Breaking Down Mental Strongholds
Updated: Apr 13
For those of you who are current clients, those of you have scanned my website www.curfman-counseling.com, or for those who have searched for trauma therapy techniques and have heard of a therapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), I would like to present a biblical perspective for what EMDR offers.
Neil Anderson has been a favorite author of mine for many years due to his God-given ability to make the complex simple, to combine biblical truth with what can be gleaned as truth from the fields of psychology and counseling, and for his passion to see hurting people find true, lasting freedom and healing.
In the following paragraphs, Mr. Anderson, in one of his excellent daily devotionals, briefly describes a "stronghold," and how this relates to what is necessary for healing. I will endeavor (and take a great liberty, no doubt) to add, in brackets, my interpretation of Mr. Anderson's devotional as it relates to how I believe EMDR works. Please note that these are my opinions based on my diligent study of the Bible, the practice of EMDR, and my own clinical experiences. My opinions are not endorsed by Mr. Anderson or by EMDR International.
Author: Neil T. Anderson
WE DEMOLISH ARGUMENTS AND EVERY PRETENSION THAT SETS ITSELF UP AGAINST THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, AND WE TAKE CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT TO MAKE IT OBEDIENT TO CHRIST. 2 CORINTHIANS 10:5 The imagery Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 relates not to defensive armor but to battering-ram offensive weaponry. He is not using the conventional weapons of this world to tear down strongholds but the divine weapons at our disposal. These strongholds are not physical barriers that fortify a city. They are mental strongholds raised up against the knowledge of God. We can tear them down because we have the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16) and the Spirit of truth within us.
[One aspect of the knowledge of God is how God looks at and sees one of His followers. For a reference point of the characteristics that the Bible says is true of all spirit-born believers, see Neil Anderson's "Who I am in Christ"]
Research shows that we form attitudes and beliefs early in our childhood. We are not physically born with the presence of God in our lives, so we absorb these mental attitudes from our environment in two primary ways. First, we assimilate them into our minds through prevailing experiences such as the homes in which we were raised, the schools we attended, and the neighborhoods in which we played. These values and attitudes are more caught than taught. Different children respond to the same environment in different ways; therefore, every child’s mental evaluation is different.
[I often describe to my clients the seemingly contradictory reactions different children will have to a similar negative experience. For example, two children in separate families are both told repeatedly directly or indirectly that he "cannot do something," she is "not good enough," or he "is worthless." One child hearing directly or, by inference, learning these lies will react by not only believing the lies to be the truth but also by acting out these lies as if they are the truth. This will often be the child that is constantly in trouble both at home and at school, who has few friends or has friends that feel worthless just like they do and generally seems to be miserable most of the time. In contrast, the other child who has the same experiences of mistreatment will often do the opposite of the first child in this example. They will be a model child, they might excel at academics and sports, have great social relationships, and appear to do generally very well to all who are observing them. Despite the outward appearance of the second child example, I often see these children in my office as adults with the same struggles as the first child, only with more confusion as to why they feel anxious, depressed, or both considering they have excelled for much of their lives]
Second, we develop mental strongholds through traumatic experiences like the death of a parent, divorce in the home, or various kinds of mental and physical abuse. We are not in bondage to traumatic experiences; we are in bondage to the lies we believed as a result of those experiences.
[My clients will likely have heard me say, "It's not you, it's what has happened TO you that is the root of your problems." The lies we believed and may continue to believe are often the opposite of who God says we are, and they are easily represented by the list of "Negative Cognitions"(click to see the list) that I share with my clients.]
Strongholds are mental habit patterns of thought. Some call them “flesh patterns.” These strongholds are memory traces burned into our minds over time or by the intensity of traumatic experiences. They are similar to what psychologists call defense mechanisms, and they always reveal themselves in a less-than-Christlike temperament. They are like deep tire tracks in a wet pasture. After the ruts have been established and dried over time, the driver doesn’t have to steer anymore. The vehicle will just follow those ruts, and any attempt to steer out of them will be met with resistance. If we follow those neurological pathways for six consecutive weeks, a habit will be established. If the habit persists, a stronghold will form. For example, an inferiority complex [I am not good enough or I am not as good as someone else] is a mental stronghold. Nobody is born inferior to another, but in this competitive world, it is almost impossible not to feel inferior to someone who is smarter, faster, stronger and prettier [or when have been compared purposefully or even unintentionally by our caregivers to these other people]. Negative self-perceptions can only be torn down in Christ. In the kingdom of God, everybody has equal value. God loves each of His children the same, and we are not in competition with one another.
[Yet here is a dilemma for those who believe in God and KNOW in their left, logical brain what God says about them but at the same time do not FEEL in their wounded right, emotional brain that what God says is true about them. For these people, the emotional brain must learn to accept what the logical brain knows to be true before they will truly internalize God's truths. This is a core aspect of EMDR: helping the client through changing how their brain's neurons fire to reconcile what they feel with what they know to be true and what is true]
Another example would be the unhealthy characteristics exhibited by children of an alcoholic. Suppose the oldest child chooses to stand up to his father when he comes home drunk. The middle son accommodates his father. The youngest son runs and hides. Twenty years later, those three boys are confronted by a hostile situation. Chances are the oldest son will fight, the middle son will accommodate, and the youngest son will run and hide. We learn mental strongholds like these over time as we interact with our environment, but they can be torn down in Christ.
If we have been trained wrongly, can we be retrained? If we have believed a lie, can we now believe the truth? If we have programmed our minds wrongly, can they be reprogrammed? Of course! We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.
[EMDR is the neurological process of "rewiring" or renewing the wounded emotional brain so that it can be reconciled with what is true. As this occurs in a safe, secure therapeutic setting where the empathetic therapist guides the client to discover (and not be necessarily told) what the truth is, the client's mind can be renewed, old emotional wounds can be healed, and ultimately, the person is able to live "in the present" according to the truths God has exclaimed about them and experience true freedom and joy]