TIME OUT!: When and how to take a break from a conversation when things are going badly.

Take a breakYou know the feeling, you are in a “heated discussion” and you can feel the heat rising in you, you spew out venomous words that pierce the heart of person you are speaking to.  You can hear yourself speaking and know that you need to stop but you just can’t seem to keep your mouth shut.  Or perhaps you’re able to say nice words but your face is exposing the truth of what you are thinking.  Or maybe you’re not the one causing the trouble (with your words and/or face) this time….perhaps you have been the one on the receiving end of this kind of treatment.  Whether you are the giver or the receiver these are not fun conversations to be a part of, and honestly they are not typically productive.  So what can you do in these situations?

One thing that can sometimes be helpful is taking a break from the conversation.  Often when you notice that you are engaging in a form of negative communication you may need to step back and regroup before trying to re-engage in the conversation.  (For more information on negative or dangerous communication check out this article  https://confidenthope.blog/2019/04/03/dangerous-communication/The following are some practical tips on when and how to take a break from the conversation.

KNOW WHEN YOU NEED A BREAK.  Ask yourself about your own behavior:  1.) Am I just repeating myself over and over?  2.)  Have I completely shut down?  3.) Am I consistently interrupting them to defend myself or make a point?  3.) Am I treating being disrespectful with my words (cussing at them, name calling) 4.)  Am I thinking of what I am going to say next while they are talking instead of trying to listen to them?   5.) Am I yelling/screaming/being physically violent?  If you answered “yes” to any of these a break may be a good idea.  If you answered “yes” to number 5 you definitely need a break.

Consider their behavior. 1.)  Are they completely ignoring you/shutting you out?  2.)  Are they just saying what you want to hear so the conversation will end?  3.)  Are they constantly interrupting you, talking over you, twisting your words?  4.)  Are they making sweeping generalizations, making excuses, casting blame,  or trying to shame or humiliate you? Are they yelling, screaming, verbally demeaning you, threatening you, intimidating you, or physically harming you?

If you answered “yes”  to any one of these you need to take a break from the conversation.

Consider the conversation.  1.)  Has the conversation stalled?  You both just keep repeating the same things over and over with no new understanding or solutions.  2.)  Are you all over the place with the conversation topic discussing EVERY issue instead of focusing on the issue at hand?  3.)  Are the points that are being made mostly vague generalizations that consist of words like ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘everybody’, ‘nobody’?

If you answered “yes” to any one of these you may need to take a break from the conversation.

HOW TO TAKE A BREAK

Here is the common scenario:  One person gets fed up.  Screams “I’M DONE!!!”  Leaves and slams the door.  At some undefined point the person returns, possibly there is an apology or perhaps the silent treatment.  Sometimes one of the people is still angry and becomes passive aggressive (think slamming pots and pans, murmuring under the breath or goes silent) while the other one is ready to move on and just ignore what happened.  Obviously this does not work, yet we do it all the time.  Both people are still angry, there is no structure, no closure, no guidelines, and worst of all the problems are still there.   But there is hope, there is a better way…. Consider this what if one person took responsibility for saying they needed a break, offered a time when they could re-engage in the conversation and had a plan of what they would do with their time during the break.  Here is what that might sound like:  “I know this is important, but I really need a break from this conversation right now.   I’m so frustrated I can’t think right.  I’m going to go to the gym for an hour and will be back by 7:00.  That will give me some time to cool down so I can really try to work through this with you.”  I believe that would go a lot better then the previous scenario.  So how can you make this happen?

Here are some guidelines:

1.) Discuss the concept of “taking a break” with your partner PRIOR to any heated discussions.  Agree together that this is something you are both willing to try.  Review the rules together and agree on them.  Don’t wait until the middle of an argument to try to explain and initiate the concept.

2.)  Use I statements when calling for a break.  “I feel (emotion).  I need a break.  I am going to go do (state activity) and will come back at (time) to revisit this conversation.”

3.)  You can only ask for a break for yourself.  You do not get to say, “It seems like you are getting really angry.  You should take a break and cool off.”  You can say, “I am frustrated and need a break from the conversation.”

4.)  You cannot refuse to grant the other person the break request.  This may be difficult because there are often things that need to be discussed and timing is important.  In those cases you may need to allow the person to take the break, but also continue forward with necessary action until the disagreement is resolved.  When you are wanting to continue the discussion and the other person has called for a break, try to remember that nothing will get resolved by them staying in the conversation when they are stating that they need a break.

5.)  If you are calling for a break you need to have a time limit for the break.  Breaks can be anywhere from 5-10 minutes, to 24 hours depending on how much time you think you will need to collect your thoughts, cool your emotions, and try to understand the perspective of the other person.  Breaks should not last longer then 24 hours.  At the end of the break you need to re-initiate the conversation.

6.) You need to have a plan for during your break.  Find something that helps you to relieve physical and emotional stress.  Some ideas are:  exercise, journaling, music prayer, meditation, etc. Your break should NOT include alcohol or drugs since these substances may interfere with your ability to maintain emotional regulation.

7.)  Both partners need to take reflect during the break.  Try to think through what the other person was saying.  Is it possible that you were you misunderstanding them?  Try to really understand their perspective even if you do not agree with them.  Also consider your own behaviors.  Which dangerous communication patterns did you engage in?  Is there anything you owe them an apology for?  Try to re-think of ways you can state what you were trying say so that it is able to be ‘heard’ by the other person.  Is there any common ground in the discussion you can both share?

8.)  Re-engage in the conversation at the time you promised.  By adhering to your commitment to revisit the the conversation at the agreed on time you are building trust in your relationship.  If you are still too frustrated to engage in the conversation, at least go to your partner and let them know you need a little more time.  Set another time and come back and try again then.

BUT WHY GO THROUGH ALL THIS?

You may be asking why is this even necessary?  Maybe you’re saying, “Isn’t better if I just let it all out, vent my feelings, rather than keeping it all bottled up?”  Or perhaps you thoughts are more along the line of “if I just keep quiet this will all pass and we can move on”.  But the truth is that in most cases we need to have tools to appropriately handle conflict in ways that address the issues at hand while maintaining the dignity of the other person and our self respect.  Taking a break accomplishes these things.  It allows for you to set boundaries on behaviors you will not tolerate.  It gives you the structure to ask for and get your needs met.  It helps prevent you from engaging in behaviors that may cause harm to the other person.  Lastly, it helps to build the character traits of self discipline, perseverance, as well as building confidence, trust and hope in the relationship.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

I confess that it is really, REALLY hard to give up an argument and take a break when I believe I am right, or that what I have to say is important.  I ask that you help me to follow your example of love, discipline, and sacrifice.  Help me to use words that are kind, true and necessary.  Help me to not be so determined to prove my point that I forget to lift you up and allow room for your Holy Spirit to work.

Sometimes, it is difficult for me to even recognize that I need a break during a conversation.  Please through your spirit keep my eyes open to times when I need to step away from others and draw near to you.  Place your hand over my mouth so that no unwholesome words pass through.  Teach me to trust in you and your ability to bring clarity, unity , peace, and true victory.

Thank you for loving me even when I act less then lovely.  Protect those who have to patiently tolerate my outbursts.  Surround me with people who will faithfully speak truth to me and encourage me to love others as you do.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE VERSES

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.  James 3:2

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  James 1:19

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

Dangerous Communication

Communication is the essence of good relationships.  When we communicate well with others we feel empowered and respected.  When communication breaks down relationships become strained and sources of stress rather than enjoyment.  In fact one of the number one difficulties couples admit to having in their relationships is poor communication.

Scripture has a lot to say about communication and how we use our words.  In the book of James it talks about how such a small part of our bodies (our tongue) has such power and can do tremendous destruction.  In the book of Ephesians it gives instructions on how we are to only speak words that will build people up or in other ways be beneficial to them.  In fact all through out scripture we are given instructions regarding how to communicate.  Still many of us struggle when we are “in the moment” of a heated or uncomfortable conversation.  Let’s examine a few of the types of dangerous ways in which we communicate that sabotage our relationships and what we can do about them.

NEGATIVE INTERPRETATION:  is when you evaluate another persons actions, thoughts, feelings or intentions negatively without checking the facts.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Check the facts!  You do not have the ability to read the mind or know the feelings of other individuals.  It is up to them to tell you what they are thinking and feeling.

What to do if you think it is being done to you:  One thing you can do if you believe that someone may be misunderstanding you is to ask them to repeat what they are hearing you say.  Another thing you can do is restate, specifically and concisely what you are thinking or feeling and the reasons behind those thoughts and feelings.

BLAMING, SHAMING, DEFENSIVENESS:  is when you turn the focus in a negative way on to the other person.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  This can be really hard because typically when you are the one doing it you are feeling guilty, ashamed, frustrated or attacked and this is your way of getting out of the conversation.  When you feel this way it is really hard to listen to what the other person is saying.  You may need to take a break from the conversation while you evaluate what your underlying feelings are and the reasons why you feel like you do.  When you do re-engage in the conversation try to really listen to what the other person is saying without commenting on WHY you did or didn’t do or say something.

What if it is being done to you:  Typically this is done as a means of derailing the conversation and getting it off track so the other person will not feel pressure.  If you are the target of the the blame and shame you will need to continue to stick to the topic at hand (even if you sound like a broken record), identify specific feelings and behaviors, and avoid generalizations.  It may be helpful to stick to very specific facts and I statements.  For example:  “I feel overwhelmed when I see the sink full of dishes.”

WITHDRAWL: (also known as stone-walling) is when a person shuts down and refuses to engage in the conversation.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Try to determine why it is that you are shutting down.  Do you feel attacked?  Do you believe that the other person is not listening to you or hearing you?  Do you believe that it is an argument that always gets talked about and never gets solved?  Do you feel like you are in a no win situation?  Once you have identified your thoughts and feelings you can then try to engage in the conversation using the ‘speaker-listener’ technique or request a ‘time out’ to collect your thoughts and resume the conversation at a later time.

What if it is being done to you:  You can identify the behavior and take on the listener role in order to try to understand the other person’s point of view and move the conversation forward.  If you are unable to move the conversation forward you can ask for a ‘time out’ in an effort to allow tensions cool down and resume the conversation at a later time.

INVALIDATION:  is what we think of as classic teenage behavior…think rolling the eyes, using sweeping generalizations such as always and never, sarcasm, mimicking, etc.  Basically it is anything (verbal or body language) that seeks to devalue the other person.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  Try to be aware of your body language, especially your face!    Use words that are accurate and clearly describe and reflect specifically what is going on.  Avoid generalizations.  Acknowledge when you engage in an invalidating response, apologize, and try again to listen respectfully or speak.

What if it is being done to you:  Respectfully acknowledge the behavior and request that it stop.  If the behavior continues let them know that you will not continue in the discussion until they can treat you respectfully.

ESCALATION: includes yelling, screaming, cussing, name calling,  belittling, intimidating, and threatening.  Once either person is engaging in escalation it is unlikely that any healthy progress will be made in the communication.  Additionally, if escalation is allowed to continue without being stopped to can lead can to emotional and/or physical abuse.

What to do if you’re the one doing it:  As soon as you notice you are escalating  take a break from the discussion to regain your composure.  During your break from the conversation make sure you engage in activities that will cool your anger.  Some good examples are: exercise, breathing techniques, meditation, or journaling.  After you have cooled down you may realize you need to apologize or maybe you become aware that you may not have completely understood the other person’s point of view.  If either of these are the case, apologize first and then take the role of the listener and try again to understand what the other person was trying to communicate.

What if it is being done to you:  If you are in a conversation and the other person is escalating you can try to inform the other person that you will not continue the conversation if they continue with the escalating behavior.  For example:  “I will not continue with this conversation if you are going to call me names.”  If the behavior continues stop the conversation and remove yourself from the area.  You can re-engage once you and the other person have had some time to cool off.  If the behavior has continued to the point where you are in a physically dangerous situation or the person will not allow you to leave the discussion you may need to seek additional help from legal authorities or from other professionals?

SELF REFLECTION:

Which of the communication styles above is your “go to” when you are angry, hurt, or frustrated?  Let me challenge you to work on changing that.  Here are a couple of ideas:  1.)  Ask someone who is close to you which one of the styles they have experienced you using and have them share how it made them feel.  Do this without rationalizing, explaining or defending your behavior.  Your only job is to listen to their feedback.  2.)  Prepare ahead of time for conversations that you know may be challenging.  Visualize yourself engaging in the conversation in a healthy manner.  Practice words that will move the conversation rather than stop the conversation.  Be intent on LISTENING to and REALLY HEARING what the other person is trying to communicate.  3.)  Catch yourself in the act of engaging in that behavior and intentionally stop and try to re-engage in the conversation in a healthier manner.

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, 

I really truly want my words to be used as a means of encouraging and inspiring others. Teach me how to communicate well.  Teach me to not put up barriers when communicating with others.  Open my eyes and ears so that I might see the ways I allow my words and actions to interfere with communication.  Also, help me to draw out others so that when they communicate with me they feel safe sharing with me knowing that I am really trying to hear and understand them.  Bless my communication so that it might be pleasing to you and respectful to others.

In Jesus Name- Amen 

BIBLE VERSES:

We put a small piece of metal in the mouth of a horse to make it obey us. We can control the whole animal with it. And how about ships? They are very big. They are driven along by strong winds. But they are steered by a very small rudder. It makes them go where the captain wants to go. In the same way, the tongue is a small part of a person’s body. But it talks big. Think about how a small spark can set a big forest on fire.  James 3:3-5

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

 

Designed: Experiences and Memories

experiencesShe was abused and that’s why she….(fill in the blank).

What did you choose to fill that in with?  That’s why she hates men.  That’s why she advocates for others.  That’s why she doesn’t trust anyone.  That’s why she clings to people.  That’s why she keeps to herself.  That’s why she looks for attention.

How you chose to fill in that blank may have more to do with your own personal experiences then with the actual truth.  As you looked at that sentence and filled in the blank, how old was the girl you pictured?  What type of abuse did she endure?  Who perpetrated that abuse?  How did she handle the abuse?  None of that information was provided in the question, yet you came up with an answer.  How you came up with the answer probably has a lot to do with your personal experiences and memories.

Each person is comprised of a unique set of experiences throughout their lifetime.  Even though we may go through similar things, how we process the information is based on our individual personality, our genetic make-up, and our environment.  All of these things combine to mold each experience into an intensely personal unique event.  From those series of events we create a lens through which we predict outcomes, view the world, and see other people.  Throughout your life time these views and expectations are subject to change because you are always acquiring new information and assimilating it through your own unique way of viewing the world.  This is why two people can experience the same exact event and recall it differently.  Likewise people who experience the same event can be affected or be changed in different ways.  One example would be of two twin children from the same family, treated in the same manner who grew up in poverty.  One of them may continue the lifestyle, being trapped and bound by the circumstances he was brought up in and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  The other child may break out of that cycle and become a wealthy person and attribute it to the fact that he was raised in poverty.  Both would honestly be stating their experience, their memory, and their reasoning; as well as correctly attributing the outcome in part to their previous experiences.

QUICK DEFINITIONS:

Before we dig too deeply into the subject, let’s quickly review what each of these words mean.

World View: a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

Belief: an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.

Values: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life

Expectations: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.

KEY THOUGHTS:

Our experiences shape our world view, beliefs, and values.  What you experience in your lifetime will effect how you see people and what you treasure.  You may see people as primarily good or as primarily bad.  Perhaps you believe that people are usually out for themselves, or perhaps you believe that everyone really is looking out for each other.  Maybe you have taken great risks and it has turned out well so you continue to take big risks believing it will work out.  Or maybe you have been very careful throughout your life and that has helped you to always be prepared for events that have come your way.  There are many things that have gone into creating the unique person you are with the unique way of looking at the world that you have.  This is part of the treasure of who you are and what you have to offer the world.

Our experiences shape our expectations.  If every Christmas since I was born I would wake up Christmas morning to a happy family and bunches of presents, it is safe to assume that I will probably expect that the next time Christmas comes I will be anticipating a good day.  On the other hand, if Christmas was always a time when my family members fought, there were no gifts, and people were miserable, it is likely that I will expect that on the next Christmas morning things will not go well.  Both sets of expectations are shaped by previous experiences.  We all have expectations, bias, and values that are a result of our experiences.  Often times they are so intrinsic, so woven into who we are, that we don’t even realize they are there until someone does or says something that we would have never expected or anticipated.  In that moment we struggle through confusion to understand their way of thinking or defend our way of thinking.

Not everything that happens to you is your fault.  Sometimes our memories and previous experiences create a scenario in our minds that we are to blame for the bad things we have endured.  While it is true that sometimes our poor choices have led to specific consequences,  it is also true that we sometimes have negative experiences through no fault of our own.  If your parents divorced, you suffered abuse, you were neglected, you were abandoned, you were the victim of a crime or some other trauma it did not stem from your own doing.  However, it is still true that it is a part of your experience and will still undoubtedly shape your your expectations, beliefs, world view and values.  Children are especially prone to magical thinking in which they will believe they are the cause of many of life’s bad experiences.  That type of thinking can easily follow a child into adulthood keeping them in bondage to a faulty belief system about who they are and what they are worth.  These experiences will also effect how you see and experience other people in the future.

Not all memories give a complete picture.  As humans we are limited to our own experience.  We can empathize with another person’s experience, but we can not 100% experience things they way they experience them, and we can not process they events exactly as they process them.  Even if we experience the same exact experience we will each capture, internalize, and assimilate different aspects of the experience.  For example a husband and wife may have a child who gets into trouble with drugs, yet each parent will experience that struggle differently.  They will each highlight different parts of that struggle. They will each respond in their own unique way to that pain.  In later years when asked to recall the event it is likely that they will each have a slightly different version of the story because different things stood out to them.  This is one of the reasons that collateral testimonies are collected.  Not necessarily because people are lying, but simply because they are remembering different parts.  So, when you are rehearsing your memories remember that there is room for other vantage points that could still be true even though different, of the same event.

Your experiences help shape you, they don’t define you.  Your experiences are part of who you are, but they are not the sum total.  If you have suffered with addiction, depression, divorce, infertility, abuse (the list could go on forever!)….YOU ARE NOT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU!  You can only be defined by your creator! He has the final say on who you are. (Review the article on Designed: Identity at   https://confidenthope.blog/?s=identity)  Never allow your experiences to decide for you what you will become or accomplish.  You are substantially more then all of your experiences.  You exist outside of them.

You can choose differently.  One of the great things about being human is that you can make choices.  You can choose to acknowledge some of the things that have happened to you and decide how you want to respond in the future.  It may take some practice, especially if you have been responding one way for your whole life and now you are deciding you will be doing things differently…BUT IT CAN BE DONE!

You can allow other people to be different than you.  Once you are aware that your experiences have shaped your world views, expectations and values you can allow other people to have their unique sets of values, views, and expectations.  You do not disappear simply because other people exist.  Their experiences have helped them become the people they are today.

Own your experiences and memories.  Good or bad your experiences happened.  They were real.  You lived through them.  Be honest with yourself and others about what has happened to you in your lifetime and how you recall those events and how they shaped you.  They are a part of you who you are.  Wear your physical and emotional scars with dignity because it is evidence that you survived and that gives hope to others.  Be aware that those experiences will color how you see other things.

Fault and responsibility.  While you may not be at fault for everything that has happened to you, you do bear the responsibility to manage those experiences and how they play out in your everyday life.  For example, if I were to step on your foot and break it, that would be my fault.  However the responsibility to get medical treatment for healing would be up to you.  Even though I would be at fault I can not see the doctor, get the x-rays, wear the cast, or do the physical therapy needed to recover.  Only you can do those things.  Many things that happen may be the fault of someone else, they may not be fair, they may hurt, and you may have every right to all the thoughts and feelings that go along with the experience.  Just bear in mind that you also have the responsibility to acknowledge what you experienced and how it has effected you.  You can take responsibility and use your experiences to help you into the kind of person you desire to be or you can allow those experiences to shape you into their mold.

DEVOTION:

I can’t help but think of the women at the well.  The fact that she had gone to get water in the heat of the day seems to indicate that her experiences had taught her that she would be ridiculed by the other women, so she learned to adjust her behavior to avoid their scorn.  She had learned to value hiding who she was and possibly had secretly accepted the truth of their accusations into her heart.  Initially she seemed to respond to Jesus with suspicion asking questions and giving limited answers.  Perhaps through her experiences with men she had learned to be cautious with men. Or maybe she had learned that men were deceptive, not to be trusted.  Either way in her limited time with Jesus it appears that her previous expectations, beliefs and views were challenged and possibly changed.  When Jesus asked her about her husband and she gave him a veiled answer. Jesus spoke truth to her, He challenged her, He treated her with dignity and offered her hope.  I believe through her experience with Jesus her views changed, and from there her life changed.   Just think….Now her story is one of hope!  She is included in the Bible, not as a shame filled, disgraceful woman, but instead as someone who carries the light and hope of Jesus.  Her past experiences led her to the one who could redeem her!

That’s what Jesus can do for us too.  He can heal our past experiences.  He doesn’t make them disappear, but He can redeem them for good.  He can use every single thing that you have ever been through to His glory.  None of you pain will ever be wasted when you put it in Jesus’ hands.

SCRIPTURES

 

Story of the woman at the well.  (John 4:4-42)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  (Genesis 50:20)

You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.  (Psalm 56:8)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. (Revelation 12:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

You have seen me on my darkest days.  You know of all the things I have done wrong.  Every. Single. Thing.  Still you choose to use me.  You seek me out.  You pursue me and allow me to be a part of your master plan.

You also know of the pain I have suffered at the hands of others.  You have seen every tear I have cried…and your heartbreaks  under the weight of the pain I have endured.  Even in my darkest hour You never abandoned me.  Even when I was filled with bitterness, resentment, and hatred toward those who had done me wrong, You didn’t turn your back on me, or hide your face from me.

Help me to allow you to shine through all of my experiences.  Redefine how I interpret all of my memories and experiences so that they are in perfect alignment with your truth.  Help me to think with your mind, with your spirit, with your heart.  Heal me in ways that will bring Your hope to others that they might know that you are God and an ever present help in times of trouble.

Thank you that you are my Redeemer!  

In Jesus Name- Amen

REFLECTIONS:

1.)  Think for a moment on the events from your childhood.  Remember some of your greatest, most fond moments.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now think about some of the lowest, saddest, most hurtful times.  What did they teach you about yourself?  What did you learn about the people in your life?  Now, think about the truth and hope of Jesus.  Allow Him to shed light, love, and truth on those experiences.  When you look through His eyes how do you see yourself?  How do you see others?

2.)  What values and world views do you hold?  How did you come to those conclusions?  Why are they important to you?  Compare them to scripture.  What does the Bible say?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:

1.)  In your journal draw a line through the middle of one of the pages.  Below the line write your most memorable negative experiences.  The more negative they were the lower you write them.  Above the line write your most positive experiences.  The more positive they are the higher you write them.  Write them in chronological order.  Journal what you learned from each of those experiences?  How do they still affect you today?  Take them to the Lord in prayer.

2.)  What are some things that bring back strong memories for you?  Ex. a certain song, a certain smell, a specific place.  Recall the memory in detail.  Try to get a sense of what other people in the memory may have thought, felt or experienced.  *Do NOT do this with any memory that is specifically tied to abuse or trauma.

3.)  Ask a someone about their personal experiences, memories, values, beliefs.  Learn about their values and world views.  Try to listen without defending your own position.  Try to understand their experience from their perspective.  If necessary allow yourself to disagree without needing to vocalize your disagreement.  Process your own feelings about the conversation in your journal after the experience.

Let’s Talk About Shame and Guilt (Designed: Emotions)

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Dark, wet, cold, and heavy…perfect words to describe those guilty shame filled feelings that linger making you wonder if you will ever again feel the warmth of hope, the joy of freedom, confidence to pursue people and things you once loved.

Guilt and shame are two words that are unfortunately, intimately and personally familiar to me.  I have been guilty of wide variety of offenses and have felt ashamed of my actions more times then I care to remember.  Sometimes the reminders of my wrong doings are from people who were hurt by my actions.  Sometimes it’s from lingering consequences that I face.  Most frequently the shame and feelings of guilt arise from within.   On my worse days I rehearse my flaws and failures and use it as a form of self inflicted torture to feed what feels like the insatiable appetite of shame.  If that weren’t enough I also listen to the enemy as he hisses deep into my being “With all that you’ve done wrong you’ll never be good enough, you can never measure up.  Who do you think you are?  Get out now before you are humiliated!” or  “There you go again, screwing up like you always do.  You’ll never get what you want because you always mess things up.  You don’t deserve those good things.  You should stop now before you make an even bigger fool of yourself.”

If this sounds familiar to you please know you are not crazy and you are not alone.   Many of us struggle with this particular battle.  In the heat of it we long for the false security of being alone, hiding from people and relationships, yet in that isolation the “proof” of how awful we are is magnified and screams in the silence.  The answers for victorious healing can only be found in the things we most dread doing….to gain true victory there needs to be acknowledgement/confession, acceptance, repentance, restitution, forgiveness, grace and confident hope…all of which can only be found in the light of relationship.

I hope you will have the courage to continue reading to discover practical tools to help  you secure victory in this battle.

Let’s first make sure we have clear definitions and understandings of the words guilt and shame.  Guilt is “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.”  This means it is tied to something specific you have done that was wrong, hurtful, mean, immoral, illegal, or unethical .  If I have told a lie, then I am guilty of lying.  This is true and legitimate guilt. I did something wrong and I feel guilty about it.  In a healthy environment this kind of guilt should help prompt me to move forward to make things right.  The unpleasant emotion may also help keep me from making the same mistake again.

There is also such a thing as “false guilt”.  This occurs when I feel guilty over something I have not done wrong. Here is an example of false guilt.  Let’s say you are invited to go out to work with friends but you decide you really don’t have the energy to go out so you decline the invitation.  Afterwards you feel guilty because you said no.  This is false guilt because you didn’t actually do anything wrong, you simply enforced a boundary around your time and energy.  In this example your guilty feelings are not tied to a hurtful, mean, immoral, illegal, or unethical action so therefore it must be tied to something else.  We will explore that in the next section on shame.

Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”  Feeling ashamed goes deeper than feeling guilty or embarrassed, it touches the core of who you are as a person.  It makes you doubt your goodness, your worth, and your identity.  It leaves you without significance or security.  This type of shame typically comes when you have committed some serious offenses or suffered serious or continuous  injury to your emotional self.    When you experience this type of shame you have difficulty validating your own worth which in turn can cause you to become hypersensitive to situations in which you feel you may loose the acceptance or admiration of other people.  In a mild sense you can become hypersensitive to guilt.  In that scenario you would tend to perceive that you have done something wrong when you haven’t, like in the situation previously discussed above.  In a severe cases it can lead to codependent or narcissistic tendencies.  Both feed off the fear of loosing other people’s validation, approval, and acceptance.  Shame thrives on fear and in isolation.  It makes it difficult to give or receive love because it places you in a mode of self protection that is not easily penetrated.

A good way to tell the difference is simply this:  Guilt says I did something bad, shame says I am bad.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS OF GUILT AND SHAME:

Physical response:  covering ones face, looking down, avoiding eye contact, a sense of heat that radiates through the body, making your body become small, hunched shoulders, head down, tightness/heaviness in chest, upset stomach, crying.

Thoughts about Self:  I am bad.  I am worthless.  I always mess things up.  I was wrong.  It’s my fault.

Thoughts about God:  God couldn’t love me.  God can’t forgive me.  God won’t save me.

Our action/tendency/response:  Hide, place blame, avoid

Communication: “I did wrong.”  “I am bad.”

Guilt and shame indicate different needs: Guilt indicates a need to make things right.  Shame indicates a need for inner healing and forgiveness.

So what can I do? 

1.) Find the source of your true hope and identity.  It will always be difficult to overcome shame if you don’t have your source of identity secure in an unshakable, unchangeable source.  As Christians we know that source is Jesus.  There is nothing that you can do that will ever make you unlovable to Him (Romans 8:38-39). There is also nothing you can do that will make you more lovable to Him (Ephesians 2:8).  His love for you simply doesn’t depend on you.  He has said you are valuable and has paid the price for you with His life (Colossians 1:14). We have covered this topic in more depth in the following article:  Your True Identity: Your Roots (Designed: Roots) https://confidenthope.blog/2018/06/25/your-true-identity-your-roots-designed-roots/

If you are not a Christian, or you are not sure if you are a Christian, I beg you to please take the time to explore this.  You can reach out to your local church or other believers r you can follow these links:  How To Become A Christian http://www.sbc.net/knowjesus/theplan.asp  or How Can I Be Sure I’m Saved? https://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithdoubt/how-can-i-be-sure-im-saved.html

2.) Confession.  You know how it feels when you have done something wrong and it eats at you.  It gnaws away at your heart making you feel guilty.  Here is how you get rid of that feeling…CONFESS.  Go and admit you did wrong.First and foremost confess to God (1 John 1:9).  Admit your wrong doing and ask for His forgiveness.  You can also ask for His power in helping you continue with the rest of the confessing.    It is incredibly difficult to swallow your pride and admit wrong doing, but there is something freeing about humbling yourself and owning your mistakes.  Your confession is the first key to unlocking your freedom.  It may surprise you to know that your confession isn’t really about the other person.  It is something you do for yourself.  It is coming out of hiding, taking ownership, and regaining freedom and power.  Sometimes you are able to go to the other person directly and tell them you were wrong.  In those cases be prepared that your apology may not be met with kindness.  They may still respond out of hurt or anger.   Sometimes you won’t be able to confess directly to the person, it may be the person is unknown to you, passed away, or it may simply put you in a very dangerous situation.  In those cases my suggestion is that you symbolically do a confession (example write a letter to the person and then destroy the letter) or offer your confession to a trusted friend or pastor.  We are always to confess our sins to God but the bible is also clear that there is healing power in the act of confessing one to another. (James 5:16)

Just to be clear….confession and apology are not the same thing.  A proper apology includes a confession and is delivered for the person who was injured by your offense.  There are many people who are willing to confess to an offense, but remain unapologetic.  The reasons behind this are typically because the person was directly caught, they believe they were actually in the right or justified in their actions, or they are trying to avoid a stricter punishment.

3.) Repentance.  In Christian terms repentance is defined as “turning around”.  What this means is changing your behavior, trying to not make the same mistake twice.  When we repent of a wrong doing we agree that it was wrong and we desire to do right.  You can repent of your wrong doing and still fail again.  We are not perfect.  You do your best.  If you fail again, you go through the process again.  Think about what went wrong,  what is needed to do better, put new safe guards in place and try again.

4.) Forgiveness.  When dealing with our own personal shame and guilt we often have to examine forgiveness from a variety of angles.  First, we can go to God and seek His forgiveness.  He is faithful to ALWAYS forgive us and cleanse us no matter what our offense was He will forgive us (1John 1:9).  Next, we may need to forgive ourselves.  This can be a hard step to take.  You may feel that what you have done is so awful, so shameful that you do not deserve to ever be free from it.  Let me ask you this:  If a perfect, holy and just God, is willing to extend forgiveness to you as a GIFT what right do you have to harbor unforgiveness in your heart toward yourself?  His sacrifice was enough for you and whatever sins you have committed past, present and future.  It is His desire that you live in freedom from the bondage of your sins, He died to give you that freedom (Romans 8:1-4).  For more information on how to forgive yourself you can review this previous Confident Hope article Forgiving Myself  https://confidenthope.blog/?s=forgiving+myself

5.) Make things right (restitution).  We are a people who typically like to “do” things.  We like to have some type of evidence that we have repented and are trying to be better.  In some cases you are able to make things right through an action.  For example if you have stolen something you can return it with interest, or if you have lied you can tell the truth and allow others to check/verify the truthfulness of your statements until their trust in your words has returned.  The process of restitution can be painful, but it will often produce a sense of setting things right, and can go along way in restoring a relationship.

6.) Acceptance.  Some times we are not able to make restitution.  Some times we simply have to accept the fact that we have done something wrong and try to move forward.  Acceptance can be a hard thing to obtain.  When dealing with the emotions of shame and guilt you may need to accept the fact that you will sometimes do things that will cause you to feel guilty or ashamed.  Part of acceptance is allowing yourself to identify and feel the emotion in a non-judgmental way and then release the emotion.

If you try to work through these steps and are continuing to struggle with these emotions I suggest you seek out trusted friends, a small group, a coach, a pastor, or a professional counselor.  There is not a medication that will “fix” this for you.  These emotions are a common struggle and part of being human.  Healing and victory are something that has to be done in the context of healthy relationships.

Dealing with GUILT and/or SHAME?  Here is your challenge:

Think about where you are at with guilt and shame.  Are there things you need to do in order to relieve those painful emotions?  Review the steps outlined in this article.  Review some of the other resources that are listed.  What are the steps that you need to take?  Do those steps!

As we draw to a close, I am reminded specifically of two passages of scripture.  One is the story of Adam and Eve in the garden.  After they sinned they felt shame and tried to hide.  They longed for isolation because of their sin…BUT GOD CALLED OUT TO THEM!  He drew them back into relationship with him so he could restore and redeem them (Genesis 3:1-9).  There were still consequences that needed to be faced, but they no longer needed to hide in shame.  The other passage and scripture talks about how darkness cannot hide in the light (John 1:5).  It reminds me that when we shed light (truth, forgiveness, love, grace, mercy) on those shameful places those feelings will disappear.  As we bring them to the forefront and deal with them they become less powerful and sinister.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

This is such a painful subject.  It hurts my heart as I remember the things I have done that have caused me to feel ashamed.  I think of other people who are also currently struggling under the weight of poor decisions and hurtful words.  I know that you are the one with the power to heal and forgive and restore.  I ask that you strengthen me as I pursue freedom from shame.  Give me courage to face my fears.  Grant me grace to forgive others and myself even as you have forgiven me.  Let me not run from relationships, but instead help me press into them so that I may find healing for myself.  And also so that I may provide a place of healing for others. 

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—(Ephesians 2:8)

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:14)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our  purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. CH shame and guilt.

ADAM AND EVE IN THE GARDEN:  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:1-9)

 

 

 

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.

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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)

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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