Thursday, March 8, 2018

But WHY? 

From the moment we can say that word, we want to know "why" about everything.

Why is the sky blue?
Why is that building green?
Why do dogs bark?
Why does he walk like that?
Why does she treat me that way?
Why is he mad?
Why can't I do the things I know I should?
Why do I always undermine my best efforts?
Why can't I be the person I want to be?
Why hasn't my life turned out the way I planned?

When our "whys" are simple, curious questions, they can usually be answered without too much difficulty--we have Google and Alexa after all! When our "whys" start touching on our emotions, answers are not so easily found. In addition, in the emotional realm, striving to understand, seeking for insight, trying to figure it all out can sometimes become an obstacle, an excuse, to avoid taking action.

An old Zen proverb states:
          "If you understand, things are just as they are;
            If you don't understand, things are just as they are."

In today's vernacular, we would say "it is what it is." Seeing things as they are, accepting things as they are, gives us a course of action to make changes. When we refuse to see things as they are, constantly hoping, wishing, or expecting them to be different, we often get stuck in a cycle of disappointment, resentment, and helplessness and nothing changes.

Today, instead of asking "why" about something difficult or disappointing in your life, trying looking at the reality of the situation and asking "HOW?" instead. How do I want things to be different? That will get you unstuck and give you a great action plan to implement to get you where you want to be.

Why are you still sitting there? 😉

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Perspectives and Prejudice...

I was traveling today. As we made our approach into Minneapolis it was still early morning, barely light. The flat, snow-covered landscape spread out before us was a relief of black, white, and grey as far as the eye could see. It looked lifeless and cold--bitterly, horribly, bone-chillingly cold.

But then, as we turned and changed direction to line up with the runway, everything changed. That change in direction brought a completely different sight. The pink and golden glow of the sunrise was now visible and brought new color, warmth, and vitality to the scene. Don't get me wrong, it STILL looked cold, but now the landscape had life!

Just a little change in direction produced a completely new perspective. So what does that have to do with prejudice? Prejudice simply means I have pre-judged. I think I already know everything there is to know about something--be it a person, place, institution, or situation--and no additional information will convince me otherwise. But how is that possible? We don't even know everything there is to know about ourselves! Every single one of us have blind spots--places where our perspective is limited, places where a little shift could bring a whole new world into view.

The first step is simply to notice what is happening around you. There were about 160 fellow passengers on board that flight with me. Did they have the same experience? I can confidently say "no" for many of them simply because they weren't looking! They were asleep, their window shades were drawn, they were reading, busy on their phones, or otherwise distracted. Some of them saw exactly what I saw, but could see nothing more than a cold, snow-covered landscape. I'm so glad that simple change in direction not only gave me a new, beautiful perspective this morning, but also the opportunity to consider the ways I too often get stuck in the way I look at things. I hope I have many more opportunities to notice, to see and understand things in a new and different way. Hoping the same for you today.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Staying in "Like"

"We really do still love each other," the husband said, "and we want to stay together."

"But we really don't like each other very much right now," the wife added.

Some very difficult life circumstances over a long period of time had taken a toll on their marriage relationship and this couple were trying to find the way back to the close relationship they'd previously enjoyed.

Love is certainly important in a marriage relationship. Strong, committed love can get you through some of those tough times when you don't really like each other very much. Love is all you need? Sometimes love is all you have!

But like is very important as well--at least if you're interested in an enjoyable, nurturing, satisfying relationship. When you do not like the person you're doing life with, life with them becomes a chore, a duty, a burden. How do you fight back from that?

The first step is to honestly assess what has happened and how you got here. You cannot change what you do not face! I emphasize honestly because if you're not honest about the problem, you will apply an incorrect and ineffective solution. Ask yourselves the hard questions: What have I done that has damaged or contributed to the health of our relationship? What solutions have I tried? What fears/resentments am I hiding from my spouse? What coping strategies have I used, that may have temporarily alleviated some of the pain, but over time have been more harmful than beneficial?

The next step is to own your part. You will notice the questions in the previous paragraph focus on assessing your part in this situation--not your partner's. The reason for this is very simple. You can only be responsible for and change yourself--your thoughts, words, actions, and reactions. You cannot do anything to change your spouse. Too often couples get bogged down in blaming the other for the problems. If only he/she would change! We wouldn't have these problems! Very rarely is only one person responsible for difficulties in a relationship. Sometimes that is so, but it is not usually accurate, honest or beneficial to begin at that assumption.

The next step requires an honest conversation with each other. Share what you've learned about yourself. Ask forgiveness for the part you have played in damaging the relationship. Extend forgiveness to your partner. Ask how you can contribute to the health of the relationship from this point on. Again, honesty is essential or you will not be addressing, finding effective solutions for, or working on, the actual problem.

Once that hard work is out of the way, produce a plan for the future. Remind each other of the reasons you liked each other enough to enter into a relationship in the first place. Find ways to intentionally feed and cultivate those things. Invest in each other. Remind each other of the damaging patterns you've developed over time and consciously work to break them. Continue to be open and honest. Continue to assess where the relationship is and what progress has been made. Feel free to edit, adapt, change, or completely scrap possible solutions that are not working. Work together for each other and for the relationship.

This can be a long and difficult process and you may need help. If the problem is deeper and more difficult than simply drifting apart, you will need help. When hurt is deep, when it doesn't feel safe to be honest and vulnerable, when forgiveness seems impossible, you need someone to walk through this process with you and help to keep the focus on healing and growth. Finding a marriage counselor sooner, rather than later, is always the better choice! You can like one another again! There is a better way.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Helping the Helper

Someone asked me the other day how he could pray for me-- as a counselor. He reiterated the request in such a way that I would understand he was asking how to pray for all counselors in general.

It didn't take me long to come up with a couple of things. I think they would apply to most in the counseling profession--though someone who has been at it longer than I have might have more to add. I had just two. Interestingly enough, they are two perspectives on the same big idea.

The first request?: That I remember that I cannot pick up the problems and pain of my clients. Oh I can empathize, I can present options, I can teach helpful skills, but I have to constantly remember that taking on and becoming burdened with their pain drastically affects my objectivity, creativity, and helpfulness. 

The second?: That I remember that I am not the fixer. Oh I can empathize, I can present options, I can teach helpful skills, I have objectivity and creativity to offer, but I cannot change or fix the heart--where the real healing takes place. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Emotional Vampires

Today one of my clients described her ex as an "emotional vampire." "He just sucked the life out of me until there was nothing left," she said.

That got me to thinking. That could be an accurate description of many of us. How many times are we sucking the life out of others? We are so concerned with our own wants, needs, desires, and comforts that we forget and ignore the wants, needs, desires and comforts of those around us. 

We demand, coerce, manipulate, intimidate, threaten, whine--whatever it takes to get what we want--without a thought about the damage we might be inflicting on those around us. Whatever makes us feel uncomfortable--whether situational things beyond our control or consequences of our choices--it all gets thrown down because we are unwilling to own it and deal with it ourselves. We throw it down and expect someone else to pick it up, deal with it, and make us feel better. In the process we are hurting ourselves and hurting those around us. Often we inflict the most damage on those closest to us--spouses, children. 

Own your own stuff. Acknowledge it. Deal with it. Find whatever information you need. Make whatever changes are required. You're the only one who can! Once you deal with your own stuff, you have the ability to look around and see hurting people who could use your help, your encouragement, your support as they deal with hard things in their lives. 

That doesn't mean you allow them to become an emotional vampire to you--they need to deal with their own stuff just as you do. It simply means that you are no longer damaging people around you with your emotional demands and know how to point them towards healing and hope.

Be a life GIVER instead of an emotional vampire.