Dealing with an overactive conscience
One of our readers, Hislovejoy, sent us this request:
I really appreciate Dr. George Simon’s work (and wish the friends my ex has turned against me would read and understand it all). I love his distinction between “neurotics” and a character-disordered controller. I have come to see that I have a VERY overactive conscience which is exactly what my ex used to control me. And it interferes with my ability to feel accepted by God. I was wondering if Dr Simon or anyone here has suggestions for dealing with the overactive conscience, and if others who have walked this path to a “normal” conscience could chime in.
It seems pretty obvious that abusers have a seared conscience and their victims have over-active ones. When teaching is geared to the seared conscience it seems to fall on deaf ears . . . but many of us with overactive consciences feels condemned since we so easily take the blame. I am learning that God is the judge of all things — including whether I am guilty or not — I must let HIM tell me and convict me, rather than my own thoughts. But gaining that discernment is hard!
I have not yet read Dr George Simon’s latest book The Judas Syndrome, but from this review which I found on Amazon, it sounds like it addresses the issue of an overactive conscience which can be fear-driven rather than faith-driven.
I believe that part of the problem I personally have experienced in having an overactive conscience is that my conscience was misinformed about right and wrong. The most glaring example for me was that I believed for years that the Bible did not allow divorce for abuse. So I stayed married (though separated) from my abuser for four years, and was a sitting duck for an unwise reconciliation — which ended in the abuse re-occurring and the marriage ending for the final time.
After that, I researched the divorce scriptures and wrote Not Under Bondage to offer a corrective to this misunderstanding of right and wrong, so that other survivors could be set from from false guilt and un-biblical entrapment, and be free to make their own choices about separation and divorce without fear of displeasing God.
The conscience can be correctly informed — guided by a proper understanding of God’s precepts in the Bible — or it can be misinformed — e.g. shaped by Pharisaic legalistic ‘c’hristian teaching; or by licentious, ‘anything goes’ libertarianism; or by a religious text like the Koran which teaches that it is okay to lie and even murder other people, so long as you are doing it in the cause of Jihad.
We are all born with a conscience — it is part of God’s common grace to all people.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. . .
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 1:18-19; 2:14-16)
The innate conscience we are born with knows right and wrong in a rudimentary sense. We can see anthropological evidence of that in all cultures: for example, all cultures have had some kind of standard of faithfulness in marriage, and some kind of standard for how people are to treat family and friends and fellow members of their society. Each society may cut the ‘right and wrong’ cake slightly differently, but no culture has ever existed without any standards of right and wrong at all. They all have some definition and standard of what they consider right and wrong.
But our conscience which has been shaped by our culture needs to be educated and shaped by Biblical precepts in order for us to become mature Christians (an ongoing process). A person who has an overactive conscience may benefit from asking these questions:
1. To what extent are the pangs of my conscience due to me having a misunderstanding of right and wrong? Have I been operating from an ill-informed or mis-taught conscience? If so, where can I find Biblical teaching that will correct my ill-informed conscience? And how can I absorb that correction into my heart and my being, so that it is not just brain knowledge but heart-known surety and conviction that will give me a closer walk with Christ? Of course, absorbing it into our being is not something we effect solely by our own efforts: it is the activity of the Holy Spirit renewing our minds in Christ that really makes the difference, but being willing it pretty helpful!
2. To what extent is my overactive conscience due to fear and lack of faith? If I am coming from fear and lack of faith, then the remedy is surely to have faith in Christ, to trust that He will carry me through this trial, this difficulty, this stressful time.
I feel like I could tease this out a lot more, but that it would be better to hand it over to our readers now, for discussion. And please don’t forget the original request that gave rise to this post:
Does anyone have suggestions for dealing with the overactive conscience, and how have others have walked this path to a “normal” conscience?