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Compulsive Medicators:
When You Enjoy Something/Someone Too Much

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div, M.S.A.

Number 38

One wise mentor and brother once gave me this advice.

If you enjoy a counseling relationship too much, get out of it.

This was not only excellent advice for counseling, but for all professional ministry relationships in general. Why? Some reasons may include the following.


Hedonistic Transformation

Perhaps one of the greatest danger of pastors experiencing their greatest pleasures in the church are transformative dynamics that may change something that is simply "enjoyable" to something that becomes compulsively addictive.

Our everyday lives, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, have a regular rhythm and rhyme and "warp and woof" to them. When the "flow" is normal, we enjoy the expected pleasures from life in a generally expected, healthy manner.

However, in crises, the flow is interrupted. Some areas of our life which used to give pleasure no longer do. To offset the balance, we place increasing dependence upon those remaining areas which give pleasure.

The degree to which we create unhealthy dependency on certain pleasure areas will be related to...

The Signs of Danger

As successive unresolved crises accumulate, the number of pleasure sources decline. The loss of such pleasure centers may be unnoticeable to the untrained. Incrementally, little by little, bouts with depression, growing levels of irritability and paranoia will arise. Because a sense that "we can handle it by ourselves" prevails, toleration often precludes necessary professional intervention.

As result, those relationships most essential to our lives become tense, distanced, and uncomfortably--and sometimes almost irreparably--strained.

Any or all of these signs indicate that normal pleasure centers have been interrupted. As individuals in crisis experience pleasure loss in an ever-enlarging sphere of their differentiated activities, an incessant compulsive hunt to find other areas of pleasure may arise. Such "hunt" may be for secretive, forbidden, and or illegal activities (e.g. drinking, sex, drugs, etc.). Whatever the hunter's trophy, the goal is always the same: to find a substance or activity to give pleasure.

The Compulsive Medicator

Compulsive Medicators are anything, person, or activity which gives an individual (in crisis or dysfunction) a sense of pleasure. Individuals dependent on compulsive medicators have shifted their pleasure seeking from "normal" sources to seeking pleasure (or "flow") from the compulsive and relentless pursuit of a singular (or very few), activity (or activities). It is the pursuit of these medicative activities or persons that incites hormonal and or chemical substances within the individual, resulting in a medicative effect by which pain is eased and at least momentary pleasure restored.

Activities which Compulsive Medicators frequently engage in may include...

Compulsive Medicators As Signs Of Mental Illness

Any of the above medicators are indications of mental illness and co-dependencies. Unfortunately, they are often unrecognized as signs of mental illness. Perhaps the compulsive medicators most overlooked in the church are care taking and workaholism.

Perhaps it should be no surprise when the hardest working, the most creative, the most dedicated, the most successful, and the most innovative pastors fall from ministry. Their extreme faithfulness, over-zealousness, no boundaries willingness to help anyone at anytime, and their heroic realization of great things for God by working countless numbers of hours in selfless sacrifice may not have been driven so much by faith as by mental illness sustained by compulsive medicators.

Pastors and Churches In Denial:
"Sanctified" Compulsive Medicators

Compulsive medicators such as care taking are often overlooked in pastors and other helping professionals. Not only have these indicators been overlooked in the church, but they've been subject to a form of rationalization and denial which "sanctifies" such behaviors. After all, isn't care taking what faithful pastor are called to do? Shouldn't pastors set the example of sacrifice in giving up self for others? Shouldn't pastors get their greatest joy from their ministry of serving God?

Pastors and ministry professionals drawing strength from the compulsive medicator for care taking may also spend many long nights counseling individuals with great joy and satisfaction. Unfortunately, those receiving their services shower these pastors with positive attention, causing pastors to crave more and more of this special medication. It's then that they may enjoy it too much--and get into grave personal professional trouble.

Or, quite unawares, pastors may find themselves getting enjoyment from helping members or staff. However, when such mutually healthy supportive relationships become "medicative" in times of personal and/or professional stress (i.e. the pastor is unable to cope without the other person's supportive presence), such relationships may almost imperceptibly metastasize. Such metastatical transformation may 1) evoke a sense of fear or distrust among helping members or staff who do not understand that mental illness has set in; or 2) induce greater degrees of medicative compulsions; and/or 3) increase the potential for other (more destructive) compulsive medicative behaviors and addictions.

For this reason it is imperative for key staff members and leaders to be aware of the symptoms and signs of the onset of mental illness, specifically those which are compulsive-medicator-related before the symptoms cause irreversible, irreparable damage, the consequences of which may last long after the mental illness has been healed.

Much the same could be said for other common "sanctified" compulsive medicators such as "workaholism" and "control/power." Though adored by members these, like compulsive medicative care taking, are the basic components of vulnerability to mental illness. Indeed, pastors must be careful because their greatest strength can be their greatest weakness and vulnerability to being "sifted like wheat" by satanic workings and events in the life of the pastor and the church.

Given the seriousness--and preventability--of the destructive potential of compulsive medicative behaviors, perhaps some suggestions are in order.

Some Suggestions For Pastors

Some Suggestions For Congregations

1. What are the most enjoyable areas of your ministry?
2. What are the most challenging areas of your ministry?
3. In what ways can we help?

Then faithfully follow through with implementation of a plan based on these responses.

Suggestions For Denominations/Judicatories

Certainly, there are many other things that can be done. Whether pastor, congregational member or judicatory, be sure to enjoy your ministry to the Lord. But let your enjoyment be balanced by the celebration of the many other areas of enjoyment which God gives inside and outside of the church. When circumstances work to take away that joy, take immediate action to recognize and appropriate address the situation before it wears you down.

Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:03 PM