disappointment

Shame and Contempt, Part 3: The Flipside

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

In an earlier blog, I explored Shame and Contempt as unhealthy and unproductive mutations of Guilt and Judgment, respectively, and how we live as though we believe them even though they are profoundly untrue.

Here, I would like to discuss the ground that Shame and Contempt grow from.

Self-Righteousness

The most obvious and familiar feeling that engenders shame or contempt is self-righteousness.  We are most often aware of self-righteousness in others, especially when it is directed at us.  It is identifiable by our reactions to it: “How dare you look down your nose at me!?”  “Little Miss (Mr.) Goody-Two-Shoes” (I know I’m dating myself here.)  “What a stuck-up jerk!”  “Think you’re better than everyone else, do you?”

It seems apparent to me that we would regard self-righteousness as a negative character trait or behavior when we see it or experience it from anyone.

However, most of us actually practice this at some point ourselves. We experience self-righteousness in ourselves when we say or think things like, “I would never…” or “How could you…”.  When we shake our heads and “cluck our tongues” to say “Tsk, tsk, for shame.”  When we say, “THAT person deserves to be…” . It is at its core an internal feeling of being better than the other person.

What makes self-righteousness distinct from contempt?  Self-Righteousness is the soil from which Contempt grows and flourishes.

Contempt is the external expression of the fundamental (and often unquestioned) internal belief in our own goodness (self-righteousness).

The trap of it is that we tend to highlight the things we are good at or things that we think make us look good, and exclude the things we are less good at or embarrass us.  When we operate from self-righteousness, we act as though we have the right to determine the worth of another person.

Other-Righteousness

Other-Righteousness is a term that I am pretty sure I made up.  I use it to describe the sensation that others are by nature better than oneself.  It functions in relationships when we “know” that our significant other is smarter, better, wiser, etc.  We put them on a pedestal that says, “You know more about XYZ than I do, so I will always yield to your opinion on this.” Socially, we experience the sensation that everyone who sees us is judging us or pitying us.  We feel that they are worth more than us.

Not only do we have this feeling, we believe it.  Not only are we judged, but we deserve to be judged.   We automatically believe that others have no real compassion when we make a mistake, that they are laughing at us or scorning us, and that we deserve it.  It is the core belief in our defectiveness and shame.  It is a wearisome way to live.

What makes “other-righteousness” distinct from shame?  The answer is the same as to the similar question above:  Other Righteousness is the soil from which our sense of defectiveness grows.

Shame is the external or surface expression of the core (often unquestioned) belief in others’ superiority.

Also similar is the trap.  When we believe in our own worthlessness, we highlight and expect all the screw ups and shortcomings and exclude examples of our genuine goodness.  When we operate from other-righteousness, we live as though everyone around us has the right to condemn us.

My next blog will look at how to counter these formidable foes.

How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish…Or Don’t: How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Do the books we read to our children cultivate emotional intelligence, or communicate subtle messages discouraging awareness and honest expression of feelings?

Smile, Mr. Fish! You look so down. With your glum-glum face and your pout-pout frown. No need to be worried. No need to be sad. No need to be scared. No need to be mad! How about a smooch? And a cheer-up wish? Now you look happy: what a smile, Mr. Fish!

Of all the books my little one loves, this one most often gets relentlessly stuck in my head! With its well-crafted rhyme and adorable pictures, it captivates its little (and big) audience quite well. But the subtle message of the book has always made me a bit uneasy: you shouldn’t be sad, worried, or scared; there, you’re happy, that’s acceptable and good.  I realize there is a strong possibility that I am over-analyzing the book, but at the same time, I think subtle messages like this are important to be mindful of – both that we have been taught and that we are passing along to our kids (or nieces/nephews, friends’ kids, etc.).

If taken too far, a child can internalize that the only acceptable emotion is to be happy…which will have great consequences in his or her ability cultivate emotional intelligence and to healthily navigate life.

Accordingly, I found this article, published by the Gottman Institute, to be very helpful in identifying the following three do’s and don’ts for developing a child’s emotional intelligence:

  • Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. Don’t punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional.

    Do help your child label their emotions. — Don’t convey judgment or frustration.

  • Do set limits and problem-solve. — Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn and grow.

 

Given these guides, perhaps a helpful re-write of the book might read like this:

Hey, Mr. Fish, you look so down. With your glum, glum face and your pout, pout frown. Come sit beside me, I see your broken toy has made you sad. I would be, too, if it was the favorite toy I had. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad. But we cannot hit and we cannot squeal. How else can you show the sadness you feel?

 

 

 

Does Validation Matter?

Validation: Why it matters.

 

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

We have all experienced a situation where we have not validated a person’s beliefs or behaviors as we interact with them.  We also know what it feels like for someone to ignore our feelings, minimize our experiences, or change the subject of a conversation when the topic really matters. Validating our own feelings and those of other people is an important skill to have and to hone.    

What is validation?  Validation means “acknowledging that a person’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors have causes and are therefore understandable”.  

To validate someone means we are looking for the kernel of truth in another person’s perspective, even if we don’t agree with them.

Why is it important?  Well, it shows that we are listening to the other person and that we are trying to understand them.  It helps to strengthen our relationships because we can avoid a power struggle over who is right by validating the other person.  When we don’t validate others, it hurts.

How do we do it?  Pay attention to what the other person is saying.  Actively listen and reflect back to them what they are saying, without judging them!  We have to use our observation skills and we have to be pay attention to the conversation.  It is important to notice the little things, how is the person standing, are their arms crossed, is their face red, do they look like they are getting ready to cry?  All of these clues help us in conversation.  

We need to notice how a person is acting, listen to what a person says, and respond according to what we see and hear to help create and improve connection in relationships.

What’s the impact?  Like I said, validation helps to create connection. Validation challenges us to be present in conversation. We have to be listen to what the other person is saying in order to respond in a way that helps a person to feel understood. Validation can de-escalate a situation because you’ve avoided the fight and acknowledged the other person’s experience.  

Give it a shot!  

 

 

 

 

Information adapted from DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents, Rathus, Jill H., and Alec L. Miller. “Validation.” DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. New York: Guilford, 2015. Print.

Is Grief Good?

Is Grief Good?

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

shutterstock_174741554To allow yourself to experience grief, and to choose to engage in the on-going act of grieving, is difficult and takes courage. I believe it is something we must actually choose to learn how to incorporate into our lives. According to Brene’ Brown, who has studied emotion and vulnerability for 15 years, we fear the emotion of grief the most. I agree.

As humans, we tend to run from what we fear. So if we fear the emotion of grief, then it makes good sense to say we will likely run from feeling and experiencing it in our lives to the best of our ability.

Why do we fear grief so much? As I asked myself this question, I realized I believed lies about grief and grieving.

Here are some lies I have either believed myself or have heard from others –

~”If I let myself feel sadness or pain, it will only make it worse.”
~”If I let myself acknowledge my grief, I will never be able to function again. It will engulf me.”
~”I don’t have time to be sad.”
~”I need to think positively and not dwell on the bad (on the pain).”
~”The pain from my grief will be so painful, I will not sustain under it.”
~”If I let myself grieve, I am just having a pity party for myself.”
~”Grief only comes when someone dies, and no one has died, therefore I shouldn’t be in pain.”
~”Something is wrong with me because its been “this much time” and I am still sad about ____.”

There are some deep-rooted misbeliefs exposed in the comments above. The assumptions exposed are that grief is bad, weak, wrong, only “okay” when someone dies, and that it exists on some sort of definable timetable.

I started learning a lot about grief and grieving 5 years ago when the landscape of my life radically changed through my divorce. Wrestling with betrayal, and the loss of our intact family, is something I am still grieving. My days are no longer shadowed by grief, but it still pops up from time to time. Some days it may pop up for a moment, some days it may take up residence for a few hours. It has taken me awhile to learn that I will be “okay” in living a life now sprinkled with grief on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out okay with my grief. For the better part of a year after my life had radically changed, I was angry at the pain of my grief. I tried to numb it, run from it, and mask it into something it wasn’t. I fought it, and I suffered for it.

I had to learn how to not fear grief, but rather how to embrace its presence. I had to learn grief is not containable, it cannot be managed, and it lacks predictability. It can last a moment or remain for the better part of a day. It does not ask for my permission to overshadow a day. I also had to learn that when grief rears its head, it doesn’t mean I am weak.

My journey to no longer fear grief is much like my process of no longer fearing thunderstorms. As a kid, I feared thunderstorms (and if i’m being honest here…my fear lasted into my early adult years). It didn’t matter if a storm came in the day or night. To me, the loud bangs of thunder and sudden flashes of light freaked me out! Now as I sit with my youngest son during a storm to calm his fears, I wonder, “What was I so afraid of? It’s just a thunderstorm!” I believed unfounded lies about storms: “something bad is going to happen,” “what if it never stops,” “I am not okay and I won’t be okay until the storm goes away…” and on and on my thoughts would go. Do you see the similarity between storms and grief? With both, I feared what I didn’t understand.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief, is as important as allowing ourselves to feel joy. When we try to numb only the emotions we dislike, feeling we set in motion the beginnings of living an emotionally handicap life. Over time, we will not only numb the emotions we don’t like, but the emotions we like become numb as well.

The Pinterest Beast

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The Pinterest Beast

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC, EMDR Trained Therapist

I love Pinterest. I used to bookmark tons of web pages, have draft emails full of links for easy access. Thanks to Pinterest, I can keep all that information handy in one place and organized! And I can search for resources of all kinds in one place. It’s an awesome tool.

However, this wonderful tool also comes with a sneaky and nasty beast. You may have noticed him or heard him while scrolling through pins. He may be so sneaky with you that you haven’t noticed him lurking between homemade play dough recipes and decorating ideas that cost a year’s salary. He has many names: Comparison, Envy, Self-Doubt, Esteem crusher, Mommy Guilt, and many more. He whispers in your ear in first person: “Why can’t I do that?”, “I’m so lazy,” “My house should look like that,” “If I were a better mom, I would _______,” “I need more,” “I need less,” “I’m not enough,” and variations of “If my kid doesn’t know all his colors, numbers, shapes, alphabet, and multiplication tables before entering preschool, he will grow up to be a high school drop-out and become homeless.”

The Pinterest Beast isn’t alone, it has a variety of friends on other websites and apps telling us about how our lives, ourselves, are not enough. Social media has given us a great way to stay connected in our fast-paced and transient lives. It has also given us a chance to edit what is seen as I talked about in a previous blog here. And when we see the edited 5% of the lives of others, we tend to use it to judge 100% of our lives.

What if we lived our lives according to our own view of it? What would that look like? What if Pinterest was just a place to keep and find good ideas, and reject the ones that just are realistic or even good for our lives. Six months of freezer meals may be great for someone else and the idea is good, but it just doesn’t fit well in my life. Floor to ceiling bookshelves built-in around a door looks awesome in the picture, but my skills and my budget make it totally unrealistic. There is no judgement call on who I am. Be the you you want to be in real life, not the one your screen lures you into thinking you “should” be.

Permission Slips for the New Mom

by: Kim Hammans, PLPC

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There are times in life that invoke extreme emotion and their impact tends to leave us forever changed as people. The birth of a child is certainly one of those times.

Having just come back from my own maternity leave, I find myself reflecting on how intense these past few weeks with a newborn have been. I have experienced all-consuming joy. Looking into my new little one’s eyes and cradling his little body brings thankfulness and awe into my heart. But there have also been painfully lonely feelings, too. Some moments I have been so tired I cannot think straight and so overwhelmed with emotions that I am not sure which one is accurate and which one to trust.

As women, we often feel we must get back on our feet, returning to “normal” as quickly as possible. Taking the time to heal— physically and emotionally— can feel like a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. So when the emotions hit us (and who can escape the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth?) we often feel a lot of pressure to get it under control and make it stop. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we treat ourselves this way.

During my own recovery, I was reminded of Brene Brown’s technique of writing yourself permission slips when doing something that is scary. Brown is the author of several books, one entitled, The Gifts of Imperfection. She hosted an e-course based on this book, in which she invited her students to write their own permission slips as they face doing something new. I applied her wisdom to my postpartum recovery. Some of these “permissions” were easier for me to believe in the moment than others. But through time I have found all of them to be true.

If you are about to welcome a baby into your life, or support someone who is, I offer the following list of permissions to you:

1. It’s okay to cry.

For some, this is easy. Tears just come. But for others, tears can be a source of shame. Your feelings and your emotions during this time are real, and holding them in will not help you in the long run. After my first son was born, I remember a guest coming to my home to visit both of us. I burst into tears when she asked me how I was doing. She embraced me and simply said, “This is normal and this is real life. It is okay to cry.” I experienced such freedom from those words. This truth helped me to embrace my tears and I actually felt lighter after getting some of the tears out.

2. It’s okay to ask for help.

You need to focus your energy on recovery and on bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Lean in to the people around you. Let !them help you. Let them cook you meals, fold your laundry, play with your older kids, and worry about the dishes, bills, and other chores. When people ask you what you need, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Raising a baby takes a community, and this starts from the very beginning. If you don’t have people immediately able to help you, consider hiring help: a housecleaner, a babysitter, or a postpartum doula are good people to consider.

3. It’s okay to rest.

Taking time to sleep is essential for your healing. There is no shame in allowing your body to relax and doing nothing but caring for yourself and your new baby.

4. It’s okay to enjoy the newborn phase.

If you are a mom who loves babies, enjoy it. Soak up every yawn, every adorable face and amazing sound your baby makes. Snuggle and enjoy every aspect of your baby.

5. …And its okay if you don’t enjoy this time so much.

If on the other hand you are finding it hard to enjoy the baby, relax. It is okay. It does not mean you are a terrible mom. This phase is hard. The sleeplessness and the newness to everything can be exhausting and terrifying and completely overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not enjoy this phase.

6. It’s okay to not know what you are doing.

Ah, competence. I don’t think I knew how much I relied upon feeling competent until I felt utterly incompetent in the presence of a new little life. It is normal to not know what you are doing. It is okay. Breathe.

7. It’s okay to focus on your needs.

New mom, you matter. Your healing matters. It is okay to take breaks, to find time for yourself, to take an extra long shower, and to do things to help yourself recover. Do not neglect yourself: eat meals. Sleep. Rest.

8. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, messy, and incomplete.

Speak kindly to yourself as you enter a whole new phase of life. It will not be perfect. Things will be messy and hard. Your relationship with your partner will probably be strained. You may not be able to care for your other kids in the way you typically do. It will be okay. This is only a season, and it is okay for it to look messy— both literally (there is stuff on my kitchen floor that has been there for weeks!) as well as relationally and emotionally.

9. It’s okay to seek professional help.

When the feelings become intense, when the fears consume, and when the pressure feels palpable, it is okay to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Find a therapist. Do not go at it alone.

What permissions would you add for yourself?

Gentleness and Patience in the Midst of Pain

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

While looking through my ever exciting and thrilling Facebook page a few months ago, I saw a blog post a friend of mine shared.  The title caught my eye.  It read, “Let’s be gentle with each other.  Let’s read each other’s signs.”  After reading the title I thought it sounded interesting so I clicked it.  Little did I know how powerful the story I was about to read would be.  Have you ever asked yourself the question, “How different would my friends and family be with me if my pain (this includes all types of pain) didn’t scare them?”  I have often wondered this in my life.  I have wondered how much more care I might receive if the people trying to care for me weren’t so wrapped up in how my pain/problem(s)/fear(s) were impacting them.

This post I am about to share with you is written by Melody Ross.  She shares with us her story.  It’s a story about personal pain, being cared for by others, being judged, and most of all surviving.  If you take the time to read it I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about it and how it impacted you.

Here it is…

By MELODY ROSS

After a dear friend telling me about a hurtful experience she’d had this week. I began thinking again about a story I have told a few times…. a story that my children will tell to their children, and maybe even beyond that… because it was such a learning experience in our family, maybe even a turning point.

It’s a story that I think about often because we were the main characters in it 3 or 4 years ago, and even though it was something that lasted less than 15 minutes it changed all of us and now I see others differently, especially when it seems that they might be main characters in the same story…or one a lot like it. I used to be too embarrassed to tell this story… but I am not anymore. This is a human story that everyone needs to hear, I truly believe this. I hope you will stay with it, it’s kinda long.

As we move along… I want you to think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and and just be kind.

2 three signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

I need to start this story by giving you a little bit of background. You see, my husband had an accident in 2004 that injured the frontal lobe of his brain. It has taken 6 years to get him back, but in the middle there, between 2004 and now, lots and lots of stuff happened. He was essentially out of it, but not just that, he changed to someone else, we lost him.

His personality changed completely, he could not work, he was angry and depressed and could not cope with human beings.  He did not feel love or affection, really he only felt anger, rage, and he was suicidal most of the time. He did not remember a lot of things. He could not take care of our family or even himself, really (and I want to mention again that through lots of miracles, he is 100% recovered now…we are so thankful….he is even BETTER than he was before his accident).

But during that time he would have these confusing and amazing glitches of time when he would be totally normal. It was bittersweet. They would last for an hour sometimes, and sometimes for days or even weeks then he would sink back down into that horrible place. When he was sick, I protected him fiercely. I didn’t want anyone to see him like that. I had faith that someday he would recover but man oh man it was lonely. I wished every single day that I could just walk around with a sign like this…

1 signs husband Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

because on the outside I looked like I had EVERYTHING GOING FOR ME I looked like I might just have a perfect life but I was hiding a very painful secret…

Well, a lot of other things happened too. You can imagine what might happen over the years while we have a 7 acre farm, a pretty big international business that we own with lots of employees, a life that  HE managed before his accident, while he just let me do the fun and creative stuff. Now we had lots of medical bills, lots of sorrow and lots of distractions, we also had LOTS of kids — and no one competent managing the business.

Well, after a few years, I couldn’t hold it all together. Our business was suffering for all of the reasons listed above and a few more reasons on top of that and we discovered that we were really SINKING. Well, one day when he was partly lucid…he was THERE…he was coherent — I told him the condition of our life.

He kind of panicked and he went straight to work figuring out what he could do. It was insanely heartbreaking when he would “wake up” after weeks or months and I had to tell him how much things were deteriorating financially, etc. It was very hard. But when he could, he did what he could before his mental illness sucked him back into the prison it kept him in most of the time.

He called a sign place and had a huge sign brought out to our house…the kind that you can put letters on, and it was electric and lit up. He put it by the road in one of our horse fields. Then he drove our Suburban, both of our trucks, my classic Thunderbird that he got me for my birthday a few years earlier, our tractor, all of our tractor implements, the boat that I worked 10 years to get for him (and that caused his brain injury, incidentally), and he lined everything up along the fence and he put a price tag on every single thing. Then, he put the letters on that big huge sign and plugged it in.

You have to understand that we had worked for MANY years for those things. We started a business in our twenties and we sacrificed everything we had for all of those years to make it work. We owned almost all of it outright, but, when I told him that the business was struggling, this is what he did.

Sooooo…there it was. All in a row. All of our stuff –out in our field.

All of the neighbors driving by, our friends, the community, people who knew us most of our lives and people who knew nothing about us…we were just the young family who lived in that beautiful little farm house on Beacon Light road with the perfect lawn….or what USED to be.

You see, in addition, for months, our once beautifully manicured yard started to be filled with weeds that were now several feet high. I just couldn’t keep it up. The lawn was a nightmare. Everything was just falling apart all around me and my heart was broken over my husband, too. It was humiliating and exhausting and horrible, really.

2 please be gentle Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Well, the sign was not up in the field for more than a few hours, when my husband’s phone rang. It was someone who saw all the stuff and my husband’s phone number on the big huge sign. We were sitting out in the yard while he was still coherent and he was feeling devastated about the condition of our lawn. I was apologizing that I just couldn’t do all of it. He was so heartbroken at his limitations and that he had left me to try to handle our life alone. We were trying to make a plan.

He answered his phone. I saw that he was just listening. I could hear that the person’s voice was getting louder and louder and louder. My husband just listened. He turned his back to me a little so I wouldn’t hear. But I could hear it. It seemed to go on and on and on.

These were the things I could hear on the other end of the phonecall:

“You are bringing down the value of my property with that ugly sign!”

“What are you doing?”

“That is the most obnoxious sign, do you have a permit to have that out there?”

“Are you starting a used car lot?”

“You have got to get all of that moved and out of here or I am calling the authorities”

I sat there, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, mad, sad, devastated. I was certain that this would snap my husband back into his dark hellish place.

But, when the man was done ranting, my husband waited a second and then very calmly said something that I will never, ever forget.

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

The man was silent, and then my husband went on to tell him a few details about what was going on with our family.

The man waited a moment and then his tone changed. He apologized. I mean, really apologized and then said:

“I am going to call all of my friends and see if any of them need any of this stuff….”

***************************************

I wish with everything in me that we could have put a sign up on that big stupid lit up billboard in our field that said OUR LIFE IS FALLING APART, but all that we really could put up is a sign with the price of everything that we owned that was worth any money.

WHAT IF we could all wear a sign that said what WE REALLY MEANT? What if we could go straight past the small talk or the masks, and we could actually go straight to the heart of the matter. What if our friends and family wore signs like this?

1 four signs Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

…we would treat each other differently.

I think we should just try to imagine it. That when a friend is quiet…or not showing up to stuff she usually shows up to, or acting a little “off”, or a family member is wearing pajamas to the grocery store for weeks on end, or not answering the phone, or the lawn is not mowed…

2 signs in a row Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

whatever it is…

IT IS A SIGN. It is not a sign that can be read in words and letters, but it is a sign that someone needs to be treated gently. That they need help. Most of all, that they need love, understanding, and that they DEFINITELY DO NOT need to be judged.

Every time I think of this story I want to be better. I want to do better, I don’t want any silent signs to go unread before my eyes or my heart. I don’t want to make up my own answers to what must be going on. I don’t want to assume…

2 together Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

Let’s be gentle with each other. Let’s read each other’s signs.

—– The original post can be found at:  http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/her-husband-had-an-accident/

Getting Pruned

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

I have a Dieffenbachia.  It’s a tropical houseplant I’ve been growing for a few years now.  When I got it, it only had 4 leaves and stood maybe a foot high.  I stopped counting the leaves a long time ago.  It now stands three to four feet high.  Maybe I should say “stood”.  I have recently learned a great deal about the plant’s nature and needs, which resulted in my cutting it almost in half.  Let me explain.

The Dieffenbachia is also known as “Dumb Cane”, apparently because of it’s poisonous sap, which will cause throat constriction and even death if ingested.  “You’re dumb if you eat this cane”, I think is what the name means.  I, personally, call it “dumb” because it will grow itself into oblivion.  If you let it go, it becomes too tall for the root system to hold upright and it falls over, uprooting itself.  In order to properly care for the plant, one must cut off a fairly significant amount of growth.  New, healthier, growth sprouts from below the cut, and the plant is sturdier and more balanced.

I must confess, pruning seems counter-intuitive.  It feels destructive to me to chop off parts of the plant that are doing well, from which new growth is continually sprouting.  It seems wasteful to simply drop those leaves and stems into the trash.  (I actually planted the severed portion to see if it will take root and propagate.  I’ll let you know what happens, maybe.)  Yet the overall health and continued success of the plant depends on this process of cutting back.

Why the horticulture lesson?  Because this seems to be a beautiful, if unsettling, analogy for the human condition.  We are all about growth.  We love to get stronger, taller, to spread more leaves and challenge new heights.  Growth is good.

We don’t seem to like the idea of pruning much, though.  First, it means experiencing pain, and nobody likes pain.  I’m sure my plant was terrified as I approached with my knife.  Second, it means understanding that not all growth is necessarily good.  There is a kind of growth inherent in humanity that turns into pride, an appearance of strength that leads to catastrophe.  I love to see new sprouts on my plant, but I was utterly dismayed when I returned home one day to find that the plant had toppled over onto its neighbor, damaging both plants in the process.

There is a kind of pain that originates in our own actions and attitudes.  I am not speaking of the pain that comes from death, natural disaster, or the predation of others upon us.  I am speaking of the kind of pain that we experience as a natural overflow or consequence of our own actions and words. These actions and words grow from attitudes and a sense of entitlement that feels like strength; in other words, from pride.

The moment we believe we have overcome a temptation, that we have succeeded in surpassing the weakness that used to trip us up, we have entered a kind of denial that we often label as growth.  “I’m better now.  I wouldn’t do that! It’s no longer a problem for me.”  Pride is the language of “I’m better than that”.

I celebrate when I see anyone overcome a temptation or weakness, but I also cringe just a little, because I fear that in the certainty of having surpassed the actual behavior or attitude, they may come to deny that the core weakness to it still exists.  It is the core weakness that will topple us, for in the moment we believe we are proof against it because we have “come so far”, we let down our guard and open ourselves up to it all over again.  None of us is as strong as we think we are.

Wise is the one who will open him- or herself to pruning when it comes, who will humbly acknowledge the truth that their heart whispers to them and reveal it to a trustworthy helper.  It hurts, it’s scary, it changes things irrevocably… and it spurs new, real, balanced growth.  Those who resist pruning head for a far more painful tumble when the overwhelming weight of “growth” tumbles them from their pot.  The damage is greater, the recovery longer, the hurt done to self and others deeper.  The very hurt we fear from the pruning is intensified and broadened.

Not all growth is real or healthy.  Often it becomes an illusion of strength or competence, while on the inside we deny the toppling sensation we feel deep down.  Better to bring it out voluntarily and deal with it sooner -to submit to the pruning knife –  than to let it continue until we fall.

Sweet Sorrow

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Living in this world means living in the tension between good and evil, love and sorrow, joy and pain.  It is to experience the pleasant comfort of cuddling with your spouse on the couch and to ache with the beauty of the moment, while knowing that the moment must inevitably end.  It is to experience the trauma of loss and death and to know that growth and wisdom often come through pain.  Juliet loves the sweetness of Romeo’s affection as they say “good night” and yet must release him for a time to do without it.

To deny or diminish either of the parts is to live out of balance.  To pretend there is no pain is to smother and  invalidate your genuine and legitimate grief.  To live in the pessimism that says “good is always crushed” is to smother real and life-giving joy.  We can exist in either of these out-of-balance ways, but we cannot truly live.

To love is to risk loss, and the more we love, the more pain we experience in the loss.  Intimacy requires vulnerability, and the more open and emotionally naked we become with the other, the greater the closeness and experience of connection.  We live in a world of friction, and yet within the friction there is heat and light and life itself.

If you are protecting yourself from either of these elements, consider that a full, rich experience of life in this world is only possible when we acknowledge the truth of sorrow and loss while holding on to solid hope that there is good and light in the world at the same time.

The Culture of Dissatisfaction

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

My truck is not what I want it to be. It is not new, big, heavy, or powerful. Its barely worthy of the title “truck”. My house is’t the greatest, either. There are a lot of ongoing repairs or refurbishments that need to happen… sometime. My computers are old and somewhat slow. My hair is starting to turn grey, and if i’m totally honest, there isn’t as much of it as there used to be. 

Something in our culture disposes me to see things in this way. The ads with which we are saturated in video and print and pixels paint a world that is in desperate need of repair.  This I affirm.  But the ads stray into falsehood thereafter. Universally, ads point to a fix.  “If you have this item, pill, procedure, or experience, you will be satisfied.”  They hint (but never say out loud) that the product they offer will be enough forever.  They, and we, know different.  But we are buying what they are selling.

The truth is that even millions in the bank, a rich family life, and all the possessions and stuff that we could ask for are not going to be enough… for long. All things (people included) age and decay.  All things (people included) break down and die. We rightly and achingly long for something more.  


Part of living well in this world is, to quote the Man in Black from “the Princess Bride”, “Get used to disappointment”.  Well, not exactly, but close.

The fact is that the things and experiences of this life cannot permanently or consistently satisfy us. Good comes and goes. Peace comes and goes. Contentment comes and goes. We run into trouble when we try to make these things “normal” and view anything else as sub-par or defective, when we make these temporary things more important than they really are.  We run into trouble when we depend on them to give us the one thing they absolutely cannot: satisfaction.


My truck is dependable, for now. My computer is enough to do what I need it to, for the moment. My family life is really good, at the moment. My house keeps me and my family warm and dry.  All of these thing will wax and wane. There is no ultimate fix that can be had for love or money in this world.  


Our hunger for more is good. Our awareness of lack and need is actually something to hold on to and allow for rather than trying to fill it up or soothe it. It points us to the something more that is intangible, and to the only thing that will truly, ultimately satisfy: it is our longing for heaven and the perfect eternity that God has for his children.