Emotions as Communication from Your Soul
Emotions, in all their intensities and complexities, are part of human life. Feelings of sadness, sorrow, shame or anger, for example, are often natural responses to life and relationships. Feelings of depression are actually signals of emotional pain meant to urge us to uncover the source of our suffering. In other words, the “cry of your soul”. To not experience depression would actually be abnormal. Symptoms of “mental illness,” even the disorders, syndromes and seemingly bizarre behaviors or responses, are expressions of one’s self, of one’s inner conflicts.
For some people, there is so much shame, guilt, fear, sadness, sorrow, painful traumatic memories, and more—which are not always readily apparent—that they are spiritually overwhelmed, and the result is dysfunction and emotional pain. In some cases, one can become emotionally paralyzed or even catatonic. “Mental illness” with a biological cause, as many professionals would readily claim. But when one takes the time to listen to one’s soul, questions often arise: Why am I feeling all these emotions? Where is this all coming from? For people of faith, there can be more questions: Where is God in all of this? Has God abandoned me? Does God love me? Can I trust Him? What happens if my deep, dark, shameful secrets are exposed? How can I face that worst fears, pain and trauma in my past – it seems unbearable. Can I ever experience healing? Can God “restore” my soul? The emotions, then, become the “indicators of your soul”, pointing to the deep questions.
But the tendency in the modern world is to ignore the emotions as indicators of the soul and instead treat them as inconvenient or undesirable symptoms that must be silenced or negated. Personal emotional distress becomes a diagnosed disease or disorder. Slowly, more of life becomes medicated. Feel shy or sad? Don’t panic – there is a drug for that! The emotions are supposedly caused by some biological or neurological malfunction, hence the need for medication. While you are able to “function” in life while taking these psychiatric drugs, your potential healing is hijacked, you are robbed of the chance to understand yourself at a deeper level. Your spiritual growth is compromised. But you cannot always trust the diagnoses and in the long term the psychiatric drugs actually prevent healing.
Psychiatric Medication Can Numb Your Soul
So instead of listening to your soul, maybe you are persuaded that medication is the answer to your emotional pain or distress. Anyone’s personal biochemistry will react uniquely to psychiatric or psychotropic drugs. In some cases, a patient can end up in the ER from a life-threatening reaction. In addition to many and varied side effects, most people experience a “numbing of the soul”, a “blunting of the emotions”. You cannot generally experience the “lows” which are typical of depression, but neither can you experience the emotions of joy. You end up living in the “middle range”, but not really feeling yourself. The neurological goal, of course, is to negate or silence certain emotions and hence the behaviors that develop from them. Kathryn (not her real name), suffering from depression, shares how Lexapro numbed her emotions:
“I have been prescribed an antidepressant, Lexapro, for my depression. This antidepressant keeps me going at a very fast pace, able to accomplish a lot, sleep less, and survive my days in a different way of “survival” than when I’m not using it. I feel like the Energizer Bunny—or a robot—wound up and going all the time but not living at all. It is a drug, and I feel that very keenly! I have been praying and asking God to show me how and when to stop using it. My reluctance is the memory of the pain that caused me to feel the need for medication.
I hate the medication. I am numb—no pain, but no real joy, either. I feel emotionally disconnected from people, and it is affecting my relationships. Without medication, I am a naturally compassionate and loving person. For the most part, I have lived like this long enough that I can almost “fake it” now. The real compassion and empathy that I normally feel for people is not completely gone—only by God’s grace and mercy—but at a much lower level than when I am not on the meds. My behaviour is much more compulsive/addictive—I have to fight the temptation to smoke again, since it is very strong. I believe that is because I am so disconnected from people such that the smoking is, for me, a comfort that I picked up at a very young age. My mother actually taught me to smoke as a stress reliever.
I am addicted to work—I can go for ten to twelve hours without a break—and not in a healthy way. It’s an escape. I have watched more TV in the past few months than I have in my entire life, and that is not an exaggeration. I am not naturally a TV watcher. I used to go for months without even turning on the TV, but lately I compulsively turn it on in the evening—again, I believe, for an “emotional connection” that my heart is longing for but the meds keep me from getting in the way God intended. I use more caffeine, because the meds keep me in a “fog” for several hours after I wake up.
A big eye-opener for me was when I went to see The Notebook recently. My son had told me that it was a beautiful story about the love and commitment of a husband to his wife in her ailing years. It is a beautiful story—and I think I was the only person in the theater who was not crying at the end of the movie. Not good! Believe it or not, I miss crying. I am a naturally empathetic person, easily moved to tears of joy or sorrow. I suppose that’s just another way of realizing that I am numb!”
Psychiatric drugs cause chemical imbalances and brain dysfunction — your ability to feel emotional pain is now blocked, as well as the ability to experience joy. Feelings of sadness or suicide, for example, diminish and thus the impact of depression—but at a price. Nothing has been healed at all; your inner being has been “reduced”; your ability to feel has been compromised. Psychiatric drugs often make it harder to think and especially to remember, which blunts revelation and understanding and compromises one’s healing. I typically find that when praying with people who are on antidepressants, it takes more time for memories to come back. There is also a sense of hopelessness, since if a biochemical imbalance is truly the cause and one really does need the drug, then why attempt anything beyond drug therapy? Why hope for anything better? In essence, the psychiatric medication is like a lobotomy of the mind, and you sacrifice part of your personality, your self.
Learn to Listen to Your Soul
When I was a theology student, I drove an old eight-cylinder Pontiac station wagon, which my wife and I called “Big Red.” Many times we drove through the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, and on a few occasions, as we drove on the more demanding stretches of highway, the engine light came on. I immediately pulled over to the side of the highway, stopped, and after letting the engine idle for a half-minute or so, turned it off. When the engine had cooled down, I checked the radiator and the oil. I’m not a mechanic, nor a wrench jockey, so I looked for the obvious and hoped for nothing more complex. In each case, the engine was low on oil, so I went to my case of twenty-four (Quaker-State oil, not beer, in case you were wondering!) in the trunk and topped up the engine with oil. Obviously, the engine needed an overhaul, but like most theology students, I didn’t have enough money to afford that.
So what would you do if your engine light came on while driving your car? Would you not also soon stop and investigate to see what the problem is? We all know that if you just keep driving in total disregard to the warning light, you could ruin your entire engine or even get into an accident. In the same way, there are indicators of the soul that tell us to pull over to the side in our busy schedules and see what is going on in our souls, in those deep places. Feelings of sadness, sorrow, shame, guilt, anxiety, and more are all indicators of a soul that often is crying out for healing and restoration. Some people appear to take better care of their cars than of their own souls. Many of us take our cars in for regular maintenance and tune-ups; we should do at least as much for our souls.
Transforming Prayer as Deep Listening for the Soul
The most potent refutation for the basis and demand for psychiatric medication is simply the healing and transformation of people diagnosed as “mentally ill” without using any drugs. I have had the privilege of ministering healing and transforming prayer to Kathryn, which brought her deep and lasting healing. Listen to the testimony of Jacqueline – from bipolar disorder to lasting healing after several sessions of healing and transforming prayer. Considerable evidence points to nurture and past relational issues, sometimes traumatic or deeply painful emotionally, as affecting people physically or causing “mental illness.” Truly, “A heart at peace gives life to the body” (Prov. 14:30). Research concurs with the “wounded soul” of the Scriptures but offers weak support at best for mental illness as a biological concept and psychiatric drugs as their solution.
By disabling the brain, healing is made more difficult, because you often need to be in touch with your emotions in order to experience healing. But with psychiatric medication, you experience dissociation from emotional pain, your soul has been numbed. Those who mourn will be comforted (Matt. 5:4; cf. Deut. 21:13), but what if you can’t mourn or grieve no matter how hard you try? The soul’s communication is summarily silenced, you never get the chance to understand what is “really going on”. You never get to face and answer the question of the psalmist (Psalm 42:5a, 11a) “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Apart from truly organic causes of emotional suffering, there is a wounded soul that needs love and restoration. Your emotions are indicators of your soul. Listen, understand and heal. Maybe you need to experience transforming prayer in the Presence of Jesus with the revelation of His Spirit? It often comes down to this: medication or personal revelation.