Sunday, March 30, 2014

Double Binds

Have you ever felt the frustration of being in a double bind? I know I have one time or another, and I have certainly seen it unfold before me in many counseling situations. I can hear Nan say during those sessions: “Stop! You’re putting him in a double bind.”

A double bind is a no win situation. A person is given two conflictual messages, where choosing one negates the other. If the messages both come from one person, the receiver is frozen in his/her response. This is a classic “mixed message”.

If the messages come from different people, it would result in a situation in which either compliance or noncompliance with either alternative threatens one of the needed relationships.

The strain from these situations can be enormous. When there does not seem to be a possible solution, the person will often suffer a great deal of anxiety, fear or anger. This will either result in an emotional shutdown and withdrawal, or an aggressive response that creates relational separation.

Some classic double binds: 

  • A wife who complains of needing more income, but then criticizes her husband for working overtime and not spending enough time with the family 
  • A husband who challenges his wife to exercise and stay fit, but complains when she spends too much time at the gym 
  • A boss who needs an employee to work more overtime, and a spouse who complains that too much time is spent at work 
  • A wife who wants her husband to be transparent with his feelings, but then gets angry with what he shares 
  • A husband who tells his wife that she needs to take more time for herself, but refuses to stay home and take care of the children so that she can 
  • A wife who complains that she isn’t complimented enough, but then tells her husband that “he doesn’t really mean it” when he does 

Of course you can switch genders on any of these husband-wife scenarios, but the result is the same – someone is in a double bind. 

So how do you avoid double binds? 

If you are the speaker – play the message forward in your head before you say it. You may see the trouble ahead with your request. Do you really want to know what he feels? Or do you just want him to say positive things about you and your relationship? Do you really want her to be spending more time away from home working out at a gym or some other place?

What if you are on the receiving end? Stay calm and say something like: “I am puzzled. There does not seem to be a positive outcome possible. Can you help me?” The next step would be trying to find a compromise that would satisfy both people. It might mean lowering your expectations and seeking emotional connection first.

Please submit your own double binds to us – we would love to hear of situations where you have felt trapped. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Stress and Anxiety

I tend to write fairly often about the subjects of stress and anxiety. Why? Statistics show that about 40 million people or 18% of the adult population of the US are affected by this disorder each year.  That would make it the #1 issue facing the mental health community.  

How is stress different from anxiety?

Stress is your response to a change in your environment, be it positive or negative. Anxiety is an emotion that’s characterized by a feeling of apprehension, nervousness, or fear.  Acute anxiety is temporary, like a roller coaster ride, and can be positive, whereas chronic anxiety is pervasive and long term and likely to cause very negative results.

Chronic stress is long-term stress, such as that caused by traumatic events or miserable living conditions. Untreated chronic stress can contribute to major depressive disorder, a form of intense depression that lasts for long periods and can prevent someone from living a normal life. Chronic stress also can contribute to physical illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and obesity.

Money, work, and the economy continues to be the most cited (75%) causes of stress for Americans.

I see stress separate from distress. Whenever I visit a brand new place, particularly when it is very unfamiliar, I tend to feel stress. But I am not distressed, just excited. Distress comes when I cannot maintain a degree of control in the new environment.

Here are some truths about stress and some myth-busters.

  • Stress does not cause your hair to turn grey.
  • Cuddling your pet, significant other, child or listening to music lowers your stress. 
  • Stress does not cause ulcers, it just makes them worse. 
  • There is no link between stress and infertility. 
  • According to the American Cancer Society, no definite link between stress and cancer has been found. 
  • Stress can cause erectile dysfunction and loss of libido. 
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder. 
  • Daily exercise greatly helps to reduce the effects of stress. 
  • Anger or hostility releases stress hormones into the blood and can cause heart problems. 
  • Smoking cigarettes does not reduce stress. 

Focusing on the positive (gratitude), speaking soothing words to yourself, praying and practicing deep breathing can be very helpful. The combination of medications and psychotherapy is highly effective with anxiety issues. 70-90% of people experience an improvement.  

Learn to set realistic goals for yourself at home and at work, and have good boundaries with people. If it is hard for you to say “no”, then you need to enlist some help. Prepare for change as far in advance as you can, and lower your expectations. You will likely lead a much calmer life.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Control Freak

The label “Micro-manager” is really a nice way of saying “Control Freak”.  We all know what it feels like to have someone hover over us, whether it is a parent, a boss, a manager or a spouse. It doesn’t feel good. The message that it conveys is clear “I don’t trust your judgment, your willingness, or your ability to gets things accomplished without my interference.”

Although some people may need to step up their level of responsibility and commitment in order to be acceptable self-managers, many others will shrink if they encounter this kind of external pressure. Their creativity and productivity may actually suffer because they feel constricted by an over-control of their person-hood.

What motivates a person to become a control freak?

One possibility is anxiety. They have an internal pressure to achieve a certain goal, and believe that people have the power to block that goal. So they feel they must control people at a detailed level in order to ensure success. When they encounter resistance, which is inevitable, it just reinforces their need to control, which triggers further resistance. A negative cycle has been established.

Another possibility is a need for significance. If people can do their job without me interfering, does that mean that I am unnecessary? Will I then micromanage to prove that I am valuable? Will my insecurity lead to interpersonal conflict and perhaps relational chaos?  

Thirdly, am I a narcissist? Do I believe that I know better and therefore people need to pay attention to me? This personality type will hold contempt for any person who does not acknowledge the superiority of their abilities and follow their minute instructions without question. A hostile narcissist will have few friends. A nice narcissist may not have many intimate friends.

The solution is to manage agreements, not people. If you have clear agreements, then you can have clear expectations instead of unspoken or hopeful ones. Managing the agreement means talking about the possible blocks to achieving the desired goal, removing them when discovered, and then letting go of the process.

What’s important here is first being a clear communicator. Can you get your message across? Also, it is not enough to state what you want. You must also have a concrete commitment from the other person. Just because you say it, does not mean it is agreed upon. Silence from the other person does not mean tacit approval or agreement. It may actually mean they do not agree, or are thinking about it.

If you are a micro-manager, it will be hard to let go of control. You will likely need to learn to control your inner conversation and inner conflict by offering grace to yourself first. But you will enjoy better and deeper relationships if you can.   

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mentored By Strangers

Whenever Nan & I go on vacation we always take along a stack-full of ‘mentors’.

Yes, we are talking about books (and CD’s & DVD’s). Some of the books we take along are fiction (who doesn’t enjoy a good Grisham on vacation). But we also take books that tend to help us re-create – after all, that’s what recreation is, right?

Over the years the authors of these books have served as spiritual as well as professional mentors to us. Fortunately for us most of these authors are living today, and we have been able to meet several of them over time thanks to our home church, Christian Assembly in Los Angeles.

Meeting such authors as Henry Cloud, John Eldredge, Larry Crabb, Arch Hart, etc. is optional for most of us. But the wisdom they are able to impart through their materials is available for anyone who would want to read or listen. I cannot overestimate the impact that these fine men and women have had over our lives.

Anyone who knows me (Dave) well would say, “He’s always reading something – always talking about some book or article.”   And that would be true. I don’t see growth apart from an active life of curiosity for more depth of learning.

For example, I have been meditating on a sentence from the book “Living From The Heart Jesus Gave You” – written by several authors (published by Shepherd’s House) on redemption:

"Redemption means that out of our greatest pain, can come our most profound mission in life."

How does that apply to me? How does that apply to you? Are we living out that mission, or have we failed to face our pain and continuing to live in that unhealed pain and living a defeated life?

Another great statement is the major premise from both of Peter Scazzero’s books “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” and “The Emotionally Healthy Church:

“It is not possible for a Christian to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

Wow – quite a statement. At what stage of emotional or spiritual maturity am I? How is it defined? Fortunately, all of the authors are in agreement and spend time defining stages of maturity.

Again from the book ”Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You”:

"As a whole, our American culture does poorly in the area of maturation, and, sadly enough, the majority of our population probably operates at the infant or child level of maturity."

My mentors push me to become more informed, more mature, more committed and more relevant. And I don’t even have to know them personally. I just have to be intentional in my pursuit of growth.

But one warning: you must be careful who you let mentor you – I try to know as much as I can about the authors and check out their ‘wisdom’ against the teaching of the Bible.

"But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them bringing swift destruction on themselves."
2 Peter 2:1

Saturday, March 8, 2014

2 Things I learned From You

I love when I learn from clients. So many of my clients are lifetime learners, alert to growth opportunities from multiple sources. And delightfully, they often share some of those insights and snippets of knowledge with me.

In the past couple of weeks I have learned two valuable pieces of wisdom regarding relationships. 

  • The woman must set the physical boundaries in a relationship, and a man must set the emotional boundaries in a relationship. 

Yes, I know that this is a generalization, but I have found that it is largely true. Men will usually press for as much physical connection as the woman will allow. It is his nature. Good men are aware that this aspect of his temperament must be controlled, but it is still very difficult for him, and a woman must lead in this area. It is a good thing that he has a strong sexual desire because it is a motivation to form relational bonds. But out of control it will create relational chaos.

For most women, containing her emotional quantity and intensity is her challenge. Her desire for relational connection and “face to face” time will often overwhelm a man when she is unrestrained. So it becomes necessary for a man to set a limit on how much intimate connection he is able to absorb without becoming emotionally flooded. When he is over his limit, the message he will give off (usually through body language) will often be interpreted as not caring or not interested in what the woman is saying. It isn’t usually true, it’s just that he is emotionally saturated and shutting down.  

The second thing I have learned this week also concerns relationships. 

  • When a man feels disrespected he will often stop fighting FOR the relationship and start fighting AGAINST it. 

And we know that men can fight both aggressively and passively (or become passive aggressive). He will detach from the relationship by either becoming angry and pushing the partner away, or by withdrawing from intimate or significant connection. Either way he is creating emotional distance as a way to protect himself from the disrespect that he is feeling.

I am not necessarily placing the blame on the woman here. Men can do lots of things to contribute to the destruction of a relationship. They can certainly make it difficult for a woman to respect him. The point here is that if a woman desires for a man to fight for relational restoration and closeness between them, then her best strategy is to show respect even if she is not feeling it at the moment. As Emerson Eggerichs asks in “Love and Respect”, do you believe that he is, at his core, a good-willed man? If so, then he is worthy of your respect. 

Both of these insights came from women who wanted me to understand the power that women can have in relationships when they understand the different natures of men and women. I really do appreciate the vulnerability that this kind of sharing requires and I cherish it. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes

There is some recent solid research that points to the effectiveness of non-counseling, non-medication interventions in improving the overall mental, physical and spiritual well-being of our lives. These are called “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” (TLC's) Some will be very familiar to you, but perhaps what may not be as well known is the degree of effectiveness that these lifestyle changes can yield.
  1. Exercise
This alone has a significant effect on mild to moderate depression. It is an anti-aging strategy both physically and mentally. We all know this – and it takes discipline.
  1. Nutrition and Diet
We can significantly improve our feelings of self-worth when we eat right. We are less likely to be fatigued, we look better, and we will not be contributing to diseases that result from ignoring healthy eating habits.

    3.  Spending Time In Nature

All of the great Christian fathers (Jesus included) spent significant time in natural surroundings, away from people and noise. We have become a society of constant input – resulting in informational and auditory overload. We need to leave cell phones, computers, iPods, and the like at home and venture out where we can hear the voice of God.
  1. Relationships
Isolation can cause significant impairment to our perception of well-being as well as a real threat to our physical health. To quote one source: “the health risk of social isolation is comparable to the risks of smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.... [while] participation in group life can be like an inoculation against threats to mental and physical health” (Jetten et al., 2009). Good friends are a necessary component of good mental health.
  1. Recreation and Enjoyable Activities
We need to leave work behind for awhile and concentrate on having fun, whatever that might mean to you. It means developing a sense of playfulness and laughter where we can get away from the pressures of life. This directly relates to the following TLC.
  1. Relaxation and Stress Management
Anxiety rules so many of us these days and developing good stress-reducing habits are essential. Time spent in meditation and prayer, practicing good self-talk, listening to soothing or uplifting music can bring down our blood pressure and heart rate.
  1. Religious and Spiritual Involvement
Weekly participation in a church community has been proven to increase life expectancy by an average of seven years. Studies have shown that “religious or spiritual involvement is most likely to be beneļ¬cial when it centers on themes such as love and forgiveness and is likely to be less helpful or even harmful to mental health when themes of punishment and guilt predominate.” Isn't it great to be in a community where grace abounds!
  1. Contribution and Service
Many studies have shown that a giver benefits even more than the receiver, when it comes to volunteerism. Whether we call it benign self-interest or not, it is a TLC that will produce increased levels of physical and mental health. Even adolescents that have been compelled to serve show marked improvement in attitude and a sense of self-value.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of all the implications attached to the above eight categories. It seems to me that the time spent in counseling would be greatly reduced if many or all of these TLC's could be implemented in clients' lives. It also occurs to me that God's kingdom would be enhanced by at least two of these areas. Any thoughts?