From the dawn of time, we have documented stories from the Bible in which people did not know how to help others who were grieving and in emotional and physical pain. There are so many reasons that people are not skilled in helping those in distress. Those reasons can range from their own childhood trauma, lack of seeing it modeled and a plethora of other reasons. However, we are called to be a people who comfort those who mourn and many times our western culture does not know how to do that when pain lasts for longer than a couple of weeks. While the culture of the west is more educated in psychological distress such as depression and anxiety, we are less skilled in grieving with those that are mourning and long-term support of someone struggling for an extended period of time. In this podcast, Sharon Wegman, LPC and Cait Beiler of Wellsprings Solutions, LLC discuss a dozen ways that you can help those that are struggling.
I had a funny dream the other night. In the dream, I was at a hair salon getting a service done to my hair and the price quoted to me kept changing until the time of payment. The price quoted went from $30 to $300, $30,000, and finally $300,000! Obviously, the whole dream was ridiculous, but when I woke myself up from the dream, I thought about our current podcast on Emotionally Healthy Dating Relationships and how small choices can cost us much more than we could ever have imagined.
If you have ever been in an emotionally unhealthy dating relationship or marriage, you understand there are emotional, social, physical, financial and spiritual costs to unhealthy relationships that we never could have comprehended at the time that we agreed to the start relationship. The problem is that we can only know what we have been taught or have seen modeled. Most of the time, we don’t really know our issues or the issues of others until we are fully invested in an intimate relationship with that person. Intimacy with someone seems to pull out the unresolved issues of our childhood. Did we have controlling or abusive parents? Were your parents co-dependent with others? Did our parents give us a voice to say what we thought, felt, or wanted to choose? Were we modeled healthy conflict resolution in our childhood home? Your attachment pattern was established in the first three years of your life and your worldview was formed in the first twelve years of your life. Consequently, we really need to resolve and receiving healing from the wounds of our childhood before we enter into a relationship with someone so they do not affect others. There is hope! You can be restored! You can be healed! Your relationships can be repaired! However, this will involve the uncomfortable process of ripping off the band-aid that covers these childhood wounds and allowing yourself to receive healing and learning new skills and ways of doing things.
Do not be deceived, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you according to Philippians 4:13. In the attached podcast, Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss eleven different elements that make a relationship emotionally healthy.
Manipulation in relationships is pervasive in all relationships in life. Be it our relationships with our significant other, our child or with a friend, most people resort to some form of manipulation in the course of their life to get what they want without having to be vulnerable and state exact needs. We fear vulnerability because of the fear of rejection and abandonment; denial of our needs feels much more hurtful than that of getting our needs met through manipulation. When one person wants another person to do something, our human nature can readily resort to some type of manipulative words or behaviors to get what we desire in the situation. Transversely, when someone is trying to get us to do something that we do not want to do, our human nature can quickly resort to passive manipulation as our way of maintaining power and saying no without being rejected. Think of the child who is told no to a request for a piece of candy. The child does not yet have control of their impulses, and so they may start whining for the candy or throw a fit of rage to try to manipulate the adult to give them what they request. If the child is given the candy as a result of their manipulation, they are likely to quickly learn at an early age that they can manipulate people to get what they what they want. We learn manipulative tactics at an early age from observing the ways of our parents, and we slowly start incorporating manipulative ways into how we live. Some of the manipulation tactics are very visible, and some are more covert in their expression, but none of the tactics builds safety in relationships. Children will not feel safe and secure with parents who manipulate them, our significant relationships will not grow where manipulation is present, and our friendships will be stunted in growth under the absence of vulnerability and the presence of manipulation. Manipulation twists relationships into something that cannot thrive because of the poisons of hurtful words of behaviors can stunt the growth of a relationship, cause abnormalities to develop and in some cases cause the relationship to die. If we want our relationships to thrive, we are going to need to work hard at not only eliminating manipulative behaviors and words and become more vulnerable in our expression of our needs and feelings. In the attached podcast, Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss the continuum of manipulative words and actions including; Isolating, withholding, minimizing, accusation, deceit, coercion, demeaning, criticism, rage, and threatening amongst other behaviors.
There is a different kind of math that we as therapists use when we meet people. I refer to it as therapy math. It is different because we are assessing people based on their family mental health history, traumas, life experiences, childhood communication patterns, and a number of other assessment tools. These different factors help create a detailed picture of the person sitting across from us in the therapy room. Rarely is there a simple reason that explains why the person makes the choices they do. Most of the time, the emotional math equation that defines the person is more involved than a simple equation such as 1 + 1 = 2. In most situations, we are trying to discover the algebraic equation that brought us to our present day sum and identifying the unknown factors can sometimes be confusing.
Our western culture tends to process information from surface observations and then constructs a scientific math equation. However, there can be other unknown factors in the equation that are not easy to identify that also play a role. For example, we might look at a person who is overweight and perceive them to be lazy. However, we haven’t taken the time to discover the reasons a person struggles with their weight. It could be a thyroid or other hormonal imbalance problem that continues to fluctuate, verbal abuse a person endured as a child over their weight, poverty that prevents them from buying healthy food, or sexual or physical abuse in their youth that makes them want to hide their body or a myriad of other reasons. There is a multitude of factors that can cause a problem and part of the healing process is uncovering the root that keeps the person stuck in the behavior they find to be uncomfortable, whatever that may be.
Our western rational thinking has also invaded how the American Christian church interacts with mental health issues. As a therapist, I hear people repeatedly misapply biblical principles to mental health issues that need other solutions to find freedom. For example, I might have a very depressed or anxious individual come into my office who is living in an abusive environment. They might think they need to pray harder or work harder at submitting to their spouse or must read their Bible more. In actuality, they need to start using some personal boundaries to restrict the evil behavior being perpetrated against them so they feel less depression and anxiety. It is essential the western church start understanding that psychotherapy can help and empower people to live more free and full lives. Understanding the therapeutic math equation that keeps people from moving forward with others (and even with God) is the first step to gaining freedom. In the attached podcast Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss this topic of mental health and the church. Expand your therapeutic math skills to understand people in more profound and compassionate ways.
School summer vacation has an immense undercurrent to it these days. Below the surface of the joy that the children feel about summer vacation from school, there exists a hint of angst when parents think about children being home in summer. It is rare though when a parent openly shares their negative feelings of shame and guilt associated with children being home. There is less structure, less mom time, and less money available because food, entertainment, camp, and vacation expenses go up. Moms, in particular, feel more guilt and shame over not being able to be the fantastic mom portrayed in social media. Therefore, they find it difficult to focus on the positive aspects of connecting with their children and find summer to be a struggle. Two conflicting emotions are colliding! However, God desires to empower us in all the losses and negative feelings we experience during this season. We love our children; however, we may need some assistance in processing our feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, and powerlessness that get stirred by the summer break. Join host Sharon Wegman and her guest host Jesukah Beachy (mom of four girls) as they discuss how to bring empowerment to the negative feelings tied to summer break.
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;
People ask me all the time how they keep winding up in relationships where there is abuse. They hate the concept of abuse and feel frustrated to find themselves again in this situation and yet, they feel drawn to it. In the world of counseling, we call this hard to explain “addiction” trauma bonding. Trauma bonding comes from people walking through typical stages of bonding with people, but if their bonding in their childhood was bonding mixed with abuse, abuse is normalized in a relationship. So how does one change a cycle established in their childhood when bonding was combined with abuse? We need to change our belief systems. Let me share my own story as an example of how you change your belief system about abuse in relationships. As a child, my mother would leave my brother and me with my mentally ill grandmother as a form of childcare. I think her belief was that as long as my grandfather was present nothing bad was going to happen. However, there was frequent abuse that occurred inside the house while my grandfather was outside working on projects. My grandmother had very high perfectionistic beliefs, and those perfectionistic standards were impossible for a child under the age of 8 to maintain. Hence I would be beaten for making mistakes – mistakes such as not cuffing my socks correctly or standing too close to the door of a room I was not allowed to would result in a beating. I was forced to make perfectionism my standard and shame had to become my means of punishment for myself. If someone shamed me for not being perfect, I learned to completely embrace their shame as a means of striving for greater perfection. The shame would push me to higher standards of behavior and higher standards of interaction with people and tasks. It was an exhausting and anxiety-provoking endeavor that would end each time perfection was achieved, or shame was given by myself or others. It was when I began targeting the belief system that held this behavior in the place that I was able to change how I interacted with others and what I allowed from others. Somewhere along the line I had learned I deserved to be punished and humiliated when I made mistakes and understanding the beliefs that kept that behavior in place, I was able to renew my mind. So what is your addiction? What are the beliefs that hold your addiction in place? What are you doing to change that in your own life? For me, it was a combination of surrounding myself with truth via people, a personal therapist, reading articles on topics related to my beliefs, and spiritually trying to come to understand how God perceived me. Today, I am able to stop disrespectful or shaming conversations by telling the person speaking to me they need to stop or I will end the conversation. I am able to feel the physical feeling of shame or disrespect and I ask people to change how they are communicating or the conversation is over. It took a concerted effort on my part to not use perfectionism as an addiction, but I’m happy to say today that there are times I wish I were a little more anal than I currently am because mistakes are common and now acceptable in my world. I extend love and forgiveness to myself when I make mistakes because I’ve changed the way I think about myself and what is accurate and godly in judging how other people interact with me. I am now able to state I no longer am addicted to shame, and I’m proud of it!
Sometimes the forgiveness that releases me comes from me choosing to forgive myself. I remember many years ago struggling to get over a boyfriend in college, and finding myself stuck in obsessing over what I wished I had done differently. Shame has a creepy way of continuing to torment you over what you should have done differently by keeping you mired in ways that cause self-hate. You wish you could move on, but the fact of the matter is you keep ruminating over what happened in the past as opposed to moving forward. When my boyfriend and I in college broke up, it was a mutual decision; he moved on to date other women, and I stayed stuck unable to move forward and focused on all the mistakes I allowed in the relationship. I spent a good portion of my junior year focusing on all my errors in judgment and overly aware of all my imperfections in interactions with the opposite sex. Even though I had long ago forgiven him for his part in our relationship failure, I could not stop focusing on the mistakes I had made. One day as I sat in a mall food court with a friend and I shared how I was still stuck, she asked me, “well, when are you going to forgive yourself?” A light bulb turned on at that moment, and I realized I was still walking and shame and unable to forgive myself for my lack of wisdom in my relationship. As it turns out, this conversation was a powerful life lesson about making mistakes. I came to see that to move forward in anything I had to extend the same level of forgiveness to myself that I was extending to other people. It was at that moment that I began to understand how much shame about imperfections, failures, and mistakes impacted my forward movement. What errors of the past are you still focusing on in your thoughts? Are there areas of your life that you are stuck in as a result of focusing on your failings? How do those unforgiving thoughts about yourself affect your self-hate and other sabotaging behaviors? It’s time to start forgiving yourself. It’s time to start giving yourself grace for mistakes because that’s what they are…mistakes.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him
Recently, one of my clients made the statement, “a full vase is harder break than an empty vase, ” and I was again humbled to sit in the presence of genius. I sit with and walk with clients who have wisdom but have never had the keys handed to them to unlock all that is within them, and that day was one of those days. I, in turn, scribbled that phrase down to later come back to it and asked permission to blog about it because I like to meditate on phrases that catch my attention. I have no idea whether this fact is true in the world of science, but it is certainly true in the world of emotions. When we have filled ourselves with life-giving water, we are harder to break than when we are empty, and that is why we need to constantly be refilling ourselves where the stress of life has drained us. Jesus says he is water in John 4:14 and that he will fill us up when we fill ourselves spiritually by prayer, meditation and reading his words, but how else do you need to fill your vase so you don’t break easily? Life is stressful, and if all we do is pour out water on others and tasks, we are likely to have more stressed out/out-of-control moments in which we feel like we are breaking. I can remember one season in my life when I was caring for two preschoolers and was volunteering in many other positions, in which was a lot of pouring out of me and not a lot of pouring into me. Life was downright hard, and I remember being very frustrated with my reactions to people because I felt out of control; yes, the therapist is sharing that she felt out of control. Getting ourselves to the full position is not an easy process. Many times clients tell me that they do not have the energy to go out with friends or take a long bath, but the reality is you do not have a choice if you don’t want to “break easily.” When does the benefit of being full outweigh the cost of being empty? When we learn we are worth giving care to self instead of giving ourselves the punishment and lack of value we grew up with in our childhood, and when we learn that the care of self is just as valuable to God as the care of others is to him, then we will choose to fill ourselves with life. The choice to value self will only occur on a consistent basis when we change our perception of self and we can change that perception when we begin to embrace how our creator really views us. How does the creator view you?
This is Ephesians 3;18-19 in the passion translation;
Then, as my spiritual strength increases, I will be empowered to discover what every holy one experiences – the great magnitude of the astonishing love of Jesus, the Messiah in all its dimensions. How deeply intimate and far-reaching is His love! How enduring and inclusive it is! Endless love beyond measurement, beyond academic knowledge – this extravagant love pours into me until I am filled to overflowing with the fullness of God!