by Amy Nordhues | 16 January 2023 |
I’ve always loved those 1970s VW buses. You know—the vans that have curtains in the windows and are covered by every bumper sticker known to humanity. They are driven by the free spirits of the world—the eccentric types that say, “Hey world, this is who I am, like it or not.” I guess I admire their boldness. I imagine each sticker commemorates a piece of the owner’s history, a place they’ve visited, a group or team they support, a unique expression of themselves.
I am much too OCD to do that myself, but I always thought those who did were cool.
That got me to thinking: all of us collect labels throughout our lives. We may not plaster them on our cars or sew them to our clothing, but they are there, slowly accumulating inside all of us.
Years ago, I attended a workshop in Dallas called Pathways. One of our assignments was to make a list of all the negative tapes that play in our heads, and then pick the one that stood out the most. The leader passed a microphone around the circle, and each participant was to read the message that screamed the loudest.
Despite our being from different walks of life, an age range that spanned from 18-60, males and females, would you believe that every message was the same? It was some variation of “I am defective. There is something wrong with me.”
We begin collecting these messages from birth. They come from everywhere: parents, coaches, friends, teachers, spouses. Some are positive but some are not. Sadly, it is the negative ones that tend to stick. What makes this sticking pattern so dangerous is that most of us are unaware that it is even happening.
These faulty beliefs have a way of weaseling their way into the fabric of our beings. We absorb the labels as if they are a part of us. We just assume it’s who we are. Who we have always been.
Comments that might be thrown around haphazardly become labels, permanently affixed to our souls. Like graffiti covers a wall, they accrue and eventually block out who we really are—perfect creations made in the image of God.
It is imperative, then, that we are aware of these voices in our heads, these whispers about who we are, and confront them with scripture before they have a chance to take up permanent residence inside of us. If something we are told about ourselves doesn’t line up with God’s word, then it is a lie and it must go.
In my book Prayed Upon, I described how, as I was being taken advantage of by a Christian therapist, I realized that I was living by a set of “rules” that allowed me to be victimized. Labels that had gone unchecked since early childhood, when we are most susceptible and most malleable, had taken root and were dictating my choices.
I had to acknowledge the “rules” were there, and then I had to challenge them with God’s truth. Even though I wasn’t sure I deserved God’s love, I trusted that I did because His word says that I do. We all do.
So I pored over scripture and inundated myself with God’s professions of love until that old graffiti was painted over with new inscriptions: LOVED, ADOPTED, CHERISHED, FOUGHT FOR, DIED FOR, ETERNAL, DAUGHTER, FRIEND, WORTHY, BLAMELESS, INSIDER, TREASURED, REDEEMED.
With these new labels, I had no use for the old ones, and they began to fall away. I saw changes in my marriage, my family, and my friendships, and over time, a new set of rules emerged to replace the defective ones. My life was on a new trajectory, and no one would ever treat me like garbage again. Why? Because I no longer believed those lies. I now know who I am. I am a daughter of the King, an heir, a perfect creation.
With this new awareness, I watch for these messages and try to eliminate them before they have a chance to stick. If I do catch one that doesn’t belong, I simply peel it off and throw it away. Then I paint over it with a new one. Satan is a master at slipping these labels in when we are least aware.
But we don’t have to accept them. Simply replace them.
It’s been six years since my abuse, and since discovering these faulty rules. I now have a brand new set of labels that I would be proud to plaster all over my 14-year-old green minivan, stickers that are accurate and life-giving instead of ones that tear me down.
Nah, I’m still too OCD. It might ruin the paint.
Amy Nordhues is a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and sexual abuse as an adult at the hands of a mental health professional. She is a passionate Christ-follower and expert on the healing God provides. She has a BA in psychology with minors in sociology and criminology. She blogs at www.amynordhues.com. A married mother of three, she enjoys spending time with family, writing, reading, photography, and all things comedy.