The early years of life are the most foundational to the formation of our identity and character. These years profoundly affect 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. But if your 18-year factor was marked by a significant disruption or a serious dysfunction, it will have a definite effect on your identity, security, and relationship skills.
You had what I call a toxic background if there were significant disruptions – (like sexual abuse or your parents’ divorce) 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 one). The toxicity of your past must be addressed if you desire to have healthy adult relationships.
The protective mechanisms children practice to shield themselves from hurt do not protect them when carried into adult relationships. The walls, defensive postures, alternate realities, and over compensations potentially alienate people and typically hinder true intimacy in adult life.
If you identify with such an 18-year factor, may I suggest a six point detox plan for you? Look closely and prayerfully at each point.
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 the things that run deeply into our character– especially the 18-year factor stuff.
2 – Respect
Don’t minimize the significance of how your life was impacted by your 18-year factor. Sometimes it’s not a matter of “Just get over it!” or “Put it behind you!” To minimize these matters is to belittle 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 those close to you. So often, generational sins continue because of a refusal to stop, listen and learn from the past.
3 – Revisit
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:
4 – Reaffirm/reinforce
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:
5 – Renounce/repent
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)
An unhealthy fear of vulnerability will keep 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.
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.
“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. 3 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).
This pattern of renunciation and renewal—“do not be conformed….but be transformed” is essential to overcoming one’s past. It’s also 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 continuous action – “Continually renew your mind.” This means that we cannot accept defeat. Complacency, stagnation and pride of achievement must be viewed as threats to needed progress. We never arrive at a place where we no longer need to continually renew our minds.
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.”
A disrupted or dysfunctional 18-year factor can badly distort your self-perception and damage future relationships. God calls us to sober (and humble) judgment in how we view ourselves.
Take time to prayerfully work through each of the six steps. Engage a trusted friend in the process.