​In my work with clients, a general principle I work by is that the problem is not the problem. Typically when we experience a problem, we see what is on the surface of a deeper, more systemic wound, struggle, or dynamic.

The impact and devastation of the surface-level problem of an affair, an addiction, or depression is no small thing.

But there are always deeper dynamics at play.

Instead of only focusing on the symptom, heal the system.

One dynamic of the deeper system at work is what I call The 5 Strongholds.

The 5 Strongholds

1. Selfishness: Selfishness is when your focus is on what you need and want at the expense of others. Selfishness can be a form of self-protection or hoarding power: avoiding vulnerability and refusing to sacrifice always causes harm to someone else.

Selfishness is deadly serious and destroys faith and worship.

When selfish, you are not asking: "How can I empower, serve, sacrifice for, and love?"

When selfish, you believe: "My needs come first.", "I am most important.", "I need to be needed.", "I need to be right.", "I must get my way.", "I must be the best.", "It's not my fault.", "Poor me."

2. Dishonesty: Dishonesty is when you are not the same all the way through in every situation. Dishonesty is when you lie overtly or deceive others and have them believe something untrue. Deception creates a trap: the longer you keep a lie going, the more the consequences grow, the harder it is to be honest, and the consequences only compound.

Dishonesty destroys the foundation of trust in any relationship or organization.

When dishonest, you are not asking: "What is true? How can I be known?" When dishonest, you believe: ""If people really knew me, they wouldn't love me." "I can never belong." "No one would accept me as I am."

3. Fear: Fear is a stronghold when you let fear determine your decisions, disrupt your values, and destroy your peace of mind. I have found that fear is often a hidden dynamic that lurks beneath the surface of my client's awareness and feeds their addiction. Fear is a way of giving into despair and not trusting God, and it is a way of trying to control what you cannot control.

Fear destroys courage, resilience, and peace of mind.

When afraid, you are not asking: "What is the opportunity here?" "What could go right?"

When afraid, you believe: "I'm not okay if you're not okay.", "Whatever can go wrong will.", "I don't trust God.", "I have to take control.", "I can't get enough."

4. Resentment: Resentment is a toxic kind of ongoing anger or judgment that refuses forgiveness, tolerance, or being at peace with others. Resentment focuses on the wrong done to you or others to the point that it puts you in the place of judging others. Resentment prevents you from experiencing calm and peace even if others are against you. Resentment does not require a conflict that someone else is aware of. While it may include an open conflict, it can be a silent simmering bitterness towards someone who has wronged you.

Resentment destroys community and peace of mind.

When resentful, you are not asking: "What do I need to let go of?" "How can I relate to the weakness or wrong I see in the other?"

When resentful, you believe: "I've been wronged.", "I'm a victim." "You're at fault." "You're not worthy.", "No one understands me or cares about me."," I'm never satisfied."

5. Distorted Thinking: Distorted thinking is evasive and difficult to see because they are lies you tell yourself. Distorted thinking is when you get the truth twisted. Common examples are toxic shame, all-or-nothing thinking, grandiosity, and all forms of irrational thinking.

Distorted thinking destroys truth and all forms of flourishing.

When you have distorted thinking, you are not asking: "What is true?" "How do I and others belong?"

When you have distorted thinking, you believe: "I am unworthy of love.", "I must perform to be loved.", "My value is dependent on what I do."

When you are aware of and address the strongholds in your life, how you relate to others, and yourself shifts.

When the problem is not the problem, the solution is to listen for the deeper dynamic.

Slowly the acorn becomes the oak tree when the soil is free of the 5 Strongholds.


"This thought brought us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them."

Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84

"Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!" But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God's unfailing love for ever and ever. For what you have done I will always praise you in the presence of your faithful people. And I will hope in your name, for your name is good.

Psalm 52:7-9


Ask daily: Have I struggled with selfishness, dishonesty, fear, resentment, or distorted thinking today?


Thanks to Ginny Mosby, LMFT, CSAT-S, CPTT, EMDR-II, for helping develop my thinking on the 5 Strongholds.

Live wisely,


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