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Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.

 

 

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Your Family Voyage: Discarding Resentment

SOURCE:  Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom

Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.

The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past.  You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether.  You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:

Unmerited explosions of anger.

Avoidance of certain individuals.

A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.

A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.

Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.

Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.

In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.  The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.

The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.

When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.

Our model of forgiveness is God.

Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him.  The offenses are ours, not Gods.  God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him.  God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong.  The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin.  Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin.  Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.

When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us.  Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced.  We cancel the debt by accepting the offense.  In essence, we pay the debt owed us.  We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism.  This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.

If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor.  Forgiveness is necessary.  Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.

Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past.  You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.

How long does forgiveness take?  This varies a great deal.  Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly.  The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision.  Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.

How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person?  While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.

How do I start forgiving?  Forgiveness begins with a decision.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past.  As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area.  Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power.  When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.

Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them.  But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy.  Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.

14 Thought-Control Tactics Narcissists Use to Confuse and Dominate You

SOURCE:    / PsychCentral

Narcissists’ lives are about winning, generally at others’ expense.

Many narcissists pursue a win-at-all-costs, anything-goes approach.

The casualties:  Honesty, empathy and reciprocity.

Narcissists distort the truth through disinformation, oversimplifying, ridiculing and sowing doubt. Narcissists can be incredibly skilled at using classic elements of thought-control and brainwashing.

To get free of narcissistic thought control it is essential to spot the distortions narcissists deliberately and instinctively practice. Applying critical thinking skills can inoculate you against their campaigns.

Here are 14 thought-control tactics narcissists frequently use:

1) Emotional Appeals:  Attempting to play on emotions such as fear, guilt and loyalty rather than using logic and reasoning.

Narcissists use emotional appeals to disguise false or outrageous claims. Since many narcissists tend to be Drama Kings or Queens, using over-the-top emotionality to control others comes naturally for them.

Example:  “How dare you question me! After all I’ve done for you.”

2) Bandwagon:  An attempt to pressure another to go along because “everybody is doing it.”

Narcissists know the power of numbers. They slavishly follow their “likes” on social media and other measures of attention. Having lots of followers reassures them of their worth. They use the power of group-think and peer pressure to play on others’ fears of missing out, being ostracized or being in the wrong.

Example:  “All your friends agree with me.”

3) Black-and-white / Either-or:  Pretending there are only two choices when there are several.

Narcissists view the world in either-or terms. Nuance is lost on them. They derive a feeling of power from this divide-and-conquer approach.

Example:  “You’re either with me or against me.”

 

4) Burden of Proof:  Asserting that the speaker does not need to prove his points but, rather, that the burden is on the listener to disprove them.

Such an entitled stance comes easily for narcissists. In addition, narcissists love to take credit but have little interest in taking responsibility. They hate to be wrong, so putting the burden on others is a stonewalling strategy that makes it especially difficult to disprove them.

Example:  “I know I am right. What I say stands until you can prove otherwise.”

5) False Flattery:  Buttering others up to make them more receptive to your arguments.

Narcissists rarely meet a compliment they don’t like. They think others are as susceptible to flattery as they are. They ply listeners with pseudo-compliments, hoping to get things in return.

Example:  “I couldn’t possibly be manipulating you, you’re way too smart for that.”

6) Incredulity:  Acting as though what someone said is unbelievable.

Narcissists often use this tactic when they don’t understand what another person is saying. Rather than admit they are confused, they pretend that what the other person is saying is beyond belief. This is an attempt to dismiss valid concerns.

Example:  “You seriously think there are other husbands who are better than me? You really think other wives get anywhere near what I have given you? You are not living in the real world.

7) Labeling:  Applying a negative phrase or attributing negative characteristics to a person or position.

Narcissists love labels. Having a single word to invalidate or humiliate another feels like an ultimate power for narcissists.

Example:  “You’re too needy. You’re a loser.”

8) False Compromise:  Offering to meet half way on matters in which there is clearly a fair and unfair choice.

If a narcissist has a choice to treat another person fairly or unfairly, a “compromise” that still treats the other unfairly is no compromise – it’s still wrong.

Example:  “Okay, you win, I’ll pay you back $50 of the $100 you gave me and we’ll call it even. Hey, it’s better than nothing.”

 

9) Empty Promises:  Promising to give others what they want without any plan or intention of fulfilling the promise.

Example:  “You’ll get your turn. I promise.”

10) Quoting out of Context:  Repeating only part of what another person said or using another’s words completely out of context.

Narcissists do this to discredit others and put them on the defensive.

Example:  “You always said people have to take responsibility for themselves so I didn’t think you needed my help when you had to go to the ER.”

11) Ridicule:  Mocking or humiliating another person or their requests or feelings.

Narcissists devalue others through dismissive remarks, sarcasm, or hostile humor instead of taking the other person seriously.

Example:  “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re just embarrassing yourself.”

12) Slippery Slope:  An appeal to fear which takes a small problem and predicts that it will lead to an escalating series of worst-case scenarios.

The goal is to use an extreme hypothetical to distract from a reasonable complaint or argument.

Example:  “If I do this for you, you will think you can get whatever you want from me. I’ll become your slave and have no life.”

13) Dehumanizing:  Classifying others as inferior, dangerous or evil to justify oppressing or eliminating them.

This ends-justifies-the-means tactic is second nature for narcissists, who see most other people as inferior.

Example:  “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

14) Slogans:  A simplistic phrase that is a catch-all designed to shut down dissent.

Narcissists often have pat phrases they employ when they feel threatened.

Example:  “I’m your last best hope. I’m all you’ve got.”

Knowledge is power. Recognizing narcissists’ tactics is the first step in setting healthy boundaries against their manipulation. Read additional thought-control techniques used by narcissists in my blog 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You

How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. It’s likely you even heard one or two before in your life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?”

“It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing for us…”

“You know that if I had it, I would give it to you.”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad about deciding how you will spend your own time and/or resources and about having a life separate from theirs.

Probably everyone is able to some degree to recognize guilt messages when they hear them, but not everyone is strong enough to not succumb to them. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket for when these situations arise.

1. Recognize they are guilt messages and are given in an attempt to manipulate and control.

2. Know that guilt messages are really just anger in disguise. The guilt sender is failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you are doing.

3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt instead of expressing and owning their true feelings.

4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for “making” you feel guilty, they still have power over you.

5. Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. We do not owe guilt senders an explanation for our actions.

6. Be assertive and interpret their message as being about their feelings. For example, “It sounds like you are angry that I chose to …”

The main principle is this: Empathize with what distressed people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress. Remember, love and limits are the only clear boundaries. If you react, you have lost ownership of your boundaries.

What to do When Someone is Angered by the Boundaries You Set

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

When you establish a new boundary with someone else, the most common form of resistance is anger. People who get angry at others for setting boundaries have a character problem. Self-centered, they think the world exists for them and their comfort. They see others as extensions of themselves.

When they hear the word “no,” they have the same reaction a two-year-old has when deprived of something: “Bad Mommy!” They feel as though the one who deprives them of their wishes is “bad,” and they become angry. They are not righteously angry at a real offense. Nothing has been done “to them” at all. Someone will not do something “for them.” Their wish is being frustrated, and they get angry because they have not learned to delay gratification or to respect others’ freedom.

The angry person has a character problem. If you reinforce this character problem, it will return tomorrow and the next day in other situations. It is not the situation that’s making the person angry, but the feeling that they are entitled to things from others. They want to control others and, as a result, they have no control over themselves. So, when they lose their wished-for control over someone, they “lose it.” They get angry. Here are six steps to consider when someone responds with anger:

1. Realize that the person who is angry at you for setting boundaries is the one with the problem. If you do not realize this, you may think you have a problem. Maintaining your boundaries is good for other people; it will help them learn what their families of origin did not teach them: to respect other people.

2. View anger realistically. Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot “get inside” you unless you allow it. Staying separate from another’s anger is vitally important. Let the anger be in the other person. He will have to feel his anger to get better. If you rescue him from it, or take it on yourself, the angry person will not get better and you will be in bondage.

3. Do not let anger be a cue for you to do something. People without boundaries respond automatically to the anger of others. They rescue, seek approval, or get angry themselves. There is great power in inactivity. Do not let an out-of-control person be the cue for you to change your course. Just allow him to be angry and decide for yourself what you need to do.

4. Make sure you have your support system in place. If you are going to set some limits with a person who has controlled you with anger, talk to the people in your support system first and make a plan. Know what you will say. Anticipate what the angry person will say, and plan your reaction. You may even want to role-play the situation with your group. Then, make sure your support group will be available to you right after the confrontation. Perhaps some members of your support group can go with you. But certainly you will need them afterward to keep you from crumbling under the pressure.

5. Do not allow the angry person to get you angry. You can come from a place of love when you speak the truth. You don’t have to own their anger, because if we have boundaries, we will be separate enough to show love.

6. Be prepared to use physical distance and other limits that enforce consequences. One woman’s life was changed when she realized that she could say, “I will not allow myself to be yelled at. I will go into the other room until you decide you can talk about this without attacking me. When you can do that, I will talk to you.”

These serious steps do not need to be taken with anger. You can empathize lovingly and stay in the conversation, without giving in or being controlled. “I understand that you are upset that I will not do that for you. I am sorry you feel that way. How can I help?” Just remember that when you empathize, changing your “no” will not help. Offer other options.

If you keep your boundaries, those who are angry at you will have to learn self-control for the first time, instead of “other control,” which has been destructive to them anyway. When they no longer have control over you, they will find a different way to relate. But, as long as they can control you with their anger, they will not change.

Sometimes, the hard truth is that they will not talk to you anymore, or they will leave the relationship if they can no longer control you. But when we let people go, they choose their own way, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for you.

Why do people cut themselves? And how to help them stop

[The Counseling Moment editor’s note:  Although this article is written to those who minister to others with this issue, the article contains insights useful to all.]

SOURCE:  

Self-harm behaviors can be a foreign concept to many of us adults, but they are on the rise among adolescents and young adults. The National Institutes of Health indicate rates anywhere from 7 to 24 percent in teenagers, but as high as 38 percent in college-age women.1 However, these self-harm behaviors are oftentimes misunderstood by those who seek to minister to them. Given such high incidence rates, though, pastors and ministers must not only understand the motivations behind self-harm but also know how to minister to those engaging in such activities.2

Understanding self-harm

Self-injurious behaviors most frequently present themselves in the form of cutting various parts of the body, like one’s arms or legs, but may also be seen in burning oneself, picking at scabs, punching or hitting oneself, pulling one’s hair, or a host of other behaviors that cause wounds or bruises. Most often, the effects of the self-harm are well concealed behind long-sleeved shirts or long pants, but other times the wounds cannot be covered and are visible to others.

Self-harm behaviors are almost always done to cope with difficult emotions such as sadness, worry, or fear.

But engaging in self-harm does not equal suicidal. One of the most common misconceptions about self-harm is that it is always linked to suicidal thoughts or intentions. However, this simply isn’t the case. While suicidal thoughts do often accompany self-injurious behaviors, the injury to oneself is not always intended to lead to suicide. In fact, some teenagers report engaging in self-harm to avoid getting to the point where they feel suicidal.

A word of warning here, though: sometimes self-harm behaviors either intentionally or unintentionally do become suicide attempts. While we cannot assume that self-harm is always connected with or intended to bring about one’s own death, we should understand the reality that either intentions change quickly or what is meant to bring only injury accidentally leads to even greater, perhaps unintended, harm or even death.

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, or that the person has means and has stated intent, take immediate action. That may mean calling law enforcement, engaging an experienced counselor, or taking the young person to the hospital.

So what are the motivations? Most often, self-harm behaviors are engaged in to cope with difficult, and many times overwhelming, emotional struggles. For instance, a teenager may be experiencing deep sadness, and for the first time in her life, this emotion seems overwhelming. Given her lack of life experience with such strong emotions, she engages in causing physical pain to cope with the emotional pain.

Alternatively, some young people express that they feel a lack of any emotion at all, so they engage in self-harm to be able to feel something, even if what they feel is negative. Paired with this, some report feelings of emptiness, guilt, or tension, and self-harm behaviors provide an outlet for those feelings.

Dealing with emotional struggles isn’t the only motivation for self-harm, though, so we cannot assume such. I have personally heard of teenagers being “bored” and having nothing else to do, who then engage in cutting themselves. I’ve also seen a trend of self-harm leading to attention from one’s peers, both positive and negative, but attention nonetheless. While we certainly cannot assume that self-harm is merely for attention, the social and cultural reality of young people also cannot be overlooked.

Ministering to those who engage in self-harm

So how can we best minister to those who engage in these behaviors? In particular, how can we love and care for these young people well when their struggle is one we have difficulty understanding?

Seek to understand. First and foremost, try to understand. The first time I sat with a counselee who engaged in cutting, I simply asked her to help me understand where she was coming from, as I had no personal frame of reference for her actions. I genuinely wanted to understand the emotions and thoughts driving her behaviors, and she was willing to share.

As ministers, we first must listen well to understand. Oftentimes, those who are struggling in this area are dealing with strong emotions that they have difficulty understanding, or they have experienced difficulties in life that we cannot imagine. We must be willing to enter their world and hear their struggles before we can speak truth into their lives.

Look for the root of the problem. Self-harm behaviors almost always point to something deeper. Most often, it is an emotional struggle. Ask questions, and ask good questions: What is the self-harm in response to, or what is it satisfying? Self-injury is a way of dealing with life problems, so we cannot simply try to change that behavior without dealing with the underlying issue. To do so would be like trying to scoop trash out of a stream when it is continually being dumped in upstream. The trash will just keep coming until we deal with the source of the problem.

What does this look like, though? Perhaps in listening to a young person sharing his story, you realize that his self-harm is in response to a world that he feels is in chaos, and hitting himself is the only way he has of controlling his own life. But without listening, you’d only be trying to get him to stop hurting himself rather than realizing that he is in harm’s way on a daily basis and that hurting himself gives him some sense of consistency and control.

Consider good questions versus better questions. So how do we know what to ask? I mentioned above that we need to get to what the source of the issue is, rather than simply the issue itself. While good questions may elicit facts like what their behaviors are or how frequently they engage in them, better questions get at motivations and desires. Here are some examples:

Good questions: Better questions:
Why are you hurting yourself? What situations do you find yourself in just prior to hurting yourself?
What’s going on in your life? What are you most struggling with? What are you most afraid of or anxious about?
How do you feel when you cut yourself? Does your cutting satisfy a need? What is that need?
Do you want to stop? What obstacles are present that make this difficult to stop?

Provide practical safeguards. Even though we should be listening well for the root of the problem, an immediate strategy we can take is to implement practical safeguards, for instance, removing razor blades or knives from the home or ensuring there is always someone else nearby. While we can’t feasibly remove every means of self-injury, we can remove many.

We can also instruct those around the self-injurious person to be aware of times when temptations may be at their highest. While parents can’t keep a constant eye on their teenagers, they can ensure that the teenagers are actively engaged, and they can be watching for changes in the teens’ emotions. Parents can find time as well to intentionally listen to their teenagers, asking good questions and providing encouragement for daily difficulties.

Share biblically based hope and promises. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we have a great high priest who can sympathize in our every weakness, and that includes the temptation to self-harm. People struggling in this area have a Savior who has walked where they walk, who has been tempted as they are, and who was without sin. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, they can confidently approach God to receive grace and mercy. Help those who self-harm grasp that Christ understands their struggle and that He is approachable in their moments of weakness, ready to dispense grace and mercy. This truth can be used to encourage them to pray when they’re tempted to cut themselves and to help them understand that Christ accepts them when they sin.

We are told as well in Scripture that we will never be forsaken by God, and because of that truth, we do not have to be afraid. While this promise shows up over and over in the Bible, in particular we are reminded in Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (ESV). Those fears that lead people to self-harm are not unknown to our God who goes before them, and He is constantly walking with them now.

Finally, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we are also no longer enslaved to our sinful flesh, but are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:17–18). That means that followers of Christ can overcome the temptation to self-harm, by the power of God’s Spirit, who lives and works in them. That brings great hope to those who find themselves in the cycle of these behaviors.

The gospel message, then, has much to say to those who are struggling with difficult emotions, overwhelming guilt, or feelings of emptiness and to those who deal with those struggles through self-injury.

Pastors and ministers, we cannot forget the hope of the gospel when ministering to these young people. Like all of us, they need it desperately. They need people to listen to them well, get at the heart of the issue, help establish safeguards, and give hope through Christ. In doing so, we are able to walk with them, bear their burdens with them, and watch the Lord bring them out of these cycles of self-harm.

10 Signs You May be an Authoritarian Parent

SOURCE:  Amy Morin, LCSW/verywell.com

 “My Way or the Highway”

Authoritarian parenting is one of the four main parenting styles recognized by researchers. It’s characterized by rigid rules and high demands. Authoritarian parents have high standards and can be highly critical when those standards aren’t met. They also tend to offer less emotional warmth compared to authoritative parents. Read on to find out if you exhibit any of the characteristics of an authoritarian parent.

  1. You have little patience for misbehavior.

Authoritarian parents don’t want to waste energy explaining why something isn’t a good choice and they’re not likely to spend much time discussing feelings. Instead, when a child breaks the rules, they’re more likely to remind him that he should “know better” without any room for discussion.

  1. You try hard to control your child’s behavior.

Rather than teach children to control themselves, authoritarian parents exert their control. Kids have fewer choices and fewer opportunities to practice self-discipline. The focus is on obeying the rules, with little room for creativity.

  1. You try to shame your child into behaving.

Authoritarian parents are very critical. They may say things like, “You aren’t a good listener,” or, “How many times do I have to tell you the same thing?” They aren’t concerned about building or preserving a child’s self-esteem. In fact, they often think that shaming a child is one of the best ways to motivate him to behave better next time.

  1. You don’t hesitate to use corporal punishment.

Spanking is used liberally in authoritarian households. Parents may use other forms of corporal punishment – such as making a child do push-ups or assigning manual labor – as a consequence for misbehavior.

Read More: Is Spanking Effective?

  1. You don’t believe in ‘exceptions to the rule.’

You won’t catch an authoritarian parent negotiating. Their children certain don’t get any type of vote and it’s made clear that the household rules aren’t up for discussion. Parents often leave little room for any “gray area.”

  1. You’d rather use punishments than positive reinforcement.

Most authoritarian parents don’t believe in rewarding kids for good behavior. They think that kids should behave well and don’t need to be praised or rewarded simply for following the rules. But as soon as a rule is broken, a consequence is swiftly handed out.

  1. You value discipline over fun.

Authoritarian parents are more likely to be nagging or yelling rather than playing with their kids. They tend to want kids to behave in an orderly fashion and they expect them to “be seen and not heard” most of the time.

  1. You have a lot of rules.

While permissive parents have few rules, authoritarian parents thrive on having rules about everything. In addition to household rules about safety or morality, there are often unwritten rules about how to do things “right.” Authoritarian parents often micromanage their children. They may hover while their children do their homework or complete their chores to make sure that everything is done in the manner they want.

  1. You don’t trust your child to make good decisions.

Authoritarian parents have interesting expectations of their children. Although they have high expectations, they don’t allow for enough freedom for kids to show that they can be trusted. They’re quick to enforce their demands and prevent children from making mistakes and facing natural consequences.

  1. You often say, “Because I said so!”

Authoritarian parents don’t waste time explaining the underlying reasons why certain rules need to be followed or why they’ve set certain limits. Instead, they’re famous for saying, “Because I said so!” They expect that to be the end of the discussion and don’t invite a child to weigh in with his opinion about why he disagrees or why he thinks the rules are unfair.

 

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