Feminism, Theology

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 113-136

For new readers: this post is part of a regular blog feature, where I read through influential books on Christian living. The beginning of the series covering Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression is here; you can also read through my series on Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood, John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating, Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage, and Rob and Kristin Bell’s Zimzum of Love.


These two chapters were repetitive, so I’m going to do my best not to rehash things I’ve already commented on. A few things jumped out to me on this reading of “How to Overcome Self-Pity,” especially one thing in particular:

Facing self-pity as a sin is the initial step toward victory over this cruel slave-driver … instead of commiserating with yourself and blaming other people for the insult, injury, rejection, or tragedy, face self-pity squarely as a giant mental sin that will destroy you. (114)

I’ve mentioned before that when Tim is talking about “self-pity” he uses very similar language as when evangelicals start talking about “bitterness,” and this passage is a good example of that. In recent conversations about the Duggars, many people have pointed out that any “counseling” Josh’s victims received would have been accompanied with a heavy dose of the sin of bitterness is worse than his attacking you– after all, bitterness damages your soul and mind. Anyone who thinks that thought only exists in Christian fundamentalism need to look no farther than this book, which is about as mainstream evangelicalism as you can get. I mean, Nicolas Cage starred in a movie based on Tim LaHaye’s books.

The most frustrating thing is that Tim never comes right out and says what he means. He talks about “injury” and “tragedy,” and those words cover up a multitude of horrific nightmares the likes of which he will probably never experience. Tim would look Josh’s victims in the face and tell them that they need to “confess the sin of self-pity” for the lingering affects of severe childhood trauma. He would, all while never once acknowledge exactly what the “tragedy” actually is.

However, he has to breeze over exactly what the “tragedies” are that befall people, because the crux of his advice in “Depression and Your Mind” is to “forget those things which are behind.” It’s a lot easier to leave behind some nebulous “tragedy” than it is to forget the fact that you’ve been raped over and over again.

Interesting fact: I followed that advice doggedly. I wholeheartedly threw myself into forgetting that I’d ever been abused or raped. I did it, rather successfully, for four years. And then I started having night terrors and panic attacks. It wasn’t until I was able to process what I’d been through, to name it for exactly what it was and to start talking through it, that the night terrors and the panic attacks started to subside. “Forget those things which are behind” flies in the face of what we know about how to heal from trauma.

One hilarious thing in the chapter “How to Overcome Self-Pity” is when Tim references a story about Moses, found in Number 11.

During the course of his prayer, which began in anger and progressed in self-pity, Moses became so depressed that he actually asked God to let him die. Poor Moses! Resenting the clamor of the people and his leadership, he disregarded God’s supernatural supply of his needs.

Specifically, Tim has “Numbers 11:11-15” as the citation for this story. Here’s what God does in verses 16-17:

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

If “self-pity” is what Tim thinks Moses was experiencing in verses 11-15, and “self-pity” is a sin, then what in the world is God doing responding to this prayer with “you’re right, you’ve got too much on your plate, let me help you out”?

Just an idle question.

Chapter ten, “Depression and Your Mind,” can be summed up thusly: Tim thinks all we need to do is imagine our depression away. We just have to constantly tell ourselves that God loves us and BAM! depression cured (129). It’s also a quick summary of everything else he’s said so far, so we can just move on with our lives for the day.

Although, of the six examples he includes this chapter, four are about women, and involve 1) obesity, 2) weeping, 3) menstruation, and 4) menopause. Because of course.

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  • In light of my PTSD, a trusted mentor at the time told me that I was clearly not trusting the Lord, because I was afraid. Perfect love casts out fear, you see, so the fact that I was still afraid meant that I wasn’t trusting God or resting in His love.

    I’m sure you can see how that verse is a massive trigger now.

  • It is becoming increasingly clear that a doctrine like LeHaye’s cannot stand without verses twisted out of context. Philippians 3:13 is not about forgetting past abuses, but about forgetting past efforts and traditions to obtain righteousness through works of the flesh. *Sigh* I don’t know how any of these “ministers” get away with calling this biblical counseling.

    • April – exactly what I was going to say. This is what happens when leaders value being “biblical” over loving people. (Biblical in scare quotes because we know that it isn’t).

  • The rest of the quote from Numbers made me tear up. “So you will not have to carry it alone.” There are a lot of f-ed up things in the Bible, but that one is a beautiful moment. LaHaye definitely needs a closer look at that passage.

  • John W. Baker

    Tim LaHaye, simply put, is not qualified to write a book on how to cope with depression. Depression is a serious problem which is not dealt with seriously by reading Bible verses. And it is not properly dealt with by the counselor shaming the client or patient.

    I agree with you entirely that when LaHaye is talking about “self-pity” he is in the same area as Gothard and others when they shame victims of abuse for the way their “bitterness” harms themselves. The hurt and bitterness are real. The answer is to address them; not to push them down and “forgive and forget.”

    LaHaye has actually identified a problem with Western theories of sin and forgiveness that some theologians from Asia have recently discussed under the Korean concept of “Han.” I recommend in this regard The Wounded Heart of God by Andrew Sung Park..You can get an overview of the term Han by looking it up on Wikipedia. It has many meanings, but the one that comes in here is deep, inconsolable bitterness.

    Asian theologians are pointing out that Western Christian theories of sin and forgiveness address the guilt of the one who sinned or abused, but leave untouched the Han or deep bitterness of the victim, as though it did not matter to them or to God.

    If you look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son, you can see that even though the prodigal is forgiven by his father, the elder brother is deeply hurt and angry and holds resentment and bitterness against both his younger brother and against the father for forgiving him. What is left out in the story, and what is missing from our traditional ideas about forgiveness, is that the younger brother must somehow try to make amends to both the father and to the elder brother. He must try to address the Han, the residue of hurt and bitterness which remain. This is his responsibility; not the responsibility of his victims. He may never be able to make amends in this lifetime, but that remains his obligation. The Han, or bitterness, which resulted from what he did is not due to “self-pity.”

    In this way of looking at forgiveness, we begin with God’s own Han, his heart which was wounded by the crucifixion of his Son. Yes, of course, the Father forgives us even before we confess our guilt. But our response to God’s grace should include our resolve to address the hurt and bitterness we have caused God and others, to make amends for the Han. The forgiveness given to the abuser is therefore only the beginning of the story of trying to make amends; not the end.

    Theologically, that’s what LaHaye is missing. Therapeutically, what he is missing is the educational and professional background to be writing such a book in the first place. It is, as you see, a book which has the potential to do a lot of harm.

  • Crystal

    “Although, of the six examples he includes this chapter, four are about women, and involve 1) obesity, 2) weeping, 3) menstruation, and 4) menopause. Because of course.”

    I don’t understand how my menstruation is causing me depression. Yeah, sure, fine-tuning it can be tough but it gives me great JOY. It’s a pity Tim can never experience one.

    What a weird man. And yes, I remember being told self-pity was a sin as a child. It was always treated as well, sort of a bad thing you should NEVER do. Don’t all humans do it sometimes?

    As regards Josh Duggar’s victims, his “advice” to them regarding bitterness and self-pity is nothing less than misogynistic cruelty!

    ” ‘Forget those things which are behind’ flies in the face of what we know about how to heal from trauma.” OMG so much this. I had terrible things happen to me – they would be minor in the world’s eyes – but terrible to me, and personal, so I won’t say what they are. But well, sometimes when I’ve tried to talk about them with those I’ve hurt or who’ve hurt me, I often get this thing that Jesus has forgiven it, let’s not talk about it anymore, sweep it all under the rug, you’re just bitter – and that leaves me in so much PAIN just thinking about it or remembering bad memories where I was hurt or hurt someone else, knowing I haven’t healed properly from them. NO! When we discuss our pain, we HEAL!

  • “Tim would look Josh’s victims in the face and tell them that they need to “confess the sin of self-pity” for the lingering affects of severe childhood trauma. He would, all while never once acknowledge exactly what the “tragedy” actually is.”

    Indeed. And he would be in good company, too, since it’s basically impossible to get people to actually talk about what went on using the words for what happened, and not little euphemisms like “mistake” or “inappropriate behaviors.”

  • If we’re going to quote Bible verses regarding depression, I always thought 1 Kings chapter 19 was a damn good illustration of how God responds and how we should respond. What makes that chapter even better is that it comes after Elijah has accomplished a major triumph: he called down fire from heaven and proved the superiority of the Hebrew god over that of Baal. But Jezebel is not happy and threatens to kill him. Elijah flees for his life and hides in the wilderness, where he basically begs God to kill him because he just can’t handle the pressure of being his prophet anymore.

    Some may find the disconnect between the chapters with Elijah going from victory to despair so quickly to be jarring, but I think it is a good illustration that depression isn’t just something that affects the loser sad sacks of life, but goes after those who, on the surface, don’t have much reason to be depressed about. Granted being on Jezebel’s hit list would be pretty scary (for those who don’t know, there’s a reason calling someone a “Jezebel” is considered fighting words), but at the same time, Elijah had seen actual incontrovertible proof of the Hebrew Lord. But not even that is enough to keep him from despair.

    The part I like about that chapter is that when God visits Elijah, he doesn’t chide him for being depressed. Basically God does what anyone should do when dealing with a friend or a relative who is depressed: God takes care of him, providing food and drink so Elijah can regain his physical strength, but also giving him psychological comfort, so he can continue his work.

  • Keep ripping him a new one.

  • Bethany

    I notice this is a pattern with the way many fundamentalist Christian sects/cults deal with a lot of psychological disorders (correct me if I’m wrong) – depression, impulse-control disorders etc. It’s like…the disorder/condition in itself is seen as one of those things that seems to be “only in your head”, and therefore when speaking of the symptoms or the causes – they are either minimized/dismissed or seen as present only because of a ‘failure’ on the part of whoever’s suffering. It’s like telling a person who has a curable physical ailment that they shouldn’t visit a doctor because it’s ‘not serious enough’, and then blaming them with the condition becomes life-threatening.

    Minimizing a traumatic event, or its impact, is the worst thing one could do to someone suffering from a disorder/PTSD. Because there is really little to no way you can go forward in dialogue with such a person. When someone tells you that your reaction to your abuser stems from ‘self-pity’ or ‘bitterness’ or ‘selfishness’ or ‘hate’ – you know then that whatever you say – until it fits their narrative – will be held against you and used to demoralize you. That can silence you automatically. And it’s horrible because they hold that higher ground and imagine how powerless it can make you feel.

    Also, the fact that ‘counseling’ has such a different meaning in the Christian context, and most of the ‘counselors’ are people who aren’t qualified to deal with people battling disorders or PTSD, speaks volumes to me of what they think of mental health as a whole IMO.

    I actually read up a bit on the Fox News interview with the Duggar parents and two of the survivors (couldn’t watch because I really, really didn’t think I could handle it). Whatever little I’ve read of it seems to me like a LOT of minimization going on, including stating that they were asleep and couldn’t remember much ergo no trauma (SERIOUSLY??). And I really, really don’t know how to feel about two of the girls coming out and defending Josh – esp coz for me it felt so much like they were being outed to protect their older brother, and thinking about that makes me feel so, so ill.

  • Rowanna

    [*stops lurking* Samantha, yours was the first blog I found when I started researching my bad religious experiences (I was brought up in Armstrongism, and I was amazed how many of my experiences weren’t unique). I really appreciate the difficult work you do here, and your commitment to honesty and growth is inspiring. Thank you.]

    These branches of Christianity seem to put huge emphasis on the idea that you can completely control your thoughts, if you only pray hard enough/”die to Christ”/otherwise squash your id. I secretly had a cracking case of pure-O OCD as a kid, with all the obsessions linked to “If I feel that, God will kill me like Ananias and Sapphira” terror. I wonder if condemning so many emotions makes it easier for them to condemn non-heterosexuality? I mean, if none of us are allowed to feel rage, sadness, or “inappropriate” attraction to boys, what’s the big deal about repressing my bisexuality as well?

    Oddly, the first time this got called out to me was in the song “Turn it Off” from the Broadway “Book of Mormon” show. I heard the song, got it stuck in my head for a week, and couldn’t figure out why my depersonalization had suddenly flared up until I realised — that’s me. That’s what happened. That’s what happens when it’s unacceptable, or unbearable, to feel. I can only be profoundly grateful my family had to quit going to church by the time I was 12; I cannot imagine living in a “non-worldly” culture through puberty, and I have so much respect for anyone who survived that.

    • Crystal

      “I have so much respect for anyone who survived that.” I did, in a very very mild form, but still it was hard despite the environment being loving and NOT abusive. Thank you for having respect. It means so much to me.

  • John W. Baker

    As to the supposed “sin of self-pity.” If the cross means anything, it is God’s declaration of complete solidarity with the abused, the oppressed, the victimized. God did not just affirm sympathy with their pain from a distance. Jesus placed himself right in the middle of it, made it his own, and took it on his own body and allowed it to take him to the grave. When someone tells you to “get over it” the cross means that they are in effect telling God to “quit feeling sorry for yourself and get over it.” Is that really what they want to do?

    The other thing that the cross means is that Jesus had to be crucified because of the abusers, oppressors, and victimizers of this world. Yes, God forgave them in the cross, but they were the reason it had to be done in a way that cost the Father his only Son and caused unimaginable pain and grief to God, in order to stop them from causing further hurt. Do Christian counselors really want to help them forget all the pain they have caused without openly repenting and attempting to make amends and be reconciled to their victims? Do they seriously believe God can forgive them fully as long as the pain of their victims remains unaddressed?