Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christian Mental Health: Strategies for Developing Personal & Relational Security

Strategies for Developing Personal & Relational Security

Justin Steckbauer
Liberty University


A great deal has been written on the topic of healthy relationship styles and damaged relationship styles. In addition, a great deal has been written on personal security and self esteem. However, few have examined the practical application of change techniques for a client seeking to build a secure personal and relational pattern. The paper examines the problem of personal security from the perspective of a client intending to make a concerted effort to move from a damaged sense of personal security to a healthy style of personal and relational security. The paper examines four relationship styles described by Clinton & Sibcy (2006) in their work Why You Do the Things You Do. Five personality styles presented in the Freedom from Depression Workbook by Carter & Minirth are also briefly examined. EMDR and Theophostic therapy are discussed as possible means for growth in personal security. Spiritual disciplines are examined with a focus on daily implementation. Another key issue discussed is countering lies of the world with truth found in scripture. Finally, twelve step groups and Celebrate Recovery are examined for their usefulness in helping the client maintain and build upon progress made on the journey to personal and relational security.


Jesus Christ, during his time on Earth was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” (Mark 12:28 English Standard Version). His response was very powerful: “29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). From the mouth of the blessed Lord Jesus Christ humanity discovers the very greatest imperative of life: a loving relationship with God and equally loving relationships with other people. Unfortunately for those who have developed poor personal security and broken relationship styles, this can be a very difficult proposition. Humanity lives in a world cursed by sin and brokenness (Genesis 3:17-19). Therefore many do struggle with past trauma, a shattered sense of self worth, and broken patterns of relating to others. To obey the command of Jesus to love God, people must know Jesus. In addition, if people are to obey his second command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” they must also love themselves. If a person can love Jesus, a person can love God, if a person can love God, a person can love himself, and they can also love others. Assuming someone has been through trauma and hurts, and have developed broken relationship styles, how do they fix those broken places and come to a place of personal security and healthy relationship skills? Some possible solutions would include: Understanding the psychology of personal and relational security, Theophostic therapy, EMDR treatment, development of spiritual disciplines, confronting lies of the world with truth of the Bible, personal study workbooks, and long term twelve step group attendance.

Personal & Relational Security Overview

What does it mean to be a secure individual? What does it mean to be relationally secure? The two concepts are completely interrelated, to the point that personal security and relational security are simply two parts of the same issue. Personal security is the internal structure of self esteem while the secure relationship style is the logical outworking of a healthy personal security. The terms will be used interchangeably for the course of this paper. Every person has a relationship style that is developed very early in life (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 13). Clinton & Sibcy (2006) in their book Why You Do the Things You Do discuss four primary relationship styles: the secure style, ambivalent style, avoidant style, and disorganized style.

The characteristics of a secure self are emotional strength, a willingness to seek and accept comfort in times of trouble, courage for love and intimacy, responsibility for self, and overall courage (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61-65).  Emotional strength is described as an acceptance of emotions as a part of life (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  An emotionally strong individual tends to accept challenges and take necessary risks, while standing up for what they believe in (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  The emotionally strong person feels emotions deeply, yet does not fear emotions but accepts them as a healthy sign of experiencing life (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  The second characteristic of a secure person is seeking and accepting comfort (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  The secure individual seeks comfort from within, from others, and from God in reasonable balances (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  Turning to God in prayer frequently is a sign of healthy behavior (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.61).  The third characteristic of a secure person is courage for love and intimacy (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.62).  Secure people are willing to step out and take the risk of loving someone through all the hard work that takes (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.62).  The secure person is optimistic despite knowing that life comes with much suffering (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.63).  The secure person relies on God's plan for their life during times of trouble (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.63).  The fourth characteristic of a secure person is that they take full responsibility for themselves, their actions, and their attitudes (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.63).  The secure person actively looks for solutions to problems as they come up, and if the problem can't be avoided they look for ways to cope in a healthy way (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p.63). 

In stark contrast to the healthy relationship style are the three unhealthy relationship styles: avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). The avoidant style is similar to the secure style in that the individual believes they are worthy of receiving love, but only on the basis of success and meeting goals (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 67). The avoidant style also believes they can find love, but they depend on their own abilities to do so (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 67). The avoidant style believes others are incapable or unwilling to love them (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 67). The avoidant style believes firmly that others are not trustworthy and are unreliable in regard to meeting his or her needs (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 67). The second insecure style is called the ambivalent relationship style. The ambivalent style is characterized by a belief that they are not worthy of love. They also believe they cannot get the love they need from others. The ambivalent style is typically quick to anger, clingy, and desperate (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 87). They believe others are indeed trustworthy and capable of meeting their needs, but fear abandonment and their own flaws upsetting the relationships they have (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 87). The disorganized relationship style is characterized by a negative view of themselves and others. This relationship style has characteristics of the secure, avoidant, and ambivalent styles. One moment the disorganized individual will be secure, the next clinging as the ambivalent style does, and another moment or day showing classic avoidant style tendencies (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 103). The disorganized relationship style is often developed by an individual in a highly abusive family, having endured physical, emotional, or sexual abuse early in life (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 107). For those who can identify with the avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized relationship styles, there is a path to healing and security.

Self Esteem

Ruth Ward in her book Self-Esteem: Gift from God (1984) writes “Self-esteem is a little-understood abstract quality that influences and controls our entire existence. Many people recoil at the word, thinking it is egotistical and self-seeking. Instead they prefer to demean themselves in an effort to avoid being conceited, which only produces negative results.” Christians in general have often recoiled at the term “self-esteem” suggesting instead a total focus on Jesus Christ, and a death to self (Mark 8:34-35). In the context of the scriptures, death to self is putting aside selfish desires and seeking to imitate the example of Christ in serving others (Mark 10:44-45). However, Christ did not hate himself or talk poorly about himself (John 14:6). He knew his identity in the heavenly Father, and as a result lived with dignity, self-respect, and purpose (John 10:30, John 5:36, John 4:34). The example of Christ is the perfect example for living and includes a sense of identity and intrinsic worth, confidence in position, and eternal hope (1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 12:27, 1 John 3:1-3). Therefore it can be reasoned that self-esteem is indeed a good thing, and a biblical concept (Ward, 1984, p. 30). Self-esteem is developed early in life, derived from parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, self talk, and personal achievements (Ward, 1984, p. 30). The quality of such sources can be quite varied and cannot be relied upon for long term stability (Ward, 1984, p. 30). Therefore understanding God's provision for self-esteem is absolutely vital to personal security. Ward (1984) describes God's unique packaging of esteem as a “constant iron-clad bottomless reservoir.” The characteristics of that provision include God's approval, his personal attention, encouragement, unique gifts, and a calling to good works (Ward, 1984, p. 30). In understanding God's provision for the malady of relational insecurity the recovering individual can proceed forward knowing there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverb 18:24). The message of Ward's book Self-Esteem: Gift from God is one of hope for the insecure and troubled believer, that God has made each person unique with important gifts to contribute to the family of Christ, introverted or extroverted, artistic or rational; making the book an important tool for recovery from insecurity.

Spiritual Disciplines

The journey of long term recovery from broken patterns of relationship will ultimately fail without the dedicated practice of spiritual disciplines (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). Ultimately personal security is a journey like any other, and is contingent on the daily practice of relationship with God and community with believers. Relationship with God must be the primary source of security for the recovering individual (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 136).

The Bible has very clear things to say about the identity of a person in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The first area of focus should be the fact that the believer is a new creation, fundamentally right and good before God. It would be a mistake for a person looking to development a healthy relationship style to think of him or herself as a broken sinner. For the believer, that was a previous condition that is now gone, and the new has come (Galatians 2:20). 1 Peter 2:9 ESV says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The believer is royalty, cherished by God, and chosen to proclaim truth. The believer is part of a holy family, a child of God and has the privilege to call the architect of the universe: “Father” (John 1:12). There are three very important fundamentals within the scriptures regarding identity. The believer is a new creation, therefore fundamentally good and right in Christ. That is the foundation. Second, the believer is important and has intrinsic value and a mission to live by truth. The third area is that the believer is in relationship to others in the church and to God the Father. All of this is made possible through faith (Galatians 3:26). Of course these truths are difficult to ingrain within a believer who has struggled with identity issues from a young age. In addition, it's not enough to simply know the truth, one must live the truth and practice it. God is the safety net for the believer, and that truth must be known and lived in daily life (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 140).

The most common spiritual disciplines are Bible study, prayer, worship, and fasting (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 141). Of course they should be practiced daily. Searching the scriptures, and studying them vigorously should be the practice of a believer (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 142). Practicing solitude is also very useful, shutting off the phone, laptop, and all electronics and just sitting in quiet contemplation (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 142). Another discipline is the practice of silence (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 145). The noise of the day can keep believers from realizing the realities that exist behind all the noise (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 145). Other disciplines are helpful such as confession of sins to other believers, admission of powerlessness before God, and celebrating the blessings of Christ Jesus (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006, p. 150). With the daily practice of dedicated relationship to God the Father, and reliance upon Jesus Christ the individual seeking to build a secure identity may be assured of long term success.

Depression and Personality Disorders

Inevitably many of those who suffer with relationship insecurity will also have struggles with depression. Carter and Minirth (1995) in their Freedom from Depression Workbook describe a practical process by which depression can be dealt with in a healthy biblical manner. The workbook outlines twelve steps arranged through twelve chapters helping the reader to identify the depression, learn about the illness, commit to a path of recovery, and implement positive attitudes to counter future outbreaks of depression (Carter & Minirth, 1995). Of particular interest are six personality disorders that relate to depression, personal security, and relational security (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 161). The six personality types are: dependent, obsessive-compulsive, histrionic, avoidant, narcissistic, and borderline (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 183).

The dependent personality is characterized by a core desire to please others (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 162). People in this subgroup often work too hard to keep peace in a world where conflicts are common. The dependent individual has a hard time saying no, and often struggle with fear and guilt, as well as a sense of being dominated by others.

The obsessive-compulsive personality is distinguished by a desire for order and repetition (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 166). The obsessive-compulsive performs out of a sense of duty and obligation, feeling a powerful need to complete a task, then move on to the next (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 166). The obsessive-compulsive finds a sense of self-worth in the completion of projects, while often hiding intense feelings of insecurity and confusion (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 166).

The histrionic personality is characterized by an intensity of emotional expressiveness (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 169). The histrionic individual may often appear intense, dramatic, and excitable (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 169). They are extroverted, people oriented individuals who feed off the emotions of others (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 169). The histrionic personality feels a strong need for emotional satisfaction and attention, and when others fail to meet those needs they quickly become dejected and melancholy (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 169).

The avoidant personality commonly seeks to avoid personal involvement and works very hard to minimize their own vulnerability (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 173). The avoidant person attempts to create a pain free comfort zone around themselves in the hopes of evading uncomfortable emotional attachments and high stress (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 173). The avoidant personality maintains only limited relationships that are of the least possible commitment and possible threat (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 173). The avoidant personality is often quite frustrated internally and expresses that frustration passive-aggressively through evasiveness, procrastination, indecisiveness, and a lack of accountability (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 173).

The narcissistic personality is characterized by an excessive self affection (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 176). The narcissist is quite self absorbed, and diligently seeks a life of ease, pleasure, and comfort (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 176). This personality can seem quite friendly, but the narcissist struggles with building deeper meaningful connections (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 176). The narcissistic personality refuses to acknowledge the struggles of life and is entirely pleasure oriented (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 176).

The borderline personality struggles with moodiness, out of control emotions, clingy behavior, and intense fits of anger (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 179). According to Carter & Minirth (1995) “The term borderline implies that they seem to teeter on the brink of breakdown.” The borderline personality is characterized by a strong fear of being alone (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 179). The borderline personality struggles with a sense of identity confusion and a disintegrated self-image (Carter & Minirth, 1995, p. 179).

Carl Jung (1923) said “We cannot change anything unless we accept it.” Self-knowledge is an important aspect of recovery from broken relational and personal security. When one understands their personality disorders they are more likely to succeed in dealing with the underlying issues of personal and relational insecurity.

Confronting Lies with Truth

The lies of the world can have a very damaging effect on personal security. In his book The Lies We Believe (1989) Dr. Chris Thurman describes how people often believe many lies about the world and themselves, and as a result their relationships and mental health suffer. Dr. Thurman uses the acronym TRUTH to describe how lies, false beliefs about the world and self can become ingrained in the mind (Thurman, 1995, p. 16). A trigger event occurs leading to reckless thinking regarding the trigger event (Thurman, 1995, p. 16). The reckless thinking leads to unhealthy response (Thurman, 1995, p. 16). The second T refers to truthful thinking, the practice of telling oneself the truth regarding a given situation, to confront the lies and reckless thinking (Thurman, 1995, p. 16). The H stands for healthy response and is a result of the truthful thinking regarding the situation (Thurman, 1995, p. 16).

Dr. Thurman effectively approaches the issue of false beliefs from the framework of developing the mind of Christ (Thurman, 1995). In The Lies We Believe Workbook (1995) Thurman helps the reader confront lies about self, the world, marriage, and religion (Thurman, 1995). There are many workbooks available from the perspective of Christian counseling that are very helpful to those seeking personal recovery from issues like anxiety, worry, depression, and anger available through Thomas Nelson publishers and Meier Clinics. Though resources like The Lies We Believe Workbook are very effective tools for growth in personal security, additional help may be required.

EMDR & Theophostic Ministry

EMDR was initially developed in 1989 by Francine Shapiro to help those suffering from PTSD (Cornine, 2013, p. 83). EMDR is considered an empirically verified form of treatment for those with PTSD, but it's also been applied to a myriad of other issues including depression, trauma, and substance abuse (Cornine, 2013, p. 83). EMDR is based on the presupposition that there are physiological changes that take place in the brain when trauma occurs, effectively freezing information in the mind that then cannot be processed successfully by the client (Cornine 2013, p. 83). Recalling the memory or information then triggers a harsh emotional response connected to the trauma (Cornine, 2013, p. 83). Through the use of bilateral eye movements or bilateral stimulation through touch or sound, the emotional context of the memory can be adjusted to a properly processed state (Cornine, 2013, p. 83). For those who struggle with personal insecurity and broken relationship patterns, many of the underlying issues may be based in painful memories that have never been properly addressed (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006). EMDR treatment should only be conducted under the supervision and care of a trained medical professional.

Theophostic therapy, or theophostic ministry can be described as a technique quite similar to EMDR in it's effect on the brain, though the approach is quite different (Entwistle, 2004, p. 26). Theophostic ministry is similar to Dr. Thurman's The Lies we Believe in that theophostic ministry is about accessing past memories embedded with a “lie” and with the help of Christ replacing that lie with the truth (Entwistle, 2004, p. 26). The theophostic approach is about bringing to light things in the dark that have hurts attached to them (Entwistle, 2004, p. 27). Through the guidance of a trained and certified professional the individual can experience God's healing power in past memories and false beliefs attached to those memories (Entwistle, 2004, p. 27). Like EMDR, theophostic ministry should only be conducted by trained lay counselors or trained professional counselors in cooperation with the individual seeking treatment.

Twelve Step Groups

Twelve step groups, through the use of spirituality, have revolutionized client on client health care. Since the first fellowship developed under the name Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939 hundreds of twelve step based fellowships have developed (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006). Other prominent fellowships include: Gamblers anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and many others.

The twelve steps are designed to trigger a spiritual awakening in the person who works them (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 25). The individual working the steps admits to a state of powerlessness over the issue they are facing, then comes to believe that a spiritual power can help them (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 60). The individual offers their life to serving their higher power, then completes a written inventory of their life, later confessing it to a trusted friend or clergy (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 65). The individual then requests that God remove his or her character defects, makes amends to those he or she has harmed, and pursues prayer, meditation, and helping others with similar ailments (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 59, 89). Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the program of action, the individual continues to live by the principles of the twelve steps as a permanent “design for living” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 28).

The twelve steps have been adapted successfully, not only for alcoholism and addiction, but also for mental health support (Emotions Anonymous - a 12 Step Anonymous Program). Rick Warren and John Baker adapted a program called Celebrate Recovery using the twelve steps, and eight principles based on the beatitudes (Baker, 2014). According to Celebraterecovery.com “A wide variety of hurts, hang ups and harmful behaviors are represented at Celebrate Recovery. Examples include dependency on alcohol or drugs, pornography, low self-esteem, need to control, depression, anger, co-dependency, depression,fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, perfectionism, broken relationships, and abuse.” Celebrate Recovery could provide an excellent resource for those struggling with identity and personal security issues. Unfortunately Celebrate Recovery is not particularly widespread, though it has served over 17,000 people at Saddleback church in California and has programs in over 20,000 churches worldwide (Celebrate Recovery). The resources for starting a Celebrate Recovery group are also somewhat expensive, and the program suffers from a lack of governing traditions and departs from the tried and true methods of the various other successful anonymous programs.

Another option for the individual seeking support and growth in a group setting would be Emotions Anonymous (Emotions Anonymous - a 12 Step Anonymous Program). According to Emotionsanonymous.org “Our program has been known to work miracles in the lives of many who suffer from problems as diverse as depression, anger, broken or strained relationships, grief, anxiety, low self-esteem, panic, abnormal fears, resentment, jealousy, guilt, despair, fatigue, tension, boredom, loneliness, withdrawal, obsessive and negative thinking, worry, compulsive behavior and a variety of other emotional issues.” Though consistent work with a counselor can be helpful, as well as dedicated study and a strong support network, the power of weekly meeting attendance is unparalleled. The creator of the twelve steps, Bill Wilson came across the power of spirituality, and adapted a practical program of action to help those with many kinds of ailments to seek lifetime recovery (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2006, p. 1).


Jeremiah 33:6 (ESV) says “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. “ Jeremiah wrote in regard to the nation of Israel and it's health and security and healing. Today all can receive the same from God through his gift of Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (ESV) says “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ provides restoration for those with even the most severe relational and personal security problems (Psalm 41:3). There are many powerful tools for recovery including personal study, spiritual disciplines, professional counseling, and twelve step support groups. An individual committed to a daily path of healing and change can experience total healing through the power of Jesus Christ (Clinton & Sibcy, 2006).


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