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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

They Call it Narcissism

SOURCE:  /CCEF

It is always their “birthday.”

Today, tomorrow, and the next day are dedicated to their interests and desires, so don’t expect that you will be known or understood. No empathy here. No room for guilt either. If you interfere with the party, expect to receive their anger. That anger might come at you as a bully who wants power and control or one who doesn’t even have time for you, so they turn away. Expect lasting grudges. Perhaps, if you are penitent, you might be able to get back into an orbit that surrounds them but they will not move towards you in return.

It is always their birthday, but they never seem to grow up.

There are different versions of this self-absorbed style, commonly called narcissism. They are all maddening. Some are dangerous. And this very real problem is worth much more time than I will give it here.

As a catalyst for thought, I read Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary¹. Though not a Christian book, I was helped by her kindness and insight, and she actually rekindled my interest in engaging those who fit the narcissist description. Rather than review the book, I will identify a few of the points that helped me rethink how to love those who show this level of entitled self-interest.

Say “no” to your angerYour anger will not help you or the self-absorbed person. If you expect the other person to actually be moved by your anger and change—you will be disappointed. In fact, your anger will be interpreted as further evidence that you are the problem. Instead, you need a calm and measured engagement that invites discussion.

If you are feeling great pain and rejection from the narcissist’s predictable outbursts, you also will be unhelpful, unless you are able to seek the good in that person, even in the midst of your pain. We believe God gives grace for this, and we expect that our own growth here will be hard fought.

Somehow, people who fit the narcissist description can make fools of us all in that they know how to irritate us and we begin to act like them. Instead, conversation will be more productive if there is at least one thoughtful person in the room.

See the other person as a child. I have found this helpful; it limits my expectations. It’s similar to how I view people who have a long-term history of addiction: the addiction essentially shields from the challenges of life that mature us, and the addict is easier to understand as a twelve-year-old rather than a forty-year-old. Though this could be an affront to most children, the image fits more than it doesn’t. The benefit is that you will be more patient with the person if your expectations have been adjusted.

Practice your own empathy skills. Empathy is the ability to step into someone’s world in a way that the person feels understood. It is not approval of that world, but it is an understanding of it. An apparent absence of empathy is what is most difficult about narcissist-types. They do not understand either your world or their own. In response, we redouble our efforts to grow in empathy, to which there are so many ingredients. Here are three:

  • Know their story. When someone is hard for us to understand, it is helpful to know something of the culture of their family. With narcissism, we might find a history of being spoiled or deprived, or parents who were preoccupied in their own selfish worlds and never affected by the good deeds of their children.

Don’t expect such discussions to help the person directly though. Those who lack insight are rarely enlightened by their past. More often, they see past hurts as no big deal and resist our attempts to suggest long-term patterns. But these insights encourage our own patience and kindness.

  • Assume that they are normal human beings. Amid all the boasting, entitlement, and “I don’t need you or anybody else,” expect to find people who would like relationship but act in ways that push people away (which confirms to them that they can never really have relationship). Expect people who fear failure and, in response, blame others when things go wrong. Expect people who don’t know how to deal with or express their struggles. This all comes out as meanness and covert behaviors. Sometimes addiction becomes a way to ward off the discomfort within. Expect people who are alone and living on that unsettling ground of the opinions of others.
  • Look for good. When someone is demanding or showing off their greatness for our affirmation, it is hard to offer anything good. But empathy looks for the good. If someone is often talking about their achievements, look for “unadorned” good such as an inadvertent interest in another or other kindness you notice. After hearing someone’s complaints about how the world is not serving them as it should . . . Sometimes it is hard to find the good, but if you pray for love that sees the good, you will see some good.

Among the helpful features of Behary’s book were words that someone could speak, which bring together empathy and wisdom. Here is a response by a wife, spoken with preternatural calm, to her fuming husband (not me, a different Ed).

“You know, Ed, I don’t believe a word of that. It’s not that I think you are lying. It’s just that I know you, and I know how difficult it can be for you to tell me that you miss me. When I’m distracted, like this week, you often feel as if you are unimportant to me. I can understand how upsetting that must be for you. But there is no need to put me down or blame my job. You aren’t giving me a chance to care about you when you speak to me that way . . . I’d like to start the conversation over. How about you?” (pp.158-159).

To speak to a self-absorbed person like this might not bring instant repentance, but you might have helped.

I am raising a number of issues and questions in this brief reflection. How do we help self-absorbed people? How do we help their family and remaining friends? And how might we be helped by secular literature? Secular literature is most helpful when its descriptions of difficult-to-understand behaviors are coupled with years of experience and when its practical suggestions come close to the wisdom and love we find in Scripture. With the behaviors that are called narcissistic, we know that the Spirit can change us and teach us more about how to love wisely, and we invite all comers to give their ideas on ways to love.

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¹Wendy T. Behary, Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed, Second Edition, New Harbinger, Oakland CA, 2013.

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You’re Not Allowed to Complain About Not Getting What You Didn’t Ask For

SOURCE:  Angilyn Bagley/The Gottman Institute

You’ve probably done this before.

You come home from a long day at work, and nothing sounds better to you than a nice back scratch.

You snuggle up to your partner so that their hands are placed perfectly on your back. You roll your shoulders in a motion that universally signals, “scratch my back.” But they don’t get the hint.

Slightly frustrated, but not yet defeated, you position yourself behind them and start scratching their back. As soon as you’re finished, they turn to you and say, “Gee…thanks, honey. That was sure sweet of you.”

And then…nothing. They don’t return the favor.

Wait…what?

You roll over feeling hurt and resentful. They broke the #1 rule every logical person should know! If someone scratches your back, you must scratch theirs!

I mean, what rock have they been living under? Back scratching isn’t the only area where we see this kind of nonverbal agreement that shouldn’t even have to be spoken and everyone should just know.

For example:

  • If you buy your wife flowers and chocolate, she’ll want to have sex with you, right?
  • If you spend the evening making a delicious dinner for your partner, they’re bound to help you with the dishes, right?
  • If you bat your eyelashes, turn around three times, and put the green mug on the bathroom counter, your partner should automatically know that you want them to put the kids to bed, right?

Is this starting to sound a bit ridiculous? Well, that’s because it is. Unless you married Mel Gibson in the movie What Women Want, chances are very high that your spouse can’t read your mind.

You have to ask for what you need

Why is it so hard to ask for what you want? Like, with spoken and specific words—not just unspoken signals or secret codes?

One evening, I was babysitting my sister’s adorable two-year-old girl. It was time for her to go to bed, and I was helping her to put on her jammies.

“I want the purple ones.”

“No problem! Purple jammies it is!”

“Read stories.”

“Alright, let’s read a book!”

After we read of few of her favorites, which she had no hesitation pointing out to me, I placed her in her crib to go to sleep. She immediately grabbed my arm and said, “Ang-uh-winn sing song?” in her adorable voice.

My heart melted at the sound of her trying to say my name.

As I started singing her a lullaby she said, “Scratch my back?”

I started scratching her back while singing her a song, and it wasn’t too long before she fell asleep.

That little girl, at two years old, let me know exactly what she wanted from me in order to go to sleep peacefully. She set me up for success by expressing her needsin a clear and positive way so that I could fulfill them.

But what happens when we get older?

Sadly, the older my niece gets, people won’t be so kind or willing when she asks them what she wants. She might ask someone to scratch her back and they’ll tell her, “No.”

In fact, people might start telling her that asking for what she wants is selfish or rude.

There may come a time when she thinks to herself, “It’s best if I just keep quiet.”

There was a time in your life when this happened to you, too. You asked for something you wanted and got rejected. You learned how bad it can hurt when someone willfully dismisses your request, especially if it’s important to you.

You learned that it can be scary to ask for what you want, and that makes you vulnerable to let someone in on your hopes and desires.

No wonder it’s hard to ask for what you want! The second a request leaves your mouth, it’s up to the other person to decide whether or not to grant that request. It’s out of your control.

And who likes to feel out of control?

Instead, you keep your mouth shut. If your partner doesn’t pick up on your subtle clues, at least you don’t have to admit that it was something you wanted in the first place. Instead, you’re just secretly angry at them while they wonder what they did wrong.

Though it softens the blow of the rejection when you don’t speak up about what you need, it also doesn’t leave you any less resentful over not getting what you want.

Plus, it practically guarantees that you WON’T get what you want.

This habit is so ingrained in our society that you may be doing it without even realizing it. Let’s say you want help with the dishes, but you don’t say anything, and your partner is sitting on the couch watching TV.

How dare he sit while there are dishes to be done! You can feel your anger bubbling up inside you.

Without saying anything, you make sure to clank the dishes loudly, slam some cupboards while you put them away, sigh really loud and hope that he gets the hint that you’d really like some help.

And you think that you shouldn’t have to ask—he should just know!

Does this sound familiar to you?

What would be a better alternative to secret cues, signals, and non-verbal agreements that leave us disappointed and set our partners up for failure?

Simple. Learn to ask for what you want!

Use your words, and use them well

Nate and I have a motto in our marriage that came from Terry Real’s book, The New Rules of Marriage.

“You have no right to complain about not getting what you never asked for.”

Let that soak in for just a second.

You are not allowed to complain about not getting something that you never asked for. Period.

The next time you get angry about your partner not doing something, I want you to ask yourself, “Did I verbally ask them to do this?”

Now, there are many ways to ask for something that you want, and let’s just say that some ways work better than others. Let’s go back to the dishes example and look at a few of your options.

“I’m always cooking you dinner and you never help me with the dishes. You always just sit there in front of the TV while I do it? Why don’t you help me for a change?”

Woof. Using words like “always” or “never” is a surefire way of putting your spouse on the defense. This example of asking isn’t really asking at all. It’s criticizing your partner, and heavily so. This puts all the attention on how they’re the bad guy, instead of choosing to be vulnerable and respectfully expressing what you really want.

I can see this turning into a never-ending argument of, “Oh yeah? Well, you always do this, and you never do that,” going back and forth until the dishes get moldy and you forget about them entirely.

“Maybe, you know, you could help me with the dishes, if you want.”

Or, “If you have time, if it’s convenient for you, maybe you could try and help me with the dishes?”

Or even more classic, “Do you want to help me with the dishes, or would you rather just watch TV?”

These are all different ways of saying the same thing. In this situation, you are not expressing what you want. Instead, you are implying with your request that it is actually your partner that wants it, that it’s actually their idea. It takes the pressure off of you, and it puts the blame on them for not fulfilling a promise they never made.

This reminds me of a time we were helping with a social gathering at a neighbor’s house. Nate was in charge of putting out the snacks. He had left them in their original plastic container and just set them on the table.

The host of the party came to the snack table, turned to Nate, and in that passive-aggressive sing-song voice we all know said, “Do you want to put these treats on a separate platter?”

Nate replied, “No, I think they are fine in the plastic.”

She looked at him like he had just slapped her in the face.

He quickly realized his error and said, “I mean, yeah, of course I want to put them on a separate platter. There’s nothing more in this world that I want than to have these treats on a platter!”

It was awkward.

The answer to the question she asked him was, indeed, “No.”

No, he didn’t want to put them on a separate platter. He didn’t see the need to do so.

But, that wasn’t the question she was really asking, was it?

Can you see how it would have been so much easier if she had just said, “Hey, I’d love it if you put these on a separate platter so that it looks nicer for the guests.” Nate would have known exactly what she wanted and would have happily fulfilled her request.

“Can you please help me with the dishes?”

This example is better than the first two, and it’s a good place to start. Saying “please” is wonderful, respectful, and it makes it much easier for your spouse to want to help.

However, the request falls a little, well, flat. It doesn’t get across how much it would mean to you to receive that help you are asking for.

I can see getting a response like, “Sure honey, just let me finish this game first.” or “How about we just do them in the morning?”

There’s still too much room for failure with this example. You’ll need to communicate why you need the help, or how it’s important to you to receive help from your partner.

“Honey, I’d love some help with the dishes. I worked hard on making dinner tonight and I’d appreciate it if you helped clean up. Can we do the dishes together? It would really make me feel loved.”

This hits the nail on the head. First, you make your desire known—you’d really love some help with the dishes.

Second, you tell them why you’d like help with the dishes—because you worked really hard on dinner!

You give your partner clear expectations on when you’d like it done—right now.

And lastly, you tell them what it would do for you if they granted your request—it would help you feel loved.

How to set your partner (and you) up for success

Can you see why this would make it much easier for your spouse to say yes to your request? You’re giving them everything they need to give you what you need. You’re setting them up for success!

I’m not saying this will always get you what you want, but it definitely won’t hurt your cause. Notice that I said, “Learn to ask for what you want,” not just, “Ask for what you want.”

It takes practice, and it takes trial and error. Give yourself permission to be bad at it at first.

It might feel super uncomfortable or awkward in the beginning. You might stumble over your words or they’ll come out wrong. Let yourself sit with that discomfort. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up. Keep trying.

Mastering the skill of asking for what you want effectively, efficiently, and respectfully is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your partner.

How Some People Get Stuck in the Same Toxic Patterns

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

In my work as a clinician, a leadership consultant, and a fellow sojourner, I have found something to be true: in both our personal and professional lives, it is often the exact same issues that can hold us back, or even derail us. Find a control freak at home, and chances are that their co-workers have the same complaints that the spouse has. Or, if someone is an enabler in their love life, they are also a boss who doesn’t confront poor performance. In short, we usually don’t have personal issues vs. work issues. What we really have are “me” issues. And they show up wherever we are.

In both the personal and professional life, there are times when reality dictates that a person must stand up and “end” something. Either its time has passed, its season is over, or worse, continuing it would be destructive in some way. The situation requires someone to:

• Fire an employee who should be fired
• End a dating relationship that is not going to go where they need to go
• Shut down a product line or a business unit
• Get out of social ties and activities whose “season has passed”
• Letting go of a dream that is not going to materialize and moving on
• Leave a job or a career that they know is not right, or is even toxic for them
• End a marriage with repeated unfaithfulness that is not changing
• Admit that something is failing and waving the white flag
• Unplug from toxic friendships or family ties
• Give up on an addict who does not want to change

But too many times, with clear evidence staring them in the face, people find it difficult to pull the trigger. Why is that?

The reasons are varied, but understandable, especially in light of developmental psychology, our understanding of trauma, and cognitive mapping. Some people’s developmental path has not equipped them to stand up and let go of something. For example, if they did not develop what psychologists refer to as secure attachment or emotional object constancy, the separation and loss that ending a relationship triggers for them is too much, so they avoid it. In addition, in their development they may not have been taught the skills to confront situations like these.

Or, if they have had traumatic losses in life, another ending represents a replay of those, and they shy away or frantically try to mend whatever is wrong, way past reason. Or they have internal maps that tell them that ending something is “mean” or will cause someone harm. In any case, fears dominate their functioning, and they find themselves unable to do a “necessary ending.” See if you can relate to any of these fears or inabilities that can cause people to hang on or stay somewhere too long:

• You can’t tell if an ending is actually necessary, or if “it” or “he” is fixable
• Being afraid of the loss and the sadness
• Fearing the confrontation
• Fearing the unknown
• Lacking the skills to execute the ending
• You lack the right words to use
• You fear hurting the person
• You have had too many painful endings in your personal history and don’t want another one
• You’ve blown endings before, and don’t want to repeat it one more time

Probably all of us can relate to something on that list. But even so, here is the issue: endings are necessary. They are an essential part of life. Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize that something’s time has passed and be able to move to the next season. And, everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings. Gardeners prune a rose bush for three reasons:

1. The bush produces more buds than it can sustain, and some good ones have to go so the best ones can have the resources of the bush
2. There are some branches and buds that are sick and not going to get well
3. There are some that are already dead and are taking up space

So, let’s apply that to life:

1. Over time, you gather more activities, relationships, work, interests, etc. than you can really feed with the best of your time and energy. You have to realize that you cannot go deep with everything, and figure out which ones you are going to invest in.

2. Face it, there are people who you have tried everything with to get them to “get it,” or businesses/strategies where you have also tried everything and there is no reason to keep throwing good money after bad.

3. And, there are people, places and things around which have been dead for a long time, and it is past time to let go.

Therefore, we have a dilemma: life and success require “necessary endings,” and we are afraid to execute them. That equals a conflict worth solving. So, what to do?

Let’s start with a few thoughts:

• Consider how you look at endings in general. Do you perceive them as natural? Do you have a world view that everything has its season and life cycle, or do you think that if something comes to an end it means that “something must be wrong?”
• When you see that you need to let go of something, or a person, what happens inside? What fears emerge? How paralyzing are they? What can you do to address them?
• Have you really thought about the fact that if you don’t do the pruning in that area that is needed, then you won’t get what you ultimately want? For example, if you keep that employee then that department will never perform well? Or if you stay in that dating relationship you will not find the one that fulfills? Play the movie forward a year or two and see if you like the results of not making a decision.
• If you are holding on to hope, what is the basis for that? Is it rational and objective? Or is it just a defense against facing the issue?

Endings are a part of life, and we are actually wired to be able to execute them. But because of trauma, developmental failures and other reasons, we shy away from taking the steps that could open up whole new worlds of development and growth. Take an inventory of the areas of life that may need some pruning, and begin to take the steps that you need to face the fears that are getting in the way. If you do, you might find yourself getting unstuck and entering into a whole new season of life.

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Necessary Endings

Five Ways to Avoid Overreacting in Your Relationship | Healing Together for Couples

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

Anyone in a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.

  • “He got me so upset that I was screaming in front of the kids.”
  • “ She doesn’t stop until I walk out and slam the door.”
  • “ How does he end up the victim, when he insulted me?”

Overreactions are like flash floods—all of a sudden they are there, be it from a deliberate or unintended provocation or the build-up of unrelated feelings that burst loose over something as simple as,

“How could you forget the milk?”

In the moment, it is very difficult to untangle what has happened, much less consider remedies to handle personal and interpersonal triggers. Here are five ways to avoid overreactions.

  1. Account for Physical Realities

Physical realities of fatigue, hunger, and pain compromise our functioning, particularly our capacity to regulate anxiety and anger. In a culture that gets too little sleep and demands multi-tasking, the stage is often set for overreaction.

  1. Self-Reflect and Disclose

“ I think if I can just unwind and change before I respond…”

“ We are exhausted and never do well discussing these issues late at night…let’s pick it up tomorrow.”

When partners can take a moment to reflect upon and disclose their needs, hear each other, and try to work together– the chance of an overreaction based on basic needs is lowered.

Sometimes that is not as easy as it sounds. Why? Anxiety

Are you the partner who feels such urgency that you cannot wait 10 minutes and insist on talking no matter how the other feels? Persisting or insisting rarely leads to a good place.

Try reducing the likelihood of an overreaction by regulating your anxiety:

  • Take 10 minutes to write down your thoughts so you don’t lose them or to do something for yourself for a short time while your partner catches his/her breath. This may actually give you a sense of mastery about waiting and improve the discussion.
  • Put words to your anxiety. If postponing discussing an issue until the morning feels like a “gag order” that fuels your anxiety, make that feeling known. Reasonable disclosure often invites a middle ground solution.
  • Sometimes, for example, simple acknowledgment of a problem offers enough relief that discussion can be postponed or becomes possible. Showing mutual respect and flexibility lowers overreactions.

“ So the boys want to drive to Maine with their friends… I am a bit nervous. Do you want to talk about it now or tomorrow?”

(If a partner chooses “tomorrow” and really follows up the next day – a big step of trust is taken for working together in future situations)

  1. Avoid Presumptions

A presumption is an act or instance of taking something to be true or adopting a particular attitude toward something, although it is not known for certain.

“ You never like spending time with my family.”

“ You have no interest in doing anything.”

Presumptions are triggers to overreactions in partners.

In most cases, they are critical and overgeneralized, leaving a partner feeling unfairly attacked and judged.

Robert Allan, author of Getting Control of Your Anger, suggests that one of the major hooks to anger is injustice.

  • It is not surprising that negative presumptions provoke partners to counterattack with anger and often a defensive screaming litany of proofs.
  • Often the accused becomes angry and feels he or she has been set up to overreact.

4. Use Assertion and Containment

If presumption is a negative pattern in your relationship, and inquiry and conversation have simply fueled the fire, believing in yourself and asserting what you know to be true is a powerful alternative to overreaction.

“ I have always enjoyed spending time with your family. They live very far away but I enjoy their company.”

Avoid Defensiveness-Stopping the back and forth with the assertion of what you know to be true is the most important thing you can do. There is power in certitude that needs no defense.

Regulate and Ignore the Bait-If your partner continues to pursue the presumption in an accusatory way – pause and use containment. Don’t take the bait. Regulate your urge to react by doing something else like getting up to make a cup of coffee or walk the dog. You are walking away from a negative pattern that hurts both you–and your partner. Come back prepared to proceed normally with the day or evening. The subliminal message is, “I am here but I will not participate in negative interactions.”

5. Evaluate How Much of Your Interaction is Overreaction

The quality of a relationship is key to mental and physical well-being. Step back and evaluate your interactions together. Is there so much shaming and blaming in a relationship that overreaction has become the painful method of interaction.

Psychologically this is a very dangerous situation for adults and children. When parents are constantly battling, children are in a storm of dysregulation without a lifeline. No one wins.

Friends and family often feel like a captive audience to a couple’s endless put-downs and blow-ups. Sometimes friends and family want to avoid the fray but stay for the children or stay to help. Not easy.

“ I no longer like who I have become.”

“ I am always angry because I feel so disrespected.”

“ I don’t know how this happened to us – We are stuck!”

  • This situation of overreactions often fueled by disdain warrants professional help for the sake of the partners and the well-being of the children.
  • Books, videos, on-line material, and groups that invite questions about co-dependency, fear of intimacy, hidden resentments, anger management and re-kindling love, can be invaluable in supporting partners who want to try to re-build or want to separate.
  • Children need their parents to be safe-so that they can be safe.

It is likely that if you are in a relationship, there will be times when you will overreact. Those times don’t have to mean the end of the relationship or the start of a war.

Looking closely at how and why you overreact, and using strategies to enhance understanding and restraint, can become a pathway to protect and expand your love and relationship.

Emotions: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

In last week’s blog, we considered a neurological/emotional process known as “hijacking.” This week we will look at four steps to defend yourself from this problem.

But first, let me illustrate the behavioral signs of hijacking with a short clip from the movie, Cinderella Man.

In this scene, Mae Braddock is struggling with a deep fear that her husband, James, is going to be killed in an upcoming boxing match with Max Baer, who has reportedly killed two men in the ring. Watch how Mae’s emotions overpower her in this scene (click here to view the clip).

Mae’s outburst at her children demonstrates the three classic signs of “amygdala hijacking”: (1) the sudden onset (2) of an intense emotional reaction (3) that is later regretted.

Part of this dynamic can be traced to tensions between different parts of the brain, which no longer function as seamlessly as God originally designed them.

Competition in the Brain

Last week we noted that because of the way the brain is wired, sensory impulses arrive at the limbic system, where emotions are centered, a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex, where rational thinking is located. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process critical information.

Using functional neuroimaging, a team of neuroscientists led by Matthew Lieberman discovered another competing relationship between the amygdala (a central part of the limbic system) and the neocortex.

Picture1 - CopyThey found that when the amygdala is highly stimulated with intense emotions, it utilizes more blood and oxygen than normal, leaving less of both for the neocortex. This deficit causes a corresponding decrease in our capacity for reasoning, problem solving, and impulse control. This can lead to a temporary loss of 10 to 15 IQ points!

Yes, you really do get dumber when you’re highly emotional.

So when someone asks, “What were you thinking?” after an emotional outburst, part of your answer can be, “I was thinking with a lot less brain power than I normally have at my disposal.”

Practical Defenses Against Hijacking

Realizing that emotional hijacking makes it difficult to think clearly, our ministry has developed a few simple acrostics to make it easier for you to manage your words and actions wisely in stressful situations.

One of these acrostics is set forth in this principle: “To become more self-aware and self-engaging, READ yourself accurately.” This acrostic summarizes four key steps that can help you resist hijacking:

  • Recognize your emotions
  • Evaluate their source
  • Anticipate the consequences of following them
  • Direct them on a constructive course

Recognize – What am I feeling?

Neuroimaging, as well as practical experience, have shown that labeling emotions can help to reduce their intensity and shift more of their management back to the prefrontal cortex.

For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Lieberman, when people attached a word like “angry” to an angry-looking face, neuro-activity in the amygdala, which processes fear, panic and other strong emotions, decreased significantly. This dampening effect was accompanied by a corresponding increase of activity in the neocortex, which controls impulses.

Recognizing and labeling emotions also helps us to pull them out of the shadows and identify those that pose risks to our relationships. Just as pneumonia is a more dangerous illness than a common cold, bitterness is more dangerous than disappointment, self-pity can lead to more problems than sadness, and fear can be more crippling than concern.

So it is important to practice looking into our own hearts and accurately applying labels such as sad, discouraged, depressed, angry, lonely, embarrassed, rejected, bitter, jealous, and self-pity, to name a few.

If you’re not used to doing this, a way to practice identifying emotions is to read a novel or watch a movie and constantly ask yourself, “What is that character feeling?” As you get better at reading emotions in others, you’ll get better at reading them in yourself.

Evaluate – Why am I feeling this emotion?

The next step is to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Asking these kinds of questions helps to move your thought process from the amygdala to the neocortex.

When I’m attempting to override a hijacking, I actually visualize grabbing my thoughts with both hands and dragging them from the back of my brain to the front of my brain, where my prefrontal cortex (and reasoning capacity) is located.

That’s also where all my sermon applications, memorized Scriptures, and lessons learned the hard way are stored, which is exactly what I need to draw on in order to defeat emotional hijacking.

More importantly, asking yourself why you’re feeling certain emotions helps to identify the circumstances and desires that are driving them, which is a crucial step toward controlling them (see James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18).

The process looks like this: “I’m feeling angry. Why? Because Corlette just questioned my judgment. Why does that bother me so much? Because I’m proud and want her unqualified trust, respect, and support. Why else? Because I’m busy and I’m lazy and don’t want to spend more time explaining myself to her.”

Or, “What am I feeling? Self-pity. Why? Because I work my tail off for my family and make all sorts of sacrifices for them. And here when I needed just a little bit of support from them, they say they’re too busy. It’s just not fair. Really? So why have you been serving them all along, to put them in your debt?” Ouch!

As we dig into the depths of our own hearts in the middle of intense emotional times, we will often find that God is using the situation to free us from the grip of sinful desires and passions that have become controlling “idols.” (For more guidance on overcoming desires and emotions that seek to rule your life, see Getting to the Heart of Conflict.)

Anticipate – What are the likely consequences if I give in to this emotion?

Here again we are making a conscious effort to move our brain activity from the emotional zone to the reasoning zone. We draw on memories, experience, and learning by asking, “What is likely to happen if I give in to these emotions?”

It looks like this: “If I give into my anger, I’ll become defensive and say harsh things to Corlette, which will make her feel guilty and disrespected, and reluctant to voice questions or concerns in the future, which would not only hurt her but also undermine our ability to work as a team.”

Or, “If I give into self-pity, I’ll withdraw from my family and give them the cold shoulder. I’d like to label that as a defense mechanism, but the hard truth is that it’s simply a way to punish and manipulate them for not treating me the way I want. That will only build walls and distrust between us.”

“But worst of all, these reactions will offend my loving God who sent his Son to free me from these very sins.”

You’ll find equally uncomfortable but course-changing mental conversations when the emotions in question are bitterness, envy, jealously, depression, or hopelessness.

Direct – How can I channel my emotions onto a constructive course?

Although emotional hijacking can be almost instantaneous, these defense mechanisms take time. So what do we do to gain this time?

Buy some time. As I mentioned last week, one of the simplest anti-hijacking techniques is to always have a bottle of water or cup of coffee in front of you in any meetings or conversations that could become emotionally volatile. Make a firm resolution that you will not respond to an irritating or offensive comment without first taking a sip of water or coffee. The six seconds it takes to do so will usually give your neocortex time to catch up with your amygdala.

Another way to buy some time is to simply ask for it. “You know, this is really important to both of us, so I’d like to take a few minutes to walk around the block and think about our options.” Or, more simply, “We’ve been talking quite a while, and I need to take a bathroom break.”

Oxygenate. Slow down the conversation and breathe deeply. In emotional situations your brain is working intensely and using up a lot of oxygen. Be deliberate in replacing it. Your mother probably never heard of neuroimaging, but somehow she knew that counting to ten was always a good thing.

Rejoice in the Lord … and remember that he is near. This is a discipline the apostle Paul urged the Philippians to practice when they were wresting with a conflict: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:4-5). It’s difficult to have two strong emotional experiences simultaneously, so rejoicing in God—remembering his character, works, and promises—is an excellent way to counteract strong negative feelings about another person.

Pray. Paul goes on in Philippians to teach, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). In addition to appropriating God’s grace, prayer moves your thoughts off of what is provoking you and centers them on God himself … which should put worldly issues in a clearer context.

Be thankful. Since it’s difficult to entertain competing emotional experiences at the same time, being thankful is another way to counter a hijack (see Phil. 4:6). While it’s especially effective to be thankful for the person you’re talking with, other kinds of thankfulness can be helpful … whether it’s thankfulness to God for his many kindnesses to you, or thankfulness for other people he’s placed in your life. As Paul told the Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things … and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8-9).

Do a 180. If you realize that our emotions are trying to lead you in a direction that is contrary to the love and character of Christ, ask him for grace to “do a 180,” that is, to do exactly the opposite of what you feel like doing (Luke 6:27-36; Rom. 12:20-21; see this blog for more specific guidance).

Learn from your mistakes. If you are hijacked, get a benefit from it. After your emotions cool, spend some time reflecting on what happened and why. Identifying the trigger for that event can help you be better prepared when you face a similar situation in the future.

There are no panaceas. Since we live in a fallen world, we will always be faced with the challenge of mastering our imperfect minds and emotions. But if you practice the spiritual principles that are summarized in the READ principle, you can steadily improve your ability to head hijacking off at the pass, and channel the power of your emotions into constructive words and actions.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in another clip from Cinderella Man, after Mae has spent time doing the kinds of things described above (in real life, Mae Braddock was a devout Christian). Watch what happens when she uses all of her mental and emotional gifts to bless her husband before he heads into the ring (click here  to view the clip).

What an excellent illustration of the simple but life-changing relational wisdom summarized in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

[Emotionally] Hijacked

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Peter, James, and John were hijacked. So was Paul.

The same was true of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Rachel … even David, the man after God’s own heart.

Chances are that you’ve been hijacked too. Probably within the last week.

It has nothing to do with being on an airplane. It has everything to do with having a marvelously complex and yet defective brain.

In simple terms, hijacking occurs when the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system) overpowers the rational part of your brain (the neocortex) … and gets control of your whole body along with it, including your mouth.

Think, for example, of a time when you hit your thumb with a hammer and blurted out an expletive … only to remember a moment too late that your five-year-old daughter was standing by your side.

Or a time when someone said something that offended you, so you threw a sarcastic comment back at him … only to wish later that those words had never left your mouth.

It’s bad enough when this happens in private; it’s so much worse when it’s done during a congregational meeting.

Hijacking Can Be Humorous

Sometimes hijacking is funny. Like the time my daughter wrote all over a wall and her own face with lipstick. Although the evidence against her was conclusive (and a quick confession would have been wise), when asked how the wall got all red, fear of admonishment led her to say, “I don’t know.”

We also smile when we read the account of a servant girl named Rhoda in the book of Acts. Peter had just been miraculously released from prison and was knocking on Rhoda’s door. Note how her emotions overpowered rational thinking: “Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:14). So Peter kept on knocking …

Hijacking Is Often Harmful

Unfortunately, hijacking is usually not funny. When we are overtaken by sinful emotions like anger, jealousy, lust, or fear, we often respond impulsively and say or do things that hurt other people, damage our relationships, trigger long-lasting shame, and weaken our witness as followers of Christ.

Like James and John when their anger flared and they sought to bring down fire on the Samaritans because they would not welcome Jesus (Luke 9:51-55).

Or Joseph’s brothers, when jealousy drove them to sell him into slavery (Gen. 37:11; 27-28).

Or David, when lust led to seduction, pregnancy, manipulation, and murder … and eventually to civil war (2 Sam. 11:1-17; 2Sam. 12:11-15).

Or Peter, when fear compelled him to deny Jesus three times … which he deeply regretted within moments as he wept outside the gate (Luke 22:54-62).

Sin-Damaged Brains

When we read these biblical narratives, we typically explain them by simply saying, “They sinned.”

That’s true, but painting with such a broad brush robs us of a full understanding of the problem and an effective plan of action.

Sin is definitely central to these harmful dynamics, but its impact is far more nuanced than most of us realize. Let’s look at this from both a theological and neurological perspective.

At creation, God made us in his image (Gen. 1:26). Among other things, this means he designed our minds to function perfectly in every situation, no matter what kind of stress we might be feeling. The limbic part of our brain, where emotions and motivations are centered, was designed to work in perfect harmony with our neocortex, where rational thinking and decision making takes place.

But sin threw this beautifully designed system out of whack. Instead of meshing smoothly, the various parts of our brain sometimes get out of synch. Emotions, desires and passions can get so intense that they compel us to do things we know are wrong and will soon be regretted (see Rom. 7:18-19; James 4:1-3).

A Matter of Nanoseconds

Part of what goes wrong in these situations (and this is only one part) has to do with the wiring of our brains, which no longer works as perfectly as God initially designed it. So here’s what happens …

Data from our senses enter the brain through the thalamus, which relays impulses to other parts of the brain. Due to small differences in the distances to be traveled, impulses arrive at the limbic system a few nanoseconds before they get to the neocortex. This means that our emotions can get rolling before we are able to rationally process the information.

Simple illustration. My wife is terrified of snakes. If we were walking along a high mountain cliff and she saw a small garter snake beside the trail, she would probably scream and leap ten feet out into thin air before her neocortex reminded her that she can’t fly. But by then it’s too late.

Saved by a Water Bottle

Next week we’ll look at several ways to use the READ principle to guard against hijacking. But let me leave you with a simple illustration today.

I once counseled a man who frequently got himself into trouble at work by speaking impulsively during business meetings. If he was irritated, surprised, or simply wanted attention, he would throw out little sarcastic comments that steadily eroded his credibility and relationships. He wanted to stop but the little jabs just kept on coming.

Although a thorough solution would require a prayerful examination of his heart (Matt. 15:19), I gave him some immediate help simply by advising him to always take a water bottle or cup of coffee into his meetings … and to never say a word until he had raised the bottle or cup to his lips and taken a sip.

The six seconds required to take a sip gave his brain time to work around his emotional impulses and get a message up to the neocortex, where his higher reasoning powers had time to evaluate the situation and send an overriding message to his mouth: “I really don’t need to say this.”

Not very fancy, but it worked. And that little bit of progress motivated him to pursue the more comprehensive solutions we’ll look at in next week’s blog: Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking.

5 Toxins of the Tongue That Can Poison Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Toxic words poison, and sometimes even kill, relationships. Words like, “I hate you” or “I wish I never met you” can cause irreparable damage. I confess there have been too many times when harsh, harmful words have come out of my mouth toward my wife, Susan, my kids, and others. It grieves me. I’m continually working hard to choose my words wisely.

Here are five toxins of the tongue that we must work to avoid:

1. Sarcastic Words: Comments like, “The lawn isn’t going to mow itself,” or “Do I look like your maid?” seem like no big deal on the surface, right? But sarcastic words are sometimes just symptoms of an underlying unmet expectation that has frustrated a spouse for quite some time. They can be used as a cowardly way to “dig” at your husband and wife…poisoning slowly.

2. Unsupportive Words: Every husband and wife wants to know that they have their spouse in their corner cheering them on. When a spouse says things like, “That’s a crazy idea,” or “Do you really think you can do that?”…what they may really be saying is “I don’t believe in you,” or “I’m not on your team.” Now, that’s not to say you shouldn’t tell your spouse when you think they have a truly bad idea. But, instead of saying, “That’s the worst idea ever,” you could say, “That’s a great idea, but I feel like you would be better at this…” Supporting one another’s aspirations is essential to a happy and productive marriage. We should be our spouses #1 fan, not their biggest critic.

3. Disrespectful Words: Respect is not something that has to be earned. It should be given unconditionally in marriage. Disrespectful comments like, “Can’t you find a real job?”, “I don’t care what you say; I’m going to do it anyway”, and “You’ve really been putting on weight” are insulting, offensive, and can undermine a spouses sense of worth.

4. Comparing words: When saying things like, “Jonathan would do that for his wife” or “Why can’t you be more like Karen?” what you’re really communicating is “You don’t make the grade…you’re not good enough” as a husband or wife.

5. Selfish Words: “I don’t care how you feel, just get it done.” “I want that new dress.” “I need someone who really meets my needs.” Spouses who care more about themselves than their spouses often start their sentences with “I.” It’s all about their wants and their needs, rather than their mates.

Have any, or many, of these toxins of the tongue been injected into your marriage? If so, here are several antidotes you can use to counteract their effects.

  • Apologize to your spouse for all the poisonous things you’ve said to them over the years. Healing can only begin when toxins are removed. And in the case of verbal toxins, relationships begin to mend when couples ask for forgiveness from each other.
  • Be slow to speak. There’s an old adage that states you never regret what you never say. It’s okay to be quiet, reserved, and thoughtful about what comes out of your mouth…especially when you are upset.
  • Make a personal vow that toxic words will no longer come out of your mouth. Putting a post-it note by your bed or on your mirror can serve to remind you of your commitment. Give your spouse the freedom to inform you when toxicity starts to stream from your tongue.
  • These 10 Things Husbands Want to Hear from their Wives and 10 Things Wives Want to Hear from their Husbands can give you some ideas on how you can breathe life-giving words into your spouse. You were created to build each other up, not tear each other down.

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