Staff Blog

Marriage: The Preflight Checklist

Ever been on an airplane? What is the first thing the flight attendants tell the passengers once they are in the air....the safety spiel, right?! The airlines want the passengers to know what to do in case of an emergency. They explain the proper way to wear a seatbelt, how to apply the oxygen mask, where to find the flotation device if needed. What if that is all the airlines did in order to prep for an emergency? What if they put all their energy and resources into just educating passengers on what to do when the plane is in a dire situation?

Fortunately for those of us who travel, airlines not only have emergency procedures in place, but they also take preventative measures to help reduce the chances of an emergency in the first place. Before a pilot even heads for the airport there are certain policies that they are to adhere to when they are getting ready to fly. They are expected to be rested, with no alcohol in their systems, and no drugs or medications that may alter their cognition. Pilots get annual physicals to make sure that they are in tip top shape at all times in order to minimize risk of an emergency due to pilot error.

Once the pilot arrives to work and boards the plane, they have a checklist, which they must go through before taking off. They test the instruments and, if they see a problem, it is important that they have it looked at by a mechanic. How would you feel if the pilot thought to himself, "Hmmmm...I know this instrument isn't working properly right now, but I bet it will begin working after we take off. It will probably fix itself."?

I am not interested in flying in that plane! Are you?

How many times do we do that in our marriages? Sometimes we ignore our problems, hoping that they will just somehow magically fix themselves! Or when the fighting has escalated to astronomical proportions we put all of our energy in to ways to learn conflict resolution strategies. The very term "conflict resolution" means that the "emergency" has already happened and now you are thrust into a reactive state of having to fix it, much like when the plane is in a tailspin and the passengers are grasping for their oxygen masks. What if we put more energy into being proactive in our marriages? Just as the pilots have a responsibility to be the healthiest version of themselves when they show up to work, what keeps us from being the healthiest version of ourselves in our marriage? That would mean we would have to do a lot of self-inspection and self-management. It is the reverse of what most of us do in our marriages. It is easier to look at our spouse and see the areas that they need to work on! How often do we take the time and effort to look at areas in our own life that need some mechanical tune up? If we do take that time, then do we make the necessary adjustments to "repair" those areas, or do we just hope that they will fix themselves?

Maybe it is obvious that some of your instruments are not working properly, but you are not sure how to fix them. There are a variety of "mechanics"/ resources that you can utilize. Sometimes an older couple can help mentor you, or perhaps a pastor might be a good place to start. There are endless self-help books written about marriage, counselors who can help you and your spouse put into place a great preflight checklist, or even an emergency plan if needed. What is the state of your marriage? Are you bringing the healthiest version of yourself to your marriage? Or are you trying to figure out what to do with the marriage after it has entered a tailspin? If you are looking for professional assistance, feel free to contact me at 512-238-1700 ext 318.

Deana Reed, MA
deanareed@nlcc1.com
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, September 5, 2017 | 0 comments

Right-Side Up Living

“Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Jesus, Matt 16:25
             “The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering.”  C.S. Lewis
                         “How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up?” G. K. Chesterton

“Perfect love casts out fear.” I John 4:18.  We don’t often consider that in our daily lives, but it comes into play every time we interact with others.  If someone loves me unconditionally without passing judgment, I’m free to be me, and I don’t have to hide behind a façade I create for safety. One of the greatest longings of our heart is value, acceptance, and at our core, feeling worthy.  We seek this from our earliest moments of awareness. As children we learn that relational pain will occur, resulting in discomfort and we hide.  We learn to hide behind a mask, missing the reality of who God created us to be.  We reason: no vulnerability, no pain. As relational, volitional beings, we choose our primary goal of acceptance and a preferred strategy to avoid the shame of exposure.  Imperfect love breeds fear.

Completely unaware of our deepest longing, we search to fill our hunger with idols to bring us peace, comfort, and happiness.  These are second order desires.  Protection comes in many different forms.  We develop unconscious patterns and habits of protection that we unknowingly believe will keep us emotionally safe.  We attempt to protect or “save” our life, by being overly rigid, or overly flexible, by managing everything, or managing nothing, by staying busy, or checking out, by acquiescing in hopes to avoid conflict in response to someone else’s attempt to control, by talking, talking, talking, or saying nothing.  This is upside down living. 

G. K. Chesterton asks, “How can a man born upside down know when he is right side up?”   We fear rejection and we scramble to keep our false self-image intact.  Adam and Eve’s failure to take responsibility for their choice, led to hiding.  Shame always makes us feel naked and exposed.  Like them, we hide.  This protection is what Jesus called “saving your life.”  We employ these strategies to protect ourselves.  However, as the veneer of our self-protection wears thin, emotional, psychological and spiritual discomfort rises, and we encounter a deep loneliness.  This awareness of something missing aches in our soul, and brings us to our knees.  This forces us to stop, take a deeper look, and ask questions to address the painful sorrow we experience in these broken and shattered dreams.

C.S. Lewis lost his mother at nine years old, and his father was angry, distant, demanding, and eccentric.  He states he learned an early distrust of emotions deeming them uncomfortable, embarrassing, and dangerous.  He unconsciously chose to protect himself as a child and hide his heart from these dangerous feelings, turning to atheism.  When you cannot make sense of the painful parts of life, it is easier to dismiss God than to grapple with the answers to painfully hard questions.  God created us with deep longings in our hearts for connection, to live in community, to love and to be loved.  We long to know and to be known, not realizing our deepest longing is a search to fill our empty heart with only what God can give.  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” St. Augustine.

Lewis’ relationship with his wife, Joy, brought him to open his heart and truly love, something unfamiliar to him.  He exposed his heart to experience love.  And, it came with a price. True love always does.  Her death forced him to look at his own “well put together life.” He realized the pain of losing his wife stripped him of that protection, and he found himself open and vulnerable, stating, “Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world.”  After Joy’s death, Lewis had to admit he did not have all of the answers.  In this journey of sorrow, he wrote A Grief Observed (also made into the movie “Shadowlands”),  Douglas, his wife’s son, was about the same age as Lewis when he lost his mother.   This event forced him to face the old wound from losing his own mother, and he and Douglas forged a new relationship. 

Lewis stated, “The boy chose safety, the man now chooses suffering.” 

This is the question for you.   What will you choose; safety or the suffering that may come as you begin to love others differently?  This is what Christ calls losing your life.  Embrace this or you lose the power to tell the larger story.  Christ is our example.  For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2) and while there, he reached toward others seeking the best for them and us, paying the ultimate price.  He loved differently, “not returning evil for evil, but giving a blessing instead.” I Peter 3:8. 

  1. First, Jesus asked His Father’s forgiveness for those who mocked, stripped, beat, and nailed Him to the cross.
  2. Then he offered forgiveness to the thief hanging next to him.
  3. Then He charged His disciple, John, with the care of His mother.
  4. And finally, He committed Himself to the Father to pay for our ultimate freedom.
 

Perhaps you hurt over shattered dreams?  Life has not turned out as you envisioned or hoped?  Broken relationships— family-of-origin, marriage, friendships—causing deep agonizing, unrelenting pain?  Have you vowed  that no one will ever hurt you again?  Perhaps an addiction has taken over your life, or a loss of interest in things you used to care about, along with fear, anxiety, bitterness or anger?  Although surrounded by people, you find your heart screaming to connect, and longing to be loved in the depths of your being?  And God?  Yes, what about God?  Do you have glimpses, of how life could be different and you are ready for a change and a different answer to the emotional pain you carry?

Alternately, are you living your life taking risks, taking the chance to be open and vulnerable, with those you are in relationship?  Are you committed to the well-being of another at any cost to yourself?  Have you considered the possibility of stepping out of the cocoon you put around your heart, becoming vulnerable to learn to live and love differently?  The Abundant Life that Jesus talked about is being able to love ourselves, love God, and love others as the Father and Son love one another.  It is reaching deeper to find what is alive in the deepest recesses of your heart, then reaching out to another hurting soul to touch what is alive in them.  This is right side up living and losing your life to find life.

If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, give me a call.  Let’s see how you may be hiding your heart in a protective bubble in an attempt to keep up the façade you created long ago.  Call me, and let’s explore other options.

Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
512-914-7927

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Monday, August 7, 2017 | 0 comments

Self-Care in a Self-Indulgent World

Self-Care.  It’s a word that has invaded the Internet and pop-psychology circles through blog posts, social media, and podcasts.  The notion of “treating yourself” and taking a “mental-health day” is becoming more and more popular. Images of people walking in the park, getting a massage, or taking a bubble bath are hallmark pictures for the trendy self-care movement.  Our fast-paced culture places a greater emphasis on self-care as the culture itself continues to creep up and seemingly demand more than what we can do in a day.

The main premise of self-care is that you must take care of yourself first by attending to your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.  One of the typical phrases I have found attached to the self-care movement is that you “can’t pour from an empty cup.”  The mainstream movement suggests that people should take time for themselves and be kind to themselves.  However, the more I explore this world of self-care, the more it seems full of indulging in pleasurable and comfortable activities, rather than actually taking care of yourself.

One thing I think the secular media overlooks when discussing self-care is the role of our discipline and responsibility when it comes to providing for our own needs and balance in life.  Blaming exterior circumstances for our stress levels and lack of self-care is quite easy, and easier still to apply a quick fix leisure activity to temporarily relieve the pressure. Unfortunately, this never solves the problem, as the real issue isn’t being addressed.  If we want to address the real issue for lasting change, the first place we need to look is inward.

The way we react and respond to the anxiety aroused by everyday life can contribute positively or negatively to our life balance.  While there are numerous ways we react to anxiety, our anxious responses tend to take two main paths. Some people tend to continually do for others, taking on more work, responsibilities, and emotional management than is appropriate.  They may work harder to insure others have what they need, making them feel at home, or even speaking for others.  When they become anxious, they calm themselves by getting to work, even if the work isn’t their responsibility.  Others tend to avoid work and responsibilities, not taking on what is theirs to manage.  They are able to get their work done, but are not functioning for themselves.  It’s as though life and events are happening to them without them being able to get a handle on it.  When they become anxious, they may freeze instead of accomplishing their work.

Both of these patterns (described as overfunctioning and underfunctioning respectively in the example above) have a tendency to add to our stress levels, pushing us toward the quick fix, self-care mentality of the culture.  This is where the role of discipline and responsibility come into play.  If you find yourself in the more “doing” role, then the discipline of delegation or of refraining from taking on work that is not yours is vital to your own self-care.  However if you find yourself in the more “passive” role where things seem to be happening to you, then taking responsibility to accomplish the tasks that really make you anxious is essential to managing your self-care.

Self-care “looks” different for each person depending on their reactions to stress in their life.  The typical image of self-care, such as visiting a beach or a café leisurely reading a book, may be most appropriate for healthy self-care.  Other times, a self-care activity may simply be completing the most anxious task for the day.  Some days it may look like stepping back; other times it may look like stepping forward.

Self-care is not the absence of work and responsibilities, nor the indulgence in our worldly appetites.  It requires discipline.  Our responsibility is insuring that we are not pouring from an empty cup.  Sometimes it requires us doing work to make sure we are not empty, and sometimes it may require rest.  The Lord both worked and rested in the same week.  I think the important thing is to look at the patterns that may be contributing to our lack of self-care in order to identify how we can better help ourselves be full to the brim.

If you would like to learn more about the different patterns in your life that are keeping you from being full, give me a call!

Blessings!

Liz Heuertz, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S
512-238-1700, ext. 322
elizabethheuertz@nlcc1.com

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, June 30, 2017 | 0 comments

Self as an Original Image of God

I think the process of working towards a solid self is really a mystery. (See last’s months post for the first part of this conversation). Not in the ethereal, inscrutable sense, but in the sense that each person is a unique individual, a totally irreplaceable reflection of the Divine, an original person made in the image of God.

This mystery of the human person is a part of the equation of togetherness and self. In fact, Edwin Friedman, a psychotherapist and rabbi who taught Bowen Theory (from which the concepts of self and togetherness come) thought that this variable of self was what “could account for the differences, inconsistencies and mysteries that result from human will.” (1) Given free will, the mystery of what each of us will do with that choice is up to us.

I’d like to think that the apostle Paul speaks of this mystery when he says, “Brothers and sisters: Thus should each one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1). We are each stewards of the mystery of the unique image of God that He created us to be. In the face of the current mounting pressure for togetherness, I find the rest of this passage from Paul also helpful:

“Now it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself (…) but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore I do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” (1 Cor. 4:1-5)

Worrying how others will judge oneself or getting wrapped up in judging one’s own self can be a road block towards becoming more of a self. Paul is really not worried about what others think of him – and not because he doesn’t love the community, but because he is convicted that his first source of knowledge about his self comes from the Lord. It is this security that gives him the freedom to act courageously and work steadfastly towards being a trustworthy steward.

Again and again, I find myself returning to this conviction of the mystery of self as rooted in God in order to work towards being more of a self. Indeed, without that conviction and keeping my connection to God front and center, I don't know that I could make any significant moves towards self without giving into the togetherness pressure or anxiously cutting off from others who disagree. Whatever your faith or value system may be, being connected to something greater, something more objective and transcendent than oneself, can be a great resource for someone working on becoming a more solid self.

And that may be the key to navigating the pressures for togetherness and self in anxious times: finding a way to lead towards self that is both grounded in what you believe and what you think, yet also open to others and connected with them. And this can be quite a challenge! To take a stand and make a move towards self without folding before the pressure of your family or distancing from them, or while keeping up with the news in some moderate way, or even while keeping your self open to what “they” have to say about a certain polemic topic...that is no small thing. Friedman put it this way:  “The very presence of differentiation* in a leader will stir up anxious response. Yet in staying in touch with the capacity to understand and deal effectively with the system is – beyond vision, beyond perspicacity, beyond stamina – the key to the kingdom.” (1)

If you’d like to sort through your own steps towards self, please feel free to give me a call.

Rachel E Gardner, LPC Intern
512-238-1700 ext 310
rachelgardner@nlcc1.com

(1) Friedman, E. (1999) A Failure of nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix. New York, NY: Church Publishing, Inc. pp 185-186

* “Differentiation of self” is way of saying becoming more of a self

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, June 8, 2017 | 0 comments

Standing on Your Own Two Feet, Side by side

I think it’s fair to say there’s some free-floating anxiety running through the veins of society right now. Though it seems to somewhat lessen the farther we get from January 20th, the slightly raised pitch of stress in the tenor of the radio journalists, nightly newscasters, conversations in my neighbor’s yard and of course, all over Facebook, hasn’t quite faded back to normal. Rather than seeing this emotional response as stemming from the presidential transition itself, I think a broader view reveals that the election amplified and exposed societal tensions that have been building for decades.

How is a person to keep their head on straight or do any good thinking with this higher than usual level of tension and chaos? One natural place to look for steadiness is in agreement from and with others. While this has it’s place in the emotional fabric of human society, in anxious times the pull for “togetherness” can often polarize into rigid “us” vs. “them” divisions. In exchange for the emotional security of belonging to the group, the individual gives up whatever part of their individuality doesn’t fit with the definition of “us.”

At the other end of the relationship spectrum from “togetherness,” there is a pull for autonomy or “self.” The force for autonomy is what helps us “stand on our own two feet.” It’s the force that moves someone to stand up and say “Well, that’s one way of seeing it. I see it differently.” When one person works toward steadiness by working on one’s own self (rather than pulling from or pushing against others), and at the same time works to stay connected to others in a meaningful way (walking “side by side”), it is possible for the group dynamic to begin moving away from anxious, rigid togetherness towards a flexible, resilient community of autonomous individuals.

How?

What does it look like to move toward being more of a “self?” Primarily, I don’t think its about heavy introspection or naval-gazing. While quiet moments of solitude away from the world can be conducive toward this, a more effective place to start is right here, right now, in the midst of ordinary life. I think that the foibles and frustrations of everyday life and our everyday relationships not only afford us ample fodder to think about who we are and who we want to be, but also helps keep our steps towards change grounded in reality.

Some questions one might ask could be:

  • What do I think about this situation? What’s my contribution to the current situation?
  • What am I willing to do? What am I not willing to do?
  • What are my non-negotiable values? Where did these values come from? Have I decided what I really think about them for myself?
  • What are my realistic responsibilities? How am I doing in fulfilling those?
  • What do I want to change about myself? What might be a small, realistic step I want to take towards that change, today?
  • What am I fed up with? What I can do about it?
  • Is there an area of life where I feel stuck? How am I contributing to the stuck-ness?

In next month’s blog, I will explore how a healthy, autonomous self is a reflection of how God originally designed us—in His image.  Stay tuned….

And if you would like to explore more about your own options of balancing the two life forces of Togetherness and Autonomy, please feel free to call.

Rachel E Gardner, LPC Intern
512-238-1700 ext 310
rachelgardner@nlcc1.com

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, May 3, 2017 | 0 comments

Navigating Transitions

“Home is a place we all must find, child. It’s not just a place where you eat or sleep. Home is knowing. Knowing your mind, knowing your heart, knowing your courage. If we know ourselves, we’re always home, anywhere.” - Glinda the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz

Navigating transitions can be challenging. As we find ourselves ready to leave one life phase for the next, we often feel we’re threading an obstacle course, wondering when we can regain our balance. In college, I envied my friends who felt a clear call about the future. I viewed their early dedication to careers in medicine, law, architecture, and graphic design as superior to my own indecision. I didn’t know how to face the expectation that I was supposed to know what came next. I thought I was behind, somehow deficient in being prepared for adulthood.

Thinking back, my indecisive transition into adulthood was far less daunting than I imagined. In the process of comprehending my peers’ decisiveness, I found it far more important to grant myself genuine, nonjudgmental curiosity in gaining insight into my long-term transition. This curiosity ultimately led me back to graduate school, where I became a counselor in the midst of an established technology-based career. Feeling thankful today doesn’t change the difficult reality of living through years of burdensome uncertainties. I believe that as humans, we’re designed to encounter a limitless number of uncertainties in life. Time after time, I will be faced with challenges managing my own transition in relationships, career, community, and family. The difference is that, as someone who welcomes challenges and uncertainties, I no longer demand a perfect initial performance from myself in these situations; I simply want to learn and grow as healthy change occurs.

Mitigating unknown transitions is not relegated to my own part of our journey – it’s universal to us all. We have to create space in our lives and in our relationships to explore who we are and what we need. Whether through community, family, organizations, or counseling, it's critical that we connect in a meaningful way that allows us to know ourselves more deeply. What a powerful investment in plotting our own course through transition and into the future!  

I encourage you to be naturally curious about where you are in life: what happens when you observe and learn from your experiences without judgement? How do you grow? What does it mean to your own plotted course toward the future?

Are you or someone you know preparing for, in the midst of, or recovering from a life transition? Wherever you find yourself, exploring this season through counseling can offer fresh insights, reveal previously unseen opportunities for personal growth, and enhance relationships. 

I’m ready to partner together in the therapeutic exploration of your life experiences and invite you to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Anne Holland, LPC-Intern
anneholland@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 329

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, March 31, 2017 | 0 comments

Grief and Loss

"To grieve is to pay ransom to love."  Edwin Shneidman

Grief and grieving are no easy tasks. I understand firsthand, as one acquainted with loss and death. Loss and death visit us all in one form or another. Where the loss is, grief is close by. I have learned the best way to handle grief is to deal with grief.

I have a lot of questions about grief and its process. Here are a few; Is there any value or virtue that can be found in the suffering that accompanies grief? Why is it that the grieving has to feel so bad for so long? What good does it do? Is it necessary to give in to grief and let it take us to the depths of despair?  Does it not make more sense to spend our time in more positive, less disturbing pursuits?”

Though I don't have all my questions answered, in my grief journey, I had a friend well acquainted with pain and grieving say to me, “Grief is not a problem to be solved; it is a process, a natural process.” That piece of wisdom from my friend initially stung. As it sank in, it became like a healing balm; grief is only avoidable if one has no attachments. That thought lead me to the question, ”what kind of a life would an attachment-less life be?” I conclude, though the pain of death and loss may be agonizing, I would not trade the love from and for my loved one or lost dreams for freedom from the pain that proceeds. 

I understand that grief is a reasonable emotional reaction to loss. There are no limits, boundaries, or rules regarding loss or what could be considered a loss. There are various forms of significant losses that can trigger grief responses in addition to death, such as the end of a relationship, a move to a new community, an anticipated opportunity or life goal that is no longer a possibility, or the death of a pet or someone significant to us is diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness.

Grief involves emotional upset that varies by individual and by loss. Grief may be especially burdensome in response to a loss that was traumatic, sudden, or severe. No matter the loss, it is necessary to grieve, even biblical. Experiencing grief is individual; no two people are likely to experience grief in the same way.

Although grief of some sort is inevitable, wearisome, time-consuming, and often unaccommodating, in all truth, it does result in good. Ultimately, one is better off for having walked through the grief, as this is the route toward healing. We all grieve and need guidance, direction, and strategies to help us cope with grief. It may take more time, love, and patience than we ever imagined, however, when we grieve we heal.

 “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.”  Thomas Merton

Angelia (Angel) Hirsch
Graduate Student Intern
Supervised by Leah Wilson McDill, Ph.D.
Licensed Professional Counselor--Supervisor
512-238-1700 ext. 323
 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, March 1, 2017 | 0 comments

Learning from Family History

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.  ~ Marcus Garvey

The holidays have passed, post both quality and extended time with family and friends and typically when we are most aware of the quirks and patterns of these relationships. In the past year, I have observed—whether through the redundancy of the message in studying human and family behavior (through Bowen theory here at New Life) or the history gurus of friends that surround me—the theme of learning and taking away from those before us has become undoubtedly an important life lesson. There’s understanding and self-awareness that comes alongside the uncovering of information from both a personal and historical framework.

There’s power in knowing, in seeking information to help form a deeper understanding of who came before you and the dynamics and motivations of their lives. This is an example set before us bluntly through Scripture, literature, historical figures, etc. Life is short. Why wait around and try to learn many lessons through experience, when there have been so many before us that have made similar mistakes or successes? In Job, one of his friends asked a strategic question.  “…Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?" (Job 8:8-10).

Jesus, over and over again, asks us to follow His example, do as He did on Earth, to practice such things and the God of peace will be with [us.]” (Philippians 4:9). Tying into Bowen theory, observing family dynamics, patterns and cycles can bring about insight fostering a change in unhealthy relationship patterns from decades before us. Learning how the dynamics we were born into stem down from generation to generation can free us from the shame or guilt we feel in our sinful nature. We are human. We are not perfect but can learn to adapt.

The rich wisdom in my own history has provided freedom, deeper empathy and greater understanding for me. With this comes a greater connection and clarity to God’s creation and my own purpose. I welcome walking with you and helping you discover more about your own history and insight that you may gain from studying your own history and the history of your family.

Romans 15:4, For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Ellie Fellbaum
elliefellbaum@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 x328

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, February 3, 2017 | 0 comments

Trauma and Hope

Even though we experience pain and trauma, we can glean the most bizarre gifts from pain that easier times in life do not have the power to teach us.  What have you experienced in your past that has taught you priceless lessons?  

Quite a few years ago while teaching a graduate course in Grief & Loss, a student of mine actually taught the entire lesson for that day.  The assignment was for each student to collect symbols representing their own losses into a box, which they call a Loss Box.  Sharing with their classmates was strictly voluntary.  To give them credit for completing the assignment, I just need to see their box and contents.

By thoughtfully taking an inventory of their most painful events and assembling tokens to represent such losses, students can view their pain systemically.  The objectivity that begins to emerge is remarkable, and what students and clients of mine include in their boxes is amazing (perhaps someone would say the same about the items in my own Loss Box?).

This one class was around the fall time-change, with a darkening sky and antsy students, perhaps a bit anxious about whether to volunteer to display their pain.  How long would the class take to settle into a hungry posture for that evening's class?  Since this antsy-ness went on awhile, I decided that instead of calling them to attention I would simply begin class without them.

Across the classroom of desks was a respectful student whom I had had in several classes.  Without warning I decided to lunge across the room and grab her Loss Box from her desk.  Without hesitation she leapt across her desk and hollered, "NOOOOOOOO!!"  I quickly moved back toward her and deposited her Loss Box and simply asked, "What just happened??"  Again, without hesitation she said, "If you take my Loss, I do not know who I am!"  I quietly walked back to the podium and waited.  The whole room sat poignantly silent. 

Five minutes slowly went by before I asked this brave student to elaborate on how her Identity is tied to her Loss.  This graduate student taught my class that day!  She easily shared about how fun times do not create identity: We only learn of our identity, durability, adaptability, and strength when we are challenged.

This quarter at New Life we have been discussing Trauma and Hope.  You can go through intense hardship and trauma and eventually be much stronger and healthier for it, IF you are paying attention to hidden treasures along the way.

What treasures are lurking in the shadows of your pain?  

Leah Wilson McDill, Ph.D.
Licensed Professional Counselor--Supervisor
leahmcdill@nlcc1.com

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, January 10, 2017 | 0 comments

Fair Fighting

I have found these healthy conflict resolution steps to be helpful in all close relationships. Enjoy trying these out next time you sense an argument coming on. The key is for both people to truly hear each other and seek to understand where the other person is coming from. These are rules for "Fair Fighting":

  1. Person who has the floor expresses their concerns from an "I" position. Stick to the facts first, then describe feelings. Stay on one topic. Stay calm and don't attack, assume, or accuse, i.e., "I felt disrespected when I was spoken to in that way." 
  2. Person listening is quiet until the other person is finished speaking. Lower defenses and truly hear what the other person is saying. Ask, "Is there anything else?"
  3. Listener repeats back what he/she heard/understood the speaker say, i.e., "I heard you say ______. Is that right?"  Don't argue your side of things, but only relay what you heard the other person say.
  4. Speaker either confirms listener and/or clarifies.
  5. Once listener communicates a correct understanding of the speaker's perspective, the listener expresses validation of speaker's feelings. Even if you don't agree with their perspective, their feelings are real and indisputable, i.e., "I can imagine why you felt disrespected by that." Open your heart to apologize, if necessary.
  6. Listener takes a turn expressing his/her point of view of the issue at hand. Roles then reverse with steps 1-5.
  7. Once more understanding of both sides is established, each ask the other, "What do you need from me for things to be better?" Until both people feel like the conflict is resolved.
 

Remember: To trust the person you love is to assume they would not intentionally hurt you by their actions. A lot of conflict can be avoided when we give each other the benefit of the doubt, until we can clearly understand the other person's motive or thought process behind their actions. Give your partner the same grace you want them to give to you. Truly seek to understand what you can do better on your end to help your partner feel secure and loved. When you follow these principles, you will have a more connected and harmonious relationship.

If you and your partner or family are having difficulty communicating, you might benefit from the many great tools that therapy has to offer. Feel free to contact me for availability!

Jessica Fine, LP
jessicafine@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 321

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Sunday, December 18, 2016 | 0 comments

Thanksgiving: The Forced Family Reunion

The month of November! What comes to mind during this time of year? Well, if you are at the mall you might say, "Christmas, because of all the Christmas decorations that have been out for the past month or two". However, most Americans think of Thanksgiving during this time of year. This particular holiday evokes many different emotions in all of us as we think about coming together as a family for this day of celebration. Is it a day of celebration? Or is it a day of testing your endurance?

If I answer this question honestly for myself, I have to say that it is both! Let me give you a little glimpse into my family's Thanksgiving. The holiday begins on Wednesday afternoon with approximately twenty-five extended family members arriving in town. The very nature of the arrival means that we will be convening at one of the local family members' houses to have dinner together. This is just the beginning of the organized chaos! It is tradition that all the grandkids spend the night at our house during this holiday. Not only are there thirteen grandkids, but now half of them are married, which adds a spouse, AND we have added four great grandkids as well.

Since we always host Thanksgiving Day at our house, we have to make room to accommodate feeding forty or so family members. Thanksgiving morning my husband and I round up some of the family members who are rising from their air mattresses in the game room in order to begin moving our living room furniture out to the garage so that we can transform the room into a giant dining room. After indulging in our traditional Thanksgiving feast to which everyone has contributed, we then go to our backyard where the young children get to take a swing at a piñata. That, of course, leads to picking up confetti and trash in the aftermath of the excitement of the tradition.

The next thing on the agenda for the big day is family pictures. My husband goes into photographer mode as he corrals all the individual nuclear families and captures the memories from that year's Thanksgiving. You would think by now that we are out of day, but no, there is more. Since Thanksgiving is considered THE holiday for our family, it is tradition that for Christmas everyone goes to their in-laws. That means we do not see each other for Christmas. Which also means that we end our Thanksgiving day with having Christmas together. Does this holiday sound as exhausting as it actually is?

The shear number of people who are being moved about from activity to activity is a lot like herding cats, but we have not even begun to talk about the various personalities and relationships between one another. That can be the most anxious part about getting together with family, can it not? Is it possible to have forty people, even if you are part of the same family, all have the same opinions, values, thoughts, and feelings? The answer is a resounding "NO"! Does that make the goal to just endure the day, or could we actually enjoy one another even though we might be different? YES!

Where did the idea that we have to be alike, do things the same, or even think or believe the same as one another come from? Many people believe that if we are from the same family we should "be on the same page", and if we are not, then that can cause frustration and irritation within us. Boundaries can easily be violated in the effort to fulfill the quest for togetherness. That togetherness thinking is a form of "we-ness", better known as fusion.

By now you might be asking, "If 'togetherness' in relationships is not my goal, then what is?" The term, "Differentiation of Self" is what we want to be aiming toward. Differentiation is being able to maintain one's individuality while relating to others and still being a part of the family system. Still a little unclear? Let me explain my personal goals and thought process when working toward differentiation. The first thing I work to be aware of is my own reactivity. Do I find myself wanting to argue or retreat due to things going on in my relationships? Can I state my thoughts without fear of what others will think or say? How about my boundaries? Can I set them clearly and hold to them? As I become better at doing these things, AND allow others the same opportunity, then I become aware that I am growing in my differentiation.

When life is relatively calm and in my control I can be pretty good at the whole differentiation thing. However, add a little dose of relationship pressure into my world (aka Thanksgiving Holiday) and it can all fall apart for me. The next thing I know I am fighting my reactivity level, being tossed around like a ship in a storm at sea! One minute I am handling myself well, and the next minute I am a reactive mess. What happened? I took my eyes off of me, and focused on someone else! That's what happened! At times I cannot think for myself because I am caught up in reactions to someone else's reactivity. I am no longer in control of myself, my emotions have control of me. My differentiation of self is easy when my external world is in order, but my goal is to continue to be differentiated even when my external world is in chaos.

This reminds me that Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and my external world is getting ready to be turned upside down. I get to choose if I am going to be a byproduct of the upcoming chaos, or if am I going to manage myself in order to enjoy each precious, imperfect person who God has put into my life. I can honestly say that I am still a work in progress, but I look forward to this loud, exhausting, and fabulous holiday every year!! What about you?

Deana Reed, LPC
deanareed@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 318

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, November 4, 2016 | 0 comments

Finding your Center: Co-Dependent, Independent, or Interdependent?

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Albert Einstein

Maturity is the goal for each of us from infancy to adulthood, but growing up to adult stature is not a guarantee of maturity.  We all begin our life dependent.

  • Dependence says, “I need you.”  It’s the paradigm of “you.”  You take care of me; you come through for me.  You didn’t come through for me; I blame you for this problem.  
  • The next level is independence.  It’s the paradigm of “I.”  I can do this, I don’t need you, I’m responsible; I’m self-reliant.  I don’t need anyone.  
  • On the other hand, interdependence is a healthy combination of the two.  It is a paradigm of “we.”  Interdependence is a realization that life works better when we are involved in healthy relationships with others.  Interdependence says we can do this, we can cooperate, and we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together than we could alone.  
 

God created us to live in community.  The very first thing God pronounced as not good is in Gen. 2:18 when He stated, “It is not good for man to be alone;” therefore, He never intended for us to do life alone. God created us in love, for love and to be loved.  We can blame our lineage, parents, grandparents, or our environment at any given moment…a spouse, a boss, a coworker, children, teenagers, health, financial issues…these are responsible for my situation and my misery.  “If it wasn’t for this, that, or them…things would be just fine!”

A physically or mentally disabled person naturally needs more help than someone who is not.  However, depending on my degree of emotional dependence, I might be “emotionally disabled” if I’m depending on you to validate me. In my family of origin, I learned to avoid conflict at all costs. When I look to others to validate my feelings, decisions and behaviors, I’m borrowing from another to create “me.” Borrowing from another creates weakness as it reinforces dependence on external factors to get things done.  It builds weakness in the individual forced to acquiesce, stunting development of independent, clear reasoning from tried and true principles, and internal discipline. Further, it builds weakness in the relationship as fear replaces cooperation, and choices are made from an arbitrary or defensive stance. As long as you treat me in a kind and understanding way, based on my own rules of engagement, I’m okay.  However, if your opinion of me changes, which it will, my self-worth changes, and I find it difficult to maintain emotional balance.  Seeing myself through the lens of others, my social paradigm becomes skewed, like the reflection in the carnival mirrors.  I get defensive, blame and point my finger at you telling you what you need to do because I’m no longer okay with your lack of support.  Unfortunately, these rules are of my own making and when you violate them, I find myself in deep emotional trouble.  I need others to get what I want and help me get where I’m going.  I operate out of a sense of what others think of me and I’m conformed by the culture and the environment:  I can’t stand to be without you.  My belief system says we must believe the same way, think the same way, and do things the same way.  One of the problems of a dependent mindset is difficulty determining the difference between feelings and facts.  I imagine feelings are my thoughts and if I feel it, it must be true and real. 
    
If I’m independent, I operate from the other extreme, but no less dysfunctional. My expectations rule my thinking and again I’m reactive. My decisions are fear-based, driven by concern that others cannot be trusted. “I’ve been hurt in the past and I’m sure I will be hurt again.” Once again, my emotions drive my behaviors, with little consideration of your thoughts or your feelings.  It may look different from dependence in that when you ruffle my feathers I’ll say, “I can’t stand to be around you,” and I withdraw.  Again, I learned this independent stance in my family of origin perhaps by spending a lot of time alone as a child and being responsible for myself.  If there is no one to rely on, I learn to take care of me, and am now determined that I will not allow what someone else does or thinks about me to determine my self-worth or my feelings.  The problem is that this is a cover-up.  In reality, I am very insecure on the inside since I wasn’t important enough for others to take care of me when I was young.  I get what I want through my own effort and I’m not too concerned about your toes if I happen to step on them.  This result is decisions that end in heartache when the independent person decides what they want is more important than family relationships. “I know what chaos looks like and I’m done with that.  It’s now my turn to be in control.” There is a place for everything and everything in its place.  I may have a very strong opinion about how things “should” be done, when they “should” be done, and being determined not to be hurt again, I stay emotionally disconnected.  These people find themselves addicted to short-term relationships, substance abuse, sexual addictions, pornography, and use a host of other ways to satisfy their longings apart from real intimate relationships.

Interdependence is a much better and more mature option. Interdependence says we can combine our efforts to create something bigger and better together. I am no longer dependent on you, and I’m no longer independent, relying on myself.  I realize my worth is because God created me in His image and my identity is in Him.  I’m free to be me; you are free to be you. I can combine what I have with what you have and together we can create something better.  We relate to one another as open, honest, and responsible partners in our relationship.  I can derive a sense of worth in myself, as I embrace God’s view of me, who he created me to be and His sacrifice for me.  All of that makes me important and worthy, and I can treat others with kindness and express love and acceptance, forgiveness and grace to you, not expecting you to meet all my emotional needs.  Working from interdependence, we look for solutions to problems learning to negotiate and compromise so both parties come away with a win/win solution.  

God uses marriage as the catalyst by which we must grow up and learn to manage the dance of separateness and togetherness in an emotionally committed relationship.  Give and take is a reflection of what scripture tells us in Ephesians 4…“submit yourselves one to another.”  Being willing to cooperate, “regard others as more important than yourself,” (Phil 2:3b) and not expecting to get your way all the time.  It takes effort and energy to seek to understand before being understood.  Clear thinking operates from a foundation of knowing who you are, speaking out of that knowing and being able to state in a calm clear manner what you will do and will not do, and the ability to keep from being defensive or critical, nor acquiescing and giving in.  There is a difference in peacekeeping and peacemaking as Matthew speaks of in Chapter 5, but this is for another blog.  This stance enables me to act rather than being acted upon.  I live my life from clear thought-out principles, beliefs, standards, values, and priorities based on who I want to be and where I am going. This results in not expecting others to take care of me (dependent) nor me taking care of them.  

Emotional interdependence states I care about you, I’m sorry you are feeling badly, but I will not own nor take responsibility for your feelings.   Each person takes responsibility for communicating his or her own thoughts, positions, and beliefs, viewing the other as capable and adequate to function in a given situation, in an open, honest, separate and equal stance, aware of how God created us.  He established relationships because He ordained relationships necessary for our own well-being.   Love is the oil that makes relationships function according to His guidelines.  Since I John 4:18 states perfect love casts out fear; could we conclude that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear? God’s plan is that we become connected to Him in such a way that we get our internal value and worth from Him first, trusting Him to provide our ability to function in a position of dependency on Him not on others. 

When we operate out of either a dependent stance or an independent stance, fear drives the behavior.  It’s easy to point our finger at anything that impedes our goals. Here’s the real problem…if you think the problem is out there…that’s the problem.  I realized later in life that’s what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Get the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly how to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41).  Interdependence says I know God did not create me to do life alone, but neither did He create me to be so needy that I can’t function without emotional support from another. He created me to get that from Him first and foremost.  Learning to function in a balanced interdependent stance where I refrain from attacking others or defending myself smooths out the volatile vicissitudes of highs and lows.  It lowers my anxiety, my blood pressure, and gives me the ability to make wise choices for my present situation and my future endeavors. This opens up the opportunity to share myself deeply and meaningfully in open honest communication with those I’m in closest contact.  Deep intimacy, and vulnerability and emotional sustenance abound in this relationship of “we.” To learn more about these concepts, give me a call.

Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC, EMDR
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
512-914-7927
 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, October 6, 2016 | 0 comments

Keep Calm and Walk on the Water

"Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. 'It is a ghost', they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.' Peter said to him in reply, 'Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, 'Come.'

Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'

After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, 'Truly, you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:22-33).

Have you ever seen the T-shirt or the picture that reads: My lifeguard walks on water?  I always thought this phrase was a fun play on Scripture, reminding us that we don’t have to worry because God can do anything.  However, I have found that sometimes we miss some of the deeper meanings of this Scripture passage by focusing on this one point.  Yes, the Lord can do anything. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back in our boat and watch with our Bibles in one hand and our coffee in the other, although sorely tempting!

The reality is that the Lord is continually calling us out of our boats to come to Him.  Sounds easy enough, right?  The difficult part is that we’ve been housed in our boats for so long that we can’t imagine anything better outside of our boat, where our senses tell us it is not safe.  Maybe we’ve tried getting out of our boats before, only to be disappointed by the ones we loved and trusted.  Maybe we’ve anchored our boat next to someone else’s, too scared to leave or be separated from them for fear of being alone.  In this position, we can see and talk to God at a distance, but we ourselves make no movement, remaining stuck in our life raft.

When we find ourselves in this position, we typically sense that something must change.  We become more afraid, isolated, angry, unbalanced, and overall disquieted.  Unfortunately, there is no possibility of remaining stagnant in our spiritual or psychological life.  If we aren’t moving toward our goal, we begin floating away from it, carried by the tide of the world, often so methodically that we don’t realize it until reflecting upon where we once were.  This is why the Lord calls us to walk on the waterMovement is required!

So, how do we move?  Let’s return to the Gospel passage.  When the disciples first see the Lord on the water, they are terrified.  Not just scared but terrified, fearing for their lives.  They think the Lord is a ghost and chaos ensues.  Their emotion begins distorting reality, and instead of acting on their reason and intellect, they begin reacting to the situation.  They had seen the Lord perform miracles before, yet they still allowed their instinctual reaction to cloud their knowledge.  In order for Peter to get out of the boat, he had to know and understand who was calling him out of the boat; he had to move out of his fight-or-flight mode and into his thinking mode. In other words, he had to manage his emotions and begin thinking for himself. 

How many times do we find ourselves reacting to the circumstances around us, feeling victimized and out of control rather than calm and collected?  We sit helplessly in our boats, which are being tossed about by the wind and waves.  Unfortunately, we often aren’t aware of our emotional states when we’re in them, or we’re only superficially aware, able to recognize feelings but unable to resolve or process them.  This leaves us trapped under the control of our fluctuating emotions.  If we want to move forward spiritually and psychologically, we must stop letting our underlying emotions run the show.

It’s important for us to know how to manage our emotions in order to hear the Lord’s invitation in our lives.  I have provided five steps that you may find helpful in beginning to process your emotions.

5 Steps of Emotional Processing*

  1. Observing the feeling state.  This requires stepping away mentally from the situation.  It may be beneficial to observe where in your body you’re experiencing the tension (e.g., stomach in knots, feeling warm and sweaty, face is flushed, etc.).

  2. Calming down ASAP.  It is important to not feed or indulge the emotion, but work to regain intellectual control.  This may involve doing deep breathing exercises, going for a walk, or playing with a pet.  If you are able to identify any physical symptoms, it can be helpful to attend to those in order to release physical tension (e.g., relaxing tense muscles, working to cool down, treating yourself to a good cry if needed).  An important point to stress here is that when we are in our “emotional brain” we aren’t thinking clearly (like the disciples in the boat), so it may be wise to not make any crucial decisions while in the process of calming down.

  3. Thinking it through.  Once we are calm, we are better able to identify what feeling we were experiencing and what prompted that feeling to arise within us.  We can also begin keeping a log (whether mentally or physically) about our different emotional patterns and where they may take root (e.g., an insecurity within us, fear of rejection, learned beliefs about ourselves or God that aren’t true).

  4. Finding an appropriate response.  This is a time to explore our options and determine how we as an adult want to respond to this situation.  Is there some false beliefs that need to be rejected and replaced with truth?  Do I need to apologize to someone, or forgive someone else?  It could also be as simple as responding kindly to someone who we perceive has treated us poorly.

  5. Repeat!  Begin creating a habit of moving from your emotional faculty through your intellect and into constructive action.  This is how virtues are developed; this is our movement toward Christ.

Once we are able to calm down and think through our emotions, we may find that our boats, which have been holding us back from Christ, are no longer necessary.  They may have been serving a false function based on our emotional state.  They are comfortable for us, but as Pope Benedict XVI said to all Christians, “The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort.  You were made for greatness.”  What boat(s) have been holding you back from greatness with the Lord?  And what would it take for you to leave those behind to walk on the water toward Christ?

If you would like to learn more about managing emotions and identifying the boats in your life that keep you from Christ, give me a call!

Blessings!

Liz Heuertz, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S
512-238-1700, ext. 322
elizabethheuertz@nlcc1.com

*Gilbert, R. M. (1992). Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Relationships. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, September 2, 2016 | 0 comments

Out of the shadows and into the night

I remember when my wife first told me that she was pregnant. It felt like there was a tornado rattling on in my head. I was happy, but also terrified. I frequently kept asking myself “Am I ready to be a father?  What does that even entail?” From there I let my anxiety take over. I was constantly worried about the uncertainty of mine and my family’s future. By allowing my anxiety to go unchecked, I found myself ruminating on the past, questioning myself at every turn. From there it was a downward spiral of what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy calls “stinking thinking.”

This kind of thinking is what we call a viscous cycle: our thoughts or beliefs dictate how we feel, and therefore how we react. When our thoughts become self-defeating, for example, “How can anyone like me when I keep messing up?”, we throw ourselves into a downward spiral without any hope of escape. Before long, depression sets in and hopelessness is all we allow ourselves to see. All of us experience this type of thinking at some point in our lives, but some of us more frequently than others. Thankfully, for all of us who fall prey to this destructive form of thinking there is hope, a way for us to break this cycle. For this to happen we first need to change our thoughts and beliefs. We do this by disputing and challenging them.

The most important challenge we can raise to this vicious cycle is to stay away from absolutes such as NEVER, ALWAYS, and IMPOSSIBLE. If these words are used often enough, it becomes easy to believe that the deck is stacked against us. This may seem trivial, however, our brains are programmed to act based on what we tell ourselves, our self-talk. In short, our beliefs determine our actions. If we say that we can’t, then we won’t. However, if we say we can, then there is a high probability of accomplishing whatever we choose to accomplish. This process does not happen overnight because this process is the development of a habit, either a good habit of positive talk and action, or a negative habit of doubt and disillusionment. If we can begin to tell ourselves, “I can be a good father” or “I know that I can work through this depression”, we set ourselves up for success.

Another important challenge to the vicious cycle is to examine the evidence of our actions. Examining the evidence of our actions helps us avoid the pitfall of focusing only on the things we do wrong or thinking that we are all bad. We have all had a date go terribly, been ashamed of some hasty or rude behavior, or have done poorly on a work presentation and have been left with the taste of failure in our mouths. Examining the evidence allows us to take a birds eye view of the situation and properly evaluate ourselves. To do this correctly you need to take into account not just the bad but the good as well. For example, your date may have gone south, but by looking at what you did well and what you could have worked on gives you the opportunity to learn from this experience and apply it next time.

I know how easy it can be to held captive by this vicious cycle, to feel like nothing will change and to constantly doubt yourself. However, we can change our thoughts by practicing just a few of these cognitive techniques. Once we change our thoughts we can change the outcome of the cycle. Once I was able to examine the evidence of the mistakes I made in the past, I realized that those mistakes provided me a great opportunity to learn more about myself. These cognitive disputations allowed me to break my own personal cycle and escape the darkness. If you are struggling with your own vicious cycle and are having trouble breaking free, I would love to help you take that first step into the light. There is hope. Reach out.

Blake Bonilla, MA-Intern
blakebonilla@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 316

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, August 5, 2016 | 0 comments

Hope

I’m sure that many of you are aware of the mass shooting that took place last month in the gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. It has been marked as the deadliest mass shooting in the US to date and the nation’s worst terrorist attack since 9/11. As I watched a video of a mom uncertain about the death of her son, who has fought for alliance between homosexuals and heterosexuals, and as I saw a text message conversation between a son and mother, the last communication she will ever have with him, I am both profoundly grieved and enraged. I believe what this highlights for us, again, is the injustice present in the world. These shootings continue to create an environment of fear and uncertainty for those whose race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs do not align with the majority culture. And while this is a broad example of injustice regarding a large group of people, in this case the LGBTQ community, I believe it also calls us to consider how we wrestle with the injustice we see present in our lives and the lives of others. We grieve for those whom we know and those at a distance because of our understanding that this is not the way things were intended to be: death and hatred were not part of God’s original plan. And so we grieve the injustice we see in our own lives as well as the lives of others.

The challenge comes for believers in that we are always holding in tension both death and resurrection. While we grieve, we are encouraged throughout the scriptures to continue to hope, even in the face of sorrow and injustice. But this seems like a completely foolish challenge. Why continue to hope for justice when we encounter shooting after shooting, injustice after injustice? In fact, Nietzsche, the German philosopher, wrote in Human, All too Human: “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man”. So as we continue to encounter pain and brokenness, what does it means for us to continue to hope? How do we hold on to hope even when it appears foolish?

I want to talk about hope for a little bit, because I see hope as the fuel that propels us to continue to cry out for Justice. I think Romans 8:22-25 highlights that within hope there is present both longing for something while at the same time expecting it to happen. Paul writes that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly”. It is not just longing for something; it is actually expecting that the thing that we long for will happen. I think this is incredibly challenging. To hope puts us in a position of vulnerability, a position in which we recognize our limitations and our dependence on someone outside ourselves. Hope also has the power to access a part of us that we may not be super comfortable with, the part of us that has unmet desires and longings, disappointments and regrets.

Within the type of therapy that I practice, there is a concept called “splitting” that I believe applies well to how we respond to hope. Splitting is the polarizing of events and thus, experiences and people into “all good” or “all bad” categories. One of the goals of therapy is to integrate the “all good” with the “all bad”. It seems that for most of us when we encounter hope and the tension of unfulfilled longing, we have to do something to relieve the tension. I think what a lot of us do is determine that God is “all bad” and that He is uninvolved or unconcerned with the things we presently encounter. Therefore, we will take justice into our own hands and seek to ensure that it is served. I am not trying to suggest that we should not advocate for justice; I am a big advocate for justice. What I’m talking about is the way we take the place of judge and determine the value of human life. The other tendency is to determine that God is “all good” and the problem lies in a lack of faith on our part. Perhaps if we were more faithful, we would receive that for which we long. Again, I am a big advocate for faithful pursuit of God; however I think this line of thinking is incredibly dangerous and leads to oppression and self-reliance. I think what both of these do is cause us to miss the opportunity to wrestle deeply with God.

Over time, when we encounter disappointment, which literally means a missed appointment, it carries with it a sense that God did not show up for me. He could have let me get the job, He could have healed my family member, He could have brought me a spouse, but He didn’t. So what do we do when hope feels too difficult to tolerate, when it feels too painful to consider our unmet desires? I think we generally do one of two things: when we continue to hope for something and do not receive it, we become angry and disappointed, therefore we determine it is best to kill our desires (Young). If we didn’t want this, then it wouldn’t hurt so badly. I think one of the phrases that we use to do this is “my expectations are too high”. It is wrong for me to want what it is I’m wanting; the problem lies with my desires. When we do this we simultaneously deaden our hope in God; it feels too painful to sit with it so we suppress it (Young). It feels too painful to hope that it might happen so we stop wanting. I think we sometimes unintentionally encourage this deadening of desire when we say things like “maybe it’s not God’s will” or “maybe you’re idolizing that which you long for” or “maybe you want too much”. I think we say these things because we are uncomfortable with our own unfulfilled desires making it difficult to sit with someone in theirs, all the while trusting that as we wrestle with God on these matters, He will do the work of transforming our desires. But to ignore them or to seek to suppress them causes us to miss out on encountering God.

The second thing we do with our unmet longings is become cynical; we tell ourselves that it’s never going to happen anyway so why even want it. We will often say that we are being “realistic” about what we can expect (Young). Is it realistic to believe that I might conceive a child when I’ve been trying for the last 5 years? Is it realistic to think that my mom will be a mom when she hasn’t done so in over a decade? Does it make sense to continue to work diligently at my job, when all my work goes unnoticed and those I work with are cynical anyway? Is it worth it to correct my child for the thousandth time, they don’t listen anyway? The problem that we encounter with these ideas is that the resurrection is the most unrealistic thing that has ever happened; Jesus repeatedly dissolves the idea of realism within a Christian context. Within the Christian subculture, I think the phrases that we often use when we are cynical are “I’m not going to get everything I long for met until heaven” and “it’s a broken world we live in”. While this may be true, we are not the ones in the position to determine which desires will and will not be met here on earth and Jesus’ broken body was raised (Young). We use these as a means of killing hope and avoiding dealing with the internal wrestle with God. It often feels too painful to allow ourselves to wrestle with what we can hope for from God before His return.

What would it be like for us to wrestle with Him? To allow ourselves to hope in Him, both groaning inwardly and waiting expectantly? To invite Him into our grief? To not lose heart? I want to leave you with a thought from a man named Nicholas Wolterstorff from his book “Lament for a Son”. He is a professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale and the book is an expression of his grief after his son died in a mountain climbing accident at the age of 25. He writes:

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us? You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity’s song—all without lifting a finger that we could see. You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.

We strain to hear. But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God.”

How beautiful that we serve and love a God who grieves with us, whose heart breaks alongside ours, who understands what it is to suffer. How lovely that because we serve a God who understands the tension between hope and despair it allows us to hold our hope with expectation. We get to search for God in the midst of our hope. 

Ashley Blackwell, MA
512-238-1700 ext. 313
ashleyblackwell@nlcc1.com

Resources:

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich W. Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits. Trans. Marion Faber, with Stephen Lehmann. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984.
  • Wolterstorff, N. (1987). Lament for a son. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
  • Young, A. (2016, May 24). Agony of Hope. Lecture presented at Westside Presbyterian Church, Atlanta. Retrieved June 20, 2016, from http://www.atlantawestside.org/audio/09-2014/

 

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, July 8, 2016 | 0 comments

Boundaries with Parents and Teens

It’s sometimes tricky to navigate the transition of a child-to-adolescent, on both sides of the parent-teen relationship. As children grow into teens, and parents are no longer parenting young children, there can be some really tense moments.

Parents may find themselves asking “How much is too much, or too little?” when it comes to things like limitations, responsibility and talking with their teens about difficult issues. And teens may find themselves pulling away from parents to get some breathing room, or struggling with the new weight of understanding adult themes (like that your parents aren’t perfect, relationships require hard work, the responsibility for charting your life path...etc). In tense times, doors can slam, consequences can be slapped down, and conversations can dissolve into shouting matches that neither teens nor parents feel good about. In tense situations like these, the line between parent and teen can become blurred at best, or even non-existent. In other situations, teens and parents may resort to being disconnected or distant just to stay comfortable.

For example, a parent may be so worried over something about their teen that the parent loses sleep for weeks on end, perhaps beginning to function poorly at work. This parent is unable to separate the teen’s problems from the parent’s own problems.  On the other side, a teen may become so absorbed into their parent’s personality that they get caught in the intense back and forth of either totally complying with their parent’s every opinion or totally rebelling, without ever considering thoughtfully what the teen thinks for himself/herself. Or both teen and parent may feel so unsure about how to address a sensitive issue that it’s almost like both sides agree to just not talk about it. These are just a few examples of when the emotional boundary between parent and teen is blurred, and it can cause stress for both sides.

Boundaries defined

First, let’s talk about what the word “boundaries” means.  I have often thought that the word “boundaries” itself has a bit of an anxious undertone. When I hear the word, I get this image of a person with their hands raised tensely in front of them, palms facing outward, and a “No Trespassing” sign dangling from their thumbs. And since we’re in the land of Texas ranches, there’s probably even some barbed wire at the top! Does that image speak love to you? It’s like whichever side of the fence I’m on, it makes me feel a bit anxious. Either I’m anxiously defending my territory against invasion, or I’m totally blocked out and anxiously worrying about what dangerous thing is on the other side. While I can understand this typical notion and function of boundaries, I’d like to offer a different approach.

Rather than, “You, stay out,” or “You stay on your side and everything will be fine,” what if boundaries were understood to mean “I hold myself in?”  Perhaps a new image will help. Rather than a solid fence topped with barbed-wire, let’s use something a little more organic, a little more inherent to who we are as humans.

How about a cell membrane? Stick with me now, and perhaps you’ll see where I’m going with this. A cell membrane is what holds the contents of the cell in –what holds it together. The membrane is an organic, living boundary that separates cell from not-cell. And it is not rigid, but flexible. It is also permeable - it’s not a fortress wall. For those who haven’t studied biology recently (like myself), here’s a super simple refresher: The job of the membrane is to facilitate communication between the cell and its environment and other cells. The membrane lets certain things pass through the boundary from the outside, and also sends communication out through it to the environment. Dr Bruce Lipton is credited with understanding the membrane this way, and he gives us a further hint, stating that “...the brain of the cell is its skin, the membrane, the interface of the interior of the cell and the ever-changing world we live in. It is the functional element that controls life.” * The membrane has a controlling function, not against the environment, but from within itself.

Membranes and Relationships

So, let’s bring that cell membrane back to relationships. What difference does it make if we understand boundaries as a fence or as a membrane? It makes all the difference, because our focus and orientation shifts entirely. If healthy boundaries are “No Trespassing” fences, then I control my boundaries by pushing against you. And since I ultimately don’t have control over you, I’m always going to be pushing, and I’m always going to be anxious, because I can’t secure what I am relying on for safety – namely, you.

If healthy boundaries are like cell membranes, then I control my boundaries by holding onto myself. And since I always have the ultimate say when it comes to me, now I’m in the realm of what I can actually work on!

Here’s another thought - rather than using boundaries as a weapon against another person to try to change their behavior (fence image), what if I used boundaries as a space within which I can be (membrane), a space to start working on me? To put it more simply, if my sense of self and security comes from you, it will always be shaky. If however, I am open to doing the hard work of standing on my own two feet, I can start working towards a less anxious way of being in the world, and ultimately a less anxious way of working out healthy relationships with other people - including my parents or my teenager!

What that means for daily life

Are you starting to sense the difference between fence-boundaries and membrane-boundaries? Here are a couple of quick lists of what membrane-boundaries could look like in reality. These statements may help you start thinking through how to shift your parent-teen boundaries from the fence or you-focused approach, to the membrane or I-centered approach. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, and you will most likely have some even better ideas to add to your own list  (**parts of this list are paraphrased from Roberta Gilbert, see citation below).

For parents - 5 Ways to hinder your teen growing his/her own “cell membrane”

  1. Tell your teen what to do when they know what to do (i.e., always tell them, never ask them)
  2. Worry excessively about your teen or about their responsibilities, or more than you worry about your own adult responsibilities
  3. Think about your teen more than you think about yourself or your relationship with your spouse
  4. Don’t allow your teen any alone time
  5. Let your teen’s successes and failures determine your sense of emotional well-being

 

For parents - 5 Ways to not hold on to your own “cell membrane” around your teen

  1. Feel you must buy/supply anything asked for whether or not you can afford it, or feel you must immediately adjust your schedule to your teen’s schedule
  2. Need to always rescue your teen
  3. Avoid certain topics with your teen because it makes you nervous or uncomfortable, or because you haven’t worked out yet what you think about it
  4. Not addressing when my teen breaks a limit, out of my own unwillingness to hold firm to my own beliefs and family leadership or my lack of practice at keeping myself calm
  5. Need to always be liked by your teen

 

For teens - 5 Ways to hinder your parents’ growing their own “cell membrane”

  1. Attempt to fix problems between the two of them, i.e., get involved in their marriage
  2. Worry excessively about their adult problems and responsibilities (i.e. finances, housing, their jobs, etc.)
  3. Take responsibility for their reactions to your behaviors (i.e., attempt to “not stress them out all the time,” attempt to “not worry them so much”)
  4. Depend upon them reminding you in order to get your own stuff done
  5. “Peer” with your parent, i.e., treat them as a friend rather than a parent

 

For teens -5 Ways to not hold on to your own “cell membrane” around your parent

  1. Telling them more about your life than you are wanting to share (except re: safety issues)
  2. Asking them for advice before (or without) thinking through it for yourself
  3. Letting them take care of responsibilities that are objectively yours (and allowing them to routinely do things for you past the point when you’re capable of doing them for yourself)
  4. Allow one of your parents to talk to you about the other parent, or another sibling
  5. Totally rebelling against or totally complying with your parents’ stance on an issue without thinking through and reflecting on what you think (i.e., allowing them to do my thinking for me).

 

If any of that was useful for you as a teen or as a parent, or if you have things to add to the lists, I would love to know! And if you’re thinking you could use some extra support to find that boundary or build up your own cell membrane, feel free to give me a call.

Rachel Gardner, LPC-Intern
rachelgardner@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700, ext. 310

*Dr Bruce Lipton, The Wisdom of Your Cells, https://www.brucelipton.com/resource/article/the-wisdom-your-cells
** Roberta Gilbert, Connecting with Your Children, Chapter 19.

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Saturday, June 4, 2016 | 0 comments

The Adolescent Dilemma

If you are a parent of a teenager, you have probably encountered the question about whether or not your teen is struggling with “normal” teenage angst or a real problem that needs professional help. Being a teenager developmentally is no easy task and the healthiest of teens can go through a problematic period en route to figuring out who they are apart from their caregivers. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, adolescents go through the psychosocial crisis of "identity versus role confusion," which involves exploring who they are as individuals. This developmental crisis is normal and a crucial part in becoming a healthy adult. As with any developmental milestone, issues can arise that hinder the developmental process and require external intervention. In this phase it is normal for teens to begin to pull away from their parents, spending more time in their room, with their peers, and/or engaged in activities outside of the home. As a therapist who has worked with teens for several years, I often have to normalize this behavior for parents as a healthy part of adolescents' developmental milestone. I also have to help identify and work with the problematic behavior that needs to be addressed in order for a teen to develop a healthy identity.

Parents can be advocates for their teens by keeping an eye out for problematic behaviors without being overly intrusive. Teens can have a difficult time managing all of the hormonal changes during this phase of life so keeping an eye out for teens' coping skills is important. Some problematic coping skills would be cutting, hair pulling, increased isolation, drugs, negative peer relationships, bullying, and poor eating behavior. These are just some of the common ways teens manifest underlying symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. If parents begin to notice these behaviors in their teens, start having conversations with them that inquire about how they are doing. Most parents go on the defensive right away creating all sorts of restrictions and limits but ultimately missing the most important piece: the function of their teen engaging in these behaviors at all.

My experience in working with teens is they want to be heard more than anything else. This is why therapy can be so strategic at this stage because they are trying to figure out who they are and how to have a “voice” separate from their parents. However, parents play a crucial role in this process. Teens often tell me that they wish their parents tried to understand how they are feeling rather than focusing so much on their behavior. This doesn’t mean no limits; it means that parents also have to recognize their teen's behavior IS their way of communicating. Listening with an open mind and attempting to see it from their teen's perspective is the most potent tool to help decrease some of their stress. It might not make any sense at all, but to your teen it makes perfect sense.

Being a teenager is no easy task, but neither is being a parent of one! It can be fraught with a lot of confusion, conflict, and struggles on both parts. That is all normal but if it feels unmanageable and if your teen is displaying some of the problematic behavior mentioned above, reach out for professional help. A therapist can help the teen and family through this difficult developmental transition and assist the teen in learning to manage their thoughts, feelings, and behavior in a more productive and healthy manner. Parents can also grow in understanding why their teen may be acting out and have a neutral third party to clarify important issues. It is always best to err on the side of seeking help for your teen because many teens have a difficult time asking for help. A great way to approach therapy with your teen is to explain that it is for their benefit (not a punishment) and a safe place for them to process their thoughts and feelings. If the teen sees therapy as a resource for them rather than a requirement from their parents, they are more likely to go to the first session and be receptive to the therapy process. 

If you are a parent and feel your teen might need therapy, feel free to reach out to me at (512) 238-1700, ext. 319. I absolutely love working with teens and would be happy to answer any questions you might have!

Alicia Dowell, LMFT
aliciadowell@nlcc1.com
(512) 238-1700, ext. 319
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, May 20, 2016 | 0 comments

Positive Discipline: A Paradigm Shift

Positive Discipline: A Paradigm Shift

To parents:

Do you feel stuck and frustrated with trying to make your kids behave? Does it seem as though you have tried everything possible and nothing ever changes? I want to challenge you to consider an idea of parenting that may be very new and uncomfortable. One that will open up a whole treasure box full of new tools. I want to offer you a chance to have a huge paradigm shift in the way you think discipline works. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

I want you to stop punishing your kids.

Are you still with me?

When I suggest to parents that they try to avoid punishment, I am usually met with astonishment and resistance. “But, how can I not punish my children when they misbehave? I don’t think I’m buying what you’re selling.” Punishment is the way we learned parenting from our parents, which was passed down for generations. It is a common language we all speak and has been adopted as the norm of discipline. But why have we all accepted the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, we need to make them feel guilt, shame, humiliation, and sometimes even pain? The fact is, children behave better when they feel encouraged, connected, and loved.

“What? So I am supposed to let my kid get away with whatever they want?” Absolutely not. That would be considered permissiveness, which is just as disrespectful and unhealthy and does not teach children life skills. By all means, discipline your children, but not all discipline is punishment. True discipline involves teaching and guidance.

Punishment fosters doubt and shame. It neither teaches nor trains. Whether it’s through yelling, grounding, time outs, or spankings, parents usually punish out of fear, worry, and frustration. It is the fastest and most convenient way to make children behave for the time being: it works well for that purpose. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of punishment do more harm than good to children. According to Jane Nelsen, founder of Positive Discipline, punishment is likely to produce one of four reactions in children, known as the “Four R’s of Punishment”: 

  1.  Resentment
  2.  Rebellion
  3.  Revenge
  4.  Retreat, through
    • Sneakiness ("I just won't get caught next time") or
    • Low self-esteem ("I really am a bad person") (1)

Perhaps you may find some of these responses familiar in your own children. Nelsen believes a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Everyone needs to feel like they belong and are significant. When children do not believe this about themselves for any reason, they become discouraged. Because their sense of belonging and significance is one of their most basic human needs, they will try almost anything to get back their sense of belonging through either compliance, rebellion, or somewhere in between. However, it is often through misbehavior that discouraged children seek to belong, because it is the only way they know how to create some form of connectedness with others, even if it is a negative connection.

So how can we respond to our kids’ mistakes or misbehavior in ways that encourage and empower them to do better? Here are a few rules that Nelsen presents for Positive Discipline:

  • Be kind and firm at the same time.
  • Decide what you will do and follow through with it.
  • Teach less with words, and more with action.
  • Offer limited choices that are all acceptable to you.
  • Teach respect by being respectful.
  • Use your sense of humor.
  • Try to see the world from your child's perspective. (2)

The Positive Discipline way requires just as much discipline for parents as it does for children. It charges parents to take time for training children in the way they should go. It requires parents to consider how to help children learn from their mistakes without inducing guilt and shame. It expects parents to help their children to become responsible and realize their own capability by teaching them to do things for themselves. It is inconvenient and not always easy to do all of these things, but who ever said parenting was easy?

Still doubting that this parenting philosophy will work with your kids? I submit to you that there is a Positive Discipline solution to any problem you are facing with your children. You don’t have to cut out all punishment if that seems too far “outside of the box” for you. Even if you simply become more intentional about taking opportunities to teach rather than punish, your child will gain more autonomy and a greater sense of belonging and love. Replacing punishment with guidance, as often as you can, will foster an environment for your family of love, enjoyment, connection, and relationship. This kind of environment will nurture healthy qualities that you desire to see in your children as they grow up.

Remember: no matter what approach you take on parenting, you will never be a perfect parent and your child will never be perfect either. But thankfully, for all of us, mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn. If you would like to learn more about the solutions that Positive Discipline can bring into your home, give me a call!

Jessica Fine, LPC
jessicafine@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 321
1. & 2. Jane Nelsen, Ed. D. (2006) Positive Discipline.
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, April 1, 2016 | 0 comments

Fence Building 101

Showered and dressed. Check!
Breakfast made and served. Check!
Kids in the car and dropped off at school, with their backpacks this time. Check!

On my way to work and thinking about all the things I must accomplish today. How will I get it all done? I don't think I can fit another thing into my schedule! My day does not slow down when I get off of work either. One child has basketball practice, while the other has Tae Kwon Do. Tonight my husband and I will divide and conquer. When we get home, he can help them with their homework while I get dinner prepared. My thoughts are interrupted on my drive to work by my phone ringing. It's my sweet friend who lives just as busy of a life as I do. She begins by telling me that she received a call from the pastor of our church, asking her if she would consider taking on a new and exciting ministry at church. She admits to me that she has said "yes", but would really appreciate the help and support if I would assist her.

Internally I feel the conflict begin. The dialogue in my head goes something like this: "I don't know how I can add one more thing to my already packed week", .....but..... "It IS for the church, and, more importantly, God's Kingdom, so He would want me to say 'yes'" ......but...... "It's not even an area that I have an interest in".......but...... "My friend will be hurt if I don't help her out.  Besides she is just as busy as I am"..... And then it happens! I scream at myself in my head, "NO, NO, NO, DON'T DO IT!", and then it is too late, I hear myself say, "Of course. I will be happy to help you."

Have you ever found yourself in this situation? Do you do things out of obligation, or wanting to please others? Perhaps you do them to ease your own guilt? If this sounds like you, rest assured that you are not alone! Holding boundaries. Sound easy? Where exactly is the boundary? What's the difference between holding a boundary and being selfish?

Start by thinking of your boundary as your property line. We put up fences to let others know that within this fence line I am responsible for what goes on. We can even take it a step further to say that whatever goes on outside my fence line is not my responsibility. If my sprinkler head is aimed at my neighbor's yard, their grass is going to be beautifully green. However, my yard is going to become dried up and brown, and that is the problem. In a relationship a boundary helps differentiate where you begin and end. The challenge with relationship boundaries is that our fences are invisible. So, how do we show where our property line is?

We show where the property line is with our words! Communicating with others of our feelings, intentions, or dislikes lets others know where the property line stands. Saying to my friend, "I won't be able to assist you in your new ministry venture" lets her know where I stand and, therefore, defines the "edges" that help identify me.

What causes us to say "yes" when what we really want to say "no"? Sometimes this phenomenon goes back as far as our childhood. Think about parenting a young child. Which is easier, a compliant child or a strong-willed child? I think most of us would answer that by saying that the compliant child is easier to parent.  However, is being compliant really a good thing for the child? If a child does not learn, or is not allowed at an early age to say "no" or set boundaries for themselves, then when are they expected to learn this? Perhaps it is fear that keeps us from setting boundaries:  fear of hurting someone's feelings, fear of being rejected by them, fear of punishment or anger, fear of looking selfish or unspiritual? So, in order to not have to deal with the fear, we tear down our fence and allow others to trample all over our yard. Externally we do the very things we do not want to do, and internally we feel resentful, angry, and bitter. I could be mad at my friend for calling me and asking me to assist her even when she knows how busy I am; but I'm the one who said "yes". She is not responsible for my yard any more than I am responsible for hers.

Learning to set boundaries for ourselves can lead to freedom from anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and relational issues, just to name a few. Wouldn't it be great to only be responsible for your own "yard"? The concept is simple, however the implementation is much, much more challenging. If you struggle with setting boundaries in your relationships and feel that you could benefit from working on that area, feel free to call me.

Deana Reed, LPC
deanareed@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 x3

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, March 2, 2016 | 0 comments

Brain Smarts and EMDR

Do you ever wonder why the thoughts in your brain swirl and swirl out of control and you feel like a victim of chaotic circuits firing repeatedly and seem to hold you captive? You seemingly have no control over not only the thoughts you think but the behavior triggered by those negative thoughts. Do you find yourself identifying with Paul in Romans 7 where he says, “that which I want to do, I can’t do and that which I don’t want to do, I continue to do.” And then he asks, “Who will deliver me…?” Thanks be to Jesus Christ.  Caroline Leaf, a communications and audiology pathologist, who has studied the neuroplasticity of the brain since 1985, tells us that there is a reason for this swirling out of control, confused and chaotic thinking, but insists we do not have to be controlled by our emotions.  God has given us exactly what we need to take control of our thought processes.

In her pioneering research, Dr. Leaf studied the most intricate parts of the brain and how they function during activity and at rest. God designed the brain in such a way that the intrinsic activity in the non-conscious part of our minds is where most of the mind-action takes place; and furthermore it is active 24 hours a day.  Thus, the reason I continue to stress the importance of becoming very aware of our thinking.  We have a constant running dialog with ourselves even when at rest. In this subconscious part of the brain these thoughts may never enter our conscious mind. What we think, what we say, and what we do is subconsciously driven by the information and activity of the unconscious mind…scripts that we learned in our family of origin. When we blame others for our problems or blame ourselves for not being good enough, we saturate our brains with negative, toxic thoughts. What fires together, wires together….the longer they fire together the stronger the connection creating strongholds. Paying attention to our thoughts becomes so important:this is why scripture gives us plenty of information about taking thoughts captive, thinking on positive, pure and holy thoughts.  “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov.23:7) If God instructs us to do this; He certainly provides a mechanism by which it is achievable.

The reason the subconscious mind controls most of our thought processes is simple.  When you first begin to learn something new, like tying your shoes, riding a bike, skating, or skiing, the conscious mind is very much in control as you focus on each and every step and attempt to “learn” the skill.  Once you have mastered the skill, it goes into your subconscious mind where you can now perform this task without thinking.  You don’t have to consider how to get on your bike so you won’t topple over before you ever get started.  You just do it.  When you ride, you sub-consciously make minute adjustments in nanoseconds that keep you upright.  This is what Dr. Leaf calls “atomization.”  You no longer have to concentrate to accomplish the same task that previously took concentrated effort. This sequence is now stored in your subconscious mind and your conscious mind is no longer really engaged in the mechanism of tying your shoe…etc.

Let’s examine how some of these mechanisms work. The thalamus located deep in the middle of the brain, functions as a transmitter station, alerting the amygdala of any incoming information from the five senses. It functions as a library of information storing the emotional perceptions that occur for every thought built and attaches emotions to it through chemical release.  The Amygdala is located in the center part of the brain designed to keep you emotionally alert and storing the emotional perceptions that occur each time you build a thought. When something happens and you feel threatened, whether it is real or imaginary, and yes, even in toxic negative thinking, this little double almond shaped structure steps up, notifies the hippocampus and together they have the responsibility to release the chemicals in the brain causing us to “feel” our perceptions either positive or negative, real or imaginary, and the hippocampus has the responsibility of converting short-term memories to long-term memories.

The DMN (Default Mode Network)  acts much like the conductor of the orchestra giving timing signals and coordinating activity between the differing brain networks preparing the brain’s readiness to react to conscious thinking and is especially active when the mind is in an introspective, deep thinking state. The brain then switches back and forth between the various networks. When the brain switches off, and the DMN switches into a mode of thinking that gives us perspective, wisdom, and the opportunity to connect with God. What happens to us in life is not nearly as important as how we react to or perceive that event.  We have the ability to think and to choose how we want to respond rather than react when events occur.  God has given us the ability to do this, but it requires flexibility in our thinking.  For example:  If there is an event coming up and I don’t want to face it—just as soon skip it—here are some possibilities:  I could: 1) isolate myself rather than face tomorrow,  2) embrace a “grin and bear” it attitude or 3) choose to step forward with a clear thinking decision about who I want to be and what I want to do, using my decision-making capacity (frontal executive lobe), employing my imagination, my conscience, my free will, and self-awareness.   I can make either of these choices.  Dr. Leaf states, “You cannot sit and wait to be happy, and healthy, and have a great thought life.  You have to make the choice to make this happen.”1   Thinking actually builds thoughts made of protein that take up real estate in the mind resembling a tree.   This creates a mind signal, either positive or negative, as you choose.  Whatever you are thinking about is building a physical structure.  The thinking produces the thought; the thought produces the fruit of speaking and then your actions, positive or negative.  These actions form the way our brains will actually think about matters in the future.  Dr. Leaf states that as we stop our busy schedules to focus and self-reflect we activate this DMN which gives us the capability to enter into a higher intelligent, self-reflective, and more directed state.  This “quiet time” enables one to tear down those negative structures and replace them with new thoughts resulting in a renewed mind. (Rom. 12:2)

Again what fires together wires together until you have built a tower of negative thought patterns that must be dismantled.  On the other hand, by thinking more positively, you tear down those old structures and build/rebuild new structures.  When we start paying attention to the voices that spew toxic information about ourselves, others, and our circumstances we can have the ability to take those thoughts captive. This is plasticity. Scripture tells us, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8)

Dr Leaf states that as God’s highest order of creation we have the ability to step outside of our thinking, so to speak.  We can examine our thoughts and determine by our free will to make a clear thinking choice rather than be driven or led around by the old structures of past negative thinking.  God intrinsically designed the brain in such a way to enable us to activate free choice and then act on that choice.

Everyone asks me, how does EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) work?  (I wrote a previous blog on EMDR entitled Getting Past Your Past.  If you are interested, it is on this website).  When sensory information flows into the brain through the five senses, it could “trigger” a nonconscious memory and suddenly, you become fearful, begin breathing heavier, trembling, and crying or any number of other emotions that went along with the original event.  Your thoughts trigger the left-over emotions, resulting in feelings, which trigger the behavior. All of this occurs in nanoseconds, which is why we call them reactions. The problem here is that none of these parts of your brain know this is not the same event…they are just reacting to the emotions that were created and stored at that time.  Remember those tree-like structures?  Your thinking mind knows you are safe, but your emotional mind tells you something else.  It is “as if” the event is currently happening again.

So what does EMDR do to help with this problem?  EMDR uses several options of bilateral stimulation; the most common is bi-lateral eye-movements or “tappers” (paddles that alternate left, right, left right).  This brings the left brain and the right brain together so that you can follow the “knowing” part of your thinking brain that tells you, “you are safe,” which then facilitates the emotional part of the brain that “feels” something very different.  Dr. Leaf states that based on her research the non-conscious mind is much more powerful than the conscious cognitive mind. She never mentions EMDR in her teaching, but her research gives insight into why EMDR works.  Dr. Leaf is a huge proponent of a “brain Sabbath.”  Taking time out from busy schedules to sit quietly and self-reflect to engage in deep thinking and introspection, which is what takes place during EMDR.  You bring those memories back into the conscious mind into a vulnerable state. In this state they can be changed, and re-conceptualized.  She further states that when memories return to the nonconscious mind they are more complex in the sense that new information not only is added, but the memory has been redesigned or reframed clearing up previous conclusions, which yields emotions, which yields behaviors. All of us have experienced a reaction to an event.  Then later we learn more information about that event that explains more clearly what was going on and our feelings about that event are changed.  This is why EMDR is effective with people struggling with PTSD and other “big T” or even “little T” traumas or painful memories.

EMDR Therapy is a phenomenal therapy to desensitize painful memories that continue to flood you with emotions. That is when the past becomes the present. If you are interested in looking into EMDR Therapy, give me a call.

Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC, EMDR
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
512/238-1700 xt 315 


1 Switch On Your Brain
By Dr. Caroline Leaf

   

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, February 5, 2016 | 0 comments

Holiday War Zones

Keep the home fires burning,
While your hearts are yearning,
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.

- Lena Guilbert Ford (1914)

So the popular WWI song rang from the UK reminding those at home to keep the hearth warm for the boys fighting in distant lands. Home was to be an idyllic place the soldiers could dream of as they fought the battles afar. The song created a beautiful picture during a disastrous time. However, for some soldiers this picture may not have been so accurate as they chose to enlist to face combat over living in the war zone called home. Your memories of home may hold a similar picture of battles fought as compared to the classic Norman Rockwell images.

‘Tis the season to gather
As we find ourselves in the center of the holiday season, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Boxing Day, New Years (etc., etc.), these holidays offer an unparalleled number of opportunities that impulsively draw us toward our home and ancestral traditions. ‘Tis the season for gathering, to migrate to our people, or give the requisite nod to our upbringing. For you this may inspire feelings of delight, or this may prove to be your most challenging time of year.

In many families expectations to reconnect, revive old memories and make new ones are explicit. You may start planning the details in April, or, like a dutiful soldier, begrudgingly comply last minute. If the latter is your experience, your holiday preparation is probably filled with dread observing the invitation home similar to a draft notice to the front lines. Packing may activate an unrelenting pit of fear in your stomach, while visions of dancing sugarplums elude you by night.

Patterns of the wounded
If you identify with the above war stories to even a partial degree, you may recognize yourself and/or your relatives in these anxiety-driven patterns:

Cut-off Charlie: S/he chooses to make excuses in an effort to avoid the unpleasantness. Authentic relationships seem impossible, so joining the festivities is forfeited in favor of denial or bitterness under the guise of peace. The white flag of “cut-off” is waived in the belief that desertion is his/her only viable option.

Fake-it Fran: Attendance to the gathering as expected is tolerated only by wearing a pasted smile with a “grin and bear it” attitude. The thought of potential punishment or loss of pride for leaving his/her seat empty at the dinner table is too great. Survival is simply creating the fewest possible waves of conflict. Flying under the radar in “fake normal” saves face until the next call to arms.

Red Cross Rhonda: Relationship triage is his/her goal desiring everyone to leave “fixed” and grateful for the cure. With a bag full of everything the doctor could possibly order s/he sets out to salve wounds, suture cuts, bandage the hurts and leave as few scars as possible behind. This is all done under the belief s/he has been called to pretty up the scars so next time any unpleasant memories will be long gone.

Truce Tim: This self-appointed ambassador triangles his/her way in to conduct peace talks between not-so-loved ones. S/he dreams of orchestrating a truce through heartfelt conversations meant to figure out who was angry with whom and why, then serve as neutral Switzerland in search of an amiable treaty. S/he makes emotional demands in an effort to clear up decades old miscommunication through greater “understanding,” or draw out an “I’m sorry” from the family bully.

General George: Attending to whip everyone in shape, this over-functioning relative believes s/he has it all figured out and barks orders in an attempt to stop all the emotional silliness. Long lists of what’s wrong in each relationship and demands to suck it up and quit crying are laid out before the rest of the family. The expectation is that others will simply acknowledge this wisdom and clean up their messes before the next inspection, never personally owning any contribution to stated messes.

Where’s the real war?
In all honesty, I have either participated in or fantasized about each of these patterns during various periods of my life. I play Russian roulette with those tactics- and plenty more- as I try to manipulate others into submission so I feel better. Holding the gun to another’s head, I take him/her as my prisoner in a futile attempt to change loyalty from self to pledging allegiance me.

Memories became like germ warfare to my soul. Implanted into my system decades before, they gradually incapacitated me until I was no longer able to function fully in my current relationships. Even now, I unwittingly continue the patterns attempting to externally manipulate what exists internally. I discovered at one point, though, they had no clue they were even in danger. Others obliviously went on enjoying the party far more than I ever could stuck in the bondage of my own hurt. I was the one being held hostage! Not them.

Finding peace without the talks
For a long period, my husband and I were forced by circumstance to spend most holidays without our families. We found others in similar situations and created beautiful memories with our “displaced Midwesterners,” defining gatherings in new ways since we had no shared traditions to draw upon. We met in parks with paper plates and chicken wings, or shared a bowl of chili while collecting warm wares for the homeless.  We shared no past, nor expected anything in the future. The moment was all we needed to share so we cherished the relationships and counted the blessings God bestowed upon each.

As I reflect on this, I ponder how different family parties would be if we entered these gatherings by leaving the past battles behind and declining expectations for peace treaties to be signed in the “spirit of the holidays.” You may have just gasped in horror refusing to believe any such thing is conceivable; but I invite you to contemplate the possibilities. Are you sabotaging your own family events by bringing in your anger and resentment? Are you holding others hostage by your expectation of them to produce an apology? Is what brother David or Aunt Mary did so many years ago worth the expense of truly enjoying now? Are you responsible for your own personal war zone?

If this could be possible, where then does control lie? Can an apology be forced out? Not usually. For me, previous demands lead me into bitterness or denial. What I have begun to recognize is that, if left up to me to deal with on my own, I actually have choices. I could choose grace by granting pardon even if it is completely undeserved. I can choose to be calm in the midst of people with whom I previously became upset. I can also choose to verbally dismiss old, disruptive topics choosing instead to know the person I am with in a new way—acknowledging the potential treasure in the moment.

Once I started approaching relationships without expectations of others and taking responsibility for my pain, I have experienced many more joy-filled moments. I still struggle with the ability to do so as consistently as I would like, but just like everything else in life, it is a process. I can now actually enjoy the moment I am in without the pain from the past or fear of the future kidnapping me from the gift God intends for me. I have become friends with my choices as they offer me opportunity to regain the power I had unwittingly handed over to those around me. Now these further lyrics hold much more meaning:

There's a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
'Til the boys come home.

Nancy Arnold, LPC-Intern
nancyarnold@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 320
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, December 2, 2015 | 0 comments

Thoughtfulness and Thankfulness

I came across a quote on the Internet recently that really struck me, especially as the Thanksgiving holiday is approaching.  It read: What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday? To be honest, if this was the case, most days I wouldn’t be waking up with much.  Many times we focus on all “the bad” that is going on in our lives without always stopping to see the good. Or when we do stop to see the good, we don’t stop to appreciate it for long before we jump back into the bad.

What happens when we only focus on the bad?  Typically it initiates a downward spiral. Before we know it, we’re comparing our seemingly awful lives to someone else’s, whoever we think has it much better than us. This often happens to me when I focus on the negative in my life. I notice it because my prayers turn into complaints, like “God, can’t you throw me a bone?” or “God, I’m working hard and trying to serve you. Why can’t you just help me out?” These prayers can take on various tones, but they convey the same message: we’re enduring something difficult, we’re losing hope, and we want God to just magically fix everything for us.

Scripture is filled with many verses that encourage us to guard our minds and our hearts. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy” (Matt 15:11,19; New American Bible).  And in the book of Romans St. Paul tells us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Clearly, our thoughts are powerful and creative. What we think about shapes our lives.

Often, our focus on – and reaction to – the negative in our lives is an emotional response. The bad aspects of our lives can seem to threaten our personal peace.  According to Michael Kerr, a family system’s expert, perceived threats produce anxiety and because of this, we react in ways to reduce our anxiety (Kerr & Bowen, 1988, p. 74). Many times our reactions to anxiety are knee-jerk responses that have become routine for us. In order to focus on our blessings in life, we must become aware of our own typical response to anxiety. Then we can identify ways in which we can improve our emotional processing. This will allow us to transform our emotionally reactive thoughts into objective and thoughtful responses.

Another way in which we can alter our mood and attitude is to surround ourselves with people who have already cultivated a life of thoughtfulness and thankfulness. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially during the holidays with family (get ready to experience some anxiety!). But we as human beings are greatly influenced by our relationships with others. According to Roberta Gilbert, another family system’s expert, whatever affects one person in a group of people affects the other members in the group (Gilbert, 2004, p. 6). If you are in a group of people who frequently complain about their troubles and only focus on their burdens, your thoughts and feelings will be negatively affected. The anxiety of one friend in your group can be easily passed onto the other people present. Imagine having everyone in your family complain about how dry the turkey is during the Thanksgiving meal! Those thoughts would create a negative atmosphere for the entire family. However, if we are able to surround ourselves with people who choose not to indulge their anxious thoughts, we may be more apt to “catch” their positivity or joy. Or better yet, we may strive to be more joy-filled and peace-filled and set the tone in our social circles!  When we have learned to manage our own response to anxiety, we can contribute something creative and powerful to the group.

This requires a lot of effort. We cannot keep doing the same things over and over again and expect to obtain a different result. We must choose to focus on the positive things in our lives and in the lives of the people we care about. Since we are creatures of habit, the more we choose to count our blessings, the easier it will become to maintain that attitude. Because, what if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were grateful for today?

“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2Tim 1:7). May today be the day that we commit to living up to the Spirit that is within us!

If you would like to learn more about how to manage your own responses to anxiety, in order to create a more thankful outlook on life, please feel free to contact me!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Liz Heuertz, MA, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S
512-238-1700, (ext 322)
elizabethheuertz@nlcc1.com

References:
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family Evaluation: An Approach Based on Bowen Theory.
New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Gilbert, R. M. (2004). The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory: A New Way of Thinking About the Individual and the Group. Lake Frederick, VA: Leading Systems Press.
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, November 4, 2015 | 0 comments

Life can be as simple as ABC

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you feel extremely anxious or depressed? How about out of control? If you have answered yes then you are part of an elite, international group that consists of 7 billion people. Each of us in our own way has let the external experiences of our lives affect us. When life is going well we feel as if we are on top of the world, that we are indeed kings of our castle. However, when life gets the better of us it can seem like a struggle just to get through the day. So what do we do when we find ourselves “stuck in a rut” as they say? Fortunately there is a relatively easy, 3-step method to help us out of our “rut”; and it is as easy as ABC.

The ABC model is used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help people like you and me identify how we tend to blame external events for our unhappiness. Rather than blame events that are beyond our control, the ABC tries to change how we interpret such events. It is our interpretation of events that actually causes us so much discord. This actually is old news.  Epictetus the great Stoic philosopher said that, “Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the thing.” Now, if a man who lived in AD 135 discovered this, then do we continue to work ourselves into a tizzy? Without proper help and guidance it is just to easy for us too be swept up in our feelings and emotions. Let’s take a quick look at how the ABC’s can help our daily lives.

The A in this model stands for the activating event, which is any event that happens in the environment around you, such as losing a job or being dumped. Next, the B stands for belief, or, our belief about what happened at A, such as feeling worthless as a result of losing our job. Finally, C stands for consequences that can be either emotional or behavioral. Emotional consequences can take the form of depression for example, while some behavioral consequences could be loss of energy or lack of motivation.

The goal of this ABC model is to change our beliefs. Changing our faulty beliefs to more realistic ones allows us to see the world in a whole new way. It is not hard to believe that one would become depressed if they were constantly thinking that they were worthless or unlovable. However, if we can just change our belief to something more rational, such as “It is unfortunate that I was fired or broken up with, but I still have things to offer” we can avoid going into a depressive state. This more rational belief recognizes how unfortunate or sad it is that we lost our job or got dumped, yet it doesn’t paint us in such hopeless terms. Rather, it allows us to assert that we still have good qualities about ourselves despite whatever situation may arise. By changing our belief to a more realistic, positive one we avoid the negative consequences such as depression and the many nasty symptoms that go with it. If you are interested in learning more about the ABC model or CBT and how it can positively change your life please feel free to give me a call!!

Blake Bonilla, MA-Intern
blakebonilla@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 316
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, October 1, 2015 | 0 comments

Addiction, Attachment & Grace

Addiction

For some, when we see the term addiction, it may be easy to think of it as limited to chemical substances such as alcohol or heroin, thus we can keep ourselves at arms-length from “those people” who struggle with addiction. Gerald May, author of Addiction and Grace, is a psychiatrist who spent a great deal of time studying addiction and the role that spirituality plays in overcoming addiction. In his book he discusses the power of addiction as any “self-defeating force” that hinders our ability to live in freedom and causes us to do that which we do not want to do. He so clearly articulates how addiction impacts our innate desires by attaching our desires to things that will never bring satisfaction: “addiction attaches desire, bonds and enslaves the energy of desire to certain specific behaviors, things or people. These objects of attachment then become preoccupations and obsessions; they come to rule our lives.” (May, 1988, p. 3) In his book, he extends the idea of addiction beyond chemical substances to other areas such as work, ideas, relationships, comfort, power, moods, responsibility, fantasies and more. In his view, “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” (May, 1988, p. 11)

If we adopt this view of addiction, then we are all invited to consider how our own addictions play themselves out and hinder our ability to live as the people we long to be. One caution here, if we suppose that anything has the potential to become an addiction, we cannot simply isolate ourselves from participation in any and all activities. It is important to understand the difference in having strong feelings for something versus being addicted to something. The difference is freedom; when we feel the freedom to choose the level of our investment in something it does not become a god for us (May, 1988). So let’s say that we have an addiction to being helpful, we desire to help others. Some might speculate this as a good addiction, that it is good to want to help others. While it is a good thing to want to help others, the difference between a healthy desire to help others and an addiction to helping others lies in feeling the freedom to choose to help versus feeling compelled to help. In one the motivation is love and in the second slavery (May, 1988). We need to understand that if we don’t help every time it’s going to be okay, we are going to be okay. We are not less valuable because we did not help nor does every situation necessitate our help; in fact, our help can sometimes hinder the growth of others. Now that we have a working understanding of addiction, let’s take a look at some research on what might be a contributing factor to addiction.

Attachment

A TED Talk has recently been circling social media about the relational nature of addiction (link below). The talk references a study performed by Bruce Alexander and his colleagues in the late 1970s known as “Rat Park”. At the time of the experiment, it was believed that drugs were addictive simply because of the chemical hook they caused in the brain. Experiments were performed on rats living in solitary confinement cellblocks where the rats could neither see nor touch one another. These rats could push a lever that would inject small doses of a variety of substances (ranging from heroin to cocaine) into them at will. Based on this experiment, it was concluded that drugs are “irresistibly addicting” due to the chemical “hook” that takes place in the brain. However, Alexander and his colleagues began to question these findings, particularly due to the knowledge of the conditions the rats were in when the experiments were performed. They speculated that anyone in solitary confinement with no options for recreation other than drugs would likely end up addicted. Additionally, Alexander noted that humans are much more complex than rats and are capable of spiritual experiences that rats simply cannot achieve.

Due to these insights, Alexander and company created “Rat Park” in which multiple rats of both genders were allowed to enjoy a variety of activities such as running wheels, platforms, tin cans and wood chips. What they discovered was that the rats in solitary confinement consumed a significantly greater amount of whatever drug was offered than those living in Rat Park in a variety of different measures. According to Alexander:

“The view of addiction from Rat Park is that today’s flood of addiction is occurring because our hyperindividualistic, hypercompetitive, frantic, crisis-ridden society makes most people feel socially and culturally isolated. Chronic isolation causes people to look for relief. They find temporary relief in addiction to drugs or any of a thousand other habits and pursuits because addiction allows them to escape from their feelings, to deaden their senses, and to experience an addictive lifestyle as a substitute for a full life.”

He goes on to note that while it is too early to prove this view of addiction as correct, it does shed light on the traditional and simplistic view that addiction is caused by addictive drugs.

This study helps illuminate a very real and very painful aspect of addiction, specifically the difficulty in maintaining human connection and the role it plays in addiction. Addictions don’t just happen overnight; generally, there are a series of events that have led an individual to seek the relief of a substance, person or thing and it is most often related to a difficulty in connecting with others. Likewise, this difficulty in connecting with others did not just happen overnight; generally, there are a series of events that cause an individual to have difficulty connecting with others. It may be that anxiety is so high in social settings that the use of a substance, person or thing can help offer some relief to feelings of insecurity or loneliness or perhaps an individual loses his or her identity in relationship and anger and resentment build leading to seeking relief through the use of a substance or power or control. Perhaps the fear of vulnerability required for intimacy is so great that comfort is found in the use of a substance or work. It is incredibly painful to be around people we “should” feel connected to, yet still feel completely alone and unknown. Oftentimes, certain experiences have shaped the ways we connect with others and when some of these remain unresolved, we continue to operate out of old patterns of relating that no longer work. These patterns keep us feeling isolated and seeking relief in things that do not satisfy.

Grace

When we consider God’s grace in the face of addiction, we experience it both in relationship and in allowing ourselves to sit in the tension of growth by letting our own shortcomings point us toward grace. In God’s creation of the world before the Fall, God said that all things were good except for Adam being alone. God made it clear that Adam needed “a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18, NIV). This apparent need for relationships/community seems to point to the truth that while God’s grace is always possible for individuals, its fullness if often experienced through community (May, 1988). A supportive community, with all its own brokenness and mixed motivations, has potential to allow for the experience of grace in ways that the individual alone cannot.

The second way we experience grace is by sitting in the tension of being a work in progress. As we cannot truly free ourselves from attachment, we learn to “work with our addictions, seeking the grace within them and trying to minimize their destructiveness instead of spending our time fantasizing what it would be like to be totally free from them” (May, 1988, p. 40). While God’s kingdom has already come through Christ, it has not yet come to its fullness as Christ has not yet returned. It is learning to sit in this tension of the “already/not yet” where we most palpably encounter God’s grace and begin to see glimpses of freedom for ourselves and our communities. Here we allow ourselves the space to grow while not shaming ourselves for not having already arrived. In order to do this, we allow our shortcomings to point us towards grace by being willing to explore what is contributing to them. May goes on to write: “Grace flows toward appreciating the truth, toward an accurate understanding of what is going on beneath the confused surface of addiction” (1988, p. 52). In the brave work of exploring what is contributing to our addictions, grace can be found in such rich ways. It is in both recognizing and exploring our own shortcomings that we can begin to create space to welcome the flow of grace.

If you found the ideas in this post resonating with you, I would love to talk together.

Ashley Blackwell, LPC
512-238-1700 ext. 313
ashleyblackwell@nlcc1.com

Resources:

Alexander, B. (2015). Rat Park. Retrieved July 22, 2015 from: http://www.brucekalexander.com/articles-speeches/rat-park/148-addiction-the-view-from-rat-park

May, G.G. (1988). Addiction and grace: love and spirituality in the healing of addictions. New York, NY: Harper One.

TEDGlobalLondon. (2015, June). Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong. Retreived July 22, 2015 from: http://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?utm_campaign=ios-share&utm_medium=social&source=email&utm_source=email#t-207347

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, August 26, 2015 | 0 comments

Triangling God

Two people have a really big couch they need to move that is too heavy for them. They get stressed out, they need to move the couch right now and it just seems impossible. How do they solve the problem? A natural reaction is to go to a third person for help. The third person jumps to the rescue, lends a hand, and the problem gets solved. We naturally “triangle” in a third person to help calm anxiety when the task seems beyond the capacity of the two. The “couch” is the anxiety or stress resulting from a situation - an argument, a stressful event, a major decision, etc. In this way, emotions pass around relationships in triangles. It is an effort by the twosome to find stability, like the third leg of a kitchen stool. Bowen, the theory guru who is behind the concept of triangles, emphasizes that triangling is a natural process of relationships; it’s not bad or good, but merely the basic “molecule” of any emotional system. (1)

However, how we act within these natural relationship triangles can hamper or bolster the health of the relationships. What if those two couch-movers always rely on the same friend to help them, transforming the connection from temporary help to chronic dependence? Or what if one of the movers is always lifting the heavy end of the couch, and the other always gets the lighter end? You might think, well, but if one of the two is stronger, isn’t it his/her responsibility to carry more weight? Or, if the couch really is always too heavy for just two of us, isn’t the third person obligated to help?

Whose couch is it?

These questions touch on responsibility – whose couch is it? Whose responsibility is it? Just as emotions can pass around the triangles in our relationships, so we also permit responsibility to be passed around. This is where the pattern can become detrimental to the relationship health. The couch “belongs” to both of the two equally. They are co-responsible, or more precisely, they’re both responsible to each other to move the couch. In healthy relationships each person thoughtfully chooses to lift his/her own weight instead of reacting impulsively to the problem (you can imagine one partner suddenly dropping his/her end out of frustration, or refusing to pick it up, or suddenly having something better to do than move the couch).

Furthermore, each person is responsible for lifting only his/her own weight - both are equally responsible to each other. It does me no good to tell you to pull harder, nor vice versa. I am only capable of lifting my one end of the couch, not yours. And if I’m continually having others carry my end for me – what happens to my own strength?

God: The Perfect Triangle

So what does “healthy” look like? The more each person assumes his/her own responsibility for his/her end of the couch and thus acquires space to think about solutions to problems for his/herself, the more room there is for creativity, rational discussion, interdependence and maturity of each member of the twosome. Bowen teaches that healthy relationships are open, separate and equal. Where can we see an example of a perfectly open, separate and equal relationship? Bowen says pretty much never – there will always be some amount of unhealthy triangling, since perfect emotional maturity is nearly impossible.

As Christians, we can also understand that answer as “nowhere in the purely natural world.” In the supernatural world, we do have a perfect example: God. The Holy Trinity is that perfect triangle. Father, Son and Spirit are three different Persons, wholly equal and wholly separate, engaged in an eternal and perfectly open dialogue of love and self-giving. So much so, that they are in fact one God, the Trinity. We see this intimate Trinitarian relationship in John 14, especially verses 20 and 26, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in Me and I in you,” and, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name—He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” Three-in-One, in perfect relationship.

Here’s the leap of faith – as Christians we believe we are made in the image of God. Fr. Joseph Kentenich puts it this way: “Through grace people share in a mysterious way in the divine nature, or to put it more precisely, in the divine life within the blessed Trinity.” (2) Thus if we are made in the image of God, we also reflect this triangular nature. Furthermore, “the graced human being, like the blessed Trinity Himself, is in a mysterious way both alone and in community: in community with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and hence in communion with and open towards all who share in the divine life and who are called to it.” (3) So we have a part of us that is “alone” and a part of us that is in community with others! The balance between the “aloneness” and the “in community” is what triangles, personal responsibility and healthy relationships is all about.

Triangling God

Interestingly – or perhaps obviously – as relational beings relating to a relational God, we can also triangle God when we give up our responsibility to Him. Wait – but isn’t He actually responsible for the entire universe? Well, yes. He is. That’s the great mystery. While God could do everything without us and is perfectly self-sufficient in His own responsibility, He respects the free will He gave us with infinite patience. Though He can always pick up the couch, so to speak, all by Himself, He invites us to help for our own benefit, and gives us the chance and freedom to decide to pick up our end. He never forces our hand. When we keep trippin’ over that couch, it’s so tempting to throw up our hands and say “God will take care of it! I’ll just wait till He moves it and makes it go away.” In doing this, we lose a huge God-given chance to learn. And He will wait forever, respecting our choice, until we decide freely to engage in the relationship with Him again.

What this means for moving couches…

One last implication- if we believe we are made in His image, then we are also called to imitate Him in how we respect each other’s freedom and individual self within relationships. It means that both people working on that couch are called to respect the other’s choice and sacred responsibility, in the same way that God does. It may sound terribly passive, but it isn’t – it actually takes immense emotional maturity to self-regulate enough to make the free decision to hold the space, and that the other might also be able to pause, reflect and make his/her own choice - to reach out and pick up the couch.

If you find yourself carrying too many couches, or aren’t even sure where your side begins and ends, let’s talk together.

Rachel E Gardner, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S
512-238-1700 (ext 310)
rachelgardner@nlcc1.com

1. Edwin Friedman (2008) The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays.
2. & 3. Fr. Joseph Kentenich (1954) Free and Wholly Human, p 396-398.
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, July 7, 2015 | 0 comments

“What’s in Your Family Tree?”

It's that time of year again. It’s time to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. The very words “mother” and/or “father” conjure up many different emotions. Some might think of love, nurturing, support, or discipline.  Others may have a different experience and, therefore, think of other adjectives like absence, abuse, sadness, or fear.

Hallmark writes cards that lead us to believe that mothers and fathers are wonderful, self-sacrificing, and always there for their child(ten). What does a person do if that was not his/her experience growing up? How many people have said, "I don't want to be like my parents when I have children"? These deep rooted feelings can make holidays such as these extremely difficult and, perhaps, downright painful.

We know all too well that we cannot go back and change the past. What's done is done. However, we can change our perspective, which can have a huge impact on our emotions and our outlook. It is no secret that what we are taught growing up, what we observe, and our personal experiences have a lot to do with how we view and behave in our world. Let's take this concept a step further. What if we evaluated our parents through this same lens? How were they raised? What was valued in their family of origin when they were growing up? What did their relationships look like with their own parents? How did the family manage problems when they would arise? When we take the time to look deeply into these questions, we are able to see similarities in how our own family of origin operates. Often, we repeat what we see modeled.

We may not like what we see when we climb up the ol' family tree. This personal research may touch on all of those painful feelings that we work so hard to ignore, until one of those Hallmark holidays comes around and smacks us right in the face. What we may not think much about is the fact that we are likely to continue those family patterns as well. Perhaps we will take all of our hurt and anxiety and pass it down to our children like a family heirloom.

I have good news! We do not have to continue these destructive family patterns. We can CHOOSE to understand where these patterns originated from, how they may have served a purpose for a family member at some point, and work to change our own perspective in order to create new, healthier patterns for the generations after us. We are not stuck forever in our own demise because of the family into which we were born. What if we each took responsibility for ourselves and the changes that we desire to make? We do not have to be a victim of our circumstances. Who knows, we might even be able to appreciate our mother or father in a new way in spite of their short-comings? Maybe buying a pre-made sappy Hallmark card is not for you? Perhaps, after some introspection, you might want to make your own card that says, “Happy Mother's/Father's” day in your own special way.

If this is an area in which you would like to work and would like some professional help, please call me at 512-238-1700 x318.

Deana Reed, LPC-intern
under the direct supervision of
Leah McDill, Ph.D., LPC-S

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, June 4, 2015 | 0 comments

It's a Divine Conspiracy

After reading that title, you might be asking…what are you talking about?  Well…I’m glad you asked. If you are married and find yourself in conflict with your spouse seemingly about the same things over and over, feel like you are spiraling down or are out of control…take heart…you didn’t marry the wrong person.

God did not create marriage to make you happy; God created marriage to make you holy. When God created this ole earth, He engaged physical laws to govern our world, e.g., gravity, the pull of the moon on the ocean tides, the rotation of the earth, which result in days, nights and seasons, etc. Scripture tells us that God hangs the earth on nothing (Job 26:7). The laws of nature are consistent and logical, because the Creator is consistent and logical. We can trust that the same physics which worked yesterday will also work today. This principle is foundational to the scientific process.

God created our minds with an impressive (though finite) ability to interpret the data around us, and draw logical conclusions. We are therefore able to discover (at least to some extent) the ordinances of the universe by observation, experimentation, and logical reasoning. Likewise, just as God has orchestrated all of these laws to govern the universe, He also set into motion certain spiritual laws to govern our relationships. God created us in His image.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together created us in love, for love, and to be loved. We are not an island, contrary to the famous song sung by Simon and Garfunkel in 1965; which brings me back to the reason I’m writing.

People ask: is it nature or nurture? There is enough evidence to validate it is both. We come into this world with a specific temperament. According to Milan and Kay Yerkovich, in their book How We Love, temperament coupled with the nurturing environment will produce several “love styles:” where we all learn to protect ourselves and the uncomfortable anxiety which comes when vital emotional needs are not being met: the avoider, the pleaser, the vacillator, the controller and the victim.

  • Avoiders learn early in life to minimize their feelings, grow up independent, and go about meeting their own needs through much of their life and don’t “need” a lot of “warm fuzzes.”
  • Pleasers learn to be cautious, careful, and try hard to meet everyone’s expectations in an attempt to avoid criticism and keep peace. Thus they are always seeking connection.
  • Vacillators discover early that sometimes caretakers were sometimes available and sometimes not. They learn to read others and wait and wait for that connection that they so desperately long for and need. But by the time it came they were too angry to accept it (“too little too late”). Consequently their love style seems to be hot then cold, then hot again. They vacillate between wanting connection and then pulling away. But alas, they will then feel the same abandonment they felt as children and the cycle starts all over again.
  • Controllers and Victims are children who learn to hide their fears behind anger by acting out or detaching and complying.

We often hear: “opposites attract.” This is very true in the physical world, where science teaches us about the chemical bonds of positive and negatively charged ions. It also occurs in our relationships. Repeatedly. Perhaps this is orchestrated by God?

John Eldridge calls this a Divine Conspiracy. I agree. Why is the out-going bubbly people-lover extrovert attracted to the quieter, calmer individual or the more high-strung individual will end up with someone who is notoriously relaxed to the point that sometimes you want to take a pulse just to see if that person is still present and accounted for? Why is it that a penny pincher, saving money for a rainy day, will often get connect with someone who thinks a penny will burn a hole a pocket if it sits there very long? Or take this one…someone who likes rules and has narrow guardrails, wants and expects the children to obey quickly at the first instruction and with a smile is attracted to someone whose guardrails are somewhere out in left field and inconsistent parenting. Here’s my theory: God does this on purpose because He wants us to be balanced. It’s a Divine Conspiracy. Stepping out of the old way and into a new way of life will be the most painful and yet the most rewarding!

Here’s how it works. Two people growing up in their family-of-origin each pack an emotional suitcase. First person follows the rules, saves money and likes order. Second person believes in breaking rules, spending money, and chaos is their middle name. So through the years they each begin to pack their suitcase. The rule-follower packs everything in nice and neat, expecting, or rather demanding, that others play the game of life by the same rules. When that doesn’t happen, somebody is unhappy and then before you know it, everybody’s unhappy. The free-spirited, “anything goes” person, throws it all in, could care less about order or the future: let’s have fun now!

All these behaviors serve a purpose; they are a reaction to minimize anxiety prompted by pain and hurt when emotional needs were not met. This will work to a certain degree until these two people get married and the differences that brought them together begin to rub off the veneer that was plastered on to create a pseudo self. If the washing machine of life stays on the gentle cycle things can function well for a while.

But alas, life happens. Life gets hectic. Suddenly the spin cycle of life accelerates, and the suitcases fling open. All of the stuff inside these suitcases slings all over everyone, kids included. So, what happens? You come out of the end zones to butt heads on the 50 and then go back to your respective end zones to lick your wounds and point your finger at the other while negative thoughts of blame play over and over in your mind about how wrong they were. Then once things settle down the crazy cycle starts again. Same song, different verse.

The truth is that each of you has what the other needs. The rule-follower, tight wad, control freak needs to loosen up; and the chaotic, free-spirited, live-for-today spouse, needs to tighten up. God, as I stated, is all about balance and order. Why is it that the person you vowed to spend the rest of your life with can frustrate you more than any other person you know? When this happens you quickly come to the following conclusions: 1) It must be them…and 2) I must have married the wrong person.

Neither of those is completely true. Primary relationships growing up cause injurious scripts and broken love-styles to bubble up to the surface where they collide in an all-out frontal assault with the opposing love-style specifically orchestrated to reprogram your way of relating. The problems you encounter in your marriage did not start in adulthood. They started long ago; and you and your spouse are dancing to the tune you both learned in your family-of-origin.

Is there any hope for us? I get this question frequently. My response is, “as long as there is breath, there is hope!" The pain can be productive if we can harness it for the purpose that God intended and refrain from blaming parents or other significant caregivers in our developmental years. We all grow up with hurts and pains and unmet needs. However, if you think the problem is “out there,” that’s the problem. Change can begin when you look in the mirror, begin to look at yourself.

If you are interested in discovering your love-style and why you and your spouse can’t seem to figure out how to do life on the 50, give me a call and let’s see if we can figure out why God brought the two of you together and how to make it work for you instead of against you.

www.answersingenesis.org
How We Love:   Milan and Kay Yerkovich

Carol Greenberg
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 315
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Monday, April 27, 2015 | 0 comments

Projections

Defense mechanisms in general are meant as a psychological survival tool that enables individuals to cope with life’s difficulties. Defense mechanisms are used to help people distance themselves from a full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These usually form in early childhood and can be highly effective in dealing with a traumatic event or stressor; however, when people do not learn a more effective way of dealing with life, the defense mechanism(s) can become maladaptive.

Projection is a defense mechanism that involves taking an individual’s unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people. These projected thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings are often unobserved by the individual and difficult to identify. Projection works by allowing the expression of the desire or impulse, but in a way that the ego cannot recognize, therefore reducing anxiety. If the undesirable trait is placed outside of the individual and emphasized in another person or situation, it becomes less frightening and more tolerable. An example would be a bully’s projection of his/her own feelings of vulnerability onto the victim. This in turn makes the bully feel powerful and strong, creating a false sense of security to defend against profound feelings of inferiority. Another example is a teenager who struggles with depression but projects hostility toward his/her parents as a means to remain in denial of his/her emotional state.

As an Object Relations therapist, I see the particular defense mechanism of projection as powerful and often destructive, especially in close relationships. I utilize therapy as a means to assist a person in understanding and owning even unpleasant aspects of self. This helps the individual move toward a more authentic and whole self rather than having “split off” parts of self that surface in an external manner such as projection. If an individual is struggling with unresolved anger towards an abusive parent and continually projects that anger onto her husband, that husband will experience a large amount of pressure and guilt over something that isn’t his to own. By helping people identify their areas of projection, they can begin to explore and grieve the unflattering pieces of themselves that have been split off in their unconscious. This allows much more freedom and room to see others as they are rather than what is projected onto them.

This is why it is important for us to learn effective ways of coping rather than utilizing more primitive defense mechanisms such as projection. Understanding the way I manage my internal world and how it impacts my external circumstances and relationships is highly important to overall peace and contentment. Many of us engage with the world on auto pilot and are unaware of these internal structures (defense mechanisms) that have been put in place. Once we begin to uncover and understand why we do what we do, what fuels our motivation and defenses, we can experience a greater sense of empowerment and ownership over our lives.


Alicia Dowell, MS
aliciadowell@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 319
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, March 17, 2015 | 0 comments

Where's the Relationship Easy Button?

When a popular office supply store came out with the marketing campaign suggesting an EASY button to complete all our office supply needs, it played upon our desire for everything in life to be simple. Relationships included. If I am attracted to a person and share similarities, why wouldn’t I expect the relationship to be easy? We are both reasonably reasonable people, so shouldn’t we be able to get along well without continually facing challenges? Where are the days when we really, genuinely liked each other?

Spouses, kids, friends, neighbors, co-workers, even the best of relationships seem to require effort to maintain symmetry. At the beginning of the New Year, especially, we can place relationships at the top of the resolutions list in our desire to live a year committed to better… whatever… (you fill in the blank with your relationship goals- communication? quality time? loving?). We reflect on what is missing and vow to do better. Or, as in a disturbing recent trend I’ve noticed, we commit to simply getting rid of strenuous relationships rather than finding new ways to connect unconditionally. If the relationship is too hard, simply dump it and them at the nearest curb. No need for unwanted effort, right?

Believe me, I’ve been tempted to say ‘out with the old, and in with the new’ more than once to what seemed in the moment a toxic relationship. In college I met a gal with whom I shared similar interests and tastes. We spent hours talking, laughing and comparing notes on guys. Not long into this new friendship I saw a dark side emerge from her which concerned and confused me. I knew I was not in danger, but her mood swings were tough to manage when I was a girl who “just wanted to have fun.” Having only known her a short while, it would have been easy to cut her out.

So what if you are in a relationship that seems to be on the downswing and doesn’t make you happy anymore? Wouldn’t the EASY button simply be to turn it off? Not according to Brigham Young University professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith.*  In their journal article in PLOS Medicine, they predict you could live 50 percent longer by simply staying connected! In other words, the health risks of poorly connected people are:

  • equal to someone smoking 15 cigarettes a day
  • twice as a high as an obese person
  • three times as high as a person being treated for hypertension
  • greater than five times that of being exposed to high air pollution

According to those statistics, it seems we are increasing our chances of death if we can’t learn to get along and maintain even the most challenging of relationships. And, if ending relationships is our go-to for solving relationship difficulties, it stands to reason we are going to end up pretty lonely. This might justify looking at other EASY button options.

Here are some thoughts on what to consider when a relationship seems no longer attractive:

  1. What might you be contributing to the relationship that could be part of the kill joy? Often it is easier to look outward pointing fingers of blame rather than looking inward at our own flaws. Self-examination can be key to opening the doors to change.
  2. Are you making demands of the other person to meet your expectations? If we insist upon the other person changing to make us feel better, then we may as well throw in the towel. Internal reflection also includes the necessity to consider how we can compromise to find a mutually satisfactory solution. Stating our preferences, then listening to the other person’s preferences and considering them valid maintains connection by valuing both parties.
  3. Are you trying to be responsible for fixing the other person rather than yourself? When we look at what we actually have control over, we quickly realize there’s not much outside of self. Even in what seems like the most difficult of situations, I can usually find some way I can take personal responsibility to promote change rather than assuming it must lie on the other person. Often it means choosing grace when I feel hurt rather than insisting on justice.
  4. Is the temporary situation really that bad and worth the loss of the relationship permanently? Consider options. If we become so overcome by our current circumstances that we are willing to forfeit a person involved, what will happen the next time we face difficulty? So what if they don’t pack the dishwasher right, or their messiness makes you look like a clean freak? Would you rather be alone in a clean house with a perfectly packed dishwasher?
  5. Are you placing too much responsibility on the other person to satisfy your emotional needs? I remember as a stay-at-home mom how tough it was to draw upon myself continually for the approval of a job well done. I wanted to hear my tired spouse at the end of a long day show appreciation for my exhausting efforts in caring for our family. My limited adult contact was placing emotional demands on one person causing infinite conflict and misunderstanding when I felt undervalued. I needed to find other outlets, which reinforced my value as a homemaker and helped me build my inner strength and self-worth (another reason to keep more than a select few of our favorite peeps around!). Building friendships and autonomy honored that which I could do for myself as well as honoring our relationship without placing undue expectations on my spouse.

As you can see, none of these are truly an EASY button. It takes work and dedication to get past that which we label as “difficult.” But if we are more prone to death in a lonely existence than we are in stress, then I suggest we learn how to deal with the stress of relationships, keeping that person around who once brought joy into life and very well could do so again.

(In case you were wondering about my college friend, I had determined to not be the “fair-weather friend,” sticking out her quirkiness. Typical of the era, we eventually lost touch but later reengaged thanks to social media. She remembered my relationship tenacity and, as maturity and wisdom had grown her into a delightful woman, we again developed a special connection.)

*Holt-Lunstad, J., & Smith, T.B. (July 27, 2010) Social relationships and mortality risk:
A meta-analytic review. PLOS Medicine doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

by Nancy Arnold, LPC-Intern
nancyarnold@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 x320
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, February 6, 2015 | 0 comments

GETTING THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS…WITHOUT KILLING ANYONE

Holidays, in-laws, and finances may be the tops contenders for most anxious words in the relational dictionary! Nothing takes the “happy” out of the holiday season like the emotional tidal wave of demands, ultimatums, and tears that always seem to shoot down the magic sleigh of holiday cheer.

To get through this season with a little bit of joy we must first understand what the holiday fighting is all about.

1.    The holiday anxiety and strife is vastly attributed to the requirement we feel from the family “force” to bend and accommodate the demand of the group, or at least the most vocal member, or suffer the consequences. 

2.    Each member’s response to the “force” only fuels its powerful enchantment from year to year.  

Somehow in the center ring of the family emotional mess, not meeting the “standard expectation” for the season can take a nasty turn for the worst, leading members to go for the emotional jugular that nosedives the “joy to the world” and decks the halls with boughs of fury!  Confrontation, ultimatums, demands, lack of flexibility, and blame are just a few of the tactics we use when we feel we are being forced to feel or behave a certain way.

Out of a refusal to submit to such tyranny, we let lose our emotional cannons and pistols in desperate attempts to disentangle from the demand. This force, or emotional energy, between us is hijacking each member, leaving us anxious, reactive, and wanting to kill each other by sundown, or at least getting put on the naughty list year after year! We have all tried to fix the other person, overly accommodate, or the ole “if you can’t beat em, join em’’ approach; but somehow we end up feeling emotionally downcast after each participation in this maddening force.

Though I cannot control how naughty or nice the family will be this year, let’s take a look at what you CAN do to keep the holiday season an actual joy this year.

Golden Truths To Rid the Holiday Be-humbugs
Truth #1: One can only control you as much as you allow. Oftentimes in families we are so sensitive to the emotions of others that we expend much of our energy trying to predict how to get around potential hurt feelings, often turning to the avenue of avoidance or the cutthroat ultimatums approach.  In the communication world, the more closed off or forceful we are to drive home our point, the more confusion, misperception, despair, and emotional weariness nestle themselves in those communication wires.  When we are so busy attending to the others’ emotions, we automatically become a slave to those emotions—attempting to “duck, dip, dive, and dodge” the emotional force!  (Thank you Dodgeball!) Instead of letting the emotions of others control what you say and what you do, get yourself back in the driver’s seat of your own emotions and your own choices.

Truth #2: You can control yourself, even if they react immaturely. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we truly can control our own responses, actions, feelings, choices, and words; but a thoughtful plan must be in place before we get there.  Just because someone is being a (fill in the blank), doesn’t mean we have to give way to the demands and retaliate!  We have all tried to fix the other person, or overly accommodate, but these approaches simply don’t work in the long run.  We can step out of the immaturity war zone by making plans on HOW we will respond toward others.  This is the key from getting out from under the weight of the emotional force that entangles us.  When we are freed up to be on the outside of the force that keeps us knocking each other down in attempt to rule, conquer, or appease, we can start being thoughtful in how we are going to respond vs. automatically reacting.

Truth #3: To tame the beast, you must know the beast. The key to instituting a well, thought out plan is to think about the long-term goal you have in mind.  In the heat of the moment we can passionately set aflame those emotional bridges to get out of the temporal circumstance.  But what keeps us from lighting up the torches this year will be learning more about what you truly want for this season.  What is most important to you overall with your family?  Start by asking yourself questions like:
What are your values?
What do you want to have in the forefront of your holiday season?
And what do you want to pass down to your kids?
Without any sarcasm whatsoever, ask yourself these questions to get clear with what you truly value, what is at the core of your beliefs, and how you are going to keep that at the forefront of your season this year.  (Side note: this does not mean that we just let people walk all over us or we switch extremes and walk all over them.  All we are working on is our response that is congruent with who we want to be and our long-term goals).

Truth #4: You can have a good holiday, even if others choose not to. This may sound “bah-humbug” to many a reader, but that is not my intent.  As tough as it is to admit, we are all separate people—each with unique desires, passions, feelings, and thoughts.  We can’t manage that for others, as much as we are tempted or as much as we are pressured.  This is again the attempt of the impossible, which is the true ba-humbug generator.  The “Jolly Saint Nick” is the one who is able to allow others to be themselves and attend to their own wounds or hurt feelings while being able to stay your own course of who you WANT to be, avoiding as much as possible the person others are “making” you to be.  No one can make you say mean things, harbor resentment, or hold outrageously high expectations of other people with dangling consequences when not upheld.  That, my friends, is all up to you and each individual to manage.  The good news is: no one can make you do anything! That's your choice, despite the circumstances and imperfections, to know that you, apart from the family drama, are a uniquely wonderful individual who has the capacity to love in the midst of others’ choices.  So whether or not others have a good Christmas or choose to partake in the joy that is right in front of you this year, it is not your job to manage!  More good news:  You are only governor of your own choices.

What we are trying to do here is dig into that solid part of you that knows who you want to be and that flexible side of you that has the ability to slightly bend (by your own conscious choice) to keep perspective this year.  Instead of feeling victim to the force of the family around you, this year you get to go back to what you truly want!  Often times we will find ourselves making the same decisions we would have made before, but with conscious choice driving own decision making, instead of the emotions of others, we are freed up from the resentment that so easily entangles us. Now, we can choose to enjoy Christmas!

Cheers to a new way of relating this holiday season, friends!

If you are wanting to read more articles like this, check out www.thoughtfullyou.com.

Lindsey Saddock, LPC
512-238-1700 ext. 317
lindseysaddock@nlcc1.com
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, December 18, 2014 | 0 comments

Boxers and Band-Aids

“We have all read in scientific books, and indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is.”-G.K. Chesterton     


How does one forget one’s self? Rather easily, I would propose. If we continue living falsely (True or False), we will slowly forget our true self. This is the very reason why it is crucial to run the risk of allowing our true self to be wholly seen. Only when we are seen are we able to be fully embraced and thus remember who we are.   

This begs the question whether or not revealing my true self is worth the cost of pain and hurt. We want insurance that the risk will benefit us more than it costs and demands. Life doesn’t offer that rock-solid insurance most of the time, and neither do relationships, so we find ways to insure pain-free living on our own. We may look for close relationships but have tendencies to emotionally detach. We want intimacy but are afraid of it so we self-sabotage. We wear social masks that allow us to repress and ignore difficult and uncomfortable emotions. Our insurance claim leaves us well-defended.   

This defending makes me think of boxers whose very goal is to stay well protected and guarded. Boxers take a defensive stance never opening themselves up unless there is guarantee their opponent cannot strike back. To keep the distance, boxers will throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts. We find our own ways at harnessing powerful jabs (emotional, physical or verbal) to keep relationship at a safe distance.   

While we may feel more safe as a boxer because pain, rejection and betrayal cannot come close; the real tragedy is that neither does love, joy or grace. We cannot determine what emotional experiences we will have or will not have. We either shut and numb ourselves from all pleasure and pain OR we open ourselves to experience pain so we can also experience pleasure.      

Another way we choose to defend and self-protect is through the band-aid. While a band-aid is necessary when the injury first occurs to keep out harmful bacteria, band-aids are not meant to remain permanently. In fact, if kept on for too long, the band-aid does more harm than good.   There are several good reasons to NOT wear a band-aid. Band-aids prevent exposing the wound to oxygen which allows for the healing of the tissue. Band-aids create a moist, dark area for bacteria to grow and prevent the natural process of scabbing to allow new tissue to grow. We use relational band-aids in various ways (denial, avoidance, spirituality, pulling back from relationship, shutting down emotionally, isolation, internalizing and stuffing rather than addressing, being less accessible to others) because we think they are helping rather than hurting.   

We often try to alleviate the pain from our wounds by reverting to our comfortable defense of choice but true healing requires leaving the wound open (this seems counter-intuitive). Healing is like rubbing alcohol; the wound stings because it is healing. This healing creates a growing environment ripe with awareness and a sense of sturdiness, ownership and delighting in one’s own skin that allows us the gift of being wholly seen and fully embraced. We need not be dependent upon boxing gloves and band-aids because we remember who we truly are and we are letting our true self interact with the world. This is vulnerability. In this place, Brene’ Brown’s words come alive, “The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection. Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.” This, I strongly believe, is worth the risk.

Tiffany Dang, MA

512-238-1700 ext. 316

tiffanydang@nlcc1.com

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Monday, November 3, 2014

True or False by Tiffany Dang, MA

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are… because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.” ― Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

A universal craving of the human soul is to be known, received and have a sense of belonging.  Though deep within us is the desire for intimacy, affirmation, security and safety in relation to others, there is also a paralyzing fear of those desires, as Buechner so eloquently states in the quote above.

We fear intimacy and connection for it requires vulnerability.  This vulnerability opens the pathway for rejection.  Will we risk rejection for the sake of being known? We are unsure if the risk is worth it.  This uncertainty can lead to an inner conflict and affects how we relate to others.

In order to protect ourselves from the rejection that terrifies us, we create and put forth images that we believe will be accepted and well-received.  This acceptance is false and comes at a cost because in the end, we are not fully known.  What has been put on display is not the true version of ourselves; therefore, it is our false self.  We hide behind the façade of our false self because we believe we are safe here.  In the hiding, we come to believe that rejection, hurt and pain cannot touch us and coming out of hiding makes us vulnerable to relational wounding.  We decide that it is much better and wiser to keep the truth tucked behind the lie.  We become masters of illusion.

The tragedy of living falsely is that we “run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are”.  If we do this for too long, the lie will become what we see as truth and access to our true self becomes much more difficult to find because it is buried beneath layers of falsehoods.  Acceptance, intimacy, connection and belonging become more and more elusive.

In order to be truly known for who we “truly and fully are”, we must take the journey of vulnerability and allow our true self to be seen, wholly.  We must let the truth of who we are have space to exist and speak and experience; this is what Buechner calls “telling secrets”.  We tell our secrets about who we are.  We tell the secrets of our great fears and hopes.  We tell the secrets that have been buried behind the false self.  As we do this in a safe and secure environment, we begin to see that we have the strength to risk and even tolerate rejection, hurt and pain.  Rejection will ache but in stepping out with our true secrets, we find that we are willing to feel the ache for being known is a worthy and freeing endeavor.

Tiffany Dang, MA
512-238-1700 ext. 316
tiffanydang@nlcc1.com
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Getting Past Your Past, Part II by Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC

Memories may not be huge traumatic events as we might believe.  As children particularly, we do not have the resources to view events from a more objective position.  We are held captive by the events that happen as well as our thinking processes to deal with them.  These events get stored in our emotional brain in fragments.  I may recognize one thing in my rational thinking brain, but not be able to think or act differently because it is locked away in my emotional memory from the past (representing the boxes in the basement). If we allow our minds to scan back into childhood and bring up a disturbing/humiliating event many times we find that we can still feel the emotion of that event or a related thought pops up.  This event has not been sufficiently processed.  The emotion in the box in the basement and these automatic thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions may be inappropriately coloring our perception and thus our actions in our present circumstances. In much simpler terms, and I repeat… “The past is present.”  These responses are inherent in the stored memory.  Once these past memories are revisited with the resources we now have as adults; these negative images, emotions, and negative beliefs become less vivid and less disturbing.  This is “unpacking the box” in the basement.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocess, aka EMDR, facilitates learning on multidimensional levels, emotional, cognitive, and physiologically.  Knowing something is one thing, but when our feelings don’t match up with our “knowing” reprocessing can help bring emotions and thinking in sync.

The EMDR protocol goes back into the basement (the past) and opens up each box as the client determines.  By revisiting these past painful events as adults with more resources, I come away with clearer understanding.  The memory no longer has the electricity or the power to influence my behavior now.  The “box” represents the memory itself; it will always be there.   We cannot erase the memory completely, but we can open up the box and take out the emotional part of that memory that is flooding the house.  Once the charge is removed from inside the box it no longer comes up from the basement causing me to react to a current event.

How do we pursue this?  EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, either eye movements, tapping, or alternating audio sounds.  This protocol was developed by Francine Shapiro several years ago as a doctoral student, as she was walking and reflecting on an upsetting event.  As she walked, she noticed her eyes darting back and forth, left to right and then suddenly realized she was less upset about the event than before.  Disturbing thoughts generally have a certain “loop” to them; they tend to play over and over until you consciously choose to do something to stop or change them.  This particular day she noticed that her disturbing thoughts were changing without any conscious effort on her part. As she experimented with this it has developed into EMDR as we know it today.

EMDR mimics Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep which recognizes that as we enter REM sleep our eyes dart back and forth in what is called “rapid eye movement.”  The theory is that as this happens the brain processes wishes, survival information, and the learning that took place during that day. The brain is hardwired to link up with more useful information stored in the brain…things you have learned are useful in previous events.  This is called integration.  Your brain lets go of what is not useful, but what you need remains.  This is the brain’s adaptive information processing system using that disturbing experience to allow learning to take place.

As a child, sometimes the event is more than we can deal with and our emotional system gets overwhelmed, or perhaps it was a prolonged event. This intense emotional pain caused by this disturbing event results in the information processing system from making the internal connections needed to resolve the issue.  This negative emotional memory gets stored in your emotional brain just as you experienced it.  What you saw, felt, the image, the emotions, and physical sensations become encoded in memory, and sometimes in our body, in their original unprocessed form.  So, when something similar happens again, the fear, or rejection, or negative emotion floods back up again from the basement (the past) into the living-room (the present) and you find yourself over-reacting to something that you know in your thinking brain should not cause you such emotional disturbance. And then sometimes, you have no clue why you continue to make some of the same mistakes, and have some of the same reactions over and over again, and can’t break free.

The truth is that the current event is linking up with the past event. We call this a “trigger.”  In EMDR we revisit that event, acknowledging the emotions of it, attaching the negative cognition that we felt about ourselves at that time, and adding the bilateral stimulation. The event neutralizes and we breathe a sigh of relief that we no longer carry the emotion of the event.

The box in the basement is now empty.  So the next time I revisit that event, I no longer have the same sensations or emotions that I did before reprocessing.  And that past event no longer shows up in my current life and relationships as emotional pain from the box in the basement.

One of the interesting things about EMDR is that if there was a physical sensation coupled with that event, during reprocessing there may be a physical sensation in exactly the same place as when the event occurred.  For example, take an event where someone may have been slapped.  Years later during EMDR reprocessing that event could cause a physical sensation in the same place that it originally occurred, in the face.  Once the focus is placed on that physical sensation with bilateral stimulations the feeling goes away.  This is indicative of our bodies storing memories as well, not just in our brain.  Processing the earlier experiences allows the appropriate cognitive and emotional connections to be made and adaptive behaviors to spontaneously emerge, along with insights and positive self-concepts.  Just as reprocessing desensitizes the pain in those past memories, likewise bilateral stimulation also enhances the positive cognitions and feelings that we want to increase.

So then the question arises:  How can EMDR help?  If you find yourself thinking one thing and feeling another causing emotional distress in your daily life, or in your relationships, over reacting to current events with far greater intensity that it might warrant, it might be a case of going back in the past and looking at those boxes that have been packed away.  Events that we can recall, some larger than others, we can remember the emotion and the pain associated with that event. Many times we can pinpoint the exact place we were, and what we were doing and we can rationalize some of the truth about the event and know that in our thinking brain, but emotions have something very different to say about that event.

EMDR starts with preparing you to revisit painful memories.  I follow Dr. Shapiro’s strict guidelines and protocols that address clients’ common nervousness to revisit these painful memories.  She proposes a three-pronged approach whereby we revisit the past, then look at current triggers, and then options re: how we want to act or respond in the future.  The bilateral stimulation enhances the future thoughts and feelings that we want to substitute for those old ones; and as we visualize the future in our mind using bilateral stimulation we will strengthen those neural networks.

Through years of refining and developing this protocol through hundreds of cases with trained clinicians, EMDR organizes optimal procedures to cause the simultaneous desensitization and cognitive restructuring of memories, the elicitation of spontaneous insights, and an increase in self-efficacy, all of which appear to be by products of the adaptive processing of disturbing memories.

Let me encourage you to check out EMDR and inquire as to whether if it might be something that you could utilize to desensitize some of the painful past memories and give yourself more space in your life to think more clearly and respond differently to life’s events (for more information check out www.emdria.org).  Give me a call and let’s visit about the possibilities.

Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC
512-238-1700 ext. 315
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Getting Past Your Past, Part I, by Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC

Getting past your past.  What does that mean exactly?  The reality is we all have hurts, habits and hang-ups that we pack in our emotional suitcase as we journey through life.  Those are called memories. Let’s use the analogy of the basement representing the past, the living room representing the present and the attic representing the future.  Many times a theme runs through all of our hurts, and we can usually trace that back to a touchstone event located somewhere in our past.  Unfortunately that past event keeps showing up in the present.  In other words, the past is the present.

Life really does happen, sometimes over and over.  Events are not equal in everyone’s eyes.  For example:  a dentist or doctor’s report may elicit different responses from different people.  A hurt, angry person blames a spouse while another feels overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and self-blame.  An inquiry feels like an accusation or a difference of opinion feels like a personal attack.  Inconveniences like broken down appliances, fender benders, and changed schedules may cause one person to be irritated while another may respond as if the world was coming to an end.

Memories do not necessarily have to be a major trauma to cause us difficulty in our current relationships, i.e., parents who legitimately desire us to be the best we can be may have unwittingly put unreal expectations on us by making encouraging statements.  As children we sometimes view those comments differently than they may have been intended, but then again, maybe not.  Or perhaps our parents are insecure in themselves and have a very strong need for their children to behave a certain way.  In either case we internalize the pressure to perform and it becomes more about what we do than who we are as a person.

Many times events happen that we have no control over.  Perhaps a parent is, for any number of reasons, not present; or as a child, I have to have some type of surgery and I find that I feel unsafe and alone.  This can be carried through all of our childhood memories.  Couple those events with countless others and we feel inadequate and unable to measure up.  We are not good enough, we feel unloved, unworthy, and we feel inadequate in many situations.  As children, with limited understanding, we can only view those events through childlike eyes: “it must be me."

So it gets put in our emotional suitcase and we sometimes feel that we have to be perfect to be accepted.  We later struggle with our self-image because we can’t be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, son, husband, father, etc., and we find ourselves striving to reach the unattainable goal of pleasing everyone and trying to live up to others’ standards.  Then we transfer this to God and never feel like He accepts us either.  So we move through life and every time someone does something that touches that sore spot, it triggers the big wound I am carrying around from childhood and I over-react.

Another slice of that pie is giving up…“I can never live up to others’ expectations, so why try.”  Somewhere along the way we become control freaks and project that perfectionistic control onto others, expecting them to be perfect as well.  At times we become so consumed with pleasing that we become co-dependent.  We find that we are always trying to “fix” everyone and everything. We have difficulty establishing boundaries and holding others accountable.  If they are upset we get anxious and negative thinking kicks into gear.  We reason it must be my fault. We have an uncontrollable urge to “make them feel better,” because in reality we are uncomfortable with their discomfort or anxiety.  We maneuver and attempt to smooth feathers so everyone will feel okay.

The opposite reaction is to make internal contracts with ourselves: i.e. “No one will tell me what to do…I’ll never…. etc.…and I don’t care that someone is upset…they just need to get over it.  It is all their problem.” After speaking our mind, we walk away to let them deal with the issue that most often is caused by both parties.  We get caught up in the blame game, humiliation, and frustration so that we are unable to see that there are two sides and usually everyone got their feet wet on this one.  But we walk away, put a lid on the box, duct tape it closed, dust our hands off and vow to forget it and move on.  Somewhere down the road, we find ourselves reacting to a $20.00 event with a $200.00 response and then look back, realizing we over-reacted and become aware of the wake of hurt behind us.

Then there are times when a major traumatic event does occur; broken, we set out to “right” our world, in some way.  We hold fast to that saying, “time heals everything.”  Unfortunately we are learning that time does not always heal everything as we have been led to believe.  Life goes on, right?  We learn to manage our emotions, stuff those feelings down, packing them in a box in the basement, turn the light out and walk away…staying busy, denying the impact, putting one foot in front of the other as we say, “it’s over, it’s in the past.”  Sometimes we think we have buried it.  But life is just not working at all.

Then we find ourselves dealing with anxiety and/or depression, fearful with the thought “when will the other shoe drop?”  Sometimes our focus becomes the other person as we hold out for “life” to pay them back, to get justice.  Definition? Drinking poison hoping the other person dies.  The one it is affecting the most is “little ole you.”  Nurturing your wound doesn’t help, nor does stuffing it down and wishing it to go away. And even though you might say, “I’m not angry any longer, or I’m not looking for revenge,” the truth is the memory is still locked in the box in the basement and is effecting your reactions to current events. There is fire in those boxes in the basement (that’s the past). Then when something happens in the living-room (the present) the reaction is a result of what is in the boxes in the basement that was not processed correctly.

Sometimes it is impossible to process those tough events.  As children we do not have the resources to do that.  If we carry the analogy one step farther sometimes what is in the boxes in the basement comes out and shows up in the attic (representing the future).  We become fearful and start creating “what if” scenarios worrying about things that may never happen. For example:  if my dad walked away from his family and left me as a child, I may fear committing myself to a relationship for fear that my future spouse would leave me.  From a child’s viewpoint I think, “If I had been a better child… or there must be something wrong with me.  What is wrong with me that my dad didn’t want to stick around?”  Even though we can rationally think, “That’s my dad’s problem,” emotions tell a different story.  It is a vicious cycle that replays itself over and over resulting in my thoughts determining feelings, becoming entangled in a downward spiral that results in negative thinking, and negative self-talk, leading to negative feelings which equal negative reactions.  Sometimes my confusion about the current event is fuzzy and I can’t even remember what started the entire spiraling. I just know it hurts.

If you find yourself compelled to speak out to explain or defend yourself, or you are compelled to walk away from a tense situation, this is your old defense mechanisms showing up in the present.  You likely have more going on than what meets the eye.  There are “live cultures” living in that box in the basement (memories that have never been processed.)  May I suggest a better way?  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a protocol that deals with those painful hurts from the past.  Check back next month for part two of how to deal with the past using EMDR.

Carol Greenberg, MA, LPC,
512-238-1700, ext. 315
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, August 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Reactivity

Your son needs to get to soccer practice and your daughter is vying for your help with a school project.  About that time your mother calls to tell you about your father's visit to the urologist, and if that isn't enough the dog has an "accident" on the carpet in the middle of the living room.  The icing on the cake is that your spouse is nowhere to be found.  Sounds like a "Calgon, take me away!" kind of day.  We have all experienced days like this one in one way or another.  Perhaps it is not just a day but a season in your life that seems like it will never end. It is not what happens that matters, but what we do with it or how we handle it that counts.

How do we handle times in our life when our anxiety is escalating?  We can go one of two directions - react or respond.  These two small "r" words have two extremely different outcomes.  One implies control while the other does not.

If we are honest, most of us find ourselves in a reactive state when bombarded with anxiety provoking situations.  Reactivity can look like a multitude of different behaviors.  Some of us might find ourselves more expressive:  yelling, crying, throwing things, or even being physically aggressive.  However, reactivity can look quite the opposite as well.  Just because I choose to hide out away from the chaos does not mean I am not reactive.  On the contrary it is just as reactive as the expressive behavior.  If the anxiety makes me want to run as far away from the problem as possible I am experiencing reactivity.

So, what does it mean to "respond"?  When looking up the dictionary's definition of the verb form of the word it says, "to respond favorably or as hoped".  This implies that a response is a well thought out action.  This is not an easy thing to do in the midst of an anxious situation.  In order to do this it is important to remain calm, stay objective in our thinking, and to make sure we are seeing our situation realistically.  Easy?  No!  However, when we can remain in a responding way of being we are in a place where we can actually problem-solve.

We cannot keep anxiety provoking situations from happening to us, but we can choose how we will handle them.  Basically our choice is, are we going to control our thinking in order to be in a state of responding, or are we going to allow ourselves to be swallowed up with our emotional reactivity so that we are being controlled, which robs us of our choices?  Responding is not easy during heightened times of anxiety, but the outcome is worth all of the hard work.  Consider trying it next time you have a "Calgon, take me away!" kind of day.

Deana Reed, LPC-I, MA
deanareed@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 318
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 0 comments

Getting Back Up

It would be quite an odd sight indeed to observe a magnificent bird—full-feathered, majestic, unique to its core, radiant—afraid to fly. Nothing goes more to the rhythm of life as a bird than that of flight. And as the observer stares, you can hear him say, “Do what you are made to do! You’re a bird. Just fly!” But the bird just sits there on the branch, shivering and paralyzed. How frustrating it would be to watch that bird sink it’s talons into the tree bark, afraid to take flight and fearful the force of gravity will power over the will to fly.

 

From the areal view, I wonder how many of us would look down upon the human race with same commentary saying: “Why don’t you humans get up and do what you are created to do! You’re a human. Just get up and live!” Life is the rhythm that we were made for, that we were designed to do; yet life, the experience of free living and living well, is the very rhythm that we often miss because of our own fear.

 

One of the most powerful depictions of the force of life I have come across is that of the phoenix. Their lives demonstrate that of our human nature so poignantly. There is a birth, a maturing, a fascinating life of momentary greatness, and then there is the decline of death. And just as if death would have gotten the best of this sacred bird, somehow it finds the will, the drive, and the power to reemerge itself. Oddly enough the reemerging could never occur on any other ground than the fertile ground of the phoenix’s own ashes. There and only there can rebirth and reentry into life be made possible.

 

In the human race, there are countless stories of people rising out of the ashes and rebuilding what was once lost into newness of life: cities reemerge after crumbling defeat; religion surviving the tyranny of persecution; marriages reestablished and rededicated after unimaginable suffering; the capacity to find forgiveness in the bleakest of times; and the strength to not let the enemy take more than what they already had.

 

The will to live is alive and thriving within us, but only when our hands are open, welcoming all aspects of life—the vibrant glee of happiness and even the sting of struggle or defeat—as friend instead of the foe. The moment we get afraid and begin tight-fisting our hands around the object we are most afraid to lose is the moment we too sink our talons into the branch, afraid to do what we were meant to do: live! And oddly enough, the object we were so afraid to lose and clung so hard upon tends to only move seemingly miles and miles away from our grasp. All of our efforts to hold on only seem to push that which we desire further and further away.

 

Our fears are the gravitational pull that is like dead weights slowing us down on our ability to move freely and with ease in this life. Just like our bird friend, the force of failure, fear, and significance swallow us whole, keeping us paralyzed to “do” because we are so worried about “being.” Being successful, being liked, being important, being significant, being remembered, being…being…being. In this mindset every challenge is regarded as an attacker to our image, weakening our sense of self-security like the ocean tide weakening the shoreline.

 

As our self-security weakens, we look to others to glean some sort of security again, only to find our self-confidence taking more beatings through comparisons, judgments, and perceptions of what others must think of us. As a result, our identity and confidence in who we are ebbs and flows at the moments whim, stuck and unsure.

 

The momentum of life in these moments becomes morphed into the very force of our death. Our greatest gift has become our most defeated chain. Our best opportunity has been our worst nightmare. Our eyes are so focused on the “being force” that we forget what it is like to live with no strings attached. Who in our world today is motivated when the pressure and expectation of self has shifted to “living for self,” to “living to be something to others?”

 

So, how to we get back to the living part of life? The degree that we feel insecure in ourselves is the degree that we pine to find that acceptance and security in others. By shifting our attention off the external (others) and back onto ourselves, we can start to address the perceptions that we are keeping us in this stuck place.

 

Looking at self is a scary, naked place that can be filled with insecurities feeding the paralysis to come back through messages like, “you’re not good enough or “you will never be.” These thoughts only drive our attentions outside of self to find a sense of stability in others. And how frustrating it is when others can’t give us that which we seek! But if we are able to maneuver our self-reflection in a more realistic mirror, there lies the possibility for goodness in darkness. We can get honest with ourselves about who we really are, giving up the delusion of who it is we want to be or think we want to be, and embrace the REAL view. This realistic view stems from gratitude and self-acceptance. And in this moment of a realistic vantage point, we let in the light that are souls long to see. It is this very mirror that the phoenix uses to rise once again.

 

In seeing goodness, gratitude is born in the midst of pain, guiding our attention to little flickers of self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a wellspring from within that naturally loosens our talons of fear, giving us grounding and the grit to stand firm. When our eyes are focused outward and on fear, we get caught up in instinctually defending ourselves against our perceptive fears and the “what if’s” of this life. But when we welcome gratitude, it frees us from our instinctual, automatic, and survival-only thinking and ushers us into a vantage point of possibilities and opportunities that we can choose to partake in.

   

Gratitude is the very force that pulls us out of the gridlock of fear, and it allows us to be open-handed with all aspects of life (people, jobs, purpose of life, and every other part). And gratitude sees these aspects as gifts that were given, not because of our goodness but because we are truly loved as we are. When our hands are open, it frees us up to love that aspect of life or object fully, whether it is gifted to us or taken away.

 

Whether the phoenix is in ashes or in flight, its heartbeat of life remains in gratitude for its ability to re-conquer, suffocating all of its fear, and creating the rich soil needed for rebirth. It realizes that “death” is not about death at all, but rather, it is about the ability to grow. Growth always comes with growing pains, and I believe that the human life is all about the balance and oscillation between moments of growth and moments of comfort. Growth leads to LIFE. The best growing times in our lives are the ones that shape us into who we are, if we allow it! If we make room for the ashes to be our rebirthing ground, we can start finally doing what we so desperately want:  live.

Lindsey Saddock, LPC-MA
512-238-1700 ext 317
lindseysaddock@nlcc1.com
www.newlifecounselingcenter.com
   

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Tuesday, June 3, 2014 | 0 comments

Connection

As I have recently made a big move across several states, I am again reminded of the longing within every individual for love and connection. In both grieving the change in the relationships that I’ve moved away from and anticipating the new connections in relationships in the place that I have moved to, it is evident how much of human existence is driven by a desire for connection. I see it in the movies and television shows I watch, the interactions I notice while at a restaurant or the grocery store. I hear it in the music being played on the radio and in the conversations I have with others. We long for connection, for a sense of belonging, for intimacy. Unfortunately, the development of social media in our culture can create a false sense of connection in which an individual does not have to really allow him or herself to be known, to be vulnerable. We long to see vulnerability from others, but we are scared of what it might mean for us to be truly vulnerable. In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, defines connection as “the energy that is created between two people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment”.  While the definition is succinct, it carries with it a great weight.   

Allowing oneself to feel seen, heard and valued requires great vulnerability; to open oneself up to the possibility of connection to another, one must become vulnerable. It is vulnerable to sit with someone who has just lost a significant other and offer your presence. It is vulnerable to offer a new idea in the workplace. It is vulnerable to reach toward a lover who feels cold and distant. It is vulnerable to apologize to your child for living inconsistently with your values. In these types of situations we become vulnerable to the possibility of rejection or loss, and vulnerable to the possibility of love, hope and anticipation of connection. Vulnerability does not come without risk and therefore connection does not come without discomfort. For if there were a guarantee that all would be well as we enter into relationship with another, there would be no need for risk. To truly be known means that we open ourselves up and allow ourselves to be seen.   

The difficulty in this lies in what Brené Brown defines as the “scarcity culture” that we live in. This culture where people feel as though they are “never enough” and are acutely aware of a constant feeling of deficiency, whether it is a lack of love and safety or a lack of money and time. This culture lends itself to an environment of comparison, shame and disengagement. With the questions “Do you love me? Do you care about me? Do you want me? Am I important to you? Am I good enough?” constantly swirling through our heads, it’s no wonder that there is an extreme feeling of disconnection and fear of vulnerability.   

In addition, there are messages specific to men and women regarding their gender roles that increase the sense of disconnection. Women receive the message that they need to be everything to everyone, to be perfect, all the while needing to maintain the image that this is effortless. Men receive the message that it is not okay to be perceived as weak, to be seen as vulnerable. As children, growing up in this culture with these messages, we learn how to protect ourselves from being hurt and disappointed. We develop ways of interacting with the world that keep us safe and even reinforce these messages. We learn the roles that we are to play and we play them. In her research, Brené Brown found that this becomes almost impossible around midlife. Men feel paralyzed by the fear of failure and feel disconnected from their families; women feel exhausted and begin to see that the demands being placed on them are impossible. It is easy to see why we turn to working long weeks, addictions, affairs, disengagement and over-focusing on the children.   

In order to restore connection and combat the scarcity culture, it is invaluable to live with courage, purpose and connection, by becoming vulnerable and allowing ourselves to be seen. This requires stepping out in love. Brené Brown defines love as “allowing our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and honoring the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection”. She goes on to discuss how this connection must be nurtured and grown and can only grow when it resides within each individual. Meaning “we can only love others as much as we love ourselves”. Many of us hate the idea of self-love. It often feels easier to love others, but I have found in my own experience how I am much more capable of being vulnerable and present with others when I have learned to love myself. I have not “arrived”, but I am allowing myself to be in the uncomfortable process of growing and learning. The struggle with vulnerability impacts everyone; the desire to protect and disconnect is a shared experience. To become vulnerable means that we begin to lean into the belief that we are enough (even with our inevitable imperfections), that we recognize the cultural messages and seek to set boundaries rather than comparing ourselves to others and that we place greater value on courage and taking risks than continuing to play the roles we’ve learned. The journey is scary and difficult, but it is worth it.   


Resources:   

Brown, Brené. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Love, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, NY.   

Ashley Blackwell, LPC-Intern 

Under the direct supervision of Dr. Leah McDill, LPC-Supervisor 

ashleyblackwell@nlcc1.com 512-238-1700 ext. 313

Posted by Blake Butler at Saturday, May 3, 2014 | 0 comments

Ambiguous Loss

“Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”-Frederick Buechner

Loss is experienced by all.  We tend to quantify and compare suffering and loss as either worse or less than but all losses are painful, only painful in different ways.  No matter the circumstances, loss is loss and no two losses are ever the same.

Ambiguous loss can be hindered because it is not as definitive as a concrete loss (such as death).  Ambiguous loss can be seen in degenerative diseases where though the afflicted person is still living and physically present, the loss is in their diminished capacity. Ambiguous loss is also loss of community, opportunity, relationship and place.  Ambiguous loss is the loss of what could have been or should have been.  This type of loss freezes a normal attempt to grieve because there is a seeming apparent lack of closure that concrete loss brings.  Of utmost value and importance is grieving all losses, concrete and ambiguous, to name and acknowledge them as such.

Because all losses are painful, the defining moment is not the experience of loss but rather our response to the loss.  We cannot change the circumstances we find ourselves in but we can allow the circumstances to bring about healthy change in us.

In our pain and confusion, we often ask “Why?” and though there is a time for this question, in order to find meaning, we must press forward to ask, “What meaning can be gained from suffering and loss?”

These questions bring us to the forefront of a sacred journey.  The journey any loss thrusts us into will either harden or heal us.  It will harden us if we refuse to face our pain, which results in a disengaged experience of life and therefore, a greater loss.  Theologians, philosophers and counselors have long believed that pain is a gift because as Jerry Sittser explains, “it shows we have a capacity to feel”.  In recognizing the gift of pain we move forward slowly toward healing.  This road invites courage because if we are to find hope in our losses, we must face life’s aches and pains directly and with honesty.  Grieving creates within us a deeper capacity for life, full of joys and sorrows, and so we learn to feel the weight of loss for the sake of living.

Tiffany Dang, MA, LPC-Intern
supervised by Leah McDill, Ph.D.
tiffanydang@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext 316
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Monday, April 7, 2014 | 0 comments

What? Think About My Thinking?

Have you ever found yourself in a whirlwind of thoughts that you can’t seem to stop? They swirl around and around in your head and take you on a trip you didn’t want to go, and keep you longer than you wanted to stay.  There is no end to the worrisome, frustrating, and anxious thoughts that seem like ping pong balls going off on your insides.  You may have even thought, “If I could just take my brain out of my head, set it on the table, just for a little while, so I can get some rest would be nice.”

What you may have discovered is that after a while you have spent lots of energy on those incessant, bothersome thought; and things are not getting any better.  In fact, they are actually worse. Your feelings somehow have followed your anxious thoughts and now there are possibly tears, your heart may be beating faster, and the anxiety factor is escalating.  There is a reason for that.  You see, it is very simply a cycle.  Feelings follow thoughts and thoughts follow feelings. Scripture states, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

”There is very little in this life that we have control over; but one thing we can and do have control over is our thoughts, which will in turn affect our feelings.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy provides a way to actually start analyzing the thoughts that run amuck in our brains.  I call it “start thinking about your thinking.”  Cognitive Behavior Therapy trains one to pay attention to the triggers that may cause one to jump on the crazy feeling/thinking cycle.  When we allow this cycle to continue we become anxious, and feel powerless.  What once may actually be a viable problem has now become more than just a problem.  And sometimes it is our thinking that creates the problem.  It has quickly become a monster inside my head and my chest that I can’t control. We have all experienced “auto pilot.”  This is where we are engaged in some type of activity and find our mind is wandering out in left field somewhere detached from the activity we are actually engaged in. These thoughts keep us from being able to focus and pay attention to what we are actually doing.   Being mindful of our thoughts helps us learn how to focus on the present, not regretting the past nor creating unhealthy scenarios for the future. This is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34 that we are not to worry about tomorrow for today has enough worry of its own. And Paul reminds us in Philippians that we need to forget the past and move forward (Phil 3:13).   Paul also tells us in Philippians we are to: meditate on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praise worthy.” (Phil 4:8).  These are the things we are to think about…meditate…go over and over in our minds the things that fit in this list.

Cognitive Behavior therapy can send a message of hope when you feel like you are drowning in a sea of negativity.  The overall goals of Cognitive Behavior therapy are educational awareness in helping you understand the value of setting specific, measureable targets for change, by focusing on your thoughts, and paying attention to the conversations that take place inside your head, about yourself or others, and your circumstances before your emotions are following your thoughts off of the cliff.  Let me give you an example.  Person A sees two of her friends out together, who didn’t invite her.  Person A begins to have negative thoughts about this scenario as to why she wasn’t invited.  It begins something like this:  “They are mad at me.”  “I did something to offend them.”  “They don’t like me.”  “What did I do?”  “What is wrong with me that they wouldn’t invite me?”  Before you realize it you have spiraled down with those thoughts until your emotions are now involved and you feel sad, frustrated, and anger may be creeping in.  You might even feel a little or a lot rejected, and identifying faulty thinking patterns can help determine a healthy course of action.  There are several different types of active, negative thinking here.  You may jump to a conclusion, “I did something wrong,” and another is assuming, “They don’t like me!”  By thinking about your thinking, you begin to recognize these negative thinking patterns that can have a big impact on how you end up feeling about those involved in the situation, and ultimately yourself.  You might be an Exploder or a Stuffer, getting defensive or blaming others.   As an Exploder you might let person B or C know that you were offended that he/she didn’t ask you to go along.  Or you might be a Stuffer and just decide that you don’t want to be his/her friend any more, and withdraw, or you might even pretend nothing ever happened while continuing to assume and jump to conclusions.  All the while your thoughts and your emotions are playing havoc on your insides.  All of these scenarios will lead to negative thinking and negative emotions.  It won’t be long before the hurt begins to boil to the surface and it will come out in some hurtful reaction.  And it might just be to someone who wasn’t even involved that triggered the outburst.  A better option is to “speak the truth in love,” (Eph 4:15), sharing your heart in a non-threatening way.  Or you might even use II Cor. 10:4, taking your thoughts captive allowing your friends to decide to go somewhere together and it never had anything to do with you, or how they felt about you.  True peacemaking isn’t about stopping the emotions…they are real.  Emotions move inward and outward – whether we want them to or not.  True peacemaking is about properly expressing the emotions before they get stuffed and rot into something horribly toxic that implodes or explodes on some unsuspecting person.  Clear thinking can allow you to choose to go on about your business to have clear rational thoughts about the issue without taking any of it personally.

These are just some of the ways that Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help you sort through negative thinking patterns to realize how interconnected your thoughts are with our feelings and vice versa.  In Cognitive behavior therapy I can work with you to identify some of these negative thinking patterns, and their origin, which leads to negative emotions, and work to understand the impact they have in daily life.  It will be a new skill…a “bike riding” mental exercise and you won’t get it perfect every time.  There could even be a crash or two.  It will take practice to identify the negative thinking patterns that are as automatic as breathing.  But with practice, a plan and God’s help, you can be successful.

Carol Greenberg MA, LPC, EMDR
512-238-1700 x 315
carolgreenberg@nlcc1.com
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, January 31, 2014 | 0 comments

Why do you have to be so STUBBORN?!

Sometimes it seems as if the people we love tend to do the exact opposite of what we want, no matter how sincerely, how nicely, or even how not so nicely that we ask.  It’s not just your family…so don’t worry, because there’s nothing inherently wrong with you and yours.  This behavioral tendency happens to be part of human nature and shows up to some degree in any relationship containing an emotional connection.  Parent to child, husband to wife, between friends, between co-workers, it can happen in any relationship.  

This stubborn stance comes in all shapes and sizes: the more one partner pushes for an increase in time together, the less time and energy the other seems to have available; the more parents push for extra effort in school, the more kids resist and insist on other activities filling their time.  It can even be as simple as begging your friend to go see a new movie with you; and the more you beg, the less he wants to go.  This movement in the opposite direction is a natural reflex action to what’s called emotional demand.  The survival instinct part of our brain can sometimes kick on what I like to call our “Rebel Reflex” when it senses that another is attempting to control or change us.  Just like other human reflexes, this behavior is housed in a much deeper and stronger part of our brain than the judgment center; meaning, these actions happen before we realize we’re doing them…if we ever realize them at all.  

 So what gives our brain this idea?  It has less to do with what we say to people and more to do with the level of anxious need we convey when speaking.  Signals like tone of voice, facial expression, volume, posture, and body language are constantly monitored by our brain to sense the level of tension/anxiety in those around us.  If the way we are approaching our loved ones sends off the message that we absolutely need them to change or to do “X” so that we can be ok, then the odds of that change happening decrease drastically.  We naturally want to feel close to the ones we love; and many times when we push or pursue a change, our true goal is to restore the feeling of closeness and connection in the relationship.  If you don’t want someone to move in the opposite direction, don’t chase him.  Nothing kicks in the rebel reflex like needy pursuit.  Shifting the focus from the reaction of family members, to the way we are approaching them, moves the issue to an area we have power over: self. 

When a person can solidify himself or herself and learn that at the end of the day the actions of others, even family, don't change who she is, that person ceases to NEED others to be or act a certain way.  She can then state a preference or desire in the relationship without the emotional demand.  Neediness and demand provoke tension and distance.  Closeness is hard to achieve until we learn how extinguish demand.  In order to extinguish demand, one has to develop a solid definition of self, separate from others.  One paradox of relationships is that the quality of closeness increases as we learn to exist separately.


Blake Butler, LMFT-Associate; blakebutler@nlcc1.com

Posted by Blake Butler at Saturday, January 4, 2014

Shame

SHAME  
 

The battle I believe we all fight.

Shame goes deeper than guilt, in that it is not feeling bad about something done wrong, but a belief of being something wrong.

By internalizing the belief that one is flawed or defective, shame can take over one’s identity.

Could it be that is was Freud’s own sense of shame that led him to believe that we are all by nature, bad?

Our most natural response to shame is to hide.

An example of this is depicted in Genesis. When sin entered the world, Adam and Eve experienced shame for the first time and reacted by covering their bodies and hiding from God.

Today we continue to react by hiding both physically and emotionally.

You can see it in the woman clutching the couch pillow to hide her belly, the man joking about his sexuality to deflect from his vulnerability, the child eating a box of cookies to escape feeling unwanted, the wife having an affair to pacify her fear of being undesirable, or the husband hiding his fear of failure through constant work.

Many believe at the core of their being that they are not enough and react in ways that isolate them from others, God, and even themselves.

Shame can prevent us from experiencing true intimacy.

But why is it so hard to shake?

I believe shame can help us survive.

If we were originally created to experience the perfect love of God, but find ourselves instead with broken representations of His love, that often feel conditional; we come to one of two conclusions: either I am not loved or I am not lovable.

I don’t know that one can survive this life believing “I am not loved” but “I am not lovable” can offer a sense of control. (i.e.: I cannot make one love, but I may be able to make myself lovable.)

So how do we manage such shame?

Do we expose it? Deny it? Point it out in others? Sacrifice our own needs or desires? Try to earn worthiness? Or redeem it by attempting to raise children that don’t have to experience it?

We all have shame. Some are carried by it, while others learn how to hold it themselves.

How do we hold it?

How do we hold it?

Not Alone. Who walks with you?

Jessie Kuhn, MA
Licensed Professional Counselor
jessiekuhn@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 314
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Monday, November 18, 2013 | 0 comments

Connecting with Your Teen Part III: 6 Steps to Becoming an Emotional Supporter for your Teen

Knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it can be a difficult challenge to overcome as a parent. Here is a guide that may help you process through an issue with your kids in a way that helps them know you are on their team.  

1. Remember who you are and who you want to be as a parent. A parent who knows who they are is the most beautiful gift you can give a child. In knowing who you are, you are doing two things. The first part of remembrance serves as a healthy tool to keep you calm no matter what comes out the mouth of your child. Parents who know themselves are mindful of areas of struggle in which they may need to take time to center themselves before approaching a child with the issue at hand. When a parent remembers their value and their role in their kids lives, they are equipped with the tools they need in order to walk with them and avoid forcing learning on them. Second, you are taking a very important step to modeling for your child a healthy view of self. 

2. Be aware of your kid’s emotions/thinking. No one knows your kids better than you, so be watchful of their emotional state. Being watchful of their emotions will give a parent good information to what a kid may be thinking, which is valuable knowledge for a parent to know how to approach a child. Just like adults, when kids feel overwhelmed or out of control, that comes out in unique ways due to the anxiety one will feel internally. Being able to be in-tune with your child’s stress behaviors is useful information for you to know how, when, and where to approach him. 

3. Recognizing the Issue as an Opportunity for Intimacy and Teaching. “Reframe” is a powerful tool that allows one to shift a perception that is more negative to one that is more manageable and truthful. When parents can recognize a problem as a moment to really connect with your kid and share values, it allows a parent to approach the problem with gentleness and empathy for the pain the child is experiencing. Even if the child is causing pain to the parent through their choices, it is important for a parent to remember the bottom-line of any struggle is to connect and teach. 

4. Listen To Your Child Empathetically and Validating the Child’s Feelings. 

a. Fully listening to your child and taking the time to attend to the issue is crucial. “Listening means far more than collecting data with your ears. Empathetic listeners use their eyes to watch for physical evidence to their children’s emotions. They use their imaginations to see the situation from the child’s perspective. They use their words to reflect back, in a soothing, non-critical way, what they are hearing and to help their children label their emotions” (Gottman, p. 94). 

b. Time seems to be running shorter and shorter, but remembering “who you are and who you want to be as a parent,” could be helpful to give you the energy needed to take the time to work through the issue you with your child. Here are some process questions to help keep your emotions grounded during the conversation: 

i. Who do I want to be as a parent?
ii. What do I want to communicate to my kid?
iii. How am I doing on that goal right now?

5. Helping the Child Verbally Label Emotions. Aid kids in finding words to express what is going on internally. One can offer questions to help a child process what they are feeling. For example, “Are you saying that you feel upset because of….” There are two cautions to practicing procession questions. First of all, tone and motive are powerful notions to consider as one is engaging in helping a child label emotions. Children are quite sensitive to tone, and if a parent becomes angry during a conversation, the kid quickly moves to consider how to make the parent “un-mad” vs. actually thinking through the problem.  Secondly, consider if you are attempting to help a child explore his feelings or if you are trying to tell him how he ought to feel.  When your child is hurting, the last thing he/she wants to be told is how to feel, or should be feeling, or being told how to fix the problem. The goal of this step is simply listening and exploring the feelings and thoughts your child are experiencing. Before a child can take in helpful advice or even think about solutions, he/she needs a bit of space to process thoughts and feelings. 

6. Setting Limits while Helping The Child Problem-Solve. At the end of connecting with your child through the process, now is the time for limit setting, identifying goals, thinking of possible solutions, evaluating proposed solutions based on your family’s values, and helping your child choose a situation. 

a. Natural and Logical Consequences. Natural consequences are those that occur on their own. For example, a natural consequence for a student not studying is to fail a test. Logical  consequences are those given after an offense is made in a way that connects to the behavior/problem. For example, the natural consequence for stealing the car is the kid is no longer given permission to drive for a period of time. 

b. Punishment vs. Discipline. There is quite a difference between a parent punishing a child and a parent giving consequences for behavior. Punishment has to do with the past and is usually in form of debt that needs to be paid for an offense. The focus on punishment is on what you did wrong. Discipline shifts the focus from wrongdoing to learning by focusing on the future, not the past offense. Instead of the payment orientation, discipline allows for a range of consequences (either natural or logical) to take their course in order to teach. For example, for one kid, getting sent to the principal’s office has sent him so far over the edge emotionally that he will never do the same offense again because the natural consequence of going to the principal was so impacting. A parent in punishment mode would seek ways to have the child make up the debt of going to the principal’s office at home. On the other hand, a parent in discipline may be able to see that this particular kid in this particular situation has suffered enough in the range of consequences to ensure the learning occurred. Knowing your kid becomes highly important for this step.

c. Often times discipline moments will lead to teaching moments, in which the parent can take the opportunity to help their child learn from the mistake made through thinking. Since children have not mastered the skill of making decisions, it is helpful if a parent can help model this by working with the child through process questions, again being mindful of tone and motive. 

i.  What happened today?
ii.  How did you get yourself in that situation?
iii.  Do you see any ways that you could have handled the situation differently? (As your child offers other ideas process with them how those would have ended up, whether it is positive or negative).

d. At the end of the day, reconnect with your kid on what matters. “I love you, and you are good enough.” Kids need to know mistakes are ok to make because she can overcome them. The way to help model this for your kids is to drop the conversation when it is done, trusting that the kid has learned all he can for the moment, and knowing there very well may be a moment to relearn the same thing tomorrow.  

Resources:

  • Cline, F., & Fay, J. (2006). Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Colorado Spring, CO.
  • Gottman, J. (1997). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The heart of parenting. New York, NY.     

Other articles in the series…

  1. Finding your Identity separate from your kids
  2. Knowing yourself and knowing your kid
  3. Dissolving the power struggles at home
  4. Setting Limits     

Lindsey Saddock, Licensed Professional Counselor–Intern
Supervised by Leah W. McDill, Ph.D., LPC-S
Lindseysaddock@nlcc1.com
512-238-1700 ext. 317
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, October 3, 2013 | 0 comments

Connecting with Your Teen Part II: Holding Onto Yourself While Parenting

One of the most refining experiences that we undergo as humans is that of parenting. In the midst of hardship and struggles, it is easy to start internalizing the issues, which in turn only makes matters much worse, for you and the kid.     

Here are a few helpful tips to remember when you are facing the day of parenting that lies ahead. 

1.    Remember all the things that you are doing right as a parent. When trying times come our way, it is easy to forget the little things that are going well, and all of those little things do add up at the end of the day.  May I gently ask you a question? Are you doing everything that you can for your kid to provide for them, to support them, and to help them grow into helpful members of our society? If your answer is yes, then cut yourself a little slack. 

 2.    Think of life through the lens of a learner. There is never a moment in this life that you will “arrive,” to that fantastical place that you have dreamt as a parent, as a spouse, as a worker, or as a believer. Working daily as if there is an arrival goal tends to taint the present experience and blur our perception. Have you ever had a really small mistake blow up in your mind as an epic failure? Then like myself, you have been caught up in the sirens of perception. Perception with the lens of a learner is a potent and powerful gift to both self and to others. 

 3.    A kid’s mistakes and successes alike are the kid’s to own, not the parent. Parents have so much pressure on them to be the “perfect parent,” which is a lot to carry. Likewise, think about being the kid of a parent knowing your behavior is either going to make or break your parent’s day. There’s a bit too much responsibility that each party is carrying for the other. While the parent is taking too much responsibility for the kid to be successful, the kid in turn is taking too much responsibility for the happiness (or success) of the parent. Kids’ behaviors cannot be a source for parent’s self-esteem; rather a kid’s value is set in how they handle those mistakes and successes. Mistakes are not synonymous with failure. Your kid’s mistakes don’t mean that they will be a “failure” in life, nor does it mean that you “failed” as a parent. It just means they are doing what kids are meant to do, learn. 

4.    Your role is to navigate. Kids need good navigators in their lives who will help guide them through storms and turbulence that life rings. However, kids are not in need of having someone steer their ship for them. The role of a navigator is one of a wise consultant, ready to offer assistance to the captain at any time requested or even noting dangerous roads ahead in advance. The key here is the captain is still in charge of the ship. No matter how many warnings a navigator can give, it is ultimately up to the captain to avoid danger or determine the destination he desires to go. Same with your precious kids. The more one tries to override or over control the steering wheel, the more frustrated and exasperated your “little captains” will get. The best captains are ones who have honorable, enduring navigators.   Remembering these few items can be helpful in allowing you see a more manageable perspective to the day.   

Resources: Cline, F., & Fay, J. (2006). Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Colorado Spring, CO.   

Lindsey Saddock, Licensed Professional Counselor–Intern
Supervised by Leah W. McDill, Ph.D., LPC-S
Lindseysaddock@nlcc1.com
512-230-1700 ext. 317
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Thursday, September 5, 2013 | 0 comments

Connecting with your Teen Part I: Avoiding 3 Crucial Faux Pas by Lindsey Saddock, LPC Intern

The question parents often ask is, “How can I get my teen to talk to me about the important things?” Being a parent that your kid can talk to in times of rejoicing and in times of struggle is a challenge. Communication is a two way street, but there are things that you can do as a parent to inhibit and foster connection with your kids.   Taking the first step toward connection requires one to look internally to ensure that you are bringing helpful tools to the table. Kids are quite perceptive little guys, but often times what parents are trying to communicate can be completely misunderstood. There are a few hiccups that parents have fallen into that have inhibited a deep connection: 

 1.    taking too much responsibility

 2.     parenting out of control

 3.     having out-of-tune expectations    

There is a fine line between setting boundaries and taking too much responsibility for your kids. To offer an example, consider little Johnny in the 6th grade. He came home with a 55 on a test. A parent taking too much responsibility will either take on too much blame for the issue or place too much urgency on solving the kid’s problem for them. The more responsibility one takes for the mistakes of others, the less responsibility the other has to carry. A parent who is looking to share the responsibility will actively pursue ways to help his/her child come up with solutions to solve the problem at hand.   In this shift of responsibility, a parent will naturally make a shift of control. When control is shared in a parent-child relationship rather than hoarded or threatened, a child has less of a need to fight back for control.  When control is held captive on either the parent’s or the child’s side, a higher degree of conflict and frustration will ensue in the relationship. 

Lastly, a parent’s expectations play a crucial role in how kids react to certain issues. Going back to little Johnny: if a parent expects his/her kids to make mostly A’s, there is a bit of pressure that will fall on little Johnny to perform. Depending on how high the expectation is will determine the degree of pressure a kid will feel. Kids who are under performance models will do one of two things. They will either work hard yet never feel good enough, or they give up the fight and look seemingly unmotivated. Pressure is hard to handle for kids; and it makes it difficult for them to decide what they truly want for themselves. Their behavior simply becomes a reaction to the pressure rather than well thought out motivation.   Unwittingly and unknowingly these hiccups tend to communicate to kids: “You’re not good enough;” “You are a problem;” or “If you only did (blank) then we would be fine.” When parents help guide a child to own his part in responsibility, share control, and have appropriate expectations, it aids in the removal of misunderstood messages, leaving space for a genuine connection to be fostered. Connection begins with telling your kids what they are vs. what they aren’t. They crave to be told by their parents that they are loved and that they are indeed good enough.   With freedom comes a wealth of options to choose how to communicate this message to your kids. No one knows your kids better than you do. So, pull up a chair to the table of connection with them, awaiting their arrival.

Resources: Cline, F., & Fay, J. (2006). Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. Colorado Spring, CO.   Kerr, M. E., & Murray, B. (1988). Family Evaluation: An approach based on Bowen theory. New York, NY.

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Saturday, July 27, 2013 | 0 comments

Challenges of Intimacy with Anxiety in the Room by June Williams, LPC

No matter what stage a relationship is in the shared, intimate physical moments are impacted by a myriad of factors outside the bedroom. One major factor is anxiety and sensitivity to feedback from the partner. Romantic pictures of being enraptured and melting into one another can heap disappointment on a couple when these pictures are compared to the reality of the intimacy playing out on any regular Tuesday night. Each partner can gather so much positive and encouraging feedback about who he/she is, level of sexual and personal appeal, and even information about root value in the eyes of his/her partner. This has the potential to send a person's self-esteem through the roof; however it also has the power to crush the person if the feedback becomes negative or even neutral. This is the challenge of understanding one's "self" through the eyes of his/her partner. It is an absolutely natural way to gather information about one's "self", but it is unstable as a reflected sense of "self" (one that is based on the feedback of another) is susceptible to the whim, mood, and hang-up's of someone else. I call this being tethered to someone else's roller coaster. When you are being lifted up, admired, and encouraged it is heavenly; but it will never sustain at this level.  So, you must decide if the downside is really worth it.   

How do we find this playing out in intimacy? One opens up his/her most vulnerable self in times of intimacy and as anxiety increases, one partner's sensitivity to the feedback of the other heightens to powerful levels. She flinches at a certain touch, he seems distracted, she sighs that sigh that has an encrypted message, his touch isn't quite as tender as last time, she wants to do "that thing" that gets you feeling nervous and exposed, or he seems "out of sync" with you...and then the cascade begins. In a flash one gives each sign a meaning and it’s a meaning that probably isn't new to your relationship. "He never listens to me, he must not care" or "If she really loved me, she wouldn't ask me to do that", or "I wonder if he is still attracted to me? Things used to flow so easily.” These signs start to give us information about our core “self,” perhaps that we are not attractive, that we're not worthy of the other's love or care, or that we are desperate or needy. The shutdown process may start and one may end the sexual encounter promptly. Some might continue to engage sexually but stew over the broken connection with their partner and start a fight later; others might push harder to get positive feedback to re-establish a sense of “self” that is more comfortable, but the encounter has now transitioned from focus on individual and joined pleasure and connection to a zoomed-in picture of the flaws in one's self or his/her partner. Want another option? It may surprise you that leaning closer in to your partner may not be the answer and in fact will most likely only exacerbate the proliferation of "self" that is dependent upon the functioning of another. An alternative is to slow down and hold on to your "self". Dr. David Schnarch references this idea with the label of differentiation. He defines this as, "Your need to develop and preserve a solid sense of ‘self’ that will help you get closer to others. Think of differentiation as your ability to keep your emotional balance while interacting in important relationships" (Intimacy and Desire, 2009, pg. 86). This process is life-long and is certainly not a quick fi but it is valuable and powerful. Start by becoming aware of your own anxiety and discomforts, then comes the hard work of soothing your own “self” (and not depending on the affirmation and reassurance of another). This process might just open you up to opportunities of closeness and intimacy that are unfettered and pure in a new and exciting way! One can give up the Hollywood version of passion and trade it in for a more satisfying outcome. 


June Williams, Licensed Professional Counselor

junewilliams@nlcc1.com  (512)238-1700 ext. 320


  
Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, May 24, 2013

Infidelity and Marriage

Statistics show that one in every four marriages is impacted by infidelity.  The Journal of Psychology and Christianity reports that 65% of men and 55% of women will be sexually unfaithful by the age of 40.  With numbers like these, chances are you or someone you know will experience the pain of betrayal that comes with marital infidelity. When one is confronted with the knowledge that his/her partner has been emotionally or physically unfaithful, often the immediate response is shock and numbness.  But once the initial response has worn off many hurt spouses deal with a whole range of emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, guilt, loneliness, shame, embarrassment, confusion, and isolation, just to name a few.  The hurt spouse often finds him/herself on an emotional roller coaster. 

Once a betrayal has been discovered or disclosed the hurt spouse may find his/her anxiety triggered, which may throw him or her into a “survival mode”.  Survival mode can manifest as trying to save the marriage or family.  Specifically, the hurt spouse may begin to try to manage the unfaithful partner’s behavior by checking emails, texts, secretly following him/her, etc.  An easy belief is that “everything will be okay if only the affair will end.”  Shockingly, the affair is the symptom to an even bigger issue.  Working to “fix” someone else is not only impossible, it is not helpful toward healing.  The real value comes with the hurt spouse working on his/her own recovery, regardless of the hope for the marriage, or lack of.  Recovery is a process that takes time.  The intense pain often fuels the hurt spouse’s attempt to rush the process, or “sweep the problem under the rug” in order to get back to what seems “normal”.  In affair recovery circles, we call that “pretend normal.”  A crisis typically yields two paths:  a) following one’s emotional guidance system, or b) a rational/logical path.  If the hurt spouse becomes emotionally reactive and spiraling into destructive anger, this is a sign that the emotional guidance system has taken over.  When one can learn to manage his/her anxiety enough to stay within rational thought, they may begin to navigate this crisis by asking questions like, “What do I do next?  Do I want to seek counseling or go to a marriage intensive?  Which books might be helpful?”  Rational and clear thinking is a great start down the road to recovery.             

Deana Reed, Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern      supervised by Leah W. McDill, Ph.D., LPC-S                                                                                      deanareed@nlcc1.com   512-238-1700 ext. 318

    

Posted by New Life Counseling Center NLCC at Friday, April 26, 2013

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