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"Loving God, Loving Myself" Week Six, Day Four -- Is There A Door Number Three?"

Our todays are shaped by our yesterdays.

What is past may also be a prison—

a prison of recurring painful patterns

of thinking, feeling and relating.   

—Sandra Wilson

When I (Jerry) was a kid, I used to watch Let’s Make a Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. For those of you who remember the show (and those of you who still watch it), the contestant must choose which one of three doors he wants opened. Behind one is a major prize, while behind the other two are booby prizes. Sometimes the host of the show will open one of the three doors, revealing that it is not the one holding the grand prize. Then the contestant must choose between one of the two remaining.

Often we ask our clients, “Is there a door number three?” Why? Because the choices they communicate to their spouse, children, or others are rigid and end up controlling those they are closest to. You probably know someone like this. Or maybe you live with someone like this. Or . . . you are someone like this.

What we’re really talking about is someone who operates with black-and-white thinking. There is no room for gray. Another way such thinking shows up is when a person judges everything as either right or wrong. Again, no discussion allowed. This person is the opposite of the one who rarely voices an opinion or preference. You’ve probably encountered that kind as well.

Interestingly, both types—those with rigid boundaries and strong opinions and those with very loose boundaries and few opinions—can come from similar dysfunctional homes of origin and childhood wounding. But let’s focus on the first type—the one with rigid boundaries, or what we would call “walls.”

Why would we end up counseling someone with this personality? It doesn’t sound like such a person would ever feel the need to seek help. After all, they’ve pretty much figured out the problem, and the answer is to “just do this” or “stop doing that,” whatever this or that happens to be. Usually, though, this style of relating eventually results in a damaged relationship—like a marriage—and the threat of a spouse’s leaving creates a crisis that can no longer be ignored.

We are describing a strong case of rigidity here, and of right-versus-wrong thinking—someone you probably wouldn’t enjoy spending much time with. But this controlling, black-and-white thinking doesn’t have to manifest in an undesirable personality. Some of these people exhibit very desirable traits; nevertheless, certain areas in their lives display significant controlling behaviors which are particularly evident to those closest to them—the ones who feel controlled.

Where does such conduct come from?

Original research on the effects of growing up in an alcoholic home revealed a host of negative effects that manifested in adulthood. They include the rigid, black-and-white, right-versus-wrong thinking and the relational styles we’ve just described. But why?

Many alcoholic home environments—particularly those where the alcoholic parent becomes more aggressive when drinking—create a fearful, out-of-control atmosphere. A child exposed to it has no power to stop or change it. Often the child—and later the adult—begins to bring order to the things he or she can control. Maybe it’s only the condition of their bedroom, but at least the child can bring order to that.

It has long been recognized that this dynamic isn’t limited to alcoholic households. Children growing up in any significantly dysfunctional home respond in a similar way, and they bring their behavior and its underlying issues with them into adulthood. People who need to have things in control, and who find it difficult to release control to others or do things differently than they have in the past, are dealing with fear at their core. It’s not the type of fear we typically relate to, such as a fear of heights or snakes or the like; it’s deeper and more foundational. Anxiety rooted in early childhood is what drives controlling behaviors. And that core fear often operates in tandem with toxic shame (the kind that says you’re fundamentally not okay) and pride (“I can do it; I don’t need anyone or anything”).

If you’re married to or work with someone who exhibits controlling behaviors, you end up either butting heads with that person or else just acquiescing and ultimately getting “lost” in the relationship—especially if you are the spouse in a marriage.

“Wait a minute,” you might be thinking, “isn’t it good to know right from wrong and to stand on the truth? Didn’t Jesus communicate truth and even say, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’?” (John 8:32).

Yes, truth is very important. However, Jesus came “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, emphasis added). Jesus didn’t operate with black-and-white thinking. That is why he often drove the religious leaders nuts. Jesus applied truth to every situation he faced and didn’t operate from a default mechanism—black versus white, right versus wrong—that was rooted in woundedness. Think about the woman caught in adultery or the man with the shriveled hand whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath (John 8:1–11; Mark 3:1–5). Jesus was able to discern when and when not to act, when to speak or not speak. And he never compromised truth or the heart of his Father in any situation.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I frequently find it hard to yield to another opinion or way of doing something?

  • Do I feel I need to be perfect in certain areas, and do I have little grace for myself when I fail or make a mistake? (Perfectionism is another result of core wounding.)

  • Do my choices often focus on what I feel is needed or right, and do they often trump the choices of others around me?

  • Do I find that emotional intimacy and connectedness in my closest relationships takes a back seat to my subtle or not-so-subtle need to be in control of my environment?

  • Do I find it hard to feel the full range of emotions—unable to feel God’s feelings for myself and for others?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, stop and ask God to help you see why. He will be delighted to open up that door with you. He knows how the wound that lies behind it is hurting your heart and hindering your ability to love fully—first him, then yourself, and then others. After all, it is God’s love that pushes out fear and anxiety (1 John 4:18), and he came to heal our broken hearts and set us free

So if you’re asked sometime, “Is there a door number three?” check yourself and see how inflexible or rigid you are. There might be a younger part of you that is in control and is crying out to be healed.


Father, I want to be able to fully rest and to trust you more. I know you are trustworthy and that you have also placed people in my life whom I can trust. What holds me back? Why do I find myself at times “majoring on the minors?” Why do I struggle with yielding as much as I do? Open up my heart and help me see if I am operating from a wounded place that started a long time ago. Help me to trust you with that which is so important to you—my heart. I want to live from a place of truth and grace like you did, Jesus, and not have to compromise in any way. Lead me in the way I need to go. Be my shepherd in this and all areas of my life.


To listen to this post, narrated by Jerry and Denise, click here:  LGLM - Is There A Door Number Three? Audio File

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