Soul Help: What To Do When You Don’t Have the Resources To Do the Right Thing

Candace knows that her husband Jack is abusing their youngest daughter. Of course she finds this appalling, and she feels terrible about the fact that she’s pretending it’s not happening day after day. In her mind, Candace can see the woman she ought to be: the one who calls the police, exposes Jack, gets her daughter help, and boldly marches forward into a shattered future, confident that she’ll figure it all out somehow, someway. But Candace simply isn’t that woman. For starters, she’s terrified of what Jack will do to her if she makes trouble for him. At the same time, she feels emotionally and financially dependent on Jack. She needs him in her life, and she needs to pretend their marriage is not the sham that it actually is. When Candace looks inside herself, the resources to do something other than she’s doing simply aren’t there. So she continues doing exactly what she’s doing, which is nothing at all, and every day her self-loathing grows a little more intense.

And then there is Adam. Adam knows that he has serious problems. He is inwardly shocked and horrified by the monster he morphs into when he’s home with his wife and kids. He doesn’t want to keep assaulting them, but he just can’t stop himself. He knows he ought to do the right thing by seeking help. But the truth is that Adam is terrified of what will happen if he does the right thing. If he were to actually tell someone the truth about the ways he behaves when he loses control, what’s to stop them from getting the authorities involved and making sure Adam ends up in prison? He knows he could never survive prison. He is barely hanging on as it is. Every day he worries about what will happen to him if one of his family members finally snaps and goes for help, regardless of his threats to kill them if they do. Every day he feels like he’s sliding farther down into a scary abyss that he will never be able to find the way back out of.

As a counselor, my motto is: “There is always hope.” But where is the hope for Adam and Candace? It’s so easy to tell people to “just seek help” from friends, counselors, or support groups. But while it’s true that many forms of help and support are available, having the resources you need to access them is an entirely different issue.

When people don’t understand the mechanics of severe trauma, it’s easy for them to feel like traumatized people are being exaggeratory and intentionally lazy when they refuse to reach for help that is right in front of them. How much sympathy would you have for a man who keeps complaining that he is desperately thirsty, yet he refuses to reach out and pick up the glass of water that is sitting on the table right in front of him? When we observe such a scene, it’s often impossible to accept the man’s protest that he “just can’t” pick up the glass. But in real life, this sort of internal paralysis is a very real thing, and it is usually caused by your subconscious clamping down and refusing to budge on its personal agendas.

The Power of the Subconscious

As a human, you have four elements to your being: your conscious mind, your subconscious mind, your physical body, and your soul. Of these elements, your subconscious exerts the most power over your day to day actions. This is largely due to the fact that your subconscious has much greater influence over your body and conscious than your soul does.

Imagine that you have three friends, but one of those friends has a very alpha personality and she’s always telling your other two friends what to do. Your other two friends greatly admire your alpha friend, so they always agree to go along with whatever she says. It seems you’re the only one in the group who doesn’t have your alpha friend on some kind of pedestal in your mind. You view your alpha friend as your peer equal who has a lot of opinions that you really disagree with. When your alpha friend starts trying to get the group to do something that you don’t want to do, you have no qualms about telling her just how lousy you think her idea is. But it seems you’re the only one who is comfortable countering your friend like this. Your other two friends never stand up to your alpha friend, and instead they have an annoying way of siding with her against you whenever a disagreement arises.

Now in the situation I just described, you represent your soul while your alpha friend is your subconscious, and your two other friends are your body and conscious. In real life, the social dynamics I just described are very close to what actually goes on among your four elements. The major disagreements tend to happen between your soul and subconscious, and when this occurs, your body and conscious tend to side with your subconscious against your soul. They do this because they feel dependent on your subconscious for things that your soul simply can’t provide.

Understanding that your subconscious is very much “the leader of the pack” when it comes to your four elements is the first step in understanding the kind of internal paralysis I’m discussing in this post. When people feel incapable of doing the right thing, they are usually focused on behaviors. Well, as soon as we start talking about behaviors,we have moved into a realm of resources that your subconscious primarily controls.

Just as I can sabotage your efforts to water your garden by stepping on your garden hose, your subconscious has the power to block the flow of resources that are needed for you to carry out your soul’s desires.

When your subconscious riles up like this, you can find yourself in quite an impossible predicament, being literally unable to do things that part of you desperately wants to do. Our friend Candace wants to be a better woman and a better mother. Her soul feels terrible about the way she is abandoning her own kids and not lifting a finger to help them. In fact, on the few occasions when Candace’s daughter tried to tell her about the abuse that was happening, Candace heard herself snap that the girl was being evil for making up such nasty lies about her father. Candace feels as if there are two versions of herself: one that is a horrible person and another that feels deeply ashamed.

But now let’s look at Candace’s situation from the view of her subconscious and see if we can’t figure out why it is making her behave the way that she is.

The Priorities of the Subconscious

Your subconscious doesn’t give a toss about morality, God, the afterlife, or any other existential piffle. Your subconscious cares primarily about keeping your entire being safe and functional in the present. Of course protecting you well today requires wise strategies and the ability to accurately see trouble coming as soon as possible. For wisdom, your subconscious turns to its vast memory database, in which it has stored recordings of every experience you’ve ever lived through. For example, there was that time when young Candace finally scraped up the courage to tell her teacher that her father was abusing her sister. That had been such a terrifying step to take, yet the teacher assured her all would be well and that she’d done “the right thing.” And yet what followed was a series of disasters which resulted in everything becoming so much worse. Not only did nothing happen to Candace’s father (the police actually apologized for upsetting him with their routine inquiries), but then Candace’s father began to abuse her as well, while her mother treated her like she’d committed an atrocious crime and her teacher encouraged other children to bully her at school. Now adult Candace finds herself living in a situation that is horrifyingly familiar to the nightmare she grew up in. As far as her subconscious is concerned, the most idiotic thing she could do would be to repeat her past mistake by trying to reach out for help. So when Candace’s soul starts in with its moral lectures and orders Candace to pick up a phone and do something, Candace’s subconscious instantly goes on red alert and does everything in its power to keep Candace from putting herself in harm’s way again. When Candace comes across an anonymous crisis counseling service online with a number that she could call for help, she turns to her phone and wills herself to pick it up and dial the number. But something stops her. In that moment, she can’t extend her arm. She can’t dial the number. She simply can’t move at all. It’s only after the fleeting moment of courage fades away that her agility returns, but by then she actually feels a sense of relief that she didn’t let herself do something so foolish. In this sequence of events, it was Candace’s soul that urged her to dial the number. But then her subconscious intervened, ordering her body and conscious not to do what her soul was saying. Her body and conscious then capitulated to her subconscious, who they view as more formidable than her soul. With its two subservient elements in check, her subconscious then engaged her soul in a heated debate about what a stupid, dangerous thing it would be to get outsiders involved in her situation. Her subconscious sounds so confident and persuasive in its dire predictions of what will happen if Candace seeks help that her soul loses its courage and abandons its plan. Here is when she feels her motivation slip away from her yet again, and she sinks back down into a mix of spiritual depression and psychological relief.

Our friend Adam is trapped in a very similar bind, only in his case, his subconscious is terrified of the abuse he’ll receive if he ends up in prison. Adam knows what it’s like to be raped by another man–he certainly had enough experience with that horror as a child. What he doesn’t understand is why he has grown into a man who is acting like a clone of his own father. How on earth did Adam manage to turn into the very man who he has spent his entire life hating with every fiber of his being? His soul simply can’t find a way to make sense of this other than to conclude that Adam was simply born with some kind of evil nature which was always going to get the better of him no matter what he did. And if it’s true that Adam is intrinsically twisted, then there must not be any cure for him. So why go on living? Wouldn’t the noble thing be to kill himself and protect others from his abuse? And yet Adam is afraid to die and afraid of what might come after death. So then it seems the only other “right” course of action would be for him to turn himself in to the authorities so he will be taken out of main society and stuffed away somewhere where he can’t do harm to others. And so what if he is abused in prison–wouldn’t that be what he deserves? Perhaps if he faced his punishment like a man, he might find mercy in the next life, if there is a next life. These are the arguments that Adam’s soul makes. But his subconscious isn’t having any of it.

Adam’s subconscious views his abusive behavior far differently than his soul does. Deeply traumatized by the abuse he experienced as a child, Adam’s subconscious is drowning in fears that threaten to overwhelm it on a daily basis. The only way it can manage to vent off some of its stress is by attacking others. To Adam’s mind, assaulting his family members is a stress management tool, and about the only one it can come up with lately that seems to do any good. Of course his subconscious would prefer to find a better tool–one that causes his home to feel less tense and filled with dread. When Adam got married, he was hoping to experience safety, affection, affirmation and love. Now his wife cowers in front of him, afraid to make eye contact. This isn’t what he wanted, and it isn’t doing anything to satisfy his internal starvation for affirmation and love. But Adam’s subconscious is so stressed all the time that it keeps flipping internal switches that cause him to behave in ways he finds despicable. As for his soul, all of the solutions it has come up with sound truly idiotic to his subconscious. Killing himself? Really?? And what’s this nonsense about intentionally putting himself in a situation where he’s guaranteed to experience the same kind of abuse that has already crippled him to this degree? What kind of sense does that make??

As a trauma counselor, I understand the mechanics of severe trauma. I also understand that when your subconscious is under extreme stress, it can become unreceptive to getting any help. There are ways to relieve stressed out minds, but when your subconscious is barely managing to hold it together, it can easily decide that it doesn’t have any room in its strained resource budget to deal with change. After all, even good change is stressful, and more stress is exactly what many burned out minds want to avoid at all costs. Yet when your subconscious goes on lock down and forces you into all kinds of negative coping methods which deeply disturb your soul, your soul continues to suffer. Your soul isn’t carrying the enormous responsibility of keeping your body online or protecting your conscious from too much information. Your soul has a lot more time to think about its own needs, and when those needs aren’t being met, your soul finds itself in a very miserable position.

So is there any good news to be had here? Yes, there is. It turns out that your subconscious’ dominating behavior has a positive side to it. While the intense relationship between your body, conscious and subconscious often causes your soul to feel like it’s being excluded, that exclusion also frees your soul up to make its own independent choices. You see, your soul can take steps to help itself, even if your mind won’t cooperate. Your soul has some unique advantages that your mind doesn’t have: advantages which allow it to go around your mind and get help for its own moral crisis even when it can’t get any cooperation from your other elements.

Finding Another Ally

Your subconscious and soul have very different priorities. While your subconscious is focused on issues like safety and functionality, your soul cares about issues like morality, the purpose of your existence, and why you matter. Where did you come from, for example? Why are you you and not someone else? Are you just a random combination that was the result of a random egg and random sperm colliding? Or is there more to it than that? Your soul wants there to be more. All humans have a soul need to have their existence matter beyond this life; to be a significant part of some bigger, important picture. At some point we all experience a nagging sense that there must be more than this. At some point we all secretly wonder if that whole God thing is more than just a theory.

The needs of your soul are just as important as the needs of your mind and body. It would even be reasonable to say that your soul’s needs are more important because your soul is the only aspect of your being which will continue on after you die. Death in this world marks the end of the body and mind, but not the end of the soul. The soul goes on, and understanding this can help you treat your soul’s needs with the respect that they deserve.

Now it turns out that interacting with the non-human who created you (God) is a vital part of getting your soul needs met. It is only your Creator who can satisfy your soul’s needs for significance. God intentionally designed humans with a deep need to connect with the One who made them. Just as your physical hunger can only be satisfied with food, your soul’s hunger can only be satisfied by you establishing some kind of personal connection with the God who made you.

Now at this point some of you might be thinking “Here’s where she’s going to try and shove her own religious beliefs on me. Hm, she runs a Bible site, so she must be a Christian. Here comes the Jesus lecture.”

Well, no, you’ve guessed wrong.

Suppose you’re physically hungry and I say to you, “You need food. Oh, and the only food that can satisfy you is a hamburger.” Is this correct advice? No, it’s too specific. The first bit was useful: your body does need some kind of nourishment. But that nourishment can come in many forms. A bowl of spaghetti might help you just as much as a hamburger, so I’m leading you astray to tell you that the only form of nourishment that will do you any good is a burger.

At this point some of my Christian readers are squirming uncomfortably. “Wait, she’s not going to talk about Jesus? But she’s a Bible teacher!” Let’s all take a deep breath and get back to basics. God is who He is. You either know Him or you don’t. Exactly how you meet God and exactly what you call Him really doesn’t matter one jot. God is who He is. God is also obsessed with variety and He intentionally introduces Himself to people in a wide variety of forms. Certainly that makes you very uncomfortable when you’re aligned with a religious community that insists they are the only right one. But guess what? None of them are right–not when you define right as “completely accurate in their beliefs about God” (see Why Can’t Religious People Agree About God?). As for Jesus, He’s fantastic. Jesus is God. I know this, but that doesn’t mean you have to know it before you can establish your own very real, very satisfying relationship with the Being who created you. The God who once presented Himself as a man called Jesus is quite capable of presenting Himself in countless other forms. After all, God is not really a man. God is not even a He or a She because God doesn’t have gender, He doesn’t have a body, and He isn’t a human being. So what I’m saying to you is that your soul needs a relationship with God. But I’m not going to then try to predict exactly what form God will choose to present Himself to you in, because I know Him too well to try to pin Him down like that.

Now suppose you have no idea who God is, where He is or what He is. How are you supposed to connect with Him? It’s surprisingly easy. Suppose you go to the airport to pick up a fellow named Tom who you’ve never met. Tom has been told about you, he’s seen your picture, and he’s even watched a video of you on YouTube. So Tom is well equipped to recognize you. But you know nothing about Tom. As the planes roll in, you stand at the receiving gate, waiting for Tom. He knows you’re going to be there waiting for him when he arrives. You can count on Tom to make the connection for you.

This is how easy it is when it comes to you and God. God knows when you’re looking for Him. You don’t need to be briefed ahead of time on how to recognize Him so you can try to chase after Him and do things to get His attention. You just need to be receptive to talking with Him when He suddenly introduces Himself to you.

You talk to God with your soul. It is the only element of your being that is capable of forming a meaningful relationship with your Creator, and this is what gives your soul such a great advantage over your stubborn subconscious. When God talks to you, He talks directly to your soul. The fact that He goes direct like this means there is no third party translator that can garble the message or block it from getting through. If God talked to your mind instead, and your soul had to then wait for your mind to relay the message, then you’d be in a mess because your mind doesn’t like God and would likely fail to pass on many of His messages. And yet because God and your soul have this fabulous option of talking directly to each other without the assistance of any third parties, suddenly many things become possible. For example, your soul can tell God all about how frustrated it is with the way your mind is behaving. And your soul can finally get real credit for what it wishes it could do.

Candace wants to be a good mom. She wants to be a morally upstanding woman. These are the desires of her soul. Candace’s mind doesn’t care about what her soul wants at the moment. But God cares very much. God also has infinite power. God holds the universe together. God has so much power and rank that it’s ridiculous trying to measure it, therefore what God thinks ends up mattering a whole lot more than what Candace’s mind thinks.

Candace’s soul wants to do the right thing, but her mind is withholding the resources she needs to follow through on those desires. God judges humans based on their soul attitudes, not on their ability to physically follow through on their soul’s desires. Why does God focus on our souls when judging us and not our minds and bodies? Because our souls are the only parts of us that go on after this life, and this makes our souls the most important aspects of our beings. You might even say that your soul is the “true you” in the sense that you’ll shed the rest when you die like an astronaut stepping out of his spacesuit. In this world, you need your body and mind to function as a kind of “earth vehicle.” But in your next chapter of life, there will be a different world and a different kind of vehicle for your soul to drive around in. The vehicles are temporary. Your soul is permanent. So God judges you by your soul, and His assessment of you determines what kind of world He will move you to next. God’s assessment of you is immensely important, because His judgments have such an immense impact on your quality of life. And yet because God judges you based on your soul desires, pleasing Him becomes surprisingly easy to do even in the midst of horrific circumstances.

Adam’s soul hates the way he is behaving. Adam’s soul wants to do the right thing. If Adam were to say this to his wife and kids, they wouldn’t believe him. Other people judge Adam by his actions, and Adam behaves like a monster. But God judges Adam by his soul desires, and it matters very much to God that Adam’s soul wants to do right.

Now the fabulous thing about talking to your Creator is that He understands your abilities and limitations much better than you do. God knows all about the complex relationships between your mind, body and soul. He knows how real it is for someone to be literally incapable of doing the right thing–even when that involves something as seemingly simple as making a phone call or not opening a bottle of wine or not visiting a porn site or not going into your kid’s bedroom or not chucking a glass at your wife’s head. God understands that while these things seem simple to other humans, they can actually become impossible tasks once the subconscious takes over. Other people and even your own soul often prove to be impossible to succeed with. But the God who made us all is shockingly easy to succeed with, and this is why He is able to bring your soul some desperately needed relief.

The next time you find yourself wishing you could do the right thing, tell God about it. Talk to Him for a change, instead of just talking to yourself about what a loathsome worm you are. Tell God what you wish you could do, and tell Him how trapped you feel in the same awful cycle of negative behaviors. Tell Him how you just can’t scrape up the resources you need, and you know what will happen? Unlike most of the humans in this planet, God will say that He understands. He’ll believe you instead of scoffing at you because He will understand what’s happening inside of you even better than you do. And once you’ve told God all about the big mess you are in, you can ask Him to help you with it. Then you can leave it in His hands in the same way you’d leave your busted car with a mechanic.

When our minds are too fried and frazzled to be receptive to any kind of help, we need help from someone who is more than just human. God has infinite options, and God has positive reasons for boxing you into the corner you’re currently in. One of those reasons is to get you to start leaning on Him in life for a change instead of endlessly tormenting yourself for things that are beyond your control. Maybe God will infuse your situation with new resources, maybe He won’t. God is far more interested in cultivating His personal relationship with you than He is in helping you impress other humans with your “good” behavior. So when you talk to God about your problems, don’t tell Him how He ought to fix them. A little girl doesn’t try to tell her mother how to fix her broken toy because she has no idea how to fix the thing. To her, it seems broken beyond repair, so she weeps in despair and leaves all of the pieces in her mother’s hands, feeling hopeless about there being any kind of positive turnaround. And yet God is full of surprises, and He is the master of happy endings. So leave your mess with Him and wait for Him to do something with it. Meanwhile, you’ll have gained a much needed Ally in life, and your soul will no longer be alone.

For more about how God judges you, see Your Soul vs. God: Two Different Judges.

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