GETTING OUT: My INDEPENDENCE Story.

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This is my INDEPENDENCE story.  July 2nd, 2016, I left NY and headed for an uncertain future in NC.    Here is my story….

“They are letting him out.  He will be here in an hour, an hour and a half tops.”

It felt like I was punched in the stomach.  I couldn’t move.  I just stood there frozen, paralyzed with fear.

“Get your stuff and go, you don’t have much time.”

I ran down the stairs and started throwing anything I thought I might need into two large Rubbermaid containers.  I grabbed my safe box and all my files and threw everything into my car.  I went back inside and tried my best to appear like everything was normal as I hugged my grandson goodbye not knowing for sure when or if I would get to see him, or any one else in my family ever again.

Then I drove off.  Tears flooded my eyes making it nearly impossible to see.  My heart was racing with terror.  Where could I go where I wouldn’t be found?  Where would I be safe? Who could I trust?  I was alone, completely helpless, and scared to death.

I had not planned for things to go like this.  This was not at all how I saw my life going when I got married.  At 19 I was starry eyed and hopeful.  I either ignored or was ignorant of any red flags.  At that time the most important thing was that someone wanted me and they were willing to spend the rest of their life with me.  I was convinced that anything else could be worked out in time or ultimately wouldn’t matter that much.  We already had a child together so getting married seemed like the right thing to do. Oh, how wrong I was!  Twenty five years of marriage revealed how misguided I was.   How low my self esteem was.  How much of myself I was willing to sacrifice on the alter of being accepted and approved of at any cost.

I drove off to a desolate area where I was certain I would not be found.  As I sat in my car my mind raced with recent events.  I remembered times I cried, begged, and prayed for things to be different.  I remembered the hurtful things that he said when he was angry, the accusations, the names he called me, the threats he would make.  I had spent 25 years studying him and had learned how to watch every little facial expression and hand gesture as a warning so that I would know when to shut up and shut down before things became too dangerous. I could picture the tilt of his head, the redness of his face, the clenching of his fists, and the tightening of his jaw.   I feared for my life as I thought about the potential consequences I would face from leaving him.

I had seen a divorce lawyer two years prior to this day.  On that occasion we were traveling home from a doctors appointment that he had for his back.  He began screaming at me in the car, doing 100 mph, and threatening to kill us both.  He had a loaded pistol in the glove box and I knew he was more then willing to grab it at any minute.  I remember texting a friend and asking them to be ready to call 911.  I thought for sure we would he would kill us.  Now here I sat in my car and scheduled yet another appointment to meet with the lawyer.   When it came time to go to his office I sat there sobbing trying my best to clearly and fairly explain my current situation.  He asked questions about our marriage, our finances, and our family.  I shared intimate details that I had never divulged to anyone.  I felt humiliated as he probed for answers and began to draw conclusions about the toxic cruelty and abuse that was characteristic of our marriage.  I shared with him that my husband was being released from the hospital after his most recent suicide attempt and that I felt certain that he was going to kill me if he were to find me.  He insisted that I get myself to safety and settled before we proceed further.  I left the lawyers office no better then when I walked in. My whole world fell apart.  My husband knew where I worked so it was no longer safe for me to go to my office.  My friends were afraid to be seen with me because of what might happen if he were to find us.  I had to be careful whenever I was in public because at any time he could find me.  I was constantly on edge, terrified by anything that might indicate he was in the area.  I had no where to go, no money, no job, no home, and no immediate plan for my future.

I was at one of the lowest points in my life.  Here I was, a well-educated, respected, successful person, with literally nothing left except what I could carry in my car.  I had spent my life creating an illusion of happiness and fulfillment on the outside while on the inside I was crumbling.  Eventually the whole illusion crumbled and all that was left was my God and the very few relationships I had been faithful to cultivate.  I was humiliated, ashamed, living in constant terror of what might happen next.

It was in these moments that God slowly and painstakingly began to rebuild my life.  I had previously accepted Jesus as my Savior at the age of 16.  But even though I was a Christian I had lived a double life in many ways.  Just like in my marriage, I had repeatedly allowed the approval and acceptance of others to rule in my heart and in all other areas of my life.  Over the course of time I sacrificed my values and all that I had, in order to avoid arguments, to feel loved, and to be accepted.   As my heart hardened and bitterness about my circumstances took root, I engaged in relationships I should have never been in and I did things that I should have never done.  My heart was over run with guilt, shame, fear, bitterness, and jealousy every single day. My marriage and my life were a complete mess.

BUT GOD………

It was in the middle of this life threatening mess that God decided to rebuild my life on a firm foundation of bold truth, extravagant grace and relentless love.  I confessed all that I had held within me to God.  I poured out my heart to Him, all my sinful thoughts and behaviors were out in the open.

As He worked in my life I changed my ways and was intentional about living a life of integrity, transparency, and vulnerability.  I broke off relationships that needed to stop; including the toxic abusive relationship with my husband.  I mended relationships that needed healing by asking forgiveness from the the people I hurt, especially from my family and friends.  Every tiny step of faith I took God jumped in and provided immeasurably more than I could ever imagine.

God gave me opportunities to be brave and courageous, to face my biggest fears.  I hated being rejected by people.  Yet, He allowed me to be rejected, falsely accused, and despised.  As I leaned into Him, He showed me that my real value and worth is only found in Him, it is unshakable and is not dependent on others or myself.

God gave me opportunities to be real and genuine.  I couldn’t even fake having it all together in these moments.  So, He allowed me to be vulnerable, hurt, scared, guilty, needy and ashamed.  I couldn’t stand that I didn’t have all the answers,  that I wasn’t always right, that I didn’t always behave or react appropriately.  I hated needing to ask for anything from anyone.  Yet, He allowed me to be in a position where I had nothing and needed to depend on Him and others for everything from the roof over my head to the food that I would eat.  I had to trust Him and risk being vulnerable.  As I allowed myself to honestly express my needs and shortcomings to others, God ALWAYS provided far more than what I thought I needed.  Through the compassion and forgiveness of others my physical needs were met, my shame lightened and my love and gratitude grew.  I learned how to allow others to love me, and grew in my love for others.

God gave me opportunities to build my faith.  He put risks in front of me with unknown outcomes.  He allowed me to wonder IF…….  If I would be able to make it financially and emotionally.  If I could ever have a healthy relationship.  If my family could ever be restored.  If I could build a career.  If I could ever feel like I wasn’t an outcast or a looser.  If I could be free from fear, free from guilt and shame, free from condemnation.  He answered with a resounding YES!  For the past three years, as I have imperfectly surrendered my life to God, He has been faithful to restore things that I thought were lost forever including my identity, my hope, some relationships.

I share this story because I want you to know that you are not alone!  God sees you and cares about everything you are going through.  What He has done for me, He will do for you.  If you want God to act on your behalf here is what you need to do.

1.)  Talk to God. (Pray) Tell Him everything that is going on, express your hurts, fears, addictions, struggles, anger, doubts, convictions…..everything that is on your heart.  Don’t worry about your words, don’t worry about what God will think about your situation, He already knows everything, you will not surprise him by sharing honestly all that is going on.  The point here is to begin a conversation with God.

2.)  Admit your faults.  The truth is we all do wrong.  We all sin.  EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US.  When we tell God that we have sinned we do not surprise him.  When we admit our sins we bring ourselves into alignment with Him.  Basically it means we both (God and us) agree that some of the things we have done, some of the choices we have made, are wrong.  And because of our choices and behaviors we have hurt people, we have hurt ourselves, and we have damaged the relationship between us and God.  We also acknowledge that left to our own devices we often choose sin, and that we need help.    We need Jesus to save us, to clean us up inside and out.  Not just so that we do the right things, but also on the inside so that we want to do the right things…..and in some cases so that we even know what the right things are.

3.)  Trust God.  Next we trust God, we choose to believe in Him to save us.  We believe that many years ago Jesus, who was perfect, was killed for our sins.  Through his death he paid the penalty that we deserved.  We believe that when he raised he overcame death and through that he brings power to overcome our sins.  You can ask Him to save you (or restore you if you are already saved).  This means that you will believe what He says about Jesus dying for your sins and raising from the dead.  You accept Him as your savior.  You also choose to accept Him as your lord.  You acknowledge that He knows better than you what needs to be done.  You surrender yourself and your circumstances to Him and allow him to teach you how to live.  This is done through the Holy Spirit which you receive as a gift from God the moment you accept Jesus as your savior.   As you continue to pray, read your bible and interact with other believers the Holy Spirit will guide you in your decisions and behaviors.

4.) Tell others about your decision.  It is important that you share with others what you have done.  They can come along side and encourage you and pray for you.  It brings great glory to God when we tell people of our “stories” and how he is faithfully working in our lives.  It also brings hope to others who may also be struggling.

Now, be prepared….this life of surrender isn’t easy.  Things don’t always go perfectly.  In fact often times there are trials that you will have to face.  But here is the difference…as a child of God you do not need to live in fear, you can have the confident assurance that He will go with you through each trial and one day you will be with him forever in heaven.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Anger (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1543874342397.jpg“STOP!  I HAVE HAD ENOUGH!  I SWEAR I CAN’T TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

“I said I am fine!  Now please leave me alone!”

Both these statements are seething with anger.  Anger is a fundamental emotion to that every single person will experience several times through out their lifetime.  It can come out as shards of explosive rage injuring everyone in it’s path, or brew internally creating a cesspool of bitterness and resentment.  The ironic thing with anger is often times when you are dealing with someone who is angry YOU become angry, and if you are angry with someone they in turn become angry with you.  It seems as if anger is contagious.  Thankfully there are antidotes that will help you manage your own anger and can help soothe the anger of others.  Just as with all the other emotions we have examined you have a right to feel angry.  It is part of how you are designed.  Some people have been taught that anger is bad.  That believe that if they are angry it is a sin.  They refuse to openly acknowledge or express their anger.  They still feel angry, but they hide it and wrap it in a blanket of shame for even having the feeling.  They go through life burying the very emotions that God gave them to alert them to danger and trouble. On the other hand, while you have a right to the emotion you also have a responsibility in how you respond to that emotion. Some individual’s believe they must express every thing that makes them angry.  That they need to take control or they will be run over and taken advantage of.  They yell, intimidate, belittle, rage, and humiliate others in an effort to seek justice, to feel secure, or to remain in control.  In many cases this will lead to emotional or physical injury to the people who “bump into” this person’s anger.

So, exactly what is anger? The Cambridge dictionary defines anger as “the feeling people get when something unfair, painful, or bad happens”.  It is one of the primary emotions that we feel as human beings. Anger is neither good nor bad; it is simply an emotion.  What we do as a result of feeling angry is where the trouble can come in.  When we handle our anger in positive ways productive outcomes and lasting change can be made.  Poor management of one’s anger can result in damaged or ruined interpersonal relationships, poor work performance, destruction of property, physical and emotional abuse, and legal issues.  There will be times when we will have every right to feel angry, but along with that anger will come the responsibility to express it in ways that are healthy.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS:

Physical response:  Clenching fists, headache, grinding teeth, clenched jaw, upset stomach, redness/flushing,sweating, rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, shaking, tense muscles, feeling hot like one’s “blood is boiling”, pounding in ears, raised voice, narrowed attention as your focus locks on the source of your anger, increased adrenaline

***The “thoughts about self and about God” sections are unique for anger.  The thoughts will depend on your individual perspective and will be demonstrated by your actions.  Your behavior (actions) will uncover what is in your heart and reveal the truth of what you believe about yourself and God.***

Thoughts about self:  I am powerless or  I am powerful.  I am in control or I am out of control.

Thoughts about God:  God is in control or God is not in control.  God is just or God is not just.

Our action/tendency/response:  Attack/Assert

Communication: “This is not fair!”,   “This is not right!”, “I am being disrespected!”, “I have been wronged!”

Anger may indicate a variety of different needs:  1.)  To create and protect boundaries 2.) To seek justice 3.) To gather more information, empathy, or a form of assurance 4.)  To decrease stress

TYPES OF ANGER. Primarily there are three expressions of anger:  aggressive, passive, and assertive which are demonstrated through six polar dimensions:

  • Direction (internal vs. external)
  • Reaction (retaliatory vs. resistant)
  • Modality (physical vs. verbal)
  • Impulse (controlled vs. uncontrolled)
  • Objective (restorative vs. punitive)

Let’s take a moment and look at a variety of ways in which anger can be experienced.  (Adapted from Marcus Andrews article 10 Types of Anger)

ASSERTIVE ANGER:  You acknowledge your feelings and express yourself in a way that promotes change.  You do not ignore your feelings, avoid confrontation, or lash out physically or verbally.

BEHAVIORAL ANGER:  You lash out verbally or physically.  You throw or break things.  This type of anger is highly unpredictable and often causes legal or interpersonal struggles.

CHRONIC ANGER:  This type of anger is generalized and long standing.  It can produce issues with one’s health.  Often times this form of anger is also experienced as bitterness and resentment.

JUDGEMENTAL ANGER:  Experienced due to a real or perceived injustice. It can also be an experience of seeing other people as “less than” or inferior to you.   It is expressed in an air of righteous indignation and moral superiority.

OVERWHELMED ANGER:  Think of being stressed to your maximum capacity.  This can be caused from taking on too much responsibility, not having enough time to complete tasks, or just being inundated by challenging life circumstances.

PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ANGER:  You bury your feelings and avoid any direct confrontation.  You hide behind silence, sarcasm,stonewalling and behavioral hints that you are angry (such as murmuring under your breath, slamming doors or making noises in the kitchen)

RETALIATORY ANGER:  You instinctively  lash out when you have been hurt or wronged.  You deliberately seek revenge.  This type of anger is used to gain control over a person or situation.

SELF-ABUSIVE ANGER:  This is a shame based anger that materialized in the form of self-injurious behavior, negative self talk, or substance abuse.  It is steeped in a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, and humiliation and can spill out on to others through our speech.

VERBAL ANGER:  Can be a form of psychological and emotional abuse in the form of threats, shouting, ridicule, humiliation, intimidation, and blaming.

VOLATILE ANGER:  This type of anger is intense and sudden this anger come one quickly and leaves quickly.   Big issues or small annoyances get the same volcanic effect.   People around you may walk on egg shells for fear of setting you off

So what can I do? 

Create and protect your boundaries.  (Particularly helpful when experiencing passive-aggressive anger, overwhelmed anger or chronic anger.)  As stated above, anger may indicate a need to create and protect boundaries.  Both of which are your right and responsibility.  Remember, the problem isn’t that you feel angry, the problem comes when you incorrectly manage or express your anger.  EVERYONE will feel angry at times!  Think about the reasons behind your anger.  Do you need to set some limits?  What are the things that you need or expect? Spend some time figuring out what boundaries have been violated or need to be established.  Write them down.

Boundaries with no consequences for violation is the same as having no boundaries at all.   Therefore it is important that you determine the consequences that will be enforced for the violation of those boundaries.   Take some time and reflect on what those consequences will be.  When creating the consequences remember to make sure you are both willing and able to enforce the consequences.  It will be your responsibility to enforce your boundaries.  Write down the consequences.

After you have determined what your boundaries and consequences are try using the “DEAR MAN” exercise to help express yourself.  D- Describe: Use clear and concrete terms to describe what you want or need.  E- Express: Let others know how a situation makes you feel by clearly expressing feelings. A- Assert: Don’t beat around the bush.  Say what you need to say.  R-Reinforce:  Reward people who respond well and reinforce why your desired outcome is positive.  M- Mindful.  Don’t forget the purpose of the interaction.  It can become easy to become sidetracked and loose focus.  A- Appear:  Appear confident.  Consider your tone, posture, eye contact and  body language.  N- Negotiate.  No one can have everything they want in all situations.  Be open and willing for negotiations.  It may be beneficial to write out your DEAR MAN prior to engaging in the discussion with the other person so that you will have a clear focus when you do engage.

Remove your self from the situation.  (Particularly helpful when experiencing verbal anger, volatile anger, or behavioral anger.)   Use breathing techniques to calm yourself down and switch your focus.  The breathing exercise known as 4:7:8 is believed to calm you central nervous system and thus reduces stress.  It is a natural tranquilizer…which can be extremely helpful when you are feeling a rash of anger welling up inside of you!  To do this exercise you will sit or stand up straight (it may be helpful to use a wall for posture as you learn the technique).  You will be inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.  Your tongue will be placed inside your mouth behind your top teeth throughout the entire exercise.  You will exhale by blowing the air out of your mouth while your tongue is still in place.  It will make a ‘whooshing’ sound.  To begin exhale all the air out of your lungs.  Now breathe in to the count of 4.  Hold your breath and count to 7.  Now exhale to the count of 8.  Repeat the cycle 3 more times for a total of 4 breaths.

Another exercise you can do which will allow you to focus on your breathing and hopefully distract you from a bit of the anger until you have time to generate a response rather then a volatile reaction is known as “breath counting”.  To do this you will simply breathe normally and count each time you exhale up to 5 times.  You can continue the cycle as many times as necessary until you are calm.  This exercise helps you to focus your attention and calms you at the same time.

Forgiveness. (Particularly helpful when experiencing retaliatory anger, judgmental anger, or chronic anger.)  One of the reasons anger can really hang on is because we are refusing to forgive the other person.  Instead we are choosing to replay the incidents repeatedly rehearsing all the offenses that were done.  When we do this we keep our anger on a constant slow boil never allowing it to cool down, this causes us to be in the position of continually having to deal with the angry feelings and often times consequences.  When we choose to forgive the other person it allows us to release the anger and begin the healing process.  Without forgiveness it is impossible to fully heal.  Before you discount the idea of forgiveness please look at the following article “Forgiveness:  What It Is and What It Is Not”  (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/02/06/forgiveness-what-it-is-and-what-it-is-not/).   If you do decide you need to forgive, but are unsure how to do it, the following article “How To Forgive” (https://confidenthope.blog/tag/forgive/) will walk you through the forgiveness process.

Mindfulness.  (Particularly helpful when experiencing self-harm anger.)  Mindfulness can be helpful when you are working through a variety of problems and issues.  For the emotion of anger, it allows you to separate from the emotion and experience it in a controlled setting which will allow you to explore the anger more fully from different angles.  Mindfulness simply means focusing one’s attention on the present moment while calmly accepting one’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Mindfulness exercises are helpful with a variety of distressing emotions.  Here is a simple mindfulness exercise which you can practice to assist you when you feel angry.  Find a comfortable place where you can sit with your eyes closed.  Take a moment to become aware and notice how your body feels.  Inhale fully filling your lungs.  Then slowly exhale all the of the air.  Repeat this breathing exercises several times.  Now take a moment and remember a time when you felt angry.  Allow yourself to feel that anger again.  Take note of all the sensations you feel in your body.  Explore those sensations.  Are they hot or cold, intense or mild?  Now practice coming close to the anger without judgement or guilt.  Next let go of the feeling, release it.  To do this begin to refocus on your breathing.  Finally reflect on the experience you just went through.  How did it feel?  How did you get close to the anger without judgement?  What happened to the anger at that point?  This simple exercise may help you to gain more control over your emotional states as well as helping you tolerate situations which feel unmanageable in the moment.  (For more complete instructions visit:  https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-of-anger/)

Truth.   (Particularly helpful when experiencing self-harm anger, retaliatory anger, or judgmental anger).  Sometime our anger is generated from misinformation or a lack of full understanding.  One of the things that may be helpful is to try to gain all the facts about a situation.  It may also be necessary to challenge yourself regarding any  cognitive distortions you may be personally engaging in which are fueling your fire. Listen to the conversations that are playing out in your head.  Are you using words like always or never?  Or perhaps there is a preponderance of shaming or blaming going on towards the other person or yourself.

Another aspect of truth pertains to that of injustice.  Sometimes things really aren’t fair, and that will no doubt cause a person to feel angry.  When these types of situations arise it may be helpful to remember that God is a god of justice.  Ultimately He will take care of the situation.  It is incredibly hard to sit still and wait on God’s timing, especially if you are watching the other person thrive amidst their wrong doing.  You may find it helpful to refocus on the things you can change and do have control over.  This will take time and continual practice.  There is no sense in watching them flourish while you sit by idly.  Focus on the things you can do to grow your self.  Continue to pray for both yourself and the other person.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Here are a couple of links that can help you identify cognitive distortions and also assist you as you review the truthfulness of your thoughts.  “Beautiful Mess: Designed Thoughts”  (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/07/31/beautiful-mess-designed-thoughts/)  and “Cognitive Distortions:  When Your Brain Lies To You”  https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/cognitive-distortions/

Practice empathy and seeing things from the perspective of someone else. (Particularly helpful when experiencing judgmental anger)  When we are angry we don’t seem to have any trouble gathering “proof” to document our side of an argument…but what if we were to take some time to see the situation from the perspective of the other person?  Try for a moment to imagine what they are struggling with or how the situation is for them.  What reasons might they have had for what they did?  What emotions might they be experiencing?  What is it like for them to be on the other side of your anger?    By reflecting on what it is like for the other person you will gain a fuller, more complete understanding of the situation.  It may help soothe some of your anger.  Even if you are still angry after examining the experience from their perspective you may have the ability to address the situation in ways that are more helpful and compassionate.

Dealing with ANGER?  Here is your challenge:

As you review the types of anger above consider which ones you most frequently struggle with.  Do you tend to hold it in or give it full outward expression?

Select a situation in your life where you currently or recently have felt angry.  Choose one of the coping methods to apply to that particular situation.  Reflect and journal on how it went.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I know that you created all emotions for a purpose.  I have to be honest.  Anger is probably my least favorite.  I hate feeling angry!  I hate it to the point that often I don’t even want to admit that I am angry.  It is such a powerful feeling and can create so much havoc in my life and the lives of others.  If I release it in the heat of the moment I end up saying and doing things that I later regret.  If I hold it in, it eats me alive and seeps out in so many other ways.

I know that you are familiar with the feeling of anger.  I know that you are a God who seeks justice.  And yet you are also loving and merciful. How do I mirror you?  How do I learn to express my anger in ways that will ultimately produce healing and restoration? 

Help me to submit to your authority.  Help me not to act out in vengeance.  Help me to trust you to grow me through the process of my anger.  Teach me to respond in love as you have called me to do, even when I am angry.  Teach me to be honest about my emotions and help me to express them in ways that will bring about healing and restoration.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4: 26-27)

Fools give full vent to their rage,  but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,  but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,  but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. (Proverbs 15:18)

But keep away from foolish and ignorant arguments; you know that they end up in quarrels. As the Lord’s servant, you must not quarrel. You must be kind toward all, a good and patient teacher, who is gentle as you correct your opponents, for it may be that God will give them the opportunity to repent and come to know the truth. (2 Timothy 2:23-25)

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

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:

 

Image result for wheel of healthy relationship

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)

FB_IMG_1539036676010.jpg

“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.

Perspective: Encouragement For When Life Is Unfair

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She sat and stewed about how he had gotten away with it…with all of it.  How he was able to hide his sins, how he was able to skirt the legal system, how he was able to get everything he wanted; money, assets, attention, a whole new life and all she could think about was how unfair it all was.  Her thoughts were consumed with his actions and her emotions were inflamed with bitterness, jealousy, and anger.

Does this sound familiar?  I know it certainly does to me.  If you have ever been through a break up or divorce you know what it is like to struggle with things being unfair and hopeless; you know what it is like to have your ex consuming space in your mind, creating negative emotions and casting a shadow on even the best days.

Recently I had one of those days where seemingly everything goes wrong.  I had received some bad news regarding some financial and legal matters.  Then I discovered yet another “situation” regarding my ex, which left my head spinning in a million directions and fueled an enormous amount of bitterness.  Then, the last straw was that the car I had just put a bunch of money into broke down, and when I say “broke down” I mean beyond repair.  I felt powerless, hopeless and alone.  I sat in my room in tears trying to figure out solutions.  I could feel the anger building in me as I rehearsed how unfair everything was.  I sank deeper and deeper into my hole of self pity and jealousy.

In my earlier years I would have stayed in that place isolated and alone trying to find solutions.  I would have much rather been isolated then appeared weak, vulnerable, or incapable of handling situations.   I would have prided myself on my independence and on my ability to somehow make it work.  However, I am no longer a person who can do that.  I chose instead to reach out to a few faithful friends, explained my situation, asked for their suggestions and for them to pray for me.  They had some wise ideas and also “carried some of my burden” by doing some of the research for me in finding solutions.  Through their prayers and my desperate cries to God I was able to get some answers, and as usual they were not necessarily the answers that I was expecting or wanting.  Here is a glimpse of what God showed me, and what I think he may want to pass on to you:

1.)  It’s not fair.  God is not about fairness.  He is about justice, love, mercy and grace.  “I have told you these things that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart?  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  He has given us all of scripture to speak truth to us, to remind us that we are his and that one day all accounts will be settled, and that we will overcome, just as he overcame.

2.)  You are a masterpiece in progress.  Through your trials God is maturing you so that you will be equipped and mature.  He does not want you to lack anything!  “Consider it pure joy brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4)  God knows our journey; past, present and future.  He knows exactly what we will need in the upcoming days and is providing it through the lessons we learn in our trials probably even more so then in our triumphs.

3.)  You do not have to go it alone.  God himself will stand up for you and he has given you people in your life that you can risk reaching out to in your time of need.  The truth is we are weak and vulnerable when we choose to allow our pride or shame to isolate us from one another. Bravery is reaching out to your community, risking being known and allowing them to help you.  “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)

4.)  His plans for us are greater than our own plans.  In my case I had a vision of how I wanted things to be, where I wanted things to go, but God saw it differently.  He allowed me to make plans, but faithfully intervened to set me on the course that would be far greater than I could have set for myself with my limited vision.  “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

So as I sit here and ponder what to do about my car situation, and all the other situations that are so seemingly unfair, my heart is a bit lighter as God encourages me with his word:  “Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8).

Heavenly Father,

I ask that you help each one of my dear sisters as they continue in their journeys and fight their battles.   Encourage them with your words and lead them by your spirit.  Lift them out them up out of the pit and give them your renewed perspective that includes hope, life, and an excellent future beyond anything they have known to this point.  Remind them that through these challenges you are laying the ground work now for all the good you have in store for them.

In Jesus Name-Amen