Month: August 2014

Emotional Reflexes, Bees, and the Artillery of the Soul

Emotional Reflexes, Bees, and the Artillery of the Soul

As children, we build ideas about how the world and relationships work. After an injury when I was small, I was getting stitches in the emergency room. My parents tell the story that while the medical team worked on me, I was happily explaining to them about how nurses grow up to be doctors. That was how I thought the world worked. Someone eventually informed me that doctors and nurses are not developmentally related, and what I understood about doctors and nurses shifted.

A lot of times, we develop beliefs about relationship based on how relationships happen around and to us. As young children when we got into trouble, Mom or Dad might have said, “What were you thinking!? What’s wrong with you?” Being children, we don’t have the ability to challenge the notion that there might be something wrong with us. To a child, Adults define what “Normal” is. So we begin to believe that when we make a mistake, it is because we are defective somehow. If we were “normal”, we would have known better.

Fast-forward to adulthood. If nobody ever explains this scenario to us, if no one ever reshapes that belief or tells us otherwise, chances are that we still believe it on some level. We likely operate as though what we do is a direct indication of who we are. If I lie, then I must be a liar. If I fall for a trick, I must be a fool. If you don’t like me, it’s because I’ve caused you to dislike me. If you hit me, I did something to deserve it.

These defaults operate consistently and automatically. When I was small, I got stung twice in the eyelid by a yellow-jacket. It was very painful, and my eye was swelled shut by the next morning. I have never liked anything with wings and a stinger ever since. I still have a powerful physical reflex when I hear a buzz near my ear. I learned that bees are dangerous.
As an adult, I know that bee stings are not as painful as my emotional reflex tells me, but I do know that they can still hurt pretty bad. What I know, however, does not matter when I hear that buzzing sound, especially when it’s close to my head. I still have a tendency to run away while swatting at whatever was making that noise.

These defaults are powerful things. We don’t choose them, we just live by them. The trouble is that sometimes, these defaults are simply not true. They are real, and they are potent, but they are often based on faulty information. The fact is that the mom or dad mentioned above was wrong: making a mistake or doing something foolish was not matter of something being wrong with me. It was a matter of being a child and not knowing how the world works. They reacted and spoke as though the child should have had the knowledge and foresight of an adult.

When I was in the military, I was assigned to an artillery unit. My first night on a live-fire mission was pretty awful. Every time the crews fired the cannons, I nearly jumped out of my skin. After a while, I could anticipate the commands that led up to the pull of the trigger, but try as I might, I just couldn’t get my body to quit jerking around when the shot went off. My body was reflexing to the concussion as if to say, “Something is coming for you, kid. You are gonna die.” It took a while of rehearsing and experiencing the concussion and the jumping, but eventually the jump reflex passed. My body had to learn that this sudden noise and the accompanying shockwave were not actually a threat to me.

Unlearning our emotional reflexes can follow a similar pattern. We can come to understand and truly believe that mom or dad was wrong, but the emotional reflex is still there, and it is still powerful. The feeling will still kick in, and sometimes we have a hard time remembering that it is real but not true.

The unlearning happens through practice. We can eventually grow to recognize the lie and speak the truth to it: (my identity is not actually based on my performance). We will still have the reflex, and after a while, we learn that this feeling does not actually have the power to define me. I can make mistakes. I can even look like a fool, and I will still be OK. All of our efforts to avoid the feeling actually prolong it. I *have* to feel the concussion over and over again in order to learn that it doesn’t actually have the power to harm me.

I’ll say it plainly: this process sucks. It almost never happens as quickly as we want it to, and it is almost never linear in healing. We go back and forth. We continually recognize new areas where this same old thing is in play. We have to keep fighting with this painful feeling, and we often feel like the fact that we have to fight this hard with it means that we are somehow defective. Then we realize we’re doing it again.

But eventually, with work, with awareness, and with the help of trustworthy friends and lovers, we come to believe the truth, and the reflex fades in potency. We experience a freedom and confidence that we never imagined, and eventually that freedom becomes our new “Normal”.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

You need therapy. Everybody does.

You need therapy.  Everybody does.  Really. You do need therapy if you’re a human being like my colleagues, friends, family, clients and me.

 

A few weeks ago I read a wonderful article entitled, “Why Everyone Should Be in Therapy (Including You)” written by two men with extensive backgrounds in pastoral and clinical counseling, Chuck DeGroat and Johnny LaLonde. They base their brazen assertion on the fact that secular and Christian thinkers through the ages have agreed on the importance of “knowing thyself” by self-examination.

DeGroat and LaLonde went on to cite the likes of Socrates to Calvin to Dr. Phil. Then the authors claim, “what we learn from the best therapists…is that knowing your blind spots, becoming aware of your stories, seeing the ways in which you sabotage relationships and much more is where real growth happens.” And growth is not merely changing behaviors, but it is, perhaps, a more honest way of living this life. Costly and extensive. Courageous and rewarding.

Avenues Counseling

Further, DeGroat and LaLonde discuss the “care of the soul”, suggesting “life’s struggles were not seen merely as obstacles to be overcome as much as opportunities to know God more intimately.” So not only knowing yourself but also knowing God is the goal of therapy.

In my youth, it seems that counseling was so stigmatized by churched folk, as if diving deep into ourselves would tempt us to water down Scriptural truth or that going through counseling identifies me as crazy or faithless… or both! Fear, yes. Reality, no.
Imbedded in the article, LaLonde briefly explains what to look for in choosing a counselor to take you on your journey of self-discovery and going deep with God. He hits on great advice. Find a therapist “who will honor your request for a behavioral fix, while inviting you to much more… a counselor who is acquainted with pain and grief and can sit calmly in the presence of your pain.”

I’m a new member of the team here at Avenues. Please take steps to take that journey deep into your soul with one of us.

You need therapy. Everybody does.

by: Frank Theus, PLPC, CSAT(candidate)

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

8 Things I Learned about Parenting as a Stay-At-Home Dad

One great thing about writing this blog is that I get to write about my family!  My wife, Hannah, is awesome and a full-time marketing force-of-nature. My daughter, Naomi, is also amazing and a full-time coloring expert. Because my wife has a terrific job that takes her on the road a lot, I get to split time working at Avenues Counseling and caring for our wonderful 2-year-old. It has been the best and most challenging experience of my life. I had no idea how hard it would be. So I wanted to pass on 8 of the things I’ve learned about parenting from this school of hard-knocks.

Avenues Counseling

 

  1. You’re not lazy. Parents are the busiest people on the planet; right up there with your friends when you need help moving a piano. So if you want to just read the bolded parts of this article (in between meltdowns and near death experiences), that’s okay. I get it. Give yourself a break. We are finite people, with a limited amount of time. The 24-hour day didn’t expand with your added children. You’re just not going to accomplish as much as you did before. That doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
  1. Comparing is counterproductive. Ignore all the amazing things your Facebook friends appear to be doing for their kids. What your kids need most is your love, reassurance, and calming presence. Competing for parent of the year will only make you both anxious. I’ve never had anyone come to counseling complaining about how their parents ‘messed them up’ by serving non-organic vegetables. Having a community that identifies with our missteps is more life-giving than comparing ‘highlight reels’ on social media.
  1. Take time for your relationships. Whether it’s your spouse or a close friend, spend quality time with people other than your children. Contrary to popular opinion, children do not always need to be the center of our lives. That’s a lot of pressure. They want to know that their behavior does not make or break us. You have a life beyond them, and that is good.
  1. Take time for yourself. Don’t neglect your hobbies and passions. Your children benefit from your happiness. Balance tedious tasks with activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you. Not every activity has to revolve around your children.
  1. Have one goal for the day. Parenting does not always feel ‘rewarding.’ Though parenting is incredibly meaningful, you rarely see the results of your labor. And not seeing results from a day of backbreaking work can be very draining. That’s why I have one goal each day just for the ‘high’ of crossing it off my list. The goal can be as simple as reading a couple pages, doing a few pushups, or having lunch with a friend. Whatever it is, I’ve done something to improve my life today! I get to make a big red ‘X’ on the calendar. These little things add up and visible rewards are very energizing.
  1. Nurture who your child is. Even at a young age, I can tell that my daughter has her own unique personality. She is not me. Recently I took her outside to play soccer; she showed complete disgust for the ball and went straight to the garden. Now, I could try to shape her into my own idea of who she ‘should’ be to gain my approval, or I could embrace who she is and nurture and support her uniqueness. My job is to make her feel special about who she is, not tell her who to be.
  1. Have fun with it. Parenting is easier when you just embrace the chaos. It’s gonna get messy; just go with it! Clean up time can come later. Kids have endless energy. That’s a strength not something to be subdued; growing up takes lots of work. Turn into the curve, put down the phone, and be active with them. You’re not going to get much done any way. Embrace your inner kid and have fun. They’ll love it!
  1. Don’t put disposable diapers in the washing machine. That one just kind of speaks for itself. It doesn’t end well . . .

by:  Andy Gear, PLPC