Fear and trust hand in hand?


This week I’ll be speaking to a group of counselors about complex PTSD. One of the hallmarks of C-PTSD is the combination of chronic relational fear AND chronic shame/guilt over having said fear. It manifests itself as, “I’m afraid of you but I know it’s my fault for being afraid.” (NOTE: the reverse is not necessarily true: that those who have chronic fears, trust problems, and self-condemnation have PTSD or C-PTSD.) My focus at that training will be on this question: How do you lead someone (in therapy) in the repetitive work of “Do not give in to fear”?

On Sunday, Tim Lane of CCEF preached a sermon about fear and disappointment. In that sermon he mentioned our propensity to “flail ourselves”–assuming that we must be doing something wrong–if we experience fear. Instead of focusing on the experience, we ought to examine our responses to fear. Do we shut down? Do we believe that we are alone and isolated? Do we turn inward and act only in self-interest?

He gave us this quote from CS Lewis (Screwtape Letters): “The act of cowardice is all that matters, the emotion of fear is, in itself, no sin.”

Here’s my question: Is it possible to be afraid and to trust nonetheless without much reduction in the level of fear? Don’t we assume that if we act in a trusting way that our fears should abate? Especially in light of trusting God? Is it possible to trust God fully and yet fear? What might such fear and trust together look like? If we could do both at the same time, would it reduce inappropriate self-condemnation?

22 Comments

Filed under Abuse, Anxiety, biblical counseling, Biblical Reflection, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

22 responses to “Fear and trust hand in hand?

  1. Ron

    Maybe this is apropos, since it was composed after reading your questions on trust and fear.

    http://luskwater.blogspot.com/2009/10/visiting-broken-place.html

  2. I guess this is the ole Romans battle between flesh and spirit. I can have a fleshly fear reaction while the Spirit gives me spiritual trust.

  3. george

    fear, as I have understood, is the anti-thesis of faith… which is not of God. hmm…

    • George, is that a statement or a question? Wasn’t sure…

      It is interesting that we are not to sin, in our anger, we are not to despair, as those who have no hope. Notice each of these qualifies emotional expressions and states. Would this fit with the emotional state of fear? Now, we are told repeatedly not to fear but it appears to me to be in a setting that does not judge the fear. OT leaders who meet God fall on their faces and are picked up and put back on their feet. NT verses seem to be fairly gentle in their exhortation. Wisdom lit seems to suggest both faith and angst at the same time….

      • Phil- this is a question I have wrestled with for a long time. We are told to not fear in Scripture, probably because God knows we have a propensity for it, like anxiety and worry. Isn’t courage being able to act despite fear being present as opposed to making the fear vanish???

        I would like to hear more of your question about how fear and trust coexist. I know i have fear in my mind at times that does not take emotional/physiological forms, any more understanding on this???

      • Robert, I agree with your definition of courage. It seems to me that if I trust the bungee cord by stepping off the ledge, I shouldn’t expect to have my anxiety decrease right away. Likely it will increase. Would trusting God be the same? I might argue with you a bit about your fear not taking on physiological forms. I’m not sure you can think or feel without your body being involved :). Maybe you are saying that it doesn’t appear that way. Or maybe you meant something else…

      • Phil- I think you got me there 🙂 i guess I should adjust my statement to not having an unmanageable physiological effect that hinders functioning. I have a book called *The Highly Sensitive Person* by Elaine Aron, you may be familiar with it. She says in talking about shyness that many times what is called fear is actually oversensitivity. I wanted your thoughts on this. I was drawn to this because I was shy as a child but I found ways to manage it, and I was more comfortable and content reading a book as opposed to group interaction in school alot, but I think it was due more to a higher level of senstivity as opposed to fear. Is it possible fear is a misdiagnosis we both have placed upon us or place upon ourselves when oversensitivity is really the culprit???

        keep up the great content!!!

      • D. Stevenson

        We label various things as fear, or at least, fear prompted (e.g. shyness) Perhaps we use the label too generally. I wonder, do all the emotional, physiological, and behavioral things that we call fear, anxiety, worry have a match to fear, anxiety and worry as spoken to in Scripture?

      • Angela

        Phil:

        I am relatively new to this blog, and in the humble opinion of this C-PTSD sufferer and Christ follower, you have addressed an are that (in my personal experience) is grey to the Christian and psychological communities. My struggle continues in the area of emotions. For years I survived by suppressing emotions until the sanctification process brought me face to face with those suppressed emotions. I came to conclude, God created all the emotions and Jesus experienced so many (left to interpretation). I wrestled with doubt of flashbacks for a long time and found myself in a continuous state of confession as if I were being tossed about by the waves of the ocean. Heaven’s light broke through my thoughts and pointed me to John the Baptist’s own doubt from prison (the one who lept in Elizabeth’s womb, heard God’s declaration, saw the dove, and felt his unworthiness to tie Jesus’ sandals). Anger, fear, doubt, and the other uncomfortable emotions are but indicators. I emerged from the struggle for truth believing, it is not my experience of my emotions but how I respond, as a truer assessment for sin.

        In Grace,

        Angela (an avid Yankee Fan : )

  4. Amy

    Yes. You taught me in seminary that value of “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” Thank you.

  5. erunner

    Phil, I live with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. The dentist has been a huge fear my whole life. Each time I go I have fear. I fear having a panic attack while numbed up.

    Yet each time I go God gets me through each appointment. After those appointments I feel like God reached down from Heaven and touched me and at time I have left the office thrusting my fist in the air while thanking Him.

    That didn’t happen during my last visit as I had a near full blown attack. Each visit I walk in trusting God to be my strength. I didn’t walk out feeling condemned but I confess to being disappointed in myself. I will be going back. I don’t desire to ever have another full blown attack.

    I am blessed by your ministry.

  6. Shelli

    Phil – It took me a couple of days to actually choose to write and I hope I’m not off point… my answer will come from the perspective of a survivor of childhood sex abuse and someone who was in a marriage for 13 years with a porn addict, who was abusive. I spent 5 years in counseling – have been out one year ago this September 4. Yes, for me fear which comes from abuse histories and trust in the Father co-existed at the same time in my mind, heart and spirit. About 2 years into my healing, when I would choose to walk through my abuse or face some new pain present or past – the realities of the past abuse and what that meant for how I currently related to males around me – all of that brought MUCH fear. However, just facing that stuff – choosing to feel things took trust. So the more I learned about Who the Father really is, the more I trusted Him and the more I could face the fear. The fear did not go away but did slowly abate as my trust grew and I healed. If I hadn’t trusted while I feared I would not have been able to move. This side of the deep valleys is beautiful… hard but beautiful.

    • Shelli, beautifully said. It takes trust to feel. It would be easier to not feel by shutting down and trusting only self. Thanks for that excellent picture.

  7. On Sunday, Tim Lane of CCEF preached a sermon about fear and disappointment.
    Phil,

    Was that sermon recorded? I would like to hear what he said about the subject.
    Blessings,

    Bruce Brinkman

  8. Ron

    And here, from our brother John Donne in 1623, in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions,

    I know not what fear is, nor I know not what it is that I fear now; I fear not the hastening of my death, and yet I do fear the increase of the disease; I should belie nature if I should deny that I feared this; and if I should say that I feared death, I should belie God. My weakness is from nature, who hath but her measure; my strength is from God, who possesses and distributes infinitely. As then every cold air is not a damp, every shivering is not a stupefaction; so every fear is not a fearfulness, every declination is not a running away, every debating is not a resolving, every wish that it were not thus, is not a murmuring nor a dejection, though it be thus; but as my physician’s fear puts not him from his practice, neither doth mine put me from receiving from God, and man, and myself, spiritual and civil and moral assistances and consolations.

  9. Andrew Pomeroy

    We use Fear as a broad statement describing an emotion that everyone of us writing has shared.
    And it was said, “perfect love cast out all fear.”
    Now even though it says all fear. I believe that we still have to distinguish what kind of fear we are talking about.

    If I am looking up at a ten story rollercoaster that plummets at 50 miles an hour. I don’t freek’n care how much I’ve let in the love of Jesus, I’m gonna be freek’n scared out of my whits.

    But if I have the fear of being alone or the fear of not having a future and a hope, that is quite different. In this case. Perfect love, and the understanding of this love WILL cast out that fear. Because the WORD outlines why we shouldn’t be afraid wondering “what we will eat or what we shall wear.”

    So you must define what kind of fear, in order to find whether to suppress or remove.

    • D. Stevenson

      I was reading the chapter containing “Perfect Love casts out all fear” it struck me that fear in this verse is fear of judgment. Only through God (Perfect Love) is there a way for no remnant of fear, the fear of torment.

      I guess I see this verse as more applicable to the topic of when a person is afraid of God’s anger/judgment. When this is the case, they don’t yet grasp grace.

  10. brooke

    It seems when the journey requires a trusting relationship,…trust isn’t something that comes first, it is built as you go; that is where faith comes in to play…who or what will you put your whole being in the care of..? God or man. Sometimes as the relationship is builiding, the fear can increase due to the threat of just that…relationship. Fear isnt conquered just when we ‘learn how to trust’,(without being offensive)… it sounds trite, some dont understand trust, what does it feel like..? what happens when you trust..? Learning how to trust, or allowing yourself to trust in and of itself brings fear…of unknown feelings that bring desire….uh oh. …now what.?
    Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

  11. RubyLot

    Phil,

    Thank you for your work and for such a great post!

    I am a 48 year old woman who suffers from C-PTSD. I suffer, specifically, from hypervililence. Yes, I have trust issues but my trust issues are not merely on a thought level or an emotioanl level. It is as if they are encoded onto my broken nervous system beyond the reach of words. I hope I’m making sense, here.
    I live in Western Mass and have been trying to find a combination of Chrstians who suffer from PTSD and trying trying to heal through faith and the bible and/or a therapist (Christian therapist) who has some experience with PTSD.
    Even if I could find a pen pal, or two, who are trying to live their life for the Lord, with their struggles, that would be great. I do not have a relationship with the Lord or haven’t been able to find a church, yet. If you, or anyone, has any recommendations on any of my needs I would most certainly be thankful!

    • RubyLot,

      Thanks you for your comments. I wonder why you think you do not have a relationship with the Lord? It sounds like you are seeking him…which is what is the definition of a Christian…one who seeks the Lord.

      I used to live in Lenox several decades ago. I do know there is a good church there. Even if you do not live close enough to go to Hope Church, Lenox, MA, you might find them (http://www.hopechurchlenox.com/) helpful in locating a church in your corner of Western MA.

  12. “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway” John Wayne

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s