A few months ago, I was the presenter for a morning training and it was my plan to have fresh coffee and donuts when the attendees arrived. The day before, I had stopped into the donut store and placed my order. It was the final task on my presentation To-Do list and with that completed, I felt fully ready for the next day.
The morning of the presentation had gone smooth; until I arrived at 7am to get the coffee and sweet treats. Not only had my order from the afternoon before not been prepared for me to swing by and grab on my way to the presentation, but my order couldn’t be found anywhere. To top off the situation, the coffee shop was hopping busy. The drive-thru was swarming with cars and inside, the lobby was full of sleepy people waiting for their jolt of coffee and sugar to start their Wednesday morning.
When it was my turn at the counter and the manager realized that my order had not been completed, she did her best to suppress her own annoyance and promised to have it ready as quickly as possible. For the next forty minutes (yes, forty) I stood back and watched her and the other staff members move at lighting speed but only every so often, did anyone stop to work on my order. I normally would have become agitated by a situation like this but I could clearly see with my own eyes that they simply had too much to do to give my order the attention it needed.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, I positioned myself closer to the counter where the manager could keep a view of me waiting. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I just knew that if I continued to fade out of her sight, I might run the risk of having to leave for the presentation without coffee or donuts. What she couldn’t see, she seemed to not be giving her attention to. She dealt with the tasks that were right in front of her eyes.
As I stood there watching the clock tick closer to the start time of my presentation and seeing the donut shop staff scramble to meet everyone’s needs, I knew there were some great life lessons to be gleamed from the situation.
How often do we get so busy doing the tasks at hand that we literally have no time for the additional things that are thrown on our plate? How often do we only give attention to the tasks that are right in front of our faces and ignore those we can ignore? How often do we put out fires rather than plan ahead so that our stress levels can stay lower?
When we cram our schedules with no time margins, we do ourselves a terrible disservice. I am as guilty as the next busy person in this area. As I write this, I am not just hoping others can sit back and reflect, but I plan to as well.
What are some practical things that we can do to help create time margins in our lives so that we are not too busy to respond to the unexpected hiccups in our schedules or even great things that might pop up?
1) We have to plan ahead for disruptions:
That morning at the donut shop, my stress level did not go as high as it would have if I had given myself my normal 10 minutes to do anything. See, I have this weird internal theory that most things will only take me 10 minutes to complete. I am usually wrong and it ends up leaving me a few minutes behind. But not this day. The day of the presentation I gave myself a huge (by my standards) margin of time and guess what? I needed every minute. The donut shop disruption was annoying but not a schedule changer. It was only that way because I had planned for unseen disruptions of some sort.
2) We don’t have to be busy every minute of every day:
For those of us who enjoy a productive life, leaving margin in our schedule feels weird and like we are not maximizing every moment to its fullest potential. In reality, when we are not busy every minute of the day, we are allowing the space to be available for that phone call we really want to enjoy or an unexpected quiet moment that gives our spirit some rejuvenation. Not having a schedule that is maxed out every single day allows us the opportunity to get to the “next order” and perhaps, that may be something really special. How sad would it be to miss it because we just flew by on our way to the next thing on our daily list.
3) We have to figure out what are the important things in our lives and what are just good things:
Being able to decipher between great projects and merely good projects is critical to living a high quality life that still has margin. There are so many wonderful things to get involved in and to be a part of but if we want to have enough time for the next order when it comes up, we have to get clear about our priorities. If you find yourself (as I often do) with too full of a schedule, let’s both take the time this week and make a Priority List. I am not just talking about the basics that include family and friends. We all know those have to be on the list. I am talking about a list at a much deeper level.
We can ask ourselves where we want to be in the next year, three years, five years and ten years. If we could have anything, what do we want our lives to look like? From that time of productive day-dreaming, let’s backtrack all the way to today. What steps do we need to take right now in order to get us pointed in the right direction of where we hope to be? With that in mind, we can better learn to say no to the people and projects that don’t help us stay on course to living a life we find enriching and peaceful.
I hope you enjoy this exercise of day-dreaming and then putting in to place the small daily steps that will get you where you want to be or maintain the course you have already started. Not everyone needs a huge re-direct. Many of us have done these types of exercises before and we are headed in the right direction. Even then, we must guard our schedule and energy level so that we don’t get derailed by excessive and unproductive busyness.
Do you have time in your daily schedule for the next order that might come up? If not, what can you do to change the situation?
I was recently contacted and asked to share my thoughts on how a Christian is supposed to deal with narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. To some it may seem like an odd request but actually it isn’t at all. One area of my counseling practice is specializing in recovery from toxic relationships and believe me when I say that trying to have a normal relationship with a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath is anything BUT normal. The Hollywood version of how a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath behaves often confuses people and it is after much psychological abuse that someone comes to realize that they were in fact in a very toxic relationship. I think it’s important to know what these relationships look like and there is a great book called “Psychopath Free” by Peace. Here is a link to my book review – “Psychopath Free”.
The topic of how a Christian is supposed to deal with being in a relationship with a very emotionally unhealthy and unsafe person is important because it highlights many significant pitfalls. The reason this becomes an issue is due to the fact that biblical teaching is often taken out of context and used to justify and enable bad behaviors in people. For decades, women who were being physically, emotionally, sexually and psychologically abused by men in their lives were told by pastors that it was their duty to make it work at home and to cook better meals or do other tasks in order to please abusive men. This thinking has permeated church culture. Although nowadays no church in the country would allow a pastor to preach from the pulpit that domestic violence is acceptable, I assure you that individual pastors are still counseling female parishioners that they as women need to bring peace to the home. How do I know this is still happening? I often end up seeing these ladies for counseling. They walked into a pastor’s office with the problem of domestic abuse and came out with the same problem and another one added: it’s their responsibility to fix the abuse by being a better girlfriend, wife or daughter.
This history of placing the blame on the woman when abuse is present has contributed to some Christian women feeling as if they can not set healthy boundaries with men who end up being narcissistic, sociopathic or psychopathic. Now, I should pause here and say that I know men meet, date and sometimes marry narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths and the damage done is just as intensely painful for these men. The question asked of me was about Christians in particular and I do strongly believe that women have been taught to overlook and put up with abuse in ways that Christian men collectively have not. I could be wrong but it’s just my experience of being a Christian for over twenty years and having been actively involved in churches and previously on ministry staff.
What are Christians supposed to do when interacting with toxic people? I think remembering a few key points is very helpful.
A Tree and Its Fruit
Matthew 7:17 says that we will know a good tree by its fruit and a diseased tree by the fruit it bears. If you find yourself in a toxic relationship but are having trouble with setting what you know to be healthy boundaries, think about the fruit of your interactions with the abusive person. Do you feel anxious, not like your normal self, depressed or like you are living in a chaotic emotional tornado? Is that good or bad fruit? We both know the answer to that question and it’s bad fruit. Bad fruit produced by a bad tree.
God Will Change Him/Her
No, He won’t. Sorry to be so short and blunt about it but God will not change a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. How do I know this to be true? Because I have never, not once, ever, never seen someone changed by God who didn’t want to be changed. Think about it for a minute. Has anyone ever gone to bed a complete high-grade jerk and woke up radically transformed into the loving image of Jesus? Nope. Now I have seen a whole lot of people do a whole lot of praying and soul searching and surrendering and the such and then became completely new people. It’s actually one of my favorite things about the blessings of God. Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths don’t think there is anything wrong with them. It’s part of their disordered thinking that convinces them everyone else is wrong. They are incapable of change. Speaking of change, go ahead and take a look at my blog about the Four Levels Of Change. Don’t believe me? Think about a clinically narcissistic person and the truly positive lasting change that occurred within them. Can’t think of any? Neither can I and I am a therapist.
As Christians, we have to remember that scripture says that God is a gentleman and will go where He is welcomed. He doesn’t kick down doors to get to people who feel they have no need for Him. So if you’re staying stuck in a toxic situation with a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath and waiting for God to instantly change him or her, you are seriously wasting months if not years of your life. This thinking is a trap and can become a prison cell in which people stay self-imposed.
I Need To Lead Him /Her To Christ
When the topic of setting boundaries with toxic people comes up, I often hear Christians say that they are concerned about turning their backs on someone because they see it as their duty to lead that person to God. If someone is an evangelical Christian and believes that introducing a non-believer to God is their calling, then I can completely understand the pressure these people feel in cutting ties with unsaved toxic people. If you’re a predestination person, that pressure is different but still a difficult situation.
Whether a person is evangelical or not, staying safe and not becoming a door mat is vitally critical to our own well being. Once we lose our joy and our hope and our peace, we certainly can’t share those beautiful attributes with other people. If the narcissist, sociopath or psychopath in your life is causing or has caused you to be less sparkly than you once were, how can you expect to live the life you were given as a gift?
When Christians say that they don’t want to set needed boundaries because they are giving up on someone, I gently remind them that they are being a titch egocentric to think that they and they alone are only who God can use to bring change into the toxic person’s life. We have to be very careful when lies start whispering that we must be the one who brings truth to a narcissist, sociopath or psychopath. When we start thinking this way, we have enslaved ourselves to more abuse in all its various forms.
If you are a Christian and in a toxic relationship, ask yourself what fruit is this relationship bringing to your life. Good fruit or poisoned fruit? Remind yourself that people only change when they see a need and are willing to change. Lastly, you are not the only person on the planet who God can use to reach toxic people.
Does a particular toxic person come to mind and what boundaries do you need to set in order to fully enjoy your life again?
The Dallas/Fort Worth area has been blanketed in ice, snow and general winter misery. Well, at least to me it’s miserable. To know me personally is to know that I am Ms. Productive. I don’t sit around easily or frequently. I enjoy staying busy with activities that keep me entertained and very seldom do I ever experience boredom. It’s just how I am hard-wired.
So, what happens when the temperatures plummet, the roadways are treacherous (by Texas standards) and basically everything shuts down for a few days? We all become PJ wearing, sweet treat baking, lazy bums! For the first 12 hours, I was thrilled to be housebound and had no one expecting anything different from me. As the cold temps lingered for days and more ice, sleet and eventually snow arrived to the region, I felt something strange and not very pleasant come upon me. I slowly became unmotivated and when I heard myself say “I’ll get to that later,” I knew I was getting into a loop of laziness.
In the days of ice and snow, I had lost count of the number of cat naps I took. It seemed to become a perpetual cycle of television, eating and sleeping. The more time that went by that I did nothing productive, the more I didn’t want to do anything productive. I normally enjoy exercise and since I had not done so in many days, with a lot of sitting around happening, my entire body started to ache and that made me not want to move at all. What was happening to me?! Again, this is so radically out of character, that it really caught my attention and started me thinking about the cycles that we each can fall into without even noticing it.
Finally by day three of the winter mix, the roads cleared enough for me to venture back out into the world and return to my normal vibrant life pace. I felt fabulous moving again and no longer was my body full of soreness and my mind falling into perpetual procrastination mode. I was very happy to quickly shake off the cabin fever and get back to my normal self. In doing so, I went back to work and it’s funny how many folks I spoke with that had noticed themselves being a dysfunctional looping or cycle of some kind.
Sometimes our cycles look like lack of productivity and the less we do, the less we have energy to do. Maybe our cycles are related to food. The more we eat and fill ourselves with bad food choices, the more bogged down we feel and the less motivated we are to get to the gym or make healthy choices. Perhaps we feel anxious and we overindulge in alcohol but because alcohol is a depressant, our anxiety symptoms worsen so we drink more and there goes the never ending cycle.
If you find yourself in a loop or cycle that you recognize as unhealthy, my suggestion is to detox from whatever it is that has you in a vicious loop. If it’s not being productive, turn off the computer, turn off the television or whatever else is distracting you and get moving. Make a list of the things that need to get done and go do them. Period. No excuses. Just get them done. Detox from those things that distract you and commit to taking a 24, 48 or 72 hour break just to get out of the trap of the cycle.
Same suggestion goes for any other cycle that you find yourself in. Over eating? Go on a clean eating plan for three days and break out of the loop. Over indulging in alcohol? Stop drinking for three days and see how you feel. Let yourself detox a little and you might be surprised to see what the experience is like for you.
If you find yourself not able to stick to walking away from the television, computer, over-sleeping, eating or drinking, let that serve as a red flag that you might have developed an unhealthy dependency. These are the times when meeting with a professional counselor comes in handy. We are trained to help people break life style habits that are no longer serving them in a positive way.
Are you in a never ending cycle that you want to change?
Counseling clients talk about wanting to move forward in some area of their lives; that’s why they chose to take the time and invest financially into figuring out some things for themselves. Life is complicated and many people get tired of feeling like they are burdening their family and friends with conversations about the same areas of needed growth. Finding a counselor that someone feels very comfortable with and has similar views on life can be a huge help to moving forward.
I will say it again, life is complicated. One of the areas that seems to stumble a lot of people is sorting through competing feelings. Our opinions and emotional ties to one topic can have several different, often opposing, viewpoints. I see many clients who come into the office to talk about relationships. These are sometimes romantic but they are often also relationships with family members, co-workers or friends. People get tripped up when, within their own minds, they can’t sort out what they are feeling because there are so many different thoughts, like a bunch of bubbles floating through the air.
To really grasp this idea, either take a good look at the picture above or better yet, go get some bubbles and blow some. Really look at the perfectly round, self-contained circles as they catch the breeze. They are not dependent on one another. Each one is completely autonomous unto themselves. Our feelings are often like this and we can have all these different bubbles of emotions and thoughts happening within us at any given time. When working with clients, I try to normalize the bubble experience and help clients be more comfortable with the feelings within themselves.
As an example, someone could believe that the time might be right to end a relationship. That client may have very different reasons that led them to this moment in time and more than likely, they ping-pong back and forth to all the different “bubbles.” One bubble might be that they have been in the relationship for a long time and therefore have much invested into the relationship working out for the long haul. But the bubble right next to that one is full of sadness because they feel overall very disappointed in the genuine connection within the relationship. Another bubble is full of the fun memories that the two people have created together. The laughter, the good times and the moments they share with only that person. Floating near by is the bubble of resentment for hurts that have happened within the couplehood. There are usually many bubbles to sort through when someone is facing a possible break-up with a loved one.
I think it’s important that we start to become aware of the bubbles within ourselves. They may not be about ending a relationship but I am 100% sure that each and every one of us has our own set of bubbles. The question is whether we are aware of the discord within our own emotions. It could be changing a career or job, starting something new in life, ending something old in life or a thousand other variations. Do you know what your bubbles are filled with and on what topic? Do you feel the need have only the “right” bubbles floating and try to pop the ones that make you uncomfortable? Don’t feel bad. It’s a common desire to get rid of those bubbles or thoughts that don’t fit neat and tidy into how we see ourselves or what a nice person would think and feel. The problem with just trying to pop the bubble or get rid of unwanted thoughts is that unless we really grapple with the topic, just shoving down the emotions won’t really solve anything because guess what? The bubble comes back and floats around again and again. Simply wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. We must fully work through those things that rattle around in our brains.
Next time you see a bottle of bubbles, go ahead and grab it, open the top, get that slimy wand and blow some bubbles. Watch them as they exist separate and apart from each other. Then think about what emotions and feelings would be in each bubble you see. Then just let it be as it is; until you are ready to really look at the fact of whether there are more positive aspects or negative regarding a decision you need to make. Eventually what we need to do becomes clearer and clearer and then we can take the action we need to. Until that time comes, let all the feelings be separate and try not to force what is complicated to become uncomplicated just because it’s uncomfortable.
So, what are in your bubbles today?