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.

 

 

Effective Communication: Speaker/Listener

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Communication is one of the most commonly sited struggles that couples face.

“We just can’t seem to communicate.”

“If only she would say what she means instead of making me try and guess.”

“If she would stop her nagging.”

“If he would open up to me.”

The list goes on and on.  Why is it that we have such a hard time communicating?  I believe that there are primarily two reasons that we struggle.  One reason is that we are selfish.  We want to be heard but don’t really want to hear what the other person has to say.   We long to be understood and validated.   Yet for some reason we have a difficult time offering that same understanding and validation to others.  When they speak we respond with a quick “I understand what you are saying” when we have really been planning our own come back the whole time they were speaking.  We act like we already know what the other person is thinking and feeling.  We want to be right at all costs, even if it means damaging the relationship.  We want to appear smart, superior, or powerful, without consideration for the other person.  Ultimately, we want to have it on our own terms, in our own way.

The second reason we have trouble communicating can be attributed to a lack of skill. We really truly do want to communicate our needs AND hear the needs of others, but it is hard, our emotions get in the way and we end up going in circles around topics.  The good news is that there are skills that can be taught to improve the effectiveness of your communication.

John Maxwell once said that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This principle is also applicable to communication. When you decide to put your thoughts and emotions aside momentarily, so that you can really hear what the other person is saying in their own words, you will communicate respect and love to the other person.  Ideally this will be reciprocated and they will also take the time to hear and understand your perspective.

Often times we will get so caught up in arguing that we actually end up spinning our wheels in arguments.  Throughout the conversation we pinball back and forth between many topics and accusations. When this happens nothing is accomplished and typically both people leave the conversation feeling frustrated.

John Gottman has taught several couples a technique for conversation called the “Speaker/Listener” Technique.  In this technique individual’s alternate taking on the role of Speaker and Listener in order to allow for each person to be heard and understood.

BASIC guidelines:

1.) Both individuals will have an opportunity to be the “speaker” and be the “listener”.   The speaker is the one who is trying to convey the message.  They are responsible for communicating their thoughts, feelings, and desires.  The listener is responsible for hearing and understanding what the speaker is saying.

2.) Only ONE person can be the speaker at a time.  When the speaker is speaking the listener should refrain from interrupting the speaker.  Interruptions can cause the individual to loose their train of thought and hinder the message the speaker is trying to communicate.  Questions for clarification can be done once the speaker has finished speaking.

3.) You can only address one issue at a time.  When using this technique it is important to stay on one specific issue.  The deeper roots or meaning of the conversation can be drawn out through the conversation and there may be a broad stream of applications once the discussion has ended.  However, during the conversation it is helpful to stay focused on one specific topic.

4.) When you are the “speaker” you share your viewpoints.  When you are the speaker your job is to share your own view points.  NOT to comment or infer the viewpoints or feelings of  the other person.  To do this you will want to use “I” statements.

5.)  When you are the “Listener” you make sure that you are correctly understanding the message the speaker is trying to relay.  Your job as the listener is to get acknowledgement from the speaker that you have accurately and completely understood what they are saying.  This is different from simply saying “I understand”.  What you are going for is for the speaker to identify that you, as the listener are understanding them.

SPEAKER guidelines:

1.)  Keep your sentences and the amount of information your share at one time short.  Use simple sentences, with concrete examples.  Avoid exaggeration, mindreading, and generalizations.  Try to share only 3 or 4 sentences before checking in for understanding.

2.) Use “I” statements.  These statements identify specifically what you think, feel or experience.  For example, “I feel hurt when you don’t discuss your day with me.  It is important to me that we reflect on our days together.”

3.) Be specific.  Give concrete example of behavior and what it is that is troublesome for you.  Example:  “For the past week you have gone directly to bed without talking to me.”  Next, you could use the “I” statement from above.

4.) Check-in frequently to make sure your message is being accurately received.  After you have shared 3 or 4 sentences ask for the listener to paraphrase what they have understood you to say.

LISTENER guidelines:

1.)  Wait for the speaker to stop speaking and then paraphrase what you have understood them to say including the emotion they are expressing.  This is not the same as saying word for word what the other person has said, rather it is expressing the general meaning and/or emotion that the speaker shared.  For example; “I am understanding that you are hurt by the fact that we have not had time to talk before going to bed.”

2.) After paraphrasing ask if you have understood the message correctly.  Simply ask “Is that correct?”  “Am I understanding you correctly?”  By doing this you are allowing the speaker the opportunity to clarify their position or more accurately express their emotion, if you have misunderstood them in any way.  If you have understood them correctly you are allowing them an opportunity to validate that you have in fact understood the message they were trying to communicate.  If you have understood them correctly you then switch roles and repeat the process until both parties are satisfied that they have been adequately (although perhaps not perfectly ) understood by the other person.

3.) Pay attention to your own physical responses to the messages you are hearing.  Make sure you are not engaging in any of the dangerous communication styles.  (see article https://confidenthope.blog/2019/04/03/dangerous-communication/)  If you find yourself engaging in dangerous communication you can always request a “time out”.  (see article https://confidenthope.blog/?s=time+out)

Once both individuals are satisfied that the problem and needs have been identified you can then move on to the problem solving portion of the discussion.

PROBLEM SOLVING: 

1.)  Share specifically what you would like the outcome to be.  Example:  “I would like for you to spend time with me before bed talking to me about your day and asking me about my day.”  Then add how that could benefit both of you.  “If you were to do that I would feel less lonely and we would be more connected and have a stronger relationship.”  If both individuals are in agreement then the conversation can finish there.

2.) Brainstorming.  Think of all possible solutions to your problem and write them down.  Even write down solutions that seem unfeasible or undesirable.  Write out the pros and cons of each solution.  Together narrow the list down to viable options.  In those options try to uncover common ground and win/win solutions.Try to determine which areas you already are both in agreement on and decide on solutions where both of you “win”.

3.)  Compromise.  Try to determine which areas you are willing to give up or let go of without jeopardizing your self respect, morals, or boundaries.  There may be an area where you are able to practice being sacrificial out of love for the other person.

4.) Take a break.  If there are no satisfactory options for  a solution you can take some time to brainstorm some options, or take a break and come back to the conversation at a later date and try to share some new possible solutions.

Special note:  When you try this technique out you may find it helpful to first start with a topic that is a topic that you do not feel very passionately about.  As you get more skilled with the technique you can try it in other areas that are more emotionally charged for you and your partner.  By choosing a topic with low emotional intensity you are allowing yourself the freedom to practice your skills as a speaker and as a listener.  At first it may not seem like you are accomplishing much, but in reality you are learning the art of effective communication which will go a long way in enhancing all your relationships.

DEVOTIONAL:

Why is being quick to listen and understand so hard?  I assume it is because we want to fix things, to appear knowledgeable, to share our opinions and thoughts.  It is easy to hear what someone else is saying or struggling with and quickly share our expertise.  Unfortunately this often leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and arguments.  In our haste to solve things we forget to listen to the details, the deeper meanings, and true underlying needs and fears.  The bible often warns us to pay attention to our speech, it talks about the power of our words to bring healing and life, or destruction and death.  We are encouraged to truly listen to others, to try to understand their perspective and their reasoning.  This can be especially challenging if we have our own agenda and opinions.  Sadly, when it comes to listening to understand we often fall short.  We can’t seem to listen to the debate without jumping in and attacking the other side with our own reasons and truth supporting our own viewpoint.   This does nothing to create peace nor does it bring justice, all it does is create anger, despair and division.  In our quest to be understood, have things our own way or be “right” we can inadvertently push the other person aside and destroy our relationships.  Jesus was a master communicator.  I can imagine him lingering with people and listening to their stories.  I can imagine him asking them questions that would draw them out of their shells and give a voice to what was happening in their hearts.  I can imagine him listening to their pain and suffering without condemnation, then offering a perfect mixture of truth and grace which would ultimately bring hope, healing and solutions.   One of the many examples is when Jesus was talking to Peter and asking him “Do you love me?”, and allowing Peter to ponder the rich meaning of the question.  I can imagine Jesus took time with the conversation.  He didn’t demand an apology.  He didn’t rehash every detail of how Peter went wrong.  He didn’t crush Peter with all the “facts” of why he should have listened to him.  Instead, he allowed for clarification, for responses, for back and forth discussion, until the true meaning of what He was saying was clear to Peter.  In this brief conversation you can see the elements of respect, restoration, and love.  This should be our goal in our conversations; to leave others better then when we found them.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, 

Guard my mouth.  I often am quick to speak.  I can unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, say things that hurt other people.  Sometimes I am so quick to share my thoughts and my answers that I forget to even take the time to figure out what the real issue is or I ignore the fact that the other person might have information that I do not have.  Help me to value and respect all people.  Give me the grace to listen.  Teach me to hear what others are saying and to look for common ground.  Allow me to share truth bravely and clearly without being mean spirited or hurtful.  Uncover the motivations of my own heart, weed out anything that would get in the way of me being able to point others to you.  Let my interactions be marked by truth, love and respect.  

In Jesus Name, Amen

SCRIPTURE VERSES:

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

Proverbs 10:19 “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.”

Ephesians 4:29  “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.”

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

Proverbs 18:2  “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

 

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

 

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)