This week’s blog has an abrupt ending with no real resolve. I’m not offering any solutions, just a description of how I’ve come to understand my struggle with destructive coping mechanisms. I was four years old the first time I was exposed to pornography.
A relative had a group of guys over at his apartment and he decided to play something pornographic on the television. Of course, at that age I had no clue what was going on. But something connected with my innate sexuality. I don’t know if it was an early trigger to what would eventually become a long battle with sexual fantasy and pornography that started in my teenage years. But I do know this experience at that apartment burned images into my brain that I would easily retrieve and reinterpret throughout my childhood in times of stress and loneliness.
We all have coping mechanisms to deal with stress. Some of us have healthier ones like exercise, hobbies, meditation, or counsellors. Others of us have struggled their entire lives with some form of substance abuse, fantasy, avoidance, withdrawal, violence, or even self-harm.
A lot of men (me included) aren’t aware when we’re reaching the point of burnout. It’s not that we’re not in touch with our emotional selves. A lot of us would be considered “sensitive” and emotionally present. But I think many of us simply weren’t parented and coached in how to understand and accept personal limitations. As a child and teenager, I looked at personal limitations as an opportunity for growth. I enjoyed challenges. I almost always took up the challenge and it almost always worked out for me. Gordon MacDonald describes people like this as fast starters. He explains it this way,
The premature succeeder is usually a fast learner, able to acquire expertise with minimum effort. He is usually blessed with good health and abundant energy. He can talk his way into or out of anything, it seems. And he may conclude that he can do just about anything he sets his mind to, because things appear to come easily to him. How long things can go on this way is anyone’s guess. For a lifetime, I suppose, in certain cases. But my observation is that somewhere in his early thirties, indications of possible trouble will begin to show in the life of the naturally talented fast starter. There may be the first hints that the rest of the race in life will have to be run on endurance and discipline and not talent.
You don’t always win. You don’t always grow. It doesn’t always work out. Sustained emotional tension will eventually lead to a crash. That crash magnifies the weakness we feel in our limitations. We feel powerless – maybe even worthless. Then we compensate and cope. Sometimes healthily. Often times not.
Psychologist and dean of the Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of psychology, Archibald Hart, writes in his book Unmasking Male Depression,
In male-type depression, therefore, we have to look at how men act, not at how they feel. Angry outbursts, becoming easily annoyed, increased sexual activity, workaholism, emotional and social withdrawal, coldness, aloofness, and even forms of family violence are nearer the depression mark than the crying and hopelessness of female depression.
Burnout and depression are not excuses for people (men in particular) to act this way. But for some, it’s part of an explanation.
Have the courage to identify the sins of your heart. Give yourself permission to talk about it so they can be rooted out.
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” – Proverbs 4:23