The early years of life significantly shape our identity and character. These years (for better or worse, or both) chart a direction for our future health and stability.
If you’ve experienced a healthy and functionally stable upbringing, you’ve received a gift that has become increasingly rare.
If your 18-year factor, however, was marked by a significant disruption or a serious dysfunction, it will have a negative affect on your identity, security, and relationship skills.
A toxic background
If there were significant disruptions – (like sexual abuse or your parents’ divorce or some great loss) or serious dysfunctions (like a domineering father or mother, a parent who walks in and out of your life, abuse from a parent, an alcoholic parent or an emotionally distance or perfectionist parent), you had what I call a toxic background. The toxicity must be addressed if you desire to have healthy adult relationships.
The protective mechanisms children practice to shield them from hurt but do not protect them when carried into adult relationships. These walls and defensive postures later alienate people and hinder true intimacy in adult life.
May I suggest a 6-point detox plan for such an 18-year factor?
Change begins with God. First we need God’s gift of salvation. God is the one who redeems us “…from the empty way of life handed down to you” (1 Peter 1:18). Many times God uses the pain of our past to make us see how much we need His love, forgiveness and help. But change and transformation is a process. It is described in Philippians 2:12-13 – “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
This transformation will cut deeply into into our character– especially our 18-year factor damages.
Don’t minimize the significance of how your life was impacted by your 18-year factor. Sometimes it’s not a matter of “Just getting over it” or “Putting it all behind you.” To minimize these matters is to minimize God’s ordained role for family. Denial or distortion of your past is not the way to gain true freedom. Failure to take seriously your 18-year factor is not good for you or for those close to you. So often, generational sins continue because of a refusal to stop, listen and learn from our past.
Take a trip down memory lane — even if it is painful. Don’t allow suppressed feelings and buried memories to stay hidden. Talk about your father and mother and family of origin with people who have godly wisdom. Recognize and reflect on ways you were impacted by your upbringing. Do not do this to wallow in self-pity or anger toward your parents. Do this with humble honesty and with deeply reflective prayer (Psalm 62:8; Philippians 4:6-7).
Be honest about the trigger issues that set you off or close you up. Look closely at the walls and defense mechanisms you use. Why do you choose cynicism or use sarcastic humor? Self-perception is often distorted so let others help you. But avoid selective disclosure and remember that the only thing you can change about the past is the way it affects you in the future. Be balanced in your perspective by following my next point:
Try to think of some good things from your home of origin. Perhaps through your parents you’ve learned only a few good things but reaffirm them. It is unhealthy to be too one-sided in perspective. Even if you can only be grateful for food and shelter, find something to affirm. Perhaps you could rehearse ways you learned through the difficulties. This will help you think more clearly about other matters from your past.
The next step is more challenging:
Significantly disrupted or seriously dysfunctional 18-year factors leave deep tracks in our hearts and minds. Thought patterns and heart postures must be examined closely. We must clearly and directly renounce wrong and hurtful ways of thinking about ourselves, others, life and God.
Reject false perceptions, self-blame, guilt; the need to be in control, wrong ideas about all men or all women. Reject wrong thoughts about God by choosing to see how he has revealed Himself in Scripture. Give blame and responsibility to those to whom it belongs. Address your unwillingness to trust or determination to be self-sufficient–needing no one! (Life in this world is vulnerable)
Unhealthy fear of vulnerability keeps you from allowing your heart to love another person. A fear of loss and betrayal can destroy your ability to enjoy loving relationships. Renouncing these things takes patience and resolve. Identifying destructive thought patterns is a process that usually requires the help of others. Don’t be threatened by learning painful truths about yourself. Repentance is a change of mind or outlook. It requires a new way of seeing things—God’s way. It begins the path to healthy and joyful living.
Reflect on these words:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)
#6 – Renew -
This is what God does in our lives. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT). He said to His people: “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” (Jeremiah 30:17). God is the one who can “….restore to you the years that the locust have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Like the Psalmist, we must pray, “Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Resolve to commit yourself to a renewed mind. Change the way you think by learning to think godly thoughts from Scripture. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23).
Change comes through a disciplined practice of renunciation and renewal.
Romans 12:2-3 is another important Scripture about renewal. It follows a pattern of renunciation and renewal:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:2-3, emphasis mine).
This pattern of renunciation and renewal—“do not be conformed….but be transformed” is essential to overcoming one’s past. It’s a daily practice that over time yields long-term benefits.
Notice that the mind is what must be renewed. The mind is the center of thought, perception, understanding, and consciousness itself.
Change must begin with a new way of thinking.
The word repentance refers to this change of mind that leads to other changes. God uses Scripture to effect this change in us: (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:11;II Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12; James 1:22-25).
The command is in the present tense indicating a continuous action: “Continually renew your mind.”
This means that we cannot accept defeat. Complacency and pride of achievement are threats to progress. We never arrive at a place where we no longer need to continually renew our minds.
How you see yourself
Interestingly, one of the first changes in thought mentioned in Romans 12:3 is concerning self-perception (how we see ourselves):
“Do not think of yourself ….rather think of yourself.”
Disrupted or dysfunctional 18-year factors badly distort self-perception and then hurt other relationships. God calls for sober (and humble) judgment in how we view ourselves.
Take time to work patiently and prayerfully through each of the six steps.