Saturday, February 23, 2013

Help! I’m Stuck

Right now there are decisions that have to be made. They are time sensitive and somewhat complex. My friends that know me well know how difficult this can be for me. My tendency is to withdraw and suffer. If you were around me you probably wouldn’t notice since I have had a lot of experience at refining this skill.

There are all kinds of ways to get stuck.

One thing I have discovered is that stuckness usually affects others. You may be stuck, or others around you may be stuck. But either way you are affected. So what can you learn to do that will help?

  • First, do no harm. Like the Hippocratic Oath of physicians advises, don’t add to the problem by taking rash or foolish actions. Backing out of a dead end street is more difficult than driving into it. Often it is our mouths that react first. Words released cannot be retrieved.

  • Face the problem. Sometimes it’s even hard to admit that there really is a problem. We can’t fix what we won’t acknowledge exists. Or we try to minimize or ignore it. Usually it only gets worse. Try to brainstorm solutions. Focus on possibilities.

  • Ask for help. This is often hard, especially for us guys. We don’t like asking for directions. We don’t like to reveal vulnerabilities. Somehow it triggers shame. But we were not created to do life alone. 

  • Calm yourself. In difficult times we must practice self-soothing. If you are adding to the difficulty by imagining “worst case scenarios” (called awfulizing) it will only serve to keep you frozen.

  • Practice humility. Getting into a power struggle with someone will keep you stuck. It takes more strength to soften than to power up. Be the more mature person in an interpersonal struggle.

  • Press on through. This is often the biggest challenge. Discouragement can set in and make you want to give up when things don’t seem to be going well. Sometimes the darkest hour is right before the dawn.    

Stuck might last for only a little while or may feel like forever. Getting out of debt can be like that. So can grieving significant losses. You may be powerless to change the circumstances, but you can always choose the way you deal with the situation.

Please tell me how you have been stuck and what you did to alleviate the problem.

Deuteronomy 31:8(NIV)
The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My Family is Crazy

“Who came from a functional family?”

It’s one of the questions I like to ask at our premarrieds class. And every so often a brave soul will meekly raise their hand. It’s almost like they are embarrassed, or afraid they won’t be believed. I tell them it’s a good thing. But it’s not a common response.

Lately we have been incorporating a genogram in our counseling practice. A genogram is a type of pictorial family map that traces certain patterns of behavior within the generations of a family. It is sort of like a family tree, but goes beyond family relationships. It looks for psychological factors that affect family systems.

“Is there a lot of anxiety or drivenness in our family?”

“Is there a pattern of alcohol abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse?”

“Do I come from a long line of artistic people or am I the first?”

Why is this important in counseling?

We can inherit certain characteristics from our families of origin. They range from mild tendencies to deeply embedded pathology. These relationship patterns will often “feel normal”, but may be the cause of dysfunctional or conflictual behaviors. The ability to recognize and evaluate these patterns is frequently the key to unraveling the discord within interpersonal relationships.

Although some mental illnesses can be genetic, many other forms of maladaptive behaviors are “transmitted” through families.

  • Is anger the most prevalent response to crises in your family? Is that because that’s the way your generational family has always dealt with chaos? Not all families do that. Where does all this reactivity come from? See Adding Points
  • Do you have multiple divorces or many out-of-wedlock babies in your family? Why? Does your family not trust marriage to be secure or of high value? 
  • Why do all the males in your family have a problem with authority? 
  • Why was it so easy for you to accept Christianity, while many others around you seem to struggle so hard with belief? 

It’s really exciting to see the light go on in someone when they make a connection that explains a trouble spot. It can relieve the shame or guilt that they have been carrying. And it’s particularly thrilling when it is you that uncovers an obscured pattern in your own life.  

I must admit that seeing things on paper really made a difference for me. Yes, I've always known that my family is crazy, but now I know why.   

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hanging On In Tough Times

No one escapes tough times – rich or poor, young or old. Circumstances may be different for each of us, but whatever it is, we will be challenged by it. For some it may be finances, for others it might be health or relational difficulties. 

But whatever you face, you will likely be angry or scared or hurt or frustrated. Perhaps you will feel all of these emotions.

Many years ago Nan & I hit a relational wall. We were emotionally disconnected, living nearly separate lives. Both of us wondered if this was the end of our marriage. We both felt lonely and misunderstood. Would we end up another ugly marital statistic? Fortunately Nan dragged me to counseling (kicking and screaming I might add) and things eventually got better – after they got worse for a while. We came out much stronger – and I came out a saved believer in Christ.

What did I learn from those hard times?

  • Face the problem. It does no good to pretend that it doesn't exist. You may not have a solution at the moment, but it is unlikely to go away if you ignore it. Sometimes it takes me a while to break denial, but experience tells us that procrastination usually makes things worse.

  • Brainstorm. There might be little you can do, but throw around a lot of ideas. It will give you a feeling of some kind of control. You won’t feel quite as hopeless. Then take any reasonable action you can. Keep searching for options even when you don’t feel like it.

  • Manage your emotions. In the midst of difficulties you may feel like lashing out and blaming others or even God. Or you might want to turn it inwards and take a downward spiral into depression. You may need a moment to control your reactivity. Do your best not to feed your brain anxious and negative thoughts. Instead practice self-soothing.  

  • Don’t compound the problem. Resist the urge to medicate the pain with substances or behaviors that will only make the problem worse.    

  • Share your struggle with safe people. We need to let others come alongside our burdens. This is particularly important if your tendency is to withdraw. If married, make sure you stick to same sex friends or a trusted counselor. You don’t want to make it worse with an emotional entanglement.

  • Pray – don’t deny the power of God. There is a tendency to rely only on the tangible when we are in the midst of something difficult. We can end up feeling hopeless when we run out of steam. If we remember to pray first, not last, it could make a big difference in our approach and sense of balance.  

I have a lot of empathy for people going through hard times. That’s why I counsel.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why You Should Write

People ask me why I bother to write each week. I think they are asking “What do you get out of it?” It’s a good question. It’s not part of my job and nobody will scold me if I don’t (I may have to think about that last part). Although I would love to believe that what I have to say is new and unique, the truth is – it’s not. Thousands of years ago King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Mostly we just pass on what we have learned.

But I get a lot out of it – and you will too if you write. It doesn't have to be public – journals are private. But why would you want to write?

I read a quote from Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators. He said:

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.”

  • When I write, I clarify my thoughts and beliefs. I spend time putting order to them. It forces me to think at a deeper level.

  • When I have a lot of feelings it really helps to process them on paper and figure out what I need instead of making emotional decisions that may cause relational chaos. Particularly if someone has hurt me I will eventually need to forgive them. But that usually takes some time and writing out the hurt may help a great deal.

  • Grief is the result of losses we suffer. If we bury our grief instead of face our losses we will either get emotionally stuck, or risk having the feelings manifest themselves in some other way, sometimes in substance abuse, anxiety, depression, etc. Writing it out helps us to let it go.

  • You may want to communicate something positive to someone you care about. Putting it in writing allows you to really consider your words carefully and accurately.

  • You have something to say that will benefit others. You may have a particularly poignant testimony or a struggle that others will identify with and be encouraged to press through. Caring Bridge is an example of a place where people can share their stories and exchange support. Or you may have expertise that you are willing to give away as an act of generosity.

  • Writing can be fun. When it’s about you it becomes a record of your life. If you are like me, you can forget all but the most important events with the passing of time. It makes it possible for others to know you at a deeper level either now or in years to come.

I hope I have convinced you that you will benefit if you take some time to write down your thoughts and feelings. And to get you started please comment in the box below. I really would like this blog to be more of a dialog. You have something to say – everyone does. Take the time to share.