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In this series of articles we’re looking at how the Bahá’í Marriage Vow “We will all verily abide by the Will of God” can help solve the 10 most common marriage problems.  In this article we will explore the topic of unresolved baggage in marriage.

Studies suggest that one in four women and one in six men have experienced abuse as a child.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that this causes the character to be totally perverted:

 It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child’s character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

This means that most of us will come into our marriages with poor characters and unresolved issues which might never be resolved.  This is one of the reasons it’s so important to assess the character before deciding to marry.

They must, however, exercise the utmost care and become acquainted with each other’s character. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 103)

All is not lost, though.  There is a power in the Faith that can sustain us on a higher level, and help us combat defeatist attitudes:

There are a great many as you know mental diseases and troubles at present, and the one thing Bahá’ís must not do is take a defeatist attitude toward them. The power in the Faith is such that it can sustain us on a much higher level in spite of whatever our ailments might be, than other people who are denied it.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

Mental illness is often the outcome from childhood abuse.  Several principles apply.

You should see a doctor and follow his advice:

In the Bahá’í Teachings it is made quite clear that when one is ill, one should seek the best available medical advice. This naturally leaves a person free to choose what they consider good in medical opinion. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

Even if this means you have to move to another city for treatment:

It is not easy to be burdened with long years of mental illness such as you describe. And plainly you have sought aid from many persons of scientific and non-scientific training backgrounds, apparently to little avail over the years of your prolonged illness. Possibly you should consider, if it is feasible, consulting the best specialists in a medical centre in one of the major cities, where the most advanced diagnosis and treatment can be obtained.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 283-284)

Recovery is an inexact science and even the best psychiatrist may not be able to help, but we’re encouraged to go anyway:

Psychiatric treatment in general is no doubt an important contribution to medicine, but we must believe it is still a growing rather than a perfected science. As Bahá’u’lláh has urged us to avail ourselves of the help of good physicians Bahá’ís are certainly not only free to turn to psychiatry for assistance but should, when advisable, do so. This does not mean psychiatrists are always wise or always right, it means we are free to avail ourselves of the best medicine has to offer us.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

The best results come about when we combine the material with the spiritual:

Your discovery of the Faith, of its healing Writings and its great purposes for the individual and for all mankind, have indeed brought to you a powerful force toward a healthy life which will sustain you on a higher level, whatever your ailment may be. The best results for the healing process are to combine the spiritual with the physical, for it should be possible for you to overcome your illness through the combined and sustained power of prayer and of determined effort.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 283-284)

The House gives us many practical suggestions in this quote, from prayer to therapy, to service, teaching and immersing yourself in the Words of God:

Mental illness is not spiritual, although its effects may indeed hinder and be a burden in one’s striving toward spiritual progress. In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to a believer there is this further passage: “Such hindrances (i.e. illness and outer difficulties), no matter how severe and insuperable they may at first seem, can and should be effectively overcome through the combined and sustained power of prayer and of determined and continued effort.” “That effort can include the counsel of wise and experienced physicians, including psychiatrists. Working for the Faith, serving others who may need you, and giving of yourself can aid you in your struggle to overcome your sufferings. One helpful activity is, of course, striving to teach the Cause in spite of personal feelings of shortcomings, thus allowing the healing words of the Cause flood your mind with their grace and positive power.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 284)

One outcome of childhood baggage can be addictions, which can take many forms from the obvious drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling to the less obvious ones of perfection, workaholism and the need to control, and everything in between.  All of these create veils between us and God and cause wedges between us and our families.

Here’s what the Writings say about the various forms of addictions:

Alcoholism

Abdu’l-Bahá . . . states that the reason for prohibiting the use of alcoholic drinks is because “alcohol leadeth the mind astray and causeth the weakening of the body” … this prohibition includes not only the consumption of wine but of “everything that deranges the mind”.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p.227)

While the problem of addiction to alcohol or other substances can, indeed, have a medical component . . . as far as the Bahá’í Faith is concerned substance abuse also involves issues of morality and Bahá’í law.  (From a letter written by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United states to a Local Spiritual Assembly, October 18, 1990)

Drugs

Reason showeth that smoking opium is a kind of insanity, and experi­ence attesteth that the user is completely cut off from the human king­dom. May God protect all against the perpetration of an act so hideous as this, an act which layeth in ruins the very foundation of what it is to be human, and which causeth the user to be dispossessed for ever and ever. For opium fasteneth on the soul, so that the user’s conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. It quencheth the natural heat. No greater harm can be conceived than that which opium inflicteth. Fortunate are they who never even speak the name of it; then think how wretched is the user!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp.148‑149)

Food

But man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods. Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this…his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse.  (‘Abdul-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdul-Bahá, p. 152‑153)

Gambling

Gambling…[has] been forbidden unto you. Eschew [it,] O people, and be not of those who transgress.…We, verily, desire for you naught save what shall profit you, and to this bear witness all created things, had ye but ears to hear.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, 155, p.75)

Perfectionism

The Bahá’ís, in spite of their self-sacrificing desire to give the last drop of their strength to serving the Cause, must guard against utterly depleting their forces and having breakdowns. For this can sometimes do more harm than good…  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p.279)

Sex

There are potent social pressures in Western society for all teenagers to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Lack of experience, perceived cultural norms, and abusive role-modeling are some of the factors that may mislead teenagers into believing that violent, jealous, possessive, or intrusive behaviors are signs of love or that immoral behaviors are signs of maturity and independence. Like adults, they may be drawn into a relationship and develop strong feelings for someone who is attentive during the early phase of a relationship before there are obvious signs of abuse. Or they may be drawn into dangerous or immoral situations out of pressure to belong. Once emotional bonds are established between two people, it can be as difficult for teens as for adults to break out of a relationship, particularly if the two share the same circle of friends.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 99)

Smoking

But there are other forbidden things which do not cause immediate harm, and the injurious effects of which are only gradually produced: such acts are also repugnant to the Lord, and blameworthy in His sight, and repellent. The absolute unlawfulness of these, how­ever, hath not been expressly set forth in the Text, but their avoidance is necessary to purity, cleanliness, and the preservation of health, and freedom from addiction.  Among these latter is smoking tobacco, which is dirty, smelly, offensive — an evil habit, and one the harmfulness of which gradually becometh apparent to all. Every qualified physician hath ruled — and this hath also been proven by tests — that one of the components of tobacco is a deadly poison, and that the smoker is vulnerable to many and various diseases. This is why smoking hath been plainly set forth as repugnant from the standpoint of hygiene…

My meaning is that, in the sight of God, smoking tobacco is deprecated, abhorrent, filthy in the extreme; and, albeit by degrees, highly injurious to health. It is also a waste of money and time, and maketh the user a prey to a noxious addiction. To those who stand firm in the Covenant, this habit is therefore censured both by reason and experience, and renouncing it will bring relief and peace of mind to all men. Furthermore, this will make it possible to have a fresh mouth and unstained fingers, and hair that is free of a foul and repellent smell. On receipt of this missive, the friends will surely, by what­ever means and even over a period of time, forsake this pernicious habit. Such is my hope.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp.147‑148)

When addictions are an issue, the whole family needs help from a variety of sources:

This National Assembly recognizes the difficulties that Bahá’ís with chemical or other dependencies face, and encourages them to consult and work with both the Bahá’í institutions and with competent medical or mental health professionals and support groups, in an effort to overcome those difficulties.  (From the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, September 11, 1991)

You might find this article helpful:

Married to Dr. Jekyll

Here are some others to consider:

Mental Illness

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In a shameless burst of self-promotion, compilations from the Bahá’í Writings such as “Violence and Abuse:  Reasons and Remedies” gives lots of practical tools for the healing from childhood abuse.

The print version is available through BDS:

The Kindle Version is available through Amazon.com

For more information please see:

Role Confusion 

Money 

Sex 

In-laws and Children

Communication 

Spending Time Together

Love and Effort 

Gossip and Backbiting

For more on this topic, please see:

Introduction to Marriage Vows

We Will All Verily Abide by the Will of God

Sex Before Marriage 

Sex Inside Marriage 

Using the Year of Patience 

 How has this helped you understand God’s will in dealing with childhood baggage?  Post your comments here: