Author: avenadmin

What Preoccupies Your Mind?

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

What are you continuously thinking about?  What preoccupies your thought-life?  It is likely whatever is preoccupying your thought-life, is also the very thing that motivates you to act in the various ways that you do.  The term the world uses to describe the preoccupation I am speaking of is: obsession.  However, the bible would call these preoccupations that motivate our actions and life as: idols. 
Obsessions can blind us.  They derail us from the ability to see clearly.  Our options in life seem narrow.  Truth is lost.  All we are able to focus on is acquiring the very thing we are obsessed with – at all costs. 
Last night I watched the movie The Prestige.  It is about two men who are obsessed with being the best magician of their time.  Their obsession robs them of love, life, joy, relationships, and they live their lives without truth.  All they perceive they need is to be the best magician of their time.  The cost:  everything.  The gain:  emptiness. 
What are you obsessed with in your life?  What is robbing you of life?  And ultimately, what are you going to do about whatever you have named as your obsession before it costs you everything and you are left empty? 
Oh, and yes, I would recommend the movie!  

Soul P.M.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have just returned from a very nice, relaxing vacation.  We were quite thoroughly “off the grid”: away from cities, away from crowds, away from cell phone signal, internet, and even electricity.  It was refreshing … after about a day and a half of electronics withdrawal.

When I’m not on vacation, I depend a great deal on my phone.  All my appointments are stored there in my schedule, along with contact information and a glut of other data that is fairly important.  I take a great many phone calls, texts, and e-mails about business and clients.  It has become a (bad) habit to give my attention to the thing whenever it blings, dings, beeps, or whistles.  When it does not do so for more than an hour or two, I find myself compulsively looking at it to see if I missed something.

Out in the woods, I found myself repeatedly grasping my pocket where my phone usually resides and, finding nothing there, experiencing a brief moment of panic: “Where did I leave it?  Did I lose it?”  Then I remembered that it was turned off and stowed in the glove box alongside the other useless stuff: the owner’s guide for my truck, 27 maps for places we weren’t, and a stick and a half of year-old gum.

Even on the third day, my wife and I found ourselves in information withdrawal: what was the weather going to be today, and how would that influence our decisions on activities and preparations?  We needed to know!!  We never did find out, and –gasp– we survived unharmed.

A mentor of mine told me once: “Always, Always, Always take a vacation every year. Make the time.”  Especially in the helping professions, but in all walks of life, rest and self-care is critically important.  In the military they call it “P.M.”: Preventive Maintenance.  It means stopping before things break in order to keep them from breaking.  It means taking the truck, gun, or equipment out of use and circulation for a period of time, doing without it, in order to keep it functioning optimally.

Many of us are bad at PM for our hearts and souls.  We usually wait until we feel bad or until something in our world “breaks” before we stop to rest.  This is a mistake.  We run ourselves into the ground and we cease to function well, serving poorly, working poorly, and living poorly.

How long has it been since you went off the grid (whatever that looks like in your world)?  How long since you stopped and took care of your heart and mind and soul?  Do something that relaxes, refreshes, recharges you.  Get out of your routine for a while.  You’ll know you are starting to do it when you have those moments where you wonder what has fallen apart that you could have taken care of or prevented.  When you get to that point, don’t stop.  Take another day.

Or two.  It will keep.

Let it go.  Go on.

PM yourself.

–JH

Perfectionism: A Book Suggestion

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

Perfecting Ourselves to Death: The Pursuit of Excellence and the Perils of Perfectionism by Richard Winter 

          In an age in which perfect performance is highly regarded as the means to a successful and thereby happy life, Perfecting Ourselves to Deathspeaks biblical truth into an often-overlooked epidemic. The effects of a performance driven culture have permeated the Christian culture as working for Christ and performing for him has become a standard measure of spiritual maturity. Dr. Winter diagnoses and dissects this perspective as unbiblical.

            The spectrum of perfectionism varies from normal, healthy perfectionism, to neurotic, unhealthy perfectionism, to non-perfectionism. Healthy perfectionism is realistic and enthusiastic as it is driven by positive motivation to achieve. Unhealthy perfectionism sets unrealistic standards and bases self-worth on performance; it is motivated by a negative motivation of fear of failure. Non-perfectionism is relaxed and undemanding, sometimes to the point of unreliability and laziness. Defeated perfectionism is a covert form that says, “Why even try when perfect is unattainable?” It has already been defeated before any attempts have been made; success is unlikely or an impossibly, so failure is viewed as a choice to be desired over disappointment.

            All perfectionism is centered on the tension of the gap between “who I am” and “who I should be”:

  •   driven perfectionism: works harder to close the gap
  •    defeated perfectionist: gives up the fight
  •    healthy perfectionist: able to live in the tension

           The healthiness of perfectionism is determined in our motivation to achieve success, and our view of the failure to do so. The ways it can manifest itself are through performance, appearance, interpersonal interaction, morals, and all-around perfectionism. There are also different types of perfectionism such as self-oriented or other-oriented. Other-oriented perfectionism projects the demands and expectations of perfectionism onto those around you. Each of these can manifest in healthy forms and unhealthy forms, at times affecting mental health and personal relationships. Depression, anger, suicidal intentions, eating disorders, worry, and anxiety can all find their foundations in perfectionism.

      So what is your view of yourself or others when success is not achieved? How do you interact when you or someone around you is less than perfect? What drives your desires and demands for perfection, or your fears of even trying? What is your heart like towards who you “should” be? What is your heart like towards who your spouse, friend, child, boss, sister, brother, pastor, co-worker, neighbor “should” be?

          

A Soul in Torment: Living With An Addiction

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC
Sitting with someone in the throws of an addiction causes my soul to ache.  The reality of many who struggle with an addiction is this: they desire to be free from their addiction is, yet they literally feel chained to their addiction – unable to get away.  And no matter what special techniques I use as a counselor, or what their family does or doesn’t do, they will remain chained until they alone choose to risk leaving their addiction in order to learn what life would be like without their addiction.  For those of us caring for a person with an addiction, this truth is hard for us to accept. 
It is hard for us to except that no matter what we do, what we say, or how we act, we have no control over freeing the one we care for who is being tormented by their addiction. 
Often as I sit with individuals they are in the midst of fighting to be freed from their addiction.  I see sitting before me a soul in torment.  Webster’s Dictionary defines the word torment as,  “1) the infliction of torture, 2) extreme pain or anguish of body or mind.”  I believe using the word torment to describe the experience of the addicted fighting to break free from their addiction is fitting. 
The Apostle Paul expresses this idea of the tormented soul in Romans 7, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

I found this picture in Google images.   This picture depicts for me what I perceive the life of an addict to be as they fight to be freed
from their addiction. 
The face on the far left is the side of the addict that rages inside of them and wants the rush and momentary fulfillment that their addiction provides to them.  The face on the far right is the face the addict has once they have succumbed to the allurement of their addiction – they are tired, sad, and feel shame over what they have done.  The middle face represents the small pockets of time they feel human, free, and love themselves (to an extent).  This is the face they get to experience the least, yet long to experience the most. 
Patrick Carnes describes the cycle of addiction this way:
Family Wounds / Life Wounds
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Shame
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An addict spends so much time in the cycle Carnes depicts above, that they are virtually unable to live their life.  They are continuously moving through the cycle.  Once an addiction takes root into someone’s life it has power and control, but it doesn’t have to remain that way. 
Freedom from the bondage and torment of their addiction is possible. 
I have listed some resources regarding addiction and healing from addiction on our resources page.  Take a look if you are in need of some help/knowledge.  If you’d rather talk to a live person give us a call.  We’d be happy to help you find the help you need.  Avenues main number is 314-529-1391.  Our email is:  [email protected]

             

Giving Yourself Grace in Change





by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC



This humorous clip is obviously an example of very poor therapy that is unlikely to be helpful. People are just too complex for such a simplistic and one-dimensional approach. I certainly hope that you do not have anyone in your life who interacts with you in such a way. But how many of us have internalized this ungracious and callous voice? How often do we grant ourselves little patience and understanding in the midst of our circumstances and our attempts to change? Oftentimes, we are the harshest critic of our progress or our performance.

In what areas of your life do you need be more patient and understanding with yourself? What words play in your head on which you need to turn the volume down? Grace is not only for shortcomings and failings, it is for growth too. And lest I fall into the same trap I am speaking against, here is your reminder that changing this way of thinking will require patience and grace for yourself. When it comes to warding off contempt in order to more fully embrace grace, you cannot tell yourself to simply “STOP IT!”

Feeling Better is Not Always Better

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

In order to experience life more richly and more fully, you must become a student of your own heart and mind.  Many of us walk through life working very hard to feel happy and to not feel sad.  It is a human instinct.  When we feel happy, we accept it as normal and good.  When we feel pain or sorrow, we try to avoid it, snuff it, or overcome it because on some level we believe that it is not normal and therefore it is bad. There is little examination of how joy or sorrow take shape in our own hearts.  This leads us to a blandness of experience that we find acceptable only because we have not tasted the richness that is possible.

Let me explain.  When we feel sadness, our first instinct is often to try to get happy.  It seems foolish to allow the sadness to stay.  If we can’t “get happy”, we wonder what is wrong with us… which leads to more sadness, and even to shame.  We try to anesthetize the pain with all kinds of things, from shopping to substances to adrenaline rushes.  Somehow the sadness flattens all of these eventually.  Our attempts to feel better are not what they cracked up to be.  We need something different, something more authentic.

What if, instead of running from the sadness we acknowledge it and not only allow it to stay, but poke at it, study it?  What if we learn what it is really about, how it works, why it is there?  This is not an attempt to make it better.  Rather it is an attempt to know it more fully, to give it room to exist.

“Why on earth would I do that?!” you might ask.  The answer is simple: sadness is normal.  If you have lost your job or a loved one, had a friend move away, had a car crash, or had a child move on to college, the sadness you feel is supposed to be there.  It is a normal emotional response to loss.  If you fight it, you will lose.

Rather than fighting it, I suggest making friends with it.  Observe and experience your feelings at the same time.  Get to know it.  Learn how it works in you.  Allow it to be present, and actually feel it for a change.

Do not only do this with sadness.  Do this with joy and contentment and peace as well.  Instead of just rolling past it, pause and examine it.  Feel it more fully.  Know why it is there and how it comes to be.  Pick apart why the joke was funny to you, explore the layers of irony or innuendo.

In short, become a student of your own heart.  Don’t measure yourself against others’ reactions or patterns: they are not you.  Be yourself, and be yourself more fully. Stop striving for the illusion of perpetual happiness, and strive to know the full range of human experience on a deeper level.

One of Life’s Most Difficult Questions

By: Katy Martin, LPC
I had to do something today that was difficult.
I had to ask for help.
Our basement is getting refinished and, ideally, the new rooms need to be painted before it can be completely done.  My husband is in an extremely busy time at work, traveling a lot, and I’m pregnant: we need some help.
No, this isn’t life altering.  No, I’m not asking for a kidney or something major.
But we are legitimately in a season where we could use some help.  And it wasn’t fun to ask for something I feel like I should be able to handle on my own.
I know I’m not alone in this.  How often in life do we find it difficult to ask for help?
I think one of two things is sometimes happening: 
1. We are too prideful.  We don’t want to admit our need.  Asking for help puts at risk of being rejected.
2.  We are so used to our circumstances, pain, emotions, or ways of thinking that we don’t realize we even have a need that could be met.  We build a tolerance, not realizing that someone could ease our burden, take our burden, or that we don’t have to be alone. 
The trouble is that a lot of times no one else knows we need help.  We’re all busy going about our own lives, trying to survive, unaware of needs around us.  When it comes down to it, we have to admit our need to ourselves and make a step to invite someone in. 
Sounds easy, right?
No, it’s not that easy.  It’s a risk to invite someone in to help.  It’s a risk to admit that we don’t have it all together or that we can’t handle everything.  It’s a risk to be that vulnerable.  Our own stories of trust and mistrust keep us from opening up to others and/or skew our expectations.
It’s important to know whom you can trust and how to find appropriate avenues of care.  If it’s a difficult family member or friend who has hurt you, they might not be your best bet.  We have to identify people to be a part of our “team” as we do life.  Some times it means locating a counselor, pastor, or professional who can help you either in the situation or in identifying your “team.”  This can be a difficult process if you have experienced hurt by others or if the burden/situation/emotions are a major part of your life.
In the end, it’s worth the risk.   Sure, it’s safer to stay protected and not hear rejection or feel our pride raging.  However, inviting someone in can be a huge blessing just by being a part of your life and also by easing your burden or pain.
Today I awkwardly asked my friend to help us paint our basement.  She enthusiastically agreed to help, leaving me feeling blessed by her willingness and feeling hopeful about the work finally ending on our house.  Worth the risk?  Yes.  Good practice for the bigger trials in life?  Definitely.  We have to start somewhere.

Fiction, Hollywood, and Real Relationship

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

SPOILER ALERT:  for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.

My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series.  We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons.  The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.

The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series.  The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much.  I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude.  All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.

The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better.  The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.

Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  They train us to need things to work out that way.  This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”.  I cannot say more without using profanity.

Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”.  I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above.  I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.

This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid.  The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way.  The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.

The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match.  The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis.  The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.

If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight.  I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time.  I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side,  and 2. There is pain and friction between us.

When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault.  I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out.  I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.

It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you.  No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple.  It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment.  You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at.  It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.  When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.

When Life is Too Heavy…

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
The following excerpt is from one of my favorite books, The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It is the true account of a Christian woman who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust for hiding Jews. It is a beautifully told story about the light of hope and grace in the midst of terrible darkness, unspeakable horror, and despair.
Often times I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once, I must have been 10 or 11, I asked father about a poem we had read at school the winter before. One line had described “a young men whose face was not shadowed by sexsin.” I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century sex was never discussed, even at home.  So the line had stuck in my head. “Sex,” I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and “sin” made Tante (Aunt) Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?”
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said. I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little daughter to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied.  More than satisfied, wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions, for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.
This memory from early in her life was one that she kept with her in the face of witnessing and experiencing horrors beyond imagination during her time in a concentration camp. After seeing something torturous, she had these thoughts: “It was father’s train case once again. Such cruelty was too much to grasp, too much to bear. Heavenly Father Carry it for me!”
We all experience suffering, pain, and trauma in life. Often the weight of the world can feel too heavy a burden to carry. As life unfolds around us and brings loss and suffering, we can become lost in a sea of “why?” questions. We feel alone. Abandoned. Confused. Lost. In these moments of despair, we need to trust what is true of our Heavenly Father over our feelings. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has unending love for us. He is sovereign over all our suffering and joy. He will always carry what is too heavy for us.

Start at the Bottom… And Stay There.

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

I work with a lot of couples, and one thing I notice a lot of is Expectations.  I think this is a simple fact of being human.  We place a lot of expectations in the people around us.  The closer they are, the more we expect of them.  Most of the arguments I hear (and honestly, most of the arguments I start myself) begin the same way:  “You always…” or “You never…”.  Loosely translated, what this usually works out to is something like this: “You don’t do what I want/hope/expect you to do.   I have the right to expect that you will do this. My expectations are disappointed.”

Naturally when someone hears a statement like this, the human response is a defensive counterattack.  “Oh Yeah?  Well, YOU always…” and it only goes down hill from there.   A good rule of thumb is to listen for the words “Always” and “Never”.  Often, those words are code for the expectations that we have, and that we feel our partner is not meeting.

It is a natural pattern to look at everything our partner is supposed to be doing and highlight where they are dropping the ball. But what if we turned this pattern on its head?  What if we were able to shift our focus away from the places our partner is disappointing us and look instead at how we can help them be everything they were made to be?  To organize our efforts at encouraging and building them up instead of encouraging them to build us up?

I am not suggesting that we should simply try to do everything our partner tells us to do.  That would be about as much fun as boot camp.  That only feeds the conflict monster.  I am suggesting that we work toward helping them be more emphatically themselves, rather than trying to shape them into who we want them to be.  

This requires listening to and learning about who they are, who they want to be, their hopes and dreams, desires and fears.  It requires starting at the bottom, working to understand what makes them tick and why they do things the way they do rather than trying to convince them that the way they are doing it is wrong. It requires placing yourself in the position of learner rather than expert.  We are asking the question, “How can I help you reach your dreams and goals?” rather than “What have you done for me lately?”

This is not mindless subservience.  Sometimes helping someone be better at being themselves can include challenge. It can include confronting hurtful and destructive patterns. It can include stretching and pushing someone we care about outside their customary limits.  And again, these things must be done in a spirit, not of reshaping them into our own image of what they should be, but of helping them sharpen and explore their own potential.  I am talking about placing yourself at the service of your partner.

There is a lot more to this idea than there is space to explore it here.  Consider this a teaser, food for thought. I am asking you to simply consider what it might be like to “through love, serve one another”.