by Kimberly Davidson
If your mind was a movie screen for everyone to view, what would they see? Would your screenplay be rated G, R, or NC-17? The Apostle Paul confessed, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to carry out good but cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:15; 18).
Ever feel this way? Maybe everyday! Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” If we want to understand why we do what we don’t want to do, why we think and act negatively, then we must come to the realization we do not understand ourselves as well as we think we do.
Even as a Christian, my mind continued to create negative thoughts, which translated into bad feelings and behaviors. Not only was my mind and heart tormented, but so was my physical body. I was diagnosed with lupus, gastritis, and shingles. No question, what you think influences your biological body. Toxic thinking can manifest itself in bodily symptoms such as cancer, diabetes, allergies, to name a few.1
Looking at the different personality roles we have created in life allows us to better understand why we do what we do, so we might choose better alternatives. We all begin life hardwired with a soul. As life unfolds, we collect psychological data in the form of experiences (a process that starts in the womb). As we absorb experiences, they are transformed into memories, which shape our learned responses, which, in turn, affect what we make of new experiences. We see this when young babies and their mothers interact.
As we grow up our personality starts to take form and we develop multiple roles over time. I start as a child creating roles in response to my relationship with my parents and my birth order. I form new roles as I begin to interact and relate in school and move forward with life. Today my roles are wife, daughter, women’s pastor, step-grandmother, friend, sister, and God’s daughter. I act differently depending on what role I’m playing.
The ability to play roles is part of the normal person’s ability for relating with others. Jesus had different personality roles. One moment he is lambasting the Pharisees with words intended to break their hardened hearts, then we see him comforting a child, and the next minute he is lovingly disciplining and teaching an adulterous woman.
When I first encounter the heavenly Father, I may try to relate to him through one of my existing roles, often the one formed in response to my earthly father—the daughter role. Some of us come into a new relationship with God and have a flawed image or expectation of him.
One reason we hold false perceptions of God is our tendency to project onto God the unloving characteristics of the people we look up to, who is usually our earthly dad. If my dad abused me in any form, then God most likely is demanding or angry or remote. It will be hard for me to relate to God lovingly.
The roles we develop are in response to other people (usually our parents) who have expectations for us and reward specific behaviors. If the expectations were not met, we were punished in some way. Then we develop a role that will exist in conflict, like the perfectionist, performer, or the victim.
My father has a powerful choleric temperament (meaning self-confident, likes to be in control and make all the decisions). To please him, a leading role emerged—the compliant, people-pleaser, which I’ll call Role A. I also lived in several communities where women were defined by their perfected “Cover Girl” mask. In order to be accepted another role emerged, Role B—the (perceived) perfect Kimberly. Unconsciously, I fought against these roles so I created a new role, my rebel, suppressed role, Role C.
When Role C, gets out, it rebels because it’s impossible to maintain the people-pleaser, perfect Cover Girl mask. It binges on food and alcohol and likes to party, because it doesn’t get what it’s seeking. Once the toxic episode subsides, the rebellious woman feels guilty and ashamed and retreats. Role A, the dominant survival personality, then comes out.
Personality roles change to cope with different situations. Even my husband has a different role when he is around my dad. When he feels confronted, a new role emerges—one I don’t particularly like. As he puts it, it’s his “survival-male” role. (By the way, I love my dad. He’s a wonderful man.) Most of us have developed a survival personality, a Cover Girl mask, which makes us feel in control.
Our primary role may change suddenly. A daughter may have to take on the primary role of mother if her mother dies or becomes incapacitated. Talk about super-sizing your emotions! Life is constantly distracting and pressing our buttons, usually when we least expect it.
Are you beginning to understand why you do what you do? We are also made up of all of our memories and life experiences that are responsible for our sense of identity and the way we interact with others. Personally, my memory bank contains a lot of data labeled “rejection” which causes me unconsciously to put up walls. What I never realized is that these walls gave me an illusion of safety. What they really did was prevent me from getting what I needed to become whole.
When I am born-again, my heavenly Father calls me into relationship with him. I have a new role as God’s daughter. This new part of my personality is “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). My old life was centered around myself and hiding my problems. There is a new me existing in intimacy with the newly indwelling Spirit of God.
I am a new creation because Jesus lives in me (John 14:20). God himself is now working in me. That takes the pressure off us. God is now our image manager. But, we still have to do something: submit in complete dependence so the Holy Spirit can do his work. When we do, we find God putting us in places and situations we never dreamed of. The whole truth of our identification and image is achieved when we set our entire heart and mind on Jesus Christ.
Kimberly Davidson received her MA in specialized ministry from Western Seminary and BA in health sciences and nutrition from the University of Iowa. She is a biblical counselor and coach, and founder of Olive Branch Outreach. Kimberly speaks at church conferences and schools to reach youth and women with her messages and offers dynamic workshops on issues such as spiritual transformation, mind renewal, low self-esteem, and negative body image. She is the author of Breaking the Cover Girl Mask, I’m God’s Girl? Why Can’t I Feel It? and I’m Beautiful? Why Can’t I See It?