Seven Deadly Psychological Sins

White water rafting (that’s me with the shades) . . .

Normally I like to dwell on the positive and be upbeat, constructive, and solution-focused. Just for now, though, I’m going to list seven deadly psychological sins that, if left to themselves, will undo all the good that your better habits may be accomplishing in your life. Solomon said, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom,” (Song of Solomon, 2:15). The list below will give you a chance to ask the Holy Spirit to “catch” your personal “foxes” for you. Pray Psalm 139: 23 and 24, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”

Here they are, the seven deadly psychological sins:

1. Criticism- Humans tend to be problem-focused. This trait often takes the form of pick, pick, picking (or severely gouging!) other people. Criticism raises us up as we drag others down—but the lift doesn’t last. We become junkies who need stronger and stronger criticism “fixes” to support an insatiable, misaligned ego.

Replace criticism with affirmation. I tell critical people to go on a criticism fast in which they can’t criticize anyone or anything (including themselves!) for three weeks. Thereafter when they wish to criticize they must create an “affirmation sandwich” in which they affirm before criticizing, then follow the critique with another affirmation. Soon they develop a taste for affirmation and decide to do it more often.

2. Complaining- Closely related to criticism, complaining entails a lifestyle of pointing out and dwelling upon the negative, unfortunate, and difficult to the exclusion of the positive and pleasant. At the foundation of this grumbling lifestyle lies a sense of entitlement in which we believe that the world, God, or society owe us a good time.

Replace complaining with gratitude. Gratitude flows from a heart that understands its unworthiness, in the face of which all good things become gifts rather than entitlements. It is helpful to think of three things for which one is grateful before going to sleep at night, and three more upon arising in the morning. A habit of this will almost always result in a complete cure.

3. Self-pity- “Playing the victim” or feeling sorry for oneself actually deepens pain and prevents healing of emotional scars. The horrible reality of victimization can be prolonged when we dwell on it unnecessarily. In so doing we remain the victim, reinforcing powerless feelings.

Replace self-pity with responsibility-taking. I like to say, “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility,” meaning that you have a choice as to how you react to suffering and misfortune. Often dramatic growth and freedom comes when people finally transition from victim mode into responsibility-taking mode. You may begin by listing five things you can do to improve your situation, then asking a friend or other accountability partner to help you act upon them.

4. Worry- In psychology parlance, we call this “hypervigilance.” The dangerous world in which we live presents many threats to our well-being. Our fear mechanism comes in handy when faced with these threats; the adrenaline helps us fight or fly out of danger. All well and good. But when we react to the possibility of danger, rather than actual danger, we carry the fear into our every day experience and the fear itself becomes a threat. More than this, it does absolutely nothing to actually protect us—in fact it often serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy that brings about the very event so dreaded! Ellen White said, “Worry is blind and cannot discern the future,” The Desire of Ages, 330. We worry because we think we’re protecting ourselves, but we aren’t.

Replace worry with trust. God promises that, “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it,” 1 Corinthians 10:13. As we walk forward in faith and trust, we refute our own worst imaginings. You may want to begin by confining your worrying to one hour a day and gradually reduce the amount of time to zero.

5. Avoidance- So, so, many know what they should do but avoid it as if subjecting themselves to anything unpleasant or even just boring would cause an immediate, irreversible psychological meltdown. Often people say, “I’m not motivated to _______ (exercise, talk to that person, read the Bible, etc.)! But they are motivated—to avoid doing those things.

Replace avoidance with action. Exercise your God-given will. The amazing thing about the will is that it moves independent of inclination. In other words, we can choose to do the opposite of what we feel inclined to do. “Opposite action” is used in dialectical behavioral therapy to redirect a weak or perverted will found in such conditions as borderline personality disorder. It involves choosing to move in the opposite direction of inclination. To retrain your will, do three beneficial things per day that you’re disinclined to do. Start small—baby steps count!

6. Emotionalism- Many, especially those of a sensitive, passionate nature, live by their emotions. One aspect of this is emotional reasoning—the belief that if one feels something to be true, it must be true. Many thus feel their way into dangerous relationships and situations, then reap the bitter harvest. They then believe the ensuing feelings of doom and despair and lose hope. Our feelings are like children—precious, but not capable of driving the car.

Replace emotionalism with reason. Reason doesn’t make a person into Dr. Spock or the Tin Man, by the way. Reason actually makes a person more capable of deep emotion. Basing one’s choices on timeless life principles provides an anchor that enables us to stay safe in the deepest waters of the churning sea of life. When we have such an anchor, we needn’t hug the shore out of fear of shipwreck. I use cognitive behavioral therapy to help people learn to use their reasoning powers with excellent results.

7. Bitterness- Often very painful chapters of life threaten to consume us. Moving on can be difficult and slow even for the most forgiving. But some gain satisfaction in rehearsing the hurtful events repeatedly, even attempting to gain sympathizers and turn others against one’s enemy. Truly hurtful people should be exposed so as to spare others; and the pain of abuse must be processed. But take care not to overprocess the pain.

Replace bitterness with forgiveness. Hebrews 12:15 says that when a person becomes bitter, they “fail of the grace of God.” Grace is unmerited favor, undeserved forgiveness freely bestowed. Jesus forgave His enemies, and so can we. No, we don’t trust them, excuse them, or turn a blind eye to wrong done. Forgiveness is an intelligent choice to release from punishment because we ourselves have been released, and a freeing, joyful alternative to the tangled root of bitterness.

You may want to order a copy of my latest book, Thirteen Weeks to Peace, or go to my counseling website at and download some worksheets for free, such as:
Exercise Program for the Will
F.A.R. Thought Control
Forgiveness Worksheet


9 thoughts on “Seven Deadly Psychological Sins

  1. Fran Reply

    Hi Jen,

    Great blog. I like this post. I’m still working on overcoming avoidance. I find I am tending to “medicate” myself with other activites, eating, watching TV. The reminder to take some action (outside of the “medicinal” activities, I’m sure) is a good one. I realize I have to plan and chunk down the necessary steps of the issue I’m trying to avoid and work on small but consistent baby steps. I can do it if I focus on it and remember that my Savior is only a thought and/or a prayer away just waiting to empower me to do what needs to be done.

  2. Barbara Sherf Reply

    You are really on target with these deadly 7. I’ve been particularly aware of the complaining after recently reading Will Bowen’s A Complaint Free World ( I am attempting to meet his challenge of not complaining for 21 consecutive days. I will be blogging about it as the the days tick by.

  3. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post authorReply

    Steven, if you have six out of seven you should see a counselor immediately. Fran, I know what you mean about avoidance. I find that it’s more tempting when I’m tired, so taking care to keep myself energized helps. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Paula Daniel Reply

    It’s amazing how one thing leads to another! I’ve been praying over forgiveness. I felt I had some somewhere (unforgiveness that is) but just couldn’t find it. After reading your blog, I came to #7-Bitterness. As I read, suddenly something that happened to me 41 years ago became as fresh as if it had just happened this morning! As terrible as it was (maybe because it WAS so terrible) it had totally been forgotten. Praise God there it was! Unforgiveness! It wasn’t so much a conscious bitterness, as I had forgotten it. But it was there and must have been showing itself in ways I never noticed. I do feel relief, and know that God will help me in the forgiving process. Now, I know. Thank you so much for caring so much that someone like me can actually get better! Praise and thank God for your words of healing and teaching.

  5. Peggy Wisdom-Warfield Reply

    Thank you for sharing this healing information. I am working to become a positive thinker, so I am working on dealing with all of these negative areas in my mind. It is deadly when you don’t; I know this first hand after my “stress-related” heart attack. God bless your work in helping to restore others to peace.

  6. Jennifer Reply

    Paula, that’s an amazing testimony of spontaneous memory recovery. Maybe God waited till you had the forgiveness to handle it! Peggy, may God bless you in your quest for self-development, for this is our first duty to God and man.

  7. Paula Daniel Reply

    I just can’t stop praising and thanking God for caring so much about us that He has given people the skill and talent, AND DESIRE, to be in positions such as you have worked to achieve, for the healing and recovery of so many! When we allow ourselves to heal, it is possible with God to recover from anything! I know this from experience. In the “7 deadly phyco. sins” above, there is such a world of information. I pray God will bless these words that any eyes that read them will recognize anything they have going on, and open the door to healing. You are in my prayers Jennifer. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.