We hate being taken advantage of and preyed upon. We feel disrespected and dishonored when we know in our gut that someone is getting over on us. Whether it’s a shady used car salesman concealing a known problem, a deceptive business practice designed to shake us down for more money, or even a friend who promised to pay us back but instead went on a vacation. We intrinsically know it and feel it when we come across a bad “character.” In today’s society, it is difficult to pin down what constitutes good character, but we all know it when it is missing.
Character is usually understood to mean a person’s moral fitness. Are they a good person? Are they upstanding? Would they rescue a cat from a tree, even if no one else were looking? We generally want to know that who we are dealing with is one consistent person, not many different people at different times. I’m going to detail why character development must be a necessary component of any mental health treatment you receive , how you can recognize deficiencies in your own character, and how you can start building or recovering your character today.
Matthew 23:25-26 English Standard Version (ESV)
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."
Here we have a clear statement and rebuke regarding integrity. The Lord Jesus harshly and justly spoke against people who were hypocrites, spending more time perfecting their outer image than cleaning out the parts that only he can see. Carl Rogers, psychologist and creator of the humanistic counseling approach, “Person-centered,” spoke about the benefit and necessity of congruence with clients. He believed that for a person to be self-actualized, he must have alignment between his real self, perceived self, and ideal self. A man must not be split. Too often, this element of well-being is not emphasized enough. I believe that this is due to the fact humanism offers sparse solid ground for people to firmly stand upon. For the believer, however, the Bible is the guide book on how we are to develop. The bible states that men can sharpen other men (Proverbs 27:17), that we are not to neglect the assembling of one another (Hebrews 10:25), and that we are to carefully guard against saying that we have no sin (1 John 1:8). A great quote that I heard in graduate school was, “you can’t heal what you conceal,” and it is very true! Men need to be encouraged to be laid bare before God first and then ourselves. We need to be honest about the difference between what we are clearly called to and how we so often fail to live up to the standard. Addressing and treating depression will be incomplete without examining the role secret sins may be playing in a man’s life. Treating anger and sexual addiction would be incomplete without paying close attention to character deficits that may have been allowed to fester, likely from childhood. The bible is too amazing of a resource and a rock to build our lives upon for treatment to not rely heavily upon it.
Much of what people expect of counseling is to gain insight, to have information unlocked about themselves or an event which will allow them to see the world differently and make the changes they’ve been unable to make so far. Sometimes this happens. Other times, however, counseling can take a different turn. It can be challenging because people are having to confront harsh truths about themselves and do the difficult work of change. This is not a pleasant experience for most, but it is well worth it.. We all work very hard to ignore things about ourselves that we do not like or to downplay our faults. When character deficiencies are ignored in the present, the results will likely be catastrophic in the long run. Regularly, we hear of people who fall from grace due to an infidelity, a public embarrassment, an outburst, or a “moment of weakness.” You will learn how to avoid these pitfalls when you and your counselor incorporate character development into treatment. Think thoughtfully about the next few statements to see if you recognize any blind spots that may be a character deficiency:
If you agree with a few of these statements, you may have some areas where your character may need to be fortified. Believers are called to walk in the light (1 John 1:5-10) and to present ourselves and our lifestyles as unified before others. Do not be dismayed. This is a continual process and often requires someone you trust asking you hard questions from time to time. No one is immune. Our default is to conceal (Genesis 3: 8-10).
Community and brotherhood is integral to the final step. Now that you have seen the importance of character development in well-being, and you may have identified different areas for personal improvement, there are things that you can do to start building or rebuilding your character today.
Start small and pick just one area at a time to work on. If lying is your problem, decide today to stop lying. Explore how lying benefited you in the past (maybe to avoid conflict, allowed you to appear more competent, etc). Address the core issues such as a lack of bravery or insecurity in your performance. If keeping your word is a challenging area for you, decide that your “yes” will remain “yes” for a small period of time. Think through any challenges with commitment you may have.
A man of fortified character serves as a solid foundation to build strong marriages, families, churches, and communities. Please pray through and consider these ideas. Contact Lithos Counseling and Consulting if you need help in jump starting this process or along the way.
-Bradford Coleman, LPC