Loneliness

How to Heal the Hurt

Part 1: Why Does It Hurt So Bad?

by Isaac Knopp, PLPC

Relationships can be a major source of pain. The following kind of dialogue is common amongst couples.

Him: My wife is always saying hurtful things that make me feel so small. I just get frustrated and feel like whatever I try to do does not make a difference to her. 

Her: Every time I bring up an issue, he just leaves the conversation or says he does not want to argue anymore. I don’t feel like he understands how much his silence is stressing me out.

As a human being, a counselor, and someone who is married myself, I know how easy it is to experience disconnection. Personally, I resonate with the above couple. Especially when attempts at repairing relationships seemingly end up pushing each other away. 

Is it really a mystery why our emotional connection with our partner goes wrong? Can we not simply name it outright?

When couples come to me talking about their hurt feelings saying, “I don’t know why it hurts so bad, I’m an adult, I should be able to handle it.” I am inclined to take these statements literally, it does hurt! Pain is not entirely a metaphor about other unresolved issues we should grow out of. Pain hurts because having a secure emotional bond is vital to the human mind as bread and water are to the body.

As humans and mammals, with highly sophisticated limbic systems, we need secure emotional bonds with our partner as a part of our built in survival code.

The good news is that we do have a road map for relationships like never before!

Why do I speak about this as a breakthrough revelation? Because it is! In only the last fifteen to twenty years, “science is, at last, beginning to address the core mysteries of human relationships” (Berscheid, 1999, p. 206). We now know that when we are even in the proximity of a loved one, their presence alone acts as a tranquilizer to the nervous system (Schore, 1994). On the flip side, when we feel like our partner is not available or responsive to us, our nervous system receives a shock that can put us in a state of distress. 

Further, we also know that the result of a literal shock is pretty predictable. If I were to stick my finger in an electrical socket, I would receive a shock which would more or less incapacitate me. So, when we are not able to make the vital connection we need in love, often we do not realize we have experienced a shock of another kind that sends us reeling. Usually we react out of our sense of distress. The dialogue mentioned above is very predictable. A man trying to manage his own reaction by withdrawing, and the wife trying to manage her reaction by protesting his withdrawal.

If we truly do have a new understanding of love, how with this help the hurting couple?

Simply put, when a couple understands their emotional bond with their partner they have the tools to work through their distress.

Johnson, Susan M. (2012-02-24). Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection (Basic Principles Into Practice Series) (p. 24, p. 26). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

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.

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

by: Melinda Seley, PLPC

Sometimes life’s greatest teachers come in the smallest of packages. After recently returning from maternity leave, I have been reflecting on some life lessons my newborn has been teaching (or re-teaching) me over the past several months.  Below are the top five:  

Silence the “always” and “nevers” and work to be present here and now.  

Caring for our newborn is one of the most demanding “jobs” I have ever had – it’s physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. In those first weeks with our boy, I found myself so afraid that this would be my new normal – being trapped in the house with a tiny little person who could only communicate via hangry crying and who needed something from me for what seemed like every minute.  I would never get to have friends again, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, attend church, or do anything beyond being at my boy’s beckon call.  This is always how it was going to be.  I found myself saying a lot of “always” and “never’s”.  And the only place they led me was to despair and fear. They made me miss the joy and uniqueness of that finite season and a season I had so longed to experience.  

Do you find yourself saying a lot of always and nevers about where you are in life?  If so, what would it look like to, instead, be present in this moment, right now? To be honest about and grieve the unique challenges, losses, and hardships you are experiencing, but to not forget to look for and savor the good. Right here and now.

baby hand

Some of the most significant growth in life comes through hardship or struggle. Don’t avoid it.

Pediatricians recommend that by 2 months of age, infants spend 30-60 minutes on their tummy.  Until he could successfully lift his head, my boy hated “tummy time” and was quite vocal about his dislike of it.  It would turn our happy, easy-going baby into a crying mess.  I wanted to avoid it; I didn’t want to subject my own son to struggle; and honestly, I didn’t want to subject myself to additional emotional exhaustion from needing to soothe him afterwards.  But the only way for him to grow and be able to hold his head steady was for me to allow him to struggle. To give him opportunity each day to face what he didn’t like with support so that he could grow.  Is there anything in your life that seems like it would be easier to avoid but really what you need most is to get down on the mat and spend time learning to lift your head – through the tears and grumbles?  What are you missing out on because it’s easier or more appealing to avoid the struggle?  

Value “being” rather than “doing”.  

I am a “doer”. I like lists and I especially like to check them off. Life with a newborn doesn’t allow for many lists other than feed, change diaper, soothe, repeat (with the occasional change clothes and spray with stain remover mixed in!). In the first days of being home all day alone with my son, I texted my husband, “I’ve showered and done a load of laundry…today is already a success!” And in doing so, I realized that my definition of success was based merely on how much of my “to do” list I could accomplish…instead of savoring just being with my new, precious child who relied on me for everything and who I had longed to have.  Do you struggle as I do to find your identity in what you do rather than just being?  What would it look like to keep the to do list, but give it a whole lot less weight in determining your worth?  You are not what you do. You are not the boxes you check off. You are you and that is enough.

The first time will be the hardest…the important thing is to lean into the fear and do it.  

After 3 weeks with our little guy, I felt like maybe I finally had the hang of this whole parenting a newborn thing. But I still had not left the house with him alone. I was afraid – what if something happens when we’re out and I don’t have what I need or worse yet – I look like I have no idea what I’m doing as a mom?!  My fear kept me stuck in the house and unable to move forward.  And then I read somewhere an encouragement to do something I feared as a new mom each day.  And suddenly I felt a resolve within me that I would not let fear rule me. I had to name the fear and walk through it. After leaving the house for the first time and realizing that I could survive it (and more importantly, our little one could survive it!), it got easier. I had concrete experience to learn from.  What is fear keeping you from doing? What do you need in order to move through that fear and do something for the first time?

Stop comparing.

Being a first time parent is hard. There are so many unknowns, big adjustments, differing opinions on how you should care for your little one, exhaustion, and fear. Every parent is different and every child is different. I found myself looking around me at friends who are on their second, third, fourth child and thinking, “They are handling life so much better and they have more than one child! I can’t even manage {fill in the blank} and I only have one kiddo!” So much shame. And insufficiency. And failure. But my comparing isn’t fair. Those friends of mine have walked through the challenge of adding their first child to their family and they had to do and experience all these things for the first time, too.  And they questioned themselves, felt unsure, and were overwhelmed just as I have been.  And they learned along the way how to do it.  Comparing myself to others in different seasons or places in life discounts their journey to get where they are and the journey I have not yet walked.  And experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. When I stopped looking around to compare and gave myself grace to navigate this completely new role with my unique child and my unique strengths and weaknesses, I found so much more joy in the process. Do you find yourself making endless comparisons?  Are they fair? What would it look like to acknowledge that you have unique strengths and weaknesses and experience is a great teacher?  Would that make a difference in your joy?  

Do you need to learn (or apply) any of these life lessons along with me?  What are you learning where you are on this journey of life?  

 

Technology: The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship

Technology: The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship

After writing my last blog, about how social media can actually hinder our relationships by offering information more than connection, I came across this wonderful TED Talk by Sherry Turkle called “Connected, but alone?” She has studied communication for many years and has seen the impact of technology on connection.
Sherry Turkle talking at Ted

Sherry Turkle talking at Ted

She explains that our electronic devices “not only change what we do, but change who we are.” That is a big statement! It sounds a bit scary to me. She goes on to talk about how we are getting used to a new way of being alone, together. “People want to customize their lives.” She explains that we use our devices to direct our attention to whatever we most want to give it to. In doing this, we neglect our capacity for relationship with others in real time, as well as our relationship with ourselves as we diminish our self-reflection. “We use conversations with each other, to learn how to have conversations with ourselves….”

We edit. We hide. We use technology to cure our loneliness, yet avoid our vulnerability.

Technology offers 3 Gratifying Fantasies:
1. We can put our attention wherever we want it to be.
2. We will always be heard.
3. We will never have to be alone.
The last one is the most troubling with regards to how our new way of living is changing our psyches! My smart phone is changing me! Our inability to tolerate being alone, always grabbing for a device even in small moments of isolation, is decreasing our capacity to find ourselves. It is creating a new way of “being.” In solitude, we find ourselves. Inability to tolerate solitude, leads us instead to look to others to find ourselves.
Sherry Turkle leaves us with this sobering thought, while encouraging toward more self-awareness in our use of technology:
“If we’re not able to be alone, we are going to be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they’re only going to know how to be lonely.”
by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

Sexually Addicted Families

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

I recently attended another workshop on Sexual Addiction by Dr. Richard Blankenship: president and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS).  This workshop was about Sexually Addicted Families, and I wanted to pass on a sampling of what I learned to you:

On average, children are now exposed to pornography at 8 years old (5 for boys):
     -Early exposure is imprinted on a child’s brain, and the images stay there.
     -These early experiences can shape arousal later in life.
     -These young children experience significant shame.
     -They are not developmentally ready to handle this and can become developmentally stunted.
This is a multi-dimensional problem that requires a multi-dimensional solution:
     -Blocking software is only one tool in the toolbox
          –Covenant Eyes or Safe Eyes (monitor and filter)
     -Address the shame involved
     -Provide accountability
     -Find community
     -Technology: a child should not have internet access behind a locked door.
     -Sex Education: helps prevent sexual addiction & should start immediately in developmentally       
      appropriate ways.
          -The number one trauma of sexual addicts is that no one ever talked to them about sex.
Families with these qualities often have the sexually healthiest kids (Coyle).
            -Good power balance in the family.
                        -It doesn’t mean full democracy, but not a full dictatorship either.

            -Flexible roles in the family.

                        -The family has a willingness to adapt.

            -Healthy and safe touch

                        -If kids don’t find healthy contact, they will find alternatives.

                       

Allure of the Web for Women:

-Immediate (though artificial) sense of connection

-Eliminates inconvenience & risks of face to face interaction

-Provides total control of sexuality & relationship

-Provides unlimited supply of potential partners

-Illusion: “you’re going to make me feel whole/complete me”

            -No person can do this.

Affects of Sexual Addiction on Women:

            -Often cuts more to the core of their identity

            -More shame: hate themselves/not just their behavior

            -Hate their femininity: feel devalued

            -Women have different consequences: pregnancy, cultural stigma, shame

Common Consequences for the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

1.     Abandonment by spouse, friends, family & church

2.     Financial ruin or absent finances

3.     Financial dependency

4.     STD’s

5.     Lack of boundaries

6.     Emotional abuse

7.     Physical abuse

8.     Isolation

9.     Physical and emotional illness

How to Help the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

            1. Husband:
                    -Don’t: deny, minimize, blame
                    -Do: confess, repent, show remorse
            2. Friends:

                    -Don’t: blame, withdraw, be afraid, give incorrect information

                    -Do: support, validate, show empathy

            3. Church:

                    -Don’t: blame, isolate, provide inadequate or incorrect information,
                     gossip, pressure to “forgive & forget.”
                    -Do: provide support, safety, empathy, encouragement, prayer
What to look for in your Sexually Addicted Spouse:

1.     Openness

2.     Brokenness

3.     Humility

4.     Consistency

Enemies of Recovery:

1.     Pride

2.     Arrogance

3.     Isolation

4.     External Focus

             

Unhealthy Family Messages of Sexual Addicts

1.     I can’t depend on people because people are unpredictable

2.     I am worthless if people don’t approve of me.

3.     I must keep people from getting close to me so that they can’t hurt me

4.     If I don’t perform perfectly, my mistakes will have tragic results.

5.     If I express my thoughts and needs I will lose the love and approval I desperately need.

Sexual Fantasy Attempts to meet Desires of the Heart:

1.     To have a voice

2.     To be safe

3.     To be chosen

4.     To be included

5.     To be blessed or praised

6.     To be attached, connected, or bonded

7.     To be affirmed

8.     To be touched (in healthy non-sexual ways).

Addictive Sexuality is:

1.     Uncontrollable

2.     Obligation

3.     Hurtful

4.     Condition of love

5.     Secretive

6.     Exploitative

7.     Benefits one person

8.     Emotionally distant

9.     Unsafe

Healthy Sexuality is:

1.     Controllable energy

2.     A natural drive

3.     Nurturing/healing

4.     Expression of love

5.     Private/sacred

6.     Mutual

7.     Intimate

8.     Safe

                       

Help for Healing:

1.     Learn about healthy sexuality

2.     Accept Support and Accountability

3.     Find a Mentor

4.     Join a Therapy Group

5.     Seek Counseling

6.     Work through family of origin and trauma issues.

7.     Look for safe Community

We can’t just ignore our issues and hope they get better. But if we address our problems, we can experience lasting change. “What we bury rises again, what we make peace with truly dies.” (Blankenship).

Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

This Friday and Saturday we (two other Avenues counselors and I) attended a workshop on Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction taught by Richard Blankenship: author, president, and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS)I wanted to pass some of what I learned on to you:

Addiction is the excessive use of pleasure and excitement to obliterate emotional pain 
   Addictive Sexuality ends in despair and shame
      Healthy Sexuality ends in joy and connectedness (Hatterer)

An addict’s Core Beliefs are:
    1. I am a bad, unworthy person
    2. No one would love me as I am
    3. No one will meet my needs
    4. Sex or a relationship is my most important need
    5. God is not powerful enough or trustworthy enough to meet my deepest needs (Carnes)

Basically an addict believes that grace is for everyone but me. Addicts are full of shame, which can be described as:
    Self
    Hatred 
    Accepting 
    M
    Enslavement

This shame and wounds from one’s past help drive the cycle of addiction: 

Some things I should know if I am a spouse of a sexual addict: 
       1. Don’t blame yourself for the perpetrators problem 
       2. Don’t minimize the grief and pain
       3. Stay in community

       4. The only person you can be responsible for is you!

Some things I should know if I am a sexual addict:
       1. Sexual Addiction is an Intimacy Disorder at its core
       2. Recovery must take place in community
       3. Pride, arrogance, and isolation are the top enemies of recovery 

       4. Recovery takes work, but it is doable!

Tools of Recovery:
     1. Join a Support Group
    FirstLight
                Celebrate Recovery
             Therapy Groups
             L.I.F.E Groups
     2. Find a good Counselor (Blankenship)

Does any of this sound like you or your spouse? If so, I would encourage you to begin this process as soon as possible. It is never too late to start the journey towards healthy sexuality! 

Why can’t I handle it on my own?

By: Andy Gear

When I think about life before the Fall, I don’t think of people going around lonely. But that thought comforted me because I realized loneliness in my own life doesn’t mean I am a complete screwup, rather God made me this way. You always picture the perfect human being as somebody who doesn’t need anybody, like a guy on a horse in Colorado or whatever. But here is Adam, the only perfect guy in the world, and he is going around wanting to be with somebody else, needing another person to fulfill a certain emptiness in his life . . . I wondered at how beautiful it is that you and I were created to need each other. The romantic need is just the beginning, because we need our families and we need our friends. In this way, we are made in God’s image. Certainly God does not need people in the way you and I do, but He feels a joy at being loved, and He feels a joy at delivering love. It is a striking thought to realize that, in paradise, a human is incomplete without a host of other people. We are relational indeed
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
I often feel like I should be able to handle all my problems on my own. Images of John Wayne and Bruce Willis float through my mind as I suck up my pain and try unsuccessfully to pull myself back up by my bootstraps. If only I just relied on God more, all my loneliness would just melt away. But as I read the first chapters of Genesis, I begin to question this assumption. Adam walked in the garden in perfect fellowship with God, and even then God said that Adam needed other people. He didn’t create us to be lone wolves. He created us to need each other, and He doesn’t call this weakness. He calls it being made in the image of God. We are relational, like our Father.

Growth in maturity doesn’t mean learning to solve all our problems on our own. Seeking caring, empathetic, and authentic relationship is not a concession for the weak. It is the wisdom that comes from realizing who we were made to be. We were not made to ‘stick it out’ on our own. In the Old Testament God called a family and a nation. In the New Testament He called His church to do life as a community of brothers and sisters. He wanted us to understand our need for help in this journey. Why can’t I handle it on my own? It’s not because there is something wrong with me. I was never meant to do it alone.  

Gardening and Grief

By: Katy Martin, LPC
I was robbed.
When someone takes something from you, it is a horrible feeling, no? It’s a feeling of violation. Someone came too close to you and took something valuable, without taking your feelings or needs into consideration. Or without considering the time and energy you spent to take care of whatever was taken.
For me, it was tomatoes. I walked out to water my garden on Tuesday morning and my tomatoes were GONE. My garden has produced two pea pods and one jalapeno pepper, so my hopes and dreams were hinging on these green, but growing, six whole tomatoes. And now they are gone. A furry creature has taken the fruit of my labor.
So where does grief come in?
In my disappointment about the missing tomatoes, I began to think about a loss of greater impact: loss felt when a loved one dies. (Really, I did.) The loss of a loved one absolutely does not compare in magnitude to my six tomatoes but I think it compares in that we often feel robbed when we lose someone close to us. And this feeling of being robbed is something we don’t acknowledge or talk about. We acknowledge the sadness, anger, and so many other feelings of loss. But feeling robbed of this person’s presence isn’t often something we can anticipate.
We are robbed of our future with this person. We are robbed of that person’s role in our life: mother, grandfather, sibling, etc. We are robbed of someone knowing us. We are robbed of what should have been with that person. It’s remembered with birthdays, holidays, and life changes. Who was there is now gone, and who they were in our lives has changed to memories. Our own roles change, as well.
And it’s easy to feel violated. Angry. Frustrated. And this is often directed towards the person, the circumstances, or towards God. It can result in complicated grief. Grief becomes complicated grief when symptoms of sadness, depression, and hopelessness extend for over a six month period or become more intense or even debilitating over time.
Can you relate? God is not a stranger to these feelings of loss. As He gave His Son on the cross, He experienced the death of a loved one, His child. God experiences loss every day when we choose to not turn towards Him. We can turn to Him. We can share our feelings and memories with those around us. We can turn our sadness into honoring the one we lost. We can pursue counseling to sort out the hurt left behind.
You may feel left behind, robbed, but you are not alone.
My garden may have been robbed, and may appear barren, but a perfect, green, ripe cucumber emerged a few days later. In the midst of sadness and grief, life is still happening even though it may not be what we wanted or what we thought it would look like. Don’t give up hope. We can find comfort in Lamentations 3:22-24: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”