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!
Posts in category love
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!
We are happy to announce we are now SYMBIS assessment certified! SYMBIS is a Premarital assessment tool which stands for Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts developed by DR.’s Les and Leslie Parrott to help couples contemplating marriage understand their strengths and weaknesses as they move toward their special day. Couples will complete a computer assessment designed by psychologists and based on research with thousands of couples and then go over the results with a trained marriage facilitator. We are very excited about this additional resource’s implementation into our practice!
Sometimes good can be the enemy of best. We can fill our lives easily with things that are good to do and ignore doing the things that are best for us. Be it spending time listening to our spouse, playing with our children, doing self-care or spending time with God, we can often choose good over best. If you are a people pleaser choosing to not do good in the effort to do what is best is particularly hard because you may disappoint others. What is Best for the rest of your day? Go do Best! – SW
Ephesians 5:15-16 So, then, be careful how you live. Do not be unwise but wise, making the best use of your time because the times are evil.
Around this time last year I moved. It was exhausting and difficult, and every day I crawled in bed close to tears. Change is hard on so many levels and this is true in relationships as well as household changes. I was recently reflecting on how difficult it can be to change how you relate to your spouse when you have related in the same ways for so many years. Like moving, transition in relationships can be hard. You have to decide what you are going to keep and discard in your relationship transition. As people grow and change, what they need in the new relationship is not necessarily what was needed in the past. Many changes in the course of a marriage will impact what the marriage needs and what each person needs as time marches forward. Births, deaths, illness, the ages of your children, the work status of each person, spiritual crisis, emotional crisis, extended family issues, holidays and many other things will impact how your relationship needs to transition. The new relationship will require both parties to move around how they had positioned themselves toward one another. Rare is the occasion when how the furniture was positioned one house can be positioned in the same way in the new location. In all relationships moving, to the new way it is to exist will require some difficult conversations often filled with pain and hurt. The pain and hurt is usually so large that it is exhausting for the couple and yet they must push through the pain and exhaustion to get to the other side. One person cannot move the relationship alone. You just cannot carry the relationship to the new without both parties doing the heavy lifting and feeling the pain, but that is a hard task. Rare is the person who embraces emotional pain and allows themselves to sit in it until it can be moved and yet it is what is necessary to make the move together. Relationships cannot be moved to the new alone, but they require heavy lifting, pain and exhaustion close to tears. We cannot do it alone. We need the supernatural medicating power of God to assist us through all transitions as he has the power that we can lean into when we do not feel it in and of ourselves.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
- Do they bring care to your weary soul?
- Do they spur you on to achieving your purpose in life?
- Do they cause you to seek God and spiritual discipline more?
- Do they encourage your other relationships?
- Do you see yourself making steps of bravery as a result of their presence in your life?
When I was a child, I loved to read and one of my favorite books (besides the Nancy Drew series) was “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story details all the discoveries of a girl when she moves in with distant relatives who she had never met. One of the main character’s discoveries is that of a secret garden that had been locked up and untended for many years due to the pain of loss tied to that garden for her family. I had a similar discovery of a secret garden recently when doing yard work at our new home. For whatever reason, the previous owners allowed the weeds of the wetlands that back up to our house to take over a rose garden that had been planted and landscaped; we did not realize the rose garden existed until things began to bloom and we began tending our flower beds. It was a small discovery that brought me joy on a number of levels because it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books. It made me wonder to myself what else has yet to be discovered! The concept of secret gardens exists in people as well as gardens. There is so much beauty that has been locked up, hidden and undiscovered due to losses individuals have endured throughout the course of their life. I am constantly challenging individuals to pull away all the weeds and briars that they have allowed to cover up the beautiful aspects of their being. The painful briars that keep the beautiful things guarded are the same painful briars that keep us from enjoying the beauty. Most people will respond to my challenges by saying it’s just too painful or too hard to remove the walls, but when given assistance by those around them that also want to see the beautiful parts of the individual uncovered, they can allow the progress to occur. Finding discoveries of hidden beauty in people is not uncommon but finding assistance in helping to remove the painful briars of protection can be. When was the last time you complimented an individual on something emotionally, spiritually or physically beautiful about that person? We need people to pull the beauty out of us and with us; otherwise, the weeds of life that come with loss and trauma slowly choke out the beauty. God can help us, but we must also tend to our gardens, The Bible says it this way: 1 Corinthians 3:9 Amplified Bible (AMP) 9 “For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building.” Go pull some weeds today so that the beauty of who you were created to be can be visible to yourself and others. Stop keeping your beauty in a secret garden.
I have dog named Ranger who loves to give hugs. He has been giving hugs to people since he was a puppy. On occasion, I have brought Ranger to my offices to act as a therapy dog. He loves it. He gets to hug numerous people and some of my clients have gotten to experience their very first dog hug. It is fun to see them experience their first hug and when they are done with their session, they want more. Why do they want more? Because the love is given freely and without conditions.
I think about my dog’s interactions with people each time I bring him home and I think about how we all crave love. We have an inborn need that has been hardwired into us that needs to feel love. So what do we do with that inborn need when those around us do not give love freely. When love comes with conditions or not at all? It is a loss when people do not know how to love us or do not know how to give love freely. Loss stirs so many unhealthy coping mechanisms to the surface . We do not wish to feel loss so we do all sorts of things to help us not feel that loss. We keep our minds occupied with tasks, the internet, TV, reading, food and alcohol to keep ourselves from feeling loss. We “busy our brain” to avoid the loss and ashes the loss has created. God promises to exchange our ashes for beauty, but rarely do we give him the ashes. Most of the time we busy ourselves with things that will distract us from the ashes of loss. It is time to stop our unhealthy coping mechanisms and take those ashes to God in prayer. It’s time to trade in the ashes of loss for the beauty that comes from God’s love.
Write a short journal entry to God today asking him to trade in these losses for beauty and write about how you need to learn to receive love in healthy ways from people around you and from him.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me. To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion–to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit–that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1a,3 Amplified)