In general, how much do we owe people? How much of our lives do we owe to other people? And by other people I mean other adults that we have options of being around and with on a regular basis. As a counselor and a friend, I often hear folks complain about this person or that person who is wasting their time or a drain on their joy. I inevitably come back to the question of how much of our numbered days do we owe other people. I don’t believe in human debt so I would say that we don’t owe other people our days at all. But rather are completely in charge of how we choose to cash them in.
What types of people like to push the notion that we owe them our time and attention? Almost about 100% of the time it is people who embody the take, take, take mentality. They take just as much as people around them are willing to give and then demand some more. Demands can be aggressive in their presentation but most often they are agonizingly passive-aggressive. These individuals utilize what Dr. Susan Forward refers to as the FOG – fear, obligation and/or guilt to hold other people emotionally captive. If you have not read Dr. Forward’s book “Emotional Blackmail” I highly recommend it. It is a great read to spot and correct the situation when someone in your life truly believes he or she is entitled to your days and you are in human debt to them. Just to note as well, that emotional blackmail happens to the strongest of men and women. Often their sense of responsibility, loyalty and service is abused (and yes that is the correct word) by a manipulator to get life to be exactly as they want it. So don’t get too bogged down in the idea that in order to have been emotionally manipulated by someone close to you that you must be a weak push over. That’s simply not the case. The manipulator knows you well so they know exactly which button to push to get the results that are desired.
Now back to this concept of human debt. This idea that our days are our own to manage and spend as we see fit is not a license for irrational living. We have commitments to people that should and must be met when we can do so in a way that doesn’t leave us a “supporting actor in someone else’s life” (Dr. Forward again. I really like her books so check them out if you haven’t done so yet). There’s a depressing thought though; taking on a supporting role to someone who has no real deep interest in the quality of our life and well-being. If that’s how little they truly care for us, why in the world would we owe them anything, let alone our life.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have been paying the high price of human debt to a taker type person or persons, don’t lose heart. Start carving out your own space in life to do the things you enjoy and that feed your soul. The more you do this, the quicker balance is likely to come to your lopsided relationship(s).
This is a good time to sit back and pause for a moment. Are there people or one person that you have consciously or subconsciously been believing that you owe your life to and are therefore in debtors prison to their aggressive or passive-aggressive demands?
Have you ever met a Drama Fly? You know, the type of people that buzz around creating drama where ever they land? These flies might be whizzing around the proverbial water-cooler at work or lazily hanging on the fence chatting it up with a neighbor or click-clacky talking on their cell phones. Their sole mission is to stir up drama because they can’t live without it. Life becomes too peaceful or stable and POOF! Off to flight they go to drop nuggets of word-goo at just the right time in order to set into motion a series of events that will get their blood pumping just a little (or a lot) faster.
Isn’t everyone in pursuit of a quiet peaceful life? Nope. That type of existence simply doesn’t work for some individuals. They are not to be demonized here but rather we are to gain a better insight into their actions and motives so we can avoid getting caught in their webs (if flies created webs, that is, but you get my point).
Drama flies. They can’t sit still long enough to allow their heart rate to lower to a nice rhythmic pulse. That’s super duper uncomfortable for these folks. Only in drama and chaos do they feel truly alive. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of starting a good war between people or maybe it’s the power that comes from flicking the first domino and watching the rest fall at their own touch. There are as many reasons why they do what they do, as there are flies out there in your world and mine.
So what is a person who doesn’t like drama supposed to do? Recognize the flies for what they are. We don’t necessarily always have the luxury of bringing out a very large fly swatter and taking care of the problem. We often can’t just cut off contact with people who create drama (fly swatter example) so instead we have to recognize when they start to hover and are looking for a place to land and vomit their gossip. Drama flies love gossip. They also love embarrassing other people or trying to ever so casually interject a backhanded put down. Maybe they think we don’t see it and sometimes we don’t, but often we do. I think we almost always feel it though. We may feel slightly more aggravated after we come in contact with them. If we can’t use a swatter and get away, bug repellent is a good idea. That comes in the form of not taking the bait the next time we are invited into drama. Laugh it off, talk about something else or simply choose to not take to heart what the drama fly is saying are all ways we can repel the efforts to suck us in.
We must always remember that not everyone wants an authentic life so we have to be aware that statistics would tell us that we are very likely to come into contact with a drama fly sooner than later.
Do you know who the drama fly is in your life?
People often ask me that as a therapist, what “issues” do I specialize in for counseling. My honest answer is that I don’t really specialize in any one topic but rather work with clients who are facing a variety of life experiences; both past and present. Now with that said, I do happen to see a lot of clients who are trying to manage chronic anxiety.
Like all therapists, I have my own beliefs about what works and what doesn’t work in treating the type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to completely go away when life circumstances change. Just about everyone has experienced brief moments or a season where anxiety was present and when the situations were different, the anxiety faded. There are, however, many folks who must learn to manage anxiety as the go-to response their nervous system chooses on a regular basis. To those people I say, you are not alone. Many of us have anxiety as the thorn in our flesh, so to speak, and we must learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage us. Everyone has a portal that stress shows itself and for some people, it’s anxiety. For other people, it might be anger or depression or isolation or a combination of a few. But put a person under prolonged stress and everyone will have an unwanted coping skill that pops out.
For those of us that have anxiety as our mechanism of letting off too much emotional pressure, I have a few suggestions that I think really help to keep our internal rubber-band from getting too stretched and leading to a snap of anxious feelings.
If you find yourself dealing with anxiety on a regular basis, consider whether you are implementing a few of these ideas:
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
It is a must for a chronically anxious person. There are all sorts of good physiological changes that take place during and after exercise that aid in decreasing anxiety symptoms. If you are a science nerd (and nerds are awesome, I consider myself one actually) you can do a simple Google search and find a truck load of research that supports this belief. I have to say though, that exercise to reduce anxiety should be done in a simple, fun and engaging manner. If you hate swimming (which I happen to) then please do not go swim to help with your anxiety. It will only make things worse by creating frustrations. But please do find something that you hate less than some other form of exercise and stick with it! We don’t have to become a gym rat in order to gain the benefits of exercise for our anxiety. A thirty minute walk, three times a week, on a treadmill or elliptical or outside could do wonders for lowering anxiety naturally.
Stay Clear Of Rude, Draining, Selfish or Otherwise Negative People
I know this might be easier said than done, especially if said awful person or people are co-workers or family and you don’t feel you can stay clear of them. But when and where you can disconnect from toxic people, please do so. Spending time with individuals that create drama or just have a negative mindset will cause us more anxiety and our nervous systems just don’t need any additional help in this way. Setting boundaries and letting relationships go can be hard but in the long run, you and I will experience a lowering of annoyance chemicals and that’s always a good thing! Now, for those people we wish we could steer clear of but can’t, we need strategies for how we are going to take care of ourselves so that their issues don’t become ours. There are several great books out there to help on the subject and counseling is also very useful for sorting through the options of setting limits and taking care of ourselves.
See Your Doctor and Get A Physical
There are surprisingly many health issues (and not just the big scary ones) that can cause symptoms of anxiety so it’s super important that we are up-to-date with our physicals and have scheduled blood work drawn. Issues related to thyroid, low/high blood sugars, inner ear issues, allergies, dehydration and a bunch of other treatable medical conditions can make our anxiety symptoms worse or even be the cause of them.
Eat, Sleep and Drink Water
To know me is to know I love coffee. To know me even more, is to know I love Dunkin Donuts coffee. Since my own nervous system likes anxiety, I have learned that I can’t OD on coffee or I feel awful. Same goes for sugar. If I really want to make myself feel miserable, having really high sugar desserts like eating a whole donut or piece of cake will surely give me a lingering sick feeling. What we eat is really what we feel. Eat junk, feel like junk. So those who deal with chronic anxiety, need to understand the cause and effect of diet on our nervous system. Sleep is critically important and a lot of people report an increase in anxiety symptoms after they have been burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle! Dehydration is also a cause of symptoms for some folks so start carrying water and keep yourself hydrated; especially with the summer months approaching.
Be Honest With Yourself and Others
I often say that feelings are like Jello, you can push it down but it will squirt out somewhere. We can deny our feelings and ignore them for only so long before they make an appearance and want to be dealt with and this is especially true for those of us who have experienced chronic anxiety. Now, this doesn’t give us license to be overly blunt or rude in the name of lowering OUR stress levels. But it should encourage us to first be honest with ourselves about our thoughts and feelings. Lying to ourselves is a really dangerous habit to form and we often will employ less than stellar coping skills in order to mask and numb our true feelings. Instead, be brave and be honest within your own thoughts. Then find a trusted friend and confidante to share those thoughts with and release the burden of carrying them alone. Many people I see in the office say they like coming to counseling because it provides a very safe place to say anything and not be judged or told thoughts are “wrong”. We all need that level of authenticity in our lives.
There are probably half a dozen additional suggestions of how to overcome chronic anxiety but I just wanted to share a few today. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope you will implement some new things now and remember, that doing something one day doesn’t bring about change. It must become a lifestyle shift to truly be free from anxiety.
What do you need to do today to lower your anxiety?
Some of you may remember that several years ago I went on a four day silent retreat and came back raving about how wonderful it was and how everyone should immediately go on a silent retreat themselves. Well, I went again last Thursday through Sunday and I am back once again proclaiming that it’s a must do item on all To-Do lists.
I pondered what I should write about regarding the experience of entering into a silent retreat and what might be helpful information to share. I think the thing that stands out as the most powerful for me during this retreat was the personal journey I went on from the time I arrived Thursday at 5pm until I left Sunday at 11:30am. I will tell you, it was quite the ride.
I originally decided to go on another retreat because, well frankly, I was tired. Yes, even therapists get burning the candle at both ends and we fizzle out just like all other humans. It might even be more embarrassing when a therapist hits the ditch energy wise because we should know better but it happens nonetheless. So I arrived on Thursday late afternoon and during the evening dinner, retreat participants are still allowed to talk and the ladies I sat with were very friendly and very chatty. Both of which I was not feeling at the moment. Ever feel that way? I went on the retreat by myself on purpose. Sure, everyone goes silent after the evening meal on Thursday until lunch on Sunday but I still really needed to be in my own skin so to speak and therefore I went on the retreat without a group of friends. Me, myself and I were it.
Once I made it through the very animated dinner conversation, to which I smiled, nodded a lot and tried to keep my exhausted head down, we all went to the small chapel on the retreat property to start the first of several short discussions that would take place throughout the four days. The chapel was hot, humid and slightly crowded. Add that to my exhaustion and it wasn’t a good combination. Wham!! Full blow anxiety hit me right there and then. What?! I am a therapist, I shouldn’t feel panic attacks! What? I am in CHURCH (well, a small chapel but the same thing) I shouldn’t feel panic! What?! I AM ON RETREAT! I should most definitely not be feeling anxiety. For those of us who know what anxiety and panic attacks feel like, we know what to do when they arrive – unwelcomed. I used all the coping skills I teach clients and sure enough, the wave washed away and the panic was gone. But the disappointment remained. It’s disappointing to realize that our bodies have to shout to get our attention.
After chapel, I made my way to my very small, very simple room that would become my sanctuary for the next few days. I was so revved up from being busy for months straight and the extra adrenaline pumping from the wave of anxiety that I was in no mood to be quiet or just sit and read. Luckily I had packed some technological “contraband” into the retreat in the form a portable DVD player and an Academy Award nominated movie. Snuggled in bed with my headphones (so as to not disturb my other dorm neighbors who were actually being silent) and the movie was really good entertainment. Day one of the retreat in the books and a panic attack added to it.
I awoke on Friday to the sound of the bell being rung outside that is intended to gently awaken the retreat participants. I had slept great and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep, so that’s exactly what I did. I ate breakfast, went back to my room and slept. Got up for lunch and then back for more quality time with my pillow. Got up for dinner and then returned for another great night of sleep. I did attend one of the retreat discussions on Friday but I was still in a sleepy haze so I couldn’t really tell you what was discussed but I am sure it had to do with God and prayer and being silent enough to hear Him. The silent retreat I chose to go to was at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House. I am not Catholic but the staff said it didn’t matter and I had already attended one there before and knew first hand what a wonderful experience it was going to be. We all were there to get quiet enough to listen again.
With Friday being an eating sleeping blur, I didn’t really get much “accomplished” in the way of praying and mediating as I had hoped but I knew until I was more rested, I probably wouldn’t be hearing much in the way of spiritual things anyways.
Awoke Saturday to the pleasant dinging of the bell and as soon as I opened my eyes, I knew I was more rested. There hadn’t really been anything in particular that had drained my energy, other than the normal grind we all do between work and home and hobbies and friends and family and exercise and getting to a never ending To-Do list and so on. My love of reading after the house is all quiet for the evening probably strongly contributed to the level of exhaustion I felt and that habit was something I realized would have to change post-retreat.
So here came Saturday in all its beauty. I started noticing the birds chirping throughout the property, the small little flowers starting to bloom in the early Spring warming air and I felt more like my normal self. Clear headed and ready to get to the business for which I went on the retreat: gaining new insight and wisdom from getting quiet enough to hear again. Saturday was a beautiful day in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and I enjoyed every sun shining moment. I spent a considerable amount of time sitting in front of this fountain on the property.
The sound of the water and watching the fish swim was very peaceful and relaxing.
Slowly I began to pray and mediate on some questions I needed answers to and the solutions began to formulate in my mind. This was exactly what I had hoped the silent retreat would provide me. By Saturday at 5pm, I was back in my room and honestly, getting a little bored. I felt more rested, received a few key nuggets of wisdom and was ready to sleep in my own bed at home again. Oh, here, let me share with you what my dorm accommodations looked like:
Nothing fancy, right? Nope. But the dorms do have private baths and you don’t share with a roommate so I was fine. This small space became a cocoon to help me get away from the hustle of every day life. Back to Saturday at 5pm and I was ready to ditch the silent retreat a day early. Luckily I felt too lazy at that moment to pack all my stuff up and make the hour drive home because it was precisely that evening and Sunday morning that my “breakthrough” happened. If I had left early, I would have totally and completely missed the gift that was mine to be received.
Saturday evening and Sunday morning were times of making decision trees. By this I mean that I was rested enough and had prayed enough and read a fantastic book to help me gain new wisdom and I was ready to make a plan. I wrote out a decision tree for several key areas of my life. If this happened, then my next course of action would be that and so on. Saturday night I devoured the book I was reading and was in a ton of gratitude for the insight I was receiving. I slept great that evening too.
I woke up Sunday to the all now familiar bell awakening the participants. I packed to get ready to venture back out into the real world and wham! No, not another panic attack but my first chance to implement one of my new decision tree items. With a course mapped out before me, my decision was already made. I put it into place and knew it was the right thing. Coincidentally (and I don’t think it was a coincidence at all) I had taken with me three silver necklace pendants that were symbolic of something important to me. After the implementation of my first decision tree item, I walked to the end of the pier, said a simple “Thank you and Goodbye” and threw the three pendants into the lake. It was extremely freeing to watch them disappear into the water.
As I finished packing my car of my weekend belongings and drove off the retreat property, I knew I had left something on the campus. Not only was it the three pendants now in Lake Lewisville, but I left behind more than that; I left my tiredness, and anxiety. I gained sleep, peace of mind, implementation of a decision and excitement about the other decision trees I have yet to put into place but plan on as the right season shows itself.
I highly recommend a time of getting away from the noise of life and our own voices. As a quote I saw recently said “Get quiet enough so that you can really listen.” I wholeheartedly agree. Shhhh…..
…telling people to just pray more or have more quiet time. It’s finding patterns & solutions to real life issues” – SCC tweet/facebook post 03/08/14
I honestly wondered how this Tweet and Facebook post that I did would be received. I wondered if I would get angry comments and emails telling me that prayer and quiet times solve all human problems and that there is no need for professional training when working with people in counseling. I am happy to say that the feedback has been overwhelming and all positive. I guess there are a few others out there that feel the same way I do about what Christian counseling should be and perhaps what it shouldn’t be.
I chose to send out the post via social media because it’s really at the heart of why I opened Southlake Christian Counseling and the driving force behind everything we continue to do today. Far too many people have wandered into our office looking for some solid encouragement and professional counseling, after having experienced guilt, shame and honestly not very helpful advice that was under the umbrella of “Christian counseling.” Churches are notorious for providing peer or pastoral support and calling it counseling, but it really isn’t. Now there are fabulous faith-based programs going on out there. But the minute it is called counseling or attempts to address issues that are better suited for a trained mental health professional, that’s where some trouble can and does start.
There are many great resources right here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and across the country that are truly operating out of a grace-filled perspective and provide quality professional counseling services. I by no means believe we alone have the market cornered in this area. What I also know is that real damage has been done and continues to be done in God’s name. With this in mind, I want to share what I believe Christian counseling should be and what should be red flags that it might not be a safe emotional environment.
Let’s start with just a few things that reflect my opinions…
1) Quality professional Christian counseling should be between clients and a licensed mental health provider. The only true way to call it “counseling” is if the provider is licensed within the state they practice. There are laws governing confidentiality and standards that licensed folks must adhere to or they lose their licenses. Plan and simple. These are safe-guards for the clients. If you go speak about very personal and intimate issues with a peer “counselor” or a pastor, they are NOT legally required to keep what you said confidential. Now they might, but they are not legally bound to do so like a therapist. Kind of scary to me honestly. I have heard story after story of people sharing their hearts and burdens to only find out that information was shared with others and it spread around a ministry, church or community.
2) The biases of the therapist should be checked at the door. By this I mean that the therapist is to act as a mirror, reflecting back what the client is saying and presenting. Christian therapists can share what they believe to be helpful but ultimately it is up to the client to decide what is right for him or her. This is not at all usually the case with peer or pastoral counseling. It is often a place of clear biases and opinions about the “correct” course of action a person should take. Peers and pastors are not trained in the deeper understandings of human behaviors, psychology and the inner workings of patterns that humans take in their lives. Therefore, majority of the time (not all but majority) they are ill-equipped to help people figure out the pattern, let alone a lasting solution. Temporary fixes don’t count.
3) Christian counseling should always reflect the character traits Jesus represented when he was here; grace, hope, compassion, equality between the genders, encouragement, bearing one another’s burdens, joining together as community, not judging others but taking care of our own hang-ups before we even attempt to point out others (which we are never done dealing with our own junk so I have to believe that Jesus might have been trying to make that point but I could be wrong) and the list goes on and on.
4) Christian counselors should not give up on people. I know it happens but it’s wrong. Now there are times that we need to refer to another therapist because our skill set and training isn’t helping unlock what needs to be dealt with but we always (and are required by our licensing boards) help clients get with another therapist. We don’t discard people. I am grieved every time another new client shares that they were told not to come back somewhere else. I will say it again, licensed counselors can not just give up on people.
5) Professional Christian counselors should NOT point to the Bible and say “well, I have told you what it says, you are not following it so you’re in rebellion. I don’t see a need to meet anymore, until you get right with God.” ACK! That’s horrible to say to someone. Professional counselors are trained to walk through barriers with people and not allow our own lack of patience get in the way. I honestly have heard people say this to folks who have come to them for help. Trust me when I say it happens and often. It’s wounding and harmful to people. Professional Christian counselors work with folks while they figure out the barriers to living the type of lives they say they want to live. We don’t, or shouldn’t, just point at the Bible and go “It’s in there, follow it.” This does happen too.
There are many other things to discuss regarding Christian counseling and it’s place in the world but I just wanted to touch on a few things today. Why did I chose to write about this topic now? I heard, yet again, about a person having been told by a different Christian counselor previous to me that if only she prayed more, she wouldn’t need counseling. Ouch and yuck. How damaging to tell someone.
It is high time the face of Christian counseling changes and we are doing our little part in the world to see that it happens. I want to pause here and say that if you have experienced some of the negative things I have talked about, while trying to get help from a ministry, church or a therapist who advertised as being a Christian counselor, let me say on behalf of them that I am very sorry. I am sorry that you walked in with hope that you would be understood, helped and accepted but walked out feeling very different than those things. It truly was not about you but that other person and their personal limitations. There are good resources out there so try again and my desire would be that you find what you were originally looking for; which was probably grace and solutions to real life issues.