Blood is Thicker than Water, Part II
by: Jonathan Hart, LPC
Back in February, I wrote a blog called “Blood is Thicker than Water”. You can find it here. It might be a good idea to check that post out before reading on.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Welcome back! Just in case you didn’t actually go read the previous post, I’ll give you a quick summary: The main thrust of that post is that we keep “holding out for healthy relationship” with family far longer than we do with anyone else because family relationships are so vitally important. We still maintain our limits, and we don’t settle for less than the real deal, and we keep at it.
I used the image of the vehicle that starts making funny noises. We don’t “just deal with it” when that starts to happen. We do what is necessary to get it fixed. The problem is that some things on cars (and in relationships) are not fixable. This brings us to the question in family relationships: At what point is persisting in relationship futile or foolish based on the other person’s lack of willingness to move toward healthy?
The short form of the question is, “When do I quit trying?”
The answer is, “It Depends.” It depends on the actual nature of the relationship. We have varying levels of intimacy with different people. Some are genuinely close and emotionally connected. Some are truly intimate. For some relationships, deep intimacy is not expected or required. A friend of the family might stop by for a visit, but we might feel odd if they were to begin sharing their closest struggles and marriage woes. It would feel “too close”.
Some Immediate Family relationships feel “too close” like this: “She may be Mom, but I don’t tell her things like this because she couldn’t handle it/I’d never hear the end of it/she’d tell all her friends/she’d use it against me…”
The categories in the diagram do not describe the blood relationship, but the nature of the relationship. Dad may be a nice guy, but we have to keep the conversation about sports or things go south in a hurry, then the actual relationship may be more in the “Acquaintance” circle than “Immediate Family”. I can have friends that are so deep and close that they actually belong in the “Immediate Family” Circle. The functional question is “who are they to you, really?”
This can be a challenging question to answer, especially if the family culture says that “Siblings Equals Close, period”. It’s especially hard because deep down we *want* real and close relationships with close family and friends, no matter what the actual relationship is. Pretending the relationship is closer than it really is becomes wearying and is always silly. We have to start by acknowledging the actual nature of the relationship, before we can proceed. Once you’ve done that, then you can begin the process.
- Relax. Start letting yourself be OK with relating according to the nature of the relationship. You can release any guilt you may experience because the relationship isn’t closer. You can’t make it happen alone. The guilt only makes you go back to pretending something is true that isn’t.
- Reach. Imagine what the next tier closer might be, and begin reaching for it. This is important: don’t try to go from “Acquaintance” to “Close Personal Friend” all at once. You’ll scare them. Only reach for one tier at a time.
- Give it time. Deepening intimacy and connectedness is a process and generally does not happen overnight. You may be hungry for a better sense of connection, but they might not realize what’s missing.
- Pay attention. If they flat-out reject any overtures or offers of legitimate closeness, if they accept and then take advantage of your vulnerability, or if they continue to identify you as the problem (the “Take it or Leave it” stance), this may be as close as is possible for the foreseeable future.
- Repeat steps 1-4. Ideally, the other person will eventually be able to recognize what you are doing and reciprocate. IF they do, everybody wins better relationships. If they do not…
- Repeat steps 1-4 in increasing time increments. Maybe you make the offer of “closer” once a month for a while, and get the same answer every time. Maintain your current position for several months and then offer again. Continue this process and lengthen the time between offers a little at a time, and you will eventually discover the equilibrium point at which they are willing to operate with you.
This is effectively the “process answer” to the question of “When do I quit trying?” This may mean that you will never have a “Daddy” relationship with your father, but you can operate kindly and respectfully as acquaintances. You’ll have to grieve the loss of your father (Yes, grieve. As though he died), but you won’t be expecting an acquaintance to be a “Daddy” to you, either.
Ultimately, unless the relationship has been vicious, brutal, fully abandoned, or otherwise horrible, you are never completely out of relationship with someone who is related by blood. Even in the case of the horrible relationships above, even in the absence of any contact whatsoever, there is always a biological connection. Even at its best, navigating these relationships is complicated and messy. Trying to keep up the appearance of a “Normal Family” can be exhausting when “normal” isn’t true … and let’s be honest… What does “normal” even mean, anyway!?
So, step back, find your footing, acknowledge what is true of the relationship, and then carefully, slowly, reach for more. You will either gain a closer relationship, or be able to relax into the best relationship that is legitimately possible with the person in question.
Look out for Blood is Thicker than Water, Part 3: What Does Holding Out for Healthy Look Like, Anyway?
Technology: The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship
We edit. We hide. We use technology to cure our loneliness, yet avoid our vulnerability.
Your Kids Don’t Need A Perfect Parent
I have good news: your kids don’t need a perfect parent.
You are not alone if you think parenting is hard. It is. It is a job that requires all of who I am, around the clock. I can love my kids well and serve them well for a few hours or even a few days in a row. I can be attentive to their needs, present, and engaged. I think there are even times I am good at it. But then there are days when caring for them feels like a cheese grater on my skin. It doesn’t come naturally and I have little desire to sacrifice on their behalf.
When you live with people, especially people dependent upon you for their every need, it is hard to hide the darker facets of your heart. This part of parenting creates a lot of fear and anxiety for many parents (myself included). When my kids get an angered response from me, or I thoughtlessly dismiss them, I can see the sadness on their face and sense confusion about why mommy is suddenly being unkind or impatient. In this moment— this moment we all face— we have a choice.
We can sail past it, pretending it didn’t happen.
We can grow defensive and justify our selfishness.
Or we can turn toward our child and ask forgiveness.
When we fail (which we all do!) the temptation to hide our imperfections, deny them, or simply disengage from our children grows stronger in our hearts. When facing the upsetting truth of our imperfection, we feel vulnerable. And that is scary.
I have found that owning my imperfections and asking for forgiveness–like the third option above–restores and enhances the relationship with my children. The pressure to be perfect dissipates for both of us and the freedom to be authentic is more defining of our relationship.
In a world filled with pressure to look good, where appearances are everything and self-sufficiency is glorified, we have the power to give our kids the tools to engage honestly and find their identity in something beyond appearing perfect. We can model and promote love and acceptance through being authentic amidst vulnerability, rather than doing everything “perfectly.”
So good news! Your kids don’t need a perfect parent. They need a courageous parent, humble enough to to risk vulnerability after messing up. How you honestly handle your imperfection matters more than your imperfections themselves.
By: Kim Hammans, PLPC
Emotional Reflexes, Bees, and the Artillery of the Soul
As children, we build ideas about how the world and relationships work. After an injury when I was small, I was getting stitches in the emergency room. My parents tell the story that while the medical team worked on me, I was happily explaining to them about how nurses grow up to be doctors. That was how I thought the world worked. Someone eventually informed me that doctors and nurses are not developmentally related, and what I understood about doctors and nurses shifted.
A lot of times, we develop beliefs about relationship based on how relationships happen around and to us. As young children when we got into trouble, Mom or Dad might have said, “What were you thinking!? What’s wrong with you?” Being children, we don’t have the ability to challenge the notion that there might be something wrong with us. To a child, Adults define what “Normal” is. So we begin to believe that when we make a mistake, it is because we are defective somehow. If we were “normal”, we would have known better.
Fast-forward to adulthood. If nobody ever explains this scenario to us, if no one ever reshapes that belief or tells us otherwise, chances are that we still believe it on some level. We likely operate as though what we do is a direct indication of who we are. If I lie, then I must be a liar. If I fall for a trick, I must be a fool. If you don’t like me, it’s because I’ve caused you to dislike me. If you hit me, I did something to deserve it.
These defaults operate consistently and automatically. When I was small, I got stung twice in the eyelid by a yellow-jacket. It was very painful, and my eye was swelled shut by the next morning. I have never liked anything with wings and a stinger ever since. I still have a powerful physical reflex when I hear a buzz near my ear. I learned that bees are dangerous.
As an adult, I know that bee stings are not as painful as my emotional reflex tells me, but I do know that they can still hurt pretty bad. What I know, however, does not matter when I hear that buzzing sound, especially when it’s close to my head. I still have a tendency to run away while swatting at whatever was making that noise.
These defaults are powerful things. We don’t choose them, we just live by them. The trouble is that sometimes, these defaults are simply not true. They are real, and they are potent, but they are often based on faulty information. The fact is that the mom or dad mentioned above was wrong: making a mistake or doing something foolish was not matter of something being wrong with me. It was a matter of being a child and not knowing how the world works. They reacted and spoke as though the child should have had the knowledge and foresight of an adult.
When I was in the military, I was assigned to an artillery unit. My first night on a live-fire mission was pretty awful. Every time the crews fired the cannons, I nearly jumped out of my skin. After a while, I could anticipate the commands that led up to the pull of the trigger, but try as I might, I just couldn’t get my body to quit jerking around when the shot went off. My body was reflexing to the concussion as if to say, “Something is coming for you, kid. You are gonna die.” It took a while of rehearsing and experiencing the concussion and the jumping, but eventually the jump reflex passed. My body had to learn that this sudden noise and the accompanying shockwave were not actually a threat to me.
Unlearning our emotional reflexes can follow a similar pattern. We can come to understand and truly believe that mom or dad was wrong, but the emotional reflex is still there, and it is still powerful. The feeling will still kick in, and sometimes we have a hard time remembering that it is real but not true.
The unlearning happens through practice. We can eventually grow to recognize the lie and speak the truth to it: (my identity is not actually based on my performance). We will still have the reflex, and after a while, we learn that this feeling does not actually have the power to define me. I can make mistakes. I can even look like a fool, and I will still be OK. All of our efforts to avoid the feeling actually prolong it. I *have* to feel the concussion over and over again in order to learn that it doesn’t actually have the power to harm me.
I’ll say it plainly: this process sucks. It almost never happens as quickly as we want it to, and it is almost never linear in healing. We go back and forth. We continually recognize new areas where this same old thing is in play. We have to keep fighting with this painful feeling, and we often feel like the fact that we have to fight this hard with it means that we are somehow defective. Then we realize we’re doing it again.
But eventually, with work, with awareness, and with the help of trustworthy friends and lovers, we come to believe the truth, and the reflex fades in potency. We experience a freedom and confidence that we never imagined, and eventually that freedom becomes our new “Normal”.
By Jonathan Hart, LPC
Increasing our ability to love and be loved –
Whew…I literally just finished reading this article (below) by Brene’ Brown, who happens to be one of my fav’s when it comes to teaching me how to live and love. I thought I would share of few of parts of the article that were highlights for me. This article is so good. So, so, good!
“To say no (to something or someone), we have to understand why we’re saying yes.” This is so true and needs no further words – if we don’t understand why we are doing something it just won’t last.
This next highlight I have never considered before, but I sure am now! Here it is, “I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side. Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgement, grief, anger, and shame.”
“None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. we get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We’re listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.” To feel is to allow yourself to be vulnerable – what a great reminder for me!
Here’s my last highlight to share before sharing the article in its entirety. “We become what we do.” Yep, simple and true. The more I practice at growing a garden (my current hobby) the better I will become. Similarly, the more I practice loving who I am and not hating myself the easier it will become.
So those are the specific items Brene’ shared that impacted me. I wonder how it will impact you….
“5 (Doable) Ways to Increase the Love in Your Life
Can we increase our ability to love and to be loved? Brené Brown, PhD, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, on what wholeheartedness means—and how you can take a few practical steps to cultivate it.
Of all the thousands of people I’ve interviewed and studied over the years—looking for patterns in the data—only about 15 to 20 percent were folks living with their whole hearts, folks who were really all in when it came to their relationships. So I decided I wanted to find out why. What quality did these people have that made them so capable of both receiving and giving love?
When I examined my research, I discovered that these were people who deeply believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. These folks believed this regardless of the circumstances, unlike the majority of us who think: “Okay, I’m worthy of love and belonging a little bit, but I’ll be superworthy if I get promoted. Or I’ll be superworthy if I lose 20 pounds.” These folks believed that they were loveable and that they had a place in the world, and those beliefs translated into specific choices they made every day. They were aware. They recognized shame, and they knew how to deal with it. They recognized vulnerability, and they were willing to feel it—rather than ignore or numb it.
What I wondered was, How do the rest of us cultivate these same qualities? It’s not like we can just decide to be vulnerable or say, “Hey, I’m worthy,” after which—poof—this instantly comes true. But there are practical changes you can make in your life which encourage these beliefs. Here are five basic everyday actions that can help you develop a deeper, more loving sense of wholeheartedness, both for others and for yourself.
Letting Go of Exhaustion
Everybody in the world says that you need to work less in order to live a fuller, more connected life. But so few of us address what prevents us from doing it. The reasons are simple: (1) exhaustion is a status symbol in our culture, and (2) self-worth has become net worth. We live doing so much and with so little time that anything unrelated to the to-do list—taking a nap, say, or reading a novel—actually creates stress.
Wholehearted people, on the other hand, know when to stop and rest. Personally, I had to learn this. I’m still learning this. I screw it up every now and then, but five years ago I made some huge changes in my personal and private life. I went from full time to part time at the university, and my husband, who is a pediatrician, cut his hours to four days a week. As it stands now, we never get less than eight hours of sleep.
What did this require? A constellation of choices. For example, one of the things I have to do to cultivate more rest is to say no. Last year, I turned down 85 percent of the invitations I got to speak. Because I have a commitment to be at the family table four nights a week.
To say no, we have to understand why we’re saying yes. One of the reasons is scarcity. I, like many of us, was so afraid that maybe all these opportunities would just go away, that maybe next year people wouldn’t ask for me to come speak, and maybe my work wouldn’t get the attention it needed, and that if I didn’t have my work, who would I be? So I thought I had to say yes, yes, yes. The only reason I can now say no is because I work on my shame “gremlins.” Gremlins are the tricksters who whisper all of those terrible things in our ears that keep us afraid and small. When the gremlins say “you better say yes, or they won’t like you” or “they’ll think you’re lazy,” I whisper back: “Not this time. I get to say no. I get to love myself, stay home and drive soccer carpool.”
Painting a Gourd
All of us were made to make things. During my studies, I found out a surprising piece of data: There is no such thing as a creative or noncreative person. Every single human being is creative. Every research participant could recall a time in his or her life when creativity brought him or her great joy. It was usually childhood, and the creative expressions ranged from coloring or finger-painting to dancing, singing or building. What was most fascinating was that the participants never talked about learning how to be creative—they just were.
As adults, what keeps us from being creative—from painting, cooking, scrapbooking, doodling, knitting, rebuilding an engine or writing—is what I call the comparison gremlin (a close cousin of the shame gremlin). People say, “I’m not good enough,” or “Why am I the only one with dangling modifiers?” or “I’m not a real sculptor…I’m a total poser.” In other words, we shame ourselves into stopping. While we may have all started creative, between ages 8 and 14, at least 60 percent of the participants remember learning that they were not creative. They began to compare their creations, they started getting graded for their art, and many heard from a teacher or a parent that “art wasn’t their thing.” So we don’t have to teach people to find joy in creating; we have to make sure not to teach them that there’s only one acceptable way to be creative.
I had to push myself to rediscover my own artistic side. Unused creativity is not benign. It clumps inside us, turning into judgment, grief, anger and shame. Before I turned my life around, I used to dismiss people who spent time creating. When a friend would invite me to go to an art class or something, I’d respond: “How cute. You go do your A-R-T; I’m busy with a real J-O-B.” Now I realize that was my fear and my own frustrated need to create.
To kick things off, I went to a gourd-painting class with my mom and my then-9-year-old daughter, Ellen. It was one of the best days of my life. I’m not kidding. I still paint, and now I’m having a serious love affair with photography. But start with something easy. Why not start with a gourd? Put a silly face on it. Make it smile.
None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. We get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We’re listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.
Calm participants in my studies all have a few things in common. They breathe when they’re feeling vulnerable. They ask questions before they weigh in, including the three most important questions—ones that changed my own life. The first is, Do I have enough information to freak out? (Ninety percent of the time, the answer is no.) The second is, Where did you hear the upsetting news? (Down the hall? From a trusted source?) The third is, If I do have enough reliable information to freak out, and if I do that, will it be helpful?
When my daughter, Ellen, comes home and says, “Oh my God, Mom, the school moved my locker, and now I can’t reach it!” I stop. I remember what I used to say: “Oh that’s it! I’m furious! I’m going off to school tomorrow, and you’re going to get your locker back!” Now I say, “Tell me more about it.” And 15 minutes later, I find out that the guy she likes has a locker down at the other end of the hall; what she really wants is to have a locker nearer to him.
This is real change. Four or five years ago, I was the least calm person you have ever met. And when people describe me today—people like my co-workers, friends and family—they say, “You’re the calmest person I know.” Well, it’s because I practice it, the same way you practice the violin. We become what we do.
One of the things I noticed in my research was that wholehearted people tended to fool around a lot. This was how I described their behavior, “fooling around,” because I didn’t know what this behavior was. It was such a foreign concept to me that I couldn’t even name it correctly until I happened to be sitting in the backyard watching my kids jump on the trampoline. All of a sudden, I went: “Holy crap. Those grown-ups in my studies are playing! They are piddling and playing! They are total slackers!”
Then I found some research by Dr. Stuart Brown. He said that play is something you did “that caused you to lose track of time.” Which I called work. He called play “time spent without purpose.” Which I called an anxiety attack.
Clearly, I had a problem. So I sat down and made a list of nonwork-related things that I love to do where I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self-consciousness, I didn’t want them to end, and they didn’t serve any purpose except that I enjoyed them. Then I had my husband do the same thing. Then we did it with our two kids, and I made a Venn diagram to understand the data (sorry, I’m a researcher).
Our family-play Venn diagram showed us what kind of play we share in common, and we realized there were only three kinds that we all enjoyed. Because sitting on the floor playing Candy Land? I’m not losing track of time. I’ve been on the floor for 30 minutes; I could shoot myself. But swimming? Hiking? Going to the movies? All of us enjoy that.
So now, we totally build our family vacations around being outside. Because it’s play for all of us. It’s battery-charging for all of us. But that doesn’t just happen. We draw diagrams. We plan. And then…we goof off.
Doing the Scarecrow
What keeps most of us from dancing—at any age—is usually the desire to be cool, and being cool, even for grown-ups, is a refusal to be vulnerable. Cool starts early. Some of the latest research shows that rather than being an adolescent issue, our kindergartners and first graders are starting to feel anxiety over being cool and belonging. Imagine being 5 years old and deciding that it’s not so good to let others see how we feel.
When it comes to dancing, we’re afraid that we’re bad dancers or that others will laugh at us, so we don’t do it enough. About eight years ago, my daughter and I were at Nordstrom. She was in fourth grade, and there were these beautiful, put-together mothers in the shoe department with us. I was in my Jabba the Hutt sweatsuit; I looked horrible. And I was doing the whole shame routine…down to telling myself: “Argh. You’re a disaster. You don’t belong in this nice store with these fancy, put-together people.”
The kids’ department started playing a song. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement. Then I saw three of the beautiful, put-together mothers and two of the daughters look past me, gasping. When I looked over, it was Ellen. Everyone was looking at Ellen. She had put her shoes down, and she was full-on doing the robot to the music—popping and locking. Without a care in the world. And you could tell these daughters were getting ready to laugh, and the moms were like, “Oh my God, girls, shield your eyes.”
At that moment, I had a choice. Previously, shame would have taken over, and I would have looked at Ellen and just said: “Pull yourself together, Ellen. Come on. Jesus. Stop being so…weird.” But I just heard this voice, the voice from my research and the voice from what I was trying to change in my own life, and that voice said: “Don’t betray her. Be on her side. Be on her side.” So I looked over and said, “Awesome robot.” And she said, “Hey, Mom. Show me the scarecrow again.”
The scarecrow is when you swing your hands like they’re not connected to your elbows. I did not want to do the scarecrow in Nordstrom. Inside me there is a seventh grader with sweaty palms who doesn’t have anywhere to sit in the cafeteria. But I did it. My daughter and I danced. Maybe I was faking it at little, but actions are far more important than anything we tell children. We have to show them love and self-worth, just as we have to show ourselves love and self-worth. We can’t just overlay these ideas on our lives. We have to change the way we live—and, fortunately, there isn’t just one way to do it.”
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.
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
By: Andy Gear, PLPC
I recently read a book entitled Your Sexually Addicted Spouse that I found very illuminating, and I wanted to pass on what I learned to you. In it Barbara Steffens specifically seeks to help partners of sexual addicts “survive, recover, and thrive.” But her ideas can be helpful for anyone dealing with pain from damaging relationships.
One of the most helpful ideas she brings up is the concept of relational trauma. When many of us think of trauma, we think about physical wounds. But she points out that victims of betrayal have also experienced very real trauma. This relational trauma is often just as painful and life altering as physical trauma. Many people even experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of being betrayed or emotionally victimized. The pain is increased when done by someone we should have been able to trust.
I have found this concept extremely helpful, because I have noticed that many people who have experienced consistent relational trauma tend to minimize what they have been through. People often believe that because they cannot locate one definitive trauma in their life, then they have no reason to feel hurt or traumatized. But Steffens helps us realize the lasting impact of chronic relational trauma.
The rest of the book proceeds to explain what it looks like to begin the journey of healing. If your life has been impacted by a damaging or hurtful relationship then I would encourage you not to ignore its impact. Please take the time to begin the journey of healing, because relational trauma is significant and your pain is real.