Freedom Connection

White Knuckling – What is it?


Jan 15


Have you heard of the term “white knuckling”? You may need some clarification as to what white knuckling is, compared to real recovery. In fact, this term applies not only to addiction, although that is where you will most often hear it, but also for any unwanted behavior that one desires to change. I asked my friend and Freedom Connection board member, Dave Brown M.Div, LCSW, CPSAS, to give some insights on what “white knuckling” is verses real recovery. He has graciously provided some great information in the blog below. Dave Brown is a counselor at Crossroads Counseling in Tulsa, OK.

White Knuckling – What it is, Why it won’t work, and What will

By Dave Brown, M.Div, LCSW, CPSAS,

The old hymn Amazing Grace got it right. “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. It’s grace that’s brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home”. That is the story for every genuine believer in the Lord Jesus, and it’s the offer of the gospel to those who are not yet believers.   Scripture also tells us that even as Christians, we stumble, fall and sin daily, though we finally don’t truly want that (I Jn 1:8,9). Many folks, are on a journey from various addictions (including sexual), that have been both a plague to their soul and a grief to friends, family, spouses, and employers. How DOES one heal from addiction (inability to stop a behavior even though there are consequences) without succumbing to the tendency to fight in one’s own inadequate strength with what is called ‘white knuckling’? We can’t “JUST SAY NO” in our own strength. It doesn’t work for long. We need courage, hope, wisdom, and the power that can be ours through the Holy Spirit. But, we have to avail ourselves of God’s help and that takes confession, contrition, and community. It often takes healing the wounds of abandonment and rejection. White knuckling attempts to not “act out” in some sexual way (pornography, affairs, masturbation, lustful thoughts, or other problematic behaviors) will not last for long. The painful cycle of fantasy, ritual, acting out, and despair will soon follow. Even those who do not have addictive struggles should not try in their own strength to fight wrongful, unhealthy behaviors.

Real recovery also takes what some wise counselors and leaders call a ‘relapse prevention plan.’ That involves daily healthy choices, and getting support regarding ‘hurts, habits, and hang ups’ as Celebrate Recovery winsomely says. It also takes patient dealing with traumatic events, losses, and abuses. From a Christian perspective, we are redeemed, not “just” in recovery or restoration, though those are worthy concepts. We participate in the ‘work’ of healing and recovery but it’s finally the Lord working in us (Phil 1:6.) Counselors such as Henry Cloud, Mark Laaser, Ted and Diane Roberts, Richard Blankenship, Barb Steffens, Patrick Carnes, and ministries such as Freedom Connection and pureHOPE all focus on some of these truths. Without a gracious and persevering ‘facing, tracing, and erasing’ we won’t overcome the shame, rituals, acting out, and despair of addictions. Notice I say gracious, and persevering. It’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance in the first place (Rom 2:4), and it’s the same kindness that keeps us on that path of ‘repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus’ (Acts 20:21). Addictions are rightly termed in both secular and Christian literature as being “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” Thankfully, the Lord is more powerful still (I Jn 4:4). And, we have brothers and sisters ‘in the best of bonds’ (some of whom are skilled and compassionate counselors) to share the journey, till we head after death to heaven where all tears will be wiped away and there is joy unceasing. Let us all increasingly, whatever our affliction, find the ‘joy of the Lord to be our strength’ (Neh 8:10). Remember, the Lord loves you deeply, and is very fond of you (John 3:16-17)! May you experience hope, courage, and freedom this Christmas and always, for His name is Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23).

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