The Problem of Roots
My orchids were not producing flowers. I tried to analyze the problem: I examined the leaves, made sure the soil was moist, and put them under a window for more light. Still no flowers. I studied how to care for orchids and discovered that I might need to repot them. So, I pulled them gently out of their pots and removed the old soil and bark. Surprise! Some of the roots were yellow and soft, not green and firm as they should be. The problem was in the roots! I needed to treat the roots before attending to the other needs of my orchids.
Getting to the Roots of Borderline Personality Disorder
Such is the challenge in helping your counselee who has been labelled with borderline personality disorder. You can see the surface problems that the DSM-V lists, such as impulsive behavior and verbal explosions, roller coaster emotions, suspicion of people, paralyzing fear, unstable relationships, fluctuating goals, self-harm, and a dissatisfaction with life. You can see that there is something very wrong, but it’s difficult to uncover the source of the problem. The current pop-psychology thinking on treatment for this struggle offers various talk therapies to learn to control emotions through self-awareness and coping skills. But addressing the visible problems is not enough; until the root problem is identified, the solutions will be inadequate to help her see lasting change in her life. Her “disorder” is a disordered heart. Yes, all her outward manifestations are important and need to be addressed too, but the key is getting to the roots first, just like with my orchids!
Here are some important steps to get to the root problems of the heart:
- Build trust.
Listen compassionately to your counselee’s story and acknowledge her pain. (She may have scorned her previous therapists and might be suspicious of you as well, so be patient and kind). You discover that she has had a series of traumatic experiences such as the divorce of her parents when she was a child and the death of her mother to cancer a few years later. Adding to that, a relationship with a boyfriend ended in heartache and she quit college one semester away from graduation. Her wounds are raw, and the void is deep. Later, she will need teaching on how to respond to trials in life, but for now, care for her trauma and despair. Point out to her that the Lord Jesus understands her pain and He Himself is well-acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Pray with her and weep with her (Romans 12:15).
- Give her the hope of the Gospel (John 1:12-13).
Is she a child of God? What does she see in her life that is evidence of her salvation? What are some examples of Christian growth in her life? Does she understand the Lordship of Christ? She has tried various therapies and has probably been prescribed medication, but she is dealing with a sinful nature, which neither a therapist nor drugs can eliminate. She needs to be born again by faith in Jesus Christ. He will renew her mind (1 Corinthians 2:16). She can become a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- Discuss the goal.
Is the goal “recovery”? “Recovery” implies a disease. Assuming she has been thoroughly checked out by a physician and given a clean bill of health, her struggle is not from a disease. Her struggle is a result of wrong habitual thinking, and through repentance, belief, and obedience, she can change her wrong thinking, and that, in turn, will affect her emotions and her behavior. The goal is Christlikeness: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29a).
- Ask her for a commitment.
It will take work, but nothing is beyond the power of God! With the help of the Holy Spirit, together you can pursue change in her life through the guidance of the Scriptures, “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). She must diligently do the homework you assign and come to her appointments faithfully. Assure her that you will do your best to teach her God’s solutions if she will be willing to apply them. Remind yourself often of Paul’s words to the counselor in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” This verse also describes her vulnerabilities: she tends to be unruly (disordered habits), fainthearted (discouraged), weak (lacking some critical life skills), and in need of a patient friend.
- Go from fruit to roots.
Your counselee acknowledges some of her wrong behavior patterns such as poor communication skills and foolish decision-making, and she is painfully aware of her emotions, but, as with my orchids, the roots of which I could not see, she is blinded to the roots of her problem, the issues of her heart. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:21-23).
Ask questions to draw out the purposes of her heart. Have her keep a daily journal, noting what is the desire of her heart when she is angry. Is she craving control out of fear of more rejection in her relationships? Does she see that her grief over her losses has perhaps morphed into anger at God? Is she struggling with a stubborn, independent spirit? Is there pride and rebellion? The antidote is humility and submission (James 4:6-7). Help her to see that all these “heart problems” have a common root: a focus on self! That is the main root problem from which she must learn to repent, turning away from self and turning to Christ. Help her understand how to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33a). Teach her to focus on pleasing the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). She must learn to be vigilant to watch over the issues of her heart, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Encourage her to be active in a growth group in her church; they can walk with her through this struggle and offer accountability and prayer support.
I am happy to report that after having attended to the root problems of my orchids, they are producing flowers! Now I am learning to care also for their surface needs. Likewise, your counselee must be given biblical instruction for the surface issues with which she is struggling. But, as I learned from my orchids, getting to the root problem —a disordered, self-focused heart— is crucial for helping her to grow in faith and Christlikeness.