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 K├╝bler-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