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

SOURCE:  Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

I talk often about boundaries, the healthy need for them and how they define the ways you treat yourself as well as how you allow others to treat you. There are physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual boundaries that you develop in order to know where you stand in life in relation to yourself and others.

It has come to my attention that clients sometimes do not understand the difference between healthy boundaries and emotional walls.  Emotional walls are like boundaries on steroids. Your brain develops them in order to protect you. They are often seen as or referred to as defense mechanisms. Sometimes they are a good thing, but sometimes your brain goes overboard in its efforts to protect you. Emotional walls are not usually conscious efforts to define yourself but unconscious efforts to protect yourself. If you have these, there is nothing wrong with your brain, it is working just fine, but maybe a bit overtime.

Think reactive rather than proactive when you think of emotional walls.  An example of this would be:

You have been hurt in some way in past relationships so you begin doing things or involving yourself in activities that pretty much guarantee you will be solo. You may tell yourself you have too much to do, not enough time or some other excuse not to engage in things where you might meet someone.  You really want someone in your life but can’t see how to have that happen and not experience pain so you are essentially walling off the opportunities to meet someone.

If your basic thoughts about people are that they can’t be trusted, you may be guarded with how you share yourself. By these behaviors, you remain alone and lonely. A boundary around this topic would be allowing yourself to trust until someone has broken that trust. Your boundary would be ” I give people the benefit of the doubt but if they break my trust I am done.”  You maintain the power in that decision and allow yourself the freedom to be open to meeting others.

In an effort to protect yourself you may also come up with a definition of the perfect person for you that can never be attained. You may tell yourself this is the profile of the only person that could work out for you. You can see the problem with this as it becomes an order that can not be fulfilled. Although it is important to find a good match, it is not likely a person will be “perfect” in every way. You have built an insurmountable wall.  A healthy boundary setting for choosing a significant other would be to set guidelines pertaining to how they speak to you, how they treat you overall, spiritual, educational and political preferences and let the rest fall into place.

One of the main differences between setting boundaries and establishing emotional walls is that boundaries leave in place the opportunity for joy and for you to be in control of your life. Emotional walls, on the other hand, usually limit you in some way and reduce potential experiences and opportunities. Emotional walls make you feel like a victim of something while boundaries allow for control and freedom.

It is not to say that someone won’t break a boundary and hurt you in some way, that can always happen. The “perfect” person could also just die or be in an accident. Unfortunately, life can dole out some very nasty experiences. We really can’t protect ourselves against all of them and living in fear limits our life in many ways. It is better to develop the skill base you need to get you through those times than to live fearfully trying to protect against them.

Without the necessary skill base, you may experience emotionally painful things and not know how to come through. You may become depressed, anxious or angry and not be able to see your way clear of these negative emotions.  Not everyone learns the necessary skill bases to overcome negatives in life, many times parents don’t know how to teach these skills or the opportunity just doesn’t present itself in childhood. Sometimes there has been a very dysfunctional background that has taught dysfunctional thinking patterns that don’t allow for healing and moving on.

These can be learned. There is no need to wall yourself off from the joys of life.

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SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance” (Proverbs 28:13 TLB).

God is always ready to give you another chance.

That’s a bedrock piece of Christianity. We’ve all been irresponsible. We’ve all screwed up. The Bible tells us, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT).

God doesn’t want you living with a heavy guilt trip about all the irresponsibility in your life. Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships, keeps you stuck in the past, and even hurts your health. I read a report a few years back that said 70 percent of people in the hospital could leave if they knew how to resolve their guilt.

God wants far better for your life than that. You don’t want to live with guilt.

And here’s an important truth to always hang on to: You don’t have to.

God wants you to live with a sense of promise and hope. God can even bring good out of the stupid decisions that you’ve made in your life if you’ll give those failures to him.

How do you do that?

Admit to God you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t surprise him. And it won’t change his perception of you. I hope you’ll take this step today. When you do, here’s what you can expect from God:

  1. God forgives instantly. The very moment you admit your sin to God, he forgives you.
  2. God forgives freely. You don’t need to earn it, and you’ll never deserve it.
  3. God forgives completely. He wipes your sin absolutely clean.

If you’re mired in guilt and shame, you’ll likely perpetuate whatever problem you have. You’ll tell yourself that you blew it, so you’re bad. Since you’re bad, you believe you’ll blow it again. It’s a nasty cycle from which we often can’t seem to escape — at least not on our own.

You need a power beyond yourself.

You need a Savior.

You need Jesus.

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

No relationship is perfect and problem-free.

It’s clear that all marriages take work, commitment, and effective communication of needs, expectations and desires. Marriage isn’t hard necessarily, but it becomes harder when people “go stupid.” Essentially, when one or both partners behave out of anger, anxiety, hurt, defensiveness, or maliciousness, the problems escalate quickly.

Overall, there are common issues in most marriages where conflict is higher:

  • One partner is trying to change the other. The more one partner tries to “perfect” the other, the less perfect that person will become as the struggles grow. The truth is that the best you can do is change who you are, your approach to the relationship, and how you respond to your partner. After all, you married them for who they are, right?
  • Talking at – as opposed to talking with – your partner. Simply talking does not translate into effective communication. Constant complaints, repeated criticisms, playing the victim, trying to create guilt, yelling, telling your partner what to do, etc., are not communication openers. At best, they are communication roadblocks and barriers. Listening (i.e., being present to the other) and speaking with intent are two of the deepest forms of intimacy in any relationship.
  • Loss or decrease in emotional and sexual intimacy. A partner who is emotionally absent, disengaged, and not caring or concerned can lead to a drop in emotional and sexual intimacy.
  • Loss of focus and awareness or being mindful of your partner due to issues with finances, in-laws, a newborn, work pressures, and a mental health condition or addiction can lead to emotional distancing and loss of connection.
  • Emotional or physical affair. Even a micro-affair (when one partner behaves in secrecy and deception with someone outside the relationship) can lead to damage and long-term strain on a relationship. Most affairs begin harmlessly, but soon escalate.
  • Difficulty letting go of the past or not forgiving past behaviors. Many marital and relationship problems stem from one or both partners refusing (even if subconsciously) to let go of the past. Letting go does not mean ignoring or sweeping issues under the rug; it does mean not carrying these issues into future arguments.
  • Finances. Different values and spending habits occur in 10-20% of relationships. One partner wants to save, the other feels compelled to spend. One partner wants to spend the annual bonus on a new car, the other on the kitchen or living room.
  • Ignoring the little things that make the relationship special. Not appreciating each other, focusing on work or money or the kids, not attending to the romantic part of the relationship, not listening, and not acknowledging how much you value the other person.
  • Spending too much time and emotional energy plugged in to social media and technology in general, at the expense of spending time with your partner.
  • Constantly looking for the negative or for what is not working. This is similar to high criticism, but more generalized in that the partner approaches the relationship with a negative attitude, is emotionally dry and vacant, and through this lens sees mostly what is wrong in the relationship.

SOURCE:  Kelsie Huffstickler/Family Life

When I’m in a hurry, I tend to plow over my children.

Here we are again, all buckled in and driving down the road. I’m at the wheel. My two girls are behind me strapped in their car seats. The music playing on my Christian radio station is uplifting, but my heart—it’s heavy. I’m weighed down by my own actions, not five minutes before.

Getting ready and out the door is a chore, as any mom of littles will tell you. No matter how much extra time you allot yourself, it’s never enough. It seems those last 10 minutes before leaving are pure and utter chaos.

It never fails. Somebody poops right as I step out the door. Did I get the paci? Oops, I forgot to water the dog.

It’s enough to drive someone mad—at least if that someone is me.

I like to think I am a good mother. But I know for a fact I have one motherly flaw that protrudes like a plank from my eye: I lack patience. At no time is this flaw more evident than when my girls and I are trying to get out the door to go somewhere.

The problem is, I’m an “arrive on time” kind of girl. Or at least I used to be. Now, with two kids, I rarely reach my destination on time. But the drive to do so still pushes me to run over any obstacles in my path.

Even if those obstacles are often my children.

Today my 4-year-old, finally strapped down behind her five-point-harness, crying in the back seat, asked me, “Why are you being so mean to us?” I was buzzing down the road, my eye on the prize of my destination, but in that moment my heart stopped, and I knew I was in the wrong.

At the next stop sign, I turned around, looked her straight in the eyes and asked her to please forgive me. She said she did, as she always does, and we kept on driving. But my heart couldn’t move on because I knew the truth—this wasn’t the first time this had happened. In my determination to get out the door and to wherever we’re headed, I tend to plow over those I love. (I know my husband’s been in the line of fire plenty of times too!) The fact is, my actions show that I place more value on the opinion of whoever is waiting for us than on that of my own family.

I decided right then and there that enough was enough. I don’t want my children to remember their mother always in a hurry or always about to burst from frustration. I want them to remember examples of patience and love.

Lord, please help me remember the power of my words and attitudes on my children’s hearts. And in those moments of frustration, help me reflect on Your Word and remember that my character is more important than them perfectly meeting my expectations.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2, NLT).

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1, NIV)

SOURCE:  Audrey Sherman, Ph.D

If you have experienced any type of dysfunctional past it is likely that you have as an adult put up with behaviors and treatment that you should not have and not trusted yourself to speak up or move on. Sometimes the behaviors are something you grew up with, know how to handle and so you don’t even question them, but you know they make you feel badly. Your tolerance level for unacceptable is high and you may not realize it. You may overlook things that your friends would not tolerate for one minute.

Tolerating or accepting such behaviors takes its toll. You may feel depressed, anxious, angry or all of the above. You may not sleep well as you ruminate over how the person is treating you or a negative event that took place. You may not be able to focus as your mind reenacts the last disturbing thing he or she said. You may just have an uneasy feeling that something is very wrong. You may feel despair if you feel you are headed down the wrong road in a relationship again and feel helpless to stop it or at what point you should stop it. You may feel like you are “walking on eggshells” around the person, waiting for the next negative interaction to occur and hoping to prevent it.

Sometimes all you have is your intuition to go on, your brain knows when you aren’t being treated well, but due to ingrained dysfunctional thought patterns or beliefs you may be in over your head. In my last post pertaining to “red flags”, I cover this in more detail.

This simple guide will help you know when to bail before you get the life sucked out of you. For each item under “Unacceptable” there is a counterpart below in the “Acceptable” list that allows you to compare similar occurrences.

Unacceptable:

  • Lies of any kind.
  • Dating you or attempting a relationship while still married.
  • Hurtful anger directed at you.
  • Chronic anger of any kind.
  • Putting you down, derogatory remarks.
  • Ridiculing you in front of others.
  • Refusing to discuss problems in the relationship.
  • Withholding affection or physical contact as punishment.
  • Telling you there are no problems when you have identified one, saying you are crazy for thinking that.
  • Having no interest in your life, career, friends, dreams. Only interested in themselves.
  • Flirting or handling other people in an inappropriate way then saying you are crazy when you bring it up.
  • Not willing to discuss finances in relationship, elusive about money issues.
  • Being chronically late or cancelling things frequently at the last minute.
  • Secretive behavior that doesn’t make sense.
  • Physical abuse of any kind. (There is no acceptable counterpart below)

Acceptable:

  • Waiting till the appropriate time to tell you something important.
  • Papers are legally filed in divorce court, they are not living with spouse.
  • Situational anger directed at themselves.
  • Infrequent upset with themselves or others.
  • Playful teasing that doesn’t leave you feeling badly.
  • Playful teasing that doesn’t leave you feeling embarrassed.
  • Refusal to discuss problems until they have a chance to think calmly about problems.
  • Withholding physical contact due to a need for some space to process, not ongoing.
  • Truly not understanding the problem but willing to listen and try to understand your side.
  • Being too tired or busy to talk sometimes.
  • Greeting someone with a cheek buff or handshake.
  • Financially open if appropriate.
  • Having to cancel things or be late once in a while due to work or something important.
  • Secretive behavior around your birthday or other holiday.

This is not an exhaustive guide, there are of course many other behaviors that could go here, but it is enough to get you started. These are the main ones that cause people distress and they are usually the ones that send the red flags flying in your mind.

Learn to listen to yourself. Don’t settle for any of the above behaviors and don’t look for reasons why the person is that way or make excuses for them. It doesn’t matter if they are a narcissist, if they were abused as children, are a control freak or if they have an alcohol problem. None of that is something you can fix and it does not enhance your life in any way, shape or form. If you really love the person and they get help that sticks and corrects the problem, fine. In my experience, the individuals who exhibit the above unacceptable behaviors are usually not open to change. They manipulate you into thinking you should change or that you are crazy. Neither is true, don’t believe it. Move on.

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

You’re probably familiar with the term “triangulation” as it relates to issues in communication. Let’s break down what it really does and how it affects our relationships.

Triangulation sets up something called the “Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer Triad.”  It works like this.

Let’s say you have some issue with me, maybe even for a good reason. So, you give me some feedback, or disagree with me, or do something that I either don’t like or don’t want to hear. In any case, I feel like an innocent “Victim” and feel like you are somehow hurting me unfairly, in my mind seeing you as the “Persecutor.” Then, instead of talking through the slight, or the issue, directly with you, I take my hurt feelings and go to a sympathetic third person, and I gripe about you. I do not say to them, “He mentioned this to me, I am sure to help me, and I would like to get your perspective on it as well to see what you think … whether there might be something to learn that I am not seeing ….or maybe not.” If that were the motivation to talk to the third person, that would be a different story.

But in the VPR (victim-persecutor-rescue) scenario, I am not looking for truth or growth in my conversation with them. I am instead looking for that person to “rescue” me from this mean person (you) or what you said or did, and talk about you, saying “he was so mean … can you believe he treated me that way? What right does he have to tell me that, judge me like that?” or whatever else I might say to them about you. I am using that person to join me (agree with me and rescue me) in my hurt and anger about what you did or said. Said another way, I am getting that person to be “on my side” against you. I am looking for validation for my position, not resolution or growth.

Ever seen this happen? Say there is a meeting, topics are discussed, talked about, perspectives or feedback is given. Then, instead of saying what someone should say right there in the room to whomever they disagree with, the person waits and discusses it after the meeting, in what is referred to as “the meeting after the meeting.” They say what they would not say directly to someone, to their face, but say it to someone else “after the meeting.” So, they get the third person on their side, and never take the issue back to the room, with everyone there.

This is destructive for several reasons. First and foremost, as we said is the obvious point, the issue does not get addressed and is allowed to remain unsaid and thus unresolved. If I am mad at you, or hurt by you, or disagree with you, I (and you) really need me to talk directly to you in order to resolve it. That is the only way we are going to get to some resolution of the matter, hear each other out, gain understanding, receive the feedback or at least discuss it, or whatever is needed. Instead, it just festers, and goes into the darkness.

Second, I have now created division between you and the person I went to for rescuing. Now they have a very one-sided perspective about you and what you said or did, and I have biased them and did not properly represent you or your intent, or even whatever truth might have been in what you said. I might not tell them accurately the part I played in the problem as well. In essence, I have now turned them against you for my benefit.

Third, the original person might have actually been wrong, or hurtful, but because the “victim” did not talk to them directly, they never had a chance to own their behavior, use the feedback and change. Telling them directly might be the best thing that ever happened to them, but the “victim” went to the “rescuer” instead, and never gave them a chance.

Fourth, and maybe the worst, I now feel absolutely zero inclination or motivation to look at my part in the conflict, or the idea, or issue and ask how I might be wrong or could do better. The third person has “rescued” me from that possibility by agreeing with me about how bad you are instead. I am totally innocent, according to the rescuer, and have no impetus to examine myself. I am now “fixed” in my position, and even feeling more morally superior in the meantime.

This is so destructive. Not only do things not get resolved, but division happens. Divisiveness is probably the most destructive force in teams, companies, families, marriages, friendships and any other relational system. It not only prevents resolution, growth and forward movement, but worse, it makes problems worse by using one person against another and creating further splits throughout the team, family, organization or whatever.

This is how boards, teams, companies, marriages, circles of friends, extended families and other relational systems get sideways with each other, and ultimately often split or divide. The victim and the rescuer leave to form another company, or church, or organization. The spouse who feels they are not being treated well in the marriage, “victimized,” finds a listening, agreeable ear at the office or marketplace or social circle. Then that person makes them feel listened to and understood and agreed with in a way the “persecuting” spouse did not, and an affair begins. Or they are supported in thinking the other spouse is a bad person, and the divorce ensues. It happens all the time.

Then, predictably, sometime later the love dyad between the victim and the rescuer goes bad as well, as soon as one of them feels “victimized” by the other, and finds another rescuer. Because neither one of them has developed any more conflict resolution skills, they jump from relationship to relationship, job to job, business partner to business partner, church to church, community to community and so forth and so on. So, with one simple pattern, triangulation, they have managed to keep issues from getting resolved, turn people against each other, prevent individual growth and change, divide organizations and then infect other situations with that same pattern.

SOURCE:  Shantel Patu/The Gottman Institute

I watched as she stormed into the house. Peril, sheer peril, if you let her tell it.

She hadn’t noticed me reading, quietly in the corner, so she went about, slamming cabinets and drawers, then finally ending her assault on the kitchen by opening and staring into the fridge. I heard her mumble something about hating her job, her co-workers, her commute, and of course, her meager paycheck that she waited for each week. She was adorable.

I peered over my book and examined her. She was considered an average-sized person, about 5’7”, which was a giant to my 5’1” frame. She had these amazing, almond-shaped, bright brown eyes, which she was constantly complaining about the size and the color of, but to me and her father, they were gorgeous.

I looked at this amazing person that I had created, and the thing that stood out to me (besides her poked-out lip) was that she was now an adult. She looked over as if noticing me for the first time and asked, “What are you looking at, mom?” I couldn’t help but smile. All she needed to do next was stomp her left foot, and as if on command, she did. I chuckled as she morphed into my little girl. “Nothing,” I managed to say.

My adult daughter was now a 20-year-old college student. She drove herself everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. She bought her own food and was renting a small room from her best friend. She was by all accounts an adult. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but to still see her as my little girl.

Raising a child seems to be a lifetime psychological and physiological commitment that I signed in blood, the day she was born. I had no idea there would be so much obligation and yet I’ve gleefully devoted my life to this being. The ups and downs of parenting are definitely a challenge, but just wait until you get a load of the young adult shenanigans you get to parent through next.

Parenting has taught me and my husband a lot about ourselves, our relationship, and even about our ever-changing co-parenting styles. I remember when we first delved into the theatrical account of the Misadventures in Parenting, starring us. Our co-stars were two girls and two boys and we weren’t given a script, just pure improv. Our life featured an ambient abstract of “do’s and don’ts,” as we narrated through the whimsical and slightly wild adaptation of our own version of “This is Us,” not yet rated.

Over time, we discovered that our children were complex beings and that parenting is kind of like bartending: you add a lot of this, a bit of that, a touch of this, and eventually you find yourself drunk on the specialty of each of their individual brands. I can remember having to learn to understand my 5-year-old son’s Love Language and his different personality vices while woefully enjoying my 11-year-old’s new-found independence. It was an oxymoron of joys and tears. I can also remember saying prayers with my 4-year-old, then explaining God to my 6-year-old, while my 8-year-old listened and somehow empathized with Satan and felt he got a bad rap for getting kicked out of heaven, saying, “It’s too bad for him, mama, he doesn’t even say his prayers anymore.”

We, the parents, have so many roles that we didn’t know we were signing up for. So much was left out of the job description. And to do this job, with all of its expectations, we weren’t even given an Ikea-style instruction booklet. I have had to be a janitor and a maid (neither of which offers pay or benefits). Often times, I was called upon to be a nurse, a surgeon (I am magical with tweezers) and my favorite, a therapist. Parents always need an open ear or two. One for listening to a variety of woes and the other for listening out for a variety of mischief.

We’ve been cheerleaders, pep squads, coaches, and teachers. We’ve shown great prowess as a lawyer, judge, jury, and sometimes even the proverbial executioner (metaphorically speaking, of course). There were also the joyful titles of superhero and GOAT, greatest (parent) of all time. Yet, with all of these moving parts of parenting, they somehow missed including any of it in the birthing orientation.

I find that I’m really enjoying watching my children grow into adults that I can be proud of. I don’t even mind the new roles of ATM, auto mechanic, co-signer, organizer, and their forever therapist (janitor and maid still somehow keep being requested).

As parents, we are hard on ourselves and even harder on our parenting, but in the end, all we can really only hope for is that our children become thoughtful, caring, and loving adults.

Everything else is up to them to figure out. That’s what parenting adult children is all about, learning to watch them figure it out, and of course, waiting in the wings to swoop down like the superheroes that we are. And I see that now.

So regardless of how daunting the tasks, time, and commitment of parenting may seem, we do it to the best of our abilities and with little acknowledgment or appreciation for our sacrifices. Our hopes and dreams lie simply in seeds we planted in their little hearts to grow.

And then it happens. They finally grow up. And hopefully, they are able to leave our loving arms, in search for the means to wrap their loving arms around someone else and become parents themselves.

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