Dealing With Discouragement

by James Rudy Gray

While on vacation recently, I attended First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Charles Stanley brought an insightful message on discouragement. He has been referred to as a pastor who counsels as he preaches. His message prompted my own thought processes about the subject of discouragement.

Discouragement is not identified as a mental illness or emotional disorder than can be coded. It is not written about often. It is however, a reality in the experience of many people. Counselors and pastors will often be called upon to help people who are discouraged.

When persons are discouraged they are experiencing a low level of both motivation and self-confidence. They have probably lost hope, at least in some degree, and are feeling some degree of despair. It is important that a counselor help such persons identify what it is that is creating this feeling of being dispirited, disheartened, or being deterred from something they really wanted.

Dr. Stanley added an interesting insight to the observation of discouragement. He said, "Discouragement is the result of not resolving disappointment. Disappointments are inevitable. Discouragement is not. It is a choice we make."

Discouragement is a state of feeling brought on by how we are thinking. The truth is, the way we think influences the way we feel. Proverbs 23:7 says, "as he thinks within himself so he is." Norm Wright has written, "One of the greatest hindrances to emotional control is the mind-set. A person whose mind is set perceives what he expects to perceive."

Discouraged people are almost always thinking self-defeating and negative thoughts. How can they change that? Dr. Archibald Hart suggests three keys for changing negative thinking:

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Increase your awareness of your negative thoughts by bringing them into the open where you can see and hear (and thus evaluate) them.

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Respond to negative thoughts by writing them down (you will often find clarity in this exercise and discover that negative thinking is typically contradictory).

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Take action against negative thoughts. That means coaching yourself to take the right action, no matter what your feelings.

Discouragement is a condition of mind that can be changed by changing the condition of our mind. This requires a person to examine the cause of his discouraged state of heart. It can be hard work to motivate a discouraged person to even want to examine the cause of his discouragement. However, a counselor's encouragement can be a powerful motivator in helping the client move toward examining and analyzing the reasons behind his discouraged state.

It is often a good idea to remind a discouraged person that some of the greatest people in history were often the most discouraged. In fact the same David who wrote Psalm 23 that is so encouraging also wrote Psalm 42:5: "Why are you in despair, O my soul?" A counselor must help a discouraged person understand that discouragements are not uncommon, but they are also conditions of mind that can be overcome.

Dr. Hart, in his book Habits of the Mind, suggests two strategies, apart from extensive therapy, for thought-changing:

1. Repeat to yourself a new thought to replace the old one as often as possible. (Write it down and look at it several times a day.)

2. Simply decide what it is you want to believe, and then believe. This is not as hard as it may seem. When you are convinced, you change your mind.

Discouragement is a reality. It is a state of mind that affects our emotions. It can be overcome, especially when the principles of Scripture are used to encourage someone to a different way of thinking.

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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