Target on a Train by Monica Dane

She walked along the street reflecting on her life; the blessings, the heart-aches and the hard lessons she learned along the way.  She was hopeful for her future and all of the things she still wanted to do and accomplish. She firmly believed she had the adequate tools to tackle anything with the help of God.

She heard some noises coming from the train station and decided to change her path and walk in that direction. Little did she know, it would change the course of her future and events. At that moment in time, it seemed like a good idea. She was drawn to the hustle and bustle around the station.  There were so many people there and the perfect place to people watch.  She sat down, a moment to breathe the fresh air and take it all in.  She was a well-educated, kind-hearted, beautiful woman. A beauty that radiated joy to all of those who encountered her. There was a quality about her that was real, authentic. A giving heart and caring nature. A warm feeling you would receive when you had a conversation with her.

She wasn’t sure if she was wanting to board the train and go somewhere, or if she just wanted to flirt with the possibility of where it might take her. She stood up and decided to walk along the path and take in more sights. She glanced at another train nearby that was sleek, polished, beautiful, seemingly perfect, attractive, and intriguing. It looked as if it was a fast train. She had no clue that trains like this even existed, but they do.

Not everything is as it appears to be. The next thing she remembers is stepping up on the big step and closing the train door behind her; not knowing that the fresh, clean air that she had been breathing would be her last for a while. She turned around and looked through the window that appeared clear from the outside of the train, but yet was dark and cloudy from inside looking out. Something in her told her she wanted this experience. It was exciting.

The train gradually started moving. What she thought would be a thrilling moment and a good idea at the time, was changing. She knew in her gut she had made a mistake, but she didn’t take the opportunity to get off the train right away. She told herself that if she could just get comfortable, that things would be better on this train. She found a place to sit next to the cloudy, gray window, and looked out. As the train would approach different streets, it would gradually slow down and stop. Could she get off the train now?  She saw people passing by, some strangers looking her way and the attention was nice. She saw friends laughing and having a good time, encouraging each other. Families gathered together.

As the train picked up speed, she was becoming a little sick, nauseous, nervous, anxious. She was starting to feel as if she couldn’t take in a full deep breath and was on the verge of hyper-ventilating. She felt closed off from the world around her. Isolated. The train began moving so fast and she wasn’t prepared for the speed of it. She saw glimpses of people, places, things: life passed her by. She no longer was full of joy, but consumed with regret and feelings that if she could change things on the train then it wouldn’t be so bad and she could get by.

However, this train had power and control over her. Trapped. No way out. Even if she could get off, she was too scared. She felt all alone and the train was picking up even more momentum.  At the current speed, she was sure it would crash and the ride would all be over; she wasn’t convinced that was a bad idea. Yet, she had no idea of how to make the train stop.  She was embarrassed that she even had willingly boarded this train.  She had tried to strategically plan how she could get off many times but wasn’t successful. One day, she did something different and she let go of controlling it and prayed. Cried out to God to help her and knew that she couldn’t do it alone. When she finally had enough courage and strength, she jumped (more like leaped) from the train. It was incredibly freeing, and immediately she felt so much relief. She ran and ran and ran until she couldn’t run anymore. She was limping, bruised and wounded but alive.

The dust is now settling. She’d never be quite the same person as she was before she boarded the train, but she has rediscovered parts of her she didn’t know existed.  A strength and courage within her that she never knew she possessed. She’s wiser. Even the conversations she has with friends, strangers, and family feel like divine appointments. What she needs is to take the baby steps in healing past hurts, pains, regrets. She feels safe; cautiously optimistic for her future.

She will never get back on a train like the one before. Ever.

Target on a Train by Monica Dane, Certified Life Coach. Monica Dane Coaching – monicadane.com

Friend or Foe?

friendship

Friendships are at the core of our support and what enriches our lives in numerous ways. Our friends are the family members that we get to choose. A good friendship will be like iron sharpening iron and I recently saw a quote that said “You become like the 5 people you spend the most time with – choose carefully.” We are changed and help others change while investing in solid friendships.

Since friends have such personal access to us and our private thoughts, choosing wisely is critically important. We all have had a friendship or two (or more sometimes) when we wonder why we let a particular person close to us and ended up hurt in the relationship. It’s inevitable that we will have some friendships that turn badly and we have an opportunity to learn from the experience. As a counselor, I get to hear lots of stories of friendships done well and not so fabulous. I often write about toxic people and their influence in our lives because I truly believe that all personal growth is hindered (or completely ruined) by one of two things: 1) our own inner thought life and 2) the attitude of the people we surround ourselves with on a regular basis.

With that in mind, I’d like to share five of the more damaging friendship types that I have come across:

“My Life is Perfect”
This is the friend that always has to portray themselves, their families and their life in general as the personification of  perfection. They may even go so far as to tell you outright that their lives are “perfect.” Their declaration of an ideal existence is often followed by you having shared a hard time, a struggle or a let down in life. This friend will comfort you in all your loserness (I am being sarcastic) and then immediately share a story about what a great promotion their husband just got making oodles of money or how one of their children made the most exclusive sports team in the community or some other version of success. These friends feel compelled to project an outward image that can not be true for anyone. Perfection isn’t reality. Having a  life you love and appreciate is reality but these type of friends take it a step further. They don’t want you to see their flaws or if they do share some struggle, it will be something watered down and helps to maintain their self-image. The damaging aspects of having a friend such as this is that no matter how close we may think we are to this person, there is an invisible wall between us and them. True authentic relationships involve transparency and where transparency is lacking, friendship doesn’t really exist.

“Here Comes Trouble”
Watch your back. Better yet, watch your back, your front, your sides and every other entry into your life because this friend is looking for drama and has no trouble dragging you into a relational mess. The motivation for these trouble causing friends often varies but frequently I have seen that these folks want to alienate us from other people and do so by gossiping about this, that and the other in order to get us angry at the other person and are therefore more loyal or devoted to the trouble causing friend. Rather than just letting life sift itself out and letting people choose who they want to be friends with, the trouble starter passive aggressively tries to control the dynamics and trouble is the by product. Now some trouble causing friends are just bored in life and need a good fight to wake themselves up. The challenge to having a trouble causing friend is well, they cause trouble! They create hurt feelings and triangulate (therapy word for pitting people against one another) those around them and there is no harmony or peace when a trouble maker friend is in your life.

“I Am Always Right”
When a friend is always right, guess what? We are always wrong. We raise our kids wrong, we vacation in the wrong places, we make decisions about our careers wrong and on and on it goes. Their over inflated ego whispers to them they know best for themselves and us and if we would just listen to them, all would be well. The limitations to this type of friendship are endless because they don’t make room for our own thoughts, beliefs and hopes to come through. There is one way to do things correctly and that is their way. This friend might have the best intentions for us and truly want to help us become better parents but the problem is that we might not agree that they are the ideal parent and may want to do things our way. Gasp! Shocking huh? To this type of friend, our independent thoughts are annoying to them and if we dare express that we see things differently, the relationship will be strained because we have rejected their over-bearing ways in our life and that usually doesn’t sit well with an always right friend.

“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”
Ah. The competitive friend. Gotta love them. Unlike the Always Right friend, the Competitive Friend wants us to live independently from them and give it our best shot, as long as they come out on top in every situation. Got a great promotion at work? They got a better one. Parenting your child in a way where they are thriving? Your competitive friend could do it better and has no problem telling you so. My personal favorite is when friends are not even parents yet and believe they could raise your kids better than you do. This friend can be a double-edged sword because they will encourage all kinds of personal growth in you and cheer you along but inevitably the competition you weren’t aware of between you starts to show and it’s damaging to the bond of friendship. It very difficult to do life in close proximity to someone who at the end of the day, just wants to be better than you are and has no issue with either aggressively or passive-aggressively letting you know. 

“Thump, Thump”
What was that sound, you ask? That, my friend, was the sound of the bus running you over because your other “friend” threw you under it! This type of friend will have no problem scapegoating you when it’s convenient to their agenda. This friend might really like you and want to be your confidant but the moment that their neck is on the line or an offering to the volcano is needed, guess who is getting throw into the pit? You! They know the dynamics of the environment just enough to know exactly how to toss you under the bus in the most effortless and effective manner. The limitation to this friendship type is that what you thought was a nice connection was really a two sided coin; pleasant in one way and completely self-serving for the other person in another way. There is no trust in this type of friendship.

As you think over these five friendship types and the friends you currently have in your life, how are things measuring up? Did reading this list make you grateful for the wonderful and supportive friends you have or did you see someone you know in one or more of the five listed above? Whatever your current state of friendship may be, it’s important to remember that healthy people attract healthy people. So continue on your own journey of personal growth, whatever that may look like, and trust that the right friends will join you and enrich your life in amazing ways. If you already have a great group of supporters, go tell them you appreciate the goodness they bring to your life.

Organic Faith

individual counseling

As a counselor I have been given the honor of hearing the most private inner thoughts that humans can have and after years of meeting with different people, some distinct commonalities among us have emerged for me to witness.

One of the most closely guarded areas for people is how they truly feel about their relationship with God and faith in general. Many people are showing up each week to church services, volunteering in ministries and other outward expressions of religious belief but are inwardly struggling with significant doubts about a wide variety of points as they relate to their spirituality.

One of my most favorite types of counseling sessions is where someone can break through the guilt and/or embarrassment of admitting that they don’t feel close to God as maybe they once did. Why are these some of my favorite sessions? Because I am a huge fan of authenticity in life and faking religiousness is soul crushing to people. Now let me pause here and say that I know some people believe that the soul is bad and the spirit is good. I am over simplifying that a tich but you get the basic belief. I do not agree that the soul is evil and spirit is where God resides (but that may be a good blog post for another day).

When I say it is soul crushing to fake our way through living in a community of faith, I don’t mean that is a good thing. It’s not. It’s a heavy burden to carry when we don’t know what we believe regarding God and have no one to talk to about it.  Often times our religious friends, family and church leaders don’t really know what to say when someone is not authentically sure of what they believe anymore. Well, they may know what to say but often times what is said isn’t helpful and comes wrapped in a box of shame.

How does someone come to a place of doubts about their faith? I believe it’s actually really common but most “good Christians” don’t talk about their inner thoughts and just wrestle inwardly. There are a few folks who are lucky enough to have a trusted friend or family member who can handle real conversations about this topic and those people are very fortunate to have a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of; from what I have seen a lot of people do not have that though.

Our faith should be a living organism that ebbs and flows with the normal rhythms of life. There are days we will feel very connected to God as we believe Him to be and then other days when we doubt everything we felt the day before. That seems normal to me and common from what I have seen among people who range from hardly ever in church to people in full time ministry. The trouble is that often in groups of religious people, that natural organic dance of faith is looked upon as a negative thing. I just don’t see it that way. It seems normal and healthy that our connection with God would have its ups and downs; just as any couple relationship experiences.  If our faith hasn’t changed in many many years, maybe it isn’t really a living thing but rather just a dead statue on display that isn’t truly connected to us at all. Hmm. Something to ponder maybe.

I know this is a controversial subject and I hope I have expressed myself in the way I am intending too. I guess I can sum it up with this: to me it’s normal that our faith be a part of us that is so closely connected to who we are, that when we go through different stages in life, so goes our faith along with us for the journey. I hope that’s the case for people. Dead religious practices won’t really satisfy our deepest longings for connection to something greater than ourselves but maybe if we give ourselves the permission to let our faith grow and change, we might end up being better off than faking our way through this area of our lives.

A-V-H Relationships

couple's counseling

Many people come to counseling to talk about their relationship with a significant other. Humans are emotionally messy so that makes our relationships messy. It includes all of us too. Some relationships are healthier than other pairings but every couple struggles with at least one chronic area of their togetherness.

The level of relational mess is highly determined by what type of relationship the couple has created. Couple’s fall into either A, V or H formations of relating to one another.

An A type relationship is where the two partners are enmeshed with one another. If one was to stop with this behavior, the other one would fall to the ground. Just like in an A shape, the two tall lines represent the people and the line across is their connection. Being in an A relationship might feel good in the beginning because it appears that the couple are very connected and enjoy one another’s company. But with time, this dependency becomes unhealthy and emotional manipulation is usually the common under-current of an A relationship. People in these types of connections live in fear and dread of losing the relationship because they have overly invested themselves and typically have failed to grow the other areas of their lives.  The leaning on one another is not healthy bonding but something entirely different.

Couple’s in a V shaped relationship have pulled apart so much that there are little to no connections left within the coupleness. These are couples that live with one another but truly function as roommates at a heart level.  People in a V relationship are in what many therapists term as a non-romantic marriage/relationship. The connecting part at the bottom of the V is all that symbolically holds the couple together and the individuals are no longer best friends; if friends at all. There is a lot of distance between the partners in a V relationship.

The H shaped relationship is what an ideal relationship would represent. It symbolizes two individuals who through their own free-will choose to be together. There isn’t the clinging and dependency of the A relationship nor the distance and coldness of a V. The H couple typically respect one another, understand that their partner can not be their whole outlet of human connections and support one another in creating and maintaining their individual identity.

Often couples have partners where one is functioning as one letter, while the other is a different letter. For example, a partner who is creating an A relationship might have a significant other who is trying to pull away from the suffocation and in doing so, will become a V in the relationship. Sometimes an individual desires to be a H, but his/her love interest is too enmeshed (A) or too distant (V) for the healthy H to flourish.

If you find yourself recognizing your relationship as either an A or V, don’t lose heart because there are things that a couple can do to help get to the better option of the H. We have to figure out the root of why people are internally driven to create an A or V relationship and fix those things that cause an imbalance in the couple’s connection.

 

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week – 05/29/13

counseling

Five Things I’ve Learned This Week or Was Reminded Of:

1) Never underestimate the value of personal growth. I have had the privilege of watching people become transformed through gaining insights into why they behave the way they do.  It’s incredibly special to witness.

2) Strong-willed children need adults who will lead without doing damage to their spirits. As Dr. Dobson says in “The New Strong-Willed Child” – appeasement is an invitation to warfare for strong-willed kids. They crave leadership, even while they buck against it.

3) When you love someone, you don’t let go of the relationship easily.  When the dust of an argument settles and you can’t see yourself without that other person, you know it’s not time to walk away.

4) Far too many people “celebrate” Memorial Day as the first day of summer and having a day off from work/school. It’s not about those things though. It’s all about remembering loved ones and friends who died while serving in our military. I wish more people understood this better.

5) There’s nothing like a new car to show you how dated your nine year old car was becoming. I love my new hybrid. I get to earn these little earth symbols while driving. It makes me laugh every time I see a new one pop up.

What’s on your list?