Category Archives: Information

Every day I’m hustlin’

codependent

codependent

[koh-di-pen-duh nt] 
adjective

1.

of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically
addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent
on the first in an unhealthy way.
noun

2.

one who is codependent or in a codependent relationship.

“Codependent” is so overused at this point and has come to mean just about any version of an unhealthy relationship.  I want to use a different term – one I’m borrowing from Brene Brown’s vernacular…she calls it hustling for love.

I’m referring to this business of denying or minimizing self in order to be, do or say what another person wants.  We take care of things the other should be handling in order to make ourselves indispensable.  We hustle like this because we want to be loved.  We don’t trust that we will be loved as we truly are and so we put on masks, we become something we are not, we enable, in order to be what we think will be loved.  The problem with all of this though is that when love comes our way, only our false self can receive it.  Underneath, our true self never receives love and so we spend our lives unfulfilled and lonely, even in the presence of loving others.

The issue has been top of mind lately due to many conversations with a friend who has been focusing on this in his life.  What we have taken great notice of is the fact that once awareness is gained, once root issues of self worth are tackled, the ultimate step of healing involves doing: engaging relationships from one’s new position of awareness and worth.  But what if you don’t have any “others” in your life, qualified to take the journey with you?  What if you have only gathered others who need a hustler?  Who don’t know what to do with an authentic self?  This is an issue we don’t often see anyone discussing.  All the books and articles focus on what needs to change within us and how to behave differently, but I haven’t found anyone discussing the others.  So here goes:

  • When we begin the work of examining the way we relate to others and the roots of those relational styles, we must also begin the work of identifying the characteristics of healthy “others”.  Many of us have not been exposed to enough examples.
  • We need to also brainstorm where healthy others can be found and begin to position ourselves accordingly.  This may mean new social activities or increased involvement in groups we previously marginalized.
  • We need to communicate every step of our journey to existing, important others in our lives so that they have the opportunity to come along, to adjust to who we are becoming.  If we don’t communicate, we leave them confused, defensive and possibly hurt by our internal changes.
  • “We are not ourselves by ourselves” says Peterson.  These efforts to transform our social circle will go a long way in our own self knowledge as we bring stories from our interactions into counseling.  It is a key experiential aspect of therapy!
  • When we have achieved enough awareness and worked through some of the core issues of self worth, it is time to identify a couple of healthy others in our sphere with whom we can practice being our newly authentic selves.
  • From this point forward, it is all about relating in likely opposite ways to how we have before.  It is intentional and consistent.  This process needs to be a regular topic of counseling so that there is a constant feedback loop for learning.  It is a terrifying challenge but it is the final step in true transformation.  There is no other way to permanently change the meanings we have made of life experiences.  It is a messy business filled with mis-steps requiring honest communication from which to recover.  We may need to make a few changes in who we include in our tribe which then involves a grieving process for the ones who simply do not have what it takes to enter this new territory with us.  The payoff is a level of connection and relational joy we never thought possible.  Benefits that cannot be achieved with solely internal peace and knowledge.

Now it’s your turn…What aspect of mental/emotional health is on your mind these days?  What are you currently wrestling with?  I want this space to be useful!  I’m also considering doing a weekly Facebook Live which will focus on what YOU want to hear about, so give me your feedback.

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Living with chronic illness

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It’s like having an uninvited house guest who contributes nothing, eats everything in the kitchen, occasionally damages the furniture and won’t leave despite all attempts to kick him out.  Eventually, resignation sets in and you begin trying to figure out how you’re going to work around this vermin over the long-term.

A chronic illness diagnosis (cancer, diabetes, arthritis, to name a few examples) changes everything and what makes it a special kind of challenge is the complexity of the effects.  Everything is connected to everything else and so it seems no matter how much time goes by, you continue to discover another area that is impacted by the diagnosis.  Let’s break down the major categories:

Obviously, there are physical changes which come with the diagnosis.  Those vary according to the specific illness.  The consistent theme however, is the idea of limitation.  Physically, your body just doesn’t perform in the way you are used to.  Changes may be immediate or insidiously appear over time.  Energy level is often greatly affected and thus motivation to accomplish what was normal for you in the past, wanes significantly.  All of this leads to some form of identity crisis as our culture has so trained us to associate identity/worth with production.  If I cannot function/produce at the level to which I am accustomed, what does that say about me?  What makes me worthwhile?

Mentally – most chronic illnesses do impact brain functioning.  At best, we may experience some mental ‘fogginess’.  At worst, there may be physiological changes to the brain that result in difficulties with long and/or short-term memory or even personality change.  Processing speed often declines and things like executive functioning may be challenged.  It is difficult to determine which of these changes result from the illness itself and which are side effects of long-term medications.

Emotionally – the self-worth battle is a significant issue.  As we lose major aspects of how we defined ourselves, we struggle to redefine and focus on what now makes us who we are.  If we have always struggled with self-care, the idea of prioritizing self and doing what it takes to pursue health is a foreign concept.  We may face spiritual crisis as we wrestle with the idea of a higher power that would  allow this to happen.  This current battle filters through the lens of all we have experienced.  The meanings we have made of our childhood then, determine how we integrate this latest development.  If those meanings are dysfunctional – managing a chronic illness becomes nearly impossible.  One of my areas of special interest is the reciprocal nature of this domain.  So many chronic illnesses have a correlation with unresolved emotional challenges.  It is becoming clear from medical research that emotional trauma increases the rates of chronic illness.  Thus, it makes sense that addressing emotional trauma would be a key component of preventing/treating chronic illness and that is one of my passions!

Socially – our loved ones struggle to adjust to the implications of our diagnosis.  As we sort out the lifestyle changes needed to care for our condition, the aforementioned limitations; as we deal with our own changing self concept, we relate to everyone differently.  If we are not aware of this, then we are not even able to help others figure out what is happening and thus, we collectively exist in a state of confusion and frustration.  In the end, everyone is experiencing their own grieving process of the way things used to be and the envisioned future that now will not manifest as planned.  Grieving is complicated (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance).  Imagine a system of individuals all working through that process at their own unique speeds in the context of their own functional and dysfunctional coping skills and core meanings.  Is it any wonder that it gets messy?!  Suffice it to say, relationships are absolutely impacted, yet very little attention is given to this area.

Unfortunately, most medical teams do not take the time to inform, much less address these complex issues.  Too many patients muddle through their diagnosis, unaware of the developmental impact and what are very normal implications.  Our default is to always seek status quo (remember learning about homeostasis in biology class?) and so the aftermath of a diagnosis often looks like a constant battle to return to our “normal” with increasing frustration at the inability to do so.  The scary part is that all of this then exacerbates our illness, making our physical condition worse and creating a vicious cycle of decline.

My hope is that this information helps someone realize that they are not the problem.  That the struggles they have been having are perfectly normal in the reality of a chronic illness and that there is hope!  Knowledge is power and once we understand what we are dealing with, we can create and execute a plan of attack.  Just as the doctor delivers information, prompts options in need of research, creates the physical treatment plan and monitors progress – so too can the counselor educate on the developmental impact of chronic illness, highlight areas for exploration, as well as create the emotional, mental and social treatment plan.  Carefully working on self-worth and relationships within the context of physical limitations is key.  Constantly monitoring self-care: sleep, nutrition and movement is a requirement.  Completing the tasks of grieving is necessary for transitioning into a new normal: taking inventory and accepting the reality of your losses, working through the pain of loss, adjusting to the new environment created by the current reality and integrating the old self with the new self.  The best part is that this work improves physical outcomes so despite the difficulty of the process, it is definitely worth it!

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Fresh Starts

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Some of us get excited about the new year.  We see it as a new chapter in our books: a blank page, a clean slate.  Others are so sick of the “new year, new you” grandiosity that emerges this time of year.  We cast cynical eyes at the bright-eyed hopefuls…mentally calculating how long it will take them to fall back to the bottom of the same pits they’ve lived in for years.  Social media is full of commentary on ‘new year resolutions’ – some encouraging, some disparaging and some offering a ‘third way’ perspective.  Where do you fall on the continuum?

Regardless of your stance, there is a reason that humanity so consistently gravitates toward new year rituals.  I believe we are naturally wired to operate seasonally.  A brief look at nature shows us this rhythm: each year there is soil preparation, planting, hope, watering, weeding, harvesting, barrenness and then new beginnings.  In the winter, the farmer assesses the previous year’s experience, using that information to plan out the next year’s crops.  Seeds are ordered and excitement begins to build toward the possibilities next summer.  Is it any coincidence that those same activities seem natural to us in the middle of winter (New Year’s Day)?  Seems to me that adopting a crotchety attitude toward all of this is rather fruitless (no pun intended 🙂 ).  Thus, we have a choice: do we jump on the bandwagon of renewal or do we sit it out with the assumption that nothing ever changes anyway?

I’m a counselor so I’m sure it’s no mystery where I fall.  My entire field is about transformation so any excuse to move toward that is something to be excited about in my world.  I believe the key is realism.  I think this is where the bandwagon falls apart – we spend December in a whirlwind of comparison.  The holidays ramp up the social media highlight reel, making it that much easier to look at our own lives through a distorted lens which inspires a long laundry list of all that is wrong.  We spend December mentally beating ourselves up and by the 31st, we have created a herculean plan for life overhaul which we enthusiastically proclaim and begin on the 1st.  Only to fall flat before the first month of the year is done 😦 .  Yeah….let’s not do that again.

Again, realism is key.  It is now the third day of the year.  I’ll assume we’ve basically come down from the high of the first day and we may already be casting skeptical eyes at our resolutions.  Before you abandon ship, could we explore some adjustments?  I’d like to offer a few suggestions:

  • Resolutions are goals.  They are nice for painting the destination but they don’t necessarily give us any idea how to get there.  We need to define action steps.
  • If you made more than one resolution, may I suggest that you choose just one?  What is most important to you?  Focus is vital!
  • Reflect on 2016.  What happened in this area of your life?  What were the specific things that held you back in this area?  Make a list of those factors.
  • For each item on the list – what specific action will you need to take to conquer that obstacle?  What routines will you need to develop in order to reprogram the way you typically operate?  What rewards do you need to set up to reinforce these new behaviors?  Break things down into a list of small, specific steps.
  • Break our your calendar/planner (paper or electronic) and start mapping out those specific steps throughout the entire year.  Spread out the steps so that you are doing no more than one new thing each week.  Don’t take everything on at once!  Stagger out the steps over time so that you make changes gradually – giving yourself enough time to establish each new step before moving to the next one.
  • Ideally, it is best if you schedule the steps at a particular time/day but at the very least, record a reminder on a particular day of the week (or repeated every day of that week if needed).  Consider setting alarms on your phone to remind you of things you need to do.
  • While you’re at it – schedule a monthly check in now to assess how you’re doing: what’s working and what needs to change.
  • What resources can you turn to for maintaining hope throughout the year?  (Magazines, Facebook pages, blogs, devotionals, etc.)  Sign up for those now so it is automatic.
  • Who can you enlist as an accountability partner/encourager?  Talk to them now and agree on specific contact: weekly phone call/text/Facebook message?  Consider including that person in your monthly check ins to help you assess and stay on track.

Transformation is extremely difficult but it is definitely possible.  As we’ve discussed before in this space, it is nearly impossible to do alone though so if you find yourself struggling to stay the course, if you can’t find effective support – please consider counseling.  Good therapy is one of the best ways to pursue renewal so don’t flounder alone!

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Soul Seasons

rhythm

As the weather finally changes here in central Florida, I have been reveling in the cooler temperatures.  Saturday night brought our first backyard fire of the season.  We’ve opened the windows and turned off the AC for days now.  Every morning, I sit on the back patio to drink my coffee.  As this change in weather has brought about changes in behavior, I am reminded of a book I read last year that I am still pondering all these months later.

Mark’s premise is so simple yet revolutionary at the same time: Just as our natural world has seasons which inspire/require different activities – so do our lives have varying seasons.  While I’ve been well aware of that reality, the part I never really thought about is the corresponding fact – those varying seasons require different activities and we can be intentional about making those adjustments. Yes, I’ve adapted my activities as seasons have changed in my life, but that was always a reactionary process, not a proactive one.  The idea that I could regularly assess my season and plan my activities accordingly was a novel one.

So according to Mark’s description, I am currently in a Fall season.  I have watched many aspects of my life wither away and die.  Yet, even in the midst of the “leaves falling”, there is beauty.  It has also been a time of final harvest, as I am reaping what I have sown in seasons past – for good and bad.  My activities at this point in time should be focused on “fall things”: reaping, storing, feasting and thanking.  Thus, I ponder what that looks like exactly for me.  I collect the harvest of my previous efforts – that means as blessings come to me (usually through the relationships I’ve invested in), I receive them instead of deflecting or minimizing.  Likewise, the consequences that unfold from the choices I made in previous seasons…I accept those as well instead of avoiding and excusing.  I store up the sense of closeness I have to God right now because I know that dark nights of the soul will come and I will need to remember this time.  I store up the blessings poured out for leaner times.  I store up the lessons learned from the consequences of my choices so that I can choose more wisely in the future.  I celebrate with gusto – all that God has done and been for me, taking time to count the tiniest of blessings.

Maybe you recognize the Fall season in your life too but perhaps your harvest is not at all pleasant.  Perhaps there simply is none or the fruit is bitter.  Mark addresses this as well with a few questions we can ask ourselves to get to the bottom of what is happening:

  • Who am I?  Am I living a life authentic to who God created me to be?
  • What is my purpose?  Am I living out my destiny?
  • What is my passion?  What makes me unique?  Am I living that out?

In the end, Fall is a time of assessment – reflecting on our planting and crop work to understand what worked well and what needs to be adjusted so that when Spring comes, we are ready with a plan that yields even better fruit than the cycle before.  Take some time to consider what season your life is in right now.  Get the book if you could use some help with that, especially with the business of focusing on the right tasks for your season.  Remember, counseling can be a wonderful tool for assistance in this process!

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I’ve never been in therapy…

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No – there’s no couch!

We often get our view of reality from television but it only takes one hospital visit to learn that real life is not like Grey’s Anatomy.  Likewise, if you’ve never been to therapy, it’s a dangerous plan to assume it might be what you’ve seen portrayed on TV or in movies.  So, what can you expect?

First of all, you don’t need a mental health disorder to come to therapy.  In actuality, most people seek counseling for a host of regular life problems: relationship struggles, major life transitions, parenting challenges, etc.  Yes, there will be questions to determine the severity of the issues you are facing but your therapist does not see you as “sick” or “crazy”.  A good therapist regular sees her or his own counselor for that matter.

Choosing the right therapist has two components: First, finding someone with the appropriate knowledge and skill for your particular concerns.  Second – finding someone with whom you have a personal chemistry.  That second component is tricky as it is difficult to predict who you will “click” with but this is such an important requirement.  It is possible to sit with a perfectly competent therapist but not make significant progress in your work due to a lack of connection between you and the therapist.  Hopefully, you have a network of friends and/or family to whom you can turn for referrals.  They know you best and can likely predict who might be a good fit for you.  Check the recommended providers’ websites to see what they specialize in.  Finally, give your prospects a call to discuss what you are interested in addressing so that you can get a sense of how well you might connect to this person.  A few questions you could ask are:

  • What experience do you have working with this issue?
  • How do you typically approach helping clients with this issue?
  • What resources do you most often recommend to your clients?

Your first couple of sessions are usually quite different from subsequent sessions.  At Phenix, your therapist will want a general overview of what brings you to counseling but our focus in the first session is to give you the opportunity to ask the questions needed to determine if you have chosen the right person to work with.  We intentionally utilize only a one-page information form prior to the appointment because we understand that we cannot expect full disclosure from someone we have not yet met.  You will receive your service agreement upon arrival so that you can see the details of our therapeutic relationship but you do not sign it until after your first appointment in which you can clarify anything that does not make sense to you.  During this first appointment, we discuss your goals and the potential ways in which we would be helpful to you, finalizing a tentative plan for moving forward if that is agreeable to you.  A full intake packet is given after the first appointment for you to complete.  The second appointment is what we call an “intake” during which we ask a number of questions designed to obtain the details of your concerns as well as the context in which these concerns occur: social, physical, emotional and mental history as well as current status.  If you wish to include your spiritual journey – that is discussed as well.  This gives your therapist a window into your complex world.  At the third appointment, your therapist will generally offer a summary of all that has been shared as well as their understanding of the presenting concerns and it’s underlying components.  Often, your therapist connects dots, pointing out dynamics that may have gone unnoticed.  This is a collaborative process in which you participate to shape an overall narrative that then drives the action plan to be created.  You and your therapist establish goals and agree upon interventions for pursuing them.

From that point forward, appointments typically involve: discussions of progress, exploration of emerging insight, expressive activities (non verbal interventions such as art), skill learning and relational check-ins (monitoring your relationship with your therapist).  A sacred space is created where you can be fully who you are, saying/expressing exactly what you need to say with privacy and no judgment.  Your therapist guides these interactions according to the goals you established at the beginning, though those goals may be adjusted along the way.  Each time we meet, you create action plans for applying what happens in therapy to your daily life.  It is these experiments in your world that become a main topic of our meetings – determining what is working, what is not and why.  Clients always have control over what they wish to discuss though your therapist will challenge the areas you tend to avoid as they are often most relevant.  Even so, you are always in the driver’s seat.

There is no standard length of time for therapy.  The number of sessions clients come in for varies wildly.  Much depends on the complexity of their goals and the depth they are willing to go in transformation of self.  Some clients reach a satisfactory level of growth after a few months…some clients who wish to tackle long-term, traumatic issues attend therapy for years – albeit spaced out such as monthly appointments.  Again, you determine how far you want to go and for how long.

Hopefully, this helps bring clarity to the therapy process.  We are much more likely to take a new path if we have some idea of what to expect!

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Mourning

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I’ve often described it like standing on the sea shore.  At first, the water is stormy and I’m regularly knocked down by an incoming wave that overwhelms me.  I find myself swallowing a lot of salt water.  Slowly (over years), the water calms down a little.  The waves aren’t as huge.  I’ve developed a strategy for bracing myself.  They start coming in less frequently and I either handle the occasional wave like a champ or I get rusty and am surprisingly flattened by the next one.  There’s no rhyme or reason to which way it goes.  Perhaps it is a reflection of the context of my life – what else is going on, the level of emotional reserve I have in the tank when the wave comes.  This is what grieving feels like to me and when I’ve shared this metaphor with others on the path, they nod knowingly.

That’s not the way our culture portrays it though.  Typically, grief is shown as this linear journey which has as it’s goal – “getting back on the horse” or some similar cliche.  You feel terrible at first.  You’re allowed to have a few good cries but then you’re supposed to start sucking it up and finding something to do with yourself so that you can “get on with your life”.  You can talk about your loss for a week or three but after that – folks squirm, look uncomfortable and try to redirect the conversation to more positive topics in an effort to rescue you from your pain.  This leaves many feeling as though something is terribly wrong with them.  They go into protection mode for their loved ones…not wanting anyone to be worried – effectively painting themselves into a corner of truncated grief.

My grieving path began with the loss of my adoptive mother.  Eighteen years later, I lost my adult daughter.  A little over a week ago, I lost my cousin who was more like a big sister to me.  There have been other losses in between but those are the big kahunas.  I have found one of the most important aspects of healthy grieving is the space and time to tell stories.  I am incredibly blessed with a family that loves to sit around and tell stories about our departed loved ones.  Tears (even years after the loss) are totally accepted.  I speak about my daughter in every aspect of my life.  One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received is when someone said they felt like they knew her based on how much I incorporate her into my conversation.  I have found that when I make it an open part of who I am, the people around me come along for the ride.  They are comforted that the subject is not taboo – they don’t have to tiptoe around it.  While our culture defaults to silence, I find that most individuals are terribly relieved when transparency is modeled.

Obviously, this topic is fresh on my mind this week and as I ponder my own path, I’m more aware of the grieving of others…The difficulty we face in this culture of doing it well.  My passion for walking this path with others and my recognition of the work as sacred is renewed.  Grieving isn’t just about the death of a loved one.  It can be the death of a relationship, of a dream, of a life stage.  Such passages are significant losses that must be acknowledged and processed if we are to glean all that it has to teach us and to move forward in good health.  I encourage you to embrace this process and enlist a wilderness guide to walk with you!

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