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Shame and Contempt, Part 2: In our Daily Lives

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

My previous blog is this series proposed that shame and contempt shape our worlds more than we know.  Do they? Here I am going to look at the vicious villians of shame and contempt in our daily lives. Listen to your words and your thoughts.  Pay attention to your verbs.

It may surprise you how often you use “being” verbs in your daily life to describe yourselves and others.

Daily Contemp

Every time I shout at another driver in traffic, “Idiot!” (the full sentence by implication is “You are an idiot!”) I express contempt.  I express my feeling that the other driver’s intelligence is defective, that they are in their very being worthless.  And this, because they did something careless or something that I didn’t expect.

Daily Shame

When I make a mess of things, make a mistake or deliberately do or say something hurtful, if I beat myself up about it, I am operating in shame.  “Idiot!  I can’t believe I did that.”  I am expressing self-contempt, saying that because of this thing, and maybe others like it, I am of no real value in the world.  I believe that everyone who hears of it would agree, and that they would be correct in having me summarily executed, that the world would be better off without me.

Living Truthfully

Of course, we don’t articulate either of these thoughts fully.  If we were to articulate them fully, we would have to retract our statements.

So if (a) Shame and Contempt themselves are lies in their essence, and (b) most often we don’t really believe in the full extent of what we are actually saying, then there is a lot of falseness in our daily lives that we simply accept as “normal”.

Listen to your verbs.  I challenge you to change your being verbs into descriptive action verbs and see what changes in your experience as you walk about your life.  –JH

(Coming Soon: The Flipside of Shame and Contempt)

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)

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.

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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?  

 

Is Taking Care of Yourself Important?

Is Taking Care of Yourself Important?

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC, EMDR trained therapist

It seems like our culture has some pretty disturbing contradictions when it comes to the way we interact with ourselves. We certainly live in an age of self-promotion, some would even say selfishness. “You are what matters,” “get yours,” “look out for you,” are common phrases and mentalities in our society and ideologies being taught to our children. If you look at that aspect of our cultural message alone, you might conclude that we are rock stars at self-care. However, we are also living in the age of “push yourself,” and “never settle for less than your best.” It is a badge of honor to be overly busy or thoroughly stressed out. People “top” one another in conversations about how little sleep they get, how little time they have to eat or relax.

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Do you wear out and neglect your most valued possessions? Do you leave your tablet or phone on the floor? Do you keep driving your car for thousands of miles past when it needs an oil change? Would you let your 5 year old play with your wedding ring? Most likely not. So if we truly are valuable, why do we tend not to treat ourselves that way?

The toughest part of taking care of ourselves is believing that we are worth it. This is a difficult battle fraught with deeply rooted negative self-beliefs cemented inside us a long time ago. Fighting this battle often takes time, persistence, a trusted friend or good counselor, and lots of courage.

The next most difficult part of embracing self-care is that it is not black-and-white, nor is it consistent. What to one person is self-care might not be to another, and what is self-care one day may not be the next. There are times when exercise is wonderful self-care, while other times it is a nap. Watching television for an escape from stress or pain, or for relaxation, can be the perfect option; but other times it is just unhealthy avoidance or numbing. An ice cream cone can be a good treat or an over indulgence. A day off can be a perfect respite and rejuvenating, or it can be irresponsible.

So how do you know? Well like I mentioned above, first you have to believe you are worth it. That you are worth being treated like you are valuable…..by yourself. Next you have to question yourself and your motivations, rather than numb your self-awareness away. You need to ask yourself what you need, rather than what you “should” do. Because guess what? You are worth it.

Our Identity and the Call of the Mall

Our Identity and the Call of the Mall

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC
It has been quite some time since I have had cause to wander around in a shopping mall for more than a few minutes.  I usually have a focused plan of attack: one or two things I want to grab, in and out and done.  Today, I have a couple of hours to kill.  As I stroll the balconies I find myself fascinated and somewhat saddened.
I am fascinated by the allure of “the Next Greatest Thing”: whether it is the image created by what we wear or the latest advancements in gear and technology.  I am saddened at the fact that, in order to get us to notice, desire, and above all else, *purchase* that Next Greatest Thing, the marketing machine must cause the adequate things we already have to seem inadequate.  To quote Billy Joel, “Can’t you see that you’re out of touch?”

This is true of our possessions, of our clothing, of our very identities.  We begin to believe the lie that we ourselves are inadequate, and we ask Stuff to make us better.  We shape and define our identities by what we wear and by what we look like rather than by what we actually *are* to the point that we forget our original identity, or at least to the point that we believe that our original selves can never be what anyone wants to see.  It’s exhausting to keep up an acceptable, presentable image.

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Here at the Mall, I see purveyors of identity, cultivators of First World privilege, technological bathhouses. Here you can acquire all that is necessary to become hip-hop or hipster, outdoorsman or urban chic. Here you can locate a dozen technological solutions to all of the problems you never realized you had. Here is the lair of the next good thing that makes the thing you have look shabby and old. Here luxury and convenience become necessity.
Store after store along these sunlit and stylish halls. They thrive on the cult of appearance. Each vending hall itself bears the image it purveys. As I walk by, the walls abruptly shift from the clean modern lines of the trendy clothier to the blank whiteness of the computer clean-room, to the ragged edges and coarse textures of “Manliness”, to the frills and exposure of sexy, elegant, or beautiful.  Glass, steel, wood, stone, plastic, each takes over from the previous, greedily and garishly staking their claim on my eye and attention.
Every ad, every image, every paneled line, from ceiling to floor, intended to convey a unique message of sameness and acceptability.
The open spaces and hard surfaces of the walkways and balconies reflect and muddle the noises of humanity into a background cacophony of recorded music, indistinct voices, shouts of children, and the splash of a waterfall. The liveness and persistence of the din conspire to drive me into a doorway, any doorway, passing through which the noise fades and my attention focuses.
The doorways magically defeat the polyphonic sea-sound “out there” and a different music takes over; a single, sculpted voice, indigenous to the visual style that meets my eye.  I think to myself, “Was I looking for something? Maybe it’s in here.”
I absently wonder about the poor kiosketeers, whose stores do not have this benefit of restricted air space. My shoulders relax and I realize that was tense. That’s passed now. It’s nice in here. What was it that I was looking for again?
“Can I help you find something?”
“No thanks, I’m just looking.”
But in this place there is no such thing as “just” looking.  This place evokes a potent hunger. There are a thousand and one “Things I Need” here.
Because this place, outside and in, is a temple of Want, the holy place of Dissatisfaction and Dearth, filled with the promise of plenty and blessing when you pass your plastic offering through the altar slot.
Here there are no average sizes. You are skinny or plus-sized. Short or tall. When did they expunge “medium” from the tag-writer’s lexicon? I am suddenly looking for the thing that fits me, but not only in size. I’m looking for my style, too. I realize that I didn’t know I had a style to be looking for, but I suddenly know that what I’m wearing is not quite up to snuff. I don’t have anything that looks like *that*, and that mannequin looks pretty sharp.
The stubbled stud in the photo ad behind looks even better.
It occurs to me that I am supposed to use the mannequin as a mirror. I’m to imagine my head where it has none and envision my body as the same in appearance as the plastic and canvas simulacrum before me. There is the unspoken promise that my face will look like the stud’s face when I wear this shirt, because damn he looks good.
I suddenly sense the inherent lie of the promise, that it is impossible to keep, and now I want to flee. Deep down I know that my face will never look like that. I know that the quest for that face would lead me to too many plastic surgeries, to the pity of the other mall-walkers when they see my overstretched, too-modified, ultimately mannequin features.
No, my altar is the altar of things. The awesome tech, the powerful devices, the clever items that no one else has (yet). The stuff that, if I pause for a moment, I know I will use three times before it loses the packaged charm that it now possesses.
But I am not in a mood to pause. The Stuff-Call is upon me.
My only choice is back out into the noise. I pass the magic barrier and the atmosphere of need is all around me again, pressing at my ears.
Now I AM looking for something. Something shiny and smart. That manly razor shop, for instance. I like the look and feel of the place, the “old school” razors and shaving gear. The smell of leather and soap.  Maybe there. Yes.
Then I remember that for the last 10 years, I’ve worn a beard.  Did I actually forget that?  The Stuff-Call is strong here.
I do the counter-intuitive thing. I stop and sit. The benches were not made for comfort. THEY don’t want me to stay out here, looking into the windows of a single store, not for long, any way. (There are no seats facing a blank wall, after all. I looked.)
The pleasant looking but inadequately padded bench (I wonder if I could find one like this for my living room?) says, “Rest your feet for a bit, traveler, but this is not a destination. It is a way-station to help you on your journey to the temple of your choice-god.”
I defy the subliminal pressure of the Call.  Instead, I record my thoughts on a very useful, very smart, very out-of-date device which I already have (but which is not yet paid for) and which will likely last me quite some time yet.
Perhaps I will share these thoughts with you someday. I will have to refine them and make them presentable first, though, because… Well, appearances matter, and they have to be presentable, after all.

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.  

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?