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Posts tagged ‘Fear’

FAMILIES EXPERIENCING TROUBLE: Children and Spouses of Troubled Families

SOURCE: Adapted from Helping Troubled Families by Charles M. Sell

Helping Troubled Families: A Guide for Pastors, Counselors, and Supporters

*The Children — Many children of dysfunctional families (termed CODF’s) have to cope with baffling and painful situations.  Children who are subjected to abuse of different kinds may receive little or no help from others, mainly because their teachers, neighbors, and church leaders may not realize their plight.  Without assistance from others, children try to fix themselves.  Clumsily, with childish hands, they suture the wounds, often leaving ugly scars or unhealed lesions that split open in later life.  All of this is an attempt to protect themselves from the abuse.  The home has the power to produce angry, rebellious, or disheartened children.  Families can aggravate serious psychological disorders.  Kids under stress can develop an abundance of physical and emotional problems even while in the womb.  Many scientists how believe that stress can program a fetus to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and other disorders in adulthood.  So sensitive is the brain to its environment that absence of emotional warmth can kill brain cells.  The loss of these cells is devastating during a child’s early years, when brain connections require learning skills for language, math, and getting along with others. As infants, if anything interferes with bonding with their mothers, they may have permanent emotional scars that will influence the outcome of the remainder of their development.  The extent of the damage done to CODF’s depends on lots of factors, for example, when in the life of the child the parent became addicted, how the family reacted to it, how long the addiction continued, and the severity of the abuse and neglect.

Thankfully, despite the severity of the situation, not all of these children will be severely wounded.  Psychologists call them resilient or stress-resistant children. Some CODF’s may have a strong orientation toward personal growth.  They are able to initiate and intentionally engage in the process of self-change.  Second, they may possess a trait termed hardiness.  Hardy people are actively involved in living, believing they can control their circumstances.  Some kids are less affected by their stressful family life because of the presence of another adult in their lives.

The children of troubled families may sometimes feel frustrated and unable to control their own lives. Their helplessness may be compounded by a feeling of failure.  This is due to their trying to solve the problem in their family.  Kids feel responsible for their parents’ problems partly because they are so egocentric, believing they are the cause of most everything that happens around them.  But they also may think they are to blame for the problem because the troubled parent tells them they are.  Taking such responsibility on themselves is usually destructive to children because they are doomed to failure.  Without someone explaining to them that they shouldn’t take the weight of the family on their shoulders, they may continue to do this into adulthood and even have trouble stopping then.  Their failure to solve the family’s problems may make them angry.  Thinking their good behavior will make their parents break free from their dependency or compulsion, they may be upset when they don’t get the hoped for results.  Their anger may take the form of resentment.

Expressing anger is complicated by the attachment the child has for the parents.  Besides needing the parents’ care, children are taught to love and respect them, making it very hard to accept the anger and hatred they feel.  Feelings are mixed – love and hate, pity and disgust, anger and sympathy.  The child plays the same Jeckyll-Hyde role the troubled parent is playing. Fear may also keep children from directing anger toward the parent.  And the “don’t feel, don’t talk” rules will make them keep their anger bottled up inside of them.  This may cause them to resort to sarcasm, forgetfulness, hostile jokes, and other passive-aggressive behaviors.  They may also overreact to normal events and become extremely angry with people who haven’t done anything to deserve such a reaction.

One way CODF’s express anger is by reverting back to an earlier stage of development.  Also, a child may make light of the stressful situation at home or resort to humor to handle it. Additionally, children may be deeply hurt by a parent’s abusive ranting and raving and lack what are known as “self-soothing” abilities.  They lack inner resources to calm themselves in the face of severe stress and intense emotions.  Finally, children in stressful situations may develop a false self.  Instead of the addicted parent’s encouraging the children to express themselves and commending them for it, the parent’s behavior demands that they become something else.  If the parent is also physically or sexually abusive, the squelching of the child’s personality can be extremely severe.

Shame is another emotion that inhibits children’s development of their true self.  Theirs is not a shame for what they have done, but for who they are—an absence of self-respect.  The time between eighteen months to three years is a time when a child gains a sense of autonomy.  Restricting the child, as dysfunctional families are prone to do, may make them doubt and dislike themselves.  Guilt feelings may also develop very early from ages three to six.  In an addictive family, the children may receive little affirmation for their ventures and be blamed for innocent mistakes, causing them to feel guilty for attempts to exert themselves.

They will also be shamed by the embarrassing activities of their parents.  Their shame may also be due to the fact that all children tend to identify with their parents.  Of course, constant parental criticism may result in children’s having little self-respect.  When little children are verbally harangued by their parents, told they are worthless or bad, they will believe these things.  They lack the maturity to realize these messages are lies of an evil, addicted, compulsive person.

Trust will almost always be a problem for the dysfunctional family’s children, too.  Consistent care teaches them that they can rely on others.  If their care is sporadic, harsh, or unkind, they learn to mistrust, making it difficult for them later to form close relationships.  Distracted and disturbed, a dysfunctional family may early breed mistrust in children.  The inconsistency of the wet-dry cycle probably is enough to instill distrust in a child.  Children in dysfunctional families are often compulsive and have a tendency to become addicted to something.  Or they may turn to an addiction as an escape from pain.  The enmeshed family system has taught them to depend on things outside themselves for happiness and satisfaction.  Additionally, children of dysfunctional families are often obsessed with pleasing others.

CODF’s cast themselves in various roles.  The child may choose the role as a survival tactic, or, because each role performs a function in the family system, the system itself will force the child into the part.  Sometimes a specific child will play more than one role or through time switch from one to another.  These roles help the family maintain its dysfunctional homeostasis and can eventually be harmful to the children.  The following are various roles:

Chief Enabler – shelters the addict from consequences of his or her behavior; cost to them is martyrdom;

Family Hero – keeps family’s self-worth, acts as family counselor; cost is a compulsive drive;

Family Scapegoat – diverts attention from the addict; cost is possible self-destructive behavior and often addiction;

Lost child – escapes family stress by emotional and physical separation; cost is social isolation;

Family Mascot – diverts attention from the addict by humor; cost is immaturity and/or emotional illness.

Family members learn “addictive logic” to deny the chaos.  They learn to lie and say the problem doesn’t exist so as not to betray the family.  To survive in an addictive system, children learn to deny healthy responses that tell them they are in danger; they have to keep increasing these dishonest coping skills as their situation worsens.  Also, a torrent of negative thoughts may be coursing through children’s innocent minds:  “I can’t do anything right; I am a failure; I’m not loved; I will be abandoned; I am ugly and bad…etc.”  They desperately need someone to tell them these are lies and help them see the truth about themselves and their families.

*The Spouses — Being married to an addict can be like a ride on a roller coaster – terrifying.  Life is chaotic and unpredictable, up one day, down the next, depending on how the spouse is behaving.  Emotions fluctuate and are mixed.  The dry period, when life is on the upside, inspires hope that it will last, along with nagging fear that it won’t.  In cases of spousal abuse, the cycle is well documented:  abuse followed by remorse followed by forgiveness followed by abuse followed by remorse, and so on.  The same happens in addictive marriages:  The husband manifests an addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober and pleads for forgiveness.  The wife forgives, and the two are reconciled.  The husband manifests the addictive/compulsive behavior, and the wife gets angry.  The husband becomes sober, and on and on.  The spouse will probably be experiencing many of the same emotions as the children – fear, anger, helplessness, loneliness, and the like.  Some will hate their husband or wife, their bitterness created out of years of broken promises and neglect.  Spouses will also blame themselves for their partner’s problem.  Shame too can be intense.  And to cover his or her embarrassment, the husband or wife of the troubled person will strive hard to make a contribution outside the home.  He or she may be driven to succeed in the workplace.  Some will devote themselves to social work or church ministry.  The marriage relationship will deteriorate.  Feelings of love that were likely present in the beginning of the marriage will slowly die as the partner’s addiction progresses.

Three of the most important marital resources – respect, reciprocity, and reliability – will be challenged.  Respect involves conveying to another person (through words, deeds, or simply being present) that the other is of value.  By their irresponsible behavior and neglect of family duties, addicts and the like will not be likely to keep this resource in their relationship.  Reciprocity in relationships refers to the balance of giving and receiving care and consideration.  Not much fairness will be felt in a dysfunctional family where the weight of maintaining the family falls on the addict’s spouse and/or children.  Reliability refers to the expectation that the person will be there for us on an ongoing, fairly consistent basis.  Broken promises and no-shows will destroy this resource.  An addiction, like any other violation of the relationship bond, will chip away at trust.  People married to the addiction/compulsive behavior often convey to their partners that they are not important.  This deterioration of the marriage and emotional struggles of the spouse will sometimes diminish his or her capacity to parent.  Sometimes the spouse, wrestling with the partner’s addiction/behavior, will dump his or her responsibilities on the children.  Because of this neglect, some adult children are angry at the spouse of their addictive/compulsive parent more than they are the one with the addiction/compulsion.

*The Role of Codependency — Codependency is another form of enmeshment.  The spouse of the troubled individual is referred to as the “co-addict.”  This can be described as one person’s addictive patterns aligning themselves with another’s so that there is some degree of systemic collusion or addictive pattern.  Essentially, a codependent is related to another in an unhealthy way.  One person cares so completely for the other that he or she neglects himself or herself, living almost entirely for the other person.  Being an enabler is sometimes part of such a relationship.  Enablers don’t usually consciously do things to help their partner continue his or her destructive behavior.  In fact they will probably attack their partner’s problem with a vengeance, doing everything possible to get him or her to straighten out. Yet, at the same time, they will do things that facilitate their spouse’s behavior.  For example, they will protect their spouse from the consequences of his or her actions:  phoning his boss to report him sick when he can’t go to work because of the addictive behavior; giving money to a wife who has a money related addictive problem; making excuses to the kids for a parent’s absence, and so on.  Then, too, the partners contribute to the addicts’ problem by facilitating the reorganization of the family around them.  Children, too, can play the role of codependent.

Codependents sacrifice unnecessarily and to the detriment of others as well as themselves.  Following Jesus’ example, Christians are encouraged to make sacrifices, but they are not to make senseless ones.  Jesus’ sacrificial offering of himself benefited others.  But the codependent’s sacrifices are harmful to the one for whom they are made.  It is not really loving.  Love, as conceived in the New Testament, is concern and care for a person’s highest good.  Preventing an addicted/compulsive spouse from suffering their own consequences is not showing this type of concern and care.  This troubled spouse needs to see the results of his/her lifestyle and choices.  As Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.”  Love is sometimes expressed by not doing something for someone.  Also, codependents need to understand that it is not wrong to care for themselves.  As indicated in Lev. 19:18 and Matt. 19:19, we are commanded to respect others as we respect ourselves.

Some write that codependency is defined as “a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  By this, they mean that people who live in enmeshed families develop a tendency to live this way in general, even with people outside the family.  Symptoms include the following:

* Thoughts and attitudes dominated by the other person: “I think more about your life than mine.”

* Self-esteem related to the other person: “I value your opinion more than my own; I need to help you in order to feel good about myself; I need to be needed.”

* Emotions are tied to the other person: “When you are hurting, I often react more deeply than you do.”

* Interests geared to the other person: “I know more clearly what you want than what I want.”

* Relationship to others is affected by the other person: “I neglect my friends to get overly involved in fixing you; I am compulsive about pleasing others, yet I get upset by their demands on me.”

In selecting a mate, some men and women seem to be attracted to a person who needs their care.  Besides the obvious shortcomings, one major problem of this type of relationship is the powerful dependence these partners have on each other.  They become so enmeshed that they seem unable to function as individuals.  They become so intertwined that it becomes difficult for the other to leave the relationship regardless of how dysfunctional it is.  Codependents will have considerable psychological distress.  They will suffer from poor self-esteem, since they may feel little worth apart from what is derived from rescuing others.  They will also suffer from an extreme need to be needed, making them depressed when they feel they are not.  Also they may have an unhealthy willingness to suffer, somehow believing that suffering for someone will make that person love them; being a martyr will make them feel rewarded.

Despite codependents’ sorry state of affairs, they will have a strong resistance to change.  Leaving the troubled spouse, even as a step toward healing, accountability, and re-creation of the marriage,  is not an option, because they fear feeling guilty, living alone, or not being able to make it financially.

In conclusion, when we or our families experience trouble, we must call upon the Divine weapons and resources that God has provided us.  We must remember that we cannot face the vast array of past and present problems on our own. Therefore, we must keep our focus on the Lord since we don’t know how to deal with these things (2 Chron 20:12b).  He has the willingness and power to do the impossible, demolish the past and present strongholds that have enslaved us, and make us to be who He created us to be (Phil 2:12; Luke 1:37; 2 Cor 10:3-5).

Jesus Controls My Chaos

Editor’s Note:  Even as Jesus is able to set the boundaries of the Earth’s seas and control their fury, He is able to wisely and compassionately set limits on and control the chaos, destruction, and fury of life’s storms that affect each one of us.

Jesus Stills the Storm

SOURCE:  R.C. Sproul/Ligonier Ministries

“The men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (v. 27).  – Matthew 8:23–27

Having explained the cost of discipleship to two would-be followers, Jesus and His disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:23). Little do the disciples know that this journey will give their teacher an opportunity to show forth His identity in a way they have not yet seen.

Because of its geographical location, violent squalls frequently occur on the open water of the Sea of Galilee, especially in the period between May and October. Seasoned fishermen like Peter, Andrew, James, and John (4:18–22) are certainly familiar with such storms, and so their fear, evident in Matthew 8:24–27, shows that the turbulence in which they find themselves is unusually fierce.

However, despite the storm’s ferocity, Jesus is able to sleep peacefully as the boat traverses the waves. This indicates His great trust in God and comfort in His faithful obedience because the Old Testament understands sound sleep to be a gift from God to His holy people (Lev. 26:6).

Christ’s ability to sleep in the storm is more remarkable when we consider that the boat in which His company is traveling is the customary fishing boat of His day, just big enough to accommodate the small group of men and a large catch of fish. The sailors are completely exposed to the elements. Jesus is not worried like the others even though He feels the storm’s effects no less than they do.

Yet Jesus’ command of the storm tells us about much more than His great faith.

In the biblical worldview, the sea and the storm are associated with chaos and destruction (Ps. 69:1–2). Only God can control the sea, and in fact, He sets its boundary and stills its fury (Job 38:8–11). That Jesus is able to silence the storm and still the waves indicates that He possesses an authority equal to the Creator’s (Matt. 8:26–27). The disciples marvel at this miracle because it is evidence that their beloved rabbi is more than just a teacher; He is in fact God Almighty.

John Chrysostom writes that “[Jesus’] sleeping showed he was a man. His calming of the seas declared him God” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 28.1).

We put our lives in Jesus’ hands based on the evidence of His power. Today’s passage shows us that we can trust Him because He has authority over all nature and is worthy of our faith since He is the incarnate God over all creation. We follow the Creator of all things, not merely a good man. Take time today to review biblical teaching on the divinity of Christ (for example, John 1:1–18) so that you may be confident that your trust in Him will never be in vain.

Two Traps to Avoid: “If Only” and “What If?”

SOURCE:  Susan Yates

When these issues dominate my thoughts, I succumb to selfishness and fear.

In each season of my life, I’ve found myself falling into two mental traps which are not helpful. One is the “If only” syndrome, and the other is the “What if?” syndrome.

Here’s how “If only” might express itself:

  • “If only I had a husband.”
  • “If only I had more money.”
  • “If only my husband would act like…”
  • “If only my husband (or I) had a good job.”
  • “If only we had a different house.”
  • “If only my parents (or his) understood.”
  • “If only my child would sleep through the night.”
  • “If only I had a really close friend.”
  • “If only I didn’t come from such a wounded past.”
  • “If only I wasn’t stuck in this place.”
  • “If only I was free of this disease.”
  • “If only I knew how to handle my teen.”
  • “If only I didn’t have to do this.”
  • “If only I didn’t struggle with this.”

Can you identify? You can probably add to this list yourself. Over the years I’ve realized that these thoughts merely lead me into a real case of self-pity. At the core of what I’m expressing is: “Life is about me and my happiness.” I have a bucket that needs to be filled.

But the reality is that even if the desire for one “If only” is met, I’ll just have another one to add to the list. Too often I get myself into this mindset without even realizing it. And it sinks me into a bad mood or a feeling of being depressed. The focus is on me, and I need to confess this selfishness and ask God to forgive me and to enable me to focus on Him and on others. And I need to ask Him to give me a grateful heart.

The other trap is “What if?”:

  • “What if I can’t get pregnant?”
  • “What if my husband leaves me?”
  • “What if I don’t get this raise?”
  • “What if I can’t complete this project?”
  • “What if we lose the election?”
  • “What if the medical tests bring bad news?”
  • “What if my child doesn’t make the team?”
  • “What if I fail?”

This mindset leads to fear. I am afraid of what will happen if the “What if” comes true. And this can be a paralyzing fear.

The “What if” syndrome is especially hard for those of us with an overactive imagination—we are often visionaries; we are creative. We tend to have this weakness, however: We can create the worst-case scenario in our imagination in three seconds flat! It can be terrifying.

What’s at the core of this attitude? I fail to believe that God is in control. My “What if” has become bigger than my God. I have temporarily forgotten that He is loving, He is kind, He is present, He is good, and He will never, ever forsake me.

I can give Him my “What if”—He can handle it. He will sustain me.

Underlying the “If only” and “What if” syndromes is an expectation that our lives should be completely satisfying. We may recognize that’s not realistic, but too often we live with that expectation in our thought life without even realizing it.

We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

Today, what is your “If only…”? What is your “What if”?

Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

Begin to say His traits out loud: “You are my Father, You go before me. You prepare a way for me. You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.”

This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.

Why God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The next time someone says that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, point them to Judges 7. God’s instructing Gideon to take on over 100,000 enemy soldiers with just 300 fits in the “more than you can handle” category. Imagine how Gideon and his servant, Purah, must have felt trying to come to grips with a humanly impossible assignment.

Standing on the side of Mount Gilboa, Gideon gazed over the Valley of Jezreel, which sprawled beneath him northward toward the hill of Moreh. The valley was a sea of tents, teeming with more than 100,000 Midian warriors.

That morning, the Lord had judged Israel’s army of 32,000 too big to face Midian’s. Israel would think more highly of himself than he ought to think when God gave him victory. So Gideon had sent home whoever was afraid. When 22,000 hit the road, Gideon had to quiet his own fear. Now Israel was outnumbered ten-to-one. But God was with them and armies had overcome such odds before.

Oddly, the Lord considered these odds still too much in Israel’s favor. So in obedience to the Lord’s instruction, Gideon brought his small, thirsty army down to the spring of Harod. And he gave his servant, Purah, the strangest command of his brief military career: “Observe all the men as they drink. Have every man who laps his water like a dog stand off to the side.”

Gideon supervised the selection, but when so few were being chosen, he just let Purah finish the count and he climbed back up Gilboa to pray and survey.

It wasn’t long before Purah emerged from the trees. “So what’s the total?”

“Three hundred, sir,” said Purah.

Gideon chuckled to himself. “Three hundred.” He looked back toward the human hoard in the valley and was quiet for a moment. “That’s less than I expected.”

“Yes, sir,” said Purah. “But thankfully, three hundred doesn’t reduce our strength much.”

Gideon breathed deeply. “No, Purah. The three hundred are not the reductions. They’re the army. The others are the reductions.”

Purah stood dazed for a moment, staring at Gideon. “The three hundred are the army?”

Gideon nodded slowly, still looking into the Midian-infested Jezreel.

“But that’s not an army! That’s how many should be guarding an army’s baggage!”

Purah stepped up beside Gideon. Together they watched smoke columns rising from ten times more cooking fires than they now had warriors. Purah shook his head and said, “Even if we were all like the mighty men of old, three hundred could not overcome 100,000.” He paused. “And we aren’t mighty men.” Another pause. “And there’s more than a 100,000 down there.”

Both were silent for a while. In the quiet, the Lord spoke to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.

Then Gideon said to Purah, “During the exodus, how many mighty men did it take to destroy Egypt and its army or part the Red Sea?”

Purah thought briefly. “None.”

“How many did it take to tear down Jericho’s walls?”

“None.”

“How many did it take to feed two million of our people in the wilderness every day for forty years?”

“None. I get your point.”

“The mightiest are those who trust in the Lord and obey him, no matter how impossible things appear.”

“In our people’s history, the mightiest have not been the strong warriors,” Gideon said. “The mightiest have been those who trusted in the Lord and obeyed him, no matter how impossible things appeared. He has promised us that Midian will be defeated. He has chosen only three hundred of us. We will obey; he will act. And when Midian falls, it will be clear to everyone who felled him.” Then he looked at Purah and smiled. “Maybe the Lord just needs us to guard his baggage!”

Purah didn’t laugh. He only replied, “Should we dismiss the others?” Gideon nodded.

Later that night, in the tiny camp, Gideon lay praying. Every plan to mobilize 300 against 100,000 seemed ludicrous.

Suddenly, he was aware of the Presence. He sat up, his heart beating fast.

The Lord said, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.

Purah woke to Gideon’s nudge and whispered words, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Purah whispered back, getting up quickly.

“To the Midian camp, just you and me. The Lord has something he wants to show us.”

They quietly crept toward the nearest Midian outpost, veiled by the clouded sky, and saw two inattentive guards talking. Just as they got within earshot, one said, “I had a strange dream before being woken for duty tonight.”

“Tell me,” the other said.

“This cake of barley came tumbling into our camp, crashed into the tent, turned it over, and flattened it.”

The other guard looked at him alarmed and said, “I know what that means! The cake can be none other than Gideon, the son of Joash! God has given us all into his hand!”

Gideon and Purah looked at one another with the same stunned expression.

Cast Your Cares

With renewed faith, Gideon and Purah roused their mini army and launched a night attack. This threw the Midians into a panic and they slaughtered each other in confusion. It was a rout. Not one of Gideon’s three hundred perished in the battle. God gave them more than they could handle to force them to rely wholly on him.

“God gives us more than we can handle to force us to rely wholly on him.”

When we’re confronted with an impossible situation or trial, Gideon’s three hundred preach to us that “salvation . . . is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). These are no domesticated platitudes. God really intends for us to cast our all on these massive truths and for them to give us more-than-conquerors confidence and peace (Romans 8:37), no matter what we face.

It is not hyperbole to say that the defeat of our sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross dwarfs Gideon’s victory. Compared to overcoming God’s wrath against our sin, defeating 100,000 Midianites was very small. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

God certainly does give us more than we can handle. And he does it “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If you’re facing some overwhelming adversary or adversity and you wonder how God could possibly deliver and work it for your good (Romans 8:28), then take heart. He is granting you the joy of experiencing the reality of Judges 7, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Anxiety: How to stop catastrophizing – an expert’s guide

SOURCE:  Linda Blair/Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist suggests a three-pronged plan for tackling anxiety and approaching each day logically and positively

Let us start by considering why some people catastrophize – that is, on hearing uncertain news, they imagine the worst possible outcome. After all, it is not uncommon and those who catastrophize seem to do it a lot.

Catastrophizers tend to be fairly anxious people. Whether this characteristic is principally genetic or more the result of learning is unknown. High levels of anxiety are extremely unpleasant, so we look for ways to discharge those unpleasant feelings as quickly as possible. If a catastrophizer is told something inconclusive – for example, if they go to a GP and are asked to have tests – they look for a way to feel in control again immediately. They learn to choose the worst possible outcome because it allows for the greatest sense of relief when they are reassured.

Considering all possibilities is not a bad strategy if you examine them logically. However, unable to bear their distress, catastrophisers rush to external sources to calm themselves down: checking whether anyone else has “come through” the same problem; matching symptoms online to obtain a diagnosis and treatment options; asking a professional to tell them that they will survive. Once they are reassured, they feel better – in psychological jargon, they have “rewarded” this seeking behaviour. The next time they feel uncertain or threatened, they will ratchet up their anxiety with a catastrophic thought, then look outwards for reassurance even faster than before. In this way, catastrophising soon becomes a well-entrenched habit. The greatest problem with seeking others to alleviate anxiety is that it offers only temporary relief. There is always another source to check or another opinion to be had; as a result, catastrophisers feel anxious again increasingly quickly. The only way to break this cycle is to tame anxiety. After this, you can still seek advice. So, if you are a catastrophiser and you would rather not be, how do you go about making changes?

Accept yourself. Anxiety is energy: if you are an anxious person, celebrate! However, why waste that energy feeling uncomfortable and preparing yourself for circumstances that will almost certainly never occur? Look for enjoyable ways to challenge yourself and use your energy more positively: taking regular aerobic exercise; learning something new; taking up a creative passion.

Take control. Establish a regular “worry time”. Start by setting aside half an hour every day. Write down all your concerns in specific terms. For example: “I felt nauseated this morning. Do I have stomach cancer?” Assign a score on a scale of 0 to 100% to estimate how distressed this possibility makes you feel. Next, list all the possible explanations for your concern, then rank each one according to how likely it is to be correct. Make use of external sources if necessary, but stick with reputable websites and professionals. Finally, score your worry for the level of distress it is causing you now. Gradually, you will be able to reduce the amount and frequency of worry time.

Use the “best friend test”. Ask yourself what you would advise your best friend to do about each concern, and take that action.

Learn to self-soothe. Whenever you are overwhelmed by anxiety and feel you must seek reassurance, give yourself permission to do so – but not straight away. Establish an interval before you are allowed to act. Even two minutes is enough at first, because you are still exerting self-control. Breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth, or taking some gentle exercise, will help. Gradually, you will find you can wait longer. When you get to the point where you can wait more than 20 minutes, most people find they no longer need to be reassured by others.

This three-pronged approach – using your “worry energy” to carry out new and enjoyable challenges, approaching your tendency to catastrophize logically and systematically, and learning to wait through discomfort – takes time. But if you invest the necessary time, you will start looking forward to each day knowing you can deal with uncertainty in a more positive, balanced way.

How to Ease the Intensity of a Panic Attack by Practicing Mindfulness

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Panic attacks can hit you at the most random, inconvenient times without notice or apparent triggers. They can create intense moments that leave you fearful while waiting for the feeling of impending doom to subside.

Solution By observing mindfulness, we can decrease the intensity of a panic attack by allowing anxiety to run is course without shaming ourselves or suppressing our feelings.

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The feeling struck while I was driving down the interstate to an appointment. My muscles tightened and encapsulated me. My breath became short and my head started spinning. The cadence of my heartbeat increased while my hands clinched the leather on my steering wheel.

“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m really dying this time.”

This time, right? This wasn’t just the result of some fabricated paranoia. These symptoms were real.

I could feel my throat start to close, and I was convinced I was going to suffocate and pass out. The feeling intensified as I realized I could seriously injure myself or another person if it happened while I was driving, so I pulled over at the nearest exit.

The mystery of a panic attack can create enough anxiety to actually trigger one. The phenomenon has been studied for decades and has been loosely explained through theories of evolution, genetics and the fight-flight-freeze response. Preventing them from occurring, however, has been a trial-and-error process and one person’s remedy doesn’t always work for another.

Though we’re not operating in the rational parts of our brain during a panic attack, exercising mindfulness could make a difference in its intensity. Give these exercises a try.

1. Embrace what’s happening.

The physical symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of your body trying to protect itself. (This, of course, is assuming you’ve been cleared of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor.) When the fight-flight-freeze response is active in your brain during a panic attack, it sends messages to different parts of the body to respond to the perceived danger you’re processing.

2. Focus on your breathing pattern.

There are different variations of doing this, but here’s what works for me. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4-6 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as many times as you need to. The idea here is to focus on your breath and to return a normal oxygen flow to parts of your brain and body.

3. Eat a mint or chew some gum.

The stronger the scent, the better. The taste overloads your senses and takes away the intensity of what you’re experiencing.

4. Stop shaming yourself.

You may find yourself embarrassed in how you’re responding to external stimuli while your body and mind endure the downward spiral of panic. Allow yourself to honor how you’re feeling, recognize what’s happening and to get through the experience. Attempts to suppress these things could make the anxiety worse.

5. Don’t ask “Why?”

Asking yourself, “Why?” is not a question that comes from the rational part of your mind. It comes from the proverbial heart or your gut. The answer to “Why” takes you down the rabbit hole of “What-ifs” that won’t give you the answers to relief.

Mindfulness means we give ourselves permission to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences without judgment and shame. It opens our attention to what’s happening in the present. When we embrace the physical symptoms of a panic attack, it sends a message to the amygdala, almost as if it were to say, “Hey, I know what this is. I’ve experienced it before and everything will eventually be ok.” Give yourself permission to let anxiety run its course and acknowledge how you feel when it happens. Practicing mindfulness at the onset of a panic attack allows you to make the necessary connections that ease the anxiety efficiently.

When Fear Seizes You

SOURCE:  Stacey Reaoch/Desiring God

This past fall my husband had the privilege of going to Turkey to speak at a conference for Christian workers. Although I was excited for his opportunity, I was also feeling somewhat hesitant with the terrorist activity in nearby Syria. Thanks to modern technology, we planned to FaceTime every day to keep in close touch with each other.

One day during that week, our appointed time to connect went by with no contact from my husband. Maybe he’s just running late, I reasoned. I looked for text messages . . . negative. I checked to make sure my ringer was turned up loud enough . . . affirmative. Maybe he’s deep in conversation with someone. . . . But as the minutes turned into hours, fear began to seize me. Unfortunately, I learned of terrorists near the Turkey border as I began watching world news reports.

As fear began to consume me, every worst possible situation played out in my head. Had terrorists overcome the conference and taken captives? What would I do? My mind went through multiple scenarios: explaining to our children what had happened, looking for a job to support our family, and wondering whether to sell the house. By the time my husband was finally able to call, I had already decided where to move and how much to sell the house for. Come to find out, he was just fine.

Fear Feeds Irrationality

“During our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us.”

When fear seizes you, all your ability to think rationally evaporates. Life becomes overwhelming, and the promises of God are thrown out the window. When Moses sent the spies into Canaan to gather information for the people of Israel, fear of the looming giants became much more visible than any of the blessings Canaan had to offer. Although they obediently gathered fruit from the land, their report focused on all the seemingly impossible obstacles they faced.

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:27–28). As the spies exaggerated and gave the worst report possible, they compared themselves to grasshoppers and claimed the land would devour them (Numbers 13:32–33).

This fearful exaggeration infected the Israelites who succumbed to crying and grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and it even led them to claim they wish they’d died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2–3)!

It seems Israel forgot God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan, despite the obstacles that looked so intimidating. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2). If the Israelites had truly trusted God’s promise, even their enemies in Canaan shouldn’t have been a threat to them. God was going to give Israel the Promised Land, just as he’d said to Abraham hundreds of years before. And during our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us too.

Fighting Off Fear

When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember:

1. God’s truth. Is what I’m thinking about really happening? Or is it just my imagination running wild? Paul reminds us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

“We can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.”

2. God’s presence. We can be comforted remembering that we are not alone. God is with us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

3. God’s grace. God promises to provide us with his all-sufficient grace for every trial that comes our way. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” Jesus told Paul. And therefore, with Paul, we can “boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

4. God’s sovereignty. God is in control over every situation in our lives. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

5. God’s listening ear. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

6. God’s trustworthiness. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).

7. God’s big picture plan. No matter how awful this trial may seem, God promises to use everything together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not see the good in our situation at the time, but we can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.

So, when your child is diagnosed with cancer, or you just learned of a loved one in a car accident, or your husband comes home with news that he was let go from his job, prepare yourself for battle. Don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. Fight him off with the promises of God’s word and his unchanging character.

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