healing

Cultivating a Life that is Real: Finding Hope through Your Darkness

by Jason Pogue, PLPC

I have yet to meet anyone whose middle school years were not fraught with social perils and awkwardness and mine were no different. I can remember days I was so sure I had committed a social disaster that I laid in bed at night dreadfully imagining the possible fallout that awaited me the next day at school.  And yet, I would often awake the next day and march into school doing everything I could to pretend the truth that my knotted stomach betrayed was a lie and that none of the previous day had unfolded as it did. This got me through the day many times, but it was a miserable way to live. And, it still is.

The reality is we all still do this self-deception as adults because it gets us through the day, but we often never slow down to think about what it costs us. In the course of experiencing deeply confusing, painful, frightening, shame-filled, and aggravating events somewhere along the way we make a decision – whether conscious or not – to disown pieces of this experience that feel like too much to bear.

Just like middle school, we act like the wounds and emotions our bodies communicate we carry don’t exist, and we talk ourselves away from what the pit of our stomach knows is actual reality. We become so good at this that we disown parts of an experience while keeping all the good things so that as we move forward it seems like a bright and cheerful time even though it carries shadows on all sides of betrayal, crushed hope, or shame.

My point here is not to “miserable-ize” everything in your life, but to illuminate what is lost when we do this. The reality is what we disown is not only an event but our experience of an event. When we disown that experience we actually disown a part of ourselves – a part of the deep experience of our soul – and we take one more step away from ever being truly known by those around us. No matter how vulnerable we are with however many people, we always have those pieces in the back of our mind holding us hostage with the thought, ‘Yeah, but if they knew that about me they would run in the other direction.” We become lonely, and less and less real – no matter how many people or “positive vibes” we surround ourselves with.

Cultivating a life that is real and fighting loneliness begins with examining the pieces of our soul we have disowned, working through whatever discomfort kept us from doing this before, and bringing those pieces of ourselves back into the present so that we can live a more whole and connected life.

This is certainly not an easy task, but often when we face the darkness rather than run from it, we find some light. As English theologian Thomas Fuller once said, “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”

So what are the pieces of yourself you’ve left in the darkness? What are the parts of your soul locked away inside? Are you ready to face them openly? Are you ready for true connection? For whole-hearted living? Are you ready to be real?

The Healing Power of Tears

 

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

 

Tears have a complicated place in our society. Have you ever had a good cry, and felt (strangely) a little bit better afterwards?  Well, there is a scientific reason why that is the case.

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher worked on an amazing photography project called Topography of Tears. In this multi-year long project, she collected and examined more than 100 human tears under a microscope.  Among others, she studied tears shed while laughing, grieving, and responding to change, as well as basal tears (those meant to keep the eye lubricated) and reflex tears (those that respond to an irritant in the eye).

Fascinatingly, Fisher found that the appearance of tears is different based on what elicits them; and not only is their appearance different, but the physical composition also varies – most notably, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress to help improve one’s mood.

 

Our physical bodies are so intricately connected to our emotions that a chemical is released to help heal us emotionally when we cry!

 

So this remarkable discovery makes me wonder – when we view crying as weakness, what are we really doing? Why do we have a tendency in our culture, as well as other cultures, to view crying as something to be squelched, and prohibit our bodies from naturally responding to distress? What kind of healing are we missing out on?  It seems that we are rejecting the very thing that can actually physically aid in our healing!  If this is you, what does it look like to let those tears flow? What do you need or to believe in order to do that?

{A Smithsonian article describing Fisher’s project in more detail can be found here – I encourage you to read the whole thing!}

 

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.

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)

Finding My New Normal After Divorce

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

I have seen, and personally experienced, a tendency to overlook the impact of relational trauma on our functioning. Why is it that even when our life circumstances change – we live through a relational trauma or betrayal, we are separated from our spouse, we unexpectedly become a single-parent, we go through a divorce, we discover abusive realities in our partner – Why do we keep living (or pressuring ourselves to live) as though these changes haven’t happened?  Why do we keep living as though our bandwidth for interacting with life hasn’t changed?

Sometimes when I realize I am pressuring myself to live as though my life hasn’t radically changed, I just sit and shake my head at myself.  I ask myself in these moments, “Why am I pressuring myself?  What am I fearing?”  The answers to these questions are usually the same, no matter the circumstance.  Part of the answer is that I desperately want to live like I was living, before my life changed without my permission.  I want my normal back.  I want what was known to me.  The other part of my answer is that it saddens me to feel like I am letting people down by no longer being able to perform as I had been.  I fear others won’t understand, or won’t care to take the time to learn, the basic equation I now have to live by: My life radically changing when I experienced trauma and betrayal in my marriage + an unexpected long season of separation and suffering + ultimately getting divorced + being a single mom + running a business = having less bandwidth for life.

For a long time, I angrily fought the equation I now had to live my life by.  I didn’t fight it by taking on more than I could, I fought it by being angry with life and retreating.  It wasn’t until I started to accept my new normal that I started to enjoy life.

Part of accepting my new normal was learning to like the person I am now.  To accept the me I am now.  I am different.  My traumatic experience changed me.  Learning to be a single mom, a divorced woman, changed me.  I am not quite sure how I could live through all of that unchanged.  But I guess the biggest thing I had to learn to do was accept the new me, my new normal, and learn who I had now become.

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Finding Our Jewels Within

Finding Our Jewels Within

Sometimes I find myself so deep in thought that the only way I know how to express myself is through writing.  This poem came from one of those times in my life, when I was growing emotionally and learning more about myself internally. I could sense that there were going to be great benefits to this eventually, but in the moment all I could see and feel seemed covered in dirt.  In my experience, this is where many clients begin when they first come to counseling.  Life may seem blurry, insurmountable, confusing, and gray.

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Jewel

I feel on the verge of discovering beautiful jewels.
Jewels that are more precious than anything on this Earth.
Jewels that would provide refuge & serenity in a world filled with dirt.
Jewels that are buried ~ yet meant to be found.
Jewels that I am made for ~ created just for me.
Jewels that I am meant to share
The jewels are worth the work
and work you must in order to gain them.
They are easily covered by responsibilities, busyness, laziness, forgetfulness
and worst of all: The Enemy.
He tries to snatch them away or bury them further
and even whispers to me that I am not worthy.
His subtle lies invade and paint beauty over in gray.
But Oh, just a small view of the radiant jewel
shows me the lies are simply not true.
One little glimmer provides hours of hope.
What would it be like to hold one?
What would it be like to own one?
These jewels are God-given and for his children.
The journey to gain them is part of the gift.

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As a Christian, one of my sources of hope is in God. Where do you find hope? We are all searching for hope and healing. Whatever avenue you are on, the therapists at Avenues are here to journey with you as you discover jewels made just for you.

by:  Kim Hammans, PLPC

Abused Boys…

Abused Boys…

October is domestic abuse prevention month and it seems that for months leading up to it social media and various news media outlets have been awash reporting on the topic of abused boys, and, in some cases, men. Is this phenomenon — the reporting of abused boys in the context of sexual abuse, in particular — merely a documenting of the latest cause du jour; or, is the issue so prevalent we simply can no longer ignore the ugly truth? I think the answer is, “It’s both.”

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My desire in writing about this ugly truth is to initiate a safe and respectful “blogversation” (yeah, I coined that term) that will be ongoing and not just a one off blog article. This continuing conversation, I hope, will seek to educate in a non-salacious manner deconstructing fallacies that sexual abuse of boys is rare, or that the consequences are less serious than for girls. Additionally, that if you’re an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse (CSA) – particularly you men – you are NOT alone and you no longer need hide in the shadows silently carrying the burden of shame, guilt, confusion, humiliation, pain, and fear. Lastly, through reading this article and ones to follow you will be encouraged to come out of the shadows of this burden you’ve carried for too long and to find the care, counsel, and substantial healing you so richly deserve.

Sex abuse is “…any touch or other behavior between the child and the adult that must be kept secret will be considered abuse.”

As this blogversation unfolds it’s important that we arrive at a clear definition of what sexual abuse is. Because, after all, once we know what it is impacts how we react to it. Here I like the succinct definition provided by Dr. Mic Hunter: Sex abuse is “…any touch or other behavior between the child and the adult that must be kept secret will be considered abuse.” Regardless of the adult’s protestations and/or intentions, if harm was the result for the child, the adult is the responsible party. Sadly, I would also add that this definition applies to an older minor-aged child engaged similarly, beyond developmental curiosity, with a younger-aged child. The “Who is responsible?” portion here obviously presents a host of challenges for parents and or those who are “mandate reporters” who discover abusive behaviors between minors; increasingly, the courts are answering this question.

“So what are we talking about here, Frank?” Well, it’s not the scope of this or follow on entries to enumerate what is certainly an inexhaustible list of ways that adults and older-aged minors mistreat children. But what I do know from anecdotal reporting, my own research on the topic before us, and what I deal with therapeutically with male clients is:

  • Conservatively, 1 in 6 (16.66%) males have experienced some form of sex abuse prior to their 18th
  • Male survivors of CSA often time lack the recognition and/or vocabulary to name what in fact happened to them.
  • Over time, victim-survivors are at greater risk for developing maladaptive coping mechanisms and/or acting out behaviors which impact their health, relationships, and vocation.

Questions to help identify your thoughts and emotions (Hunter):

  • What has been your definition of sexual abuse or incest? After reading above do you feel it may be changing?
  • Does your working definition for sex abuse allow you to feel the weight of your own abuse or that of a loved one?
  • How common do you think sexual abuse is in your gender?

I hope this initial start to this blogversation has a struck a chord with you. If so, please add your thoughtful comments, questions here. If you wish to have a more confidential conversation on this or other topics or other issues impacting your life please give me or one of my colleagues a call here at Avenues Counseling Center.

Resources for your consideration and growth:

Books:

  • Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse by Dr. Mic Hunter (Fawcett Books: 1990).
  • The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sex Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender (NavPress: 2008).

Online:

by:  Frank Theus, PLPC