similar to the drama unfolding with the Romeike story.

But to my parents these stories were real and reminded them of the dangers of this world.

As I was growing up, I couldn’t play outside during normal school hours because a city official might see me, think I was skipping school, and something terrible would happen. I was told that if Child Protective Services ever had the slightest suspicion of child abuse, they would show up and take me and my brother away from our parents and put us in a foster home. I was told that psychology wasn’t really valid; a psychiatrist would try to pin all a person’s problems on the parents while prescribing unnecessary pills. All these lessons were carefully crafted to try to create a particular world view, a view that sees anything that is not Christian as evil, harmful, or detrimental.

So what does all this have to do with mental health? I’m getting to that point, but I still have a few more bricks to lay in my foundation.

I’ve mentioned in a previous piece that my parents chose to homeschool me primarily because I was diagnosed as a young child with ADD. I even took Ritalin until I was 11 to 12; I cannot remember at what age I started taking it. I do remember as I grew older that my parents began to express the belief that ADD was over-diagnosed and that children are supposed to have energy and be hyperactive and all that. I’m not sure where they picked up on that idea, if it was from some of the Christian homeschooling circles, but it served to create in my young mind that ADD wasn’t real, that parents used that as an excuse for their child misbehaving or not performing.

My father was also an extreme perfectionist.

I can remember many nights staying up exceedingly late trying to figure out some math or science problem as he berated me because I’m was smart enough that I should know how to do something or that the mistakes I made were because I was being careless.

There is nothing quite as powerful as a backhanded compliment.

“My dad thinks I’m smart, but if I was smart I should be able to figure this problem out. Therefore either 1) I am not as smart as he thinks and thus a failure or 2) I’m as smart as he thinks but I’m failing to apply myself.” This method of thinking, created by a backhanded compliment, is very destructive to mental image.

So where does all this lead?

The abusive methods advocated by people like the Pearls are akin to dog training (very loose analogy) except without positive methods. You are training a child for instant, unquestioning obedience without thought, but you don’t reward the obedience.

You excessively punish the failing.

Thus as a child grows up, as I grew up, I focused on what was wrong, not what was right. Even today when I look at something, my first thoughts are what is wrong with it. While this helps me most times as an engineer, it is a very harmful mindset to have.

When you combine this way of looking at things with the perfectionist mentality I received, it creates a very negative self-image.

When children are raised with the message that if they have faith in Jesus or live their life according to the Bible then they will be blessed, it creates a very false expectation. Anything bad that happens, any misfortune, becomes interpreted as God’s punishment for not being faithful enough, for failing in your walk with him. I’ve seen this illustrated over and over again in the stories I’ve read of people involved in the courtship culture.

Now add to that the distrust of science, society, or psychology. As these negative thoughts, this negative self-image grows in the mind, the fundamentalist worldview pops up and says “you can’t be depressed; there’s no such thing. You are having these thoughts, this self-loathing, because you realize how out of tune you are with God’s will.”

This only creates a downward spiral that leads to more depression.

In my case, this spiral was fueled by my ADD. Throughout college I still carried my parents’ view that ADD wasn’t real; it was simply children being children. While I don’t deny that there are many cases of ADD (now ADHD) that are wrongfully diagnosed, I understand it is very real. Any adult reading this who suffers from ADHD will know exactly what I mean (and if you don’t suffer from it, you can find some excellent lectures by Russel Barkley on YouTube.). I cannot focus or concentrate if there are external distractions; put simply, ADHD is an executive function failing of the brain.

As I struggled through university with my ADHD untreated, I constantly felt like a failure as my GPA slowly dropped down to a 2.9. This lead to depression and even self-mutilation for a time. It wasn’t until several years into my professional career that I began to see a counselor, and later a psychiatrist, and began to identify the problem and take the steps to correct it.

But this is the danger of the fundamentalist’s method of child rearing. By linking bad things, misfortunes, with disobedience to god and equating negative thoughts as god’s working to convict the wayward child, it establishes a tragic downward mental spiral that if left untreated can end in suicide.

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

Rewriting History — History of America Mega-Conference: Part Six, Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Six of this series was originally published on July 10, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

On the evening of Friday, July 5th, attendees gathered in the Radisson’s grand ballroom for prayer, music, and videos. The evening began with a Puritan call-and-response song lead by Doug Phillips, followed by a benediction. Next, the ballroom screens showed short videos on Vision Forum’s latest projects. I distinctly remember the Hazardous Journeys Society, an all-male organization that seeks to explore the world through the lens of conservative Christianity. Hazardous Journeys Society presented itself as an alternative to National Geographic, which has allegedly interpreted the world through the lens of evolution.

After Danny Craig sang “America, America”, several young women performed haunting renditions of traditional American songs on violins and harps. After a mixed sex Civil War Choir performed in historical garb, Doug Phillips delivered a talk entitled “The Meaning of the 20th Century: A Providential and Theological Overview”.

The 20th century ushered in a new era, Phillips began, and to fully understand the 21st century, we need to understand the 20th. On the ballroom screens appeared a collage of 20th century images: Che, Einstein, Ayatollah Khomeini, a mushroom cloud, Earth from space, and many others.

Phillips recounted his time as a writer for the George Bush administration and a private driver for Billy Graham. While chauffeuring Billy Graham around Washington D.C., Phillips learned about history as Graham pointed out places where he met dignitaries and took part in events. Phillips used this story to explain that the best way to understand history is to study primary documents and meet the people who shaped it.

Phillips shared his version of early 20th century history, beginning with the revivalism of preachers such as Billie Sunday. However, the century would prove to be one of “God-hating nihilism” and genocide”, he said. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, he claimed, the church was silent and withdrawn from public debate.

Huh? I thought. That’s not what I remember from my college history classes.

Phillips had apparently forgotten Reinhold Neibuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dorothy Day, the Catholic worker movement, the social gospel movement, Quadragesimo Anno, American preachers’ condemnation of Nazism, regional church roles in Europe’s anti-Nazi resistance movements, and countless other voices among the world’s Christians. If by “the church”, Phillips meant the global body of Christians, then “the church” was anything but silent in the early 20th century.

Phillips claimed that the 20th century church wasn’t prepared to deal with genocide and the Holocaust. For this reason, abortion and birth control have now spread through Christendom, he lamented. One third of the people who could have been at the conference that night were “killed by their parents” thanks to abortion, he fumed.

In effect, the 20th century forgot God and turned against him, Phillips told listeners. He depicted the 20th century as an era that saw the rise of “rationalism” and the rejection of God as a higher authority. Enlightenment thinking had given rise to 19th century movements such as Marxism, feminism, socialism, and evolutionism. Then, despite the “restraining” influences of the British Empire and the Christian Queen Victoria, the 19th century’s “compromises” produced the 20th century, he argued.

Phillips held considerable scorn for Sigmund Freud and Margaret Sanger. Freud introduced people to psychology, and today, every single branch of psychology is saturated with “anti-God” ideas and “evolutionary scientism”, he claimed. Like many other anti-abortion activists, he blasted Margaret Sanger as possibly the most dangerous person of the 20th century, more dangerous than Stalin, Hitler, or Mao. Satan seeks to foment racist extermination efforts, convince people to see babies as dangers to be eliminated, and make parents hate their children, he claimed, seeking to literally and figuratively demonize Sanger. Phillips accused Sanger of embracing eugenics, branding her “the killer angel” who spawned the modern abortion movement and allegedly fueled the ideology of Hitler and Stalin. “The death count is in the billions!” he grieved.

Belief in the state-as-God gave rise to 20th century totalitarian leaders and their genocides, Phillips claimed, pointing to the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and Japanese atrocities during World War II. A century of supposed enlightenment produced barbarism, thus showing the failure of societies that reject Christ. (Phillips conveniently forgot that Germany was solidly Christian during the Third Reich, that some Nazis wove Christianity into Nazi ideology, and that earlier Christian anti-Semitism set the stage for Nazi racial policy.)

However, Phillips assured the audience that God uses such horrors as part of a larger plan. One of those who fled the Armenial genocide was Christian Reconstructionist author R. J. Rushdoony, for example. Amidst the events of World War II, the hand of God was upon Winston Churchill, he claimed, who was used for a “godly” purpose. Phillips described Churchill as an “indefatigable” and “indomitable” man who stood up against evil.

Tell that to Dresden. And Poland, I thought. Wasn’t Churchill allied with Stalin, that tyrant you condemned a few minutes ago? The problem with seeing the “hand of God” on political leaders is that it makes it difficult to acknowledge their morally ambiguous choices. I realize that Churchill fought the Nazi regime — a noble and necessary task — and had a net positive impact on the world. However, I also believe that lionizing political leaders as “godly” is highly problematic.

Phillips blasted 20th century “statism”, condemning Roosevelt’s New Deal as a means of making government a “parent” and overriding the family and church. He similarly slammed Johnson’s Great Society programs as “leftist propaganda” that funded abortion and feminist movements.

Predictably, Phillips seethed at the thought of feminism, which began with Eve and exploded in the 20th century, he claimed. He was particularly livid at the thought of women working outside the home. For six thousand years, he insisted, children were raised in the home by mothers, but 20th century women working outside the home changed that. (Actually, women have been working outside the home for centuries. Slaves of both sexes were hired out to work outside the home in Roman times. Plenty of women worked in factories and textile mills in the 19th century. This is not a new phenomenon.)

Decade by decade, the U.S. plummeted into confusion, he explained. He tried unsuccessfully to bring up an image on the ballroom screens, then told listeners that the picture was of the size of babies who never made it into the world. When we reflect on Hitler, we should also reflect on the “abortuary” down the street, he instructed the audience. Phillips lamented the current state of the church, disgusted that even Christian women were having abortions.

Phillips did not want to end on an ominous note, however. He celebrated Christian publishing, apologetics, teachers who have inspired “men of action”, and preaching that creates “warriors for God”. He also held warm sentiments for the Christian homeschool movement, which sprang from the 20th century’s apologetics and activism, he said. The 20th and 21st centuries are times of antithesis, Phillips preached, a time of abortion, evolution, and totalitarianism versus you, versus people who want Christ to be king in their home. The task before Christians, thus, is to choose between death or life, Phillips concluded.

Phillips’ talk was laden with the usual Religious Right chestnuts: abortion and the Holocaust as morally equivalent, disdain for feminism, and historically inaccurate caricatures of prominent figures. Behind the chestnuts, however, was a glimpse at how the Religious Right views the present. For right-wing Christians such as Phillips, the present is a time of barbarism and delusion, which Christians must struggle against. This distrust of the present era and refusal to recognize complexity and nuance in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals a great deal about the Religious Right mind.

More to come soon on Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference. Stay tuned!

*****

To be continued.

Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

Crosspost: Bad, Evil Psychology Helped Me

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on July 7, 2012.

"I've slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others."
“I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others.”

Growing up, I heard a lot of scoffing at psychology in my family, homeschooling community, and fundamentalist church.  In those circles, the study and application of psychology represented a worthless human attempt to feel happier apart from God and become better without the guidance of the Bible.   The anti-psychology sentiment was so strong that even building kids’ self-confidence and self-esteem was derided as a “worldly” goal.  There was too much “self” in the name.  Real True Christian children were to be obedient and humble instead. 

Looking back, I definitely had the obedience thing handled; in fact, I cannot remember ever purposefully disobeying my parents, even in my teens.  Yet I was constantly reprimanded for unsatisfactory performance because I was unable to be constantly cheerful about the instant unquestioning obedience that was required of me.  The impossibility of my situation left me feeling extremely frustrated and guilty; however, I reasoned that my faults were just a “thorn in my flesh” to keep me humble and seeking God’s help (

2 Cor 12:7).  

But apparently even my humility was a fault; I wasn’t doing that right either.  In my late teens, I heard Reb Bradley‘s teachings about pride at his homeschooling church Hope Chapel.  According to Reb Bradley, true humility was the absence of thought or awareness of yourself.  So those feelings of shame, awkwardness, self-consciousness, and frustration that I dealt with daily?  Sinful pride, not humility.  Talk about kicking a person when they’re down!  My tortured teenage mind twisted itself in knots trying to get out of my body, trying to have no positive or negative thoughts about myself, no “selfish” dreams or desires or goals for the life that stretched endlessly before me.  Really, I was tearfully and prayerfully trying to cease to exist..  It’s no wonder that my depression often spiraled out of control, and I spent almost all of my free time in my teens lying on my bed like a zombie, alone, dead inside.

One day in my early twenties, as I was driving my car home from work, I heard an unexpectedly beautiful and compassionate new voice coming from the Christian radio station.  In his gentle Southern accent, he talked about dealing with the pain of rejection and struggling with poor self-esteem as a result; I stopped the car and cried.  It was the first time I felt that my broken-heartedness was not yet another fault of mine; it was the first time that I heard the idea of self-esteem referenced positively.  

Who was this pastor who seemed so liberal and gracious to me at the time? Charles Stanley, the president of the extremely conservative and fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention.  

Starting with that one small first step of hearing a sympathetic voice on the radio, I’ve slowly been reconstructing a healthier and more balanced view of myself and others over the last ten years.  Shedding my misunderstanding of the Bible and my deep distrust of extra-biblical resources, including psychology, has been immensely helpful to me in my own journey.  It has opened up a whole new world of fascinating ideas, including ones that have helped me make sense of my own childhood experiences and their effects on me. 

Recently, I’ve encountered one particularly relevant idea that has increased my self-understanding. I am what personality psychologists call a “highly sensitive” or “high-reactive” person. This refers to an inborn aversion to novelty and a tendency to more easily become overstimulated; it is not very common, but it is strongly correlated with being introverted.  It explains why I always order the same food in restaurants, choose comfort over style, love predictability, and avoid spending too much time around loud noises and large crowds.  Understanding the biological basis of my personality quirks is helping me manage my stress and not demand too much of myself.

But it has been even more helpful to look back at my childhood with the understanding that I was a highly sensitive child. In her book “Quiet“, Susan Cain discusses how childhood experiences can affect the highly sensitive or high reactive child:

“The destinies of the most high-reactive kids are also influenced by the world around them–perhaps even more so than for the average child, according to a groundbreaking new theory dubbed ‘the orchid hypothesis’ by David Dobbs…This theory holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment.  But others, including the high-reactive types that Kagan studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.….

[T]he reactivity of these kids’ nervous systems makes them quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children do.  In other words, orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative.

Scientists have known for a while that high-reactive temperments come with risk factors.  These kids are especially vulnerable to challenges like marital tension, a parent’s death, or abuse.  They’re more likely than their peers to react to these events with depression, anxiety, and shyness.  Indeed, about a quarter of Kagan’s high-reactive kids suffer some degree of the condition known as ‘social anxiety disorder’….

High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show.”  (p. 110-111)

I had wondered many times why some of my more extroverted peers who also experienced social isolation and authoritarian parenting seemed less traumatized and could enter mainstream society more quickly, while I struggled with severe depression and crippling anxiety for years and years.  In “Quiet”, I found a reason that in retrospect makes perfect sense.  As a highly sensitive child, the negative experiences simply affected me more strongly.

I started adulthood almost destroyed, with almost no ability to function.  Yet here I am today, a far happier and healthier person.  It turned out that my high sensitivity was an asset in my recovery in the end.  Once the conditions were right for me to “grow”, my development took off.  Positive attention, kindness, and acceptance coaxed me back to life and helped me grow into my true identity. 

Contrary to all the warnings I heard about psychology in my youth, I have found that the increased self-understanding has resulted in genuine self-improvement.  I much prefer this approach to the ineffective and tearful fumblings that were promoted by my church.