The Route to Maturity
Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and personnel directors all agree that regressive behavior is a hindrance to wholesome relationships and a sense of self-respect. The Bible summarizes regression and its antidote in Ephesians 4:31-32. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (v. 31). Clearly this is a description of childish behavior with its excessive emotions and careless, hurtful expression.
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (v. 32). This is an obvious description of a Christian who is “grown up.”
Most people who seek counseling say they want to be mature. They want to earn the honor, the admiration, the respect, the faith of others. Not all, however, are willing to recognize that to become such a person is to exercise reasonable self-control. Some are slow to learn the means of avoiding regression to childish behavior.
The Apostle Paul charted the route to maturity in writing to the Colossians. He told the Christians of that city to “put off” anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, and not to “lie to one another” (Col. 3:8-9). In place of such behavior, he instructed them to “put on” mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, and forgiveness (3:12-13).
“But above all these things,” Paul continued, “put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (3:14-15).
Suppression and Repression
Another mechanism that a person may use to achieve his ends is suppression. In literature on psychology, suppression is referred to as a conscious, deliberate, purposeful forgetting or submerging of unpleasant childhood experiences and negative reactions to people and circumstances.
To illustrate: Archie Rudd’s father was a demanding, dominating, cruel man. He required Archie to perform a long list of chores letter-perfect. If the boy slipped up or stepped out of line, his dad lashed out at him with severe verbal whippings. Sometimes he required a form of penance, such as writing a thousand times, “I will never again disobey my father.”
Archie grew up hating his father. As an adult, he repressed the memory of his childhood most of the time. When someone gave him a direct order, however, he saw the image of his father in that person and reacted negatively to him.
Suppression is not limited to experiences of the distant past. Most persons have at some time had the desire to cut down an opponent with a searing remark. Men often confess during counseling that they must exercise great control to keep from hitting their wives. Occasionally, a mother will tell how she must shake off an urge to inflict physical harm on a disobedient child, perhaps with the knife she is using to pare potatoes. In the growing-up process, everyone has known what it is to have desires, emotions, and natural inclinations that are at variance with the demands of society. Unfortunately, the usual way of dealing with non-permissible thoughts is to relegate them to the back of your mind.
Repression also involves submerging or forgetting unhappy past experiences, negative attitudes, aspirations, or feelings. It differs from suppression in that, by repression, the unhappy experiences or attitudes are not pushed out of the mind knowingly.
One’s collection of gripes, complaints, hates, and suppressed desires and actions can become so great that many of them disappear from memory. Though they no longer come to mind, they are nevertheless there. The fact that they lurk in the shadows is evident by frequent eruptions in the form of touchiness or anxiety. One becomes tense, irritable, uneasy, subject to long silences, sensitive, tired for no explainable reason, full of aches and pains that cannot be corrected by medical treatment. It is obvious that a person who is always in danger of being “upset” or “disturbed” can hardly have a peaceful mind or feel in tune with the people around him. Such persons are not only subject to “upsets” but are in danger of “breakdowns.”
Over the last several years, many psychologists have warned of the harm in repression. Some have said that a child should be allowed to grow up as he pleases. If left to himself, he will arrive at a way of life that makes him a happy person and an asset to society. Such management of children, however, has only illustrated the truth of the Bible’s warning, “A child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).
In the same verse is a statement that to some people is indeed strange, “The rod and reproof give wisdom.” The wheel of child-rearing turns constantly. Current literature suggests the cycle is drawing near the biblical viewpoint: We do need a standard to go by.
Repression would be a wonderful way of escaping if simply forgetting a problem actually removed it. But such is not the case. Harsh, bitter, unforgiving emotions and attitudes are stored up, not eliminated, as long as they remain harsh, bitter, and unforgiving. Every so often, something happens that springs open the trapdoor to the dark attic of the mind, and the negative things we thought we had forgotten come rushing out to cause misery to ourselves and others.
If suppression and repression fail as approaches to the harsh realities of life, what does work?
The Bible offers the answer: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). It is possible for you to look on the behavior of others and on their treatment of you in a non-condemning, forgiving spirit. To do so is not to whitewash the evils toward you, but to have an attitude toward spiteful persons that will free you from their hurt.
What about the guilt and remorse that stem from memories of the past? Recognition of your sins need not cause you anxiety, for on the heels of recognition is forgiveness and to be forgiven is to find release. “In whom [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14).