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Archive for the ‘Decision-making’ Category

How Boundaries Give You Choices Against Toxic People

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways to Deal with Your Past

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I’m a huge proponent of moving forward. I’ve never been a fan of remaining in the past.

This could be because I’ve had some past I’d rather not remember.

It could be because I am very forward-thinking.

Either way, and it’s probably the first, I’d prefer to reconcile the past, make the most of it, and get on with my life.

Bottom line, however, is that there are really a few choices when it comes to dealing with your past.

Here are 5 ways to deal with your past:

Forget it – If you choose to and you are really skilled, you can block all memory of the past from your mind. In extreme settings, I have seen people do this naturally, but I must admit, it’s rare. And, because I believe we learn from mistakes, I wouldn’t even recommend it.

Misuse it – You can twist the past for your benefit – gain sympathy, make people feel sorry for you, and use it as a personal advantage. You could be a martyr. The people who choose this option, in my experience, are usually as phony as the story they share. It’s often hard to trust them.

Ignore it – You can pretend your past never happened. You can make up your own version of your past, make it prettier and live in a false reality. With the people I’ve seen do this it seems you never really know the true person behind the stories they tell. They are always hiding a part of themselves.

Excuse it – You can blame every bad decision you ever made on someone else or every future mistake you make on your past. After all, it was “his” fault”, right? I’ve known people with this excuse who never own up to responsibility – and they always seem to find a reason for not doing so. They never take ownership of their actions.

Use it – In my humble opinion, as one with plenty of brokenness in my story, the best way to deal with your past is to use it for a greater good. How could your story benefit someone else? How could God use your brokenness to bless others? What have you learned, which others need to hear? Let your past help build your — or someone else’s — brighter future.

I’m not pretending this will be easy. It will probably involve hard decisions and choices such as forgiveness, confession, and being vulnerable with people. But, the reward for allowing God to use your past for a greater good and being freed from the weight of your past will be worth it.

How to Turn Your Pain into Something Positive

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Can pain ever be good?

That’s a fair question, but mostly an intellectual one to me, until recently. You see I’ve been blessed with good health and without much physical pain for most of my life. But a recent injury put me in a season of constant and intense back pain. For quite a while, I was getting just a few hours of sleep a night, sometimes feeling lost in an emotional fog. Even though it’s been a painful setback, it’s got me thinking about the importance of pain, and asking some big questions:

What will I do with my pain? How can I turn my pain into something positive?

Whether pain is physical or emotional, it can be used for good, to make a positive impact on others.

As I wrote about in my book, All Pro Dad, here are a few ways that pain can be used for something good and positive:

Pain can bring clarity to what is most important in life.

Yes, pain can create an emotional fog and make it hard to think straight. But it can also force you to an off-ramp in life for a while that can help you take stock of your priorities. As I’ve been working through the pain and fog, I’m also finding some clarity on things that are important in my life. It’s been a good time to take stock of my usage of time and resources to ensure I’m being a good steward of what’s been entrusted to me and my family.

Pain can be a bonding agent in relationships.

Pain allows you to identify with another person who is going through something very similar. Empathy is an important character trait of a loving leader. When you empathize with others, you experience similar feelings, thoughts, and emotions and then take action based on what you’ve experienced to meet the needs of others. It’s often the things we have in common that create or deepen our bonds.

Pain can change your trajectory.

Past pain can motivate us to look outward instead of just inward. Sometimes pain is paralyzing, and we get very self-focused as we deal with it. But as we do, pain (especially relational pain) can eventually help us to see the need to work towards helping others. Maybe it’s breaking a cycle of dysfunction or brokenness in a family tree that we’ve experienced, or picking up the pieces from an addiction we’ve battled that has hurt more than just ourselves. Eventually, we face a choice: stay focused on self or be motivated to help others.

Pain can give us credibility and opportunity to help others.

When we have endured pain we’ve never experienced before, we have the power of empathizing with others going through the same pain, not just those suffering in general. As a result, others are aware that we know what they are going through and will listen to what we have to say, perhaps even more so than others who try to speak into their lives but haven’t shared the same pain.

Pain can give us a future message of hope to others.

As we deal with the pains of our past or present, God gives us hope and healing that can become a very meaningful message to others. The pain can become a purpose for our voice as well as the message of hope our voice proclaims to the world.

To Change How You Act, Change the Way You Think

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes”

(Ephesians 4:23 NLT, second edition).

Change requires new thinking.

In order to change, we must learn the truth and start making good choices, but we also must change the way we think.

The battle for sin starts in your mind, not in your behavior. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act. If you want to change the way you act, you start by changing the way you think. In addition, if you want to change the way you feel, you must start with changing the way you think.

For instance, I can say, “I need to love my kids more,” but that isn’t going to work. You can’t fight your way into a feeling. You must change the way you think about your kids, about your husband, about your wife, and that will change the way you feel, which will then change the way you act. The Bible says, “Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23 NLT, second edition).

Let me sum it up this way: You are not what you think you are. Rather, what you think, you are. The battle to deal with those defects in your life that you don’t like starts in your mind. If you want to change anything in your behavior or anything in your emotions, start with your thoughts and your attitude.

The renewal of your mind is related to the word “repentance.” I know repentance is a murky word for a lot of people. They think it means something you don’t really want to do or something painful. They think of a guy standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Repent! The world’s about to end!”

Repentance has nothing to do with your behavior. It’s about learning to think differently. “Repent” simply means to make a mental U-turn. It’s something you do in your mind, not with your behavior. Changing the way you think will then affect your emotions and your behavior.

When I repent, I turn from guilt to forgiveness. I turn from Hell to Heaven. I turn from purposelessness to purpose in life. I turn from no hope to new hope. I turn from frustration to freedom. I turn from darkness to light!

That’s the kind of change I need to be able to change the rest of my life.

11 Rules on Marriage You Won’t Learn in School

SOURCE:  Dennis and Barbara Rainey/Family Life

Here’s some practical, counter-cultural advice on how to make marriage work.

For many years, e-mails have circulated the country with the outline of a speech attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates titled “11 Rules You Won’t Learn in School About Life.”  It turns out that Gates never wrote these words nor did he deliver the speech—it was all taken from an article written by Charles J. Sykes in 1996. And it really doesn’t matter that Gates wasn’t involved, because the piece does a great job of unmasking how feel-good, politically-correct teachings have created a generation of kids with a false concept of reality.

I thought I’d not only pass on these rules, but also make a few of my own—on marriage.

First, here are the 11 rules of life that you won’t learn in school:

Rule 1: Life is not fair—get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will not make $60,000 per year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping—they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault.  So don’t whine about your mistakes; learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you “find yourself.” Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Sage advice.

After reading this piece, I was inspired to take a crack at something I’d been chewing on:  “11 Rules on Marriage You Won’t Learn in School.”

Rule 1: Marriage isn’t about your happiness.  It’s not about you getting all your needs met through another person.  Practicing self-denial and self-sacrifice, patience, understanding, and forgiveness are the fundamentals of a great marriage.  If you want to be the center of the universe, then there’s a much better chance of that happening if you stay single.

Rule 2: Getting married gives a man a chance to step up and finish growing up.  The best preparation for marriage for a single man is to man up now and keep on becoming the man God created him to be.

Rule 3: It’s okay to have one rookie season, but it’s not okay to repeat your rookie season.  You will make rookie mistakes in your first year of marriage; the key is that you don’t continue making those same mistakes in year five, year 10, or year 20 of your marriage.

Rule 4: It takes a real man to be satisfied with and love one woman for a lifetime.  And it takes a real woman to be content with and respect one man for a lifetime.

Rule 5: Love isn’t a feeling.  Love is commitment.  It’s time to replace the “D-word”—divorce—with the “C-word”—commitment.  Divorce may feel like a happy solution, but it results in long-term toxic baggage.  You can’t begin a marriage without commitment.  You can’t sustain one without it either.  A marriage that goes the distance is really hard work.  If you want something that is easy and has immediate gratification, then go shopping or play a video game.

Rule 6: Online relationships with old high school or college flames, emotional affairs, sexual affairs, and cohabiting are shallow and illegitimate substitutes for the real thing.  Emotional and sexual fidelity in marriage are the real thing.

Rule 7: Women spell romance R-E-L-A-T-I-O-N-S-H-I-P.  Men spell romance S-E-X.  If you want to speak romance to your spouse, become a student of your spouse, enroll in a lifelong “Romantic Language School,” and become fluent in your spouse’s language.

Rule 8: During courtship, opposites attract.  After marriage, opposites can repel each another.  You married your spouse because he/she is different.  Differences are God’s gift to you to create new capacities in your life.  Different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Rule 9: Pornography robs men of a real relationship with a real person and it poisons real masculinity, replacing it with the toxic killers of shame, deceit, and isolation.  Pornography siphons off a man’s drive for intimacy with his wife.  Marriage is not for wimps.  Accept no substitutes.

Rule 10: As a home is built, it will reflect the builder.  Most couples fail to consult the Master Architect and His blueprints for building a home.  Instead a man and woman marry with two sets of blueprints (his and hers). As they begin building, they discover that a home can’t be built from two very different sets of blueprints.

Rule 11: How you will be remembered has less to do with how much money you make or how much you accomplish and more with how you have loved and lived.

Pass on the rules to a friend who will enjoy them!

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Adapted from Preparing for Marriage Devotions for Couples, by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Copyright © 2013. Used with permission from Regal Books

 

Relationships: Seeds of Change

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by PREPARE/ENRICH

Like nature, change in our relationships is inevitable. Our response to change in our relationships likely varies from excitement and newness to anxiety or heaviness.

The same way we can’t make the leaves or the temperature change, we can’t make our partners change. Sometimes we can’t change our situations, but we can work on changing ourselves. Often, changing ourselves starts with humility. A wise man once said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” [The Counseling Moment editor’s note:  Romans 12:3, Holy Bible, New International Version]

Actions start as thoughts. Relationship author and speaker, Mitch Temple, writes “Thoughts and attitudes are like the engine of a train and our emotions and behaviors are like the caboose.” How is your thought management? Are you too focused on what seems to be missing or lacking? Have you become critical or negative? How has your thinking about your spouse changed? How does it need to be changed? What if today you chose to be more thankful and positive?

Horticulturists say that fall is a great time to plant certain seeds. Fall planting results in earlier spring blooms, there is more time to plant in the fall and weeds are easier to control. Why not plant some seed of change in your relationship this fall. Here are some seeds you can “plant” today:

  • Greet your partner with a smile
  • Offer a word of encouragement or affirmation
  • Choose to give your partner the “benefit of the doubt”
  • Touch your partner
  • Confess
  • Pray for your partner
  • Forgive
  • Ask your partner about his/her day
  • Journal about your relationship

Come spring you may find blossoms of new communication patterns and habits. You may find blossoms of new understanding and perspectives on your relationship. You may find a new depth of love blossoming for yourself, your partner, and your relationship.

Don’t underestimate the power of changing a little thing in how you interact with your partner. Whether or not it changes them, it might change you!

Psychiatric Meds: Should I or Not?

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick/CareLeader

“Pastor, should I take psychiatric meds?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 1: Assess life and struggle

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

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

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

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

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

Step 2: Make needed nonmedical changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 4: Begin a medication trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: Assess level of progress against medication side effects

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

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

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

Step 6: Determine whether to remain on medication

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

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

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

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