(This is an updated article, originally written by Alan Medinger in 2005)
“They can’t hurt me. Nobody can hurt me.”
Have you ever said that? Something we can say so casually is tied to some of the deepest places in our past.
These words expressed a choice I had made, one that would shield me from significant harm for years to come. However, the choice has several other effects that I never would have thought of. That choice, in my opinion, also prevented me from being able to properly offer or receive love.
I had built a wall of self-defense that would shield me not only from suffering, but also from healthy growth and connections that would give me life. It was at the root of my lack of sexual integrity.
With few exceptions, we developed a tendency toward self-protection as a result of having suffered harm at some point in our upbringing, and we made a commitment never to allow ourselves to experience harm in a similar way again.
Most of the women we minister to have experienced some kind of abuse from men at some point in their life. Many of the men we minister to have experienced wounding for falling short in one or more areas where manhood is judged. Whether for these reasons or something else in our lives, there are reasons why we have become self-protective.
But reasons don’t make it healthy or productive. A life lived in response to past wrongs is a paralyzed one.
What’s wrong with protecting yourself?
God gave us certain instincts of self-preservation, such as not walking alone at night, not trusting someone we have never met, and avoiding certain places or activities where we have a history of sexual sin. Self-protection and self-preservation are normal and healthy, but too much can lead to prison walls and other negative consequences. Let’s look at a few of them.
- We become emotionally isolated – Real love requires vulnerability. Friendships require give and take, openness, and sometimes letting go of control. This is risky, but without it, your heart ends up alone and untouched.
- It stops our growth – “No pain, no gain” is a pretty accurate saying. Although taking risks is risky, it also leads to growth. We either overcome our fear and grow, or we live in it and stay stuck where we are.
- We become self-centered – To continually have to shield ourselves from potential harm is to live a very self-centered life. When we live in self-preservation mode, we focus on our own feelings and how situations impact us only.
- It is counterproductive – We can’t fully guarantee our own safety because of how little control we have over both nature and other people. Here’s a funny thought: I used to worry so much that I wasn’t getting enough sleep that I became furious whenever someone or something disturbed my “down time.” But because I was expending so much energy upset about losing the rest I needed, I was constantly exhausted. Similarly, trying to protect ourselves from every possible hurt is exhausting.
- We stop trusting God – God wants us to put our trust in Him; to respect and believe He is trustworthy. The Christian life is all about having our eyes fixed on Him and not ourselves. Excessive self-preservation isolates us from others and keeps us from experiencing God’s grace and mercy in our lives.
How Do We Overcome Excessive Self-Preservation?
The most important idea is that self-protection can lead to a lack of trust in God and a lack of life-giving friendships. To change this, it is important to look into our own hearts and ask God and ourselves if self-protection is preventing us from trusting Him and/or keeping us locked in fear and anxiety.
Here is what I suggest:
- Seek to uncover your specific fears. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these to you.
- Wherever you find a pattern of self-protection, repent, and prayerfully yield those fears to God.
- Stop anticipating problems and building up walls before problems come.
- Learn how to deal with hardships like being tired, inconvenienced, or unfairly treated. I do not mean you should pursue these, but accept that hardships are bound to happen and God can use them to help you grow in Christlikeness.
- Consciously enjoy the freedom, openness, and peace that comes from no longer needing to put so much energy into protecting yourself.
Self-preservation is a major root in most sexual sins—and of a lot of other problems in life as well. It will keep you stuck in old ways and steal the joy of being more fully abandoned to God. Let go of trying to protect yourself, and instead place your hand in the hand of God, and be free.
If you need help, Regeneration and our team is here to serve you. Let us know.