The exact intent of this commandment is clear- “I am your God- don’t worship anybody or anything else but me!” The Bible sort of leads us to believe that God got angry and jealous about some people worshipping this golden calf statue, and so that is why this commandment was the first one. I interpret it as being the first one because Judaism needed to quash polytheism in order to become the dominate religion or at least the dominant religious style with monotheism. It is also a great introduction commandment. The reader needs to accept this commandment as true in order to respect and comply with all the other commandments. This commandment is saying- “HEY! I’m the one true God. Anything that you think you have heard about another “god” is false, and as such you do not need to follow anything they may have said. I am the only One, and therefore the only One that you need to listen to.”
My heart always jumps a little whenever my depressed patients tell me that they have a faith system. Their faith makes my job that much easier. I don’t need to try to sell them on ideas about “Fate” or how the universe strives for balance. While it is true that the universe strives for balance, a person believing in God is alright at an advantage for improving their lives. Patients who have a belief in God are patients who are already meeting me half way on their road to recovery. This isn’t to say that atheists are doomed for a life of depression, I’m just saying that individuals with a belief system already in place greatly helps.
When I say “belief system,” I am including those who practice anywhere along the spectrum from a general spirituality to organized religions. If you believe in God, Allah, The Great Spirit, Buddha, Vishnu, a High Power, the Universe, to other smaller sects of traditional faiths that I am unaware of, then I am talking about you!
From a psychologist’s perspective, the Biblical statement of the first Commandment gives the reader and follower structure, and a clear idea of who is in charge. People like structure. There is comfort and security in structure and people crave it on a very deep level. Since humans are social creatures, they also like to know who is in charge, or who is the “alpha.” This commandment captures all of those subtle messages. From a writer’s standpoint, and from a leadership standpoint, it is an excellent lead statement to capture the audience’s attention and respect. Bravo Bible!
Believe In Something
The great coping skill I see in the first commandment is that it is talking about the importance of faith. The importance of believing in something greater than the all-powerful YOU. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but in order to be happy you can’t just worship yourself- no matter how amazing you are. Dr. Obadiah Harris, a modern day philosopher, often discussed the need for us humans to release ourselves from our egos in order to progress and evolve. I 100% agree with this assessment. In my experience, outside of truly nefarious individuals, we really are our own worst enemy. If you can image a “Road to Happiness,” we are both the person walking along the path, as well as the troll living under the bridge, sabotaging our attempts to reach happiness. We must release ourselves from our ego driven pride, and believe in something greater than ourselves if we want to be happy.
While believing in yourself seems like a safe bet, these bets have not been proven to save us from loneliness. Believing in ourselves is a good trait, but believing in a higher power is a better trait. We are only human, with human weaknesses and limitations. While we may have a touch of the divine within us, we are not fully divine. We are human, and subject to disease, death, and everything in between. Having faith in something more powerful than the human body is a better bet.
Ever heard of Narcissus? He was a mythical Grecian man who fell in love with his reflection in a lake and ended up dying there from thirst and starvation because he never wanted to stop looking at himself. Ultimately, Narcissus never found love or acceptance. Narcissus had no friends, and no lovers, and rejected affection from others out of a belief that they were not good enough for him. He led a life of arrogance, loneliness, vanity, and isolation, which set him on a path for pain and death. Such will be the life and death of all narcissists.
In modern times psychologists used this myth to name the mental health condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). While not every jerk out there meets criteria for a true diagnosis of NPD, many could still be called sub-clinical narcissists. While being a narcissist may sound like a fun time, true narcissists have a very sad existence. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), narcissists are impaired in multiple different ways including: poor identity development, poor abilities for self-directed behaviors, poor abilities for empathy, and poor abilities for intimacy with others. In terms of poor intimacy skills, the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition, narcissist’s relationships are “largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; while mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in other’s experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain.” In other words: It is all about them.
As far as poor identity development, the APA states that narcissists have “excessive references to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation and have exaggerated self-appraisal with vacillations between extremes.” In other words, they don’t know who they are, (or who they hate, or what they want).
Finally, and one of the sadder parts in my opinion, narcissists also have poor abilities for self-directed behavior, primarily because they have such a poor sense of identity. They don’t know what they want. How can they make plans for things they want to do (self-directed behaviors), when they do not know themselves well enough to know what they want to do? The APA sums it up by saying “Goal setting (for narcissists) is based on gaining approval from others.”
There are many other symptoms and issues for people with this serious disorder, and unless you are a licensed clinician, please don’t go around “diagnosing” all your ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/ or bosses. I bring up the criteria for narcissism to highlight the dangers of living a life where you value your image more than anything else.
The ancient Greeks knew the dangers that can come with narcissism and wrote a myth about it to warn future generations. And the writers of the Bible knew it too. While the Bible does not use the word narcissism, it does use a similar term called “insolent pride.” Proverbs 21:24, “Proud, Haughty, Scoffer are his names, who acts with insolent pride.” “Insolent pride” is the Bible’s version of narcissism – and who was the first narcissist in the Bible? Satan, of course. One quote from the Bible that discusses the dangers of insolent pride comes from Habakkuk 2: 4-5.
4 “Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.
5 “Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man,
So that he does not stay at home.
He enlarges his appetite like Sheol,
And he is like death, never satisfied.
He also gathers to himself all nations
And collects to himself all peoples.
This quote reminds us that narcissists, like Satan, are never happy. They are never satisfied because they always want more. “He is like death, never satisfied.” Sounds like a pretty sad existence to me. Heed their warning. While the ancients warned people about the dangers of narcissism, and the Commandments say to believe in the one true God, what I read between the lines is the critical need of believing in something (loving something) greater than yourself, and to have faith in that something.
Believe in SOMETHING. That’s it. Whether you believe in Jesus or Allah, or The Great Spirit, Nirvana (the place, not the band), Moses, etc.- Believe in something and your life will improve. Belief gives our lives structure and boundaries, and more importantly it gives our lives a purpose. Having a purpose in our lives is considered a major source of life satisfaction. Living a life of faith, from an established belief system will give your life an increased sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. Additionally, researchers have found that spiritual people tend to be more gracious, more compassionate, and tend to have higher rates of self-esteem and optimism that people who are not spiritual. Spiritual people also tend to strive towards their own self-actualization (or potential) and live more meaningful lives.
Further research shows that spiritual people are more likely to do things like volunteer (which has been associated with reducing feelings of depression for decades), and donate to a cause they believe in- which is a great activity to aid in identity formation and helping us feel good about ourselves. Spiritual people also are much more likely to do things like pray and meditate, both are great coping skills for reducing stress.
The Power of Faith in Vivo
I had a wonderful client who struggles with alcohol most of her life. By the time she was my client she was 20 years sober and seeing me for mild depression symptoms. One day I asked her how she got sober and stayed sober after all these years. She told me that she has been going to AA and doing the steps when she found out that her 3 year old grandson, and 1 year old granddaughter were put into Foster Care after my client’s daughter was declared an unfit parent by the Department of Child Safety. My client went on to say that it was that moment that she realized that her new sober life was meant for her to be able to take care of her grandkids. She thanked God for her sobriety, and for her new PURPOSE in life. She reflected that if it was not for that moment and those kids and her belief in God that she doesn’t know if she would be alive today. My client would tell you that God saved her. I would tell you that it was her faith in God and her new purpose that saved her. This is a perfect example of how having a belief in something IS a coping skill.
The Secret Coping Skill: BELIEVE
Believe in God, or the Universe, or something else that is greater than yourself. You cannot be your own God. You cannot be your sun and the planet- you cannot rotate around yourself! This commandment is asking you to believe in, have faith in, love and value something beyond yourself. Research has shown that religion and spirituality are generally associated with better mental health and tend to have a positive influence on patients’ overall quality of life. One study from 2010 measuring the effects of religiosity on health and well-being found that “people who identify as religious tend to report better health and happiness, regardless of religious affiliation, religious activities, work and family, social support, or financial status,” (Green & Elliott, 2010.) Another study from Weber & Pargament (2014) reported that, “Greater religion or spirituality has been associated with: lower levels of depressive symptoms, fewer symptoms of posttraumatic stress, fewer eating disorder symptoms, fewer negative symptoms of schizophrenia, less perceived stress, lower risk of suicide, and less personality disorder.” This study also concluded that religion or spirituality has been shown to act as a protective factor with greater adherence to psychiatric treatment.
Find a religion, or some set of religious beliefs to serve and follow faithfully. If you haven’t found it yet, that’s ok! The road is long and there is still time to find it. Volunteer, research different religions, attend different churches, pray on it, meditate on, etc. If you hate God, or the universe for some tragedy, learn to forgive God for all the struggles you may have surpassed. Your anger and resentment for God will only hurt you. While your love for God will only serve you. Do whatever it is you need to do to find your higher power to believe in. It is out there. Life becomes a whole lot easier, clearer, and impassioned when we can wake up with a purpose, or a goal, because of our belief systems. The Japanese even have their own word to describe this idea. They call it, “ikigai,” and it means, “a reason for being.” The Japanese people believe that uncovering their individual “ikigai” is important in life because finding it will opens the doors for a person to have satisfaction and meaning.
The consequence of not finding meaning will be a life filled with loneliness, self-pity, and depression. Religion and faith give our lives a needed sense of purpose, as well as a better sense of control in this otherwise crazy, unpredictable world. With faith, all things are possible. With faith, all suffering has meaning. Without faith, the world remains a dark and scary place full of painful, meaningless suffering. Come out of the darkness, and believe. If you haven’t found a faith that you can connect to, keep searching. The pursuit of faith is a worthwhile endeavor.
Practical Ways of Applying Faith & Belief as a Coping Skill
In addition to research and theory, I want to give you some very concrete ways of applying this skill into your everyday life. As you think more about this skill, I am sure you will come up with other ways of applying this skill in your own unique way. But to start, here are some quick ideas as to how to increase your Faith and Belief.
- Pray. Pray every day, at least once a day. It can be a formal prayer, or something you made up. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are praying to a Higher Power that is all that matters.
- Meditate. Try taking three minutes out of your day to meditate and connect with your thoughts. One of the goals of meditation, outside of obtaining a feeling of peace, is to reach a higher level of awareness, and thus increase our connection with our environment and the world at large.
- Spend time in Nature. Nature is a great visual reminder of the power and beauty of the world. Allow yourself to relish in it, and think about how nature was created.
- Research any old and new religions. Read books on the topics, meet with religious leaders, take a class on it at your local college. If you have not connected with any organized religions that it fine, but the journey through education is always productive.
- Exercise hope and reduce control issues. You can’t expect yourself to know everything. Work on any anxieties and control issues that you may have, in order to tolerate the unknown. When we release ourselves from control, we can receive hope
- Avoid Cynicism. Cynical views and statements are at the opposite end of the spectrum of belief and faith. A cynic’s doubt and suspicion will only bring anger and hopelessness.