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

SOURCE:  Nicholas Hemming

Call out to God for peace and rest

After pulling into your driveway and gathering your belongings, you realize you lack the energy you need to stand up, walk to your front door and get on with your evening. So you drop your head on your steering wheel, hoping a 30-second nap will cure your ills. It doesn’t. Fifteen minutes later, you’re still in the car, wondering how your week spiraled out of control so quickly.

In the midst of your chaos—overwhelming work responsibilities, repairs to your house and car, logistics for your family—you’ve lost all sense of reason. That’s why you’re napping in the car. But what else can you do? You’re tired, frustrated, stressed and in desperate need of a vacation.

Does this sound familiar?

Maybe your family commitments recently ramped up and you’re struggling to stay afloat. Between keeping your house tidy, cooking at least two meals per day and driving your kids to and from soccer practice, you barely have enough energy to get to your office—let alone accomplish anything on your to-do list.

Or maybe you’ve endured a week when you haven’t seen eye to eye with anyone. You’ve argued with your boss, burned bridges with close friends and constantly fought with your spouse. You keep wondering if you’ve run into a stretch of bad luck or if you’ve simply felt more combative lately. Either way, you’re angry, exhausted and ready for the week to end.

In these moments, when you can’t seem to overcome your stress, you can turn to God’s Word for peace. And you can call out go God for rest. These four prayers will get you started:

Lord, I’m exhausted. Help me to find rest in you.

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11:28 (GNTD)

Lord, I’m frustrated. I so badly want to take a break, but I feel trapped by all my responsibilities. Give me your joy today.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13 (GNTD)

Lord, I know I’ve wronged my friends and family during this stressful week. Help me to approach them with humility.

Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another.Ephesians 4:2 (GNTD)

Lord, I constantly feel unsettled. I need your peace today.

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”John 14:27 (GNTD)

SOURCE:  Nicholas Hemming

When you’re about to lose it at work, call out to God for peace and hope.

With a yawn and a sigh, you grab your lunch, saunter out your front door and casually climb into your car. After years of enduring a miserable job, you’ve grown accustomed to dragging your feet. Why should you hurry?

When you arrive at your desk, you know exactly how the day will unfold. Your boss will walk by and ignore your existence. You’ll have at least two angry emails waiting for you. And your co-workers will give you a half-hearted grumble when you greet them. That’s just how things go in your workplace. And that’s why you drag your feet every morning.

Do you feel miserable at work?

Whether you can’t stand your daily responsibilities, work for a difficult boss or feel overworked and underpaid, the process of surviving a challenging job can feel suffocating. You’d love to start applying for new jobs. But the whole process—updating your resume, interviewing, trying to figure out if you want to relocate, starting over with a new boss—overwhelms you. So where can you turn?

In these moments, you can call out to God for peace and hope. And you can open your Bible and meditate on reminders of God’s presence with you. These three prayers will get you started:

Lord, I’m losing patience with my boss, my co-workers and my entire company. Fill me with your peace today.

You, Lord, give perfect peace to those who keep their purpose firm and put their trust in you.Isaiah 26:3 (GNTD)

Lord, I feel trapped in this place. When I’m here, I constantly feel agitated and annoyed. Fill me with your joy today.

Light shines on the righteous, and gladness on the good. All you that are righteous be glad because of what the Lord has done! Remember what the holy God has done, and give thanks to him.Psalm 97:11-12 (GNTD)

Lord, I need a job that better suits me. Fill me with your hope today.

May God, the source of hope, fill you with all joy and peace by means of your faith in him, so that your hope will continue to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:13 (GNTD)

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick

Often triggers and motive are treated as two distinct things, and there are differences. But those differences are more akin to two sides of the same coin than apples and oranges. In this post we’ll examine the things that trigger your sexual sin and the motives attached to those triggers.

As you identify the trigger-motive for your sexual sin, we also want you to begin to see how you are treating your sin like a friend, ally, refuge, etc. These insights are essential for repentance to make sense as a central part of change. Unless we see how our sin seeks to replace God in our life, then our need to be made right with God comes across as if God is unduly hung up about our sexuality.

Your struggle with sexual addiction doesn’t start with your behavior. It begins with what you want, what you live for. – David Powlison in Sexual Addiction (p. 6)

1. Boredom (Sin as My Joy)

When boredom is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin has become our joy. When there is a moment to be filled with something of our choosing, we pursue sin to fill the void rather than God or any of His legitimate pleasures. We begin to lose our appetite for godly pleasure like the child who eats sweets stops wanting healthy food. Even as they feel sluggish from the ups and downs of sugary “treats” they fail to connect this to their diet but go instead for another sugar high as the “obvious” solution.

Sex is not ultimate… Idols begin as good things to which we give too much importance, and few things slide over into idolatry with greater frequency or greater power than sex. We allow a good gift of God to supersede the God who gave it. Sex is good, even great, but it’s not ultimate. –Tim Challies in Sexual Detox (p. 61)

Read Nehemiah 8:9-12. God is a God of great joys and pleasure. Too often we view God as so serious that we believe “fun” must be in His opposite direction. When God called Israel to repentance through Nehemiah and Ezra, He asked them to express their repentance in celebration. If the motive of boredom leads you to sin, then allow this passage to challenge your view of God.

2. Loneliness (Sin as My Friend)

When loneliness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our “friend.” Sexual sin is always relational whether the relationship is fictional or physical, so it fits loneliness well. It’s as if our sin (a person, a chat room, or a video) calls to us, “Tell me your troubles.” We gladly pull up a chair and unload. As we do, talking to a real person or one who is not part of our sin becomes too risky. We now fear being judged or known by anyone but our “friend.”

It’s a perfect world that I can create. Things always go exactly my way. People do exactly what I want. I’m always on top. Fantasy is a great ego-feeder. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 19)

Read Proverbs 27:6. During sexual sin we write this proverb backwards. We believe, “Faithful are the kisses of any enemy; profuse are the wounds of a friend.” When sin reverses the roles of friend and enemy, it traps us until we return the right labels to the people in our lives. If the motive of loneliness leads you to sexual sin, then prayerfully examine who or what you call “friend.”

3. Stress (Sin as My Comforter)

When stress is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our comforter. We run to it, her, or him. Sin or our adultery partner makes things better (at least as long as it, she, or he remains hidden and keeps us to themselves). Yet the comfort takes on an addictive quality. The stress from which we are relieved is multiplied by the stress it, she, or he creates. This keeps us in a cycle of stress and returning to a primary source of stress for relief.

We crave intimacy at a relational level. We feel lonely. But we also fear intimacy. We’re not sure we can attain it or be vulnerable enough to handle it. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 47)

Read John 14:25-31. Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “the Helper” or “the Comforter” (v. 26) and as the source of peace–distinct from the world’s peace which always returns us to fear (v. 27). If a source of comfort doesn’t allow you to be more real with more people, then it isn’t true comfort. It’s a drug that numbs you before it makes you sick. If the motive of stress leads you to sexual sin, then examine whether your “comfort” is real or a form of relational self-medication.

4. Frustration (Sin as My Peace)

When frustration is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of peace. Sin is treated as an “oasis.” When this happens we label sin as our “safe place” as compared to the parts of life that are upsetting. This makes sin our friend and anyone or anything that opposes or interferes with our sin our enemy.

Read Romans 16:17-20 and I Thessalonians 5:22-24: Notice each of the passages refer to knowing the God of peace as the alternative to falling into temptations based upon deceitful desires. Where you turn for peace when you are frustrated is the determining variable of your character. Once you declare something or someone as the source of your peace, you will be loyal to and obey it.

5. Fatigue (Sin as My Source of Life)

When fatigue is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our source of life. We turn to sin as our boost to get through the day. The thought of our sin keeps us going when we feel like giving up. The adrenaline of sexual satisfaction (physical or romantic) becomes a drug we use to artificially stimulate ourselves–one we begin to wonder whether we could live without.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18: This passage uses many words that can be synonyms for or create fatigue: afflicted (v. 8), perplexed (v. 8), persecuted (v. 9), struck down (v. 9), and wasting away (v. 16). Fatigue can make you feel alone, and sexual sin becomes your life giving companion. Paul says that it’s only Christ who can be the life in us that counters the fatiguing death around us (v. 10-12). To doubt this truth reveals that we are believing (or at least listening attentively to) lies.

6. Hurt (Sin as My Refuge)

When hurt is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our refuge. In our moments of sinful escape we feel protected from life and a growing allegiance develops towards our sin. In actuality, our sexual sin provides as much protection as a child pulling the covers over his/her head. But in our moment of hurt, we appreciate even the pseudo-refuge of sin compared to the perceived absence of any other refuge.

Read Psalm 31: This Psalm alternates between a cry for help and a song of confidence. In this, the Psalm reveals the realness with which Scripture speaks to life. Sexual sin is a pseudo-refuge on demand. Even when we can’t have the sin, we can fantasize about his/her presence. However, the real refuge of God is available through the same type of prayerful-meditative exercise as our fantasy, but it’s actually able to deliver us through the guidance of Scripture, the presence of His Spirit, and the involvement of His people.

7. Betrayal (Sin as My Revenge)

When betrayal is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our revenge. We know how powerful betrayal is (especially sexual betrayal), so we decide to use its power for our purposes to avenge those who have hurt us. Blinded by pain we try to use pain to conquer pain but only multiply pain. We continue this potentially infinite domino train that pummels us with alternating experiences of betrayal’s pain and betraying’s shame in spite of knowing how it perpetuates pain.

Read Romans 12:17-21: It’s so tempting to read this passage as God “holding you back” from sweet relief and satisfaction. But, in reality, it is God “holding you back” from turning another’s betrayal into self-destruction. God is not removing vengeance. God is simply saying He is the only one who can handle its power without being overcome by it. Sin can never conquer sin; any more than oil can remove a stain from your clothes. It is foolish to believe your sexual sin could do what only Christ’s death on the cross could do–bring justice to injustice.

8. Bitterness (Sin as My Justice)

When bitterness is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our justice. If sin as revenge is fast and hot, then sin as justice is slow and cold. No longer are we seeking to hurt another by our actions; now we are merely nursing our wound. If we tried to explain our sin in words, we would have to say we believed our sin had some healing power. But because that seems foolish, we are more prone to just excuse our sin by the sin done to us.

Read Hebrews 12:15-17: In this passage a “root of bitterness” is directly linked to sexual sin (v. 16). When bitterness distorts our perspective we will trade things of great value (our integrity and/or family unity) for things of little value (a sexual release or fantasy briefly brought to life) like Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.

9. Opportunity (Sin as My Pleasure)

When opportunity is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pleasure. Often sexual sin requires no more trigger than time alone with a computer, a free moment to text, or an available member of the opposite sex to “talk” (i.e., flirt or allow to carry my burdens). When this is the case, sexual sin has become our default recreation–our preferred hobby. The more our sexual sin seeps into the common parts of life the more pervasive the lifestyle and heart changes necessary to root it out.

The reality is that often we dislike the shame and consequences of sin, but we still like the sin itself… That’s because porn is pleasurable. Let’s be honest about that. If we pretend otherwise, we’ll never fight it successfully. People like watching porn—otherwise they wouldn’t watch. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. They’re temporary. They’re dangerous. They’re empty pleasures, compared with the glory of God. But they are pleasures, nonetheless. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 15)

Read Philippians 3:17-21: Paul is addressing those whose “god is their belly” (v. 19). These are people whose basic appetites, the mundane parts of their life, were at odds with God. Paul wept at the thought of people in this condition (v. 18). Chances are they had become so comfortable serving their appetites that it would seem odd that Paul was crying for them and “radical” to change. If mere opportunity has become a primary trigger for you sin, let this passage shock you awake!

10. Rejection (Sin as My Comfort) 

When rejection is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our comfort. Our culture has made things done from a “fear of rejection” seem neutral–as if the defensive motive negated the badness of sin, or as if we become the victim of our own sin when we fear rejection. The problem with a fear of rejection is it makes us foolish. Only the fear of the Lord can make us wise (Prov. 1:7). When we react from a fear of rejection, we naturally seek the comfort of people rather than the comfort of God.

Once we understand that the primary goal of sexually addictive behavior is to avoid relational pain—essentially, to control life—we can begin to uncover the core problem (20)… Several tiers below the surface is a pervasive, integral force that demands the right to avoid pain and experience self-fulfillment. This self-centered energy is the very essence of what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ –Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy (p. 24)

Read Proverbs 29:25: Scripture calls the “fear of rejection” the “fear of man.” It’s not innocent because it replaces God as the One for whose approval we live. It is the values, character, and preferences of the one we fear that influence our decisions, emotions, morality, and instinctive responses. If rejection is your primary motive for sexual sin, allow this passage to challenge the orientation of your life.

11. Failure (Sin as My Success)

When failure is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our success. In the fantasy world of sexual sin (porn, romance media, or adultery), you always win. You get the girl. You are the beauty who is rescued. No part of real life can compete with the early success rate of sin. Sin pays up front and costs in the back. Real success costs up front and pays in the back. In healthy marriages, sacrifice is a primary part of the joy. As you give into sexual sin as a form of success, it will drive you to desire the kinds of successes that destroy a family. Even if the adultery relationship is made permanent, it will then become “real” enough that it will no longer play by your preferred rules of success.

Read Matthew 21:28-32: Why would the second son say, “I go, sir” and not do the assigned task (v. 30)? One potential reason is the fear of failure. Doubtless he would then view his father as upset with him and feel closer to someone who only asked of him what he wanted to do (i.e., porn, romantic media, or adultery partner). Using sexual sin as cheap success results in harming real relationships, lying, defensiveness towards being “judged,” and retreating to unhealthy or fictitious relationships. Rather than grading others by how they make you feel, repent of your fear of failure.

12. Success (Sin as My Reward)

When success is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our reward. Has your sexual sin become what you do when you need a break or what you have “earned” after completing something difficult? Has your sexual sin become the carrot you dangle in front of yourself in order to maintain motivation? When sin becomes our reward we feel cheated by repentance. God and anyone who speaks on His behalf becomes a kill-joy.

Read Hebrews 11:23-28: Moses faced a choice between which reward he believed would be most satisfying: the treasure of Egypt or the privilege of being God’s servant (v. 26). Sexual sin gives us a similar reward choice: easy treasure or humble servant. Unless Christ is our hero and God our admired Father, then the choice seems like a no-brainer in the direction of destruction.

13. Entitlement (Sin as My Deserved)

When entitlement is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes what we deserve. When you are confronted with your sexual sin, do you think or say, “How else am I going to get what I need… deserve… earned?” Can you see how sexual sin has become your measure for a “good day” and whether someone is “for” or “against” you? Are you willing to allow anyone other than Christ who died for the sin you are trying to squeeze life out of to be the measure of “good” in your life?

Read Jeremiah 6:15 and 8:12: The people of God had lost their ability to blush at sin. Why? One possible explanation (that can explain our inability to blush even if it doesn’t apply to them), is they believed they deserved their sin. When this happens, we believe we know better than God. We believe the unique features of our life trump the timeless truths of God’s created order. Our confidence to debate robs us of the humility necessary to blush.

14. Desire to Please (Sin as My Affirmation)

When the desire to please is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our affirmation. It’s easy to please a porn star or an adultery partner. They have a vested interest in being pleased. The entire relationship is based upon commerce (“the customer is always right”) or convenience (“if I am not pleasing to you, you have somewhere else to return”) rather than commitment (“I choose you unconditionally and faithfully in good times and in bad”). Too often sexual sin becomes a place of escape when we don’t feel like we can make everyone/anyone happy.

Read Ephesians 4:25-32: Notice the type of relational interaction described in these verses is incompatible with an overly strong desire to please others. We cannot live the life God called us to (regardless of whether we are sinning sexually or not) if our driving desire is the affirmation of others. Our conversation must be gracious and good for building up (v. 29), but that assumes we are willing to speak into areas of weakness with those we love.

15. Time of Day (Sin as Pacifier)

When time of day is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our pacifier. Do you use your sexual sin to help you sleep, get the day started, serve as a pick-me-up, fight boredom, or kill dead time? What are the common times of day or week when you struggle with sexual sin? When has your sexual sin become routine?

Read I Timothy 4:7-10: When you use sin as a pacifier you are training yourself for ungodliness (contra. v. 7). Often, because these occurrences happen during down times or transitions of our day, we view these occurrences of sin as less bad. We view them more like a child who is still sucking his/her fingers rather than a child who is defying a parent’s direct instruction. If disciplining ourselves for godliness means anything, it must be relevant when we feel undisciplined.

16. Location (Sin as My Escape)

When location is our trigger for sexual sin, then sin becomes our escape. The fantasy nature of all sexual sin makes it a perfect escape from an unpleasant location. We can “be there” and “not be there” at the same time. We get credit for attendance (or at least avoid the discredit of absence) without having to attend. We can mentally be with our lover while enduring the boring meeting, stressful kids, uninteresting spouse, lonely apartment, or other unpleasant setting.

Read Psalm 32: Notice the Psalm begins talking about an unpleasant place or time (v. 1-5). But rather than escaping, David ran to God (v. 7) and found the joy you are seeking through escape into sexual sin (v. 10-11). When we escape through sexual fantasy, we use our fantasy as a substitute God. We are, in effect, praying to and meditating on our sin during a time of hardship seeking deliverance.

17. Negative Self-Thoughts (Sin as My Silencer)

When negative self-thoughts are our trigger for sin, then sin becomes our silencer. In sexual fantasy (porn, romance media, or adultery partner), we are always desired and see ourselves through the eyes of the one desiring us. We give ourselves to them not just physically but also imaginatively. Because we know the relationship is short-lived we are willing to do this. If the relationship were permanent the power of silencing-effect would be diluted over the expanse of time and contradicted by our growing number of failures in his/her presence.

Read Psalm 103: Sin (or even a healthy human relationship) will never do  what only God can do. The ultimate “Peace, be still” to our negative self-thoughts is Christ’s death on the cross–affirming we were as bad as we thought, but replacing our deficiency with His righteousness. Sexual sin provides fantasy righteousness. It provides the kind of covering mocked in the classic children’s book The Emperor’s New Clothes.

18. Public (Sin as My Carnival)

When public is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our carnival. We walk through life like a kid at an amusement park; gawking at every person we see like a new ride or romantic adventure, making a clownish sexual innuendo out of every comment, or treating everything present as if it existed to entertain us and stimulate us sexually. Our private thoughts of fantasy become fueled by a hyper-sexualized interpretation of our surroundings.

The act of looking at porn is itself part of the succor it purports to offer. I can search for women who are available to me. I can choose between them like some sovereign being. It offers a sense of control. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 50)

Read Romans 1:24-25: Can you hear in the description of sex as my carnival what it means to have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (v. 25)”? God will give us over to this kind of lustful heart (v. 24). This is why a radical amputation of sin is a necessary and wise response to prevent sexual sin from becoming our carnival (Matt 5:27-30).

19. Weakness (Sin as My Power)

When weakness is our trigger to sexual sin, then sin becomes our power. The stimulation (both the physical and chemical changes associated with arousal) of sexual sin gives a façade of strength. Having another person delight in you also provides a veneer of significance. As with most of these motives/triggers, sex becomes a means to an end. Sex is no longer an expression of love but an attempt to gain something. That is always a recipe for dysfunctional, unsatisfying sex.

My pastor has preached that the primary issue in adultery is that you want someone else to worship you and serve you, to be at your beck and call. That resonated with me. I could see that theme in my fantasies. –Anonymous testimony in David Powlison’s Pornography: Slaying the Dragon (p. 15)

Read 2 Corinthians 11:30: Are you willing to boast (verbally put on public display) your weakness as a way to make Christ more known and live in more authentic relationships? That is the only freedom that will allow you to enduringly enjoy what you are seeking in sexual sin. If that sounds backwards to you, read what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians (1:20-25) and ask yourself if your “wisdom” is getting you closer or farther from where you want to be.

Identifying Your Triggers

List and rank the top five motives/triggers for your sexual sin.

  1. __________________________________________________
  2. __________________________________________________
  3. __________________________________________________
  4. __________________________________________________
  5. __________________________________________________

Porn is always about a symptom of deeper issues. It’s about lust, but it’s also about anger, intimacy, control, fear, escape, and so on. Many of these problems will show up in other areas of a person’s life. –Tim Chester in Closing the Window (p. 109)

For some people the motive for their sexual sin will be very self-evident. Maybe you could quickly pick out the motive-triggers that deceive you into believing sin is “worth it” or will “work out” this time. For others, it requires reflection in the moment of temptation to discern what is luring them. If this is you, here’s a journaling tool from the False Love: Overcoming Sexual Sin from Pornography to Adultery seminar that is designed to help you understand your motives.

When we understand the motive for our sin, it allows us to hear the empty promises sin makes so we can turn to our loving Heavenly Father who is willing and able to fulfill those promises. I hope this post has helped you see the emptiness of sin so that you are prepared to embrace the fullness of God in the gospel.

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

SOURCE:  Helena Negru/Lifehack

Parents want nothing more than to see childhood remain a time of carefree wonder and joy for their children, an age of innocence wherein the troubles of the wider world are kept at a safe distance by caring adult oversight.

As such, the parents who have anxious children are faced with a difficult dilemma: How do they protect their children from the multitude of relatively “normal” activities (e.g. going to school, socializing with friends) that provoke anxiety and fear while also ensuring that they experience life fully and develop properly? How do they help their child manage anxiety?

There are no easy answers to the above question. Psychologist Tali Shenfield, PhD suggests that parents first evaluate the level of child’s anxiety with a free child anxiety screening test and then, depending on test results, use the following anxiety management strategies:

1. An “empathy first” approach

When most parents hear their child expressing irrational fears, their first response is to assure their child that, logically, there is nothing to worry about. While this act is well-intentioned, it’s usually ineffective; the brain of any anxious individual – young or old – is too engaged in the “fight or flight” response (wherein activity in the prefrontal cortex, the “logical” part of the brain, is suppressed) to properly process new information.

What an anxious child therefore really needs is a parent who simply feels with him- one who pauses with him, joins him in taking a few deep breaths, and then validates his emotions as being acceptable.

Once you have empathized with your child and he has visibly calmed down, then and only then should you look for possible solutions. Do this while engaging your child: Ask him what he thinks would help him to feel better and overcome his fears.

2. Avoid making your child feel like a problem to be fixed

Children – even children without chronic anxiety – frequently struggle with fears of being “different” from their peers or unacceptable to their parents. If your child feels like his anxiety means something is “wrong” with him, his issues with worry will only increase as he will be plagued by constant self-doubt.

To prevent the above from happening, avoid labelling your child (i.e. don’t call him an “anxious person” or a “worrier”); instead, explain to him fear’s historically beneficial role in protecting us from harm (i.e. our instincts once helped us to avoid predators in the wild).

Ideally, you should teach your child to see worry like a tool: It’s useful in some situations, but in others, our brains are simply reacting to “false alarms” due to instinct. Tell your child that it’s possible to learn a few simple methods for recognizing these false alarms and for dealing with them effectively.

3. Consider using play to help your child understand his anxiety

Role playing exercises, such as having your child create a character which embodies his worry, can help your child learn how to dismantle his anxieties. Use a toy (such as a doll or stuffed animal) to represent the character your child creates, then you and your child can sit together and practice talking the character out of his misplaced fears. Make sure that every time the character succeeds in overcoming his anxiety during the stories created for him, he ends up with a “happy ending” as a result.

4. Teach your child how to centre himself in reality

Our fears have a way of distorting reality, making situations appear much scarier than they actually are. To help your child overcome the mind’s innate tendency to exaggerate objects of worry, teach him to:

  1. Recognize worried thoughts as they happen. Visualization is useful here: Tell your child to imagine thoughts floating above his head in “thought bubbles,” then ask him to practice catching the fearful thoughts as they pop up.
  1. Deconstruct the thoughts he catches using factual evidence. Emphasize to your child that feelings are not facts. When faced with a worry, tell your child that he should weigh up factual evidence for and against what his mind is telling him (for example, if he fears failing a test, he should review the many times he has passed tests over the years and remind himself that he has studied thoroughly, making failure unlikely).
  1. Debate with his thoughts (if necessary). Using the facts he has just gathered, you child can debate with the worried thoughts his mind is producing until he eventually wins and overcomes them.

5. Allow your child to worry

The more your child feels as though he should be able to simply shove his worries away, the more he will believe he is somehow failing when he cannot. You should therefore avoid saying things like, “There’s no reason to be afraid” and instead encourage your child to express his worries.

Creating a “worry diary” is an excellent strategy for getting your child to vent what’s bothering him; have him spend 15 minutes a day writing down any worry that is weighing on him – no matter how small – and allow him to share those worries with you if he wishes. At the end of the 15 minutes, have him literally close the book on his worries and set them aside.

6. Affirm the importance of remaining in the present moment

Like anxious adults, anxious children spend a lot of time preoccupied with “what ifs.” Instruct your child to try to catch his “what if” thoughts and replace them with “what is” thoughts. For example, if he’s thinking, “What if my new friend stops liking me?” he should pause, focus on nothing but his breath for a few moments, then look around and take in “what is”: The sun shining as he waits for the bus, the sound of the birds in the trees, the feeling of the warm air.

Intentionally returning one’s focus to the present in this way (by focusing on sensory perceptions) is a form of Mindfulness, a popular therapeutic practice which has been repeatedly shown to lessen anxiety.

7. Help your child take “baby steps” in order to overcome fearful situations

It is usually impossible – and always unhelpful – for an anxious individual to avoid everything that is causing him anxiety. Instead, your child should try the “ladder” approach: Overcoming fearful situations by working up to them in a succession of small steps.

If your child is afraid of dogs, for instance, have him start by observing a familiar dog (one that belongs to a friend, for example) from a distance, then have him walk closer to the dog while it’s safely leashed, then have him try to pet the dog while another person is still holding the leash, and then finally, let him interact with the dog briefly while it’s off its leash. If this process is repeated a few times with a few different friendly dogs, your child will likely overcome his terror.

8. Have your child create a “calm down” checklist

Ask your child to write down a series of steps to take when he needs to calm down (e.g. pause, breathe deeply, count to ten, evaluate the facts of the situation, etc.), so that he has something clear to refer to when he begins to feel panicky and confused. Make sure that your child carries a copy of this checklist with him until he memorizes the steps.

9. Don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety

Many parents of anxious children wonder if they have somehow “caused” their child to become excessively fearful, but this is usually not the case: Genetics and environmental factors over which parents have limited control (bullying at school, for example, or a traumatic accident) often lie at the root of childhood anxiety – not “bad parenting.”

It’s important to avoid blaming yourself for your child’s anxiety; the more you do so, the more emotional you will become about the situation and the less able you will be to help your child stay calm (your own worry will eventually cause you to become reactive, which will affirm your child’s idea that there is something to be afraid of). Instead, see yourself as your child’s ally, a member of his team as he fights against anxiety.

Remember, being compassionate to yourself, as well as to your child, is essential when creating a calm, loving, and healthy home for your whole family. If you find yourself struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety, don’t go it alone – seek the aid of friends, family members, and if necessary, a mental health professional. With the right support, you and your child can triumph over irrational fears and live full, happy lives.

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick/CareLeader

“Pastor, should I take psychiatric meds?”

Let’s begin this discussion by placing the question in the correct category—whether an individual chooses to use psychotropic medication in his struggle with mental illness is a wisdom decision, not a moral decision. If someone is thinking, “Would it be bad for me to consider medication? Is it a sign of weak faith? Am I taking a shortcut in my walk with God?” then he is asking important questions (the potential use of medication) but placing them in the wrong category (morality instead of wisdom).

 Better questions would be:
  • How do I determine if medication would be a good fit for me and my struggle?
  • What types of relief should I expect medication to provide, and what responsibilities would I still bear?
  • How would I determine if the relief I’m receiving warrants the side effects I may experience?
  • How do I determine the initial length of time I should be on medication?

In order to answer these kinds of questions, I would recommend a six-step process. This process will, in most cases, take six months or more to complete. But it often takes many months for doctors and patients to arrive at the most effective medication option, so this process does not elongate the normal duration of finding satisfactory medical treatment.

Having an intentional process is much more effective than making reactionary choices when the emotional pain (getting on medication) or unpleasant side effects (getting off medication) push a person to “just want to do something different.” With a process in place, it is much more likely that what is done will provide the necessary information to make important decisions about the continuation or cessation of medication.

Preface: This six-step process assumes that the individual considering medication is not a threat to self or others, and is capable of fulfilling basic life responsibilities related to personal care, family, school, and work. If this is not the case, then a more prompt medical intervention or residential care would be warranted.

If you are unsure how well your church member is functioning, then encourage him to begin with a medical consultation or counseling relationship. If he would like more time with his doctor than a diagnostic and prescription visit, suggest that he ask the receptionist if he can schedule an extended time with the physician for consultation on his symptoms and options.

Step 1: Assess life and struggle

Most struggles known as mental illness do not have a body-fluid test (i.e., blood, saliva, or urine) to verify their presence. We do not know a “normal range” for neurotransmitters like we do for cholesterol. The activity of the brain is too dynamic to make this kind of simple number test easy to obtain. Gaining neurological fluid samples would be highly intrusive and more traumatic than the information would be beneficial. Brain scans are not currently cost-effective for this kind of medical screening and cannot yet give us the neurotransmitter differentiation we would need.

For these reasons, the diagnosis for whether a mental illness has a biological cause is currently a diagnosis-by-elimination in most cases. However, an important part of your church member’s initial assessment should be a visit to his primary care physician. Encourage your church member to:

  • Clearly describe the struggles/symptoms he is experiencing.
  • Describe when each struggle/symptom began.
  • Describe the current severity of each struggle/symptom and how it developed.

As the person prepares for this medical visit, it would be important for him to also consider:

  • What important life events, transitions, or stressors occurred around the time his struggle began?
  • What is the level of life-interference he is experiencing as a result of his struggle?
  • What lifestyle or relational changes would significantly impact the struggle that he’s facing?

Step 2: Make needed nonmedical changes

Medication will never make us healthier than our current choices allow. Our lifestyle is the “ceiling” for our mental health; we will never be sustainably happier than our beliefs and choices allow. Medication can correct some biological causes and diminish the impact of environmental causes to our struggles. But medication cannot raise one’s mental health potential above what that person’s lifestyle allows.

Too often people want medication to make over their unhealthy life choices in the same way they expect a multivitamin to transform an unhealthy diet. They assume that the first step toward feeling better is receiving a diagnosis and prescription. This may be the case, and there is no shame if it is, but it need not be the guiding assumption.

Encourage your church member to look at the lifestyle, beliefs, and relational changes that his assessment in step 1 would require. If there are choices he could make to reduce the intensity of his struggle, is he willing to make them? Undoubtedly these changes will be hard, or he would have already done so. But let him know that they are essential if he wants to use medication wisely.

As your church member identifies these changes, he should assess the areas of sleep, diet, and exercise. Sleep is vital to the replenishing of the brain. Diet is the beginning of brain chemistry—our body can create neurotransmitters only from the nutrition we provide it. Exercise, particularly cardiovascular, has many benefits for countering the biological stress response (a primary contributor to poor mental health). The first “prescription” should be eight hours of sleep, a balanced diet high in antioxidants, and cardiovascular exercise for at least thirty minutes three days a week.

A key indicator of whether your church member is using psychotropic medication wisely is whether he is using medication (a) as a tool to assist him in making needed lifestyle and relational changes, or (b) as an alternative to having to make these changes. Option A is wise. Option B results in overmedication or feeling like “medication didn’t work either” as he continually tries to compensate medically for the volitional neglect of his mental health.

Step 3: Determine the nonmedicated baseline for mood and life functioning

This is an important, and often neglected, step. Any medication is going to have side effects. The most frequent reason people stop taking psychotropic medications, other than cost, is because of their side effects.

If your church member is not careful, he will merely want to feel better than he does “now.” Initially “now” will be how he feels without medication. Later “now” will be how he feels with medication’s side effects. In order to avoid this unending cycle, there needs to be a baseline of how he feels when he lives optimally off of medication.

One of the reasons postulated for why placebos often have as beneficial an effect as psychotropic medication is the absence of side effects. Those who take a placebo get all the benefits of hope (doing something they expect to improve their life) without any unpleasant side effects. Getting the baseline measurement of how life goes when one simply practices “good mental hygiene” is an important way to account for this effect.

“As I practice medicine these days, my first question when a patient comes with a new problem is not what new disease he has. Now I wonder what side effects he is having and which drug is causing it,” says Charles D. Hodges, MD, in his book Good Mood Bad Mood.

There is another often overlooked benefit of step 3. Frequently people get serious about living more healthily at the same time life has gotten hard enough to begin taking medication. This introduces two interventions (medication and new life practices), maybe three or four (often people also begin counseling or being more open with friends who offer care and support), at the same time. It becomes very difficult to discern which intervention accounts for their improvements.

Writing out his answers to the following questions will help your church member discern if he needs to move on to step 4 and make the needed assessment in step 5.

  • What were the struggles that initially made me think I might benefit from medication?
  • How intense were these struggles, and how did they manifest themselves?
  • What changes did I make in my lifestyle and relationships to alleviate these struggles?
  • How effective was I at being able to make the needed changes?
  • How much relief did the lifestyle and relational changes provide for my struggles?
  • How do I anticipate medication would assist me in being more effective at these changes?

Step 4: Begin a medication trial

If your church member’s struggles persist to a degree that is impairing his day-to-day functioning, then you should encourage him to seek out a psychiatrist or other physician for advisement about medical options. In this conversation, he should consider asking the physician the following questions:

  • What are the different medication options available for the struggle I’m facing?
  • What does each medication do that impacts this struggle?
  • What are the most common side effects for each medication?
  • How long does it take this medication before it is in full effect?
  • If I choose to come off this medication, what is the process for doing so?
  • What have been the most common affirmations and complaints of other patients on this medication?

These questions should help him work with his doctor to determine which medication would be best for him. Remind your church member that he has a voice in this process and should seek to be an informed consumer with his medical treatment, in the same way he would for any other product or service.

In this consultation your church member will also want to decide upon the initial period of time to remain on the medication (unless he experiences a significant side effect from it). In determining this length of time, he would want to consider:

  • His physician or psychiatrist will make recommendations based upon additional factors (beyond the scope of this article)
  • Staying on the medication a minimum of at least twice the length of time it takes to reach its full effect
  • Significant life stressors that would predictably arise during this trial period (e.g., planning a wedding)
  • How long it would take to make and solidify changes that were difficult to make without medication (see step 3)

Once this set period of time is determined, your church member’s goal is to continue implementing the changes he began in step 3 while monitoring (a) the level of progress in his area of struggle and (b) any side effects from the medication.

Step 5: Assess level of progress against medication side effects

Near the end of the trial period, your church member should return to the life assessment questions he answered at the end of step 3. He should compare his ability to enjoy and engage life at this point with his answers then. The questions to ask are:

  • What benefits have I seen while on medication?
  • What side effects have I experienced?
  • Is there reason to believe my continued improvement is contingent upon my continued use of medication?
  • Are the side effects of medication worth the benefit it provides?

The more specific he was in his answers at the end of step 3, the easier it will be for him to evaluate his experience at the end of step 5. At this point, encourage him to try to be neither pro-medication nor anti-medication. His goal is to live as full and enjoyable a life as possible. It is neither better nor worse if medication is part of that optimal life.

Step 6: Determine whether to remain on medication

At this point in the process there are several options available to the individual; this is more than a yes/no decision. But any option should be decided in consultation with the prescribing physician or psychiatrist. Your church member can decide to:

  • Remain on medication because the effects are beneficial and the side effects are minimal or worth it.
  • Opt to stage off the medication because the benefits were minimal or the side effects were worse than the benefits.
  • Stage off the medication to see if the progress he made can be maintained without medication, knowing that if not, he is free to resume the medication without any sense of failure.
  • Opt to try a different medication for another set period of time based on what he learned from the initial experience.

Regardless of what he chooses, by following this process he can have the assurance that he is making an informed decision about what is the best choice for him.

SOURCE:  Tim Lane/CareLeader

Surprising ways worry affects your people

Any quick search on Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know: worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe a person’s worrying is. Most of the people in your church can probably identify many of these anxiety-producing experiences.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way people in your congregation are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on one’s overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word worry comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word anxiety is of Indo-Germanic origin, referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience life-debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions.

What would the doctor say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest, and some kind of meditation is a proven help to the person  struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that you could share with those imprisoned by worry?

While these things are important, the people in your church also need to know how to connect to God when worries come. We all need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must undergird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What would Jesus say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where He encouraged people not to worry, He did so with compassion because He knew firsthand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, He spoke these encouraging words to anxious people: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but His command is one of encouragement, not shame.

Here are a few simple but profound phrases and truths based upon that passage that you can share with those in your congregation.

Do not be afraid …

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and He gets right to the point because He loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word worry that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of His teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).

Little flock …

Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words:little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, He speaks to you as one who belongs to Him, whom He is shepherding and for whom He laid down His life. You are unimaginably dear to Him and loved by Him. You are one of His sheep. Be reassured—He cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget Him and His care and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of His flock.

For your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom …

Your Father is not only going to care for you now, He is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now, because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, encourage those in your congregation to allow the truth of God’s care for them to work its way into their daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When we begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, we may find that our tendency to worry will lessen and our response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

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