When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, The Bible, ESV).
M. Scott Peck, in his work The Road Less Traveled, explained with surgeon-like precision how people deal with problems and pain. He notes that discipline is the ‘base camp’ of what’s needed to solve life’s problems.
“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.” “…It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems. Most of us are not so wise” (Peck, 1978, pp. 14-16).
There are an infinite number of ways to avoid dealing with our problems. Sigmund Freud was one of the first to categorize these avoidances, calling them “defense mechanisms.” In other words, these are adaptive reactions to circumstances that are used outside of a healthy context. Some examples that most people have heard of are denial and rationalization. “My boyfriend beats me, but it’s not that bad.” “I can’t believe in a God who would let me lose my mother to cancer.” “Alcohol is not a problem; I haven’t had any legal issues.”
“This tendency to avoid problems,” notes Peck again, “and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health” (1978, pp. 16-17).
Many, if not all, mental health disorders relate to forms of avoidance. The paranoid person ends up avoiding the truth about others’ thoughts/opinions. The depressed person will avoid ways they need help. The anxiety-ridden person will avoid the pain of facing anxiety head-on. [Side note: just because you face these things does not mean it is your fault.] An old adage says, “What you resist, persists.” In an effort to strive for mental health, we must strive for the truth about ourselves, others, and God- and then face it.
“…Let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved” (Peck, 1978, p. 17)
All quotations- unless otherwise noted- are taken from M. Scott Peck, M.D. The Road Less Traveled (1978), pp. 15-17.