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To be alive is to be motivated. At any given moment in time, you have one of two motivating factors influencing you:

1. The pursuit of a reward: Greek philosophers like Aristotle would tell us that there is no such thing as a completely selfless act. Humans ever and always are motivated by the pursuit of their own good. There is really nothing wrong with this. To ignore “The Self” is to cease to exist. When someone says, “I didn’t want to do X, but I did it anyway,” they are deceiving themselves. The reality is that they did want to do X, but their statement acknowledges the fact that it was not for the direct pleasure but a reward beyond the pain. This is an important concept to understand if you are going to understand what motivates you in life. Many people endure painful experiences in the hope that it will produce something positive in the end. When we do stupid stuff, we are acknowledging ahead of time that the end result will not be good, but we are willing to sacrifice the future for the immediate pleasure of the moment.

 
2. The avoidance of pain: No one likes to hurt. Even people that intentionally cut on themselves or engage in some self-destructive activity are ultimately attempting to avoid pain. The truth is they subject themselves to a lesser pain to avoid something they imagine would be unbearable. For instance, individuals who struggle with eating disorders will often say that their malnutrition and hunger pains allow them to avoid a sense of helplessness or lack of control. It is the lack of control that is unbearable to them, not the sense of starvation!

 
This is the logic behind The Death Drive, a concept articulated by Freud, but named byWilhelm Stekel using the greek word, Thanatos. Thanatos in Greek mythology was the God of Death. In psychological terms, it is the counterintuitive urge within us to destroy. Think about why when you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or on the top of the Empire State Building you are both compelled and repulsed by the possibility of jumping. Imagine a child building a sand castle on an ocean shore. When they have completed it, their next action is often to stomp all over it! As humans, we are fascinated by that moment when all things come to an end.

 

I believe there are two reasons for this destructive urge within us:

 
1. Aggressive Power: The first reason humans do stupid stuff is to foster an innate desire to assert power and control over a situation, even if that means destruction. “Because I can” is a phrase repeated by many an individual who willing engages in a destructive act. In essence, the action becomes an adolescent-like retort to every parent of society: “You can’t tell me what to do!!” Sometimes we speed, steal, lie, cheat, get drunk, curse, or fight simply because someone tells us not to. We want freedom, even if we are restricted to the freedom of self-destruction.

 

2. Immediate Redemption: The second reason people often choose to do stupid stuff is to experience immediate redemption. Everybody enjoys the do-over, the mulligan, the clean slate, or the false start. We all need a second chance, but when things get messy, we find it easier to change plans, locations, relationships, jobs, and all other circumstances to avoid ongoing suffering. Unfortunately, Redemption’s road is often long and arduous and the people who look for the quick fix or escape often find themselves repeating the same struggles over and over again.

The Death drive can be channeled in two directions:

 

1. An Inward Focus:We see this inwardly destructive tendency in those who consciously or unconsciously enter abusive relationships similar to those of their past. They find some sense of power in the familiarity of the situation, even if it is self-destructive in nature. They also hope for a do-over, a chance to fix a problem that has surfaced in a current relationship with the same old solutions they tried in a previous one.

 
2. An Outward Focus: The outwardly focused death-drive becomes a means of asserting power aggressively over others. Abusers often act on this drive. The 90’s rock band, Nickleback, had a song wherein the lead singer describes his love of all the degrading things his girlfriend does during their sexual encounters only to conclude in the chorus that the challenge of “figuring her out” was not as difficult as he thought it would be. Ironically, the last verse of the song twists his love for her into hatred. The implication is that he is now on to the next conquest, thus feeding his inner desire for the do-over, a new opportunity to assert his control and assuage his own helplessness and shame by inflicting it on others.

 
Feodor Dostoyevsky, the brilliant Russian novelist who wrote Crime and Punishment, provides a powerful description, if not explanation, of the death drive in action through his character, Nastasya Filipovna, in his novel, The Idiot. Though loved and proposed to by the purest and most noble character in the story, Prince Myshkin, she chooses instead to debase herself with the vilest individuals in society. Dostoevsky reflects on her behavior through Myshkin’s character:
“She ran away from me. Do you know what for? Simply to show me that she was a degraded creature. But the most awful thing is that perhaps she didn’t even know herself that she only wanted to prove that to me, but ran away because she had an irresistible inner craving to do something shameful, so as to say, to herself at once, ‘There, you’ve done something shameful again, so you’re a degraded creature!’ …Do you know that in that continual consciousness of shame there is perhaps a sort of awful, unnatural enjoyment for her, a sort of revenge on some one.”

So how do we fight against the death drive?

 
1. Confront your rage: People who do stupid things to themselves or to others usually harbor a deep-seated anger. Counseling can help to uproot this anger and begin to address it in a healthy way. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. The only way you will be able to stop punishing yourself or someone else is to acknowledge and be aware of the source of your anger and begin the process of managing it successfully.

 
2. Commit to the long-haul: There is no quick fix. Slow down and accept some of the momentary suffering that you may be experiencing. Some of the stupidest things we do are actions taken to relieve immediate suffering without taking the time to consider what our current pain might be teaching us for the long-term successes waiting for us.

 
Question: What about you? Where does the death drive rear its ugly head in your life? What solutions have you found for overcoming our human tendency to do stupid stuff in the moment? I hope you remember that there is always redemption to be had. It just might be a little farther down the road than you originally thought. I hope you can say that it is worth the wait!

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We all have a story and that is why I love what I do. I get to hear people’s stories every day, and yes, they are often filled with pain, but whose life story isn’t? The exciting thing is that in every person’s story, there is always room for redemption. That’s why I was excited to talk to Rebecca Carrell. Some of you know her from the KCBI Morning Show on 90.9. But many of you don’t know her back story, the one that led her to radio in the first place. She reminds us that when you have a desire you want filled, God always brings you home to the place where that desire can best be filled.

Check out Rebecca’s blog at www.loveserveshine.com and be sure to listen in to the program tonight at 6:30pm and 10:30pm on 90.9 KCBI. We will not only here Rebecca’s story, but also talk about the challenges that parents face in deciding how much social media should be allowed in the home with their kids. If you can’t listen tonight, you can also listen to it tomorrow once it’s posted online by clicking here.

photo courtesy of allthingswildlyconsidered.blogspot.com

This past week I had the privilege of interviewing Sandra Glahn, adjunct professor, Christian Education and Pastoral Ministries, at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), her alma mater, where she serves as editor in chief of Kindred Spirit magazine. Her books include The Coffee Cup Bible Study series as well as When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility .

Sandra joined me to discuss her experience with infertility and adoption and how she found hope through the constant cycles of anticipation and loss. You can listen to the radio interview by clicking here.

As I thought about our discussion, I realized that this cycle of great expectations followed by bitter despair can have devastating effects on our stamina for living if we are not careful to guard against it. Here are some helpful tools that I gleaned from my discussion with Sandra.

  1. Be certain about uncertainty. Confusion leads to searching. At the end of our search, we expect answers. But what if we simply have more questions? Our finiteness measured against God’s infiniteness is sobering to behold. We stand at the base of the Empire State Building, straining our necks to see its pinnacle and foolishly assuming that if we just keep jumping, some day we will touch the top. One of the more interesting comments Sandra made during our interview was that the mystery of God brought her more comfort than any contrived explanations for her infertility. Certainly, it is helpful to speculate on the workings of God behind the scenes, but accepting the mysteries of life allowed her to find reprieve from her mental anguish, calm her racing thoughts, and lessen her need for answers. It gave her the strength to pursue other dreams while still mourning the loss of those unrealized.
  2. Check your desires, don’t chuck them. When a dream goes unmet, many people expect us to move on. Sandra had well meaning people say, “Well, there’s always adoption.” But Sandra was quick to point out that the pursuit of a new dream cannot be done solely to assuage the pain of a previous loss. New dreams bring new challenges and if our previous unmet desires have not been checked, if we do not assess our motivations and learn from our failures, we are bound to experience the same pain again and again. Think of the countless children who have been adopted as a means of filling the void left by unconceived biological children. With what pressure and unattainable expectations will they begin their lives? How many broken romances lead to hasty unions between hurting people ill-equipped to love sacrificially? Checking our desires means asking, “Am I still willing to face pain in my pursuit of them? Could there be other ways to meet them healthily? What new challenges must I accept if I do take a different path? Remember, you cannot just will yourself to change your desires, but you can hone them. Don’t rush into new territory until you are clear about where you are headed and how much you’ve come through. Sandra did eventually adopt, but she did so with clear motives, recognizing that her decision could not be viewed as the “second best option” but as fresh start, a new path, fraught with its own unique challenges and triumphs. When the time was right, she felt it as a calling and she tackled it with zeal.
  3. Question your reality. A friend, recalling his initial excitement over a job promotion, quipped, “And then reality kicked in!” What did he mean? Well the challenges he experienced had a way of quelling his enthusiasm. What he hoped would be all glory and no guts quickly reversed its self. Broken dreams have a way of challenging our reality: the way we view the world. But be careful! Is life really doom and gloom? Is failure our only destiny? Should we just accept the meaninglessness and injustice that our experience tells us reigns? No. The writer of the book of Romans, Paul, said that he considered (or reckoned) that the suffering of our present experience is not even worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. Not worth comparing? You mean to say that it is a waste of time? Yes. Paul’s questioning of reality told him that glory was coming and when it came, we would not even take a moment to look back on our suffering and compare the two. We will be so consumed with the amazing experience of clarity, love, redemption, transformation, and exaltation that comparisons would be pointless. Let this be your reality when other dreams fade.

Question: What enables you to endure disappointments in your life?

Recently, I did a radio interview with David Griffin, one of the lead pastors of Community Life Church in Forney and Sunnyvale, Tx. David has some great insights into the questions we often ask when we suffer loss. If you are interested in the two part radio interview, check out the “For Christ and Culture” website and search “Responses to Tragedy” to hear the full programs. Here are some frequently asked questions:

  1. Is God really omnipotent? Tragedy tempts us to question God’s power. We are not alone in asking this question. The Israelites asked it over and over again in their 40+ year journey from Egypt to the promised land. They faced many tragedies (some of their own making), but God made good on His promise and blessed those who continued to trust Him. Israel’s journey to the promised land has been used as a metaphor for our life’s journey. We can take courage, knowing that the God who parted the Red Sea at the beginning of Israel’s journey and dried up the Jordan River at the end is the same God who leads us through the sea of loss and tragedy. Cling to Him and He will carry you through.
  2. Is God really omniscient? Tragedy tempts us to question God’s knowledge. We wonder if He was as blind-sided as we were when the pain struck. Psalm 121, however, reminds us that He is the God that “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” He knows all, is prepared for all, and has the answers for all situations that confront us. Confusing is one of the worst parts of suffering unexpected tragedy. Thankfully, we have an omniscient God who can see past the shadows of the valley to the radiant sunshine of the mountains beyond.
  3. Is God really benevolent? Most often, tragedy tempts us to question God’s goodness. This isn’t a new temptation. The serpent tempted Adam and Eve with this question thousands of years ago. Fortunately, we have an answer for that too. Tragedy comes as a result of sin. Sin taints every aspect of our humanity: body, soul, and spirit. God’s goodness, however, makes him infinitely just and infinitely loving. In our finiteness, we have trouble understanding how God can bring about perfect justice and perfect love at the same time. The Bible tells us that His means can be summed up in one word: REDEMPTION. Redemption is the transformative process that turns tragedy into triumph. That which was meant for evil is used for something good. Brokenness now becomes perfection. When you face tragedy, don’t limit God by demanding that he simply take away your pain. Allow Him the time He desires to provide perfect redemption for your circumstances. In the interim, allow yourself time to grieve, but not as someone who has no hope. You have no idea what miracles He may have in store just over the next hurdle.

QUESTION: What tips have you found helpful for ministering to people who have suffered a tragic loss?

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I am a board certified psychiatrist, author, speaker in private practice with Southwest Clinical and Forensics in Dallas Tx. I also serve as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have a passion for helping people through painful circumstances, be they physical illnesses of the brain, psychological conditions of the mind, social problems of everyday life, and/or spiritual crises of faith and worldview.

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All information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a professional evaluation or treatment. If you are experiencing emotional distress, please contact a mental health professional. Dr. Henderson cannot respond to inquiries about prescription refills, or medical or psychiatric emergencies over the internet. If you are a patient in need of assistance, please contact Dr. Henderson’s office directly, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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