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Let’s Talk About Loneliness (Designed: Emotions)

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Unknown.  Unwanted.  Unseen.  Unheard.  Untouched.  Undesired.  Unchosen.  Unwanted.  Unneeded.  LONELY!

“It doesn’t matter if I am in a dark room all alone, or in a crowd of strangers, or even in the company of people who are supposed to love me….loneliness is there.  I feel empty.  Completely drained.  I long for relationship, for connection; yet I have no energy to put into any relationships.  All day long I paste on a smile and pretend to be happy so no one will know that I am dying inside.”

According to Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years.  At the present time about 40% of Americans report being lonely.

Currently loneliness is an epidemic, and quickly becoming health crises.  Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.  (https://newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you)

So, exactly what is loneliness?  Loneliness is a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person wishes that he or she had better social relationships.   It is also defined as being isolated or unfrequented by friends.  Based on this definition it is clear that a person doesn’t need to be alone to feel lonely.  One can also feel lonely while still desiring and needing time of solitude.  The difference is this:  loneliness feels draining, distracting and upsetting; while solitude feels restorative, creative and peaceful.

Types of Loneliness.  There are many types of loneliness that are generated from a variety of unique situations, experiences, and thoughts.

  • I don’t have a romantic partner.
  • Others don’t have time for me.
  • I just want someone around when I am home.
  • I want someone to do things with.
  • There is no one who really knows me.
  • I’m in a new situation/job/location/school and don’t really know anyone.
  • I’m different from everyone else.  I can’t find anyone who shares my beliefs, values, or interests.
  • I don’t know anyone I can really trust.

As you can see from the list about it is much more than simply having a romantic attachment.  Many people need BOTH a social circle of friends and an intimate attachment to one specific person.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS:

Physical response:  Depression.  Crying.  Numbness. Lack of pleasure.  Lack of interest. Decreased immunity.  Inflammation.  Decreased pain tolerance.  Increased risk for disease.  Poor sleep.  Increased engagement in dangerous or illicit behaviors.  Isolation.  Feeling empty.

Thoughts about self: I am unwanted.  I am all alone.  I am empty.  I am unworthy.  There is something wrong with me.  I am not enough.

Thoughts about God: God doesn’t care.  God made me this way.

Our action/tendency/response:   Ironically, when we are lonely our tendency is to isolate, withdraw and hide.

Communication: Loneliness says:  I cannot make friends.  No one wants to be with me.  I am not worthy of others time.  

Loneliness indicates a need to connect with others on a more personal or intimate level.   It will involve risk.  It may feel uncomfortable, but is needed.  Loneliness is killing us!  We were never designed to do life alone.  So it is vital to your health that you make and maintain some close connections with others.  Sadly, people who are lonely crave human contact and intimacy, but their state of mind makes it difficult to connect with others.  So, in order to get this need met you will have to battle your instincts and thoughts and press into relationships.

So what can I do? 

Practice small talk with people you encounter throughout your day.  I admit I was never a huge fan of small talk.  That is until I moved into an area where I knew no one.  I longed for those deeper connections and long conversations, but there was no one with whom I could have those conversations.  In the absence of those deep connections I quickly learned to LOVE the people who were willing to take the risk and work to engage me in small talk.

If you are a self identified introvert and not currently a fan of small talk let me tickle your intellect with this reminder…LONELINESS IS KILLING OUR SOCIETY!  Your attempts at small talk, no matter how awkward, might be the avenue that helps another human being feel connection and warmth.  In addition, it may be the door way through which you have to pass to make that one friend you desire to have.  It is a skill you can develop to use which will help you grow as a person while making the world a friendlier place to live.

So since it is a skill, here are a few tips and suggestions:

  • Eye contact-Moderate eye contact:  Somewhere between total avoidance and a death stare.
  • Smile-One that comes naturally or where you gently lift the corners of your mouth with your facial muscles:  Wide forced smiles with all your teeth showing look creepy.
  • Handshakes-Somewhere in the middle of a wet fish and a bone crushing death grip.
  • Proximity-About an adult arm length away.  If an infant child can stick her fingers in your mouth YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
  • Volume: Medium inside voice.  If you are too quite, they will ask what you said and thus prolong the torture of having to engage in the small talk.

Small Talk Progression and Topics:

  • Start with a pleasant greeting and acknowledgement (Ex. “Hi” “It’s good to see you.”  “I’m glad you could come.” “What is your name?”
  • Discuss the weather
  • Give a compliment
  • Share an observation about the surrounding environment or situation
  • Ask an open ended questions:  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  “How’s your day going?”,   “How do you like or what do you think about  (XYZ) so far?”  etc.
  • End with a good-bye and eye contact: “Bye”, “Stay safe”, “Take care”, “Nice meeting you”, “Have a blessed day.”

You don’t need to carry on a long conversation.  You are just working on talking for a couple of seconds…maybe it will lead to a friendship down the road, or maybe you will just be a bright spot in someone’s day helping them feel a little less lonely.

Invest in nurturing others.  Another way to grow your community and help alliveate loneliness is to care for other people or animals.  Help out at an animal shelter, serve with people to promote a cause, take care of an elderly person or child.  This will foster altruistic feelings in you, will help someone else, and will help fill some of the emptiness.

Proximity and repetition are fundamental when establishing relationships.  It has been proven that as long as you are mutually kind you will become friends with the people you see most often.  So, one way to increase your friendship circle is to be kind and put yourself in situations where you will see the same people over and over again; join a class or committee, go to the same store or hairdresser, attend a church, join a gym, go the same park or venue often, etc.

Time. Relationships take time to form.  You will have to have at least 6-8 conversations with a person before they begin to consider you a friend.  From there you will be able to decide if this is a person you want to develop a deeper level of connection with versus someone you would like to keep as an acquaintance.

Real Life Relationships (RLR).  If there is one thing that social media has taught us is that it is that social media is not a substitute for having real life friends.  Having many friends on social media who hardly know you is NOT a protective factor against loneliness.  If I have 700 Facebook friends and Instagram followers, but no one who interacts with me regularly in a close and intimate way, then chances are I will still feel incredibly lonely.  The only way to combat loneliness is to engage in real life relationships.  There are 3 keys to developing RLR:

  • 1.) Take the risk of being vulnerable, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • 2.) Invest my most valuable resource (time).  All RLR will take time to develop.
  • 3.) Learn to be trustworthy with other people’s secrets, faults, and failures.  To have a good friend, you must practice being a good friend.

Quality versus Quantity.   When combating loneliness it is important to develop a few high quality relationships.  These are the people who you will invest your life in and those who you will allow to invest in you.  It is not important to have many friends, just a few select friends that you will allow to know the real you, the messy you, the you that you don’t show to everyone else.

(For more on this topic see Developing Your Tribe:  (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/04/10/developing-your-tribe/ )

Dealing with LONELINESS?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Identify which type or types of loneliness are you currently suffering from?

2.) Reflect on if there was ever a time you were not suffering from this type of loneliness.  What did it look like?  How were you involved in the relationship?

3.) Identify one way in which you could begin to counter act they type of loneliness you are experiencing.

4.)  Challenge yourself to engage in that activity at least once this week.

5.)  Document and reflect on how it went and how you felt.

6.)  Challenge yourself to combat loneliness for others by reaching out to them at least once this week.

7.)  Make an effort to get to know the people in the community you are a part of:  where you live, where you work, where you shop, and where you play.

MEDITATION:

We were never designed to live in isolation.  God created us for relationship.  We are created in the very image of God who himself is a model of relationship in the attribute of the trinity.  We serve one God, who is triune in nature.  Meaning he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All acting in accordance and unity together.  We as humans are created in that very same relational manner.  In fact, in Genesis it talks about this very topic.  After each thing that God created he commented “and it was good.”  However, after he created man He said “it is not good for man to be alone.”  At that point he created Eve.  Right from the beginning in paradise it was necessary for people to have relationship!  All through out scripture it talks about the dangers of being alone and the commands to engage in relationships; along with the principles for living successfully in those relationships.

Loneliness can feel like a slow death.  Some of the saddest moments in scripture are when individuals felt alone or abandoned.  I believe that is why God reminds us so often that He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us.  While you may experience moments or seasons of loneliness, it is never His will that you do life alone.  Those moments are to serve as reminders of our need for community.  God will meet that need for intimacy through other people as we reach out and risk being known and knowing others.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I feel so alone.  I long for community.  I long for close friends that I can laugh with and share with and do things with.  I miss having someone to call my own.  I can feel the ache for companionship deep inside me.  Yet I have to confess there is also a part of me that doesn’t want to risk being hurt again.  I don’t want to invest all the time and energy into someone else just to be let down and beaten up.  I don’t want to go through all the small talk, all the getting to know you phases……but I do want the closeness, the familiarity, the comfortableness.  Will I ever have the energy to build those types of relationships again?  Will anyone even want to build that kind of relationship with me?  Sometimes I just feel like all the good friends and partners are already taken. 

Do you even care that I feel lonely?  That I long for companionship?  That I miss the warmth of being loved and cared for?  Is that even something that I can pray for?  I know that you love me, but sometimes I just long for love that comes in human form.

I am asking that you please bring people into my life.  Allow me the chance to love others.  Give me courage to share who I am and to seek out the treasures of who they are.  Show me how to love and how to connect.  You are the perfect example of relationship and love.  Help me to live and love as you have called me to do.  Help disspel my loneliness as I give my love to others.  It is a mystery how giving love away could actually fill me up….but I trust that you do actually work in those mysterious ways.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families,he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:5-6)

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

 

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Let’s Talk About Grief and Depression (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1542070397682There she sat, staring at the floor with her shoulders slouched.  Her voice was small and shaky.  “How do you feel?” I asked.

“I feel fine, I guess.”  Weighted silence filled the room, before she took a deep breath and continued, “Honestly, I guess I feel kind of numb.  I’m really not sure how I feel.  I cry every time I step into the shower, or am driving my car, or if someone I love asks me how I am doing.  I don’t know what it is.  I just break out into tears.”  Her eyes began to water, and then her breathing changed and made way for sobs.

“Do you think you might be depressed?”  I asked.

“I don’t think so.  I have so many good things.  I can’t be depressed.  I mean life is hard for everyone……” and she continued on with her list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly be depressed.

Sometimes the depression is so deep and long standing, and you have tolerated it for so long that you no longer even recognize it as depression.   But there it lingers, causing havoc and chaos where you once had peace, contentment, and joy….now those things seem like a million light years away, a fantasy that was maybe never even real to begin with.

No one likes to admit to feeling depressed.  It is such a powerless, hopeless feeling.  Yet, all of us at times will feel the weight of depression in varying degrees and for various lengths of time.

Let’s take a closer look at that heavy feeling that causes you to feel like you are dragging around a 100 pound weight.  What exactly are the differences between sadness and depression?

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary; GRIEF is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” where as DEPRESSION is defined as “a state of feeling sad”.  Both involve degrees of sadness. Both grief and depression have many similarities in how they present, but the course they take and how they are treated is often quite different.  So let’s take a moment and examine each one separately before we look at the similarities.

GRIEF:  Grief can be caused by almost any type of loss, the most obvious being  a death.  However, one can also experience grief at the loss of a marriage, relationship, job, home, dream, ability etc.  Grief is a normal reaction to loss.  Typically, the grieving process includes five different stages:  1.) Denial 2.)Anger 3.)Bargaining 4.)Depression 5.)Acceptance.  Through the grieving process you will go through each of these stages at some point.  However, the stages aren’t linear; you do not go from stage 1, to 2, to 3, to completion.  It is far more common that you you will vacillate between different stages at different points until finally the intensity of your grief begins to subside. There is no designated amount of time for grieving.  The process will take varying amounts of time depending on the individual and the type of loss or losses that were experienced.  The treatment for grieving is simply time to work through the grieving process and a strong support system that will be patient and loving while you do the hard work of grieving.

DEPRESSION:  Depression can be a  normal response to a life situation, such as a loss or set back.  Or it can be a response to hormones, such as during a woman’s menstrual cycle or menopause.  Lastly, it can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The cause of the depression will dictate which type of treatment and interventions will work.

Here are some potential indicators of grief and/or depression:

Physical Responses: Crying, fatigue, aches and pains, increased sensitivity to stress and pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus, decreased appetite, lack of energy, decreased immunity, lack of pleasure, excessive sleeping, restlessness, stomach aches, digestive issues, loneliness, letting responsibilities slide, poor hygiene.

Thoughts about Self: I am hopeless.  I will never change.  I am alone.  Things will never get better.  I would be better off dead.  Others would be better off without me.

Thoughts about God:  God is punishing me.  God doesn’t care about how I feel.  God has abandoned me.

Our action/tendency/response: Slow down. Withdraw. Isolate.

Men and women tend to manage their emotions differently especially when it comes to grief and depression.  Here are some of the distinguishing factors  in how the expression of depression may differ between women vs. men:

  • Women feel anxious and scared; men feel guarded
  • Women blame themselves for the depression; men blame others
  • Women commonly feel sad, worthless, and apathetic when depressed; men tend to feel irritable and angry
  • Women are more likely to avoid conflicts when depressed; men are more likely to create conflicts
  • Women turn to food and friends to self-medicate; men turn to alcohol, TV, sex, or sports to self-medicate
  • Women feel lethargic and nervous; men feel agitated and restless
  • Women easily talk about their feelings of self-doubt and despair; men hide feelings of self-doubt and despair-considering it a sign of weakness

*(https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.women.html)

Communication: There has been a loss. Things are not as they should be.

NEEDS. If there has been a loss of any type, big or small, there is a need to grieve and there will likely be some feeling of depression.   If the depression is stemming from a chemical or hormonal imbalance, medication may be needed.  It is always possible that working through the grieving process, in addition to lifestyle modifications and medication may be needed.

Reminder. While it would be great if you could just “cheer up and be happy” it doesn’t always work like that.   Changing the feelings associated with depression and grieving are a lot like trying to turn the Titanic around.  It’s a big job! A good place to begin, as you embark on the task of improving how you feel, is to take some control of your actions and thoughts.  This is where you have some power!  You have the right to all of your emotions.  Including your sadness, grief, and depression.  Honestly, sometimes it is healthy to sit with the sadness for a moment, to honor a memory, a loved one, or a dream.  Eventually, you will have a responsibility that will require you to move on and re-enter the world. At that point it is your responsibility to seek out whatever you need to improve those heavy emotions; it might be socialization, skills, lifestyle change, or medication.  Whatever it is you have a responsibility to get what you need to not be controlled by those emotions.  Remember, emotions are there to serve you, to help point out your needs, to allow you to have empathy for others.  They are not meant to crush or control you.

So, what can I do?

1.)  Here are some ideas if you are grieving a loss:  A.) Journal your loss, your feelings, and your process B.) Pray or meditate C.) Make a scrap book of memories D.) Visit with friends and family that love you, be open about what you are feeling and needing

2.)  Get a physical examination to determine if your depression has a physical cause such as a chemical or hormonal imbalance

3.) Get some physical exercise EVERY DAY!  Physical exercise releases the endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in your brain which are natural mood regulators.  A daily dose of sunshine will increase those positive benefits.

4.)  Maintain a regular daily routine for meals and sleeping.   This will help restore balance to your system which will help regulate your emotions.

5.)  Be sure to create some small, measurable goals each day that you can achieve.  This will create a sense of accomplishment.

6.)  Do some thing that you used to enjoy.  Read a book, take a walk, play with a pet, watch a funny show or movie, listen to music, take a bubble bath, or create something.  Sometimes your emotions will change once you start engaging in the activity.

7.)  Challenge your thoughts.  Depression has a way of making everything look negative.  Saturate your mind with truth.  When you are facing negative self talk and negative thoughts; ask yourself, what would you say to a friend who was having those kinds of thoughts.

8.)  Depression breeds in isolation.  Talk with trusted friends or a counselor about things that are going on in your life.  Talking with people you trust can bring new insights and fuel hope.

9.)  If necessary take medication.  Some depression is from a chemical imbalance and truly needs medication.  For this type of depression the best results come from a combination of medication, lifestyle change, and talk therapy.  There is no shame in reaching out to get the help that you need.

Dealing with GRIEF AND DEPRESSION?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Don’t let despair dictate your decisions.  I am reminded of the story of the Battle of Jericho.  Read the story in Joshua 5:13-6:27.  This is the second time the Israelites have come to the walls of Jericho.  The city is fortified and closed up, there is no way of getting in; but God has promised them victory.  God sets forth his plan.  They are to march around the city one time for six days in a row making no noise.  On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times and then blow the trumpets and shout.  When they did that the walls came crashing down and the Israelites were able to go right in and take the victory that belonged to them.  Imagine if the Israelites gave up on the sixth lap around the city.  What if they had allowed what looked like a waste of time and energy, fuel their hopelessness and feed their despair?  They would have have walked away dejected and  never seen the victory, the would have never gotten the blessing that God wanted to give them.  They would have walked back to their homes defeated.  Instead in this moment they chose to trust God, obey his commands, and believe that things would be better in the future just as He had promised.

Question:  What feels hopeless?  What dreams and desires feel like they will never come to fruition? What has God asked you to do?

Are you willing to continue taking laps until your victory?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

2.)  Build and alter.  Remember the things God has already done for you.  By remembering what God has already done, you will be increase your faith and your mood will not need to be dependent on your current circumstances.  Throughout the old testament God instructed his people to build alters as a reminder of what he had done.  In Joshua 4, after God parted the Jordan river for the Israelites, He instructed them to build an alter of remembrance.  He had them do this so that they would remember his might and power.  Whenever the Israelites would come into hard times that could look back at that visual representation and remember God’s ability to provide and rescue them.

Question:  What are some miracles God has done in your life?  How has He come through for you in the past?

Do you have things in your home that remind you of those victories (journals, notes, pictures)?  Rehearse how God has shown his faithfulness, goodness and mercy to you in the past.

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

3.) Remember God is in the resurrection business.  Scripture is laced with a theme of resurrection.  For something to be resurrected it must first die.  There is pain in the process of dying…whether it be the death of a career, a dream, a marriage or a loved one.  There is a sacredness in that space where God chooses to work.  When we have lost everything.  When we are desperate.  That is a space where we can relinquish our control, submit our will and allow God the freedom to work.  Once we release what has died, there is room for God to move in and work his miracles.  God is always taking something that was dead and breathing in new life.  He takes situations that seem hopeless and turns them into miraculous victories.  God promises that pain will only last for a moment.  In Isaiah 61:3 it says “He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair”.

Question:  What have you lost that you need to bury?  What is hurting that needs healing?

Are you willing to allow God to create His masterpiece from the rubble of what was?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

4.)  God is never late, He’s never early, He’s always on time.  This is a tough one for me personally.  In the middle of my pain I often feel like God is late.   I long for God to arrive early, for him to comfort me with the plan of what lies ahead as a reward for going through the suffering, but that is simply not how God works.  I imagine that Lazurus’s sisters Martha and Mary were struggling with Jesus’ timing.  In John 11, John tells the story of Lazurus.  Martha and Mary had sent word that their brother was ill and that they needed Jesus to heal him.  These were people who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved.  Yet, from a human perspective it seems that Jesus stalled.  He didn’t even get to them until days after their brother had died.  Hope was gone.  Jesus didn’t arrive early enough to heal Lazurus.  Right when people were convinced that all hope was lost, this is where Jesus enters the scene and does a the miracle.  He raises Lazurus from the dead.  His timing was perfect for allowing a miracle that couldn’t have been preformed if he had arrived on the scene early.

QUESTION:  What are you waiting on God for?  What do you need him to do?

Are you willing to trust His timing?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

My heart is so heavy sometimes.  I can barely see through my tears.  My chest actually hurts as I feel my heartbreaking.  I want to move forward but I feel paralyzed by my circumstances.  I am uncertain how to get out of this deep pit that I have fallen into.

I know that you are a God who sees me and who loves me, but I feel alone, small, and abandoned.  I am scared.  Please help me to trust you.  I want to believe that you will create a way out…that you will do a miracle for me.  Remind me that you are still in control and are able to handle all that I am experiencing.  Remind me that no problem is too big for you to solve.  Remind me that you have a plan and a purpose for all of this pain that I am experiencing. 

I can remember times when you have done good things for me.  Thank you for the good things you have given me.  Thank you for the obstacles that I have already overcome.  Thank you for your promise that you never leave me, no matter what I’ve done or have not done.  Thank you for the promise that you are an ever present help in my time of trouble.  I ask that you once again come through on my behalf.

In Jesus Name- Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Story of the Jordan River:  Joshua 4

Story of Jericho: Joshua 6

Story of Lazurus: John 11

The Year of The Lord’s Favor: Isaiah 61

2 Peter 3:8 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

As The Story Goes…….

FB_IMG_1539656237106.jpgHer friend asks, “did he beat you?”  She pauses for a moment as a million memories flash through her mind. She remembers the brutal names she’s been called.  She remembers all the accusations he’s made and how she was afraid to be in public for fear of what he would think and how he would retaliate.  She remembers the walking on egg shells so that she wouldn’t upset him and the fear of what if he goes too far in his rage this time. She remembers the loaded gun he has threatened her with, the one he carries all the time, and the holes he has punched in the walls.  She remembers the items he has destroyed to get back at her and to “teach her a lesson”.  She remembers the all of the suicide threats.  She vividly remembers being shoved, grabbed, screamed at and forced into things she didn’t want to do.  She clearly remembers being threatened, abandoned, ignored, controlled and humiliated but not really beaten.  So finally she answers, “no, he didn’t beat me”.

So, was she abused?  Did she really have a valid reason to leave?  The lingering questions turn over in her mind.  Did she try hard enough?  Was she crazy?  Was she just making a big deal out of nothing?  Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she thought it was…after all he really is a good guy, every one says so.

This story has repeated itself a hundred times in my counseling office.  The names and specific details change, but the basic story line is the same.   They meet and everything is wonderful.  Slowly over time things begin to deteriorate.  First it is small remarks to let you know that you are not living up to their standard or meeting their needs.  Then it increases to some yelling and arguing, then name calling, belittling and shaming.  These behaviors increase and usually stem from one persons jealousy or need to control the other person in some way.   This is quickly followed by bouts of increased displays of aggression and/or intimidation to help keep the partner in line.  When the partner complains or shows any type of negative reaction they are called crazy or stupid, and the shaming, control, and intimidation become more frequent.  This pattern continues  and increases in aggression or the partner leaves temporarily (until things change) or permanently.

Being in a relationship that is marked by abuse can be really difficult to articulate.  For the person who is in that relationship the lines are often blurred between what constitutes normal relational conflict and what constitutes abuse.  Things they never thought they would tolerate they now allow to occur on a daily basis without even giving it a second thought.  Typically the abuser adds to the misconstrued reality by insinuating that the person is crazy and/or over re-acting.  This further breaks down the individual and causes them to have doubts about what is really happening, which can make it even more difficult to get someone to accurately share what is going on in their relationship.

Here is an exercise that I use with my clients whom I suspect may be involved in a potentially abusive relationship.  I simply share with them that we are going to assess their relationship.  I give them a sheet of paper with the wheel of Power and Control.

https://www.thehotline.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2016/08/Screen-Shot-2016-08-11-at-10.38.04-AM.png

Carefully read each of the statements on this wheel.  Highlight any areas that occur in your relationship.   Share your thoughts, or journal your thoughts about the things you highlighted.

Put the wheel aside for a moment.  Read and answer the following questions.

QUESTION:  What do you think a person who is in an abusive relationship would look or act like?

“Domestic violence does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion or gender can be a victim – or perpetrator – of domestic violence. It can happen to people who are married, living together or who are dating. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education level.” (https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/)

QUESTION:  Is abuse REALLY all that dangerous?  How many people are really truly in abusive relationships? 

Statistics from National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%.
  • Almost half of female (46.7%) and male (44.9%) victims of rape in the United States were raped by an acquaintance. Of these, 45.4% of female rape victims and 29% of male rape victims were raped by an intimate partner.
  • 19.3 million women and 5.1 million men in the United States have been stalked in their lifetime.  60.8% of female stalking victims and 43.5% men reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
  • 72% of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner; 94% of the victims of these murder suicides are female.
  • Between 21-60% of victims of intimate partner violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.

QUESTION:  We all struggle in relationships so what really constitutes domestic violence and abuse? 

“Domestic violence includes behaviors that physically harm, arouse fear, prevent a partner from doing what they wish or force them to behave in ways they do not want. It includes the use of physical and sexual violence, threats and intimidation, emotional abuse and economic deprivation.”  (https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/)

QUESTION:  Emotional abuse, isn’t as bad as physical abuse and isn’t really considered domestic violence is it?

Psychological abuse increases the trauma of physical and sexual abuse, and a number of studies have demonstrated that psychological abuse independently causes long-term damage to a victim’s mental health.  Victims of psychological abuse often experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem, and difficulty trusting others.  Subtle psychological abuse is more harmful than either overt psychological abuse or direct aggression. (https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence_and_psychological_abuse_ncadv.pdf)

Review your wheel again.  How many items did you highlight?  How many items do you think need to be checked for your relationship to be marked by domestic abuse?

ANSWER: If you highlighted even one of the statements your relationship may have marks of domestic violence.

NOT ALL RELATIONSHIPS ARE MARKED BY ABUSE!  Sadly, for people who have been in abusive relationships they may not be aware that it doesn’t have to be like that.  There are relationships that are marked by mutual respect, love, and acceptance.   Here is how healthy relationships function:

 

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If you are recovering from an abusive relationship, seek help in your recovery.  An abusive relationship leaves it’s mark on you even after you have escaped.  You may need help working through some of the trauma and rebuilding a life outside of the chaos you were in.  Additionally you may find it helpful to work with a therapist to learn how to pursue and grow healthy relationships.  A good therapist can provide you with insights and tools to help you become whole and healthy again.

If you feel your current relationship may be in trouble or that you may be in a relationship that is marked by domestic violence please seek help.  See a counselor that is skilled in dealing with domestic violence, trauma, and abuse.  Leaving the relationship may be dangerous, things tend to escalate quickly,  it is wise to seek counsel and have a plan BEFORE ending the relationship.

If you know someone who may be struggling in an abusive relationship encourage them to get help,  BUT EVEN IF THEY DON’T, continue to listen and love them.  Leaving an abusive relationship is not only incredibly hard it is also very dangerous.  One of the most important things you can do for them as they struggle through each day is to simply be a person who they know will always be there for them.

RESOURCES:

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STRESSED OUT! Let’s talk about Anxiety and Fear (Designed: Emotions)

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“It’s scary what a smile can hide.”

I am totally stressed out!  “What if I can’t recover from this?”  “What if I can’t protect them?”   “What if I end up alone?”  “What if I can’t pay the bills?”  “What if I make them angry?”  “What if they don’t like me?”  The list of what if’s goes go on and on, every thought fueling yet another barrage of questions, worries and concerns.

On top of all the what if’s are the what now’s…. The house is flooding, the ambulance has taken him to the hospital and he is in critical condition, the child is missing, my abuser is messaging and threatening me.  In your mind you can picture all kinds of scenarios and none of them end well. You’ve thought through every angle of the situations and have made plans and contingency plans.  You are doing all you can to control things so that they don’t get more out of control.  Still you can’t shut off your mind, you can’t sleep, your stomach is a mess, and you just want it all to stop!

That is what anxiety and fear feel like….and the reality is that all of us have felt each of them from time to time.  Some of us however struggle with them on a continual daily basis.  We are designed to function well with short bursts of intense stress.  God designed our brains to excrete chemicals to signal that we need a burst of physical energy to accomplish impending threatening tasks.  However, we are not designed to handle acute stress over the long term.  When we try to accomplish this in our own strength we become sick, weary and drained.

Let’s take a closer look at these emotions that rob us of our peace and safety.  What exactly are fear and anxiety?

According to the Oxford dictionary, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the thought of danger, pain or harm.  In this definition fear is based on knowledge that something specific and bad is about to happen.  For example: a man points a loaded gun at your head and says “this is a stick up”.  That is fear.  You know that you are presently in real danger.

Its counter part, anxiety, is defined as a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease about an imminent event, or something with an uncertain outcome.   Anxiety encompasses varying degrees of uneasiness of what may or may not happen and is usually more vague in it’s scope of reasoning.  For example: you enter your neighborhood grocery store and begin to worry that you left the stove on at home.

These two emotions can work together.  If you are uncertain if something is going to be dangerous or painful, you may experience both fear and anxiety, with each one fueling the other.  Here is an example:  You have had negative or scary interactions with someone in the past.  During those interactions they hurt you emotionally and/or physically.  Now you are faced with the task of having to confront them about an issue currently.  You will be anxious about the upcoming confrontation and fearful based on previous experiences with this person.

Here are some potential indicators of fear and/or anxiety:

Physical Responses:  headaches, muscle tightness (especially around the neck and jaw), inability to sleep, racing thoughts, chest tightness, ringing in ears, sweating, shaking, cold sweats or hot flashes, increased heart rate, numbness or tingling, the sense that the event is not real or like a nightmare, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, shortness of breath, feeling like you are going crazy, hyperventilating, and/or feeling faint or dizzy.

Thoughts about Self:  I can’t handle this.  I am going crazy.  I am not enough.  I can’t do this.  I must figure this out.   I won’t let this happen.

Thoughts about God:  God doesn’t care about me or this situation.  God isn’t in control.  God won’t or can’t handle this.

Our action/tendency/response: Fight, flight, or freeze.  This is the physical response system that is turned on in the brain as a direct result of a the incoming fear stimuli.  In anxious or fear producing situations we will do one of these three things.  Fighting the situation can look exactly how it sounds.  You fight with the person regardless of if you are right or wrong or even if you have all the facts!  Or it can look like coming up with all kinds of plans for every possible scenario.  Flight can literally be running away from the situation, or it might mean going to extreme measures to intentionally avoid the situation or person.  Freeze is when you literally do nothing.  You are paralyzed.  You don’t run or hide.  You don’t make any decisions or take any precautions even though you are aware of the danger.

Communication:  Fear says “this is dangerous”!  Anxiety says “everything is out of control”or “this is not going to end well” or “I need to do better”.

Infected Fear and Anxiety:  It is important to remember that we will all experience fear and anxiety from time to time.  It is both normal and natural based on our circumstances, hormones, and various personalities.  However, if we are constantly allowing them to rule in our hearts and mind we will be more inclined to suffer physically and emotionally.  When we allow these emotions to go unchecked for long periods of time our bodies will literally break down under the stress.  All kinds of health problems can be linked to prolonged anxiety including: depression, hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowl, migraines, sleep disorders, digestive issues,and autoimmune disorders.  On a strictly emotional and mental level prolonged anxiety and fear can lead to depression, panic and phobias.

NEEDS.   Part of the role of our emotions is to help us to identify our needs.  When we look specifically at the emotions of fear and anxiety we may uncover that we have one or more of the following needs:  1.) The need for safety.  2.) The need for security.

Reminder.  You have a right to all your feelings and thoughts, no one can tell you that you are not afraid or anxious, frankly these feelings aren’t always reasonable, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t truly experiencing them! While you have a right to these feelings you also have a responsibility to manage them.  They are within your realm of ability to address, control or manage.  The fact that you have the obligation to care for them also gives you some power and control over the internal mechanisms that are responding the the outward stimuli, triggers, or circumstances.  Remember it is your thoughts that fuel this emotions.  So while the experience itself is emotional, the fuel that is keeping it going are the thoughts that you keep playing over and over and over and over and over……………

So, what can I do?

1.)  Determine what is within your control and responsibility and what is outside your control or responsibility. 

Here are some examples of things you cannot control:

  • Another persons actions, thoughts, or feelings.
  • The past
  • Certain circumstances or situations

2.)  Challenge some of the thoughts and beliefs that are fueling your fear and anxiety. 

Ask yourself:

  • Is what I am feeling based on facts?  Do I have all the facts?
  • Am I engaging in any types of cognitive distortions? (See previous article entitled  “Beautiful Mess”)
  • Am I trying to reach an unattainable or unreasonable standard?
  • Am I trying to change things that are outside of my responsibility or ability to control?
  • Am I continuing to face the same situation, in the ways I traditionally have, and continuing to see no improvement or change?
    •  If you answer yes to this you may be trying to change something that you are not able or responsible to change.  In this case you will need to focus your attention and efforts away from the person or situation which you cannot change.  Instead you will need to put switch your focus on to yourself and the things you can change with in you, your circumstances and your boundaries.

3.)  Accept circumstances or situations that are unchangeable or outside your ability to control.

Here are some ideas to help you work through accepting:

  • Journaling
  • Prayer/Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Visualization
  • Forgiveness
  • Counseling

4.) Control or change the things that are within your ability and responsibility to control.

Here are some ways you can take control of situations that are making you stressed, anxious, or fearful:

  • Identify, set, and enforce boundaries.
  • Set goals with small, well defined, measurable steps and track progress.
  • Talk with a friend to help hold you accountable and encourage you.
  • Read and meditate on scripture.
  • Pray.
  • Listen to music.  Choose music with positive lyrics or soothing melodies. Some ideas might include: worship songs and hymns.
  • Go for a walk in nature.  Take in the sights and sounds.
  • Engage in a soothing or creative activity…yoga, painting, cooking and coloring are some examples.
  • Give your mind a break from rehearsing the problems and plans and instead do something fun and mindless like watching TV sitcoms or a movie.
  • Remember times when you have done similar things well.  Visualize yourself succeeding in this challenge.
  • Remember the people who love and care about you.  Talk to them about your situation and let them offer you guidance and comfort.
  • If necessary you can also seek medical care, counseling and/or medication to address any issues that are perpetuating or resulting from the fear and anxiety.

Dealing with FEAR AND ANXIETY?  Here is your challenge:

Review the topics under “What can I do?”.  Where are you at?  What is it you need to do starting today?  Choose someone you can talk to, a trusted friend or counselor, and share this information with them.  Get their feedback and ask if they would be willing to help you conquer this giant.

Additional ideas:  1.)  Learn more about boundary setting and endings by reading the following books by Townsend and Cloud.  “Boundaries”, “Necessary Endings”, “Changes That Heal”.  2.)  Enroll in a yoga class.  This will help you learn how to relax your body, and help you to focus on your breathing skills.  3.)  Write out some of the scriptures verses below and keep them with you.  When you feel anxious review them.  4.)Memorize the Serenity Prayer.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

Do you see me under the weight of all the burdens that I bear?  Do you hear my cries of fear and worry over the many things and people I don’t have control over?  How long will I have to continue on this journey?  Will it ever ease up? 

My heart is so anxious at times with all of the “what if’s”.  I am constantly striving and trying to win the approval of people, trying to change people and make them do what I want them to do.  I worry about the future.  I long to trust you. I want to have the “peace” that you have promised. 

Sometimes I think I am doing well and that I can just let go.  Then next thing you know I am rehearsing once again all the possible outcomes and contingency plans.

Help me to trust you with all that is going on.   Help me to trust you with my future, with the people I love and care about, with the situations that are beyond my control. 

Grant me vision to see what you would have me do and only what my next step should be.  Then please give me the courage to do that next step.  Keep me focused on you and your will.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6&7

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  Psalm 56:3

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Psalm 34:4

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, the comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

 

 

 

Brave Heart (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1534300315645“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.” (Nicole Lyons) 

There is great pain in rejecting your feelings, denying your needs, disowning your desires,  eventually you starve yourself so much that you die inside.  You no longer even know who you are, you feel so little and insignificant, you loose your voice, your power, your passion and everything that once defined you as an individual.  At first glance one wouldn’t think that our emotions can be such a defining factor in who we are and how we are known.  But the truth is that our emotions are a critical part of who we are and how we are designed.  God gave you your emotions for a reason.  You are created in His image and your emotions are a reflection of that image.  When you deny your emotions you are denying a part of who God is and how he created you to function.

Let’s start by setting the record straight.  Feelings are feelings.  They are not good or bad.  Some are certainly more pleasant to experience then others, but in and of themselves they are neither good nor bad.  Feelings are designed to feel; not to think.  We are to take the information provided by our feelings and couple that with facts in order to make a decision.  If we were to allow our feelings to think for us we would only do what feels good and we would avoid everything that feels bad.  This would certainly put us in a very bad situation in just a short amount of time.

There are three levels of emotions; primary, secondary, and tertiary.  Primary emotions are the body’s first reaction to something that has happened.  These emotions come on almost immediately and are strong and transient. There are eight primary emotions; anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame.  These basic emotions will be experienced in varying combinations and degrees of intensity which create the multitude of feelings one can actually experience.

Secondary emotions are much more complex because they often refer to the feelings you have about the primary emotion.  For example if your child runs into the road you might initially feel fear, but you might also feel and express the secondary emotion of anger.  Secondary emotions are our response to our understanding of the initial emotion.  These emotions may intensify with time.

Tertiary emotions are even more complex then secondary emotions.  Tertiary emotions are the layer of emotions that are on top of the secondary emotions and cover all of the other emotions.

When we allow our emotions to do what they are designed to do they can provide us with valuable information about our needs and our condition.  Just like in our physical bodies we have nerve endings to alert us to danger or pleasure we have emotional nerve endings that alert us to things we need.

Here are some examples: 

When we feel ANGER it let’s us know we need to create and protect our boundaries.

When we feel FEAR  it let’s us know we need safety.

When we feel HAPPINESS it let’s us know we have a level of satisfaction.

When we feel SADNESS it let’s us know we need to grieve.

When we feel GUILT it let’s us know we need to correct something.

When we feel SHAME it let’s us know we need approval or acceptance.

When we feel HURT it let’s us know we need healing.

When we feel LONELY it let’s us know we need relationship.

It is not wrong to have feelings or needs.  You have the right to experience all your feelings and to seek to get your needs met.  Feelings are part of what make you unique and define you as a person.  No one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel!  Your feelings are yours and yours alone.  You have the right to express your feelings through words and actions.  However along with this right, there is also a responsibility to express your feelings in such a manner that it doesn’t infringe on the rights of other individuals.  You have the responsibility manage your feelings.  This is done by identifying, acknowledging, accepting and expressing your feelings.  For some people these can be daunting tasks.  Feelings can feel vulnerable, mushy and uncontrollable. Victims of long term abuse and trauma, may have chosen to cut themselves off from their ability to feel in an effort to protect their emotional safety.    Other individuals may have a “quick trigger” when it comes to emotional flare ups and outbursts, this may also act as a protective factor to provide a sense of control and power.

For some individuals it is difficult to identify what emotions they are feeling.  Sometimes it is simply due to not have a large “feeling” word vocabulary.  You may find it helpful to search the internet for a list of feeling words so that you are better able to express your emotions.  For other individuals, particularly for individuals who have cut themselves off from allowing themselves to feel or have needs,  they may not be aware of what they are feeling and will need to take some time to be intentional in thinking about what they are feeling.  This can be done by sitting and paying attention to what you are feeling without judging what emotions you think you should have.  Instead just accept the emotions that you do have.

Sometimes emotions come on so strongly that an individual may worry that they will be completely overtaken by the emotion if they choose to allow themselves to experience it.  In these instances it may help if you allow yourself to experience the emotion and think of, or visualize it as a wave.  Allow yourself to experience the emotion, and remember that it will pass over you and you will again experience calm.  Just like ocean waves will vary in frequency and intensity the same is true for emotions.  Just remember that in time the overwhelming emotions will subside and there will again be peace.

Sometimes the physical, mental and emotional toll that is being experienced seems insurmountable and there is nothing that can be done to change the situation you are experiencing.  In these instances it may be helpful to remember the serenity prayer as you learn to embrace with acceptance the “things you cannot change”.  It may be helpful to have a list of self soothing things you can do to help you get through those challenging moments while you are waiting for the emotions to pass.

DEVOTION: 

David is one of my favorite bible characters.  He was always going to God with all kinds of emotions.  He is filled with passion and that passion translates to life and energy.  I can only imagine the delight on God’s face as David worships Him with his whole being.  How painful it must have been as God watched David fall into the sins of adultery and murder.   However, through it all God loved him, God did not punish him for having the emotions that he had, it was his actions that invoked the consequences, not the emotions.  In fact, even after all of that God refers to David as a man after His own heart.

While we serve and unchanging and faithful God, we certainly do not serve a God that is non-emotional.  In his word he talks about being loving, delighted, angry, jealous, passionate, joyful, sorrowful, and the list goes on and on.  Since we are created in His image we also get to experience all of those emotions.  He understands that we feel fear, desire, sorrow, despair, anger and a vast amount of other emotions.  His heart breaks for those who are suffering.  He sees you in your distress.  He sees  you struggling day in and day out.  He sees you in your happy moments, and rejoices with you.  You are not invisible to him.  Your emotional pain is not invisible to him.  He cares deeply about all that you are going through.  He longs for you to come to him with all of your emotions and to freely express them to Him.

Just like David we all have emotions that are longing and needing to be experienced and expressed.  If we are willing to take our all of our emotions to God, the challenging ones as well as the pleasant ones, we will be less likely to fall into temptation.  God longs to be our comforter, our prince of peace, and our source of hope.  You can confidently bring all your emotions into the presence of God knowing that He understands, accepts, and loves you.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent Lord my God I will praise you. (Psalm 30:11-12)

Cast your cares on t he Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.  (Psalm 55:22)

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed and a stronghold in times of trouble.  (Psalm 9:9)

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

“I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear;  I will help you.”  (Isaiah 41:13)

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint,” says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 31:25)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider:  God has made the one as well as the other.  (Ecclesiastes 7:14)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart?  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

You know that I sometimes feel like an emotional mess.  You know that at times I can go from joyous to sobbing to furious to fearful in less then a minute.  I admit that I don’t always appreciate being a hot mess of emotions.  I admit that I often try to ignore my emotions  just get through my day.  Help me to appreciate the fact that I am created in your image and that part of that means that I am emotional.  Give me the courage to experience and express my emotions in ways that will be glorifying to you.  Help me to learn to understand your heart better as I seek to understand and accept my own heart.  Help me to show others who I really am by being willing to be emotionally vulnerable with them.  Keep my eyes open to the needs of others in their suffering just as you are open to me in my suffering.  Thank you for the gift of emotions.  Thank you for caring about how I feel.

In Jesus Name-Amen

REFLECTIONS: Where do you fall the continuum of being cut of from experiencing your emotions to being a raging hot bed full of emotional expression?  What emotions seem to consume most of your days currently?  How good are you at expressing your emotions, needs and desires to others in ways that are honoring to God?  Which of the verses above resonate with you in this moment and why?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.)  Keep a feelings diary.  Write down one word that describes how you felt in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night.  Journal about what prompted each of those feelings.  2.)  Find a feelings word guide and practice expressing your feelings using feeling words with people in your life.  For example “I felt happy when you…….” or “I felt hurt when you…..”  3.)  Take some time during the day to acknowledge and experience what you feel in the moment without judging the feeling.  4.) Create a list of positive pleasurable things you can do when your feelings feel like they will overwhelm you. 5.) Read in the book of Psalms and find Psalms that connect with how you are feeling.  Pray that Psalm back to God.

Let’s Talk About Jealousy (Designed: Emotions)

 

 

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Her looks, his money, her fancy house, their marriage, those kids, his success, that ministry, those accomplishments….or even my relationship, my friendships, my belongings, my rights, family: You name it and I can be jealous over it.  Sad to say I am no stranger to this life sucking, vision clouding, strife producing emotion.

We all experience jealousy at one time or another, it is one of the many emotions we experience because we are designed in the image of God but living in a sin filled world in a fallen state.  Our feelings are part of how we are created in the very image of God.  However, it is what we do with our feelings that make a difference.  Remember, feelings are not good or bad; they are simply present.  If I allow my thoughts to feed my jealous feelings then I may take damaging action that is irrevocable.  I may speak words that I later regret or hurt someone in such a way that the relationship is irreparable.  We have a right to feel jealous, but a responsibility to choose to respond in a manner that will help alleviate the pain of the emotion.

Up to this point in the Designed Curriculum we have examined, God, identity, along with the roles of our physical being, our thoughts and our emotions.  Now it is time to see how they are all connected together just as a tree is connected with it’s roots firmly planted in the soil and extending up through it’s trunk.

So, exactly what is jealousy? Jealousy is a secondary emotion that is a combination of sadness, anger, insecurity and fear.  It is defined as:

  • Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
  • Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.
  • Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.

Here are some of the potential indicators of jealousy:

Physical response:  Crying, increased pulse rate, shaking, lack of sleep and sweating. Sometimes accompany the feeling of jealousy are racing or ruminating thoughts.

Thoughts about self:  “I am not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough etc.”,   “I deserve more.”   “I should have gotten that.”   “I have a right to…..” “This is not fair.”

Thoughts about God:  “God won’t take care of me or meet my needs.”  “God doesn’t care about what I want.”

Our action/tendency/response:  Belittle the other person. Brag about self or accomplishments. Protect at all costs. Attack the other person. Wallow in despair or hopelessness.  Try to “correct” the situation by getting whatever we think we deserve regardless or the cost.

Communication: Jealousy says: This is not fair.   This is mine. I deserve more or better.  I can’t have what I want or need.

Sometimes when our emotions get out of control, or are suppressed, we end up with what I describe as an emotional infection.  An emotional infection is similar to a physical infection.  When a person receives a physical wound and doesn’t engage in measures to protect from infection or seek the proper treatment there is a risk of infection.  The result of the infection can result in varying degrees ranging from mild symptoms to amputation, to death.  Emotional infections are similar to physical infections.  Many times we will be in a situation where we receive an emotional wound.  If we do not attend to that wound our emotions can become inflamed and can result in varying degrees of relational difficulties ranging from increased personal distress, to relational loss, and ultimately to death.  Therefore it is important to pay attention to the state of our emotions and engage in healthy emotional regulation and distress tolerance.

Infected Jealousy.  Jealousy is not a pleasant emotion to experience.  If we let jealousy have free reign in our hearts and continue feeding it with our thoughts it can cause tremendous damage inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly one can experience bitterness, rage, hatred, extreme anxiety, depression and self-loathing.  Outwardly one may end up lying, stealing, or hurting someone.  In some cases jealousy has even led to murder!

As we learned in our last lesson all emotions are designed to give us important information about our needs.  So exactly what does our jealousy indicate and how can we get those needs met?

Jealousy may indicate a need to learn to trust, to be content, or to develop an improvement plan.  Here are some examples:

You may need to learn to trust God.  That he is who he says he is and will do all that he has promised to do.  You can trust him to meet your needs and to provide discovery or protection as necessary.

You may need to learn to trust an individual or process.  If you are worried that a loved one may be cheating on you it can be difficult to trust them because they may not be honest with you. Their behavior or confession will eventually show the truth of what is going on.     By expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs you are allowing the other person an opportunity to help meet those needs.

You may need to learn to be content.  Celebrate what you do have and learn to live without the things you don’t have.  Situations are temporal, they change.  Sometimes you will have a season of plenty and other times a season of want.  You can choose to be content in both scenarios.  Often times it is through the difficult process of learning to accept things as they are in the moment that we learn valuable life lessons, develop strength of character and gain the power that comes from being able to let go.

You may need to develop an improvement plan.  This is a case where jealousy, when correctly focused, can help spur you on to achieve goals or dreams.  Perhaps you are jealous of some one who has attained a goal that you were hoping to obtain.  In this case you may need to learn to press into your goal or revise your plan for obtaining your goal.

So what can I do?  The important thing with jealousy, as with all uncomfortable emotions, is to 1.) acknowledge the emotion, 2.) uncover what is fueling the emotion, 3.) express the emotion in appropriate ways, and 4.) wait for facts before responding with irrevocable actions.

Dealing with JEALOUSY?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Which of the 3 definitions of jealousy listed above best define they type of jealousy you are experiencing?

2.)  Exactly what are you jealous of?

3.)  Review the list of indicators listed above.  Which ones are experiencing? (If you are experiencing things that are not listed include them as well.)

4.)  Take a moment to reflect on your jealousy.  Are they symptoms of infection?  If yes, what are they?  (If necessary take some time to review the lessons on forgiveness and take appropriate steps.)

5.)  What needs is your jealousy indicating that you have?  What can you do to get those needs met?

6.) Practice expressing your emotion.  If the emotion has given you a lot of pent up physical energy engage in some healthy physical activity like running, walking, biking, swimming.  If it has given you a flood of emotional energy write out your emotions and thoughts in your journal in a prayer to God.  Try expressing your emotion to a trusted friend or loved one using the statement: “I feel jealous when…..”.

7.)  Take action.  Seek God. Get the facts.  Accept reality.  Make changes as necessary.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I confess that I struggle with jealousy.  It is so easy to compare myself to others and find myself coming up short.  My insecurities will often overwhelm me if I let them.  Help me become so content with what you have given me that I am able to honestly and truly rejoice over the success of others.  Help me to keep my focus on you and build my faith in who you are and who you say I am.  Help me to trust you and to act in obedience to all you have said.

I can’t thank you enough for loving me.  I acknowledge that you are a jealous God and in your jealousy there is no sin.  Thank you for making me your beloved.  Thank you for your fierce protection of me and your vigilance over me. Help me to reflect your character when I experience the emotion of  jealousy.  Show me how to be more loving in my interactions with others, more truthful with myself, and more honoring to you.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

A heart at peace gives life to the bod, but envy rots the bones.  (Proverbs 14:30)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Where jealousy and selfishness are there will be confusion and evil of every kind.  (James 3-16)

MEDITATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT:

PSALM 37:1-40

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord , and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord ; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The blameless spend their days under the Lord ’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord ’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke. The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed ; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial. Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked. The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord ; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

Beautiful Mess (Designed: Thoughts)

FB_IMG_1528762189238“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” ―Laird Hamilton

The mind is a wonderful, terrible, beautiful thing.  We have all been tortured by our thoughts at one time or another.  Those nights that have been spent tossing and turning wondering if you will ever be able to turn your mind off.  Those memories that you want to get rid of and those that you want to live over again.  All the information, the failures, the success, the dreams that swirl around in your head both limiting you and pushing you forward.  It’s crazy that they can all inhabit the same space in our being. With all that going on it is important that we take time to understand and care for our minds.

It is our minds job to think.  It is designed to gather and store information,  to plan, organize, evaluate, decide, discern, learn, assimilate, concentrate, choose, create, dream and imagine.  It is the command center for the body.  Sometimes you are fully conscious of it’s activities and sometimes things are occurring in your subconscious unbeknownst to you.  Whether you are aware of not, your mind is always working, and it has an incredibly powerful impact on your perception, your attitude, and your ability to accomplish your goals.

Our minds have so much to offer, yet we often find ourselves falling victim to intrusive thoughts and confusion which thwart even the best intentions.  Here are some of the ways our thought life gets us into trouble:

1.) Cognitive distortions.  Some types of cognitive distortions are: filtering, black and white thinking, over generalization, jumping to conclusions, magnifying or minimizing awfulizing, personalization, control fallacies, blaming, “should, must, ought”, emotional reasoning, fallacy of change, and global labeling.  When you engage in these patterns of thinking you believe you have lost your personal power for change and problems become distorted in your mind.

2.) Fantasy.  While some forms of fantasy and imagination are wonderful, some forms can be destructive.  Destructive fantasies are those that are counter to God’s will and plan and lead to sin.

3.) Automatic thoughts.  Automatic thoughts are images or mental activity that occur as a response to a trigger (like an action or event). They are automatic and ‘pop up’ or ‘flash’ in your mind without conscious thought.  These thoughts are often linked back to memories or trauma.  They have become ingrained as a habitual way of responding to a trigger.

4.) Intrusive thoughts.  An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. 

5.) Lack of information.  Some times we simply lack the needed information and facts to make an informed decision.

6.) Lies.  These can be lies that others have told us, that we tell ourselves, or that the enemy has convinced us to believe.

In God’s word He talks about taking every thought into captivity, bringing our thoughts into obedience, and intentionally dwelling on good things.  Often his word speaks of being thankful and offering praise.  He also advises us to seek out truth and wisdom, to be aware of the devil and his lies.  This is God’s formula for changing our perspective and our attitude.  When we feed our minds good and true information, and follow God’s word regarding how to manage our thought life, we have the ability to change our perspective, which has the power to change our attitude, which will result in being able to find more peace and contentment along with clarity to make good decisions.  Additionally He has said in his word that if any one lacks wisdom to ask and he will grant it!  What a wonderful promise for those who are struggling with life decisions, with confusing circumstances, or even dealing with people who are abusive, manipulative or deceitful!

Let’s talk for a minute about some of your rights and responsibilities as they relate to your thoughts.  You have the right to acquire new information and skills, to expand your horizons.  You also have the right to change your decisions or your opinion.  You have the right to ask questions, to study, to explore and to understand.  You have the right to create and imagine. You have the right to share information, memories, and dreams.  You have the right to have and express your opinions, your likes and your dislikes even if they are different from other people.  All of these manners of thinking are part of what make you uniquely you.  You also have some responsibilities.  You have a responsibility to seek out and share truth.  You have a responsibility to make choices and bear the consequences of those choices.  You have a responsibility to monitor and control your thoughts.  You have a responsibility to seek counsel and advice when you need information or when are struggling with your thoughts life and/or memories.  You are responsible for what you put in your mind.  If you continually feed it junk and lies you will find that you are not only misinformed, but you will also find your self discontent and set up for struggles with temptation, sin and self sabotage.  Your mind needs a steady diet of truth to stay healthy.  You also have a responsibility to understand that others will not always think they way you think and to allow them the right to their thoughts.

DEVOTION:

Reign it in!”  That’s the thought that came to me as my mind wandered all over.  Tossing and turning over every single thing hanging out there waiting to be resolved.  I tried mercilessly to solve my problems.  I gathered information, I examined all the pro’s and cons, I looked at all my options.  Truly there was nothing I could do.  Everything was outside of my control.  Still I felt the need to try to solve the problem.  As I waded through my situation I felt the familiar tug of shame pulling me to think about the things I had done wrong.  How I had messed up.  What I should’ve done instead.  The names from my past felt like they were plastered on my chest like a name badge, telling the whole world of my mistakes.  I felt desperate and hopeless.  My mind was thick in despair as I replayed my failures.  Then again I heard it in my being.  “Reign it in!”  It was a familiar voice.  One I have come to recognize as the Lord.  I began to think on His words and his truth.  I remembered the verses that I had learned long ago that reminded me that he has a plan and purpose for me.  That he will finish his work.  That he loves me.  That he is in control.  These are themes from his word that I have had to rely on when life gets hard and my thoughts consume me.  I sometimes need to be reminded that I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems.  Heck, I don’t even need to solve all my problems.  God has this, He has me….and beloved….He has you as well.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, of love and of sound mind.        (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
 (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
 (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 (Psalm 139:23 NIV)

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIV)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

I confess that sometimes my thoughts are out of control.  I confess that I find myself worrying when I need to trust.  I confess that I believe lies and that sometimes I even tell lies.  Help me to be truthful in all my dealings.  Help me to focus on your truth and to find you in all circumstances.  I am so thankful that you have given me your word to guide me.  How wonderful to know that I can seek you in all situations and you will grant me wisdom and peace.  I desperately need both of those!  Thank you for loving me despite the craziness that sometimes goes on in my mind.  Help me to be a good steward of all that you have entrusted me.  Help me to attend to the situations in my life with your guidance and your wisdom.  Lead me in truth.  Protect me from the schemes of the evil one who seeks only to kill, steal, and destroy.  Guard my heart and my mind so that I might glorify you in all my dreams and desires.  Help me to submit to you and your plans for my life knowing that you know all things and have already prepared a way for me. 

In Jesus Name, Amen

REFLECTIONS: In which ways do you struggle with your thought life?  What do you need to do to “reign it in”?  Which verse from the scripture meditation list stands out to you the most and why?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:  1.)  Practice journaling your thoughts about a specific situation and scriptural responses to them as if God was speaking the answers to you.  2.)  Each day read some scripture.  Meditate on it.  Look for ways through out the day that it applies to the situations you are facing.  3.)  Make a “whatever” list.  Use the Philippians 4:8 passage and list specific things for each attribute.  When your thoughts seem out of control get the list and begin reviewing and thinking about the things on that list.  4.) Begin a gratitude journal.  Each day list 5 things you are thankful for.  5.)  Gather facts regarding your situation.  Get information and counsel from experts or people you trust to advise you. List pro’s and con’s.  Apply scriptural instruction.  Acknowledge your opinions and preferences.  Make a decision and play out the result.  6.) Mindfulness exercise.  Train your mind to focus on something.  Find some place still.  Pay close attention to a specific details for a designated amount of time.  For example, sit by a creek and listen to the sounds it makes, or choose a verse from scripture and focus solely on that verse and it’s meaning.  If you notice your mind starts to wander, don’t give up or be harsh on yourself, simply go back to the verse again.  In this way you are training your mind to do what you want it to do.