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Posts tagged ‘triggers’

Hurt Feelings Do Not Mean You Did Something Wrong

SOURCE:  LaVerna Wilk, M.A./Gottman Institute

I was recently visiting with a friend and she shared a story about a blowout fight she had with her husband. Being a therapist, I’ve grown used to this over the years.

The story went like this. Someone accidentally moved her chair as she was going to sit down at work, causing her to fall and hit her neck against a desk. As a result, her range of motion was limited and it was very painful for her to turn her head.

After her fall, her and her husband had been driving on the freeway and as he was trying to make a last-second lane change, he asked her to check out the passenger side window for cars. She said she felt disregarded because he knew she was in pain, and his request only made it worse.

She called him a name that I won’t repeat here.

“If the roles were reversed, I would have been in the right lane way ahead of time so that I didn’t cause him pain. I was so mad at him,” she told me.

What’s wrong with her complaint?

Not a thing, but what you’re not hearing is her history of feeling like her needs don’t matter and like she is less important than others. As the youngest child from a large family that struggled financially, decisions were always made based on what was best for the larger unit, and her needs were often ignored because the bigger picture was, at times, quite dire. So, she is sensitive to situations where her needs are not acknowledged.

I’m reminded of the quote from William Faulker: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

Triggers are normal

Here’s the kicker. This is a trigger for her. Triggers are normal, enduring vulnerabilities from moments in our past that escalate interactions in the present. They are normal because we all have them, and while their impact can be managed, they can rarely be eliminated.

Does this mean her husband did something wrong? Nope.

Is she just being overly sensitive? Nope.

It’s just not his trigger, so it didn’t occur to him that it could be an issue.

Further, when we only know what is happening in one person’s subjective reality, it is pretty easy to feel indignant on their behalf. But here’s the reality about subjective realities: all points of view are valid.

From his perspective, he grew up in a hardworking family where people worked through their pain and didn’t complain. His parents coached his sports teams, drove him to hockey at any ungodly hour of the morning, knew the names and phone numbers of all his friends, and taught him that he could be whatever he aspired to be.

They also yelled a lot and demanded what they wanted or needed. So because she had not clearly stated that being upright in a moving vehicle was causing lots of pain for her and that she really needed him to bubble wrap her in love, it didn’t occur to him that he was asking too much.

Hurt feelings are normal

In the grand scheme of life, this situation feels trivial. So why is it so important for the couple to talk about it? Because when someone’s feelings get hurt in marriage, it doesn’t automatically mean someone did something wrong. It just means feelings got hurt. It’s how couples manage it that matters.

In a perfect world, her husband would have been more careful about his driving and she would have been more clear at the beginning of the drive about her pain. But these things didn’t happen, so her feelings got hurt, then she got contemptuous towards him, and his feelings got hurt.

This is not actually an argument – it’s what we call a regrettable incident. Even the best couples have them. In our couples workshops and in session, we teach couples how to repair after an interaction like this. Can you easily list examples like this from your own relationship?

Masters of Relationships repair early and often. They remember their partner’s triggers and they respect them. You are not a Disaster because you had a regrettable incident, but you might be or become one if you don’t repair.

Dr. Julie Gottman says that “within every regrettable incident is a conversation the couple still needs to have.” We call this a recovery conversation.

All it would have taken for this couple is for one of them to say, “I can see why your feelings got hurt. That wasn’t my intention, and I am sorry it happened. Your feelings matter to me.” This is relationship repair that works.


When Your Partner Is Struggling With Addiction: 10 Tips

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
Substance abuse affects millions of families either directly or indirectly, and the abuse of both legal and illegal substances is a prominent concern for public health officials throughout the world.
Many addicts who stop using point to the strength, persistence, and understanding they received from a spouse, family member or friend as a major reason for their recovery. (If the relationship has turned violent, a breakup [or separation]  may be  [an] option — See Article:  DIVORCE: GOD’S GRACE WHEN A SPOUSE CHOOSES SIN AS A NEW MATE.)
As a partner of a substance user, you are at higher risk for developing poor patterns of communication and problem-solving; having marital, financial, and child-rearing problems; sexual dysfunction; verbal and physical aggression; and episodes of depression. You may have heard terms like “enabler” and “co-dependent” in the self-help literature. These terms mean basically this: all of your energy may be focused on the user – trying to rescue him or her, or cover-up for him or her, or stop him or her from destroying lives. The good news is: research suggests that when you begin concentrating on your own needs and leave the substance abuser to the consequences of his or her own actions, the probability of recovery increases.
The purpose of this article  is to offer hope and practical suggestions for you as your partner is struggling with addiction. It is not meant to replace therapy or counseling. Like most other suggestions, keep in mind that what works for one, may not work for another. You are ultimately the one who knows what is best for you.
The painful truth is that you cannot change your addicted partner! You can only change yourself. In order to be that strong, persistent person that your partner may one day point to in his or her recovery, stop concentrating on your partner and the problem, and start taking care of yourself.
Here are some more tips:

1. Educate yourself – A basic understanding of the problem is fundamental to being able to resolve any issue. It is important that you begin to learn more about the addiction process and how it affects the partner of the addict. This will empower you with new ideas and help you process the guilt, frustration, and anger that go along with being married to an addict.
2. Attend support groups – Don’t continue fighting alone. It is important to find a group to help support you through the difficulties and challenges of living with a substance user.
This may be an Alanon group, a church group [e.g., Celebrate Recovery], a counselor experienced in addictions, or simply some good friends. Research has shown that support groups help relieve depressive symptoms; decrease social isolation; improve social adjustment; increase knowledge about the problem; and provide coping strategies, as well as, techniques to effectively deal with the problem. You may not feel connected to the first support group you attend, but don’t give up! Keep looking until you find the right one.
3. Stop the fighting – It is particularly senseless to argue with someone when they have been using a substance. In fact, some studies indicate that not having any interaction with the substance user while they are under the influence of a substance is the best course of action. Avoid the person until they are sober.
4. Be a cheerleader – When the addicted partner is not using, do your best to be positive with them. This will send the message that you care and will allow you to feel good about yourself. If you are negative when they are not using, you will have fallen into the trap of allowing the substance use to define who you are and how you behave.
5. Avoid triggers to use – Recognizing places, people, situations, events, etc., that seem to trigger substance use by your partner is an important step toward change. Develop a secret code that your addicted partner can use to signal you that he or she is struggling with a situation and needs help getting away from the temptation. Be sensitive and responsive to their needs even if it means doing things like leaving an event early or not visiting certain family members.
6. Find new couple activities – Substance users tend to be very egocentric and spend a lot of time in their heads thinking about themselves, their problems, and their cravings. To combat this egocentrism, get involved in some sort of community service that focuses mental and physical energy on others. This activity gives the addict a sense of fulfillment and helps them rebuild a depleted self-esteem. This will also do the same for the partner of an addict. Doing this together will allow you as a couple to develop a shared interest and new friends around an activity that doesn’t include substance use.
7. Rebuild trust over time – After using stops, rebuilding a trusting relationship is one of the most difficult obstacles remaining for a couple. This will take time and patience. Addicts are often very accomplished liars and have, over the years, provided many reasons not to be trusted. Find small ways that the addicted partner can successfully show that they are again trustworthy and express your pleasure when they succeed. This is a particularly difficult task for the partner that has had their trust broken time and time again by the addict.
8. Love the person, hate their behaviors – Making a distinction between the person and their behavior is sometimes hard to do, but is an important step toward your own freedom. Your family member is not a “bad” person, but a person with a “bad” disease [or making bad choices]. When you are able to make this distinction, you are set free to express the powerful emotions within you.
9. Restore your communication – Couples often get in a pattern of simply reacting to each other in a negative way. They know that their behavior isn’t constructive and neither enjoys it, but they can’t stop. This is particularly so for couples in which one partner struggles with an addiction. The repeated stress taints their interpretation of each other. This leads to a tendency to blame and accuse each other using statements that are really opinions, perceptions, or interpretations of the other person’s behavior and intentions.
Learning to use “I” statements helps restore communication and trust.
For example, notice the difference in how the following statements open up options and empower a person to act less defensively and focus on behaviors:
‘You never listen to me!’  vs.  ‘I find it difficult to talk to you when I don’t feel heard.’
‘You will never change.’  vs.  ‘I seem to get the same reaction from you whenever we talk.’
‘Work is never going to make you happy.’  vs.  ‘I haven’t found my work to be something I enjoy.’
‘You don’t care about me.’  vs.  ‘I have often felt that you haven’t understood the difficulties I am having.’
‘You are a bully.’  vs.  ‘I feel intimidated when you speak like that.’
10. Relax –Deep breathing exercises, stretching, and other relaxation methods are an essential part of stress management that decrease the wear and tear on your mind and body from the difficulties and strains of daily living.
Practicing relaxation techniques a few minutes a day can reduce stress symptoms by:
• Slowing your heart rate• Lowering blood pressure  •Slowing your breathing rate  •Increasing blood flow to major muscles  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain• Improving concentration  • Reducing anger and frustration
•Boosting confidence to handle problems
The addiction process and, thus, dealing with a partner that is struggling with an addiction is complex. It is crucial that the non-using partner take actions that will bolster her or his own mental health and resilience. Renew your conviction to live your life according to your values and identity, and not to react to the manipulations of a substance that has taken control of your partner. If your partner, at some point, decides to reclaim control of his or her life, then upon entering into recovery they will find a strong, resilient companion to help them along the way. If not, then you will be sad for him or her, but you will have invested in yourself.

Helpful Action Steps To Deal With Your Pornography Problem

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors

For the Person Viewing Pornography

  1. Flee Temptation
    • Identify all the locations and activities that provide temptation. Avoid bookstores that sell pornographic magazines—to avoid even the appearance of evil. Use the computer only when someone else is in the room. Purchase software that blocks access to undesirable Internet sites.
  2. Identify Emotional Triggers
    • Are there work associates, times of the day, or particularly stressful situations that trigger the temptation? Identify which part of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is your strongest trigger.
    • Take specific steps to minimize the triggers. The triggers can be used as cues to engage in competing behavior—calling a friend or support group partner, praying, calling your wife, getting some work or other project done, and so on.
  3. See It as Sin
    • It is important to see the behavior as sin and no longer to justify it. With your counselor, think about how God views your sin, the nature of forgiveness, and God’s unconditional love. How do you see yourself in relationship to how God sees you?
  4. Refocus on Christ
    • Develop a plan to strengthen and deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ.
    • Be accountable to someone else for daily Scripture reading and prayer.
    • Memorize Scripture so that you can bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
  5. Find Support and Accountability
    • Become involved in a local Christian ministry that supports men (women) who are experiencing this struggle. Find a men’s (women’s) addiction group, especially one that works on sexual addictions, if possible.
  6. Seek Further Help
    • Pornography use can cause long-term problems. If this has been a long-standing pattern with a high degree of involvement, it is important to enlist the support of a professional trained in the arena of sexual addiction and/or be involved in a local 12-step group.

For the Spouse Seeking Counsel

  1. Watch for Triggers
    • You can identify locations and activities that provide temptation for your husband. Help him avoid bookstores that sell pornographic magazines (for example, don’t send him late at night to the local 7–Eleven on an errand).
    • Move the computer out of isolation. If your husband is willing to be helped, he should go along with this. If not, you can explain that you don’t want the kids to find pornography. Purchase software that blocks the access to undesirable Internet sites.
  2. Identify Emotional Triggers
    • Do you sense that there are work associates, times of the day, or particularly stressful situations that trigger the temptation? What can you do to help, if anything?
    • Which part of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) is the strongest trigger for your spouse?
    • What can you do to off-set these?
    • If your spouse is willing to be helped, you can talk to him about these triggers and how you can be his ally in minimizing them.
  3. Continue to Love Him
    • Nagging, anger, or humiliation will not work. Continue to love your spouse. It will be difficult because you will feel “cheated on,” but ask God to help you choose to love him through this.
    • Let him know that you want him back from the darkness and you want your marriage unhindered by these “other women.” Tell him how you feel when he views pornography—emphasizing your hurt and fear.
    • Ask your husband if he wants his children to be similarly enslaved when they are older.
    • Explain that eventually pornography will no longer satisfy, and he will need more and other types, or will be led into an affair.
  4. Pray
    • Pray that your husband will be sickened by what he sees and will choose to turn away.
    • Let God go to work in your husband’s life.
  5. Encourage Support
    • Encourage your husband to join a support group or men’s Bible study that will provide accountability. Do whatever it takes to free him up to attend such a group.

Biblical Insights

Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. Numbers 25:1

Sexual sin always progresses, drawing people farther and farther from God. What may start as an “innocent” flirtation with sin can lead to deadly consequences. Dabbling around the edges of sexual sin can take hold and consume a person, leading to pain and brokenness.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust. 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5

The Bible is very clear about sexual sin. God created sex as a beautiful expression of love in marriage. Satan took that beauty and distorted it.

Sexual sin encompasses a wide range of activities that God forbids. No matter what society allows, believers must look to God for instruction in this serious matter.

Christians need to avoid activities or thoughts that warp what God intended for building oneness in marriage. Believers must have no part in sexual sin. God knows its power to destroy people. His commands are for our good.

I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Revelation 2:23

Sometimes people think they can hide portions of their lives from everyone. Christ searches minds and hearts. Nothing is hidden from Him. No sexual sin can escape His notice. People may think they are getting away with it, but God knows.

Everywhere we go, everything we say, think, or do is seen by God. That understanding alone should help us steer clear of sexual sin.

For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Proverbs 5:3–4 NIV

While the thought of bringing anyone else into the bedroom is repulsive to most, the Bible says that the lips of a forbidden (including imaginary) woman (or man) “drip honey.” In other words, this spice is sweet and “her speech is smoother than oil.”

[The adulteress’s] feet go down to death; her steps follow the path of Sheol (Hell); she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. Proverbs 5:5–6

In other words, the “spicy” gets real “dicey”, quickly consuming and destroying all who play. Lovemaking, play, and relationship building are all but gone—sacrificed on the altar of “just a little fun.”


Identify a Target Weight

  • It is important to identify an ideal weight and target weight. Ideal weight refers to the best weight for the person when the person’s height and body type are taken into account. The body mass index (oft en abbreviated as BMI) is the most accurate measure of ideal weight, but few persons can easily work with this index.
  • A target weight is the lowest safe weight; it is the bare minimum you want someone with an eating disorder to be at. Target weight is calculated as 90 percent of midpoint of the ideal weight. It is best to have agreement on a target weight with a doctor or dietician because persons with eating disorders oft en try to negotiate this number.

Focus on Relationships

  • You will want to build a positive relationship with the person. Those with eating disorders tend to have a very hard time being open and accepting help. You will need much patience and you will need to be willing to speak the truth. Let the young woman know that she must be willing to hear the truth.
  • Encourage family members to show unconditional love to the eating disordered person. Do not criticize or compare or ask questions in a manner that causes the person to feel condemned.
  • Healing relationships with people and with God are essential to the recovery process.

Take the Focus Off of Food

  • Unless the girl is in immediate danger from starvation or electrolyte problems, examine what weight loss means to this person, what eating stands for, and what she most fears about eating.
  • Help the family to take the focus off food at home. They need to see that focusing on food is part of the disease, not the solution.

Watch for Triggers

  • Help her to see what triggers her bingeing behaviors and try to identify situations that aggravate it.
  • Help her to see what is behind her actions. Chances are, some kind of anxiety and stress is driving these actions.

Change Thinking Patterns

  • Gently question the girl’s thinking. Help her begin to see the lies behind the behaviors that are trapping her.

Examine Perfectionism

  • Examine her perfectionism. Chances are she holds herself to standards to which she does not hold her loved ones.
  • Help her to examine these standards and how they square with God’s truth revealed in Scripture.

Keep a Journal

  • Encourage the person to write in a journal about her feelings and the events of each day. She may have difficulty identifying feelings. Help her to view her feelings as normal and acceptable.

Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” Numbers 11:4-6

Preoccupation with food can indicate an eating disorder. When people become overly focused on food, their dependence on God suffers.

The Israelites, while not having an eating disorder, did experience a “perspective disorder” because of their focus on food. Their preoccupation with foods they did not have caused them to lose sight of God’s miraculous and loving provision of manna.

When people become preoccupied with anything other than God, they can lose their perspective of God’s care for them. People with eating disorders need to refocus on their worth in God’s eyes and be thankful for God’s provision.

Put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite.Proverbs 23:2

Some people attempt to fill the emptiness in their lives with drugs, alcohol, sex, money, or even hard work. Others use food, and such people find themselves trapped in emotional eating—leading to such problems as obesity and bulimia.

There is nothing wrong with food. There must be a balance, however, between enjoying what God has provided, and using food to meet emotional needs and thus allowing it to control one’s life.

The fruit of the Spirit called self-control applies to many areas of life, including eating. God desires to fill any emptiness, helping us to lead balanced, healthy lives.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:12-13

Some who face a difficult eating disorder—whether it be an addiction to food, or an addiction to going without food—understand the power of that addiction. God provided food for the animals and people He created in order to sustain them. Food is meant for sustenance—”foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods.”

A food addiction takes the focus off God and puts it on one’s food or stomach— both of which will eventually no longer be needed.

People who struggle with eating disorders should seek Christian professional guidance to gain a proper perspective and pattern for eating.

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