Shame is the most significant behind the scenes motivator of a lot of the counseling topics that come through our office. It is the enemy of your being. It drives addictions, self-image problems, marriage struggles, depression, anxiety, etc. Whatever problem you name, there is an element of shame that may not have caused the root of the problem, but now exists. In this podcast, Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss Paul Gilbert’s theory of emotional regulation and how shame can make any one of the three elements of emotional regulation (soothing, threat, and drive) encompass the balance we can have without shame.
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When we think about addiction, we may be inclined to view it strictly through the lens of someone who abuses drugs or alcohol. However, if you have ever loved someone with an addiction, then you know that it is not that simple. In fact, those that love someone with an addiction may actually find themselves with an almost “second hand” addiction. I am referring to codependency. Codependency has a diverse spectrum and can be a complex and challenging concept. The form of codependency that will be focused on here is the residual addictive behaviors and emotions that come from loving someone with an addiction – when one becomes addicted to the addict.
To begin, it can be helpful to view addiction as a series of obsessions and compulsions. While we watch our loved one obsess over their substance of choice and have compulsive risky and unhealthy behaviors required to sustain the addiction, we can very easily be sucked into their “obsessive-compulsive” world. Regardless of the title of the relationship, it is natural to want to spare someone we love from hardships. This becomes especially challenging with someone in active addiction, who we might see all but actively seek out hardships through risky behavior and unhealthy decisions. Due to the nature of addiction, these acts of “kindness” once rooted in love can soon switch to compulsive behavior based on fear, confusion, and general powerlessness. Have you found yourself obsessing over where your loved one is or rethink every interaction with them to see if there are any holes in their story? Or maybe questions such as “are they safe”, “are they using”, “who are they with”, “why are they doing this” flood your mind. These obsessive thoughts can lead to compulsive behavior in an attempt to self soothe the obsession and spare ourselves the guilt, shame, or embarrassment that accompanies them. Some examples might be minimizing behavior, providing money as a bailout to a financial pinch, or becoming a detective and constantly investigating your loved one’s belongings, statements, or behaviors.
Because of the chaotic nature of addiction, our emotions are often experienced in extremes, with stress being arguably the most common. When our body feels stress, the brain begins sending out various signals “sounding the alarm” accompanied by a rush of adrenaline. This feeling might be familiar in the way someone’s heart races when their loved one comes home under the influence, or stomach knots or racing thoughts when searching through their belongings, or the way the body might naturally tense at the thought of the loved one. Chronically being in this state of heightened emotion can lead to constantly expecting that “adrenaline hit,” which in turn feeds that “obsessive-compulsive” hunger. We have a thought, it leads to stress, we get that “hit”, we act out on the thought, we validate our thought, we get another “hit”. Those spikes in adrenaline and state of stress become a new normal for the body, and there becomes a normalization of crisis and expectation of chaos. When the addict’s behavior sets the temperature of our daily experience and we enter into a world of chaos, we can very easily lose sight of ourselves and just how irrational our thinking and behaviors have become.
When we speak of recovery, we view this as a holistic process in which those directly affected by a loved one’s addiction must enter into their own recovery journey. It is a process of letting go of perceived control and regaining power over what is controllable. By confronting the expectation of crisis and setting firm boundaries over thoughts and behaviors, we can slowly move out of a world consumed by chaos and regain the safety of mind, decision, and sense of self.
Self Harm is a growing trend amongst pre-teen and teens, and it is a topic that frequently comes up in the world of counseling. Parents, concerned friends, and even the person doing self-harm, often feel confused regarding the behavior. Self-harm touches all people groups, but it manifests itself in different expressions. Unfortunately, many people learn this behavior from their friends or from websites in which there is a pro-injury theme, and yet many parents feel ill-equipped to handle the discovery when they learn of their child’s self-harm. Below are the statistics of self-harm from 2019
- Each year, 1 in 7 seven males and 1-5 females engage in self-harm/injury.
- Ninety percent of the people who engage in self-harm begin in their teen or pre-teen years.
- The average of a teen to begin to self-harm is 13 years old.
- Close to 50 percent of the people who engage in self-harm have experienced abuse in some way.
- Sixty percent of those that self-harm is female.
Self-half harm has become a normalized behavior amongst young adults and teens; however, it is a foreign concept to their parents and grandparents. In this podcast, Cait Beiler and Sharon Wegman explain how self-harm often starts and how it continues and experience healing.
*2019 APA statistics
Co-dependency was a word that was coined by people working in the field of addictions to describe the behavior of members of an addict’s family that enabled the addict to continue with addict choices. However, in the world of counseling, we have taken over the term to describe the behaviors of individuals who carry things for others that are not their responsibility. This could look like several things. Sometimes people can have an unhealthy need for people to make them feel better. For example, if someone struggles with anxiety, they might be dependent on another individual to make them feel peaceful. This relationship struggle can cause people to control others so they don’t feel upset or it could cause people to become “people pleasers” to keep themselves or others from feeling off emotionally. People tell me all the time that they feel like they have to carry the problems or tasks of others so that they don’t feel anxious. The crux of all co-dependency is that I carry something for someone so that I don’t have to feel _________(fill in the blank) or so that the other person doesn’t have to feel __________(fill in the blank). However, what we all need to understand is that feeling uncomfortable feelings is part of our emotional growth to wholeness; for self and others. Whether it is our children, friends, co-workers or other family members, if we don’t feel the uncomfortable feelings of our choices, we are likely to not change. In this podcast, Cait Beiler and Sharon Wegman discuss what codependency can look like in our everyday life.
The trend and comfort of going to counseling has only developed popularity within the past decade or so. This is a good thing, but as a therapist, I still encounter the negative views or “cliches” people see in counseling. As a culture, we are just now starting to come out of the perspective that going to counseling somehow means “you’re crazy” or “there’s something wrong with you.” In reality, we all go through hard things, and the point is we need support and safe places to process these experiences to stay healthy and receive healing. In this podcast, Sharon and I discuss the different reasons why someone might want to go to counseling and how counseling can aide and support that person in their process of healing. It is possible that as you have gotten older, you have become more increasingly aware of negative patterns you have picked up over time from your childhood. Going to counseling can help you unravel some of these patterns and find new ways to think and see things rather than being stuck in our childhood self. Another reason people might come to counseling is to find help and a safe space to process various types of trauma that have happened to them. Such trauma might include; multiple types of abuse, divorce, poverty, domestic violence, etc. Talking to a counselor can free up some of the weight and struggle you carry from these memories, as well as helping you find healthy ways to cope with your past. Lastly, you might find yourself needing to go to counseling because you have experienced the death of someone close to you. Grief counseling is a massive piece of working through a loss and the grief cycle in a very vulnerable time.
All in all, counseling is helpful for any season of life, sometimes as people, we need someone to sit and process with us in a place that feels safe and gives us permission to explore and experience our emotions. A therapist is simply a person whose job is to support and help you work out your feelings and your needs. Therapists are not afraid of the ugly feelings, so you have permission in a counseling office to be your authentic self. A counseling office is a place concerning no judgments or expectations over us, and for most of us, that in itself can be a very healing process.
“Thou shalt not steal from others” means much more than just not stealing physical property. I came to this realization when I read a portion of “The Practical Bible” by Dennis Prager. People typically speak about the 8th commandment “Do not steal.” strictly from the viewpoint of physical theft. Yet, in the Hebrew translations of the word, stealing is used in a much broader context where it refers to the of stealing of another person’s mind. In my counseling practice, I see and hear the effects of robbery related to the soul and spirit. Some people have been robbed of trust. Others were manipulated into believing a lie about another person or idea. In addition, many people have had their dignity stolen by another person through humiliating emotional, verbal or physical abuse. If we think of stealing using this broader definition, we see that many people are struggling with crippling issues because their personal dignity has been stolen.
If we think about how to prevent the robbery of physical property, it will give us clues about how to prevent the robbery of our soul and spirit. So how does one prevent the robbery in a home? Many people do not know how to protect themselves physically or emotionally because of what they were forced to endure in their childhood. Consequently, they do not know how to protect themselves emotionally as an adult. The following is a short list of theft protection methods for our soul and emotions:
1. Be careful who you invite into your home. We don’t allow strangers into our home without knowing who they are and whether they are safe. Hence, we do not allow strangers to know the more intimate details of our life until they have earned our trust. Vulnerability and intimacy are earned. It is not a right of those who try to enter our lives. If you grew up in a home where your parents demanded things of you that were inappropriate, you might not know how to set boundaries with new people or demanding people.
2. We look for evidence of actions that proves a person is who they say they are to us. What is their identifying information? Are their words and actions in agreement? Anybody can spin words to create the right impression but their actions reveal who they really are regardless of the spin. If we grew up in homes where parents said all the right things but acted hypocritically, we might be easily confused because we were forced to trust hypocritical parents.
3. We let safe people in our lives know when we will be away so that they can watch for things that might be out of the ordinary. We need the people around us to be part of our safety net so they can report suspicious behavior to us or to the proper authorities. We need to lean into the protection of a caring community that can see past our blind spots. Sometimes we grew up in isolated families where this was absent. Therefore, it feels uncomfortable to allow others into our lives. However, the truth is that the safest place to be is with safe people.
4. We invite our beloved guard dog friend to take a position of protection in our lives and to alert us when something concerning is happening. Sure, they might alert bark at a lot of things, but in the end, they will alert us when something is off. Who is that nurturing person who protects you? We may need to invite them to be more of a protector to us than we are currently allowing them to be in our life.
5. We have fences, locks, and security systems that keep our property from being vandalized and we keep them in proper working order. If there is a door that doesn’t lock, we figure out how to repair that lock or replace that lock. Are there things or issues in your life that keep allowing destructive influences into your life? If so, you need to address these issues differently so that you can live in a safe environment.
God does not want you to be a victim of theft any more than you do. The reality is that He created the ten commandments for his people to live by so they would be safe and protected. He clearly stated this commandment as the only open-ended commandment by which we were to live by. Therefore, do not steal. Do not steal dignity. Do not steal trust. Do not steal joy. Do not steal freedom. Do not steal a reputation. Do not steal property. Do not steal.
Is Your Recovery a “White Knuckle” Recovery or a Freedom Recovery?
When I was five years old, my parents took our family on a day trip to an amusement park outside of Philadelphia. I begged my parents to ride the wooden roller coaster at the park only to discover that it was a traumatic experience that would linger with me for many years. The amusement park did not have height restrictions, seat belts or other safety precautions back then. They should have had those safeguards though because my mother fought to keep me from falling out of the ride! Many years later, I can still remember the trauma of being unable to hold onto the safety bar and bouncing around the car only to feel as if at any second I would fall out. That experience stayed with me and I was unwilling to try anything adventurous at amusement parks for many years after that. Finally, a friend convinced me to try the roller coaster again when I was 14 and I discovered I enjoyed the adrenaline rush! After that, I tried anything and everything until I hit the age when motion sickness became the norm.
I share this story as a means of explaining recovery. Sometimes, you can hold on really tight to recovery and the sheer exhaustion of holding onto recovery causes us to tire and release our grip. Then, we bounce all over the place in times of high stress. I call this kind of recovery “White Knuckle” Recovery. I am holding on to my recovery so tightly because I have not grown emotionally to the point that I have the strength to hold on the emotional safety bar with ease while I ride the hills and curves of stress. Many times people are white-knuckling their recovery to please a person who is also riding through life with them. They hold on to the safety bar of recovery so tightly that they eventually lose strength, let go, and give up again. There is a constant cycle of holding onto the safety bar of recovery only to eventually cycle out of recovery when the going gets rough. It can be a vicious cycle. The person holding on tightly to the safety bar of recovery is emotionally weak because they have not worked to strengthen their emotional muscle energy. True recovery comes when people do a variety of activities to make sure they can hold on to their recovery. These activities include :
1. Working on the issues of their childhood that cause them to lose their grip.
2. Growing in their understanding of the truth about themselves and replacing childhood beliefs with adult beliefs. Just like we grow physically, people will grow emotionally when they focus on self-growth.
3. Feeding on a steady diet of emotional and spiritual truth. This is the food that enables a person to have the strength to withstand the speed and stress of the ride of life.
We are not promised a life without struggle. However, we are promised that truth will bring freedom, that love can replace fear, and that letting go of childish ways can enable us to ride through life in a freedom that helps us intuitively know what to do when we encounter difficult stress. Are you “white knuckling” your recovery or are you taking the steps to enable yourself to make stronger decisions and ride in freedom? Believe it or not, you can enjoy the ride when you take the steps to no longer ride as a child.
I Corinthians 13: 8-13 ( NIV)
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
January happened and is still happening. It’s been a month of snow and ice and sickness in my house, which always makes things a little more unpredictable. However, I find that I clean out more drawers and closets in January than any other month of the year because I tend to be inside and have more available downtime. And that is exactly what I am encouraging you to do during this winter season. It’s time to do what winter in the natural was designed to do: allow the season to expose the things that are choking out life. Here in the Northeast, we have had an excessively cold winter and we need to celebrate what that will do for the forthcoming growing seasons on farms. The cold kills the hibernating insects and bacteria that will affect the summer harvests if not killed off. And for many fruit growers, they know that the excessive cold will benefit fruit production because it will cause the trees to rest and reserve their energy for spring and a more bountiful production. We come to see that what happens in the physical world is representative of what happens in the emotional and spiritual world in the winter if we allow it to happen. Just because you are more aware of negative thoughts, weak spots or just feeling like you are going backward does not mean that you are what you are currently experiencing. It may be that these things are exposed so that you can purposefully move toward the removal of them to increase your productivity in the future. It’s been a rough month for many, but it is necessary for one to recognize the issues of the heart that are being exposed to the “cold”. The issues of the heart are always exposed to a cold harsh reality for the intention of removal, not for harm. God desires you to prosper and abound in much good fruit, but that often means that the issues of the heart will be exposed so that you can understand the faulty beliefs that keep you unproductive.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (ISV)
3 There is a season for everything,
and a time for every event under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted;