Tag Archives: Relationships

“Safe” People

Connection

I actually don’t like that term “safe” since it’s definition is: absence of risk. We all know that no part of life meets that definition. I think we’ll go with “safer” people. The concept has been mentioned in previous posts so I thought it time to focus on what I mean by this business of finding and connecting with safer others as we work on our own personal transformations.

You know that cliche phrase, “birds of a feather flock together”? It’s a cliche because it’s true. We attract the sort of people who match our dysfunctions. They either play the complementary role or share similar behaviors. Makes sense that as we address our dysfunctions, we would see increased conflict with our fellow birds, unless they too are willing to transform. As I mentioned in my last post, once we get past the grief of recognizing some birds will be left behind, we face the dilemma of finding new ones. How do we avoid collecting more of the same? How do we identify that which is healthier when we are in the midst of still figuring out our own healthy? There are three components which have emerged over the years in my own life as I am blessed with a tribe of safer people.

Presence
Safer people have worked on their own dysfunctions to the point that they are able to focus fully outside of themselves when they are with others. They aren’t perfect but because they’ve taken a long, hard look at their own pain, they don’t retreat into it or project it on to you when your pain surfaces. When we are with these folks, we feel connected and that their attention is focused primarily on us.

Love
This is such an overused word – it has lost specific meaning in our world. In this context, I want to define the word as ‘valuing the other’. When someone values you, they consider the ways in which they speak to and treat you. They make every effort to tangibly demonstrate care and concern; they listen to understand instead of to simply respond. Since they’ve worked on themselves, they’re well aware of their own shadow and so they offer grace for yours. Not that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of, but they don’t shame or condemn.

Keeping it real
Here’s another abused phrase. It has become a way to excuse being a jerk. It’s right up there with, “I’m brutally honest”. That’s not what I’m going for here. What I’m talking about is the person who will be authentic with you. They share their real selves and they tell you honestly, how they are affected by you and how they truly feel. So, once again, safer people don’t avoid confrontation, they don’t allow themselves to be bullied – instead, they find healthy ways to communicate what’s really going on. Because they have established their acceptance of us, we are able to hear these difficult truths and use them in our transformation process.

Hopefully, this begins to ‘flesh out’ the safer people we need to be looking for and gives you a matrix to evaluate the folks already in your life, the new ones you meet and most of all, yourself! For further study – check out Cloud and Townsend’s excellent book on this subject. Books are wonderful but they don’t hold our hands and walk us through so find a wilderness guide to help you if you’re struggling.

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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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The toughest job

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We parent as well as we were parented.  That can be a comforting or frightening statement…depending on our history.  I remember when I first gave birth, I was determined to do this thing “right”.  This is how I had been trained to approach everything for 20 years.  Certainly, this task – the most important one I’d ever tackle – demanded my best.   Then, to make things really interesting, my little one was diagnosed with a chronic illness for which there was no cure.

Looking back on my parenting path, I see a developmental journey:  Stage one was the thirst for knowledge.  I had been essentially an only child.  I had never babysat a child, never changed a diaper.  To say I was ‘green’ would have been an understatement.  But I was diligent and committed.  I knew that there was much from my history that I did not want to repeat so I read the books, listened to the radio shows and subscribed to the magazines.  Stage two was about behavior.  I was raised in a culture that valued presentation and good behavior and while I was determined not to use the same punishments, I was still invested in similar outcomes.  Except…this little girl was not at all interested in conforming as I had been.  She marched to the beat of her own drum.  Stage three was bedlam.  My well crafted systems were not working.  My home environment changed and my beloved was dancing at the edge of dangerous canyons.  I was completely undone.  Stage four found me in complete retreat.  I was forced to go back to the drawing board to figure out what my true parenting goals were and how I was going to accomplish them.  From a faith perspective, I began to realize that while it was easy to focus on my daughter as ‘the problem’, God’s spotlight was squarely on me…what was being unearthed within me by her refusal to fall in step with my beat?  Slowly, my focus changed as I entered stage five.  From behavior to relationship.  From nagging to introspection – an awareness of what each conflict was meant to teach me.  Not that I abdicated my responsibility as a parent.  I was still the authority but I streamlined those functions and attempted to spend more time on personal growth and pursuing intimate connection with her.  I am forever grateful that my final parenting stage (six) was an imperfect attempt at unconditional love.  I solidified my understanding of who she was as a person…what she was responsible for (which I was not) and what I was truly responsible for as her mom.  Unfortunately, I had just crested this summit when she disappeared.

Maybe you recognize yourself somewhere in these stages.  It’s helpful sometimes to know that you’re on a developmental journey, that this will get better.  This isn’t a researched and validated developmental theory but hopefully, it is still helpful in reassuring you that this is normal – whatever your “this” is.  That there is a progression here.  Don’t get me wrong.  It didn’t play out in the linear way I’ve presented here.  It was more like a circuitous roller-coaster ride that cycled in and out of the stages in no particular order. Once again, if that is how you’re feeling, you’re not alone.

I have a passion for coming along-side parents on their journey.  I’m not a “drop your kid off and I’ll fix them” therapist.  In my view, it begins and ends with parents – if for no other reason than we have the ultimate responsibility and authority to respond to whatever is happening with the child.  We are the leaders in this equation.  Our children give us an opportunity to grow as people in a way no other interaction can and I love helping my clients harness the occasion.  As parents flourish, children naturally improve.  This only happens however when parents feel safe.  Safe to vent, cry, blame, speak the truth of what they are actually thinking and feeling without judgment.  The last thing we need is someone to make us feel like a failure.  What is needed is empathy, encouragement and hope.  A place where our ugly is held and our pain is validated.  Where root causes are unearthed and processed so that we move in a different direction.  That is what I do with my clients so if you’re looking for a coworker on this – the toughest job of all; give us a call.  The rewards in stage six are well worth the journey!

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Living with chronic illness

living-with-a-chronic-illness_2

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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