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The Power of And

The power of and: Bonnie and Clyde.  Chocolate and peanut butter.  Bert and Ernie.  They just go together, right?  The “and” works because we know (or have at least learned from others) that they fit together.  You can have one without the other but most would say neither would be quite as good or complete.

 

“And” is good.  “And” is how it should be.

But sometimes in life, we encounter circumstances that simultaneously press on both joy and sadness, hope and fear, relief and great grief.  Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.

Avenues Counseling

You just had a baby; you are excited to be a mom and also really sad to lose the independence and freedom you used to have. You have a workaholic dad who doesn’t always have time for you; you love and respect him and have also been really hurt by him.  Your spouse just lost a long battle with cancer; you are devastated by the loss and also relieved that you are no longer overwhelmed by being the 24/7 caregiver.

Emotions that don’t feel like they should go together.  And in the midst of trying to make sense of them, we hear those voices in our head (or perhaps very audibly from those around us) that only one side of that “and” is the acceptable response or proper set of emotions to feel given the circumstance you are walking through. The way you “should” feel.  So the other, very real side of the “and” gets stuffed down inside with a sufficient dose of shame heaped on top.  It’s not allowed to be felt or talked about or acknowledged with anyone.  What would they think if they knew? How can both of these seemingly conflicting feelings be real?

For those of you who resonate with this, what would it look like for you to allow yourself to sit in the tension between your “and”? To be honest with yourself to see that you are feeling both the “acceptable” response to your circumstance as well as the “unacceptable” or less acknowledged response.  And to give yourself room to feel both sides of your “and”.  To grieve where there is sadness and identify what has been lost.  To rejoice where there is goodness or something gained. And to realize that giving way to one emotion does not negate the very real experience of or reality of the other.

And when you encounter a friend experiencing an emotion that “shouldn’t” be felt, I encourage you to sit and listen. To take a moment to put yourself in their shoes…really in their shoes.  And consider whether you might also be feeling a similar seemingly conflict of emotions. And then give them room to experience both sides of their “and”.

The power of “and” is freedom – freedom from shame, freedom to be honest, and freedom to be whole.

 

By Melinda Seley, PLPC

Parenting Our Children

Parenting my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The role I have taken on as “Mom” is daunting at times when I realize that it’s my job to teach them how to be people – regular ole’ human beings, it can often feel like one of the hardest tasks I have been given.

 

This is why I am extremely thankful for people like Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle who often put into speech or writing things my mind and heart very much need when it comes to parenting.  After re-listening to Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and making my way through Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, there were some commonalities in what they were saying that I believe is something to keep in mind as we parent our children – We are human beings, they are human beings, and we’re all in the same boat.

Here’s what I mean…if you are reading this blog post then without even knowing who you are I know some things are true of you – you are a human, you make mistakes, you are not perfect even though you may want to be, relationships are hard, life is hard, and if you’re honest with yourself you worry about how your kids will grow up in light of your imperfections.

It seems important that we begin to realize (and live as though it is true) that our children will invariably experience life as we do. After all, you are human and they are human, and being human means we naturally have limitations of which we have no control over.

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So as parents/caregivers should we approach this reality by trying our hardest to perfect our children as best as we can?  Do we really think we can keep them from experiencing the realities of what it means to be alive?  The truth is that no matter how much time and energy we put forth for our children, or high expectations we place on them, our desire to make our children perfect will never reach perfection.

When it comes to our children (and really just life in general) we need to stop trying to make the uncertain things about life certain.  We will never be satisfied and we will never be perfect.

Consider what both Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle share with us when it comes to parenting:
Here’s an excerpt from Brene’ Brown’s TED talk entitled, The Power Of Vulnerability (to listen to her entire talk click here).  She spends about a minute talking about the topic of parenting:  “We perfect most dangerously our children.  Let me tell you what we think about children – they’re hard wired for struggle when they get here.  When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her she’s perfect.  My job is just to keep her perfect.  Make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by 7th grade.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to look and say, “You know what, you are imperfect and wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.  That’s our job.  Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.”

In this excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, she is talking about the two things she tries to keep in mind when parenting.  Here’s what she shares with us, “First, I remember that I am a human being, and human beings make mistakes.  Almost constantly.  We fall short of what we aim for, always.  We get impatient.  We get angry.  We get selfish.  We get extremely sick and tired of playing pet store.  That’s okay.  It’s just the way it is.  We’re human.  Can’t fight it.  Elephants gotta be elephants and people gotta be people.  Then I remember what my most important parenting job is, and that is to teach my children how to deal with being human.”

What if we banded together as parents and caregivers and made a pact to no longer try to perfect our children?  What if, instead, we chose to spend our time and energy teaching our children what it means to be human?  Let’s make them experts on what it means to be human and equip them to thrive within their human limitations.

 

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

How Do You Define Abuse?

With so many opinions and definitions in our culture about abuse, how do you define abuse?

Must a bruise be present for you to believe your friend or neighbor is being abused?  If there is not bruising, can abuse still be happening in a home?  Why is it when women sit in my office trying to share with me their story of abuse their eyes are hooked on the floor, shame is palpable in the room, words start to flow out of their mouths but then stop as though they are scared to say anything?  I believe abused women are scared to say, “I’m being abused” because they are often disregarded and misunderstood.

It seems fair to say that as a culture we do not fully grasp what abuse is and the many forms it presents itself.

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The following definition of abuse can be found at Crying Out For Justice.  Its a little long, but please stick with me.

“Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself* as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.

While this mentality of power and control often expresses itself in various forms of physical abuse, it just as frequently employs tactics of verbal, emotional, financial, social, sexual and spiritual abuse. Thus, an abuser may never actually lay a hand on his wife and yet be very actively terrorizing her in incredibly damaging ways.”

Was your definition similar to the one above?  In my experience, we tend to think about someone who abuses as simply having an anger problem.  We say, “If he would just go to an anger-management program and counseling and work hard everything will be fine.”  This is how I used to think, but not anymore.

I have been learning a lot about the nature of abusive men.  Partly because of my own personal story and partly because I work with many who are wounded by abuse.  Our society seems to think that an abuser just needs to change his behavior by going to counseling, anger-management classes, and read books (or some variation thereof).

But an abuser doesn’t need to change his behavior, he needs to change his beliefs.

His fundamental thinking in which he believes he is entitled to treat his spouse however he would like.  For me, this shift in thinking has monumentally changed how I view abusive men and how I care for those who have been wounded.

Did you know…

-An abuser isn’t always abusive?  He will go through days and months without being abusive.  This can cause confusion on behalf of the abused.

-An abuser wants to create as much confusion as possible to those seeking to “figure him out”.  So he will try to get you (the abused, the counselor, the friend, the pastor) to focus in the wrong direction.  Oftentimes this will look like the abuser blaming the spouse for all of the relational problems and painting himself to be the victim.

-An abuser is usually the guy everyone likes.  He’s easily likable, enjoyable, and can tend to come across as laid-back.

-An abuser will want you to focus on his feelings but not his thinking.  He fears that if you figure out his thinking you will strip him of his power to control.  Hence why he seeks to create as much confusion as possible (see above).

It is important that we begin to grasp the nature of abusers so that we can see it, stop it, and seek to bring healing.

 

-By Lianne Johnson, LPC

*For this post I used the male gender to represent the abuser and the female to represent the abused.  The genders could easily be reversed, and in no way am I saying it can’t.  Some of the above thoughts are adapted from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That?, which is an amazingly great book.

Abuse is Abuse. Period.

While the impact of abuse on a person’s soul may actualize differently, we need to break free from old ways of thinking.  Abuse is abuse.  Period.

 St louis counseling

It never ceases to amaze me how people still seem to define what abuse is and isn’t, and what abuse a person should just “put up with” for the sake of preserving the martial relationship.  I once heard a mental health professional tell a client, “as long as he (the husband) isn’t hitting you then you need to stick it out.”  This professional was saying this to a woman who had been suffering through emotional and mental abuse by her husband for over 8 years.  This post is not about whether the abused should or shouldn’t leave or divorce their partner when abuse of any kind is taking place – so let’s not get hung up on that issue.  This post is about brining awareness that abuse is happening in your community and the abused deserve more from the person they trust to disclose to then just “stick it out” or any type of response that undermines the abused.  We need to listen.  We need to protect.  We need to advocate.  But the truth is, this mental health professional’s view on abuse is not uncommon in our society that demands physical and visual proof of something before its believed.

The reality is, out of the many types of abuse a person can experience, only one type (physical abuse and sometimes this remains hidden as well) will outwardly produce the physical and visible proof our society tends to want in order to believe a person is being abused.

Since we know abuse can remain hidden from us so easily, why do you think we still tend to respond to a persons disclosure of abuse with suspicion or disbelief?  It is a question for us all to ponder.

Instead of responding in these ways, why not chose to BELIEVE and not question the validity of what you hear?  It doesn’t matter if you think their partner is or isn’t capable of abusive behaviors.  It doesn’t matter if the abused has their own flaws in the relationship.

We are not listening to the one abused to judge them, provide excuses for the abuser, or justify abusive behavior.  Abuse is wrong, but until we stop providing excuses and justifications the abused will have to continue to fight to be heard and believed.

Here are some thoughts on how to support the abused.  What I am about to share with you is just a snippet out of Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He Do That.  To learn more about each of these points please read his book.  The following information can be found on pages 370-372.  This book is a must read for everyone.

How to care for the abused: (this list shows the difference in how you can care from that of the abuser)

1.  The abuser:  Pressures her severely

So you should:  Be patient.  Remember that it takes time for an abused woman to sort out her confusion and figure out how to handle her situation.

2.  The abuser:  Talks down to her

So you should:  Address her as an equal.  Avoid all traces of condescension or superior knowledge in your voice.

3.  The abuser:  Thinks he knows what is good for her better than she does

So you should:  Treat her as the expert on her own life.  Don’t assume that you know what she needs to do.

4.  The abuser:  Dominates conversations

So you should:  Listen more and talk less.

5.  The abuser:  Believes he has the right to control her life

So you should:  Respect her right to self-determination

6.  The abuser:  Assumes he understands her children and their needs better than she does

So you should:  Assume she is a competent, caring mother.  Remember that there is no simple way to determine        what is best for the children of an abused woman.

7.  The abuser:  Thinks for her

So you should:  Think with her.  Don’t assume the role of teacher or rescuer.  Instead, join forces with her as a respectful and equal team member.

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

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

Love Changes Us

Dr. Susan Johnson the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) proves what I have found true in my own life as well as my practice – Love Changes Us.

 

She did an experiment that showed how our brain images change when we face something we fear while with someone we love as opposed to being alone or with someone we don’t know.  Perhaps it is not a surprise to you that the result of the experiment showed a positive brain response when the subject was with someone they loved as they encountered a fearful stimulus.  The article mainly highlights a couple who is having trouble relationally and shows how the wife’s brain responded to her husband taking her hand while being exposed to the fear stimulus both before and after having done EFT as a couple.

After EFT the wife responded with less of a fear response when her husband took her hand while she experienced the fear stimulus.

brain

EFT is validated to be an effective therapy for couples with positive outcomes (to read the article I reference click here)

Immediately after reading this article I was reminded of 1 John 4:18 where it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  This verse isn’t saying we are not supposed to fear, but when we do fear and we are in the presence of love, love takes (“casts out”) away our fear (or lessens its power).

I have feared a lot in my life – “Will I be able to pay my bills, can I make it as a single mom, will people judge me because I am divorced, will I be loved, will I be alone….”  I have a lot of fears and maybe you do too.  I have learned in my life to not hate what I fear.  I used to try to numb my fears or run from them, though this never worked for long. Through the course of many trials that had many fears I have learned to embrace my fears.  I have learned that the fear itself is not scary at all – its what I do with my fear that matters.

So what do I do with my fear?

I RUN to God who has promised to love me and cast out my fear.  Love has changed me – God’s love has changed me.  I wonder what my brain looked like on the day I began to have a relationship with Him!

-by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

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

Different Isn’t Bad, It’s Just Not the Same

By: Andy Gear

A trip my wife and I took to Massachusetts reminded me of something I had learned as a kid from a man who had lived in Sierra Leone: “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.”

 

Recently, my wife and I visited the town in Massachusetts where we spent our honeymoon. It’s just a little fisherman’s village, but it brought back so many memories of our first year together. One might assume that it made me nostalgic for that “honeymoon period” when we had no kids, no problems, and our whole life ahead of us. And it did.  But I also remembered how difficult that first year was.

No one ever told me that learning to live with another person would be so difficult. And if they did I ignored them, because we were young and in love. Why would we ever argue? We’re soul mates.

Different Isn't Bad

So I was surprised to learn during that first year that my wife is very different than me. We have different interests, different values, different ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, different views of money and conflict, and different ways of eating cereal.  Because she was different than what I grew up with, I assumed that her differences were wrong, bad, or illogical.  I remember going for walks with her in some of the old neighborhoods in U. City, talking about the things a young seminarian thinks important. I’d be in the middle of what I thought a life-changing idea, when she would stop me and make me observe a bed of flowers, an idyllic home, or the sun descending with the most beautiful shade of orange. I was so frustrated. Why didn’t she think like me? What was wrong with her? I tried to convince her to be more like me. That did not go over well at all. Then I remembered the saying I shared with you earlier, “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.” I dwelt on this thought.

What if the things that are different about my wife are not only acceptable but are very good? What if my wife and I are custom made for each other and our individual qualities are meant to shape us into more whole, balanced, and fully functioning human beings?

I developed a new assumption: who my wife is now is very good.

With this new assumption in mind, I began to act upon it. I slowly began to receive my wife’s differences not as trials to bear but as gifts to be enjoyed. I tried to allow that person to shine through, to learn from her.

The result has been life changing.

I’m not convinced that I’m any better at marriage, but I appreciate who my wife is.  And in a small way I am becoming a more balanced, whole, and fully functioning human being. I believe that learning to embrace the beauty of who she is right now helped make my second trip to Massachusetts even better than the first.

Learning How Not To Say The WRONG Thing When Someone You Care About Is Hurting

By: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Caring for people and being cared for by others is a tricky business.  Wouldn’t you agree?  I recently read an article from the LA Times that reminded me of how hard it can be to care.  Some do it better than others, but then there are others out there who feel like they are continually putting their foot in their mouths.

Regardless of if you are an expert care-giver or in need of some guidance I think you may enjoy this article.  I would love to know what you think after you read it so don’t be shy!

Here is the link to the article:  CLICK HERE NOW!

Divorce is a perplexing way of life…

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

Today is Sunday and its just before 10AM.  10AM is when my church starts yet I am still at home.  It is safe for you to assume that I have chosen to play “hooky” from church.  I fear that I have succumbed to many enticing realities that staying home has to offer to me on this Sunday morning.  In St. Louis its raining and overcast, my house is quiet because today is a “dad” day, and to be honest I’m exhausted from my youngest son refusing to sleep well for 3 nights in a row.  So I am staying home from church to enjoy the peace of my home, to allow my mind and heart to rest, and to prepare myself for yet another week of chaos.  And while the choice to stay home is good for me, I sit here aching in my heart with the reality that my choice to stay home means I will not see my sons today, and I will not see many friends today, and I will not corporately sing out to the Lord and worship Him.

You see I am divorced.  Its true.  I am a divorced christian woman with 2 young boys who finds myself in the continuous perplexing state of not really ever feeling content with my decisions.  To be honest, since being divorced (which is a recent reality for me) there are not many days where I do not feel split within my being.  Take my decision to stay home today as an example.  While I am glad that I allowed myself to make a choice that cares for my needs, at the very same time I want to scream at myself for making it.  The internal tape in my head sounds something like this: “How could you choose to rest over seeing your boys?  What is wrong with you?  You see, you are not a good mom.  A good mom would not choose rest over seeing her kids.”  The raging thoughts continue…and continue…and continue.

Then I begin to rage within my being about having a morning where I could choose to rest.  Having a morning where my kids aren’t here with me, because if I weren’t divorced then they would always be with me.  Extreme sadness begins to set in as I miss my kids terribly and the reality of my new life is in my face and I cannot escape it.

Divorce is perplexing on many levels and here I have only shared one level of the many.

The reality of my current season of life is this:  It is good (and okay) for me to choose to rest today, yet this means I will miss seeing my kids today.  If I had chosen do to the opposite then the reality would have been not resting but getting to see my kids.  The first allows me to care for myself.  The second allows for me to care for my kids (and not feel mommy guilt) but not for myself.  Either decision leaves someone desiring something different.

Divorce is perplexing.