rebelling against low expectations

When Home is Not a Haven

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The first time I encountered mental illness, I was twelve.

By fourteen, I’d witnessed physical, mental, emotional, and social abuse that we now call trauma.

Today, Millennials and Gen Z are 27% more likely to report mental health issues than any previous generation. But too many of us suffer alone. I did.

We all know many things can impact us, from the way we think or feel to the relationships and situations we face.

But behind the scenes, there is something impacting your heart and mind you may not be aware of. At least I wasn’t.

I’m talking about your environment. And that’s what this article will cover–how does your personal environment impact you, and what can you do about it?

What is Your Environment?

Your environment includes your place–where you live and spend your time–but it also includes people–your family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and culture.

As a teen, I thought my environment was normal. Sure, it had its quirks, but I assumed everyone grew up like me – listening to my parents scream and slam doors, becoming the second parent in my home, surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics, and abuse.

But while many live in conditions similar to mine or worse, that doesn’t make those environments normal or safe.

Not every home is toxic or dysfunctional. There are many safe, loving, and healthy homes. But not everyone has that story and my focus here is toward those who, like me, have experienced the crippling effects of an unhealthy home environment. Because of sin, it’s unfortunately a story more common than it should be and its consequences run deep.

What Happens When You Ignore Your Personal Environment

At twenty-six, I now see the effects of my toxic home life.

While I grew up in a primarily Christian home, I still experienced trauma from my half-brother’s substance abuse and my father’s mental and physical health issues. Over a decade ago the chaos in my personal environment began. And as a result, I have faced painful, long-term consequences and conditions. So have many others. As a teacher, I see first-hand the damage of a toxic environment.

Taryn, who grew up in a divorced household filled with verbal abuse, developed bipolar at eleven and attempted suicide at seventeen.

Tyler, whose father committed suicide when he was just a child, would later suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms himself.

Jessy, who grew up in a physically abusive home, now struggles with an eating disorder and wonders if her life is even worth living.

The stories are endless. The faces are innumerable. The struggles are often hidden.

But their significance is the same.

We don’t realize the damage caused by our personal environment until the damage is done. And as Christians, that is something we need to change. Click To Tweet

We don’t realize the damage caused by our personal environment until the damage is done. And as Christians, that is something we need to change.

3 Action Steps for Navigating an Unhealthy Environment

If you live in a toxic environment, know I have been in your shoes. So have Taryn, Tyler, Jessy, and hundreds I’ve interviewed and researched.

Many of us face the constant tension of loving the people around us while learning to distance ourselves from them to protect our sanity. But what does this practically look like?

1. Set Boundaries

For me, this looked like setting firm boundaries with my dad and my half-brothers. I prayed for my father while seeking a safe space at my grandma’s. Though I still live at home, I have learned to reduce the number of hours I spend around him, especially if he is being verbally abusive or physically aggressive.

As Proverbs 22:24-25 notes, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.”

Anger and malicious behaviors can be contagious. They are devastating to our heart, mind, and relationship with God.

But even though my dad’s behaviors can be toxic, I am still called and convicted to love him. The reality is that by limiting my interactions with him when he’s in these moods, I can actually love him better. For example, spending quality time with him when he’s acting appropriately, not only reduces my trauma but protects the relationship I want to restore with him.

With my cocaine-addicted half-brothers, setting boundaries and living with a humble spirit looked like sharing the Gospel, but not giving them money when they pleaded with me. Today, it often looks like ignoring certain messages when I know they are motivated by bribery or greed, and instead, responding with love.

The boundaries you set will depend on your personal situation. Pray and ask God what boundaries are necessary for your sanity and safety.

2. Reach Out

The second thing that significantly helped me navigate these struggles was talking to others about it. Growing up, I was often told I didn’t need counseling or was crazy if I sought help. But it was working with someone I trusted that made things better. And I found that help by using free and low-cost resources for counseling through college, and later, safe workspaces and co-workers whom I felt could support me.

There is a reason the book of Proverbs tells us the heartfelt counsel of a friend is sweet incense: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (Proverbs 27:9, NIV).

Becoming more open about my struggles with my counselor helped me open up more to trusted friends and God. It brought my environment to the light. And Jesus often heals the broken things within us through the comfort, support, and edification of godly community.

For many years I kept my story under wraps. I shared certain parts of my mental health struggles while keeping others under lock and key. But it wasn’t until I was vulnerable with my story that God began to transform hopeless situations into testimonies I’d use to help others heal.

3. Seek God’s Truth

The final action step for navigating your personal environment requires you to look beyond what is seen and seek God’s truth. When it comes to our mental health, solely reaching out to others isn’t enough. Without seeking God and His Word, it will all be in vain. We’ll still be in the dark.

As Christians, seeking help from Him must be a priority. That looks like continually reaching out to Him in prayer, worship, Scripture reading, and fellowship even when you feel hopeless.

Telling Him what is on your mind and allowing His Light to shine through the broken places of your heart.

By internalizing God’s Word on a personal level, we can begin to see beyond our personal environment. Though it is a process, it will enable us to view our situations through the lens of His Word.

Telling God what is on your mind and allowing His Light to shine through the broken places of your heart by internalizing God’s Word on a personal level allows to see beyond our personal environment. Click To Tweet

As we do, we will find hope, correction, rebuke, challenge, grace, and healing at all times and in all seasons. Especially while we’re still struggling.

There Is Hope

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NIV).

Here on earth, victory is not always seen.

Victories for Taryn, Tyler, and Jessy didn’t happen overnight. Neither did mine. And my story still isn’t done.

Yet, I am confident that the God who created us will finish His work. God is for us. He has a future for us. He will not give up on us. He is a loving Father. He cares about and sees what we’re going through. Amid our struggles, we must remember The Truth of Jesus Christ and His Word beyond the feelings, limits, and understanding of our present situation. With God, there is hope. Hope in who God is, and what we can overcome through His Spirit within us.

While it can be hard and painful to face the reality that our personal environment is unhealthy, we have to accept it to move forward and protect ourselves.

But there is hope, and healing is possible.

God has given us tools to process the trauma we’ve experienced so we never have to face it alone. Setting boundaries, reaching out, and acknowledging our environment while seeking God’s truth are just three I’ve highlighted here.

As we fight these battles, let us not forget His promise to never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8).


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About the author

Amber Ginter

is an author, and teacher who has worked with hundreds of students. Seeing first-hand the tsunami of mental health issues they face, she has a passionate desire to share Jesus through her writing, aesthetics, and volunteer roles. She is enrolled in the YWW Author Conservatory to become a full-time author and is a featured writer for Crosswalk, ibelieve, Salem Web Network, The Rebelution, Daughter of Delight, Kallos, Anchored Passion, No Small Life, and Darling Magazine. In the past, she's also contributed to Called Christian Writers, Southern Ohio Today News, Ohio Christian University, and The Circleville Herald. Visit her website at amberginter.com

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rebelling against low expectations

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