Saturday, December 26, 2015

Videocounseling – It’s Here

Last Saturday half of our counseling sessions were via Skype video. What a difference a decade makes. What was not even thinkable back then is now a reality. So how do we feel about it?

At first we were kind of skeptical. We had not experienced telephone sessions to be as engaging as in-person contact. Could we emotionally connect with clients adequately over a video call? Could we read their body language accurately? Would the client feel as cared about through the web connection? (OK, there is no hugging and sometimes that’s a problem.) So what were our conclusions?

With the current state of computers and video devices plus increased Internet speeds, the quality of most connections are adequate or better. Especially with clients that we have previously counseled in person, the transition is easy.

What are some advantages of video counseling? 
  • No time spent commuting. It’s really convenient.
  • No travel expense or traffic
  • No babysitter needed for some
  • Flexible locations for both clients and counselors. Our clients have even called in on mobile devices from their cars, etc.
  • Out of the area sessions are possible
  • Emergency cancellations can be filled with a telecommute when their isn’t enough time to travel to the office.
  • Some clients may feel more comfortable in their own home with a bit more separation
  • You can keep your cold to yourself 

What are some of the downsides? 
  • There is some preparation involved
  • Sometime connections are not very good or may be dropped
  • Children or other interruptions may occur
  • Whiteboard illustrations are more difficult
  • Handouts must be emailed (minor inconvenience)
  • It just feels different 

Just like in corporate businesses where video conferencing and huddle-room conferencing is increasing, so is the likelihood that telecounseling will grow as well. What that means for us is to be aware of the changing trend and to keep our eye on improvements in technology so that clients can have as good an experience as possible. It also means that we are realistic about the limitations and stay abreast of current laws and regulations.

So what are your feelings and thoughts about video counseling? Please respond!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Do You Have Superpowers?

There are certain behaviors in relationships that are easily identified as the most destructive. They are known to most of us: poorly controlled anger that becomes rageful, withdrawal that turns into emotional cutoff and unaddressed addictions that control the person and therefore harm the relationship. These behaviors often flow from dealing with the most volatile issues that couples face such as money, sex, parenting and others.
But those are just the most obvious, in-your-face destroyers. There are also more subtle, but equally harmful ones. There is one that really sticks out to me.
Like the dripping of water on a rock that eventually erodes it away, nagging, criticizing, complaining, and correcting eventually erodes a relationship. Yes, it is slower, but it can be just as painful in the long run.
I remember working with a couple whose relationship was headed down the tubes. Outwardly there was nothing dramatic happening, but the couple seemed to be profoundly unhappy. After listening to their stories I turned to the wife and confronted her:
“You need to stop FAA – Fixing, Analyzing and Advising.”
She looked at me and declared: “But those are my superpowers. If you take them away I'll have nothing left!”
I agreed with her that they were indeed super powerful – but it was the power to destroy, not to create. I could see the husband relax. I think he finally felt understood. Of course I could have told her to stop nagging, criticizing, complaining and correcting, but I think she got the message.
During the sessions I noticed that she got quite upset when her husband did not agree with her. So I helped both of them to express their feelings better, without blaming or shaming. And we worked on not holding an expectation that their partner had to agree with them or face their wrath or withdrawal. In time she learned that she had a lot of power left. Her husband responded very well to kind words and encouragement and so did her kids. We talked about how the Fruits of the Spirit are the real superpowers as outlined in Galatians chapter 5 in the Bible starting with verse 22:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit (power) in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
If you want to know what not to do, read beginning with verse 16.
By the way, the genders could have just as easily been reversed in the above scenario – husbands often have those destructive superpowers as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Us-Them Thinking

One of my pastor mentors often refers to what is called “us-them” thinking in the church. What he is referring to is the tendency to see a separation between leadership and congregants or believers and non-believers, etc, etc, etc.

Why do we do this? Sometimes it can be a form of pride or arrogance, but most often it flows from tradition or wanting to fit in. In its extreme it can be quite toxic, putting up a wall with a sign that says either “You’re not welcome” or “You’re not qualified”.

Of course it’s not just in the church where this can exist. All organizations or groups have the potential to set themselves apart. Sometimes it is quite necessary, as in the military, etc. There needs to be qualifiers. But for us in the church it can be an unwanted barrier.

I (Dave) had been raised in the church from the time I was born – but I took a long rebellious break before I returned. In the interim a lot had changed. My traditional Presbyterian experience was different from the post Jesus People movement and Pentecostalism that I encountered. I ran into a lot of new “markers”.

Markers determine who is “inside” and who is “outside”.  For example in some congregations you are outside if you wear a suit and tie. In others it is an expected uniform. Another marker is raising your hands in church. If you do then you are considered an insider, if not you are probably a guest or seeker. There is also marker language – we call it “Christianese” when we use phrases that are not typically part of everyday language, i.e.: “traveling mercies” or “angels camping around your house” etc. Those kinds of phrases can create us-them thinking.

There can even be this kind of thinking within the Christian church world itself, where one church or denomination can feel superior to another.

“We have the real truth.”
“We have a special calling from God.”
“We have the Holy Spirit operating in our midst in a unique way.”

We might call this hyper-spiritual thinking.

Or how about the “Black Church” vs. the “White Church”? That divide is so sad.

In the mental health field there can also be us-them thinking – us “mentally healthy”, them “mentally ill”. The truth is that mental health is a continuum that is constantly shifting. Some days I am much more mentally healthy than others.

Regardless, if our goal is inclusiveness and the expansion of the family of Christ, shouldn’t we be breaking down walls instead of creating them?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Could You Benefit From Medication?

I wonder how many marriages have kept from blowing apart due the miracle of modern psychotropic medications. I also wonder how many people have been able to stay out of inpatient facilities because they have been stabilized by good diagnoses and treatment with therapy and medications. POST CONTINUED @

Friday, July 31, 2015

Check Your Attitude

I was reading an article online that had some helpful tips for parents desiring to encourage their kids develop some good habits for financial success. It talked about the habits of the wealthy vs. those of the poor. It was solid researched stuff and should have been welcomed by any parent wanting to give their child a leg up. What saddened and frankly shocked me a bit was the quantity of negative and angry comments that followed. Most of the comments were from people rationalizing their personal failures. They completely missed the intent of the article.
It was obvious that these people were blind to the attitudes that kept them stuck and the real possibility that they could be passed on to their children as well. They embraced hopelessness and helplessness instead of possibilities.
As an employer, I tried to avoid hiring people who were angry or negative. They were the ones that were most likely to get in conflict with other employees, alienate customers and blame others for their lack of advancement. I always chose attitude over aptitude. If they had a good attitude they were usually teachable. That was the problem with many of the comments that I read in the above mentioned article. They demonstrated an unwillingness to listen and learn. For whatever reason they would rather see themselves as powerless victims of an unknown and unseen enemy, or worse yet they looked for something or someone outside of themselves to blame.
Although the article was neither condemning nor shaming I suppose it was inevitable that some would have feelings of failure triggered simply by the subject. That can’t be avoided. But fortunately there were also other comments that indicated that the author was successful in communicating his positive intention. These are the people that will benefit. They understand that the right kind of knowledge is powerful as a change agent.
I have observed this phenomenon in couples as well.
When couples who are having struggles have a generally positive attitude they are likely to get better with time. They expect the difficulties to be temporary, and work toward that goal. Those that do not expect things to get better usually reach their goals too.
What sets apart the successful couples from the stuck ones is often their ability to receive constructive criticism. Successful people consider the input and thank you for it whereas the less successful become defensive and angry, especially when the input is given by their partners. It is not easy to hear about our shortcomings – we all would prefer to be praised for our strengths and hear encouraging words. But we grow when we incorporate helpful criticism.
It all depends on our attitude.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Are You in a Relationship with a Rule Maker?

One of the constants that couples may have to fight within themselves is the tendency to become parental or the “rule maker” in their relationship. Sometimes these rules are overt when they are presented as commands: “Don’t turn on the television immediately when you walk through the door from work!” Other rules are covert or unspoken and you don’t know about them until you break them: “How could you leave hair in the bathroom sink?”
Making rules can be a big intimacy destroyer in a relationship.
Often the rule maker also appoints themselves the rule enforcer. Since they made up the rules, they feel like they have the right to enforce the rules. But there is a big problem here: their partner didn’t agree to the rules or didn’t know about them. How are rules enforced? They are imposed in many typically maladaptive ways – passively, aggressively or passive-aggressively. In other words I might get angry or withdraw or nag or treat you with silent contempt – but somehow I will make you pay.
Early in our marriage Nan or I would defend our rules by saying “Well, if I didn’t need you to do such and such, then I wouldn’t ask.” The message was clear: “This is one of my rules that you need to obey.” And that was a source of conflict for us until we were able to learn to compromise and agree. Oh, by the way – that took a long time and sometimes we still stumble across it in our relationship.
The best way to deal with a rule-maker is to first reflect what they have said (“So you would like me to connect with you before turning on the television when I come home from work?”) Then you can kindly ask to have a discussion. (“Let’s talk about that.”) You are gently asserting your power within the relationship and letting your partner know that you need to be treated with respect. If you have a very dominant or aggressive partner you may have to be more firm and set a harder boundary. (‘I am not comfortable with the way you are approaching me with your 'request'. We need to talk about this.”)
I have been known, when given a direct command by Nan, to smile and reply “Are you asking me?” Again, I am communicating my adult status in the relationship. She is always gracious and replies “Sorry. Would you mind….)? Then there is no conflict that follows and usually I am willing to meet her request – or at least negotiate with her.
When it comes to unspoken rules, we need to identify them. Our partner can't read our mind, and they didn't grow up in our family so that they automatically know what is expected.  Then we need to talk about them, where we agree and where we disagree. That is one of the exercises that we have couples do in our premarrieds class. It saves a lot of unpleasant conflict later in the marriage.
Whether you are a rule-maker or in a relationship with one, talking about it when you are not in the heat of a conflict can be very helpful. Kindness and humility will win the day.
If you need help from an outside party, don’t be too proud to ask.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Lazy or Perfectionistic

One of my less favorite domestic jobs is pulling weeds and caring for our somewhat unruly yard. I think I’ve felt that way most of my life even though once I get into it, it’s not that bad – almost enjoyable sometimes. I wonder if I am just lazy by temperament.
As I was working this morning I thought about the times where my dad was training me and one of his phrases came back.
“If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all!”
That message was often delivered with anger and I ended up feeling inadequate. The belief that was formed was that I didn’t measure up, and so I guess at some point I kind of embraced his philosophy too well. If I couldn’t do something perfectly why do it at all? It makes certain tasks difficult for me to start, because I know I might fail to meet my internal standards. And that in turn triggers shame. It means defective, broken, unremarkable and inconsequential. So to avoid the shame, I procrastinate or ignore.
It happens often with these blog posts. I am aware that it is beneficial to post regularly and often, yet I struggle to sit down at the computer to write if I don’t have something on my heart that feels really significant.
I wonder if you are like me.
The way I overcome some of these issues is by forcing myself to act when I am nearing a deadline. I tell myself that I work better under pressure. That is probably partly true – that there is nothing like anxiety to focus one’s attention. But I probably don’t do better work as a result, and I certainly don’t provide margin for interruptions or unforeseen problems. And if they do appear, my anxiety can turn to anger or panic. And those two emotions can create relational problems.
One of the other downsides is that Nan has to live with my tendencies. Things don’t get attended to in a timely manner. Broken things don’t get fixed right away. Maintenance chores are often delayed way too long and It becomes frustrating for her and for me. This creates  another area of shame I have to deal with. I know the root cause is a form of anxiety, but awareness alone is not enough. Activating is required.
Talking through my shame issues helps me to change my beliefs and my maladaptive behaviors. I am much more able to self soothe and self accept. When shame is triggered there is likely to be an overreaction that follows. It might be projected outwards in a defensive or angry outburst, or it can be directed inward resulting in depression and feelings of low self worth. Neither reaction is helpful, obviously.
It all comes down to grace. Grace for myself and grace from others. The more grace I experience, the more I will be able to break the power of shame and perfectionism. God does not expect me to be perfect, he expects me to be faithful, and to be an expression of His love and faithfulness – to love my neighbor and myself.
Am I lazy or perfectionistic? Probably both – but thank God for grace.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Private Space

My left hand is in the galley (kitchen) and my right hand is in the saloon (living room).
Back in the Nineties (yes, that’s 1990’s) Nan and I owned a sailboat that we had docked in Marina Del Rey. It was a wonderful weekend retreat for both of us. It was large enough to stand up in and easily cook meals and “live aboard”. Mind you, we are best friends and get along really well, but we didn’t fully understand what “too close” meant until we spent a week on the boat.

What it wasn’t big enough for was providing personal space.

If we really wanted alone time we would have to leave the boat and go somewhere else, but that was pretty impractical at night. We had a small TV and a music system onboard to entertain us. The problem was that if both of us weren’t in the same mood, one of us would end up annoyed or disappointed. Even if one person tried to shut himself away in the forward cabin the sound would leak pretty significantly. It was okay on the weekends, but it got old as the week wore on and we repeatedly got in each other’s way. Unneeded conflict increased.

In relationships, we need both togetherness and separateness. We need the ability to express our uniqueness as individuals as well as our oneness in marriage. And that means having a private space to get away to when we need it. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a dedicated room, a man-cave or a craft room, while others must do with a locked door on a shared space, such as a bedroom (some moms tell me the bathroom is their only sanctuary).

Can you find a space to get away to? It could even be a chair in the garden or side patio or a little used alcove in the house. For others it is a shop or space in the garage that can be rearranged. This away space is a spiritual place, a place to rest, reflect, renew and regroup. This is a place you take your feelings, emotions and dreams before you share them with others. This is where you spend time with God.

Lately Nan has been occupying my seldom used office. Until a year ago it was a center of business activity in the mornings. Now it mostly serves as a place to pay bills and do an occasional Skype session. Nan has found it perfect. For me, I use a guest bedroom in the basement next to our music room. It has the added advantage of being a great place to nap when needed.

Almost all of our rooms have bookshelves to keep journals and reading material handy. And there are no clocks in view. Perhaps that is not possible for everyone, but being too aware of the passing of time can get in the way of its purpose. Can you shut off electronic devices or do you need to get away to even use them?

We are quite aware that people have different felt needs for alone time and private space – some need more and some less. We should try to accommodate our partner, within reason. I probably have a greater need than Nan does, but it has not been a big problem between us.

So How about you? What are your space and time requirements? Have you already worked this out with partners or roommates? Can you ask (nicely) for what you need?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cultural Awareness

Culture (/ˈkʌlər/) is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Growing up I understood “to be cultured” as something that was mostly acquired by the wealthy and privileged, the intellectually astute or those of societal stature who are “in the loop”. These days I know that we are actually all a product of culture, or really many cultures, and it is nothing like the concept that I learned.
What are some of these cultures?
  • My work culture
  • My family of origin culture
  • My ethnic culture
  • The popular culture during my formative years
  • My religious culture
  • My economic culture
And we go on to create cultures, too, when we get married and have a family. But the resultant culture has been highly influenced by all the others that we were exposed to.
Why is this so important? The truth is that the person we form a relationship with will likely have a different mix than we do. And these differences can become the source of a lot of conflicts because they often represent some deeply held beliefs or values.
These beliefs determine how we educate children, how we discipline them and what position we give them in a family. They determine marriage roles, how we file our taxes, where we live and what we drive. Is it OK to buy retail or must we negotiate for a price every time? Can a man be a stay-at-home dad or is that shameful?
I have heard individuals declare “I could never marry a Democrat” or “I could never marry a Republican”. These can be intense differences.
Often we will come across a couple that come from completely separate moral codes. She has no problem with premarital sex, but he wouldn’t even consider it. Or he wants to move in together to have a “trial marriage”, but she feels it would bring shame on her family. These moral decisions come from our cultural beliefs, religious, ethnic or family, and they are not easily set aside.
When we have one of these cultural disputes in counseling we always try to point them in a new direction. We ask this question:
“Will you allow God’s culture to trump all of the other ones? Will you allow the Bible to be the arbiter of this dispute?”
These are sobering questions for a Christian. This is where the “rubber meets the road” and puts their faith to the test. It often will cause cognitive dissonance. Fortunately it can have a benefit, too, of helping move people towards clarity of values and embracing suffering for the right reasons. It’s no fun to delay or surrender gratification or wrestle with a potential shift in our thinking.
Going against one’s family of origin culture may feel like disloyalty, especially when it involves the family directly as in planning a wedding. Nan and I highly recommend that you deal with these differences prior to announcing your engagement. Some really ugly stuff can come up if the couple is not clear on what their boundaries with family are.
So what influences you the most? Really ask yourself this question before you move on.
Popular culture?
Liberal or conservative culture?
Family culture?
Or God’s culture?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

You Want Me To Do What In My Relationship?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24 (ESV)
 When I heard this Scripture verse from the sermon this morning at our church I knew that the message was not going to be one of those feel good ones that reassures us that we can be happy and secure and comfortable. If I had any doubts all I needed to do was register the expression on Nan’s face. But as I listened it in it’s entirety it was also a message of hope – and it inspired me to apply the verse to relationships.

Marriages are unending opportunities to test out the verse

I want my marriage to be fruitful. I don’t want to just lope along trying not to get into too much trouble. That usually means that I am avoiding engaging at a very deep level. But I also know that swimming in the deep end of the emotional pool can be risky. We could end up sharing some really good intimate moments, but we could also end up in painful conflict.

These times of conflict challenge me to put my faith to the test. Will I power up on Nan or will I “die” to self? I can tell you what I feel like doing (and it isn’t admirable). But the verse tells me that if I don’t make the sacrifice I will remain alone and nothing good will come of it. Of course Nan has the same choice too, and I reluctantly (sheepishly) admit that over the years she has probably done a better job than I have. Call it male pride or immaturity. They both fit.

What kinds of sacrifices do you need to make in your relationship?

  • Your finances? 
  • Your ambition? 
  • Your anger? 
  • Your time? 
  • How about your contemptuous, critical or sarcastic attitude? 
  • Do you need to give up your right to your opinion all the time? That was and still is a really hard one for me. I always want the last word. 

Some couples will never make it unless they both are willing to die to self. There has been so much damage on both sides that they have built emotional fortresses and engage in a contest to see who can come up with the longest list of perceived offenses. The blame game becomes a highly skilled sport for them. But this can be a fight to the death of a marriage.

But the verse brings a message of hope. Jesus sacrificed Himself so that many could live.  We make sacrifices so that our relationships can survive and even thrive – and not just marriages, but also parents to children, friends to friends, and communities to communities. There is joy in this kind of surrender because it often brings peace and harmony. And that produces a feeling of satisfaction – not from the temporary loss, but from the expanding gain that follows.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Having a Long View

One of the advantages of working at a large church, as we do, is that we encounter a broad and diverse group of issues, clientele and ages and stages. It gives us a long view on many of life’s struggles. Yes, it poses some additional stressors in that expertise in all areas is not possible. Hence, reliance on the Holy Spirit becomes essential – and also a healthy ability to laugh at oneself.

For us the long view means that we are able to observe the tragedies of abuse, conflict, divorce, abandonment, controlling behavior, emotional and financial dyscontrol etc. while they are current, as well as the results in people’s lives many years afterwards. This is probably the best reinforcement for us as counselors, to remember to hold to our over-goals for our clients when they come in with the complaint “I’m not happy.”

What are over-goals? They are the goals we hold for our clients beyond the goals that they initially express for themselves. 
  • An emotional over-goal might be to grow in maturity even if the path leads to having to make uncomfortable decisions. 

  • A spiritual over-goal would be to become more formed into the image of Christ even if it means embracing sacrifices. 

  • A relational over-goal might be to reconcile broken relationships through forgiveness even if the process is awkward and difficult. 

Everyone wants to be out of pain and “happy”, me included. But often there is a high cost to achieving the kind of happiness I desire.

  • Will I abandon my family – wife, husband or children because I don’t desire to carry responsibilities and honor my commitments any longer? Am I too proud or stubborn to try to reconcile a broken and conflictual marriage? 

  • Will I spend money I don’t have and “hope” to figure out a way to pay later? 

  • Will I engage in behaviors that are against my, God’s and societies moral codes for temporary pleasures?   

  • Will I always follow the easiest path I can find, rather than the best?

Making good choices are often the results of having a long-view perspective. I encourage clients to “play the movie forward”. Where will this decision lead you? Into potential trouble down the road? Regret? Bankruptcy? Loneliness? Away from God and significant or beneficial relationships? Or will it likely produce the kind of results you will be proud to claim?

We can’t live a perfect life and shouldn’t try to – only Jesus did that. But we can live a thoughtful one. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Manipulators – Scary Close

I love reading, and so do many of you – after all you are reading this blog. So I happily recommend a book Nan and I are reading right now: Scary Close– dropping the act and finding true intimacy – by Donald Miller. It is very well written and an easy read – and it also brings a significant message.

Chapter 9 is entitled “Five Kinds of Manipulators”, and I thought I would excerpt from each type.  It is always valuable to assess whether you are in a romantic, work or other relationship with one or more of these people. But I believe it is even more important to determine which one of these types Donald Miller is describing most resembles us. If we are honest with ourselves, we will get uncomfortable reading through this list. 

  • The Scorekeeper  Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win. Scorekeepers are in control of the scoreboard and frame it any way they want, but always in such a way they’re winning. Scorekeepers keep tabs on whatever favors you owe them and call in those favors when they want to control you. 

  • The Judge  A Judge personality strongly believes in right and wrong, which is great, but they also believe they are the ones who decide right and wrong and lord it over others to maintain authority and power. Right and wrong are less a moral code than they are a collar and leash they attach to others so they can lead them around. When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others. The Bible becomes a book of rules they use to prove they are right rather than a book that introduces people to God. 

  • The False Hero  The False Hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do. The dark side to the (False Hero who is a) visionary personality is they can lead people to believe they have a future when it might not be possible or realistic, to actualize that vision. You might be dealing with a False Hero when the future they’re describing seems too good to be true. 

  • The Fearmonger  Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell. Fearmongers manipulate by making people believe they are strong. They are never vulnerable and fear being perceived as weak. Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy. You know you’re with a Fearmonger when they overemphasize the concept of loyalty. Certainly loyalty is a virtue, but what a Fearmonger calls loyalty could better be described as complete and total submission. 

  • The Flopper  A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can. This is a powerful and destructive form of manipulation. In order to be a victim, a person needs an oppressor. If you enter into a relationship with a Flopper, sooner or later that oppressor will be you. A Flopper’s internal mantra goes something like this: If people hurt me they’re in my debt, and I can hold it over them to get what I want. False victims are, themselves, passive oppressors. They seek control by making you feel guilty about what you’ve done. They don’t want to reconcile, they want control. If you consistently feel responsible for somebody else’s pain, but you can’t figure out how you caused it, you’re likely in a relationship with a Flopper.

I hope this excerpt whets your appetite for a deeper read – as in the whole book. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Yelling, Screaming, Raging and Lecturing

There are many spouses who would never contemplate hitting their mate, but think nothing of yelling, screaming, raging and lecturing them, sometimes for hours.

I want to suggest that yelling at your spouse is a verbal slap to the heart.

Although physically assaulting your wife or husband (even once) is generally considered an adequate reason to separate until the wounded spouse feels safe – verbal assaults may do just as much damage and lead to the same result. And the heart may take a much longer time to heal than the body.

Lecturing a spouse is treating them like a child. I don’t care how much you feel the need to berate them or “educate” them; it is just wrong and contemptuous. The worst time and place to do this is in the bedroom at bedtime. The other worst time to do this is during the rest of the day. If you find yourself wanting to do this, take a break, get away and settle down.

It might even be worse for the child of a raging parent. There is a larger power imbalance and the dependency needs are greater. The kids can’t always leave the room to protect themselves emotionally. I have heard adult children confess that they would have preferred being spanked to having to endure the intense screaming and shaming. One man said this to me:

“Whenever Dad yelled at me the look on his face said he hated me and was disgusted with me.”  Then the man broke down crying.

I wonder if your spouse feels hated too when you scream at them?

Often this is a family of origin issue, meaning that it was behavior that was modeled in the family in which you grew up. Mom or Dad was a yeller, and so it just feels normal to scream at people. It might be normal to you, but it may not be normal to the others around you – and it certainly isn’t healthy or mature.

Sometimes the angry behavior is a way of coping with depression. It is said that women tend to go sad and cry when depressed and men tend to go angry and aggressive. When we act out angry feelings there is a boost in adrenaline that may pull us temporarily out of the feeling of depression. Unfortunately it is also followed by a letdown and usually a feeling of regret for pushing people away.

The best solution I know is to run away when you feel compelled to act out. Separate yourself as quickly as possible and let the feelings dissipate. For some people fear and anxiety drives them to lash out. Take yourself away and sort out the feelings so that you can deal with people calmly and rationally.

And lastly and most importantly, according to the Bible, it is often also a sin that separates us from God. 
Ephesians 4:26 (NIV) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. 
Proverbs 22:24-25 (NIV) Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hearing the Truth in Counseling

I am not always a fan of hearing the truth. Example: my doctor tells me I have low energy because I don’t exercise enough – not because there is something wrong with me medically. I just wanted to hear that there is a quick fix – a pill or something. This news requires that I make an effort to take action. It will alter my lifestyle and schedule and take away a certain comfort I have gotten used to over the years.

It’s the same in counseling. Most people want to hear that someone else is to blame for their problems. They want to shift the responsibility of having to change on to someone else. It might be a spouse or other family member or a co-worker or a friend – anyone besides the person looking at them in the mirror each morning.

I have a lot of compassion for these people. It’s not easy to embrace truth when we have spent a lot of energy building fortresses around our false beliefs. Pulling down these walls requires embracing the grief process which begins with breaking the denial of what is really true – that the problem lies within me. 
“I have a problem.”
With those words there is real hope of things getting better. It may bring sadness at first, especially if the realization is the result of a crisis, a serious rejection or significant loss.

  • My wife left me because of my drinking 
  • My boyfriend broke it off because I was too clingy and controlling 
  • I lost my job because of my anger 
  • I didn’t speak up and someone else got chosen 
  • I allow myself to get distracted and I don’t accurately hear what people say. 

Do you get upset and angry when people point out your shortcomings? Do you beat up on yourself and feel defeated? Or instead do you reflect on their words and try to use them to grow?

A counselor always holds your positive growth as their goal for you – never condemnation. Can you receive it that way even when the truth is painful? I (Dave) was in counseling for three years. Some of those sessions with my counselor were not easy – and others were downright perplexing – but I always knew that he was for me. 

God is also intensely for us and corrects us because of His love for us – but we must be willing to receive it for it to benefit us. Any thoughts? 

Monday, February 2, 2015

The 18 Red Flags Of Relationships (Danger)

If you have attended one of our pre-married/pre-engagement classes you have already seen this list. For those who haven’t and are considering marriage, this is a wonderful time to pause and do some serious evaluating.

Not all of these need to be considered deal breakers, but once the wedding process is on “full speed ahead” it is very difficult to stop it or slow it down. But I assure you – it would be better than proceeding when there may be factors in the relationship that are particularly troublesome. It is so much easier to deal with issues before joining your lives together. Once the rings are on, some people are not willing to face the painful places in their lives. Do it while you both have a stronger motivation and before inertia has set in.

So look over this list carefully and don’t minimize or rationalize away the problems. Marriage should be a lifetime commitment and it takes both your brain and your heart to be in sync when you make the second most important choice in your lifetime.

  • You’ve known the person for less than a year
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Over dependency on family
  • Over dependence on partner
  • Serious quarrelling (or uncontrolled anger, raging)
  • Many significant people in your life are uncomfortable about your relationship
  • If there is a serious problem that is unresolved
  • Significant financial problems or serious debt
  • You feel pressured to marry due to age, sex, etc
  • You believe sexual involvement must lead to marriage
  • Both are 18 or younger
  • You just have to get out of your parent’s house
  • Pregnancy
  • Strong cultural, social or economic differences
  • There’s no plan for your relationship – no goals
  • God is not as important to your partner as to you
  • Unaddressed abuse in either person’s background (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Physical abuse – even once (get out) 

So what did you notice? Are there any items that made you uncomfortable? Or are you smiling because nothing applied to your relationship? You may have to dig a bit deeper into the relationship to find out some of the answers. You may have to ask family or friends or other trusted people in your life what they see. Weigh their answers carefully, especially from those who are not overly critical or overly positive by nature.

By the way, if you were wondering about the first most important choice in your life: it is making a commitment to follow Christ.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The 7 Basic Human Longings

I am sometimes asked “What is joy?” “How do you know if you have it?” “What does it take to feel joy?”

Nan’s MFT supervisor (and my counselor, mentor and friend) David O. Gatewood identified seven basic human longings that when satisfied produced joy in a person’s life. They are listed as follows:

  • Love (worth, uniqueness, specialness)
  • Pleasure (thirst, hunger, deep feeling)
  • Belonging (intimacy, relationship, covenant)
  • Pride (power, mastery, autonomy)
  • Security (safety, trust)
  • Creativity (reproduction, fantasy, imagination)
  • Purity (holiness, peace) 

When there is a deficit in one or more areas, we will seek getting those unmet needs fulfilled in some form or fashion. Hopefully we will find a path that takes us to satisfying those longings in a healthy way. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case. For example, if we have a love deficit we may place unrealistic expectations on people who can never fill that need in the way or to the degree that we need it. We may become clingy and moody when they are near and fearful or angry when they are distant. We may either try to control them (aggressive) or reject them (passive-aggressive). The results of our behavior will likely produce exactly the opposite of what we were hoping for.

Wanting to have these longings satisfied is legitimate. Some people feel guilty simply for desiring them, but these longings are universal and need to be respected in ourselves and in others. Therapists would identify all these longings as the components that determine an attachment style. When our primary caregivers (usually parents) have done an adequate job attending to us as a child, it is likely that these basic longings will be met and we will feel joy. 

What can we do about it? The first step is to recognize that we have one or more unmet needs. That sounds easy and obvious, but it isn’t. I would suggest that one sure way to identify deficits is by noting our blaming thoughts or words:

  • “Why don’t you call me more often?” (lack of love or belonging)
  • “You never lock the door!” (lack of security)
  • “Why won’t you dream with me?” (lack of creativity)
  • “Can’t you let me do anything without you looking over my shoulder?” (lack of pride or security)
  • “You people are working me to death!” (lack of pleasure) 

Secondly, if we have been hurt, we need to grieve our losses and forgive those who hurt us. Sometimes that person is us, because we have neglected or damaged important parts of our lives. Perhaps we just need to be intentional about making time to focus on ourselves a bit more – or a lot more.

And as always, attaching to God as restorer and provider will help us to make healthy emotional transitions. He will never leave us or forsake us. 

Psalm 5:12 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice, let them forever shout for joy! Shelter them; and they will be glad, those who love your name.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Grieving Your Losses

As counselors, one of the phrases that rolls off our tongues easily is:

“You have to grieve your losses.”

“Great” says a lot of clients “How do I do that?”

I really had to think about that for a while. I mean I know how to feel sad, but I am aware that it’s more than that. So I started at the beginning of the grief process as theorized by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.

The first stage according to Kubler-Ross is denial. I found it interesting that the first step in the “twelve step program of recovery” is breaking denial. But it makes sense – grief is the process of recovery from loss.

When death is the loss, it is pretty easy to identify. It is just so up front and in your face. But there are so many other kinds of losses that we experience, and it may be that we don’t recognize the need to identify them as losses and grieve.

I would ask the question “What loss(es) might you be denying?

Dig deep – go into you history, your past. What do you regret? What things have passed you by? What relationships are unfinished because they didn’t end well, or you said too much or too little and wish you could have a “do-over”?

I know that I have rationalized some of my bad decisions so that I wouldn’t have to admit them as losses – but they really are. Other decisions were made for me and the reality of my powerlessness in those situations is a loss.

Truth be told, I don’t want to grieve my losses. I would rather stay in denial or avoid them. I don’t want to feel sad, or scared or angry. But the problem is that it is highly likely that I will either shut off all my feelings, or I will redirect them into an addiction of some sort. I might not even recognize it as an addiction if the pursuit seems positive, like focusing on a career, or volunteerism, or mastering a musical instrument or acquiring some other skill.

So what is the goal? For me, I would say freedom. Like releasing the air pressure that builds up in a balloon, the grief process releases the stored up pain and allows us to keep moving forward. Women often talk about the relief they feel after a “good cry”.  Guys not so much, but I’ll bet it is still true. But I do know that the first step toward freedom is “owning” our losses, no matter what they might be. Then it is likely that some of the other stages of grief will follow.

The Bible clearly tells us that there is a time for mourning as well as a time for rejoicing. Perhaps it is not possible to do one without making room for the other.
Psalm 30:11 - You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When the New Year is Not Happy

I love the excitement that people generally have as a new year approaches. It’s as if all the bad stuff is left behind and only the hopeful is ahead. I have spent many a New Year’s Day feeling this way. There had been a new musical instrument or accessory under the Christmas tree waiting to be mastered or vacation plans in the works for the coming year. But for some the new year doesn’t seem so delightful.

What if the phrase “Happy New Year” doesn’t ring true for you?

  • You were hoping for an engagement ring, but it didn’t happen. 
  • It feels like the best years are behind you.     
  • It’s another year where you are disappointed with your job or can’t find work. 
  • You were hoping that family relationships would have been mended for this holiday season, but it just got worse. 
  • It looks like another year ahead feeling alone, overwhelmed and broke. 
  • Your cancer treatments are ahead of you, not behind.

I don’t have something to propose that will solve all these problems – but you already knew that. You have probably been told repeatedly that life isn’t fair and (unhelpfully) told to just get over it.

What I do have to offer is this: 

Life is always better when you do it with others, in community.

When you are sad or discouraged, connecting with others might be the last thing you want to do. But I assure you, it is the best strategy. God said he would not give us more than we could bear – but He didn’t say we have to bear it alone. I would even argue that sometimes we can’t carry it alone, that the burdens are just too heavy. When you tell others your story, an exchange takes place that cannot be measured, but it can be felt.

Even in the worst of times we can also work on our gratitude list. There are always things we can be thankful for. It is a very individual list – I can show you mine, but yours will be different. For those of us who are in Christ, there is a life ahead without suffering, and for all, a life today where we are deeply loved by Him, even when we don’t feel it.

The other thing we can do is to dream. Dreams cost nothing and they travel everywhere. They can be big or small, but they say “I am not finished with life.” 
"When you cease to dream you cease to live."  Malcolm Forbes