Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Myth #2: It Takes a Village

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement below are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous posts in series:
Myth #1 — Divorce Pain is Temporary


 

Myth #2 —  “Society says divorce is bad, that may not be true.”

The above quote links divorce to caffeine where the author states, “society used to think caffeine was bad, now it says it might help prevent cancer.” I’m in agreement that there are a host of issues society has gotten wrong. I don’t think anyone can argue that point. But, have we gotten the issue of divorce wrong? A question I had after reading this was: ‘Is divorce harmful to the body like caffeine was once thought to be?’

I don’t think the author intended for this connection to be taken literally, but I went on a search anyway and here is what I found. In 2009 the Journal of Health and Social Behavior published a study that linked divorce and widowhood to a decrease in physical health. In fact, there was a more significant toll on the physical health than on the mental health of those who’d divorced or widowed. I think some of this decline in physical health is linked to the need for companionship, because in this study those that remarried reported physical health issues getting better.

Not surprisingly, our society has drastically changed over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2013 I, and my extended family, buried the patriarch of our family, my grandfather. He was a man rigorous in his commitment to family, responsibility, and hard work. He grew up as the country exited the great depression, fought on the front lines in France, and stayed at his job for the entirety of his career. His work ethic was remarkable. I don’t think he would consider himself all that special amongst his peers, or others from his era. They did what they had to do, regardless of how hard it was.

The society he helped create said divorce was bad because (the following are my words), there was a cultural understanding that marriage was hard work, just like the rest of life. The culture supported hard work in every facet of life, and marriage was no different. Doing what feels good was not something my grandfathers’ culture promoted, or advertised. That is not the case today. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements promoting pleasure. The culture’s message is clear: Do what feels good. This is not a helpful message for those facing hardships in their relationship.

Last week I wrote about marriage being one of the main pillars that creates culture. If you take marriage away, what is left? Doing what feels good often does not take into account the effect upon those around us. If our society is more bent towards encouraging choices that feel good, which I firmly believe to be the case, then there is tons of support for divorce being a acceptable (and desirable) decision. But did my grandfather’s generation, his society, get it wrong? On the issue of marriage, I think they got it right.

Usually doing what’s right comes at the expense of our own individual freedoms and desires. This is a difficult reality: The good of the whole doesn’t make all the individuals happy. In fact, the good of the whole often time comes at the cost of individual pleasure. There has to be a bigger story, a more compelling story, that causes people to lay down their rights, freedoms, and preferences for the good of the whole. Divorce is not that compelling story for a society because it promotes a me-first, “every man/woman for themselves” attitude. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. The history books do not reflect well upon those who take it upon themselves to act on desires for personal glory, or pleasure.

At present, our society is losing clarity on why marriage is important. The conversations are about civil rights and freedoms, not about what it actually takes to build a sustainable marriage. This is problematic, regardless of who you married. Our culture has deemed divorce acceptable thus we have lost a vital support system for marriages to thrive. I’m sure the saying is familiar: It takes a village to raise a child … well, it also takes a village to raise a marriage.

Next Up — Myth #3: The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.

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Sources:
Hughes, M. and Waite, L. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, September 2009; vol 50

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The Way We Heal

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

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Habits to combat anxiety and depression

Last week I spoke to a group of people about developing healthy habits to combat the effects of anxiety and depression in our lives. Everyone experiences both anxiety and depression at some point in our lives, usually on a fairly regular basis. Below are the notes from my talk.

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A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.  ~ Seneca

When we feel that our fears are too big for our own capacity, we begin shutting down. Our creativity, resourcefulness and ability to make decisions are all sabotaged by the anxiety or depression we feel about our lives. This is the essence of shutting down.
As with anything in life, we can generally take some kind of behavior and do it in such a way that makes it unhealthy. The following are a few ways that I have found to reduce stress and increase our ability to cope with the anxieties of our lives.

Ways to limit anxiety/depression effects:
1. Limit your intake of information. 
     – facebook, social media
     – tv, other ‘screens’ (computer, phone, etc)
Our phones, screens, are devilish little creatures. They promise productivity but really only add an additional layer of distraction from what we all say is most important in our lives: relationships.
We are not made to be alone, yet so much anxiety comes about because we feel so alone.
2. Start a journal
Storytelling has been the language of healing since the beginning of time. We all have a story to tell, despite most of our beliefs that our stories aren’t really that interesting. Movies and music are so popular because they are short stories that take us to the places we can’t go on our own.
Journaling is one of the most therapeutic exercises that I know of.
Write about life, thoughts, feelings, emotions, loves, hates, indifferences. When you begin to write, you invite healing and restoration.
3. Exercise regularly
We’re a health conscious society. A lot of this is for reasons of vanity, but deep down we all long to be cared for and loved. Unfortunately we usually go about getting that care and love through unhealthy ways, including working out.
But, working out because it is kind to your soul, body, and mind is a great way to reduce the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.
When you work out, you are telling your body that you care, and a funny thing happens when you begin caring about something: you treat it better. It’s not rocket science, yet most of us behave as though going to the gym and eating well is akin to building our own space rocket.
4. Make and set goals
If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time.
Goals are like the tracks on a railroad … they guide you to your destination. They themselves are not the destination, rather they are the boundaries and help you need to get where you are going.
If you are a neurotic goal setter, try limiting yourself to the number of goals that you set so that the goals themselves don’t become the way that you judge yourself. If you don’t normally set goals, try to be as specific as possible.
Set attainable goals. If you want to run a 10k, give yourself time to train so that you’re not forcing yourself to get too fast to the starting line.
5. Read enriching material
I have a insatiable appetite for reading, but not everything I read is worthwhile. I spend a lot of time reading articles and other random hubs of information that can sometimes border on an addiction. I love historical fiction and will generally read 5-6 of these books a year, usually in succession to each other.
I get bored easily with non-fiction and I rarely find a book that is so good that I read every word. Most books I put down after reading the first few chapters and skim the remainder. I learn a lot this way, but I used to feel shame about this being the way I read.
Someone said that the only thing different about you in 20 years will be the people you meet and the books you read. This is a great mantra to live by. Set a goal to read x number of books a year, go out and learn about something. This will do a couple things for you.
 — ONE, it will expand your world. We live in a bubble here in the USA, even more so here in middle TN. The majority of the worlds problems happen here, but we are very insulated from them. This is one of the biggest factors that I see in people struggling with their identity, anxiety, is that we know at a core level that the world is not a safe place, yet so much of our ways of life here in the US are about safety.
David Brooks, the editor for the NYT, says that America is a secularized version of Heaven. We have tried to create a place that is free: Free from violence, pain, suffering, poverty, and difficulty. In a lot of ways, we can’t handle the freedom that we are afforded here in the States.
— SECONDLY, reading books will help you to get outside of yourself. One of the big struggles people have is that our culture is too me-centric. We are not meant to live in such a narcissistic way, and our anxiety is telling us that this is a problem.
Reading forces you to confront your own biases, meet new ideas, and wrestle with your dogmatic ways of living life.
6. Reflection time in morning or at night
What we fear, we hate. And what we hate, we avoid.
We can’t manufacture feelings. What we can do is to set aside time and space for processing so that when we do feel what we feel, we can have a place to feel these things. If we are constantly trying to escape our feelings, through people of things, then we will not be comfortable feeling what we feel.
Tell the story of the boy going to the desert. He’s afraid. Rightfully so. Only by going to the desert with a trusted guide will he learn to face the fears on his own. We can’t expect to handle situations that we’ve never faced before.

The U.S. is a culture that values doing more than being. We don’t rest well, which means that most spaces and places of our lives are filled up. We are a culture of performers, of doers. Unfortunately, when cultures are driven by performance, doing, addictions and life controlling habits flourish. Said another way: We fill our lives up with stuff. Shopping, Toys, Food, alcohol, internet, reality (not really) TV shows, porn, and drugs are all ways that we medicate the reality that we don’t have enough capacity to get what we want.

It’s impossible to live life for long as a human doer. We are human beings. We’re finite creatures with needs that sometimes defy age, logic, and reason. We’re not the great conquerors and rulers of life that we want to believe we are. As the poet and songwriter Lenoard Cohen once said, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Living life with spaces, pauses, takes great discipline. It also takes acceptance about our limitations and finitude. We cannot perform as though we are whole creatures and value brokenness and faults. Not all spaces — in all aspects of life, physical, emotional, relational, mental — are meant, or need, to be filled. Rhythms create space. What rhythms are you practicing?

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Withholding Judgment

Early on in my career as a couples therapist, I saw countless couples who would come into my office, sit on my couch, and launch in to attacks against one another. These early days highlighted that I did not know what to do with a couple who was instantly and constantly judging each other. I read some books and found some resources that were quite helpful. These efforts culminated when I found another professional offering a class on an approach to help couples to practice relating to each other based on a non-judgmental stance. It was helpful for me as a professional, but also in my own marriage.

There’s rarely a worse experience in a relationship than to feel judged by someone we deeply care about. Judgements are those beliefs about another person that suggest they are only out for themselves. Our judgements show up in our need to label things or people as good/bad, right/wrong, and worthless/worthwhile.

However, there are some benefits of judgements in life. They allow us to make quick decisions by creating manageable categories for people or objects. Our preferences can often be explained by our judgements. When dealing with inanimate objects, judgements are a well developed tool. The problem with judgements is when they are directed towards people, especially those closest to us.

Relationships cannot thrive when one or both parties are fluent in judging. When we judge, we are building our case against the other person and cease observing objectively. This posture often comes from our need to be safe. Because of this need, we will seek out threats and dangerous situations that are not safe. In close relationships, the other person can easily be seen as a threat because they are not as concerned with my safety as they are with their own.

Approaching someone with a posture of compassion takes practice, intentionality, and a great degree of selflessness. This approach will also provide the greatest hope of providing intimacy, connection, and relational safety. It is also the scariest. Compassion first requires that we are aware of our own judgements.

Once aware of a judgmental stance, ask yourself these questions:

  • “What is the desired outcome of this situation?”
  • “Is my judgmental posture helping or hurting me?”
  • “If I were in his/her shoes, how would I feel about these judgements?”

The reality is that none of us know exactly what is happening in the others head. We can assume what their implications, motivations, and insinuations are in the statements they make, but ultimately we have to trust that they will tell us the truth. If we don’t trust that the other person is being forthright, we are going to be prone to judge.

Here are some steps to practice approaching your partner with a nonjudgmental posture. Instead of saying aloud or internally, “you just want…,” or, “you’re really saying this…,” exchange these judgmental statements with statements of preference such as, “I like,” or, “I hope,” or, “I wish.” Speak about yourself, not the other person. Ask clarifying questions that help you to see reality from the others’ perspective.

Practice letting what is, be what it is. Let the facts be the facts, don’t add emotions on top of the facts to create something bigger. For example, if a husband hears his wife say “you’re a failure!” when she reminded him for the 3rd time to take out the trash, the husband needs to tend to the reality of the situation. Take the trash out and then ask questions about her statements towards him to confirm what he heard. It might sound something like this: “When you said, ‘John, for the last time, take out the trash!’ I heard you say that I am a failure of a husband. Is that what you meant?” The wife can then clarify. Assuming that he is a failure will not do either of them any good.

Approaching others with a spirit of openness is a risky, but rewarding stance. Conversely, if we approach others with a spirit of judgment, it’s likely that we will be creating plenty of reasons for why the relationship will ultimately fail. It’s impossible to build connections when there is a fear of unnecessary judgments.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Befriending Grief

As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.

I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.

Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.

We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.

So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.

For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.

Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.

Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Therapy as an objective sketch

realbeauty

I found this video on my Facebook timeline. As part of their “real beauty” campaign, Dove brought in a sketch artist to draw pictures of women based solely on their self-described features (the artist never saw the women). He then asked a stranger who’d met the women in the lobby to describe these same women to him. He then did a second sketch. The results are life changing.

This morning as I was reflecting up on this video I realized that there’s not a better way to describe the process of therapy. For all of us, we have an image, a sketch, of ourselves in our head. This image reflects both the physical and emotional makeup that we understand about ourselves. We live our lives operating out of this image, as if it were undoubtedly and unequivocally true. The problem is that our self-perception is often short circuited by shadows from the past. Because a name someone called us as a kid, or how someone took advantage of us in a perverse way all work to shape our perceived value and worth.

In a culture that is so highly motivated by appearance, we spend a lot of time and money fixing out outward selves to bring about love and respect from others. The belief many of us hold is that if we show what’s truly on the inside, we’ll be unloved and unwanted.

Therapy is the process of helping to integrate our self-perception and the perception of others. It’s an often difficult process because our self-perception is so well established that it takes time and trust to break down the walls. Therapy provides an objective sketch that contradicts the self-imposed ideals about who one is, how one looks, and what value they have. The results are life changing.

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Couples & Individual Intensives

I often get asked about making a referral for couples or individuals who are in need of attending an intensive counseling program. Intensives are a great way to get a jumpstart on issues that have been bottled up or that have been ignored for some time. My personal and professional opinion is that more need to experience what an intensive has to offer. Resources, mainly time and money, are often the reason folks don’t do these.

I’m offering both a couples and individual intensive program. Depending on the individual or couples need, I am available here in Nashville, or am willing to travel to your location. You can visit the intensive page on my website to learn more and see what a intensive program looks like. Please pass this on to anyone that you might know who would benefit or be interested in hearing more.

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Beyond the Seen

We’re all trying to make it in a grown up world. We’re all Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Big.” Nothing more than a boy stuck inside a 30, 40, or 50 year olds body.

It’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop living life as though it’s going to work, to fulfill you, or bring a constant smile. It’s a grown up world, and a lot of us are acting like that three-year-old in the grocery store pitching a fit because we’re not able to get Lucky Charms.

Stop spending more money than you make. Stop being late for lunch with a friend, and stop taking advantage of your spouse because “we both understand how busy we are.” Personal responsibility is lacking, and this just isn’t going to work.

The physical is where we miss each other. We see the body, the facial hair, the curved body, the jewelry, cars, and houses, but fail to recognize that these are statuses kids can attain. Kids get married, have kids, get jobs, and make lots of money. Kids do things that make them appear to be adults, but inside they’re not. Adults don’t stay in abusive relationships. Adults don’t have affairs. Kids are who buy BMW’s because it makes them feel good inside.

Adults know and value time, forgiveness, compassion, and grace. They know these things because they’ve been given these by others. They’ve been given these things by an adult. Not a child. But an adult. Virtues drive adults, not statuses.

Wisdom coaches adults, not knowledge. The turtle is admired, the hare hated. Kids don’t grow up trying to be the slowest, they want to be the fastest. The fastest wins the race, but loses the journey.

Early on, kids learn the pain of telling the truth. Maturity is about being honest, especially when it’s the hardest to do so. Not only about what we stole, or lied about, but what we fear, hope for, and desire.

This American Life recently had a 25 minute story about a politician and his friend who both lost their careers (and one went to prison) because they spent 3-4 years covering up a mistake made over a postcard during a campaign. They cheated, and had they told the truth at the time, it would have been a slap on the wrist. This is the penultimate example of choosing to believe the justification or lies over the truth. I’ve done it, and so have you. “What the heart wants, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” – Thomas Cranmer

What if we stopped giving people so much credit? What if we looked beyond the titles, power suits, big homes, nice cars, fancy vacations, and latest fashion? What would we see?

You’d see someone just like you. Someone who doubts themselves, questions God, fears vulnerability, and knows from experience to trust no one. You’d see the kid inside trying, screaming, clawing, and begging for someone to hold them and tell them it’s ok. You’d see a 40 year old man who still gets afraid of the dark, a 30 year old woman who still worries about being alone, or a 60 year old man wondering why life has been so empty.

We’ve trained ourselves and each other to judge by the seen, not the content. Because covers can be made beautiful, attractive, sexy, and appealing. There’s no such thing as Photoshop for the soul. Often the content doesn’t ever get read because we’re too transfixed by the cover. We want to believe that some have it together, because then there is hope for me. If no one has it together, where do I go? What do I live for?

Ever wondered why social media is so popular, or why there are so many so called “reality” shows on television? It’s because we want someone else’s life. We don’t want our own. You may not admit it, but your life has not been what you wanted it to be. If you don’t learn your own content, what makes you you, then you’ll be looking to live out someone else’s.

Looking beyond the seen is difficult, and takes effort, time, and being intentional. You must first look beyond the seen in your own life. Examine your own reflection, and learn to tell the story of your content, of your life.