Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When I was still doing my radio show, a woman called into our program and said that she was going to visit her family for Christmas. She was depressed because she knew her grandfather would make things miserable, just as he always did. She dreaded hearing his criticism of her and her lifestyle. We asked her why she had to listen to that, and she responded, “I just have to, that’s all. I have no choice. That is what he does.”

This woman lost her freedom the minute she walked in the door of that family gathering. She didn’t realize that no one can take away your freedom: she chose to give it up. She was letting her grandfather have power over her, but what she didn’t realize is that she didn’t have to give him permission. She felt that the pressure from her family to just “take it” was so strong, that this is the place where she lost her choices.

As we kept talking, we quickly thought of several choices she could make:

  • She could choose not to attend.
  • She could choose to accept that he would be who he is, but she could give up the desire for his approval. That would empower her to ignore his remarks.
  • She could empathize with him, “Grandfather, it seems like it’s frustrating to you to have me be like I am. That sounds hard.” She did not need to get hooked into convincing him of anything.
  • She could steer clear of the grandfather at the gathering.
  • She could call a friend throughout the gathering and give reports on how crazy he was, and they could laugh it off together.
  • She could call him beforehand and ask if he planned to put her down this year as he had before. If he said yes, she could inform him that she might just go in another room when he started his put-downs. She wanted him to understand this beforehand, so he would not be surprised at her action.

The caller actually began to feel relief. Just the reminder that she did always have choices made her feel better.

We were designed to be free, and in some ways, life is a continual struggle to gain, regain and live out our freedom from internal and external forces that would take our freedom away.

Find out where your circle of freedom ends and take steps to enlarge it until you can feel free, no matter where you care, by remembering one thing: you always have choices! Ultimately, no person, or no circumstance, has control of you – that control belongs to you and only you.

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Panic attacks can hit you at the most random, inconvenient times without notice or apparent triggers. They can create intense moments that leave you fearful while waiting for the feeling of impending doom to subside.

Solution By observing mindfulness, we can decrease the intensity of a panic attack by allowing anxiety to run is course without shaming ourselves or suppressing our feelings.

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The feeling struck while I was driving down the interstate to an appointment. My muscles tightened and encapsulated me. My breath became short and my head started spinning. The cadence of my heartbeat increased while my hands clinched the leather on my steering wheel.

“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m really dying this time.”

This time, right? This wasn’t just the result of some fabricated paranoia. These symptoms were real.

I could feel my throat start to close, and I was convinced I was going to suffocate and pass out. The feeling intensified as I realized I could seriously injure myself or another person if it happened while I was driving, so I pulled over at the nearest exit.

The mystery of a panic attack can create enough anxiety to actually trigger one. The phenomenon has been studied for decades and has been loosely explained through theories of evolution, genetics and the fight-flight-freeze response. Preventing them from occurring, however, has been a trial-and-error process and one person’s remedy doesn’t always work for another.

Though we’re not operating in the rational parts of our brain during a panic attack, exercising mindfulness could make a difference in its intensity. Give these exercises a try.

1. Embrace what’s happening.

The physical symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of your body trying to protect itself. (This, of course, is assuming you’ve been cleared of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor.) When the fight-flight-freeze response is active in your brain during a panic attack, it sends messages to different parts of the body to respond to the perceived danger you’re processing.

2. Focus on your breathing pattern.

There are different variations of doing this, but here’s what works for me. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4-6 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as many times as you need to. The idea here is to focus on your breath and to return a normal oxygen flow to parts of your brain and body.

3. Eat a mint or chew some gum.

The stronger the scent, the better. The taste overloads your senses and takes away the intensity of what you’re experiencing.

4. Stop shaming yourself.

You may find yourself embarrassed in how you’re responding to external stimuli while your body and mind endure the downward spiral of panic. Allow yourself to honor how you’re feeling, recognize what’s happening and to get through the experience. Attempts to suppress these things could make the anxiety worse.

5. Don’t ask “Why?”

Asking yourself, “Why?” is not a question that comes from the rational part of your mind. It comes from the proverbial heart or your gut. The answer to “Why” takes you down the rabbit hole of “What-ifs” that won’t give you the answers to relief.

Mindfulness means we give ourselves permission to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences without judgment and shame. It opens our attention to what’s happening in the present. When we embrace the physical symptoms of a panic attack, it sends a message to the amygdala, almost as if it were to say, “Hey, I know what this is. I’ve experienced it before and everything will eventually be ok.” Give yourself permission to let anxiety run its course and acknowledge how you feel when it happens. Practicing mindfulness at the onset of a panic attack allows you to make the necessary connections that ease the anxiety efficiently.

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Does your spouse want or need to change something in their life? If so, it’s critical to know the difference between helping and enabling them through that change.

The change they want or need could be something serious like an addiction to prescription drugs, alcohol, food, or pornography. Or it could be something simpler like eating healthier, exercising more, or changing an annoying habit. They may talk about it, they may whine about it, they may pretend it doesn’t exist, but being their spouse, you see it better than most anyone.

In general, helping your spouse is doing something right and healthy for them that they cannot do for themselves. Enabling is doing for them what they can and need to do for themselves, allowing them to live an irresponsible life.

A recent reality show my friend was watching about a severely obese person illustrates both helping and enabling. A woman needed to lose hundreds of pounds or she would die. Her relatives had been going to the store for her every day (since she couldn’t go herself), but they bought only the unhealthy food that was killing her. That was not helping; that was enabling her obesity. Later, the relatives saw the reality of what they were doing, moved in with her, and helped her change her eating and cooking habits by cooking only healthy foods for her for several months. That was helping. She learned to choose healthier options, and successfully lived alone again, with a radically different lifestyle and weight loss that gave her hope.

Here’s what enabling looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things they can and should do for themselves.
  • You cover up for your spouse when their issues create problems for them and others.
  • You make excuses for their behavior with others.
  • You lie to them, to yourself, and to others about the extent and eventual consequences of their issue.
  • You protect your spouse from the normal consequences of their problem.
  • You ignore your spouse or their issue altogether. Ignoring is enabling.
  • You blame others or indulge your spouse blaming others, for their issue.
  • You make empty threats related to the consequences of their choices and don’t follow through.
  • You avoid being around your spouse. Sometimes, this is necessary for a dangerous situation but usually, it only allows the spouse to wallow in the problem.
  • You repeatedly get your spouse out of the trouble their issue creates, usually at a high cost to yourself.

Here’s what helping looks like:

  • You do for your spouse the things that they cannot do for themselves.
  • You are honest with them about the consequences of inaction.
  • You don’t lie for them, and you don’t lie to them.
  • You don’t create excuses to others to cover up for their problems or issues.
  • You don’t clean up the messes their struggles or issues create.
  • You love them unconditionally, just as they are, yet you also love them enough to hope they choose to change.
  • You help them focus on the goal, without dwelling on any missteps or failures along the way.
  • You cheer them on and celebrate even small steps towards their goals.
  • You accept that you cannot change them, that they will not change unless they want to change. This may feel like giving up, but accepting this truth gives them freedom to own the change.
  • You refuse to take responsibility for their bad choices.

These are just some of the ways you can check yourself to see if you are truly helping them or enabling their destructive choices. But these are not exhaustive checklists. Don’t delay to seek out professional counsel for yourself if you have a serious situation. Don’t give up hope, but don’t give in to the temptation to indulge them in keeping the peace. And remember, your spouse can only experience true change when they want true change.

SOURCE:  Sanya Pelini

The perfect family is a myth. Every family experiences stress-provoking changes time and time again. Some families, however, are better able to cope with tough times. Science defines these families as “strong families.”

Several studies have found that strong families share similar characteristics. Here are five characteristics of strong families.

1 | Strong families spend time together

Families that spend time together are more likely to build stronger ties than those that don’t. However, that time doesn’t count if it’s spent sitting passively together in front of a screen. It also doesn’t count if it’s spent arguing. In other words, quality trumps quantity.

Reaching an ideal work-life balance is often a challenge for many parents. However, installing simple family routines can ensure that you get to hang out as a family even when you’re busy parents. Simple everyday activities such as playing games together, taking walks together, sharing meals, sharing household chores, watching a movie together, etc. help strengthen family bonds. There is evidence that having everyday or regular routines provides family members with roots and helps families overcome moments of stress.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Little pieces of time matter too. Take advantage of the moments spent in the car or in traffic to talk to your kids about your day and ask them about theirs.
  • Create your own family rituals.
  • Schedule “hang out time” in your to-do list.

2 | Strong families foster optimism

Positive psychology research has proven that strong families have positive emotions. They have a more optimistic outlook and believe that they are equipped to adapt to change. Strong families are able to “withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges” and are also more ready to accept the things that cannot be changed.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Focus on solutions rather than on problems.
  • The book “Beliefs: The Heart of Healing in Families and Illness” states that “family belief systems powerfully influence how we view a crisis, our suffering and our options.” Considering challenges as opportunities to strengthen family bonds can make it easier to overcome life’s challenges
  • Explore all possible options when a problem arises.

3 | Strong families work on their emotion regulation skills

There is evidence that strong families consider stress and change normal and set up processes to help children adapt to changes and distressing situations. Strong families do not attempt to shield their children, but give them the skills to adapt to everyday situations as well as to traumatic life events. When families learn to regulate their emotions, there are more likely to respond effectively to traumatic experiences.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Develop your family’s emotion regulation skills. Emotion regulation means knowing how and when to express emotions in a respectful manner.
  • Provide your child with tools to manage his/her own strong emotions.
  • Teach your kids that while it is normal to experience strong emotions such as anger and anxiety, each individual is responsible for how he or she reacts to those emotions.
  • Teach your kids to respond appropriately to emotions by modeling these reactions yourself.

4 | Strong families promote open communication channels

Multiple studies have highlighted the importance of promoting open communication channels. A common characteristic of strong families is that they adopt an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parenting requires parents to hold high expectations, but to also be flexible and attentive to their children’s needs. Children raised in such family settings are less likely to turn to drugs and also have better academic, social, and psychological outcomes.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Set realistic expectations for your kids. Expect neither too little nor too much.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations to your children.
  • Foster mutual respect.
  • Be flexible. Remember that you too were once a child.
  • Listen, then react.

5 | Strong families show their appreciation for each other

We are all the best versions of ourselves when we feel appreciated. In strong families, the members know that they are appreciated. They know that their family would not be the same without them. Showing our kids we appreciate them is also likely to reinforce positive behavior and it may even help them develop a positive sense of self.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Focus on your child’s positive behavior.
  • Give praise where praise is due.
  • Celebrate your family’s accomplishments.
  • Establish gratitude routines to celebrate family members.
  • Show your children you think they’re awesome.

SOURCE:  Tricia Goya/Family Life

Ten ways to ensure that your child will not succeed.

1. Give your kid everything he wants. Don’t deny what will truly make him happy. Overvalue money and things in his eyes.

2. Dress your child in designer clothes, no matter the cost. Show her that her outward appearance matters most of all.

3. Place your child’s needs over those of your spouse. If she cries, run to her immediately. If she interrupts, give her your full attention.

4. Entertain your child throughout the day. If she wants to play tea, put your plans aside. If she wants to watch her favorite movie for the hundredth time, forget your idea of going for a walk and getting some sunshine.

5. Plan your menu around your child’s desires. No child should have to eat something he doesn’t like. If, by chance, you want to make something other than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, feel free to cook your own meal, just as long as you have time to fix what your child likes.

6. Sign your child up for as many extracurricular activities as she desires, even if it means giving up your evening plans on a regular basis. Don’t worry about trying to gather around the dinner table either. He can only be in the junior soccer league for so long, and you don’t want him to miss out.

7. Don’t discipline your child when she acts up. Everyone should learn to express herself in her own way. If she demands something, then applaud her efforts. At least you know that she will not be a pushover or a doormat in this world.

8. Don’t worry when your child fights with neighbor kids or even when he is a bully. Life is not fair, and someone always has to be the underdog. At least your child is learning to elbow his way to the top at a young age.

9. When your child has a disagreement with her teacher, always choose your child’s side. Don’t show up when the teacher wants to discuss your child’s problems. The teacher will want to take a course of disciplinary action and that’ll hurt your child’s feelings.

10. Don’t share your faith with your child. After all, you don’t want to offend. Let your child decide if she wants to hear Bible stories. And don’t pressure her to memorize Scripture verses. She might get disheartened if she doesn’t get it right the first time and you’ll ruin her self-esteem. More than that, you don’t want her to know there’s a God who runs the universe, makes the rules, and determines eternity. The thought is too hard, and your child might not understand. More than that, she won’t be self-dependent and strive to be a good person.

SOURCE:  Tricia Goyer/Family Life

Eleven ways to ensure that your teenager will not be prepared for the future.

1. Hide your past mistakes. Put on an act that you are perfect and your teenagers are the ones with all the problems. (After all, if your teens hear what you did in your past, they might want to follow.)

2. Don’t worry about where they are going and what they are doing. You didn’t want to be hounded at that age. You didn’t want to be asked all those questions. Instead, trust that they know how they should act and where they should go.

3. Don’t worry about them getting a summer job and having to work to make money. Teens are only teens once. They need time to have fun with friends and relax. There will be time to work later. They don’t need to worry about a work ethic now.

4. Don’t force them to attend church and youth group. Things are already touchy—you have to hound them about homework, about their friends, and about their clothes—don’t make church another thing you hound them about.

5. Don’t worry about talking to them about sex and purity. You’re their parent, for goodness sake. You don’t want to bring the subject up and have them thinking about you having sex. And you don’t want to think about them in their sexual lives. There are other people more knowledgeable and trained to talk to your teens; leave it to them.

6. Completely shelter your teens from the outside world. Make sure they don’t watch any secular movies or listen to any secular music. Hide the newspapers, too. Their “world” should only be about your family’s values. They don’t need to learn about all that bad stuff out there. They don’t need to make wise media choices or deal with unwholesome people. They don’t need to see that there’s a world out there that is greatly in need of Jesus. Let someone else deal with impacting and influencing culture.

7. Tell them, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Make them accept the areas where you fall short, but expect them to do better.

8. Buy your teens whatever they ask for. That’s your role as a parent—to make your teens happy.

9. Don’t let your teen get involved in an overseas mission trip. There are all types of scary things that happen on those trips, and your first priority is to keep your teen safe.

10. Don’t become your teens’ sounding board. They’ll need to learn to figure things out on their own in the future, so they might as well start now.

11. Don’t share with your teen how important God is in your life. A personal relationship with God is personal, and it should stay that way.

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

Challenges every single parent should consider before deciding to remarry.

Specializing in stepfamily therapy and education has taught me one thing: Couples should be highly educated about remarriage and the process of becoming a stepfamily before they ever walk down the aisle.  Remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is much more challenging than dating seems to imply. Be sure to open your eyes well before a decision to marry has been made.

The following list represents key challenges every single parent (or those dating a single parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open your eyes wide now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait two to three years following a divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating. No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from the ending of a previous relationship. Moving into a new relationship short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date your future spouse’s children before the wedding. Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both people lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life.

Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, “Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that.”

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the stepparent/stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly, so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s tenth birthday or after his/her sixteenth; couples who marry between those years collide with the teen’s developmental needs).

3. Know how to “cook” a stepfamily. Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender, microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these “cooking styles” attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crockpot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes.  (Read more about how to cook a stepfamily here.)

4. Realize that the “honeymoon” comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning. Ingredients thrown into a crockpot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids. Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that Mom and Dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold his or her place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting till your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your children’s loss issues. Don’t rush them and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to loyalties. Even in the best of circumstances, children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray the other parent. Don’t force children to make choices, and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your new spouse to feel the same about your children as you do. It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t care for your children to the same degree that you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds; they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a 16-year-old who brought you mud pies when she was 4 and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers. Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the “ghost of marriage past.” Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready. No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read this series of articles for more on stepparenting). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat him or her with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.

Work smarter, not harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the promised land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Before you remarry, be sure to educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

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