Saturday, September 25, 2010

People Pleasers

The nicest clients I work with are from the group we call “people pleasers”. They often seek counseling readily, and are very faithful at attending and doing the “homework” that is assigned (after all, they also want to please me, the counselor).

But lasting change for people pleasers is often more difficult. There are many voices in their lives calling out to them to satisfy relational demands – and it becomes hard deciding which voice to heed, especially when there are competing requests.

People pleasers are “feelers” and making balanced decisions becomes a challenge. “Do I lean in the direction of my head or my heart”? Feelers usually lean towards the heart. “Do I honor myself or honor others?” People pleasers usually sacrifice themselves first.

Unfortunately people pleasers make good victims. They often believe the best in others, and as a result others may take advantage of their good nature and willingness to serve. In the extreme they can end up abused employees, wives, husbands and volunteers.

How would you rate yourself as a people pleaser? Ask these questions.

  • “Can I say ‘no’ when I need to?”

  • “Do I feel guilty holding boundaries even when I know I am right?”

  • “Am I afraid that people won’t like me if I don’t agree with them?”

  • “Do I do things for other people that I know they can and need to do for themselves?”

  • “Do I think of myself as a ‘rescuer’ and like to take on people as projects?”

There are many more similar questions you could ask yourself, but you get the gist.

We, as believers, are called to serve one another, but people pleasers often find themselves the only one serving (one-way relationships) or resistant to allowing other people to serve them.

If you are a people pleaser, you will have to learn to go against your feelings and endure the anxiety that will surely follow. It can be a slow process and you may need help. But the result is that you will not ‘burn out’ early and will develop true friendships that are based on mutual care. Those are the relationships that are both deeply satisfying and lasting.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stuck In Neutral

The other day I was in my car getting ready to drive to work As I pushed down on the accelerator pedal the engine noise increased dramatically – but I didn’t move. Absentmindedly, I had moved the selector lever to “neutral” instead of “drive”.

I think worry is a lot like that. My brain is running, it’s making a lot of noise, (maybe even overheating) but I’m going nowhere. It even feels like I’m doing something, but in reality, nothing is happening of any value. There is no forward momentum. 

I can tell you that I have spent a lot of time stuck in neutral in my lifetime. I’ll bet you have too. There have been situations (and seasons) where fear has gripped me and I have spent a lot of energy going through “what if” and “worst case” scenarios in my head.

I love this quote:

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”  ~Mark Twain

Isn’t that true for you (not the old man part, necessarily)? I know it is for me. So many times I have found that my worry was in vain or at least overblown. As a result I suffered needlessly. I know that some of those times I could have taken some form of action that would not only have eased my fears, but actually minimized or prevented the loss. All I had needed to do was move the lever from neutral to drive and trusted God for the outcome.

Another quote I like is from Corrie ten Boom:

“Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is to small to be made into a burden.”

Sometimes it seems the only action step we can take is prayer. But prayer is powerful, it is primary and it should be a first, not last resort. Often from prayer and meditation comes the next step. Yes, I forget, too.

Is worry inevitable? According to a Chinese proverb:

“That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” 

I can’t control what comes at me, but I can control the amount of mental real estate I am willing to allocate to any particular issue. I do this by practicing self-soothing inner dialog and by thought shifting (refocusing) and prayer.

If you are unable to make any progress on your own – reach out!  

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Counseling Succeeds (or fails)

One of the reasons we try to establish counseling goals in the first session is so that we know that we are in agreement as to what should happen over the course of the counseling. This is particularly important when the client is a couple. Couples mostly hold the same goals (usually increase communication and reduce conflict), but do not necessarily see the solutions as the same. As a counselor, I want to be sure that I can hold the same goals as the client before I enter into the process. 

Sometimes a client’s goal is to just feel better, and is not yet ready to make needed changes. I may encourage these people to get a prayer partner until they are ready to consider making the necessary changes. Being emotionally ready leads to success. The one obvious exception is grief work. Change is not the goal here, but acceptance of the loss.

Counseling succeeds when the client’s goal is to change themselves rather than another person’s behavior.

  • Parents often want to see their children make better choices, and I can usually agree. But for a parent to try to control their children without learning first how to control their own behavior may be a frustrating ordeal for both child and parent. But taking positive charge of the interactions will reduce the drama.
  • Spouses usually want change from their partner, but some resist making changes within themselves. They may acknowledge their part of the problem and say they are willing to work on themselves, but there can be a low commitment. Sometimes even promises made in front of the counselor are ignored. Success comes with humility, optimism, patience and forgiveness.
  • Counseling succeeds when there is a high consistency in attending the sessions. Clients that stay with the process on a consistent basis usually make quicker progress. Sometimes one person in couple’s counseling attends regularly, while their partner only shows up occasionally. There is a risk that only one person may be maturing while the other person remains the same.
  • Counseling has a higher chance of succeeding when the client doesn’t expect the counselor to do the work for them. When the client follows through with “homework” assignments and makes time to practice skills in between sessions the likelihood of success is increased. 
  • Success comes when a client holds reasonable expectations for themselves and others. Real change takes time, is incremental, and takes two steps forward and one step back. Focusing on any positive momentum and keeping the goal in mind is essential.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  (Hebrews 12:1)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Picking Up The Missing Pieces

Do you ever feel like something’s missing, that you lack something that others seem to have? Do you find yourself devoid of feelings and wonder why? Does it seem like others have a roadmap – they know where they’re going but you don’t? You wonder what’s wrong and more importantly – are you to blame?

Most likely the problem is not something you caused or are responsible for, but there are missing pieces in your life and they can be found. As a kid I loved adventure and treasure hunting stories, like those by Mark Twain or The Hardy Boys. These folks had adventures and found something that would change their lives. I felt that something was missing and if I just found it my life would be complete.

Later on, I found that I was right. Some things had been missing and I found them in relationships with others and with God.

Trust, security, connection, warmth, enjoyment, affirmation, acceptance, understanding and unconditional love: These are some of the treasures I have accumulated along the way with friends, loved ones and God. They were missing, or at best inconsistently provided as I was growing up.

So how do I identify what is missing and find a way to get those needs met?

That is your unique journey. For some the issues are obvious, and the solution is reaching out into unfamiliar, uncertain and maybe frightening territory. For others it takes a lot of soul searching and discovery, both alone and with others. The one thing that is common to both is this: isolation is the enemy of hope and health. 

What’s missing for you?