Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Every Thing There Is a Season

We have had a rough winter here in the Nashville area with a record number of snow days. In fact, many schools in this area have gone over their designated number of snow days, requiring students to extend their school year. Our first snow occurred in December, which is unheard of, and the wintry precipitation did not stop until into February. We're pretty spoiled in this area with the warm weather. It tends to stay fairly mild here throughout the year. It's not unheard of to have little to no snow at all in the winter. So, for us to get really SICK of snow tells you that it was a lot. Despite the harsh winter and all the previous years of bitter cold, I can say I have never had a therapy client come into my office complaining of despair due to snow, ice, or cold. Yes, sometimes we may feel our mood negatively and temporarily affected on a gray day, but I'm saying I have never seen anyone go into despair over bad weather. Why is that? Why did we Nashvillians not begin to wail and moan in utter hopelessness over the extremely cold and harsh winter we suffered? Because we know it ends! Winter always ends and spring always comes! It is inevitable. We've seen it happen year after year-- the sunshine emerges and the snow melts. Like clockwork spring always comes.

In Ecclesiastes we are told that to EVERYTHING there is a season. This means there is a season for depression, anger, grief, loneliness, and a host of other painful experiences. These things have their season then they end. They always end because we are promised they will end. They are confined to a season. I know that I begin to experience despair and hopelessness in the midst of a painful experience, when I convince myself that "this will never end! I cannot handle it any longer and it will never end!" I don't despair over winter, so why should I despair over other unpleasant experiences? This too shall pass.

Ecclesiastes 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Miss Smarty Pants

When I was around 9 years old, my parents divorced. As an adult I can see how this divorce was inevitable and necessary. Children, however, do not have adult logic and coping skills. Children believe things that are not true and sometimes believe things that are downright magical or fanciful. Children also tend to believe that the world revolves around them, thus other people's choices must be because of something the child has done. My child reasoning came up with the bright idea that my Dad left because I was not special in any way. Some children might have blamed themselves in various other ways, telling themselves, "I'm not a good girl, so Dad left," or "I argued with Dad last week, so he left," etc., etc. For me, I just felt PLAIN and therefore unlovable. I remember when school let out that spring, at the completion of fourth grade, I made the decision that one thing I had going for me was that I was pretty smart. I didn't consider myself particularly pretty, social, or talented in any way, but darn it, I could learn anything! So, I resolved to become the SMARTEST and this is what would make me special. My parents had ordered a set of encyclopedia books for me, and that summer I set out to begin reading and committing to memory the entire set. Oh, Dear...

Thus began my lifelong agenda of becoming a real know-it-all. In retrospect, I know I was a pretty smart kid, but so were alot of my friends. There was nothing really all that special about my good grades, but I had convinced myself it was the one thing that kept me special and therefore forever safe from abandonment.

The reason I'm sharing all of this with you is because I am realizng this is the wound that is being triggered by Mr. A, referenced in my last post. As the universe would have it, I have been put into a relationship with another know-it-all just like me. Great! (insert sarcasm here) There is only room for one know-it-all per office, home, or school, etc. When two know-it-alls disagree, uh-oh, someone has to back off and admit, I don't know everything, you do. That is just not happening! It's really almost laughable but the wound is very real, because here is the problem: if you take away my smart status, then my wound says you just took away the one thing that makes me special, and now I am vulnerable to abandonment.

I am very grateful to have this wound and the lie of it exposed. I am actually becoming grateful for every instance when Mr. A tells me something I already know and I'm tempted to say, "Yes, I already know that." When I walk away from this triggering instance, I have truth on my side, and the truth can be applied like a healing balm. These are the sweet and wonderful truths that I know:
1. I am not the smartest person around, nor do I need to be. God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise!
2. I am special and unique regardless of my IQ or book smarts. There is no one else on this planet exactly like me.
3. I can never be abandoned ever again, because I am an adult now. Adults can't be abandoned, because adults are self-sufficient (in the survival sense). Only children can truly be abandoned.
4. I am powerless over other people and trying to control other people only makes my own life unmanageable. I have a Higher Power who can restore me to sanity and daily meet my needs, as long as I daily turn the care of myself over to Him.

I share this personal story with great humility and with the hope that someone reads a part of themselves here. May the truth set us free!

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reflection vs. Reaction

I will offer a little self-disclosure here. Actually, I think I offer quite a bit of self-disclosure here on these pages, but anyway... I want to share a recent insight I've had. I will change the names and circumstances to protect the privacy of dear others.

I am presently in a relationship with someone where I am experiencing much tension, and this has been ongoing for some time. I also get the sense that I am actually having more anxiety and anger in this relationship than the other person, who we'll call Mr. A. This man, Mr. A, really triggers me. In fact, I sometimes find myself so annoyed by him that I uncharacteristically snap on him, become rude, and have even gotten angry enough to stomp away. Essentially, I throw a little tantrum because I get so ticked off. Just to clarify, I don't typically act like this in relationships! I'm actually known by friends and family for remaining level-headed, avoiding confrontation, and very rarely exhibting anger (even when it is probably warranted). Something about Mr. A really gets my goat, however, and I have no problem getting angry... and quick. Afterward, I always feel guilty, embarrassed at my juvenile behavior, and even more angry at him that he MADE me act that way.

It would be really easy for me to type on and on about all the horrible things this person does and how my anger toward him is justified. I could rant and rave about the rightness of my frustration and how things would be much better if he would just change. What I'm finally understanding, after a significant amount of time with Mr. A, is that he is not real likely to change. What I am now motivated to do (after many months of tension and conflict) is to examine myself.

Mr. A does seem to irritate other people as well and we have mutual friends who have commented on this. None of them, however, seem to get triggered quite as intensely as I do. What I now want to try is REFLECTION rather than REACTION. I have gotten so angry with him at times that my reaction was quick and surprised me. Sometimes I've said something very scathing, scoffed loudly at him, and various other things that surprised me. Sudden reactions. What I would like to try is to stop myself before I get to this point and take a time out. I'm not sure how I'm going to get the time-out. Most likely I'll just say, "Excuse me for just a minute, I just remembered something important I need to take care of," or I might try, "Let me take a few minutes to think on that and I'll get back with you." If you hear me saying that to you this week... well, sorry. It's better than getting hostile and sarcastic, right?

Once I get space and step away, I want to REFLECT. My reflection is what I see when I look into the mirror. I will see me staring back at me! I don't actually intend to go look into a mirror, but maybe I can examine what I am seeing within me at that moment. What am I feeling? What does this feeling remind me of? What earlier times in my life did someone make me feel this way and what was the outcome? Are those past events somehow affecting my present interaction? Most likely, yes. My reaction is so intense, it suggests that a relationship template is being triggered. This is a template that got solidified within me over time after a repeated interaction with someone very close to me. For example, some of us learn at a young age that if you show anger in your home, you are shunned and shamed by a parent, so you learn to stop exhibiting signs of anger and feel shame instead. Later in life, when we encounter someone who wakes up the "shaming parent" template inside us, we automatically and unconsciously slip into the role of shamed child who denies anger. Then we wonder why we feel so crappy every time we're with that person!

I believe that if I REFLECT rather than REACT, I am going to learn some very valuable things about myself. I hope to gain some insight about what type of issue is being triggered. I also hope that I can begin to practice some new ways of dealing with Mr. A rather than the usual red-headed tyrrant routine I've been pulling. I'm not real happy with that act lately. I doubt he is either! Almost makes me feel sorry for the poor guy... just almost but not really. :-)

I'll keep you posted on what exciting traumas I dredge up within myself!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Therapy? For Me?

There are many commonly held misconceptions about therapy that I'd really like to de-bunk, but I'm going to focus on the top 4 I hear most often. Put on your big girl panties and your big boy undies, if you plan to proceed:-)

1. Therapy is only for crazy people: This has to be THE most common misconception/untruth about therapy and is most often spoken by someone who really needs therapy. First of all, what do you mean by crazy? Aren't we all just a little crazy? There is no shame in going to a therapist for help or support. If you had a disease like diabetes, you would take your medication and go to your doctor appointments without shame. Similarly, if you have experienced unforeseen events in life that have crippled you emotionally, it is good to seek the help of a therapist. It is good to take care of yourself and be seen by a professional who is trained and experienced in walking people through their hard times. Many people are blessed with genetics that predispose them to mood disorders. Then life comes along and brings out the symptoms. We go to therapy because we cannot overcome and deal with much of our emotional baggage all on our own. A good therapist is mindful of the interplay happening between the two of you and is aware that it is this interplay that is essential in you getting better! Relationship is key to healing! I personally believe therapy is especially important if you are a therapist yourself. My mind and my psyche are my primary work tools and I want them to be clear and healthy. Otherwise, I'm bringing my own dysfunctional patterns, beliefs, and feelings into the therapy relationship and acting it out with my clients-- not good. And, yes, you are doing that if you are a therapist. You are human after all, not perfect! Remember, I did warn you to put on your big girl and big boy undies. :-)

2. I don't need therapy, I just take medicine for that: I hear so many people say this. There are many wonderful medications designed to treat mental illness. I am very glad for this. In fact, I hope and pray for even more effective medications to come on the market all the time. We are in need of medications to treat biochemical imbalances that can lead to depression, psychosis, and anxiety. I also see many clients for whom the medications are absolutely an essential part of their treatment, and I know they would experience severe regression without the meds. BUT (and you knew the BUT was coming) medication ONLY is nothing more than a good start for most people. It's highly unlikely that you are going to find a medication that is going to cure it all. I see clients who find a good medication that stops their anxiety attacks all together-- GREAT! These clients feel they are better now and no longer in need of therapy. They then go on to experience one dysfunctional relationship after another, spend themselves into great debt again and again, have constant conflict with co-workers or family, etc., etc. In my own experience as a therapist, I have never seen a client who experienced anxiety in a vacuum. This is to say, they are experiencing crippling anxiety for no apparent reason, with no history of trauma, or family dysfunction that hard-wired their brain to respond in this way. I am not saying these types of people don't exist. I'm just saying that in 10 years of doing therapy, I've personally never seen it! It is possible to live without potentially addictive medications and learn to manage anxiety. Let your medication serve as a springboard that allows you to participate in therapy at an even deeper level. Remain open to the fact that there are characterological and interpersonal issues impacting your life that medication will never resolve. If you're waiting on the right medicine to come along that will finally make you feel better, you might be waiting for a long time. Medication combined with talk therapy will get you there!

3. A good therapist will be able to fix me: Many people come to therapy believing that I hold the solutions to their problems. They believe I will give them a magical answer and POOF, things will be great. They are often sorely disappointed when I have to tell them, "Sorry, my magic wand is in the shop." Certainly, there are people who need information. There are many clients who need to know more about their diagnosis. They may need to know more about the common effects of childhood sexual abuse or being the child of an alcoholic parent. This information alone can be very healing and give a person direction in how they think about themselves and the world. There are times too, when a client simply needs guidance and it is good for a therapist to provide it. Most of the time, however, my role is NOT to sit with you for an hour telling what you what you should be doing if you want to feel better. If you have a therapist who does that with you, how good does that feel? I want to encourage clients to explore themselves, dig deep inside the stuff of themselves. Together we sort through the trash, how did the trash get there, what can we do with it, what part am I playing in all the drama that goes on in my life? Good therapy also means working patiently through the ups and downs of the therapeutic relationship. Therapy means for many people that they experience warmth and a non-judgmental attitude from another person, maybe for the first time in their lives. That goes a lot farther than a therapeutic lecture. Therapy is a process of you learning about yourself, being courageous and honest about yourself, and actively working toward change.

4. I don't have time for therapy: Honey, you don't have the time to skip it. For people who are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, chronic conflict with others, depression, addictions, and various other dysfunctional patterns, you cannot afford to continue another day without gaining some therapeutic insight. Each day that you continue on in your life engaging in the same dysfunctional patterns, experiencing the same negative and unhelpful thoughts, going deeper into dangerous depression and addiction, you make it much harder to ever extract yourself from it. You're also very likely creating further damage within your relationships that will have to be addressed and healed later as well as re-creating dysfunctional patterns in your life that you are probably unaware you are even re-creating. Good therapy cannot be postponed. It is too essential to put off until you have more time, because life will catch up with you eventually. When life and our own brokenness forces us into therapy... well, that's just no fun. Make the time now.

Rant ended. :-)