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"How to Win Over Depression" review: 212-241

To be honest, if Tim had stopped writing the chapter on how to help your depressed child at page 216, I wouldn’t have a single problem with anything he says in this single, solitary chapter. His first bits of advice are:

  1. Give your children a lot of love and affection.
  2. Accept them.
  3. Avoid anger in the home.

Those are things I can absolutely get behind, and I’m actually surprised that Tim included “accept your children” here– acceptance isn’t something conservative Christians usually talk about in regards to raising children. But then he does a complete about face with the rest of his advice, which is focused on “discipline,” which he makes clear is “the rod.” He says that “The Bible makes it very clear that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child” (217), and I’d like to take this moment to point out that this isn’t actually a Bible verse. It’s a quote from a satirical poem by Samuel Butler that mockingly suggests that spanking your romantic interest will make them love you.

Also, for an alternative interpretation on all those “rod” passages in Proverbs, I recommend reading this. Many Christians believe that those metaphors in Proverbs are supposed to be taken literally as a command to physically abuse their children, but I, and many other Christians, believe that is a grossly inaccurate interpretation.

Tim also takes the time to make sure his reader knows not to discipline his children “in anger,” and I want sit on that for a moment. A recent study revealed that the way my parents were taught to spank me– be calm during, and then be extremely affectionate and warm after– can actually make anxiety worse. The lead researcher suggests this might be because it’s “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”

There’s also evidence linking the sort of spanking that Tim advocates to depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and substance abuse later in the child’s life, which completely unravels his argument that children need to be physically abused in order to have the depression literally beat out of them. Other studies suggest that spanking can cause cognitive impairment and increase aggression. Couple that with the fact that many parents are likely to underestimate how hard they are hitting their child as well as how often they spank, it should be obvious to all of us that spanking is actively harmful, ineffectual, and not something even the most loving parent can practice responsibly.

Tim claims that spanking “assures the child of his parent’s love” (218), but I can think of few claims more preposterous. How in the world is hitting a child supposed to communicate “I love you”? I believed that spanking was a moral imperative for most of my life, and I never connected it to how much my parent’s loved me. I believed it was necessary, but that was completely separate from how much my parents loved me. The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.

Oh, it temporarily “fixed” my behavior. I usually managed to slap on the “thankful attitude” that Tim thinks parents should spank their children into (221), but it was a lie. It was something I pretended out of some sort of survival mechanism. Spanking “works” because of fear, not love.

~~~~~~~~~

“How to Help a Depressed Friend” wasn’t too terrible; his only real piece of advice in this chapter is not to be “too cheerful,” mostly because he thinks that depressed people find it annoying. That’s not true in my experience– I find overly cheery people annoying all of the time. Tim’s obliviousness also comes out a little bit with “Even the depressed will rarely refuse prayer, which they usually recognize as their last hope” (226). I have desperately wanted to say “oh my god, no” many times when someone has offered to pray with me, and the only thing that keeps from me vocalizing it is the fact that would generally be considered fairly rude.

The last two chapters were troubling, since he mostly focuses on biblical figured to communicate the message that depression is a sin. What troubles me is that he chose examples like Jeremiah and his Lamentations. I think it’s a truth (almost) universally acknowledges that white middle-class American Christians have lost the ability to lament. A google search of “Christians need lament” turned up articles from pretty much every significant American Christian movement, from The Gospel Coalition to the Emergents.

One of the things that deeply bothers me about Christian culture is this whole “happy happy joy joy,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I say rejoice” attitude toward faith and worship is that it ignores reality. Living on planet earth is a catastrophic nightmare sometimes, and if we are robbed of our ability to grieve and lament, then we’ve lost a connection to our humanity. Christianity is not about being happy, but sometimes I get the feeling that’s what it’s been reduced to. Our theology needs room for shit just happens, and “Rejoice in the Lord!” doesn’t cover it.

All the way through this book, Tim has advocated a position that being thankful for everything, including the awful, terrible, no-good stuff, is the only way to avoid depression, but I think all that really does is turn us into Stepford-level automatons. We’re people, and part of being human means being sad.

In the end, that’s the biggest mistake Tim has made in How to Win Over Depression. He doesn’t understand what depression actually is– he confuses it with sadness, with grief (227), and then tells all of us that experiencing those emotions is sinful. He robs us all of our humanity.

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  • For all the people who claim their lives were changed by this book, do you think it’s possible that they never really had depression? I can speak for myself, though other depressed friends of mine will agree, that therapy and medication make depression manageable, but nothing has cured it. I don’t know if anything will.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that at least some of them are still depressed and claim the book’s done things it hasn’t as part of trying hard to be cheerful and grateful like the book says.

      • Right. As long as they maintain the Stepford Smile, they think his advice is working.

  • Gandalf gave better advice that LaHaye… ‘I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.’

    • And by the way, it’s because of blogs like yours and Elizabeth Esther’s that I’m disinheriting my parents’ choice of spanking their kids. Thanks for pointing out its many problems.

  • Crystal

    I have many thoughts on what you wrote. However, I will pinpoint my immediate reactions first.

    “The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.” Hey, I hear ya too, girl. I went through the same thing once about having to be loving after being slapped across the face, otherwise I’d be accused of bitterness and treated like a bitch. The gall of it has stayed with me. I have yet to heal from that memory, but I would so like to! To their credit, my parents never calmly spanked, and they stopped spanking as I got older.

    Tim LaHaye is an utter bastard. Yes, he is. Confound his damn book. It deserves THE FLAMES, and nothing else. I don’t trust this man, not anymore. I don’t care if he speaks the truth according to the Bible. He has lost my respect – completely and totally – over a period of time.

    I also have decided if EVER I have children I will not spank. Spanking should ONLY be done in the bedroom with consenting adults!

    “Spanking “works” because of fear, not love.” My word, yes. That’s exactly what’s behind it! Manipulating behaviour through pain. It’s wrong – dead wrong!

    • trevel

      I honestly decided not to spank potential children because it was too sexual an act before I decided it was also abusive.

  • Crystal

    “One of the things that deeply bothers me about Christian culture is this whole “happy happy joy joy,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I say rejoice” attitude toward faith and worship is that it ignores reality. Living on planet earth is a catastrophic nightmare sometimes, and if we are robbed of our ability to grieve and lament, then we’ve lost a connection to our humanity. Christianity is not about being happy, but sometimes I get the feeling that’s what it’s been reduced to. Our theology needs room for shit just happens, and “Rejoice in the Lord!” doesn’t cover it.” AMEN! Jesus said that trials and tribulations WOULD come to his followers. Paul said all those that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Look at all the Christians in the Middle East and China and all those places that refuse to deny Jesus and what happens to them? Tortures and executions! Hebrews 11 is a good place to start reading. None of that chapter has happy-happy-joy-joy in it. It’s a sombre reminder that Christians need to remember that they will suffer for Christ. Do these people even properly read their Bibles without having their pastors’ interpretation slapped onto it? Jesus promised trials, but he promised to walk through them with his followers. Pain makes us stronger as people and it’s time Christians in the West started remembering that! Christians in the West have had it so easy, but they don’t understand the meaning of true persecution. If they had to experience half of what others in restricted nations experience then I think many would turn tail and run!

  • Crystal

    Isn’t being sad normal? What about being sad at the suffering of others? Does Tim have NO EMPATHY????

  • Another excellent review! But I did giggle at the bit about “spanking a romantic interest” because, well, if they actually ask you to do that, and it’s all consensual/ethical…..

  • cathy hendricks

    the rod refers to the shepherds rod which is and was never ysed on the sheep, but was instead a weapon to be used against something which would harm the sheep. Moses certainly understood this and used the rod as Gid directed him.

  • “The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.”

    This.

    My mother spanked me often and she spanked me hard. She always claimed that she did this because she “loved” me. Yet she often said that if a man I was dating hit me, I should leave him immediately as he was abusive and didn’t love me.

    Yet my own mother was happy to hit me–and hit me hard–when I was misbehaving. She tells the story of how she slapped me across the face when I was six because I was upset that she was telling me to head my homework paper incorrectly. After I was slapped, I looked at her and asked, dry-eyed and stunned, “Why did you hit my face?”

    She tells this story and laughs because she thinks it’s hilarious. No Mother, it isn’t. It was never funny. It was abuse, plain and simple.

    Making it worse is the fact that I’ve been trying to blog about all this crap that happened to me when I was a kid and I have a “friend” from high school who is sitting there, reading my posts and telling me “Don’t be bitter.” Um, hello? I was abused as a child and should probably mourn that fact; how can I not be bitter over some of this?! I could absolutely scream.

    • Crystal

      HUGS. My heart hurts for you. May you be healed with the love of God pouring into the deepest parts of your soul. I love you, and I’m so so sorry.

      Your mother’s words put me in mind of Christian Grey, when he said, “No, Anastasia, I don’t make love, I f*** hard.” And he did. Repeatedly. Many people glamourise him but he was the worst kind of abuser.

      You are brave to call it what it is. Much love to you on the journey.

  • segertsch

    the Pixar film Inside Out had more true stuff to say about the role of sadness than this entire book.

  • Tim

    One of the things I’ve most appreciated out of the things you’ve shared over the past six months has been your observation that “the rod” in Proverbs is properly seen as a metaphor for guidance, in general, rather than literally a club. Thanks for that and for bringing it up again here.

    We knew, before you started your review of the Tim LaHaye book, that it was overall pretty worthless in terms of useful advice for managing depression; I think your intent was mainly to expose some of the prominent myths on the topic that continue to be free-floating in the evangelical community, in part because of books like LaHayes. That’s valuable. By contrast, as someone who has been managing depression yourself for a little while now, what resources have you found that have been most actually helpful? I know something about what it’s like to be depressed. My dad is bi-polar (life was a little crazy growing up, but in the recent past he’s been on medication which has made him pretty stable) and I think I may have somewhat of a genetic disposition toward depression. After I lost my partner, I experienced a prolonged period of depression, but it felt to me that continuing to live life, even though I didn’t feel like it at the time, eventually resulted in the symptoms subsiding. I don’t know how better to explain that. But I need better tools to help a friend who is currently dealing with depression.

    I noticed on your twitter feed your speculation about why news media hasn’t given much coverage to the police shooting of an unarmed white man (something that seems to happen on average about 20 to 40 times a year in the US) – essentially you hypothesize that CNN, Fox, MSNBC are all institutionally part of the system of white oppression in this country (which I would agree with more-or-less), that some measure of police brutality is necessary to maintain the system of oppression which whites (particularly upper tier whites in the news biz) benefit from, and that therefore it’s not in their interest to critique the status quo by complaining overly much about police brutality even when the victim is white. That makes sense. But it doesn’t fully explain, in my mind, why any of the news outlets would give any coverage at all to the shooting of an unarmed black man. As part of the system of white oppression, wouldn’t they be even less inclined to critique police brutality when the victim is black? What do you think causes the media to ever cover any examples of police brutality whether the victim is white or black?