Emotional Prison

emotional-prisonFree Yourself

By John Croyle

Throughout my adult life, I have visited many people who were in prison or jail. Every single time, I walk away taking a deep breath and saying, “Thank you, Lord, that I am free.”

Over these past four decades of helping children move on with their lives, we have learned there are several forms of imprisonment.

Obviously, there is the penal system that is set up for people who have broken the law. Most went through a process in a courtroom with attorneys, juries, judges, etc. These individuals are required to serve a set amount of time to pay for their breaking of the law.

We have also seen thousands of individuals who are in an emotional prison—grown adults and countless children who are “chained up” as a result of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect or abandonment they have suffered at some point in their lives. They are unable to break free of their chains because of fear—either fear of the past, or fear of the future. Fear of the past is most of the time accompanied by guilt based on what we think we do or do not deserve. Either we did something we regret, or someone did something to us. We just can’t get over it. We feel like there is no way out. Equally immobilizing is fear of the future. We get so frozen that we would rather choose to fail, or even sabotage our efforts, in order to assure our prison sentence will continue—because we feel this is what we deserve. We think, “I do not deserve ________.”  Fill that blank with “happiness,” “a great marriage,” “a good job,” or countless other things that would indicate some sort of worthiness. 

The prison of revenge is a cancer that devours its host. Recently, a man told me, “If I ever get diagnosed with terminal cancer, before I go there are several people I’m going to go kill!” To be honest, knowing what had been done to his family, initially I would have thought he was justified to have shared this thought. But a saying comes to mind: “Holding bitterness in your heart is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.” This is so true!  We only damage ourselves when we hold onto bitterness and hatred for others.

We have also met many children who have experienced the prison of rejection. Simply put, this “prisoner” believes, “If I act bad enough and disobey the rules enough, you will reject me just like everybody else in my life has done.”

Many of you right now, or at some point in your life, identify with one or more of these prisons.  You are not alone! But the good news is that all of us hold the keys to freedom. We just have to be intentional about using them. 

First and foremost, you must ask God to forgive you for anything you’ve done wrong.  Please remember that no matter what you have done, if you ask God for forgiveness, you are forgiven. 

Next, if you need to forgive yourself, do it! Everybody has messed up in one way or another. The key is choosing to forgive yourself and moving forward. As a matter of fact, Jesus Christ instructed us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Think about it—we cannot do this unless we first love ourselves. Sometimes it’s easier to love a stranger. And I am not talking about an arrogant and selfish love of oneself. There is way too much of that around this world!  But a healthy love is required in order to love those around you.   

And the next step–you guessed it–if someone has wronged you in some way, you must forgive them. It’s so much easier said than done, but it is an essential step to being free. Our job is to forgive! Whether the other person changes or even accepts your forgiveness, you are responsible for your actions, not anyone else’s. You cannot change someone who wants to stay where they are.

The last step, which is so important, is to move forward. Get on with your life of freedom!

I don’t want the simplicity of the steps to conceal how hard it really is to get out of this internal prison we sometimes put ourselves in. Sometimes there is instant freedom. Other times, it’s a process. Unfortunately, the latter is most often the case, but it depends on the individual and the situation.

Remember this—choices create circumstances, decisions determine your future. Choose to make your future one that is based upon freedom!

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