identity

When People Love Us, We Are Transformed

There is something quite amazing and magical about watching a persons life being transformed by the power of being loved and accepted by others – When People Love Us, We Are Transformed.

 

After watching Despicable Me 2 for the 6th time with my sons I started to wonder why exactly we all seem to love it so much.  I mean think about it, we have watched it 6 times and the movie is 98 minutes long which puts us as having spent 588 minutes of our lives on this movie.  So I started thinking – is Despicable Me 2 really worth the 588 minutes of my life I have given it?  Why yes it is!

For starters, who doesn’t love those Minions?  Seriously, they are so cute and hilarious with all of their funny noises and behaviors.  This movie has me and my sons laughing over and over again.  But then I thought, “There has to be more to why we love this movie….what is it exactly?”  Then it hit me.

A huge part of the story in both of the Despicable Me movies is watching Gru, the main character, learn his true identity and self-worth through being loved by others who see him for who he truly is.

We see his character go from a cold-hearted villain who is mean and is literally stealing the moon from the sky, to a man transformed by the love of three little girls he adopts in the first movie.

Despicable Me
The second movie opens with Gru dressing up as some sort of princess for one of his daughters birthday parties – and immediately you think – this man has been transformed!  The second movie does a great job of portraying the realities we all face when we are in the midst of transforming love –

When we are experiencing the love of another, and I am talking about deep love that moves us – a natural response to this kind of love when never experienced before is to go on defense.

And defense, at times, looks exactly like what we see happen to Gru – the more the love of others (specifically his three daughters and the character Lucy in the second movie) challenges his current view of himself (his identity, self-worth, etc.) the more his relational fears surface.  The closer Lucy gets to Gru, the more we see flashbacks to Gru’s childhood.  We see Gru coming up against the “demons” in his past – being made fun of, seeming unloveable to all humans, unaccepted, and fearing rejection.  It appears that the more he is loved and delighted in by his daughters and Lucy, who ultimately becomes Gru’s wife by the end of this movie, the more his “demons” seem to rear their heads.  Ultimately Gru has to choose to trust their love of him, embrace the changed man he has become, and no longer allow the “demons” of his past to rule his current life.

These movies do an excellent job of showing us how love can profoundly transform us if we risk letting it in.

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

Raising a Superhero

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

“Since teaching college I’ve been amazed at two things: (1) how deeply young adults want their parents to be proud of them, and (2) just how deeply parents communicate, directly or indirectly, that their kids are not good enough. . . . I may invest in a dry/wet vac for my office. They believe their parents love them but don’t believe their parents are proud of them.” –Dr. Anthony Bradley

My wife and I are having our first child in less than a month, and we are very excited to meet her! Awaiting her birth has stirred up all sorts of emotions in me. I have so many hopes, so many fears, and so many desires for this little person.

I want to have a happy and healthy baby, as all parents do. But I have other hopes and desires as well. My wife and I often lie in bed at night and dream about what our little girl will one day be. We dream of her being a special person: smart, funny, sensitive, doing something we think important (becoming a doctor, a professor, or the President of the United States).

But where do these desires come from and are they good for our developing child? We think she should do special things because she is special to us but also because of our own unfulfilled desires. If we are disappointed with how our life turned out we might desire that our child do what we were unable to accomplish or be the person we wish we were.

The problem is that this completely ignores the humanity and uniqueness of our child. Shouldn’t she have a say in this? This may not be who our child is. She is a little person, not a vessel through which to meet all our unfulfilled desires. It is normal to have dreams, but it can be harmful to have goals or expectations for another human being.

The professor (quoted at the beginning) made the point that well-meaning parents place too much weight on their child’s performance. We put subtle pressure on our children to be an academic, spiritual, athletic, social, or financial success. We make our child’s performance part of our own identity. So we send subtle messages to our children about the conditions for their acceptability.

Our children begin to sense that we are only proud of them when they meet the expectations or goals that we have for them. So they often try to become what we want them to be—to varying degrees of success. But this is done at the expense their own identity and happiness. When they don’t fit the mold we set for them, they feel as though they are failures and are not free to pursue who they truly are.

Just because our child is special to us, doesn’t mean that it is not acceptable for them to be ‘ordinary.’ Not everyone has to be a doctor, a CEO, or the President of the United States. It is enough for them to be themselves. Of course we want to nurture them and provide an environment where they can flourish. But we must be ok with them being who they are. If we are not, they probably won’t be either. They will go through life believing that they are not good enough, don’t have what it takes, or are defective. They may suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety about their performance. Our expectations may rob them of the joy of enjoying who they are.

The messages we send our children, as parents, are extremely powerful. Our words and actions can send the message that they are acceptable because of who they are, not what they do. Or we can subtly poison them with the message that they are only acceptable if their performance matches our expectations. 

Though I may not dream of my daughter being an emotionally reserved janitor, what if that is who she is and chooses to be? Would I celebrate who she is? Or would I subtly communicate that she needs to change in order to make me proud? When I expect her to be someone else I am doing violence against her own unique humanity. She is her own person, and I want to help that person flourish.

I don’t want to create an environment for my daughter that leads to her crying in her professor’s office because she doesn’t think she is living up to my expectations. Though I have hopes and dreams, it is unfair for me to have expectations or goals for another human. She gets to decide who she wants to be, and I have the privilege of helping foster her unique self. I want her to flourish, but I don’t get to decide how she flourishes. She doesn’t have to be the best at anything to make me proud. She will make me proud by just being who she is.  

Busy, Busy, Busy

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC


The ‘Busy’ Trap


Ringing with truth and clarity, when I came across this article in the New York Times about busyness I knew I wanted to share author Tim Kreider’s ideas here with you. I agreed, resonated, and felt convicted by his look at how busyness is a trap we have created and accepted in our mainstream culture, that we then in turn create and accept in our lives. While I didn’t necessarily nod along to every point he made in the article, his overall thesis that we perpetuate busy lives to create importance to our days and therefore significance to our lives, is one I see and feel all around me as well as in me.


Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.


Rather than view idleness as the enemy, or evidence of emptiness, he posits idleness as an important factor to fullness in life. “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” 


I often discover when sitting with people in the counseling room, allowing ourselves  space is a battle. Space time-wise, physically, and even mentally. The battle can be external in the pressures and requirements of the day, but often it is more internal. Allowing for some quiet inside ourselves, some space between the stimulus and the response, and some stillness to sort through, process, reflect upon that which is bouncing around inside of us. 

Here is a link to the article. I recommend taking a break from your busyness to read it 

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?smid=pl-share



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.

What is Your Story? A Self Exploration Activity

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC 

Oftentimes it seems that whatever may lie in the past, we prefer to keep there. It seems so much simpler or safer or smarter to just pack up our past in a box and put it on a shelf in the storage room of our heart. It’s in the past, so what does it matter? Many of us wrestle with this very question.

I like to think of each life as a story that is being lived out. Just as in the stories we enjoy in the pages of books, each of our lives is filled with highs, lows, joys, sorrows, disappointments, dashed dreams, dreams come true, pain, and love, just to name a few. In order to grasp the fullness of the main character’s story in a book, we have to begin at the beginning. Picking up a novel and starting at Chapter 32 is going to not only rob us of the story’s depth, but would likely make for a confusing storyline. There is much to be gleaned from the parts of our lives we have already lived, as every step has gotten us to where we are today.

Below is an activity that can be helpful in beginning to search back into our life’s story to recapture the valuable pieces available to us there. Consider spending some time revisiting the previously aired episodes of your life. Ask someone, whether a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor, to begin this journey with you.

Activity:

Pick a milestone to write about using the chart below or divide your life up appropriately. Start with sentence: “This was a time in my life when….” and let the writing flow.

Use this outline:
1. Get a clean sheet of paper and date it.
2. Select the milestone that you wish to write about, and write it at the top of the paper.
3. Write down the five questions:
   a. Where was I living at this time in my life?
   b. Whom was I living with at this time in my life?
   c. What was important to me at this time in my life?
   d. What was I afraid of at this time in my life?
   e. Who were my friends at this time in my life?
4. Reflect for a moment on the milestone and the questions.
5. Begin to write, starting with the phrase “This was a time in my life when…”

Major Milestones:
0-10
11-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
70-80

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Who are You?

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Who are you?
There are many ways to answer this question and by which to define yourself. What is it that you typically allow to inform your understanding of your identity? Career? Kids’ accomplishments? Past mistakes? Parents’ voices? Family name? Hurtful comments from those close to you? Church leadership position? Academic degrees?
Because we are created by a good and kind Creator God, who creates every person in his own image, we can know that we each have dignity. Having been created in God’s image, we possesses an inherent value and worth that cannot be explained away, denied, nor robbed by trauma, brokenness, or tragedy. You are a valuable image bearer with worth because the Creator of the universe created you as such. Just as true of each person’s dignity are the far-reaching effects of the Fall. Every person lives with falleness and depravity as a result of sin. Even Christians live in a fallen world as fallen beings. Though sin still wages war in our hearts, we are redeemed through the love of Jesus.

As Christians, we find our identity in Christ and who he says we are: fallen yet redeemed, sinful yet forgiven, broken yet being restored. Who I am is made up of who God created me uniquely to be, what my own personal story (which God has written) has been, how it has impacted me, and the unchangeable truths of being created in God’s own image and being redeemed through the power of Christ.

To put it plainly, all the things you think about yourself and all the things other people have thought about you that you’ve owned, need to be held up against God’s truth to determine their validity and whether they should be held onto or fought against. I think this is very difficult to do in the ever-changing world around us. But if I am to take God at his word, that he loves me, forgives me, and accepts me, then I am to accept myself. Rather than trusting my thoughts, feelings, and memories as the tide of life continually shifts around me, I am to trust who God is, faithful and steadfast, and trust who he says I am. 
What pieces of your identity that you have gathered up and pasted to yourself do you need to remove in the light of God’s gracious love for you? Who does God say that you are?