Last Updated on: 18th April 2024, 12:27 pm

“Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, pleasing, and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

The Double-Edged Sword of Adaptability

Acclimation, Adaptation, Adjustment, Habituation, Assimilation, Accommodation, Familiarisation, Naturalisation, Orientation, and Conditioning are all valuable but also dangerous words.

As humans, our uncanny ability to adapt is both a blessing and a disadvantage. Adaptations help us survive but also make us susceptible and vulnerable to “over-adaptation” or “maladaptive behaviour. This is when adaptability becomes a hindrance that leads you to surrender to undesirable, unnecessary, or unwanted circumstances.

Over-adaptation refers to an excessive or inappropriate adjustment to changing circumstances, while maladaptive behaviour refers to actions or behaviours that are not conducive to one’s well-being or that of others.

The Deep Impact of Early Dynamics

The influence of a care-giver’s dysregulated nervous system extends beyond immediate behaviours and coping mechanisms learned by dependents; it can significantly impact their choices in relationships and pair bonding later in life. Children, especially, are highly attuned to the emotional and physiological states of their care-givers, naturally synchronising with these states and learning internalised patterns of behaviour and perspective.

When a child grows up observing and internalising maladaptive responses to stress and challenges, they may inadvertently seek out or be attracted to individuals who mirror these patterns in adulthood. This can create a cycle where they find themselves in relationships that perpetuate dysfunction, stress, or emotional volatility, reminiscent of the environment they grew up in. It also influences their approach to opportunities and may lead them to overestimate risks.

Relationship Patterns and Dysfunction (Control)

Additionally, the behaviours and patterns observed in a care-giver with a dysregulated nervous system can shape how dependents view and understand interpersonal relationships. They might form distorted beliefs about what a healthy relationship looks like, which can lead them to accept or pursue dynamics that are devoid of mutual respect, trust, or emotional well-being. Importantly, because dysfunction has been a consistent part of their understanding of “love,” they may mistake familiar dysfunction for love itself. This means they often feel “in love” when encountering familiar dysfunctional patterns in a relationship or from a person.

This kind of dysfunction often stems from unrecognised stress responses to real or perceived threats. In an effort to manage this internal turmoil and regain a sense of control and safety, controlling behaviours may surface. These behaviours aim to exert control over the external world, including circumstances and people, creating an illusion of stability and security.

When someone with this mindset encounters attempts by others to act independently or make decisions that deviate from their expectations, it can be perceived as a threat. This perceived independence or autonomy from others is viewed as a risk that could disrupt the fragile sense of control and safety that controlling behaviours aim to establish.

As a result, any attempts by individuals related to the person exhibiting controlling behaviours to assert their independence or make autonomous decisions are often met with resistance. These attempts may be actively undermined or discouraged in order to maintain a perceived sense of control and safety. This can create a cycle where genuine autonomy and independent thinking are suppressed, hindering personal growth and fostering dependence on the controlling individual.

In this environment, relationships can become strained, as trust and mutual respect are eroded by controlling behaviours and the suppression of individual autonomy. It’s essential to recognise these patterns and understand their origins in unrecognised stress responses and the desire for control and safety. By fostering self-awareness, open communication, and mutual respect, individuals can work towards breaking free from these patterns, fostering healthier relationships built on trust, autonomy, and genuine connection, hence, the call to renew the mind.

The Faulty Aim of Self-preservation

However, this pursuit of control and “self-salvation” is ultimately illusory. The effort to control external circumstances based on arbitrary standards that controllers feel comfortable with doesn’t necessarily lead to genuine safety or well-being.

The question then arises: what is this behaviour truly trying to protect or preserve? It’s aiming to safeguard an emotionally stunted and fragmented ego that is easily shaken when faced with any divergence from arbitrarily set standards. The go is, by definition, a construct based on an understanding of self and how self relates to a perceived threatening or friendly world. It’s a shaped identity formed by experiences, beliefs, and perceptions. In this context, the ego has not matured properly in a healthy manner, but instead has developed in a dysfunctional way.

In seeking to preserve this fragile ego, individuals may engage in controlling behaviours that seem to offer a sense of security but are, in reality, superficial and unsustainable. Indeed, the very behaviour tends to create the circumstances feared as it drives others away. These behaviours can create a cycle where the individual constantly feels the need to exert control, leading to further stress, anxiety, and instability.

By addressing the underlying issues and vulnerabilities that drive controlling behaviour, individuals can cultivate a more resilient and authentic sense of self.

Help and Healing for the Wounded 

We were called to recognise that our own efforts are fruitless and destructive, and that the core of salvation, encapsulating both preservation and safety, lies in placing unwavering trust in the Lord to secure us to the fullest extent. This trust leads us on a transformative life pilgrimage, akin to the journey Jacob undertook, evolving from his initial state to becoming Israel.

The name “Jacob” in Hebrew carries the meaning of “supplanter” or “he who grabs the heel,” reflecting his early life characterised by cunning and the desire to control, as seen in his attempts to manipulate circumstances, such as obtaining Esau’s birth right and blessing. However, as Jacob’s life unfolds, we witness a profound transformation marked by his encounter with God at Peniel, where he wrestles with the divine being and is renamed “Israel,” meaning “he who struggles with God” or “God contends.”

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This transformation signifies Jacob’s journey from a life of control and manipulation to one of surrender and divine guidance. It exemplifies the process of relinquishing our own agendas and trusting in the Lord’s wisdom and providence. Like Israel, who spent time with God and sought His guidance, we too can find profound well-being and security when we surrender control and cultivate a deep relationship with our Saviour.

Trusting in the Lord transcends mere external solutions or validations. It is a transformative act that nurtures inner strength, fosters deep self-awareness, and encourages genuine self-acceptance. This trust offers a sanctuary within, a steadfast anchor amidst life’s uncertainties.

Behaviour that ultimately proves unhelpful isn’t always as overt as control and manipulation in the quest for security and preservation. It can manifest in actions that society praises but that subtly underscore self-reliance, thereby distancing us from dependence on God.

At the heart of this challenge lies a deficiency in trust or faith in God’s love, care, and goodness—qualities that the serpent cunningly questions and undermines from the outset, as vividly depicted in Genesis 3. This corrosive doubt, planted by the serpent, continues to echo through generations, subtly influencing our perceptions and actions and ultimately dividing us not only from God, but from others and ultimately ourselves.

Many behaviours, even if socially applauded, can reflect a deeper issue of relying more on our own understanding and efforts than on God’s wisdom and guidance. They may appear commendable on the surface, but if they foster a sense of independence from God, they ultimately lead us away from genuine well-being and spiritual fulfilment.

Recognising and addressing this lack of trust or faith is crucial. It requires introspection and a willingness to confront our deeply ingrained beliefs and attitudes. By doing so, we can begin to cultivate a deeper relationship with God, rekindling our trust in His unfailing love, concern, and goodness.

This journey towards renewed trust and faith parallels the transformative pilgrimage seen in the life of Jacob, who evolved from self-reliance to dependence on God, culminating in his transformation into Israel. Like Jacob, we are called to relinquish our self-dependence and embrace a life of trust and surrender to God’s divine guidance.

In this transformative process, we discover that true security and preservation are not found in societal approval or self-reliance but in trusting God wholeheartedly. By embracing this trust and faith, we align ourselves with God’s loving and benevolent plan for our lives, finding genuine peace, fulfilment, and salvation.

Embarking on this transformative pilgrimage, as demonstrated by Jacob’s journey to becoming Israel, allows our wounded souls to mend and dysfunctional egos to be renewed. The Lord’s transformative power replaces harmful programming with uplifting truths, reshaping our perspectives and renewing our minds.

By placing our trust in the Lord and embracing the lessons from Jacob’s transformative journey to becoming Israel, we embark on a path towards true fulfilment and peace. We recognise that our ultimate security and salvation are found not in our own efforts or external affirmations but in the unwavering love, grace, and transformative power of our Saviour.

Trusting in the Lord transcends mere external solutions or validations. It is a transformative act that nurtures inner strength, fosters deep self-awareness, and encourages genuine self-acceptance. This trust offers a sanctuary within, a steadfast anchor amidst life’s uncertainties.

Moreover, entrusting our wounded souls to the Lord allows them to mend, finding healing and restoration. Dysfunctional egos, too, can be renewed through this trust, as they are infused with beneficial and uplifting guidance. The Lord’s wisdom replaces harmful programming with wholesome truths, reshaping our perspectives and renewing our minds.

By placing our trust in the Lord, we embark on a journey towards true fulfilment and peace. We recognise that our ultimate security and salvation are found not in our own efforts or external affirmations but in the unwavering love and grace of our Saviour.

The Importance of Mind Renewal

Therefore, the imperative to renew the mind carries profound significance within this framework. The mind can aptly be compared to a field or garden, demanding continual cultivation and nurturing, reminiscent of the mandate given in Genesis 2:15 for humanity to tend to the Garden of Eden. In this analogy, our thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions function as the seeds or weeds that we sow and foster, shaping the terrain of our inner world.

From a psychological perspective, the mind can be interpreted as a representation or hologram of our perceived reality. It mirrors the data we’ve amassed, the experiences we’ve encountered, and how these have been integrated into the intricate neural (physical) architecture of our brain. Essentially, the mind emerges as a virtual projection or embodiment of this physical underlying framework, the brain.

Much like a neglected garden overrun with weeds, our minds can become cluttered with negative thought patterns, erroneous beliefs, driving maladaptive behaviours if we fail to tend to and rejuvenate our mental landscape. These weeds have the potential to stifle the growth of positive thoughts, healthy convictions, and constructive behaviours, impeding our personal development and overall well-being.

The process of renewing the mind necessitates deliberate action to uproot negative thought patterns and supplant them with truths aligned with the teachings of God’s Word and our authentic identity in Christ. It involves the recalibration of our neural networks, the rewiring of our brain circuits, and the reshaping of our perceptions to better align with the wisdom and truth revealed in Scripture.

This occurs by exposing our brains-minds to the light of God’s word, as depicted in Psalm 119.

Through active participation in this journey of mind renewal, we can cultivate a more fertile and vibrant inner landscape conducive to growth, resilience, and spiritual maturity. This purposeful cultivation of the mind empowers us to liberate ourselves from the constraints imposed by past experiences, surmount negative thought patterns, and embrace the fullness of the abundant life that God has ordained for us.

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Gardeners in God’s Garden

Viewed through the metaphor of a garden, renewing the mind is akin to bringing order to chaos. Our minds, like untended gardens, can become overrun with disorder and dysfunction. The process of renewal involves imposing order on this disarray, much like taming the wildness of nature within a garden.

In this analogy, the teachings of the Bible serve as the blueprint for this divine order, thus Jesus’ proclamation, “As in heaven, so on earth.”. Just as a gardener relies on gardening principles and techniques to cultivate a flourishing garden, we turn to the timeless wisdom found in Scripture to guide us in restoring order to our minds. These teachings represent the divine order and function of heaven, offering a pathway to a prosperous, thriving, and healthy life.

By aligning our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviours with the principles outlined in the Bible, we cultivate a mental landscape that reflects the harmony and abundance of God’s design. This intentional alignment with divine order enables us to experience greater peace, fulfilment, and wholeness in our lives. Just as a well-tended garden yields a bountiful harvest, renewing our minds according to biblical principles leads to a life marked by spiritual growth, resilience, and flourishing.

Gardens serve as vessels for seeds, which can sprout into either weeds or flowers. Similarly, we are tasked not only with nurturing our minds but also with safeguarding them, as emphasised in Genesis 2:15.

The Soul-Body Connection

This is why Scripture intimately links our overall well-being and health in every aspect of our lives with the thriving of our soul. The Greek term for soul, “psuche,” forms the root of the word “psychology.” This profound connection underscores the importance of nurturing not only our physical health but also our mental, emotional, and spiritual vitality.

As stated in 3 John 1:2, we are encouraged:

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.”

This verse emphasises the holistic nature of well-being, where the flourishing of our soul—our innermost being, encompassing our thoughts, emotions, and spiritual state—is intricately intertwined with our physical health and overall prosperity.

In essence, 3 John 1:2 invites us to recognise the interconnectedness of our physical and psychological well-being, acknowledging that true health encompasses not only the absence of illness but also the presence of vitality and wholeness in every dimension of our being. By attending to the health and renewal of our souls through spiritual practices, emotional healing, and psychological growth, we can experience a profound sense of flourishing that permeates every aspect of our lives.

This connection highlights the deep interplay between our inner life—our thoughts, emotions, and spiritual state—and our overall well-being. When we consider another related term, “psychosomatic,” which brings together two Greek words: “psyche” (soul or mind) and “soma” (body) the relationship between the quality of our minds and our embodied experience in the world is highlighted.

“Psychosomatic” refers to the relationship between the mind and body, emphasising how our psychological or emotional state can influence our physical health and behaviour, and thus our experience of “reality.”

As we delve into the complexities of human development, we see how early experiences with relational dynamics influenced by a dysregulated nervous system can impact a person’s attachment style, relationship patterns, and view of life. This can make it difficult to form secure and healthy connections in adulthood or build a life with a unstable foundation. They may struggle with intimacy, trust issues, or maintaining stable relationships due to the learned behaviours and perspectives from their formative years.

New Patterns, New Life

Recognising these patterns and their potential impact on relationship choices and pair bonding is crucial. By fostering self-awareness and seeking healing from past relational wounds, individuals can break free from these cycles and develop healthier, more fulfilling relationships. Counselling, therapy, and intentional self-reflection can be valuable tools in this process, helping individuals to understand their patterns, heal from past experiences, and cultivate relationships grounded in mutual respect, understanding, and love.

We might also term this “learned helplessness,” which describes a situation where a person feels powerless to change or improve their circumstances, often due to repeated failures or negative or traumatic experiences.

The peril lies in how this can foster a victim mentality, where individuals abdicate their own responsibility in a situation, essentially forfeiting their ability to respond proactively. Instead, they may feel or believe they are powerless, at the mercy of circumstances and people beyond their control. Such a belief system contradicts the teachings of Scripture, which emphasise personal accountability and the transformative power of faith.

Victimhood Begins in the Mind

This shift towards a victim mindset often occurs when we internalise falsehoods or misconceptions about ourselves, our circumstances, or our capabilities. These inaccuracies can shape our worldview and influence our responses to life’s challenges, leading us to adopt a mindset that is both incorrect and unhelpful.

In essence, when we allow ourselves to be influenced by these lies or inaccuracies, we risk viewing our lives through a distorted lens that hinders our growth and spiritual development. It’s crucial to recognise these harmful thought patterns and replace them with biblical truths that align with God’s Word. By doing so, we can reclaim our ability to respond to situations with wisdom, faith, and resilience, rather than feeling helpless or defeated.

While adaptation can be beneficial in the short term as a survival mechanism, it can become problematic if we continually adapt to undesirable or negative circumstances. Over time, this habitual adaptation may lead us to relinquish control over our lives, essentially surrendering our personal sovereignty. In doing so, we align ourselves with dysfunction and may find ourselves trapped in a cycle of suboptimal living.

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Moreover, when we habitually adapt to negative situations, we may find ourselves stuck in a state of constant alertness and survival mode. This state is commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response or acute stress response. Continuously living in this heightened state of stress can have detrimental effects on both our physical and mental well-being and, more importantly, hinder any possibility of progress and betterment in our lives.

The terms “over-adaptation” and “maladaptive behaviour” are often used to describe this physiological response to chronic stress and adaptation to negative circumstances. T

The peril lies in how this can foster a victim mentality, where individuals abdicate their own responsibility in a situation, essentially forfeiting their ability to respond proactively. Instead, they may feel or believe they are powerless, at the mercy of circumstances and people beyond their control. Such a belief system contradicts the teachings of Scripture, which emphasise personal accountability and the transformative power of faith.

This shift towards a victim mindset often occurs when we internalise falsehoods or misconceptions about ourselves, our circumstances, or our capabilities. These inaccuracies can shape our worldview and influence our responses to life’s challenges, leading us to adopt a mindset that is both incorrect and unhelpful.

In essence, when we allow ourselves to be influenced by these lies or inaccuracies, we risk viewing our lives through a distorted lens that hinders our growth and spiritual development. It’s crucial to recognise these harmful thought patterns and replace them with biblical truths that align with God’s Word. By doing so, we can reclaim our ability to respond to situations with wisdom, faith, and resilience, rather than feeling helpless or defeated.

These terms can be further understood through polyvagal theory, which explores the role of the autonomic nervous system in our responses to perceived or real threats as a driver of maladaptive behaviour.

Regulating the Nervous System

The polyvagal theory outlines three components of the autonomic nervous system: the ventral vagal complex, the sympathetic nervous system, and the dorsal vagal complex. Each of these components influences how we respond physiologically to stress and perceived threats. With the constant pressures of our modern world, many people are frequently adapting to unfavourable situations. This ongoing adaptation can disrupt our nervous system, resulting in maladaptive behaviours. Consequently, a significant number of individuals find themselves living in a continuous state of low-level panic, trapped in a cycle of heightened stress and maladaptive reactions, i.e., fight, flight, or freeze (hide).

Adaptation is both natural and essential in life, but it’s important to be aware of how we adjust to our environment. We must question whether we’re accepting abnormal situations as normal. Continually adapting to negative circumstances can result in losing control over our lives, sustaining dysfunction, and keeping us stuck in a cycle of chronic stress and survival mode. In this state, we often find ourselves reacting rather than acting proactively, making it difficult to bring about positive changes. By understanding the concepts of over-adaptation, maladaptive behaviour, and polyvagal theory, we can identify these patterns and make deliberate choices to enhance our well-being.

As we explore the intricacies of human development and relational dynamics, we find that the brain’s plasticity plays a crucial role in shaping our responses and behaviours. Early experiences, particularly those influenced by a dysregulated nervous system, can actually mould the neural pathways in our brain. This can impact our attachment style and relational patterns, setting the stage for how we interact with others later in life.

Brain Plasticity and Transformation

Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and change in response to experiences. It allows our brains to reorganise neural connections, forming new pathways and strengthening existing ones based on our interactions and environments.

When early experiences are characterised by relational dynamics influenced by a dysregulated nervous system, the brain may develop patterns that lean towards anxiety, avoidance, or other maladaptive behaviours. These patterns can become deeply ingrained, making it challenging to form secure and healthy attachments in adulthood.

However, the concept of brain plasticity offers hope and an opportunity for change. With intentional effort and the right support, it’s possible to rewire our brains, creating new neural pathways that support healthier attachment styles and relationship patterns. Through practices like therapy, mindfulness, and relational skills training, we can leverage the brain’s plasticity to foster growth, resilience, and healthier relationships. This underscores the importance of understanding and addressing early relational influences to promote positive change and well-being throughout our lives.

In light of Romans 12:2, which encourages us to renew our minds and not conform to the world’s patterns, our approach to adaptation takes on profound spiritual implications. Unless we intentionally and consciously choose to perceive, assess, and respond to our circumstances in a manner that aligns with God’s truth and Scripture, we risk remaining trapped in the cycle of negative and unwanted situations.

Choosing to view our circumstances through the lens of faith and Scripture allows us to break free from the bondage of unfavourable conditions. By adopting a positive and progressive mindset rooted in God’s wisdom, we can transcend the limitations imposed by our environment or external pressures.

When we align our thoughts, attitudes, and responses with God’s Word, we open ourselves to His transformative power. This alignment empowers us to escape the slavery of unwanted circumstances and live a life that reflects God’s will and purpose for us. It enables us to approach challenges with faith, hope, and resilience, knowing that God is with us and working all things for our good.

By consciously choosing to renew our minds and align our responses with God’s truth, we can experience true freedom and transformation. This intentional shift in perspective enables us to live victoriously, even in the face of adversity, as we trust in God’s promises and rely on His strength to guide us.

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