Scripture locates spiritual change as transformation of the mind (Roman 12:1-2; II Corinthians 4:16-18 Ephesians 4:22-24 ) – the “attitude or posture of your minds.”
Construals — Concerns —- Emotions
As we consider our theme, my word for the day is “construal.”
- Construal – a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person. To construe something is to choose a way of understanding it. It is “a posture of the mind” toward something or someone. It involves an interpretation of the meaning of an experience or an event.
When I ask, “How do you construe things in this situation?” I want to know how you view, interpret, or understand things. Although we often appeal to feelings as a basis for perception, we should work from “thinking” or “construals” back to emotions.
- To feel indignant is “to see” myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself. (construal-concern-emotion)
- Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
- To feel despair is “to see” my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
- To feel envious is “to see” myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
- To feel guilty is “to see” myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe. (Some info from: Spirituality and Human Emotion, Robert c. Roberts)
Key – “Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some terms, to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms” (Roberts).
Transformation of emotions
When I ask “Why do I feel the way I do about this?” I need to ask, “How do I construe things that lead me to feel this way?” I posture my mind toward circumstances or a person in a particular way and it leads to emotions that are based on the concerns that are central to the construal I have chosen. The mind forms a construal based on concerns and emotions flow from this construal/concern connection.
I choose to see things in this way—based on what is important to me (concerns), and it leads to feeling a particular way about the matter.
- Paranoid people tend to construe things in ways that feed their fears and they end up being fearful even if their fears are irrational and unwarranted.
- Resentful individuals tend to construe things or people in ways that feed their sense of injury—which makes them feel injured and resentful even when no one planned to injure them.
- Suspicious and cynical people tend to construe hidden motives and agendas in ways that feed the suspicion and cynicism—even when such feelings are unwarranted.
The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life and “to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms and probably must get myself to see it in different terms” or “be transformed by the renewal of your minds” (Romans 12:17-21).
Construals are formed through a number of sources:
- Specific trials and ongoing challenges
- Physical sources
“Our outer man also influences the thoughts of the inner man when we are ill or don’t care for our bodies as we should. If we are in constant pain, or if we don’t sleep or eat well, then it will be very difficult for our inner person to respond faithfully. Our inner person is very obviously influenced by lack of sleep or starvation.”
“In addition, the hormonal fluctuations that women experience every month and at pregnancy and menopause cause physiological changes such as bloating, cramping, nervousness, and hot flashes, which make them feel uncomfortable. These very uncomfortable physical symptoms may be interpreted by the inner person as mysterious, unfair, or endless, and the brain will respond by releasing chemicals that will exacerbate the situation.”
“How we feel physically does influence how we think and vice versa. We are an integrated whole with both an inner and outer person that instantaneously responds to and interprets data from each area, even though we are not usually aware that we are doing it” (Counsel From the Cross, pp. 134-135).
Using our pain to serve oursleves
One seasoned counselor acknowledged with transparency how this happens in her life,
“I personally have used depression, anxiety, and even anger as a way to excuse myself from my obligations, to garner pity from others, and to protect myself from difficult realities. I’m not saying that everyone is like me. I know that many people really do despise their painful emotions, but I also know that the human heart is desperately wicked and will use even its pain for selfish purposes (Counsel From the Cross, p. 225).
Sources of behavior
Why do people continue in behavior that is notorious for the misery it brings on them? Why does the addict return to his drugs or habit or gambling? Why does the abuser return to his violence? Why do the abused remain in an abusive relationship? Why can’t depressed people break their cycles of depression?
Because we are multi-dimensional beings, there are often deeply complex reasons for why people do what they do.
Physical, psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of life must be considered when understanding human behavior. Any one of these dimensions can profoundly affect the others.
Those with emotional challenges like extreme depression or unmanageable anger should at least consider physical causes for their behavior (particularly neurological). Those who battle impulsivity might also consider physical sources.
Adults who had been significantly deprived of certain elements of nurture during childhood often react with harmful behavior as adults. They typically struggle to maintain mature and harmonious adult relationships.
“When one observes the rifts and scars of children whose parents took turns slapping, deriding, ignoring, bullying, or, sometimes worse, simply abandoning them; when one observes the wholesale life mismanagement of grown-ups who have lived for years in the shadow of their bereft childhood and who have attempted with one addictor after another to fill up those empty places where love should have been settled, only to discover that their addictor keeps enlarging the very void it was meant to fill—when one knows people of this kind and observes their largely predictable character pathology, one hesitates to call all this chaos sin. The label sounds smug and impertinent. In such cases, we want to appeal to some broader category, perhaps the category of tragedy”
“Remarkable enough, at the end of the day, it might not matter very much how we classify damaging behavior. Whether these behaviors amount to sin or symptom, the prescription for dealing with them may turn out to be just about the same. ‘Nobody,’ for example, ‘is more insistent than Alcoholics Anonymous that alcoholism is a disease; nobody is more insistent than A.A. on the need for the alcoholic to take full responsibility for his disease and deal with it in brutal candor” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).