An important aspect of psychological well-being is living in accordance with your own beliefs and values. Often problems such as relationship stress, low self-esteem, behavioral problems, and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, are strongly rooted in a lack of congruency between our beliefs and values and how we actually live.
What is Congruent Living?
Congruence means conformity or agreement. To live in congruence with your beliefs and values means that your lifestyle choices, day-to-day activities, conversation and thought-life reflect what you hold to be right and important – both in God’s sight and in your own. Being incongruent involves saying, thinking or doing things that make you feel bad or wrong, or which otherwise violate your conscience. Examples of incongruency include having an affair when you believe in marital faithfulness, cheating on your taxes despite saying that you value honesty, gossiping about a friend even though you treasure your relationship, or yelling at your spouse and children despite having been very injured by the same behavior when growing up.
Living Incongruently Causes Stress
Another way of living incongruently with your values can be seen when your priorities are out of order. You can see this by looking at how you spend your time, money, rumination or affections. For instance, if spending time with family and friends is at the top of your list of priorities, but you neglect these relationships in order to work excessively or to chase after wealth, you may find yourself constantly rationalizing and making excuses. Yet such rationalizations become less and less effective at enabling you to maintain your inner peace and a sense of liking yourself. Similarly, spending money frivolously instead of wisely, overeating instead of caring for your body, or neglecting your child in order to pursue a hobby, may not represent what matters most to you, and this can lead to inner turmoil that must be quieted somehow. You may numb your nagging conscience with drugs or alcohol in order to cope, or you may seek to escape through distracting activities such as gambling, shopping or viewing pornography. As this happens, relationships with your loved ones, which may already be suffering, are likely to become even more strained over time.
There is a saying that you can tell a person’s values by what they spend their time, money and affections on. But this is not always true. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get drawn into commitments, habits, relationships and lifestyles that don’t mesh with who we are or with what we believe is important. We may sometimes be motivated by fear – such as fear of poverty, of being disapproved of, or of being alone – but when this happens, it causes great mental and emotional stress.
Our Conscience Can Warn Us When We Live Incongruently
Congruence is closely tied to our conscience, and the Bible speaks about this in various places. Here are some examples of passages that highlight the importance of our conscience.
This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. (Acts 24:16)
Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. (1 John 3:21)
…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them. (Romans 2:14-15)
But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:12)
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
When we live incongruently it is not God who condemns us. Rather, our own hearts condemn us, for our consciences are pricked. In such a situation, it can become increasingly difficult not only to connect with God and to have faith in His blessings, but it is also difficult to live satisfying and peaceful lives. We end up having to perform mental acrobatics that rationalize our departure from our own values and beliefs, simply in order to be able to live in our own skin. This can lead to mental and emotional unrest and to behavioral problems such as substance abuse and other destructive activities through which we seek escape and distraction. When we persist in such behavior, the Bible tells us that our consciences can become “seared”, as though burned by a hot iron. Burned tissue becomes scarred and loses its feeling, and a conscience that is seared no longer feels the prick that would warn it to make a different choice. As a result, the connection between our choices and our problems can become difficult to discern.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Regain Congruence in Your Life
A Christian counselor be a loving help for individuals, couples and families who struggle with the consequences of their incongruent living. Through the sharing of emotional, behavioral, and relationship difficulties in a safe and supportive environment, Christian counseling can help clients to identify the issues that are causing them conflict and pain. Together with a client’s goals, beliefs and values, these issues can be considered in the light of the truth revealed in the Bible, God’s manual for living. Biblical guidance is of central importance, for God assures us that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through His divine power. (2 Pet 1:3) Christian counselors help their clients to address their problems by examining their lives, and by measuring their thoughts and behavior against the yardstick of the Bible, and adjusting their own goals accordingly. For ultimately, if our life-walk is consistent – or congruent – with our deepest beliefs and values, we will enjoy greater inner peace and satisfaction, free from condemnation, regret and inner turmoil.
“Woman Having Headache” by David Castillo Dominici from freedigitalphotos.net. Image by Hotblack found on morguefile.com