Distorted Narrative Syndrome

Stories transform our living for good and bad.

Stories transform our living for good and bad.


We all live in a story. A loving, Triune God created the entire universe. He gave it function, purpose. He built a temple on earth and formed humanity in his image to be his priests. These humans, Adam and Eve, disobeyed this loving God and so he cast them out of the original garden-temple. Ever since then we have been fighting against and rebelling against God.

We, however, are not without hope. While casting Adam and Eve out of the garden-temple, God promised to send Someone to crush our enemy the serpent. Thus snake-crusher would rule the world with mercy, grace, justice, and righteousness—and most importantly love. The story we all live is his story. How he came as a human and how that’s changed everything after he came. He will come again physically to end all pain, suffering, and sin. If you do not locate yourself in that story, you may have distorted narrative syndrome.

We see askew syndromes in our current fallen world. On August 23, 1973, the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden was robbed. The criminals gathered the bank employees and stored them in the bank vault for six days. After the stand off ended and the hostages were freed, many of them had bonded with their captors and rejected help from the Swedish government and even defended their captors actions. Swedish psychologists first called this norrmalmstorgssyndromet, and now it’s commonly known as Stockholm syndrome. Stockholm syndrome is a kind of “traumatic bonding” where the victim identifies and empathize with their captors. We hear this and it sounds irrational, but it happens.

Another scenario. A wife and husband are having financials problems. It’s stress on their relationship. Until now, their marriage has been mostly good. They’ve had, what they perceive, as a normal amount of fighting and disagreements. They receive a notice that the bank is foreclosing on their home. The wife is frustrated because she believes the husband has been irresponsible with their money. He begins drinking heavily after receiving the notice. During a heated exchange that night, he hits his wife. She’s in shock. How could this have happened? He blames her nagging for the abuse immediately after it occurs. The next day they don’t talk in the morning. They leave for work. Upon arriving home, the wife notices her husband’s car in the driveway early. She comes in and there is flowers and a dinner waiting for her. He profusely apologizes for his mistake last night. She feels relieved. Maybe he made a single mistake. However, this cycle becomes the norm in their relationship. As a result, she feels:

  • That the violence was his or her fault.
  • An inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
  • Fears for their life and/or the lives of their children (if present).
  • Has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient (source).

This cycle (and its devastating effects) is called battered person syndrome. This alternate narrative of shame and guilt is so deeply seared into the abused heart that they feel like they are who their abuser says they are—that they do deserve this kind of treatment.

Can you see how living a bad narrative can harm you? For the scenarios mentioned above, years of counseling and help may be needed to overcome the traumatic experiences and lies they have been told and now believe and live.

These two examples are extreme. They are some of the most traumatic, but don’t all of us in some small way experience daily the rehearsal of lies in our heart? We eat, work, watch movies, see billboards, and hear conversations. The lies may be:

  • You’re worthless. You looked at pornography again.
  • God won’t have anything to do with you. Filthy.
  • The lasting affect of your adultery will never leave your home.
  • Your children hate you. They are disobedient all the time.
  • Your wife doesn’t respect you. You’re half a man.
  • Your husband doesn’t love you. You’ll never live up the women in the porn videos.
  • The color of your skin makes you less valuable as a human.
  • Your body isn’t good enough. Not sexy enough. No one wants you.
  • Sex is just as good with no strings attached.
  • You are the sum of your sexuality.

We see, watch, listen to these distorted narratives and soon enough we believe their lies and live them. Soon enough you experience distorted narrative syndrome. These lies become your liturgy. They become your false gods and false gospel.

The solution to these perverted liturgies is God. He speaks truth. We hear. He gives his Son. We eat and drink him without price. He sends the Spirit. Our old man with all the accompanying lies dies and we are raised to new life in Christ. God justifies us. He redeems us. He adopts us. He loves us. He says without hesitation, “There is no condemnation for you, my son. It is finished” (Rom. 8).

God acts for us—when we couldn’t act for ourselves (Rom. 5:8). He grabs for our hearts and affections (Jn. 3:16). He pours out his love on us. And when the lies from the distorted narrative syndrome resurface, God gives us everything we need to crush those lies (2 Pt. 1:3). Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17). We have everything in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).

These truths are part of a true and better liturgy. We must rehearse them daily to ourselves. We must be part of a community that rehearses these truths. And we must rehearse these truths for others. We must know that in us the old humanity is dead—with all its lies—and we are no longer captive to the body of sin. We have been freed in Christ and have new life in him. We no longer identify with and sympathize with our captor, but with the risen and reigning King. Moreover, we don’t just sympathize with him. We are inseparably united to him.

We are no longer a victim of distorted narrative syndrome. We are part of a true and better story. Selah.


Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He blogs at Grace for Sinners and The Bacon Coalition. His family is covenanted at Downtown Presbyterian Church.