Note: The Seven Deadly Psychological Sins are currently being made into a video series. To see them, click the links below. You can also find the intro here.
Normally I like to dwell on the positive and be upbeat, constructive, and solution-focused. But for now, I’m going to list seven deadly psychological sins that, if left to themselves, will undo all the good that your better habits are accomplishing in your life. Solomon said, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom,” (Song of Solomon, 2:15). So let’s take a look at these personal ‘foxes’ and see what can be done to ‘catch’ them.
Here they are, the seven deadly psychological sins:
1. Criticism– Humans tend to be problem-focused. This trait often takes the form of pick, pick, picking (or severely gouging!) other people. Criticism raises us up as we drag others down—but the lift doesn’t last. We become junkies who need stronger and stronger criticism ‘fixes’ to support an insatiable, misaligned ego.
Replace criticism with affirmation. It is beneficial for critical people to go on a criticism fast, in which they can’t criticize anyone or anything (including themselves!), for three weeks. Thereafter, when they wish to criticize, they must create an ‘affirmation sandwich’. This happens when they affirm before criticizing, and then follow the critique with another affirmation. Soon they develop a taste for affirmation and decide to do it more often.
2. Complaining– Closely related to criticism, complaining involves a lifestyle of pointing out and dwelling upon the negative, unfortunate, and difficult while excluding the positive and pleasant. At the foundation of this grumbling lifestyle lies a sense of entitlement in which we believe that the world, God, or society owe us a good time.
Replace complaining with gratitude. Gratitude flows from a heart that understands its unworthiness, in the face of which all good things become gifts rather than entitlements. It is helpful to think of three things for which one is grateful before going to sleep at night, and three more upon arising in the morning. A habit of this will almost always result in a complete cure.
3. Self-pity– “Playing the victim” or feeling sorry for oneself actually deepens pain and prevents healing of emotional scars. The horrible reality of victimization can be prolonged when we dwell on it unnecessarily. In so doing we remain the victim, reinforcing powerless feelings.
Replace self-pity with responsibility-taking. I like to say, “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility,” meaning that you have a choice as to how you react to suffering and misfortune. Often dramatic growth and freedom comes when people finally transition from victim mode into responsibility-taking mode. You may begin by listing five things you can do to improve your situation, then asking a friend or other accountability partner to help you act upon them.
4. Worry– In psychology jargon, we call this “hypervigilance.” The dangerous world in which we live presents many threats to our well-being. When faced with threats, our fight-or-flight response gives us an adrenaline boost helping us escape danger. However, when we react to the possibility of danger, rather than actual danger, we carry the fear into our every day experience and the fear itself becomes a threat. More than this, it does absolutely nothing to actually protect us—in fact it often serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy that brings about the very event so dreaded!
Replace worry with trust. God promises that, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it,” 1 Corinthians 10:13. As we walk forward in faith and trust, we refute our own worst imaginings. You may want to begin by confining your worrying to one hour a day and gradually reduce the amount of time to zero.
5. Avoidance– So, so, many know what they should do but avoid it as if subjecting themselves to anything unpleasant or even just boring would cause an immediate, irreversible psychological meltdown. Often people say, “I’m not motivated to _______ (exercise, talk to that person, read the Bible, etc.)! But they are motivated—to avoid doing those things.
Replace avoidance with action. Exercise your God-given will. The amazing thing about the will is that it moves independent of inclination. In other words, we can choose to do the opposite of what we feel inclined to do. “Opposite action” is used in dialectical behavioral therapy; it involves choosing to move in the opposite direction of inclination. To retrain your will, do three beneficial things per day that you’re disinclined to do. Start small—baby steps count!
6. Emotionalism– Many, especially those of a sensitive, passionate nature, live by their emotions. One aspect of this is emotional reasoning—the belief that if one feels something to be true, it must be true. Many thus feel their way into dangerous relationships and situations, then reap the bitter harvest. They then believe the ensuing feelings of doom and despair and lose hope. Our feelings are like children—precious, but not capable of driving the car.
Replace emotionalism with reason. Reason doesn’t make a person into Dr. Spock or the Tin Man, by the way. Reason actually makes a person more capable of deep emotion. Basing one’s choices on timeless life principles provides an anchor that enables us to stay safe in the deepest waters of the churning sea of life. When we have such an anchor, we needn’t hug the shore out of fear of shipwreck. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an excellent way to help people learn to use their reasoning powers.
7. Bitterness– Often very painful chapters of life threaten to consume us. Moving on can be difficult and slow even for the most forgiving. But some gain satisfaction in rehearsing the hurtful events repeatedly, even attempting to gain sympathizers and turn others against one’s enemy. While it is true that truly hurtful people should be exposed and the pain of abuse must be processed, we must take care not to overprocess the pain.
Replace bitterness with forgiveness. Hebrews 12:15 says that when a person becomes bitter, they “fail of the grace of God.” Grace is unmerited favor, undeserved forgiveness freely bestowed. Jesus forgave His enemies, and so can we. No, we don’t trust them, excuse them, or turn a blind eye to wrong done. Forgiveness is an intelligent choice to release from punishment because we ourselves have been released, and a freeing, joyful alternative to the tangled root of bitterness.
For more information, check out the book Thirteen Weeks to Peace, by Jennifer Schwirzer.