Taking control of your mind

By James Willoughby

There is a war going on right here in our own country, in our hometowns, within the walls of our homes. It is a war for our marriages, and sadly battles are being lost every day because people simply lose the resolve to fight. They wave the white flag and hand over their marriages to the enemy, because the pain of this war is too great. Surrender offers the temporary, false promise of escape from the hurt.

Often the fiercest battles in this war take place within our own minds. In our doubt, we can vilify our spouses and paint them as the enemy. We can dwell on all their negative traits and how they have wronged us. We can become paranoid about their loyalty to us.

For men, one of the greatest clashes in our minds is between our unconscious, involuntary thinking and our conscious thoughts — between our animalistic instincts and our divine design.

I had trouble verbalizing this conflict to my wife until I read about the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Now I’m no neuroscientist, so much of what I read about this section of the brain was Greek to me. What I deciphered from all the science-speak is that this area of the brain is key to survival, but it conflicts with men’s desire to honor their wives.

The NAc processes stimuli and rewards behaviors that ensure survival of the individual (eating, drinking) and survival of our species (sexual behaviors). It releases dopamine to reinforce certain behaviors so we learn how to stay alive and to propagate the human race.

To that end, the NAc kicks into gear when men observe scantily-clad women. Men experience an autonomic response to this kind of visual stimulus. Before we even have an opportunity to form a conscious thought, our brains have already reacted, reinforcing that this is a good scenario.

At our most basic animal level, our brain is assessing that this scenario is favorable because it may lead to procreation. In that instant, there is no discerning whether the image is one’s wife or not. All animals possess this instinct and drive.

But there’s something that sets us apart from the rest of the creatures with whom we share this planet. Man was created to reflect the image of God. Ours is a position of dominion over the rest of the animals, and we are to exercise this sovereignty over our animalistic instincts as well.

In the seconds after our NAc is stimulated, we have a choice. Our autonomic response is beyond our control, but our conscious thinking engages almost immediately as well. In that moment, we have a choice. Do we let our minds control us? Or do we control our minds?

In a culture where sexualized images saturate our media, it can be a real struggle for men to maintain discipline in this area. Even committed husbands face a conflict between instinct and intelligence. I will end with Biblical instruction on what to do in that situation: “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

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By James Willoughby

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.

James is a regular contributor who writes about marriage, family, and faith. He lives in Tipp City, Ohio.