risk

Perfectionism and Blogging

Perfectionism and Blogging

by Frank Theus, LPC

In my line of work as a therapist writing a blog or contributing to one is considered part and parcel of the profession; in fact, I know many fellow therapists who attest to how much they enjoy writing informally via a forum that invites conversation. Perfectionism has stood in my way before now.

“Every time I write a [blog], I have to remind myself that all I have to worry about is the next paragraph.” – Donald Miller

However, what does a therapist-blogger do when the writing becomes de rigueur du jour and try as best they can simply can’t lift a pen, or type out the next word much less “…the next paragraph” (Miller)?

Ignore the panic attacks? Obfuscate, deny, and delay regarding the topic and proposed deadlines? Stop writing? Quit the job? Does any of this seem extreme to you? Well, hello, I’m that guy who has been there, done that, and has those t-shirts.

You see, I hate to write. Duh!

Writing’s a powerful medium that can expose the author’s heart-life leaving them vulnerable to evaluation and critique – real or imagined – by others; and, my basic survival instinct wants no part of that. Perfectionism won out. Are you able to relate?

You see I’m recovering from perfectionism, triggered by the thought of writing, grammar, punctuation, and (reasonable) expectations of me around this topic. For a variety of reasons I failed to learn the basics in secondary school and later in my undergraduate years. In Abba’s infinite and providential sense of humor I was thrust into leadership roles within professions that required me to write for the sake of other’s careers. No pressure there. Right?!

But writing didn’t get easier for me then or by the time I went through graduate school as a 50-something reinventing retiree, or afterward here at Avenues Counseling. Finally, I shared my angst with my boss and we agreed I’d take a mini-sabbatical from writing. I wish I could say I used this holiday to constructively reflect, engage in intense psychotherapy to get at the root causes of my graphophobia, become a modern day contemplative Reformed-Benedictine, to journal (God forbid) but I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I more often than not simply disengaged from any thought of ever writing again. I was good with that.

But here I am. Writing. Haltingly so. Imperfectly, and [relatively] free. What happened? I’m not sure; and, I don’t know that I have to have it all figured out.

Whatever the “it” is in your life that keeps you stuck or otherwise diminishes your quality of life maybe the first step is to be kind and gentle with yourself and to simply acknowledge it aloud.

But don’t stop there. Risk, yes, risk being vulnerable enough to tell someone that’s trustworthy what the “it” is. Ask for help, learn, grow, heal, and re-engage with enjoying the whole of your life. L’chaim!

Does your past matter?

Does your past really matter?

by:  Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC

shutterstock_155509727How often to you pick up a novel or biography you have not previously read, flip to a random page in the middle of the book, and start reading from there? Have you ever tried to sit down in the middle of a movie and pick up the storyline? Our lives are stories full of experiences that connect and impact what comes next. So when we say that the past doesn’t matter or our childhood has no significance when it comes to what’s going on in our lives today, it seems to me more like it’s wishful thinking than what is actually true.

I think there are different reasons why we want to downplay the significance of our past, specifically our early years. Sometimes it seems to stem from a desire to believe we’ve moved past it all, grown too strong and mature for any of those vulnerable years to still have the power to impact us today. For others the motivation to downplay prior experiences comes from an avoidance of the pain which accompanies them.

The reality, however, is that our lives are a whole intricate story.

Think about it this way: what’s the first thing a doctor asks about? Your medical history. What do you want to know about a car before buying it? Accident history and mileage. Similarly, when you are getting know someone new, whether a friend, co-worker, or date, conversation will surely be filled with facts about the present, but part of getting to know them is also understanding their past and where they come from, both literally and figuratively.

Neglecting the importance of our past, especially our early impressionable and very vulnerable years, is a misstep that hinders our growth and depth in the present.

History is a mandatory subject in school for a reason. We can become students of our own histories and discover how and why we got to where we are, potential pitfalls and blindspots we operate with, and relational patterns and styles that may contribute to our present relational struggles.

The Healing Presence of Brutal Reality

The Healing Presence of Brutal Reality

by: Jason Pogue, PLPC

Do you know that uncomfortable tension when you realize you are trying to be somebody or something you are not?

I’m not sure what it feels like for you. For me, it is as if my mind begins to separate itself from my heart, trying to press ahead and leave my knotted stomach and racing heart behind. If I just do these things I can pull it off and no one will know. Often my mind is so good at this that it can be in this place for weeks before I start to recognize my body aching from carrying all the tension – my tight shoulders and aching legs like clues to the mystery of where I actually am. And, no wonder it sometimes takes weeks! Prior to beginning my own counseling journey my mind was in this place for years unaware – racing ahead to avoid the deep fears of being “found out” as an imposter or discovered as someone broken beyond hope. Perhaps my mind was racing ahead at light-speed to avoid the deep pain that I didn’t know how to experience yet, unaware that this pain collects interest over time.

Recently I sat down with some colleagues to discuss an interview with a prolific psychiatrist and author, Irvin Yalom. Irvin recounted early in his career a moment when he sat in the therapy room with “a red-headed, freckled woman, a few years older than” him. In the first session, this woman shared with Irvin that she was a lesbian. Irv writes, “That was not a good start because I didn’t know what a lesbian was. I had never heard the term before.” I about burst out laughing when I first read that. This is the prolific therapist Irv Yalom! Yet even Irv has moments where he must make a choice. Am I going to try to be someone I’m not, or be real in this moment with this person?

Irv, being the gifted therapist he is, made the split-second decision that “the only way [he] could really relate to her was to be honest and to tell her [he] didn’t know what a lesbian was.” And so, he invited her to enlighten him in the coming weeks about her experience and they developed a great relationship in their work together.

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The truth that this little story reveals to me is that what we all need most is genuine and honest connection. If that exists, we can learn from each other and enjoy each other even in our differences, failures, finitude, and confusion. However, this connection is impossible when my mind is racing ahead of my heart – when I’m living in a world designed to protect me from the present, rather than risking being honest about the reality of what is happening right now.

Unfortunately the world we live in continues to tell our minds to run ahead…to forget about the moment because you have a million other things to do, too many things to worry about…or to forget about the moment because what if the moment is unbearable? And yet, it is only when we risk acknowledging the present reality of the now – when we don’t shy away from our fears, inadequacies, wounds, guilt, powerlessness – that we can ever truly enjoy the beauty in and around us and the joys of living in this world.

If you’re tired of trying to be someone you are not, what is stopping you from being who you are? What is stopping you from stopping, and entering into the reality of now?

(The interview with Irvin Yalom can be found at: https://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/irvin-yalom)

Conflict and Resolution in a Nutshell

By Jonathan Hart, LPC

It is the nature of relationships to include conflict.  In fact, conflict is a necessary component of intimacy and closeness in relationship.  If you are to become emotionally close with another person, it is necessary to come into conflict with them, because conflict is the place where my uniqueness bumps up against your uniqueness, which by definition is different than mine.

Conflict is the place where we figure out how to do life together in the presence of these differences.  If ever these differences are eroded away or eliminated (what many would describe as “resolved”), we are not actually connected with each other. One of us has been either consumed or effaced by the other.

Two objects in contact with each other generate friction and heat as they move independently in that contact.  If there is no friction, there is no contact.  If we never engage in or experience conflict with our significant other, we are not emotionally engaged with them on a meaningful level.  We are not in contact.

conflict

This being said, there are two ways of doing conflict: Well or Poorly.  Conflict done well strengthens the relationship.  Conflict done poorly decimates it.  In order to do conflict well, we need to find a way toward resolution.Fingers

Agreement is NOT resolution. 

The problem most people encounter is that when they try to resolve conflict by reaching some kind of agreement, they are working toward an unsupportable solution.  Agreement is not necessary to reach resolution.  If we try to find a place where we agree on everything, we end up working against our own uniqueness, and we cannot sustain that forever.  Agreement sometimes happens, but when we hold that as the only standard for resolution, we will end up frustrated and hopeless.

“Agree to disagree” is not resolution.  

If we agree to disagree, we create “dead spaces” in the relationship where we can never come into contact.  In this arrangement, the solution to conflict is to avoid it, which simply cannot lead to resolution any more than the South road leads North.  If avoiding conflict is our goal and our standard for good relationship (i.e., being “nice”, “happy”, or “positive”), we will never experience a truly connected, intimate relationship.

Compromise cannot lead to resolution. 

When we try to use compromise to reach resolution, we are usually operating on the presumption that “everyone loses something” and “no one leaves the table completely happy”.  Compromises reached in this way are generally composed of requests or demands that we make of one another.  When we agree to a compromise, we are saying that we are going to “try to be different” for the sake of the other.  While this sounds good on the surface, what is happening under the surface is that our uniqueness is not being acknowledged and/or validated.  Because of this, the changes are often unsustainable. We become frustrated, exhausted, and resentful in the long run (consumed), or we simply “kill” that part of our identity for the sake of the other (effaced).

Real Resolution

Real resolution is achieved when we genuinely and deeply understand each other’s position, thoughts, and feelings, and can acknowledge them as valid, even though we may not agree.  When we really understand the other person, we often find a willingness to work together and move toward a solution that is not forced or demanded, but organic to each participant, and therefore sustainable. Any changes we make grow out of this deep understanding of the other’s need, and are generally “gifts” offered by the participants themselves based on this knowledge and kindness. This leads to gratitude and a building of affection between the parties (read, Intimacy, Closeness, Connection).

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To say it concisely; once I deeply understand and give credit to how you think and feel, and presuming I care about what you think and how you feel, I find myself willing to shift how I relate to you.  When we each are able to do this for the other, we are no longer in conflict.  We are working together, and the conflict is resolved.

 

You need therapy. Everybody does.

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

 

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

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

Avenues Counseling

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

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

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

You need therapy. Everybody does.

by: Frank Theus, PLPC, CSAT(candidate)

Empathy Requires Vulnerability

“Yes, empathy requires some vulnerability, and we risk getting back a ‘mind your own damn business’ look, but it’s worth it.”  – page 100, Daring Greatly

 

I’ve been slowly making may way through Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly.  It’s a great book.  It even made #1 on the New York Times bestseller list!  I honestly haven’t read a book written by her that I haven’t fully enjoyed and learned from yet, but if I ever do I’ll let you know.

empathy

After having read the quote I opened this post with, I stopped reading.  I had to think more about what she was saying.  I thought to myself, “Empathy requires vulnerability?  Really…hmmm, why?”

When we choose to empathize with another in their suffering and/or emotion we are choosing to say, “I will not ignore your pain, your emotion, or your needs, and I am here for you.”  Saying something like this absolutely requires us to be vulnerable!

Choosing to empathize with another requires things from us, doesn’t it?  Showing empathy requires that we be vulnerable.  Vulnerable with our time, emotional and mental energy, our personal comfort (or rather discomfort that can come when we become involved in another’s situation), sometimes it requires that we speak into their pain and sometimes we sit in silence with our friend.  In your friendships do you think its “worth” all of the things it may cost you to show empathy?  Sometimes I have found that the very thing keeping people from experiencing healthy  and intimate friendships is their lack of willingness to “step into” their friends lives.  To show empathy.

If we choose to not show empathy to those we claim are our friends, spouse, family, etc., then we can never hope to have relational intimacy.  As Brene’ talks about in her book – We need to move about our relationships with COURAGE.  Courage is what we need be vulnerable, which leads to our willingness to choose and risk showing empathy to another.

Courage is the first step….once we have courage nothing can stop us!

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

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.

Wisdom from Calvin and Hobbes

by Courtney Hollingsworth & Calvin and Hobbes

Change can be scary. It can be hard. It can be painful. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. Ignorance can be all of those things too. Neither option eliminates risk. You can choose to walk into the risk and embrace the scariness of it. Or you can choose to close your eyes, walk forward, and pretend it isn’t scary at all. Ignorance isn’t bliss. But don’t take it from me, take it from Calvin and Hobbes:



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.

The Depths of Your Heart

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

I recently spent time at a lake suffering from significantly low water levels. The state in which I experienced the lake seemed to expose much of what is typically concealed. As I sat by the water’s edge, I observed large logs and rock formations often obscured below the muddled surface of the lake. Observing boats and jet skis avoid these perils while zipping to and fro, I reflected on how normally these dangers are lurking, unseen, just below the water level. This caused me to think of how many of us, myself included, tend to act as recreation seekers, skimming along the surface of our lives with little desire peer into the murkiness found in the depths.
Do you ever find yourself living your life as a recreation seeker? Do you feel as though you are skimming the surface of your life? Do you ever feel as though you keep to the shallows of your heart and story in avoidance?
I think we do this for a number of reasons. Perhaps we are scared of what we might find, or we believe ourselves to be too busy to engage it, or we have experienced others handling the treasures and terrors of our depths in careless or even harmful ways. Regardless of our reasoning, this recreational type of living (i.e. avoidance) causes us to be very susceptible to getting tripped up, stuck, or harmed by the substance of our depth. It is scary to put on your snorkel and mask and peer into the darkness, but I believe failing to do so not only makes us all susceptible to the dangers that may befall us, but it also keeps us (and those around us) from knowing the depth of ourselves.
What would it take to inspect the treasures and terrors of you? What would it be like to invite someone trustworthy and caring, to come along with you as you dive? What would it be like to take a deep breath, and plunge below the surface to see what there is to find?