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Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

 Every pastor can be a valued and competent counselor.


There are times when everyone has some anxiety.
Anxiety often accompanies depression.
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of uneasiness, apprehension, dread, tension, restlessness, and worry.
An anxious individual often anticipates misfortune, danger, or do.
An anxious individual may be hyper, irritable, fidgety and overdependent.
Such an individual may talk too much, and may have difficulty falling asleep.
Such an individual's concentration may be impaired, and he may have a poor memory.

Anxiety might immobilize him.
An anxious individual may experience excessive perspiration, muscle tension, headaches,
a quivering voice, sighing respirations, episodes of hyperventilation, abdominal pain, nausea,
diarrhea, high blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, fainting episodes, frequent urination,
impotence, or frigidity.

Anxiety is the underlying cause of most psychiatric problems.
Anxiety is the cause of neuroses, psychoses, and psychophysiologic disorders.
It is also the cause of phobias.
It can be the real underlying problem in people who might believe
they have committed the unpardonable sin.

The Scriptures and psychology point out the fact that anxiety can either be normal or abnormal.
Psychologists also believe that individuals are more efficient and productive
when they have some anxiety.
But, if the anxiety becomes intense, their efficiency also decreases accordingly.

The Scriptures indicate that some anxiety (a realistic concern as seen
in such verses as 1 Corinthians 12:25; 2 Corinthians 11:28; Philippians 2:20) is healthy.
But intense anxiety as fretting and worrying is not healthy.
We see this in Scriptures like Luke 8:14; Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7.

The Greek word often translated "anxiety" is used about twenty-five times in the New Testament.
It is usually used in the negative sense which implies worrying or fretting.
Occasionally, it is used in the positive sense which is a realistic concern.

Technically, anxiety is secondary to unconscious conflicts
while fear is secondary to conscious conflicts.
But practically speaking, the two of them cannot often be separated.
There are approximately 350 passages in the Bible that tells us to "fear not."

There are many causes of anxiety.
Anxiety can be the result of unconscious, intrapsychic concerns.
Anxiety can be learned by example as they identify with parents who are anxious.
Anxiety can come from childhood conflicts.
Anxiety can come from present-day situational problems.
Anxiety can come from being anxious about being anxious.
Anxiety can come from fears of inferiority, poverty, or poor health.

All of us have had experiences in early childhood that create anxiety.
When an individual has a particularly stressful childhood with many bad experiences,
he suffers a great deal of anxiety.
Much of this anxiety is not dealt with at the time it appears.
Instead, this anxiety is repressed into the subconscious.

Penfield, a neurosurgeon, found that the brain functions in much the same manner
as a high fidelity tape recorder.
It functions like a computer with memory banks.

He found that when he touched certain areas of the brain with electrodes,
an individual would sometimes remember specific events and sometimes
he would also remember the feeling that occurred with those events,
and sometimes he would recall a feeling, such as elation or depression
without any specific recollection of the event.

So he concluded that specific memories and emotions are recorded and stored,
and that they can be replayed today as vivid as they were when they occurred.
They are roused by current-day stress.
When an individual encounters current-day situations and experiences that cause anxiety,
his anxiety from his early childhood is also aroused.
But the specific event is not usually recalled.

Repressed emotions seem to apply to the current day, although they really do not -- at least,
not in the proportion to which they are being experienced.
We are reacting not only to the current-day stresses, but also to the repressed emotions
of childhood.

Anxiety from the current situation may then be partially repressed into the subconscious.
It may also be displaced into an obsessive worry or a phobia.
It may also be internalized which would result in depression.

Additional anxiety may be created as the individual becomes anxious over being anxious,
or as he develops anxiety over the particular phobia or obsession
that he has or as he develops anxiety over being depressed.

There are those who believe that everyone is spending at least fifty percent
of his psychic energy keeping repressed memories below the level of consciousness.
It is true that each of us spends a great deal of our psychic energy in trying to avoid anxiety.
If we can have that energy made available for creative living,
then we can change our lives and our destinies.

There is an unconscious effort to avoid anxiety behind every activity, every decision,
every long-range or short range plan.
Because anxiety is painful to experience, we go to elaborate lengths to avoid situations
that will produce anxiety.
We will plan and rationalize and work, and we will even lie to ourselves
and others to avoid anxiety.

Most psychologists tell us that every action is an effort to avoid anxiety.
A person who works daily at a task that he dislikes, and which creates anxiety,
is avoiding the greater anxiety of having to face unemployment and financial distress.

For instance, a woman who doesn't like housecleaning will do it just the same
in an effort to avoid the still greater anxiety which would be produced by living in a dirty house.

We must understand that at any given moment we are doing the thing we preferred to do.

There are people who will simply avoid the anxiety of close contact with people.
They must learn the real reason they are avoiding personal contact with others in a social setting.
They need to understand that situation makes a person feel inferior and insecure.
Such an individual will find reasons for avoiding the anxiety-producing situation.

For instance, consider the person who is a hoarder.
They may collect string or money or other things that some would call junk.
Such a person is responding to a feeling of anxiety buried deep within the subconscious.
That person can rationalize his hoarding with different reasons.

For instance, a person may need string.
Or a person will always need money, and saving money is a virtue.
So a person can find some possible need for all the odds and ends that he or she has stored.

That person is motivated by a sense of anxiety originating in early childhood.
This may have stemmed from deprivation of love when a person was very young.
The childhood insecurity, the fear of not being loved and taking care of has taken the form
of a fear of not having enough money to take care of himself in his later years.
Financial insecurity in the child's home creates a generalized anxiety
which can take the form of hoarding, stinginess, fear of giving, fear of loving.

These are all manifestations of anxiety.
It is believed that all anxiety-laden behavior stems not from a rationally thought-out process,
but from emotional factors with roots that usually go back into childhood.

And there is the fear that if we were to act other than we do, it would create even greater anxiety.
Changing our pattern of behavior significantly, and without understanding our basic natures,
tends to create additional anxiety.
Therefore, we tend to cling to a familiar course of action.

It is said that a mountain climber is also motivated by anxiety just as is the person
who cannot look over the edge of a precipice without panic.
The mountain climber simply has a different kind of anxiety which drives him
to conquer mountain peaks.

The course of action that some people take may impress us as foolhardy, reckless,
unwise, and just plain irrational.
But the person involved, being who he is and what he is, believes this to be
the best possible choice.
This person is acting on the basis of certain emotional needs, assumptions and responses.
If he acted in any other manner, tension and anxiety would be created in him.

This is not imply that all anxiety is destructive.
There is a creative form of anxiety which causes a person to get out of bed in the morning
and go to work.
Think of a mother who answers the cry of her child in response to an inner anxiety
-- that is also creative.
Our reaction to a sudden danger causes all our inner resources to stimulate the secretion
of additional adrenaline in the bloodstream and prepares us to "fight or flight."

This is a God-given instinctual response to fear.
This only happens when fear becomes an all-pervasive anxiety which impairs
our effectiveness ceases to be creative, and instead becomes destructive.

A person who is a problem drinker suffers from a very deep anxiety.
His basic problem is that he drinks too much.
His excessive drinking is the outer symptom of a very strong anxiety and need.
Such a person has a low tolerance for anxiety-producing situations,
and when he feels threatened by some situation, he can endure the anxiety
only by the help of alcohol.
This just compounds the problem by causing him to feel both guilt and inferiority.

Alcohol tends to paralyze the higher brain center where the judicial faculty resides.
The problem drinker is no better able to cope with the situation than before
he had several drinks.
In fact, his performance is usually at a lower level than before.
But since his judgment is impaired, he feels somewhat more effective.

Lectures by relatives, threats, condemnation, criticism and constant nagging by others
serve to only make things worse.
He already feels guilty and inadequate.
Criticism simply intensifies these feelings, and he feels a stronger need to drink
in order to dull his guilt feelings temporarily.

Alcoholics Anonymous has provided many with a creative solution for alcoholics.
Their program is psychologically and spiritually sound.
I have known several who have gone through their program, and are now sober.
Unfortunately, many alcoholics cannot admit to themselves that they are problem drinkers,
and they cannot be helped until they humbly admit that they are powerless to help themselves,
and that they need to turn to a Higher Power.
The very admission of this fact is absolutely the essential first step.

Much anxiety is produced by repressed hostility.

There are several ways of dealing with hostility, and other negative emotions.
A person may express it, repress it, repress it, or release it to God in complete abandonment.
There are situations where hostility may be expressed to the benefit of everyone concerned.
At other times to express deep resentment would not be wise and would be destructive.

In such cases people learn to suppress the feeling.
They know the feeling is there, and they are aware of it, but they repress it.
The most dangerous procedure, and one which is largely used unconsciously is to repress it.
That is when a person pretends to themselves that they do not feel hostility.

A small child may feel hostility toward his parents.
But he learns to bury it or repress the feelings.
After all, he knows that he should not hate his parents.
The expression of hostility is often not acceptable in the home,
so the child may learn to bury it be in the subconscious mind.

One of the most difficult things for many persons to accept is that though consciously
they want to be relieved of their physical symptoms, they have an unconscious need
to have those very symptoms.

We choose our symptoms.
We choose them unconsciously and with inexorable finality.
Those who specialize in the field of psychosomatic medicine believe that fifty to eighty percent
of all physical sickness originate in our emotions.

In fact, all emotions have some effect upon the physical organism
in either a creative or destructive manner.
Over time emotionally induced symptoms can develop into actual organic illnesses.

The Bible also recognizes this for it admonishes us that "A tranquil mind is health for the body."
(Proverbs 14:30)

in Philippians 4:6, 7, Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi,
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus."

The peace of God will come to us only when we surrender our anxiety and fear to Him.

Karl Menninger has described how our aggressive impulses are repressed.
He writes, "It is one of the recognized aims of education to deal with aggressiveness
of the child's nature, i.e., in the course of the first four or five years to change
the child's own attitude toward those impulses in himself.

The wish to hurt people, and later the wish to destroy objects,
undergoes all sorts of commands and prohibitions.
A little later it is repressed, which means that it disappears from the child's consciousness.
The child is not there anymore to have knowledge of these wishes.
There is always the danger that they might return from the subconscious;
therefore all sorts of protection are pilled up against them.
The cruel child develops pity.
The destructive child will become hesitant and over-careful

If education is handled intelligently, the main part of these destructive impulses
will be to direct it away from their primitive aim of doing harm to somebody or something,
and will be used to fight the difficulties of the outer world; to accomplish tasks
of all kinds… to 'do good' instead of 'being bad', as the original impulse demanded.

Inner peace and harmony, the absence of destructive anxiety provide the emotional climate
in which our bodies can function best, and in which our lives develop creatively.
This is proven by the Bible and confirmed by modern science.
A person may not always be able to pinpoint the cause of his anxiety.
So, he may protest that he hasn't a worry in the world, and it may be true
that he has nothing to worry about.

Yet, he may experience a sense of diffused anxiety.
This may have begun in infancy, and the result of having had an authoritarian parent,
or having had unrealistic standards set before him in childhood.
It may also come from feelings of rejection.

For instance, the child of four may be expected to behave like a child of six.
The child of ten may be expected to behave like a child of twelve.
If a report card shows a C, but by parental standards it should have been at least a B.
If he raises it to a B, then it should have been an A.
If all his grades are not all A's, the implication is that he should have been more diligent,
and they would have been.

This child learns that he can never win the full approval of his parents
regardless of how much effort he puts forth.
Nothing he ever does is good enough.
He never feels quite accepted, therefore he can never learn to accept himself
if he turns in anything less than a perfect performance.

So, he may go through life never able to achieve anything
which meets his own inexorable demand for perfection.
He did not originate this perfection as a philosophy of his life.
This was ingrained in him as a child.
He may not have been taught this, but he caught it by a kind of "environmental osmosis."

This two-high standard of performance may be "caught" from a parent
who never actually demands too much of the child.
Children learn not only from what they are told.
They also learn from imitating the attitudes of their parents.
The child tends to develop his "emotional tone" simply by being with his parents.

There are parents who try unconsciously to get their children to achieve certain goals
to compensate for their own feelings of failure or inadequacy.
An all-pervasive anxiety operating in an adult often stems from events
which happened early in the child's life and has long since been buried deep in the unconscious.

Cecil G. Osborne relates a very telling illustration in his book,"The Art Of Understanding Yourself."
He relates an instance of a child at the age of four.

The child is very active and somewhat rebellious, and called "uncooperative" by his mother,
and was soundly beaten into submission.
Thereafter he gave her no trouble.
He was a "good child," never outwardly disobedient.
But the parents could never understand why he never liked to be cuddled,
why he seemed to wear a look of almost constant hostility
which he never expressed verbally or otherwise.

Outwardly, he was compliant.
Inwardly, he was seething with repressed hostility.
To rebel would mean withdrawal of love, or abandonment, which to the child means utter annihilation.
The few times he did show signs of rebellion he was whipped by his father
until he gave in, and again became a "good child."

The boy's repressed aggression could have taken a number of directions.
This depended upon many factors.
In his first day at school he threatened a little girl on the playground,
and was punished both at school and at home.
He learned again the futility of showing aggression.
In high school, he engaged in various types of antisocial behavior such as stealing,
but was never caught.

At this point in his life something positive happened.
His family had always taken him to Sunday school and church.
In church he learned a moralistic kind of religion in which there was little love,
but a strong emphasis upon "doing right."
He is leary of aggression and the stern demands of righteousness backed up by an avenging God.
He battled it out in his soul, and God -- the God he had learned to know -- won.

He entered the ministry and functioned adequately by normal standards.
But he had a moralistic, unloving gospel for a number of years until he came to understand
the source of his own buried hostility.
He dug up his feelings, and admitted them to his consciousness,
and released them to a loving Heavenly Father, who was no longer a moralistic,
demanding, avenging God.

He began to feel and express love to a much greater degree.
His moralistic preaching changed to an emphasis upon the redeeming, forgiving love of God,
revealed in Jesus Christ.
He always believed this intellectually, and it had been a part of his theology,
but now it had become part of his life.

Now he was much more aware of the nameless anxiety for which there was no apparent cause.
It had taken its toll on him in nervousness, occasional bouts with colitis, arthritis,
and a succession of other vague but uncomfortable symptoms.
As he came to terms with his feelings -- some of them long buried,
and then most of the symptoms disappeared.

He came to see how a rigid, authoritarian, punitive family relationship had caused him to feel hostility
which he had buried in his unconscious mind.
In his unconscious mind, there was a struggle against love and obedience.
Part of him wanted to love and be loved, but another part of his nature felt rejection and hostility.
As a result, the aggression was converted and then permeated with love and compassion,
and became creative.

Aggression may express itself in two ways.
It can be openly hostile and possibly destructive, or it can be creative.
When it becomes creative, there will be a drive to change circumstances, to build, and to create.

There are times when the opposing forces creating anxiety may be partially recognized.
For instance, someone wanting to attend a concert and go to a ballgame on the same night.
This would cause a certain amount of anxiety to set up until the issue is resolved.
The need to make a decision is prompted partly by the need to relieve the anxiety
which persists in a mild form until a decision is made.

Anxiety is an inner conflict.When a wife wants to attend the concert,
and the husband wants to go to a ballgame, the anxiety may become a marital conflict
unless it is resolved in a manner suitable to both.
If one gives him grudgingly and only pretends to acquiesce, an inner anxiety ensues.
The need to love and the need to have one's own way are in conflict.
Only mature self-understanding and genuine Christian forgiveness and love can exorcise
the demons of hostility at this point.

Anxiety may take a thousand forms.

One example would be that of a child who is seldom allowed to play.
He always had to be busy.
His parents were harassed and deep in debt.
Their anxiety was transmitted to their three children.
Each of them reacted in a different way.

One child became a compulsive worker, and seldom permitted himself to relax.
He felt guilty if he took a day off.
There are times when he would refuse to take vacations because there was so much to do.
His parents very seldom took vacations, but he failed to see any connection.

His two sisters reacted to that atmosphere in the home in different ways.
One sister determined to succeed in a highly competitive field, and ruined her health.
She destroyed her marriage, and never found happiness or success.
Her drive for achievement was so great that she would settle for nothing less
than having an outstanding success.
When that didn't happen, she became ill and remained that way for the rest of her life.
She went to one physician after another who never found nothing organically wrong with her.

The other sister worked long hours, saved her money and spend it unselfishly on others.
She worked compulsively at a succession of jobs while keeping house
until she was prostrated from sheer emotional and physical exhaustion.

This is not intended to blame the parents.
They were products of their own environment, and they used the best judgment they had.
Tracing our personal ills to their source is no way fixing blame upon our parents.
We could easily blame the corporate evils of society or original sin,
or a troubled and insecure collective unconscious.
All of which come to about the same thing.

Many people suffering from strong anxiety would much prefer to have an operation,
or be hospitalized, or undergo painful treatment, and to face the fact
that the problem is emotional or spiritual in origin.
Unconsciously, without any awareness of the mechanism involved,
they choose to endure physical pain rather than emotional conflict.

A doctor from the Mayo Clinic has said that the vast majority of patients who complain
of digestive symptoms have no organic disease that will account for their symptoms.
He goes on to say that most prefer an operation or extensive treatment rather than
believing that their "illness" originates in their emotions.
It is not to say that these illnesses are entirely imaginary.
For there is usually some genuine pain involved, or at least discomfort.

They probably do feel pain, but often it has originated in anxiety,
which is simply another way of saying that the problem is basically a spiritual one.
Whether we call it a mental health problem, a spiritual problem,
or an impaired emotional adjustment, we are talking about the same thing.

Man is body, mind, and spirit, and what affects one affects all.
If there are inner conflicts and tensions, anxiety and guilt at some point in his life,
the individual will tend to manifest this spiritual dis-ease by some physical symptom.
If he does not, his dis-ease may take the form of psychic masochism.
This is an unconscious need to punish himself.

He may become accident-prone, trouble-prone, disaster-prone, or prone to bad-judgment.
Many like this have been known to make a succession of terribly bad decisions
which resulted in an inevitable failure, when all their friends and relatives
had warned them against the results of such decisions.
Of course, this is a totally unconscious mechanism by which the self is punished
 for real or imaginary guilt.

Guilt, whether it is real or false, can only be handled in two ways.
It must be forgiven or punished.
If we cannot receive forgiveness, we will find a way to punish ourselves physically,
mentally, or circumstantially.
Some see this as just as a cosmic law.
But then it is not God who is punishing, but it is the self condemning.

Here we can consider the age-old question of why the righteous suffer.
No completely satisfactory answer has ever been given although volumes have been written
on the subject from the Book of Job to the latest theological work on the problem of good and evil.
The righteous do suffer.

Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation." (John 16:33)

We suffer from the corporate evils of society which is war, famine, disease, and many catastrophes.
We also suffer just as the "unrighteous" do from inner conflicts,
if we have not achieved emotional and spiritual maturity.
Mere knowledge of Bible facts, plus Christian morality, will not guarantee freedom
from inner conflict, much less from natural disasters.

In one of the churches which I pastored, there was one the most loving Christian lady
that I have ever known.
She was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis.
Her hands were gnarled, and her body was in constant pain.
Many could not understand why this sweet Christian lady who spent so much of her time
in encouraging others, and when she was able was always in church.
Her moral life was always above reproach, so why should see suffer so.

We ask, "Why?"
My understanding is that doctors do not agree on the actual cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
There is sufficient clinical evidence to where they could say that repressed hostility
often produces mild to severe arthritis.
They also would say that many arthritis patients are extremely placid and gentle.
They are seldom aware that below the level of consciousness has always existed
some hostility which they learned to repress early in life.

In his book, "The Art Of Understanding Yourself," Osborne tells of a Christian lady
who taught Sunday school.
This lady would speak of spiritual matters with a quiet, authoritative emphasis,
and always with a sweet patience in her manner.
This lady became incapacitated by arthritis in her latter years, and those who visited her
always felt blessed to be in her presence.
She never complained.

This lady had been raised in a rigid religious atmosphere.
When she was very young, she learned that to express resentment was sinful,
so she became a compliance, dutiful, and obedient child.
She never rebelled in her adolescent years.
She grew up believing that she had no hostility.

She would tell you that "A Christian never hates, and a Christian never retaliates.
And a Christian must always meet evil with good

Her quotations were right, and her knowledge of theology was extensive,
but her awareness of her emotions were almost nonexistent.
She had learned to repress (deny and bury) all awareness of hostility.
But the unconscious inner conflict went on in the buried chambers of her soul.
This created anxiety, and then a metabolic imbalance, and over time a crippling illness.

This lady would never dream of telling anyone a lie,
but she was taught as a child to lie to herself about her own feelings.
It is equally wrong to lie to God, others, or ourselves.
A lie is simply the denial, repression, perversion, or distortion of the truth.

God's universe depends upon spiritual laws of love and truth.
It is not simple knowledge of the truth which sets us free,
but willingness to face the truth about ourselves that sets us free.

It's not only arthritis that can give anxiety, but there are many other physical disabilities
that result from anxiety which comes from our refusal to be honest with our emotions.
Depending upon such things as one's susceptibility, environmental factors,
or one's unconscious need to choose, anxiety can take its toll in a hundred different ways.

Simple awareness of this inner conflict is not always sufficient to achieve healing.
Many find that they need also to have an awareness of the basic cause.
Then they need to accept these emotions as valid and real at a feeling level.
Then, action is needed.
This is to say that they need to "talk out" their feelings in a proper setting.

It has been proven that anxiety is the common core from which all neurotic behavior originates.
This may manifest itself in ulcers, headaches, and allergies which are symptoms of anxiety.
Unresolved guilt is one of the major sources of destructive anxiety and consequent neurosis.

Of course not all mistakes or "sins" lead to neurotic difficulties.
Some people "get caught," and some voluntarily confess and take the consequences.
There are others that don't have enough conscience to be bothered.
Then people of good character who are neither fortunate enough to be caught
or wise enough to confess can develop an increasing disposition,
as time goes on to experience the emotions and display the actions that we call "symptoms."

Whether we call it sin, guilt, anxiety neurosis, or just an illusion of the mortal mind,
we are talking pretty much about the same thing.
We are describing an individual who is out of harmony with the divine laws of God,
and therefore is alienated from God, his neighbor, and himself.

He can be free of his alienation and his symptoms if he will reestablish himself
in a loving relationship with God and man.

This concludes a study of anxiety.

Next, is Overcoming Anxiety -- Click on the left menu!

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