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!
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The other night I had a dream about something that I frequently try to share with people in my counseling office. The concept that we talk about is the power of sharing community with others. In the dream, I went shopping with a group of friends that I pray with on a daily basis via a group texting application on my phone. In my dream, we went treasure hunting to a store, and each of us found and bought a treasure that would be personally meaningful to us. I woke up thinking to myself that the dream was such a great analogy about life. We are more likely to find treasures, and be able to hold onto treasures, when we lean into the strength of those we walk with in life who are mutually giving. I can only hold so much weight in my hands if I’m just using my hands but if I have other people coming alongside me, the weight of what I can carry is significantly larger. Finding a community that you can lean into can many times be a complicated process and it is important to find people who are mutually giving and caring. It’s so important that you examine how the persons you bring into your life interact with others so you can understand if they are selfless or selfish. Despite the difficulty in finding community, I see the difference in the lives of individuals who can lean on a community when they’re going through a hard time or when they’re understanding and moving into grasping a hold of their vision. Treasures are waiting to be released to people who choose to walk with others.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
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
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!
There are some days when you just need a little more validation than other days; occasions in which our confidence is shaken for any number of reasons. I recently had one of those days when I attempted to find a dress for a wedding. Things just aren’t distributed on my body in the same way as they used to be, and trying on dresses (or swimsuits) triggers some uncomfortable, vulnerable shame feelings that don’t usually exist in my day. Some days we just need someone to say, “yeah, me, too” or “ I totally get what you are saying” or “you are normal, and that would be a normal reaction to (fill in the blank).” Validation can be so healing to your soul when you have grown up in a family where people did not talk about feelings. Or, maybe you were constantly told not to feel specific feelings because the feelings were not acceptable, or perhaps you were told how you felt even though you were not feeling what you were told you were feeling. Validation is a powerful way for people to feel better about their circumstances, to have clarity about their circumstances, or to sometimes make a relationship feel safe because it makes people feel empowered to move forward instead of staying stuck. Do you want to be a better friend, spouse, parent or employer? You need to extend validation to the feelings that are being expressed to you before you share your wisdom or thoughts on the matter. People can be empowered in conversation with you because you have validated them, or they can be made to feel powerless in conversation with you because you have invalidated their feelings. There are many aspects to being a good friend and one of them is loving validation. I want to be the person who validates people’s feelings to create bridges of empowerment for people. I want to be the person who says to the 50+ woman struggling with her waning beauty “Yeah, me, too. You are normal.”
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.”
What is it about the American culture that makes us feel powerless whenever we feel emotional pain? It seems that we have grown weaker in our ability to feel pain with someone, to walk someone through pain, and/or deal with painful topics because it triggers our own painful experiences from our past. We somehow have come to the place where we avoid topics and conversations that are painful for fear of how the other person will react, and so we stay in a powerless place instead of dealing with that which is painful. We have been talking about powerlessness in our communication a lot this week in my office. Our words can reflect powerlessness through the need to argue, correct someone or devalue what someone states because whatever they are saying is triggering emotional pain in us. For example, we may have an unexpected event occur at work, and we leave work feeling powerless and arrive home only to be argumentative, critical or disagreeable with our family or friends. If we were able to express our powerlessness and what we need to our family and friends upon our arrival home, much of our reactions would have been averted. So, how do we keep our own powerlessness and triggers from seeping out onto those whom we interact? Self-awareness is the answer. Self-awareness allows us to understand what we can and cannot deal with on any given day. Jesus himself was very self-aware. He knew what he could and could not deal with on any given day and instead of taking back his power in how he communicated with his friends, he stated what he needed for himself and he stated what he could or could not do. Jesus never needed to argue a point to prove he was right because he simply knew what he needed. Self-awareness is built by daily reflection on my own emotional and spiritual state and moving toward the things that will fill the need or void. When I fail to do self-reflection, I put myself in a position where I will be surprised by how I interact with a person, surprised in my yielding to a temptation or feeling unfulfilled. It’s time to reflect on what you are feeling and needing so that we can walk one another through difficult times instead of reacting to people. So what are you feeling today? What do you need?
“Find a quiet, secluded place, so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.” (Matthew 6:6 Msg)
Have you ever tried to navigate a boat from the bay to the open ocean? It is not an easy process depending upon how large the waves that are coming in are sized. Fighting against the waves is a complicated process, and many choose not to push through the waves to the freedom of the open sea. Instead, they stay in the calm waters of the bay. The same goes for choices in life. Many make decisions based on the amount of resistance the decision will incur, not on the freedom on the other side of the wave line. The waves can be like so many things that resist you moving to freedom and, let’s make this clear, waves only move in one direction. They do not change course; you have to wade through them to get to the other side of the wave line:
1. Your psyche that has been doing things the same way for years on end.
2. Your family or friends who like what you do for them and resist your making changes.
3. Your psyche that feels guilt and shame when changes are made, and people are upset.
4. Finances that seem stuck in holding patterns.
5. Jobs that do not create opportunities for advancement.
The list could go on forever, but the theme is the same. There will never a time when the waves of life are not preventing you from moving forward, be it emotionally, socially, behaviorally, financially, etc. So how do we have hope to go through the wave line to the freedom of the open seas that will take us to new destinations? The answer is hope. Hope is like the lifeline of a life preserver – that when I cling to it, I do not go under the water but stay on top. What you put your hope in becomes the larger question. Is your hope in your attitude, your hard work, your plan, your family, your friends? Your government?
I put my hope in God, and God becomes my flotation device as I face the waves that come my way. There will always be waves, but there will always be a true God and I put my hope in Him.
A psalm of David when he fled from his son, Absalom.
1 LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! 2 Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” 3 But you, LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. 4 I call out to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. 5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me. 6 I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side
This morning, there were many Canadian geese flying through the sky and honking at each other, and it was downright noisy as they passed over my head. After the raucous choir overhead had left me, I decided to investigate on the internet why they were all honking to one another. I found it interesting to read the various reasons they were honking at one another; the main reason being they are family members communicating during a flight to keep everyone together. This communication process is right for humans in changing seasons as well as Canadian geese! What once I was able to do while grounded is not what I can do while I am in the process of moving with the changing seasons. As people change and as the season of life changes, the amount of communication with family and friends needs to increase; otherwise, people will get confused as to where they are going and what is happening. My household is in the midst of several huge changes and the level and detail of conversation have had to increase for everyone to be aware of the path we are taking and what will need to happen during these changes that are different than they were in the past. Here is a brief list of what needs to occur in family (flock) communication and positioning if you are in the midst of some significant change of seasons:
1. Flock members need to communicate more on their whereabouts and simple day-to-day planning more than usual so that anxiety is not heightened by a lack of communication on simple things. Geese communicate in flight much more than on the ground.
2. Flock members need to honestly share their emotional state during the transition so that others do not misunderstand their silence or “excessive honking” as something other than what is occurring. While isolation can be comfortable during phases of being overwhelmed, greater depth of vocalization needs to happen.
3. Flock members will require more love and reassurance during times of transition. Do you know your family member’s love language? You need to give them what they need, not what feels good to you. If you are not a hugger, but your family member needs physical affection, then you need to give them what they need and vice versa. Geese communicate in many different ways in flight, sometimes as means of reassuring other flock members of their presence.
4. Flock members need a general roadmap of where this transition is taking them and how it will affect them. Before moving south for the winter, families of geese practice flights of various lengths to become confident in traveling as a group. What does practice look like when it comes to transition during different seasons?
5. Flock members will need more rest during migration due to the toll the change is taking on them. Planning large chunks of rest is necessary and essential to the completion of the transition.
6. We will need people to move with us through the change of seasons, but the group size will be smaller than it was when grounded.
7. A greater need for contact with the Creator is required during a transition. Just as Canadian Geese flying south for the winter is an awe-inspiring endeavor that God orchestrated when he created them, we need time to interact with the God of creation to move in the right direction.
• Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
Watching someone die is very difficult. If you have been through the process with a loved one you know exactly what I mean by that statement because you, yourself, have walked through that valley of the shadow of death with someone you love. As the onlooker, all you can do is try and bring comfort to the process, but rarely can you empower the dying individual in ways they do not desire to be empowered. Rarely can you change the ravages of what the disease is doing to the person. Walking with the dying is a powerless place to be and yet we, as the helpers, try to do all sorts of things to try make ourselves feel more powerful and less powerless. This same journey with the the dying can be replicated a thousand times in our daily life with those with whom we have relationships. Be it parent, child, spouse, friend, coworker or stranger there are people all around us dying emotionally in one way or another through various means and we try very hard to not feel that emotional pain with them. Be it the friend who cycles through one bad relationship after another, the teen that makes impulsive choices, the spouse who numbs themselves through isolation, the family member who fails to take responsibility for their actions, or the coworker who always blames others for their mistakes, we feel their pain with them because their choices make us feel powerless. So how does one not feel powerless when most of us were taught to give care to others? People generally do one of two things: they create strong emotional boundaries to prevent themselves from feeling vulnerable, or they do a lot of self-medicating. Neither option promotes good mental health because rock solid boundaries prevents good from penetrating the hard exterior and self-medicating in excess usually brings forth some sort of self-sabotage to your own personal goals. Being around other people’s pain and feeling powerless will affect us, but you have the choice of how much you allow it to affect you. Medicate in measure and use boundaries in measure. I am sure you have heard the phrase, “not my circus, not my monkeys”, but how does that apply to how you interact with those you love? The following are five questions to ask yourself when faced with the pain of others:
1. Does this situation require me to be involved?
2. If I am required to be involved, what are the boundaries I need to establish so I take care of myself?
3. If the situation doesn’t really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
4. What are the costs to me and my family and friends if I do get involved? Emotionally/ Financially/ Socially/ Physically, etc.
5. What are the costs to me if I do become involved?
Life is not about just caring for the masses, but caring for yourself and your own purpose. Jesus himself many times left the care of others in other people’s hands as he went off to care for self. When it doubt, prayer and meditation often helps to determine what your place is in the situation but in the end, you will be the one who determines what power you give away in the process of walking with others through pain.
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.