Overcoming Passivity: Practical Tips to Become an Assertive Person

Passivity is a common relationship issue that creates many other problems. On the surface, it can seem “safe” compared to acting in bold, aggressive ways. However, in the long run, it is costly to your mental, emotional, social and spiritual health. When you learn the truth about passivity, you can overcome it and begin living the abundant life God intends for you.

Definition of Passivity

The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines passivity as “a form of adaptation, or maladaptation, in which the individual adopts a pattern of submissiveness, dependence, and retreat into inaction.”

A passive life is not pleasing to God. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). In God we have an abundant life, not a life lived on another person’s terms. God wants us to fully depend on him, not on people or their opinions of us. When we actively surrender to God instead of living in passivity, we can experience the freedom and fullness he intends for us.

Examples of Passivity

We are all born as helpless infants, completely dependent on others to fulfill our needs for survival and growth. This infant stage lasts a little over a year. Then a child begins to separate from his or her mother or caretaker to start to become independent. This is a normal developmental stage that God intended for us to go through to become fully functioning adults.

However, many people may be the age of adults, yet still emotionally functioning in overly dependent ways. This dependence stunts their growth and creates many problems in relationships, schools, workplaces, and churches. A passive person cannot contain his or her passivity; its negative effects always spill over onto others.

There are many ways people can act passively in ways that cost them. Here are several examples to consider.

  • A child in elementary school fails to stand up to a bully’s torment, then suffers emotional trauma.
  • A young woman stays in a relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend because she is afraid of his angry outbursts and worries that no one else will want to date her. As a result, she suffers from anxiety and depression.
  • A mother and father allow their unemployed, 20-something son to live rent-free in their home and don’t have a plan for encouraging him to get his own place. The situation causes tension and financial stress for the parents.
  • A man is unfairly burdened with work projects by a domineering boss. When he is passed over for promotion, he develops an ulcer.
  • An elderly mother is homebound. Her oldest son is her financial caregiver. She suspects that he may be mishandling her funds but feels helpless to confront the situation.
  • A wife turns a blind eye to her husband’s extramarital affairs. She stays in the marriage for the sake of their kids, but her resentment and heartache silently grow.

When you look at these examples, you can see how each person’s passivity costs them. However, if you are acting passively in a situation, it can be hard to see it yourself. A caring Christian counselor can help you see where you are being passive and how you can overcome your passive tendencies.

Examples from the Bible

We can look to the Bible for examples of how passivity cost people tremendous amounts of heartache and loss. One clear example is Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, as we read in Genesis 25-28. Though his brother Esau was the heir to their father’s inheritance, Jacob passively allowed his mother to manipulate the situation so he would receive the blessing.

Jacob had many chances to stand up for what was right. He could have stopped at cooking the stew of wild game, wearing Esau’s clothing, and tricking his father. As he passively followed his mother’s directions, he received what he wanted in the short term – his father’s blessing.

But for the next several decades, fear and strife haunted him. He could not live in peace due to his passivity, and he eventually put his whole family in danger because of it (see Genesis 32).

Another example of passivity is the man who laid by the pool of Bethesda, as recorded in John 5. He had been physically paralyzed for 38 years and waited every day for someone to carry him into the healing waters. When Jesus saw him, he addressed the man’s emotional and spiritual passivity rather than his physical passivity.

Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). For the man to receive healing, he had to become active by picking up his mat and walking. In his activity, not his passivity, Jesus healed him (John 5:8-15).

We can learn from these two stories that passivity is costly. Both Jacob and the disabled man were emotionally stunted. Their passivity blocked a deeper relationship with others and with God. Only God could deliver them from their passivity, and when he did, newness of life became possible.

The Costs of Passivity

Passivity can cost you on a mental level. When you hand over control to others, they can manipulate you. You may suffer from their attempts to blame, deny, gaslight, and abuse you.

Emotionally, passivity can exact a heavy toll. You may feel weak and insecure, lacking confidence in your ability to take charge of your life. Passivity can cause anxiety, depression, anger, and other emotional disturbances.

A passive life has social costs as well. People tend to take advantage of those who send out passive signals. Your relationships may feel one-sided like they revolve around the other person. You may feel left out, betrayed, and used.

Spiritual passivity is a blockade to a deeper relationship with God. He wants you to live a life of confidence in him, rather than an unhealthy dependence on others. If you are passive in your faith, you are missing out on God’s best for your life.

How to Become a More Assertive Person

Fortunately, there is help for passive individuals. You don’t have to stay stuck in passivity. A compassionate Christian counselor can help you put passivity aside and choose assertiveness instead.

When you are assertive, you act in a way that respects yourself and others. You speak up for the truth because you believe that your self-worth is valuable. Assertiveness is not aggressive; it is firm yet loving.

To become an assertive person, you need direction, practice, and support. Your counselor will first help you deal with the roots of passive behaviors. Next, you will learn techniques for acting assertively by role-playing. With support from your counselor and others, you will be able to successfully and assertively set boundaries.

Let’s look at assertive responses in the six previous examples.

  • After role-playing with his parents and counselor, the child learns to confront the bully and enlist help from peers and teachers.
  • The young woman courageously breaks off the relationship with her boyfriend after several therapy sessions. She also becomes more active in the singles group at her church and decides to take a break from dating while she works on developing healthy boundaries.
  • The parents come up with a 60-day plan for holding their son accountable for finding a job and his own place. They work with a counselor to form talking points for a loving confrontation.
  • The man begins a job search for a position that is more independent. He joins a men’s small group to find accountability and support and attends bi-monthly counseling appointments.
  • The elderly woman shares concerns with her counselor, who points her toward further help from social services and an attorney.
  • After being coached by a counselor, a wife tells her husband to get professional help for his sexual addiction, so their marriage has hope of being salvaged.

Learning assertiveness is not easy after years of taking a passive stance. If you’re ready to overcome passivity to embrace the abundant life God has in store for you, feel free to contact me or one of the other counselors in the counselor directory.

“Lock”, Courtesy of Basil James, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Tunnel Vision”, Courtesy of Sharosh Rajesekher, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Freedom”, Courtesy of Fuu J, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chains”, Courtesy of Zulmaury Saavedra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Teens and Social Media: Three Big Issues

Every generation, new issues arise to challenge the new sets of parents. In today’s time, one such problem that almost all parents readily lament relates to teens and social media.

Yesterday Versus Today

Despite the existence of technology in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early 2000s, the use of it in those decades was seemingly more controllable than it is now. Teenagers back then still had access to gaming platforms such as Atari, Gameboy, Nintendo, Playstation, and a variety of PC games. They also had movies, TV, cable, and videos to pass the time.

But in those times, it was quite clear that such devices were generally for entertainment purposes. It was easier then for both parents and children to understand that when studying or doing other daily tasks, such devices had to be turned off or left at home.

Today, however, social media is acknowledged as more than just a source of entertainment. Almost everyone knows that it is an important way to instantly and cheaply communicate with family, classmates, teachers, and friends.

Social media also keeps people abreast of important current events, both locally and internationally, that may have a direct effect on their lives (e.g. sudden storms, road closures, or crimes). Moreover, it is used as a means of learning, which is why many students insist that they “need” their gadgets at school; and why many parents also gift their young children, some as young as two years-old, with access to social media via tablets or smart phones.

Teens and Social Media: Three Big Issues

While it is imperative for parents to ensure that their younger children do not become too attached to social media, the more pressing problem is the effect on their teens. Parents have begun to notice that something is not right with teen use of this technological tool.

The following are some major issues that teenagers face because of social media.

The Problem of Depression

There is growing evidence that social media may be linked to depression. Recent studies have discovered that higher rates of reported depression are found in people who spend much time on social media than those who do not use it so much. Though not fully conclusive, since much research must still be done, it should cause concerned parties to pause and consider the possible correlation.

Although social media is a means to update family and friends about one’s life, what is shown is not always the “reality” as people opt to present their best selves publicly. If not in an angsty mood, most teens prefer to only show the “best” of what is happening in their life, displaying their best smiles, best clothes, and best experiences. Sadly, for unguided teens, especially those with inferiority issues, they compare their situation against others and find that much is lacking in their life, bringing them down.

Moreover, cyberbullying is another problem that may lead to teenage depression. As a means of public humiliation, some bullies post comments, pictures, or videos meant to put others down. Since such posts can rapidly spread within minutes, a humiliating post – true or not – can quickly and greatly damage a teenager’s reputation as classmates, teachers, and family members can easily view it. To make matters worse, these other people may then add their own snide remarks or personal judgments without first consulting the person involved.

And because fake accounts can easily be created, more and more bullies take advantage of this, making life horrible for many teens. It is no wonder why many believe that teenage suicide is on the rise because of social media.

The Problem of Anxiety

Anxiety due to social media is another issue that researchers are seriously looking into. Similar to depression, recent studies are showing a correlation between anxiety and social media usage.

For lots of teens, their social media accounts have become their virtual “hangout” where they keep in touch with others, even if they are at home. Teens can easily spend hours on their various accounts as they scroll through their friends’ and family members’ accounts, communicate with others, and update their own social media pages. And this is where the anxiety comes in.

Many teens admit that simply uploading their activities is not enough. They need to be perfect, lest they receive negative comments or they do not receive enough “likes.” So they are pressured to come up with the best caption, best angle, and best edit for their post.

In fact, some teens are always planning where to go for their next Instagrammable photo or video shoot. While parents may find all of this unnecessary and a big waste of time and resources, for teens it is an essential part of adolescent life.

However, though their social media accounts have been perfected for the day, there is still that additional pressure to live up to what they have posted. Looking pretty, smart, sociable, or bubbly online is nothing if they cannot back it up in the flesh and this can be particularly difficult if what has been posted isn’t exactly who they truly are in real life.

Additionally, there is the burden of staying relevant. Though they may be able to capture the attention of the desired audience at the moment, their accounts need to be maintained as their peers are also doing the same.

So if one classmate heads to a tropical beach for a weekend of picturesque fun, chances are that the teen will devise a way to do so as well. It is a sad game of comparison that can really take a toll on an emotionally vulnerable teen, more so if they were really not that “cool” and “interesting” to begin with.

The Problem of Communication

The final issue is that of communication. It is ironic that in this era of faster and cheaper modes of communication that the youngsters are losing the ability to truly communicate. Although parents take note of their children’s constant communication via their gadgets, the reality is that teens are slowly losing the skill to speak directly and properly to their family, teachers, and even their own peers.

In the not-so-distant past, it was usual for most teenagers to be out of the house, meeting their friends to mingle. And if they opted to use the phone, they actually talked to one another. Though not all parents then appreciated this need for teens to always be together, they were at least learning true communication skills.

Nowadays, much of the teens’ communication is done through texting, messaging, or posts. Though they get to practice their writing skills and even artistic skills to a certain extent, the ability to communicate directly has been affected even if they are trying to talk over the phone.

Many have difficulty sustaining a discussion, explaining themselves, making requests, or resolving issues. They also have problems picking up on social cues such as body language, vocal reactions, and facial expressions because they are not used to doing so. Because of this, many complain that teens are socially awkward or that they come off as very demanding or rude, especially when speaking to older persons.

Now while some may think this is not that important in this age of technology, one day these teens will be joining the workforce where they will need such skills to move up in the world. They will also become the next set of parents so they need to be able to communicate well if they wish to have a healthy, loving family.

What Parents Can Do

Though many teens have already fallen for the allure of social media, it is not too late for parents to step in and do something to break its grip on their children’s lives.

Model Good Gadget Behavior

A big reason why social media use seems to be out of control is that parents themselves use it so much as well. During so-called family time, both parents and teens are scrolling through their phones and tablets. If parents want to curb their children’s usage, the whole family must be willing to place limits on their use of gadgets.

A good way to do this is to impose a no-gadget-usage rule at certain times for ALL members to follow. Initially, this could be for Sunday lunch and dinner, designating such times as strictly family time. During these times, parents and children will have the opportunity to truly communicate with one another.

Once established, this new rule may then be extended to special holidays, and eventually to all meal times. In this way, teens may be slowly weaned away from always looking at their social media accounts.

Check In on Them Regularly

While it can be tempting for busy parents to let their teens be, especially if they are not visibly causing any harm, it is important for parents to set aside some time to get to know their teens better. Despite a strong childhood foundation, there are so many sources out there that may be influencing a teen, so parents need to find out how emotionally and mentally stable their teenagers really are.

Although this can be done at meal times, some teens may need extra attention away from the rest of the family. A walk at the park and going for coffee or snacks at the mall are just some of the many activities that can be done together where the teens may be able to open up to their parents.

Parents need to be aware of their teenagers’ dreams, fears, and problems so that they can be given reassurance and helpful advice. In this way, anxiety can be reduced and depression may be prevented.

Teach Them Mindfulness

Becoming more mindful about their situation can help teens reduce stress so that they can return to reality and reduce the impact of negative emotions brought about by social media.

When being mindful, the brain is trained to become aware of the things happening around them – sounds of water or animal life, the feel of the ground under their feet, the smell of their immediate environment, or the beauty of their world seen through open eyes. In this way, they may then be able to pull their minds out of the virtual world they may be in and reassess what is “real.” This is particularly helpful if they find their minds stuck on negative thoughts about a recent post or comment on social media.

Becoming more mindful may also allow them to slowly withdraw from the grip of social media as they begin to realize that reality is what is around them in the here and now, not what is being said in the virtual world where people wear masks to hide their true selves.

Christian Counseling for Teens

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:14

Adolescence is a time of excitement and discovery as well as adjustment and failure. Thankfully, there is much that parents can do to help their teens battle the social media issue. Time, patience, love, and care are needed for them to reach out to their teens.

However, every family situation is different. Despite positive actions to reduce social media usage, some parents may find that social media’s damage to their child is too great. The teens may already be hopelessly addicted to it or they may be suffering from severe anxiety or depression. In such situations, it is necessary to seek professional help before things spiral out of control.

In Christian counseling for teens, the latest therapeutic methods will be used to address the teen’s emotional or mental issues. In a safe, neutral environment, chances are that the teen will be able to truly open up about what they are going through, something they might not be able to do with their parents or other family members.

But most importantly, the teen will be introduced to God’s love and mercy through a strong relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Those who have serious issues because of social media have probably based their own self-worth on the opinions of others, which is not correct.

Our self-worth should come from our being children of God as we are made in His image and likeness and are saved through the blood of His Son. In Christian counseling, the teen will get to know Christ more deeply through prayer and meditation on Holy Scripture so that they may be aware of these truths, allowing them to truly heal and break social media’s hold on their life.

If you are having difficulty prying your teenager away from social media’s negative influence, seek help soon. It is only by connecting to God that they will learn how to truly connect to themselves and others.

“Social Media”, Courtesy of Adrianna Calvo, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Broken,” courtesy of Matt Gruber, CreationSwap.com, CC0 License;  “Student”, Courtesy of Brad Flickinger, Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0 License; “Mindfulness”, Courtesy of Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

4 Common Challenges of Teenagers

There is no doubt that raising teenagers can be extremely challenging. Hormones, significant life changes, and a fair dose of sassy attitude can cause parents to despair as they attempt to healthily discipline their fast-growing kids. In this article, we’ll discuss four of the most common challenges of teenagers to help parents prepare and empathize with their teens.

Though this stage of life may be a distant memory for you personally, it is important to be empathetic to your kids as they navigate through this often confusing and emotionally-charged period of their lives and face some of the common challenges of teenagers.

Being a teenager has always been pretty tough, of that there is no doubt! However, hitting the high school years is full of challenges for teenagers — with social media, image-obsessed modern culture, and complex friendship and relationship dynamics and pressures, it really is a minefield out there!

So, with all that in mind, parents of teenagers certainly need some additional support when it comes to dealing with their kids effectively and in a way that is going to nurture and support them through these often troubling days.

Facing Common Challenges of Teenagers

Tackling issues head on is one of the first things you commit to doing. However, you must be aware of what you are dealing with. So let’s take a look at some of the key obstacles and challenges of teenagers today, and explore how parents can assist their kids in successfully working through them!

Social media struggles

Over the past decade, social media has proliferated across the teenage demographic. Nowadays, it is extremely rare to come across a teen who has withdrawn themselves from Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. As such, the pressures to present a certain image have spiraled out of control.

The purpose of social media is to connect people with each other. Instagram, for example, gives us a view into the lives of others and offers the opportunity to share significant experiences with loved ones. However, it can also cause fierce comparison and body image issues.

With celebrities garnering several million followers and uploading a stream of glamorous selfies, it only follows that impressionable young teenagers will attempt to emulate their icons and, inevitably, feel inferior as a result.

Social media is very rarely an accurate representation of the person’s real life, and yet, teenagers may fall victim to thinking that they must live up to a particular image or look. This striving can cause deeply-rooted issues.

In addition, social media perpetuates another unpleasant issue — cyber bullying. With private messages open, and with anyone open to comment on your appearance, bullying is a common and corrosive issue among this age group.

As with any of these social tools, they can be both a blessing and a curse. The key for parents is to ensure that there is no secrecy about what is going on within their social media accounts. Keep the lines of communication open and ensure that your child feels comfortable to disclose any strange or nasty things taking place on their social media profiles.

Substance use

It is not uncommon for teenagers to experiment with various substances during their high school years. While this can be a serious concern, it is important to highlight that this usage may be for a number of different reasons, such as peer pressure, curiosity, or even as a way of self-medicating an undiagnosed mental health condition like depression.

While minor usage might be harmless, with the wide variety of dangerous drugs available today, it is important to keep a handle on what your teenager is getting up to. Anyone, no matter how young, is at risk of falling into addiction after experimenting with drugs.

In addition, due to the fact that a teenager’s brain has not fully developed, addiction and the impact of psychoactive substances can be extremely harmful and detrimental to healthy growth and cognitive development.

Drugs that are often prevalent among teenagers include marijuana, alcohol, nicotine (cigarettes, e-cigarettes/vapes, cigars), synthetic marijuana (sometimes known as Spice), prescription drugs, hallucinogens, and inhalants.

All of these, if taken regularly, can drastically alter the mental state of teenagers and may hamper their school work, impede their relationship building and even get them into legal trouble. Due to the serious nature of drug and alcohol abuse, it is of vital importance that you talk openly with your teenager about how they can, with confidence, say “no” to these harmful substances.


The adolescent years can be extremely confusing, as you are met with deep questions over purpose and identity. What are you going to do after finishing school? Who are the friends that will stick by you? What is the true meaning of your life?

Obviously, these are expansive questions that need a great amount of thought. However, as is often the case among teenagers, it can be common to see a “mask” being worn as a protection against this scary and uncertain outside world. With all that teenagers face, and with peer pressure and social judgement a perpetual threat, it is incredibly difficult for young people to show their true colors. Instead, hiding behind a mask and taking on a particular persona becomes very common.

With so much energy being spent on keeping up appearances, teenagers can experience deep exhaustion from attempting to present as a particular type of person. There is so much pressure on kids these days, with competitive sports teams, social media comparisons and often wildly unrealistic academic expectations.

It can be absolutely overwhelming, and parents must be constantly aware of the mental state of their teen as a result. It is important that parents reassure their kids that while striving for excellence can be a wonderful thing, it is not the ultimate goal. Parents must ensure that their teenagers know that first and foremost, and ahead of all the academic and sporting targets and pressures, they are simply loved unconditionally.

Sexual curiosity

As kids grow into teenagers, the whole area of sex becomes an issue that must be approached with sensitivity and caution. Naturally, they will be curious about this significant part of the human experience. As such, parents should always ensure that their teenager feels comfortable talking about the subject as they see fit.

Dating and all that this entails may also become a significant factor in your teenager’s life. Again, it is important to show unwavering support in the face of many questions your child may have regarding the emotional aspects of entering into a romantic relationship with another person.

Of course, in a Christian home, it is important to open up discussion over abstinence and sex before marriage. In addition, and in light of social media pressures, it is crucial to address issues of photo sharing and inappropriate messaging.

Teens should feel empowered to say “no,” and parents must play a pivotal role in making sure that their children know this. Too often, sexual encounters become common among teenagers and are put forward as a social norm.

It is important that parents make it clear to their kids that they are not “weird” if they choose to abstain from sexual activity – in fact, it is quite the opposite! Teenagers who show restraint from getting involved in potentially harmful behavior are wise beyond their years, are saving much future heartbreak, and must be encouraged.

Too often, sexual relations among teenagers are related to low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth. Youngsters regularly enter into a sexual relationship because they believe this will help them feel as if they truly belong.

This is a tragic thing that must be addressed with your teenager. Above all, ensure that your child knows that they are loved unconditionally and that they are not to feel any pressure to get involved in anything of a sexual nature with their peers.

Christian Counseling for Teens

As you can see, teenagers today face a plethora of complex issues, both relational and emotional. Parenting at this stage, therefore, is never going to be easy. It is of vital importance that parents remember to encourage and validate their teen. Of course, there will be times where correction and discipline are essential, but this must be administered alongside an outward expression of love and care.

If your teenager feels empowered to make good decisions that might even make them unpopular among some of their friends, they will set themselves in good stead for the future.

While not every conversation will be easy and comfortable, it is crucial that you create a home environment for your child that is safe, secure and open — make sure they know that your door is always open and that they can talk to you about absolutely anything.

Of course, this isn’t always possible, and sometimes you will need assistance in dealing effectively with the emotional complexities that your teenager might be facing.

If this is the case, a trained professional may be of huge help in opening up the lines of communication between you and your child. They will be able to assist you in developing a safe space for your son or daughter to open up about their feelings, process emotions, and navigate the way ahead through these common challenges of teenagers.

Lastly, if your teenager is going through a particularly difficult time, make sure that you remind them that it will not last forever. There is always a hope and a future for them. Of this, you can be sure.

“Friends in a Field”, Courtesy of Melissa Askew, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Marijuana”, Courtesy of Rick Proctor, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Angst”, Courtesy of Graham Wizardo, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Strong,” courtesy of Christopher Campbell, unsplash.com, CC0 License

Treatment for Depression: Relational Risks and Remedies

When discussing treatment for depression, it’s important to begin by considering the various causes of depression. mentioned in a previous article written by this author on the topic of depression,Causes of Depression – including Relational and Spiritual Perspectives,” there are a variety of reasons why someone succumbs to depression. Often a mixture of genetics, brain chemistry, and family history play a role in the development of depression.

Furthermore, certain individuals may have a biological predisposition or vulnerability to mood issues when faced with overwhelming stressors. When ample distress is added to a pre-existing vulnerability, an individual is likely to become emotionally dysregulated with symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression.

Depression can be situational or characterological, meaning it can be caused by trauma or loss, but it can also be a kind of personality adaptation as well (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).

Underlying medical conditions (such as thyroid or hormonal issues), use or abuse of prescription medication or other substances (alcohol, marijuana, etc.), a lack of adequate nutrition (eating too much sugar or processed foods) or physical activity, and any pre-existing addictions may contribute to the development of depression.

Of course, family history and environment also play a part in developing depression, as does the experience of childhood neglect and abuse. In my practice of psychology, I have discovered that a pattern of dishonesty or living outside the bounds of integrity is an often-overlooked contributor to depression.

While a biological or medical cause of depression may be helped with prescription medications for a time, it is still essential to identify and resolve the underlying behaviors and emotions which support a biologically based depression. Keep in mind that even a biologically based depression (such as post-partum depression) is always also behaviorally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually supported.

Treatment for Depression

While many practitioners readily focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and depend upon medication as treatment for depression, it is rarer that a therapist understands that it is our relationship with our self, others and God which must also be assessed, addressed, and re-calibrated to effectively cure a depression (and possibly protect against it in the future).

Throughout several decades of clinical practice and observation, I have noticed that most mental health issues tend to be tied to a failure to adapt in some way to something for which one is unprepared or inadequately prepared. Stressors have come along for which the person is under-resourced either internally (within themselves) or externally (via necessary support structures, friends, family, community).

Destructive defense mechanisms and misinformed or misaligned coping skills are responsible for much mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering. Whereas wellness or the antidote to mental illness always involves achieving greater alignment among each aspect of our human “being.”

Wellness also involves repair and reparation in relationships with those with whom we have been unloving, insensitive, hurtful, unfair, neglectful, or abusive. Assuming appropriate responsibility in our interactions with others is generally accompanied by a greater sense of confidence and freedom, as well as more mutually satisfying relationships.

Good psychotherapy presents us with an opportunity to identify and correct aspects of misalignment within ourselves and within our relationships with God and others. This kind of relational misalignment is evidence of a lack of integrity in the individual, meaning that the person is fragmented within and incapable of clear and effective self-expression.

A lack of or repression of self-expression predictably leads to depression. Finding one’s voice and beginning to express oneself authentically is another pathway that leads away from depression and toward health and wellness.

We must understand how our everyday choices and patterns of interaction either contribute to or destroy our serenity and capacity for happiness and joy. Furthermore, each decision we make, especially under duress, is a determinant in moving us either closer toward or further away from a state of mental illness or mental misalignment.

As stated in the previously mentioned article by this author (see above), once the root cause(s) of your depression is/are understood the therapeutic remedy follows accordingly. Please be aware that the solutions offered by a practitioner tend to be tied to the medical or mental health professional’s understanding of the nature of depression. One’s professional point of view often tends to determine the type of treatment for depression prescribed.

For example, a psychiatrist is likely to prescribe medications to address and enhance neurotransmitter functioning. Of course, while this type of treatment for depression can bring some eventual relief, it also leads to a kind of subscription service that maintains one’s dependence upon a medical professional as well as the prescribed medication over the long term.

So, while in some cases, medication may be necessary, in my opinion, medication alone merely maintains a level of functioning and helps with the management of mood issues. Meanwhile, the person’s lifestyle and life choices may continue to support a dysfunctional level of inadequacy which can undermine one’s success and satisfaction in meeting the changing demands of daily life.

From another perspective, a fitness and nutrition-oriented mental health professional is likely to focus on your lifestyle habits and nutrition as a possible culprit in ongoing depression. While a psychodynamically oriented therapist will look for the source of depression in your early family life experiences.

In my practice, I work holistically, taking into consideration many possibilities of origin and then matching the focus of treatment for depression to the individual’s current level of resources, needs, and desires.

Some of the areas we will explore together include lifestyle and nutritional profile, extended family and upbringing, cultural influences, unresolved trauma, unprocessed pain, spiritual alienation, interpersonal misalignment, experiences of abuse or neglect, medications and supplements, sleep and exercise, and how well resourced you are internally and externally in terms of self and other support.

Relational Risks and Remedies

Problematic (interpersonal and intrapersonal) styles of relating contribute to the development of depression. While the word “interpersonal” refers to interactions between two or more individuals, the word “intrapersonal” describes our relationship with (and within) ourselves.

Problematic patterns of intrapersonal relating (the way we relate to ourselves generally as well as how we respond when disappointed, hurt, or rejected) tend to be overlooked and/or misunderstood in terms of their contribution to the development of depression and other mood disorders.

Let me assure you that the way you treat yourself matters even more than how you respond to others – especially because you are in a lifelong (even eternal) relationship with your inner being, your soul. Self-betrayal is a frequent and significant contributor to all kinds of mental health problems.

Being kind, compassionate, and understanding with yourself while also being principled and disciplined in matters of importance is the antidote to the deadening pain of ongoing self-criticism, self-rejection, self-betrayal, and a feeling of failure.

One of the most common intrapersonal causes of depression is a practice of saying “yes” when you authentically have an inclination or gut reaction to say “no.” Such behavior is an example of a kind of inner abandonment or self-betrayal which is never something God asks of us. Behaving this way is inauthentic and self-victimizing.

The motive for engaging this undermining pattern usually involves fear and a subsequent felt need to control, manipulate, or manage the impression of another person. A pattern of saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is a kind of dishonesty.

It is also unfair to others and makes you an unsafe person in relationships. You may want to ponder this paragraph for a bit to help this information seep into your soul as a reminder of God’s intention and purpose for us as his “fearfully and wonderfully made” children.

A second quite common intrapersonal risk involves a pattern of overriding your intuitive sense (gut reaction) when it indicates a lack of safety. This undermines one’s sense of self, sense of personal efficacy, and sense of personal dignity. It is essential when seeking to live a life of integrity to conscientiously and prayerfully determine whether something asked of you is in your best interest or whether it undermines and destroys intimacy.

This is because a foundation of trust is necessary to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships. A pattern of ongoing self-betrayal is a recipe for distrust and eventual relational disaster. This is one of the first things I pay attention to when getting to know a new client. I ask each person, with whom in your life do you have difficulty saying “no?” and then we explore the meaning of this and how it came to be.

Another significant relational risk contributing to depression occurs because of an ongoing pattern of spending time with someone you genuinely dislike or distrust. Over-giving and a lack of relational reciprocity also lead to a relationally based depression.

Do you find it difficult to express yourself when something matters to you? Is it difficult for you to expect that your preferences, opinions, and needs will be considered a priority in your close relationships? Are you able to inform others fairly and firmly when you have hit a personal limit?

Are you comfortable establishing and maintaining a self-protective boundary or do you mistakenly believe that boundaries are things we set for other people in an attempt to govern their behavior? Difficulties in any of these areas may be fueling or feeding symptoms of depression. The antidote to depression is to develop a full range of authentic self-expression.

Please come back next week for the next article in this series in which I will be discussing the risks and remedies of a spiritually-based depression.

If you’re ready to begin treatment for depression, I invite you to contact me or one of the other practitioners in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment today.

“Feeling sad,” courtesy of Danny G, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stay with me,” courtesy of Christiana Rivers, unsplash.com, CC0 License; Quote images designed by California Management Services, copyright 2020, all rights reserved

The Importance of Choosing Forgiveness

There comes a point in each person’s journey when forgiveness is needed. People will hurt you. You will hurt people. And you will break the heart of God, too.

Forgiveness is such a heavy word. There are feelings of pain that come up for some, feelings of release that come up for others. It is complicated and hard to understand and even harder to do.

But as Christians, people are commanded to forgive just as Christ forgave them (Ephesians 4:32). So if this is this important, then what is it? How do you forgive others? How do you ask for forgiveness? Why it is so important?

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a major theme in the Bible, if not the theme. It is a part of the whole narrative of scripture, describing the process of the fall of man in sin and God’s forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

God’s forgiveness is radical, even to the point of completely forgetting sin (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34). Jesus talks of forgiving “seventy-seven” times, and Paul says that you “should forgive just as the Lord has forgiven you” (Matthew 18:21; Colossians 3:13).

To know God’s forgiveness, simply ask for it. He freely gives it when you ask for forgiveness. To really know it, read and study it in the word. It is beautiful and rich and undeserved. It is given freely to anyone to turns from his sin, turns to God, and asks Him to forgive him.

Those in the world of secular Psychology have also found the value of practicing forgiveness. They see it a little differently than how the Bible discusses it. This is how most seem to define it:

“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition).

Many in the world of psychology have also focused on what forgiveness is not because it such a complicated and heavy concept.

What Forgiveness is NOT

In Anger Management for Everyone, the authors define forgiveness like this:

“A process that allows you to untangle the relationship among your thoughts, your actions, and the responses of your body. As you’ll see, forgiving people for what they did doesn’t mean forgetting what they did. It also doesn’t mean accepting it, excusing it, defending it, or being neutral about their nasty actions. It doesn’t mean becoming passive and taking no action to make things better. Rather, forgiving requires developing a better understanding of the actions of others and taking steps to improve your family life, work life, and overall happiness. Forgiveness means letting go of the anger.”

The authors then list what forgiveness is not:

  • Forgetting: Though forgetting what another has done to you is possible, it is not necessary for the forgiveness process. “Forgive and forget” is near impossible in some hurtful situations, but it is possible to not dwell on them as much in your thoughts.
  • Accepting: To forgive does not mean to passively accept or be indifferent to some injustice done to you or another. For example, a teacher sees a student cheating on a test. While the teacher does forgive the student when the student asks, she still will not accept the behavior. The student receives a failing grade.
  • Excusing: Similar to accepting, forgiveness is not saying what happened was OK as long as there was a reason for it. For example, he is only mean when he is drunk, but he has a drinking problem. He is not mean when sober. This is an excuse for his mean behavior.
  • Neutrality: This suggests that no sides are taken in a conflict. Forgiveness does not have to mean this. One can forgive and still “choose a side.” For example, someone drinks and drives and crashes into your daughter’s car. You can choose to forgive the driver, but you remain loyal to your daughter in the legal battle that follows.
  • Justifying:Forgiving does not mean acting as if nothing wrong happened, or as if all is right. Though Christ’s forgiveness does this for those who believe in Him, it does not seem to look like this in relationships. For example, a friend says something unkind that attacks your character and does not apologize or think he is wrong. You are hurt, choose to go through a process of forgiveness, but you still share with him that it is not OK for him to treat you that way.
  • A One-time Thing:Forgiveness is a long process. It is not usually a one-time decision, but a long road of decisions to daily forgive. It occurs over time. This is possibly what Jesus meant when He said to forgive seventy-seven times. He knew it was a process of choosing to forgive over and over again.
  • Seeking justice and compensation: At times, people think they will only feel better if justice is served or they get some sort of compensation for the wrong done to them. Forgiveness is an act of understanding, not demanding something in return. In fact, many times forgiveness is one-sided, meaning that they receive nothing in return, except freedom from the burden of their own anger.
  • Condemning: There is no condemnation with true forgiveness. There is no attack on the person or their character.

Why should someone choose to forgive?

“By minimizing your anger, resentment, bitterness, and desire for revenge, you become stronger and more able to live with greater joy. Forgiveness involves letting go of negative attitudes and anger and adopting a perspective of understanding, compassion, and goodwill toward the person who triggered your anger.” (from Anger Management for Everyone)

When you choose forgiveness, you choose to release the hold that bitterness has on you. Unforgiveness does not hurt the other person as much as it hurts you. It plants anger in you that grows and simmers into resentment and mistrust of others. It is often what keeps you from entering into new meaningful relationships in the present and future.

More than the relational and psychological benefits, forgiveness is an act of obedience to God. It is not easy to do, and it requires full dependence on God to be able to do it in a way that honors Him. Though it may not be humanly possible to forgive each other as radically as Christ forgives, His model is a great place to start. However, some have worked to demonstrate what this process of forgiveness could look like.

How do you forgive someone? (from Anger Management for Everyone)

Step 1: Uncover anger

The process of forgiveness really begins when you can acknowledge the wrong done to you and the effect it had on you. What happened that hurt you or triggered your anger? How did you feel about it? How did you react? When anger subsides from a situation that led to anger, what feelings are below the surface?

Step 2: Decide to forgive

Continuing to focus on the triggering event and unhelpful thoughts associated with it will only lead to more anger and bitterness. Forgiveness is a choice to let go of those feelings and thoughts. Ask yourself, “What is my anger toward this person doing to me?”

Step 3:Know what forgiveness is/not (see above)

Step 4:Work to understand why others behave badly

It is important to find some compassion and understanding for the one who harmed you. This does not mean you are justifying their actions or release them from their responsibilities. It just simply means that you attempt to understand their actions.

Why did they do what they did? No matter the situation, human beings are imperfect and inevitably hurt and disappoint one another. There always will be more to the story, but that is one thing to remember.

Step 5: Give

Offer forgiveness to them, even if (when) they do not deserve it. It could be as simple as stating, “I am choosing to forgive you.” This is an act of grace and mercy toward another. It demonstrates to them that you are letting it go, and it gives them a picture of the way Christ forgives them, too.

Forgiveness is challenging, but it is possible. When you choose this road less traveled, you will experience freedom from the burden of bitterness, and Christ promises that you will be forgiven, too.



Bible Verses from the English Standard Version

Tafrate, Raymond C., Ph.D. and Kassinove, Howard, Ph.D. Anger Management for Everyone: Seven Proven Ways to Control Anger and Live a Happier Life. 2009.

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Depression Counseling: Combatting Common Myths

A quick search of the Internet finds definitions of depression such as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection.” It seems straightforward at first blush. Digging into the definition, however, we find that depression is more than feelings and we discover that no two individuals’ experiences of depression are the same.

What is depression?

In general terms, depression is a state of being. “Being,” in this case, is an active experience of the three dimensions of depression, which are feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Any definition of depression that excludes one or more of these elements is inaccurate and misleading. Depression, then, is an active depressing of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. When something is depressed, it is pressed down.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Let’s look at some of the signs and symptoms of depression as identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (or DSM-5 for short).

Sadness or Negative Emotions (Feelings)

  • This refers to a depressing mood.
  • In other words, one might feel down, blue, apathetic, disinterested, etc. There are a variety of experiences of sadness.

Worthlessness or Guilt (Thoughts)

  • These are actually thought patterns that breed a depressed mood.
  • For example, a person might think, “I’m just no good to anybody,” or “I’m such a screw-up.”
  • These thoughts may lead to a depressed mood state, but they are not feelings, themselves.

Changes in Sleep and Appetite (Behaviors)

  • One might sleep to excess or have trouble sleeping. Time spent awake is depressed by sleeping more than is typical or sleep is depressed by spending more time awake.
  • A person may eat more or less than usual. Again, appetite or satiety is depressed.

To understand what depression might look like for you, or someone you love, we need to understand how this state of being plays out in every-day life and how there is an intricate interplay between the three dimensions of depression. The symptoms listed above are not exhaustive and represent only a handful of experiences you or a loved one may be experiencing.

What does “depression” look like and how do I identify it?

Experiences of depression vary widely across individuals and even cultures. There is no one-size-fits-all identification process. That’s why it’s so important, in considering depression counseling, to understand that your experience may not reflect what you see on commercials, or of your friends, relatives, or coworkers.

The question you must ask yourself is, “Is what I am experiencing interfering with my ability to live and enjoy life?” If the answer is yes, depression counseling may be the solution for you. To help you answer this question (for yourself or a loved one), consider the following real-life manifestations of a depressed state of being.

As you review them, do they resonate with you? Can you relate to them? Do you see these things happening in the life of a loved one? (Please note these experiences are not listed in order of importance, nor is this list comprehensive.)

  • It seems every morning is a struggle. You love to hit the snooze button. You don’t want to get out of bed.
  • Your body isn’t cooperating with you. You’re tired all the time. You feel fatigued. You may even have unexplained aches and pains.
  • You have trouble concentrating. Your attention is easily interrupted. Trying to do something simple requires so much effort. You may even do mindless things like putting the milk in the cabinet or your keys in the freezer.
  • You feel sad. You cry a lot. You are constantly aware that you’re putting on a mask of happiness.
  • Food has lost its flavor to you. You used to find comfort in a gooey pizza or greasy hamburger, but now you even feel too tired to chew much of the time.
  • You remember how you used to love to see the next box office hit at the theatre. It seems overwhelming, now, to even think about getting ready, leaving the house, and being around people to do this thing you once regularly enjoyed.
  • You don’t know how you feel, so when people ask you if you’re “okay,” you just don’t know how to respond. You usually say, “I’m fine,” because you can’t seem to put your finger on a specific feeling.
  • You question yourself about why you’re feeling down. You think about all the things you have in life, and by all outward appearances, you should be feeling happy, but you don’t, and thoughts of guilt invite even more feelings of sadness.
  • You’ve wondered what it would be like to run away from it all. To just disappear. You haven’t thought about killing yourself necessarily, but you think about how nice it would be to just escape or sleep forever.
  • Things at work and at home are getting overlooked. Even though you know there are tasks you must complete, you just can’t seem to get them done. And, now, people are noticing.

If even a few of these scenarios resonate with you, you should seek depression counseling. Despite campaigns of mental health awareness, there continue to be stigmas associated with seeking help. What we know is that avoiding seeking help yields more intense experiences of depression that can quickly spiral out of control. It is never too early to engage in depression counseling, and there is no experience too small to benefit from it.

Combatting the Myths of Depression Counseling

Severe experiences of depression are avoidable. We are beings crafted for connection. When we begin to feel sad, we sometimes isolate ourselves particularly from those who love us the most. We fear judgment from others, and most of us consider therapy or counseling a last resort because of the following myths and false beliefs. Have any of these thoughts prevented you from seeking depression counseling?

If I go to talk to a counselor and I use the word depression, they’re going to diagnose me.

Your experience of depression may or may not necessitate a diagnosis. What is of primary importance to you and your counselor is to understand the experiences you’re having, and how you can work together to minimize or eliminate the depressing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in your daily life.

Be candid and express your concern about being diagnosed. Above all, be 100% honest about your experiences. Counseling is a nonjudgmental space for you to capitalize on transparency for recovery and restoration.

My therapist will recommend I take medication for depression.

You are your number one advocate. If you do not want to consider medication, you must express that clearly and immediately. Also, most counselors and therapists are trained in talk therapy.

Helping you work through your challenges by talking about them and setting goals is their expertise. Conversely, if your goal is to obtain medication a counselor can help you determine the advantages and drawbacks of doing so before you seek psychiatric consultation.

Others will think I’m crazy.

Your counseling experience is yours to share with whomever you choose, or with no one. Your counselor will help you explore the false belief that everyone who seeks counseling must be “crazy.”

Rather than focusing on what others will think of you, consider how badly you want things in your life to improve. What are you willing to do (e.g. – seek counseling for depression) to alleviate your sadness and reincorporate joy into your daily life?

It’s really not that big of a deal. I should be able to deal with this on my own.

You were not designed to live life, do life, and cope with life on your own. Look back to the beginning. God created Eve to give Adam a companion. God knew it was not good for a person to be alone, or to walk through life’s mountains and valleys alone.

You are not intended to be alone. God provided therapists, pastoral teams, and Christian counselors with the wisdom needed to walk alongside people just like you. If it’s a big deal to you, it’s a big deal. Do not delay seeking wise counsel.

Getting Started with Depression Counseling

If you are experiencing even the slightest changes in mood, thought, and behavior, counseling is a good place to unpack those experiences and gain the wisdom of a trained professional. Your experiences of depression do not have to define you.

You have the power to overcome depression. Your experiences aren’t too small or too big to start with counseling. Understanding how various the signs and symptoms of depression are across all people, you free yourself from stigma and help others do the same.

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Causes of Depression: Relational and Spiritual Perspectives

Depression is one of the most commonly occurring mental health issues. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that about 5% of men and 9% of women experience symptoms of depression in any given year. In this article, we will explore depression from a traditional medical point of view. We will also examine the relational, spiritual, and faith-related aspects and causes of depression consistent with biblical Scripture.

Presently, we are experiencing an unprecedented time of challenging circumstances. This pesky virus along with mandated social isolation and limitations placed upon individuals is upsetting to many. When we add into this situation an increase in responsibility with fewer resources available in terms of income and services, we have a hotbed for an increase in symptoms of depression and other serious mental health issues.

Sometimes depression occurs for the first time due to a hardship or situation. I would not be surprised to discover a much higher number of both males and females suffering with symptoms of depression and/or an increase in the level of negative symptoms in pre-existing cases.

Causes of Depression

There are a variety of causes of depression and reasons why people become depressed. A mixture of genetics, brain chemistry, and family history each play a role in developing depression. Certain individuals may have a biological predisposition for developing mood issues when faced with overwhelming stressors.

When ample distress has been added to a pre-existing vulnerability, a person is likely to become troubled in areas of mood regulation with symptoms ranging from anxiety to depression or a combination of both.

Underlying medical conditions (such as hormonal or thyroid issues), use of medications or substance abuse (prescription medication, alcohol, marijuana), a lack of adequate nutrition or physical activity, and any pre-existing addictions may all lead to or exacerbate symptoms of depression.

Family history also plays a part in developing depression. For example, research studies indicate that having a grandparent as well as a parent with depression doubles the likelihood of an onset of depression at some point in one’s lifetime.

Experiences of childhood neglect and abuse may also predispose a person to the development of depression at some point during the life span. Secrets and lies are contributors to depression even if you are the only one who knows what you are doing.

Symptoms of Depression

There is a wide range of assorted symptoms involved in each individual experience of depression. Each person will have a different combination of symptoms which fit one or more types or patterns of depressions.

A person may experience feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness, fearfulness, irritable mood, or loss of pleasure in all or most daily tasks. Others may experience a loss of interest in sexual intimacy, significant changes in weight, sleep disturbance, significant changes in eating patterns (either loss of appetite or overeating), feelings of agitation or restlessness, or a loss of energy.

Some may experience feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, recurrent thoughts of death. However, in addition to having several of the above symptoms, an actual diagnosis of depression requires noticeable impairment in one or more areas of life, such as employment problems or problems at home.

Types of Depression

Depression can occur in shorter term episodes or be long lasting. Sometimes depression is accompanied with sadness, anxiety, or extreme changes in mood. Depression can also alternate with manic episodes. In extreme cases, a major depression can be accompanied by psychosis. Depression with psychosis can be caused by substance abuse or arise from a particularly challenging and overwhelming set of circumstances.

Once the root causes of depression are identified, the therapeutic remedy follows the root. Solutions offered are often tied to the mental health professional’s understanding of the nature of depression. One’s professional paradigm or viewpoint often tends to determine the type of treatment prescribed.

For example, a psychiatrist is likely to prescribe medications to address and enhance neurotransmitter functioning. A fitness-oriented mental health professional may focus upon your lifestyle and nutrition as a possible culprit in ongoing depression. In my practice, I take into consideration many possibilities of origin and then match the treatment to the individual’s needs and desires.

Relational and Spiritual Aspects of the Causes of Depression

Relational risks

There are both interpersonal risks as well as intrapersonal risks which contribute to the development of depression. While the word “interpersonal” denotes interactions between two or more individuals, the word “intrapersonal” refers to our relationship within ourselves. Intrapersonal relationship dynamics are often misunderstood or overlooked but are clinically significant contributors to mental health problems.

The most common intrapersonal cause of depression is a pattern of saying “yes” when you genuinely feel inclined to say “no.” Such behavior is an example of self-betrayal, which is not something God asks of us. In fact, when we are following Scriptural guidance our choices will be made from a place of love and not a place of fearful control.

Overriding your intuitive sense of what is occurring or neglecting to determine whether something asked of you is in your best interest undermines and destroys intimacy. This is because a foundation of trust is necessary to establish and maintain healthy intimate relationships. A pattern of ongoing self-betrayal is a recipe for relational disaster. This is one of the first things I pay attention to when getting to know a new client.

Another relational risk contributing to depression occurs when you have a pattern of spending time in the company of people you genuinely dislike or who are unkind or unsafe for you.

Do you tend to over give without receiving in a reciprocal fashion over time? Do you find it difficult to speak up when something matters to you? Is it difficult for you to make your preferences, opinions, and needs a priority?

Are you able to fairly, yet firmly, inform others when you have hit a personal limit or want to establish a boundary to protect your best interest? Difficulties in any of these areas may be fueling or feeding symptoms of depression.

Spiritual risks

Making fear and anxiety-based decisions from your head that do not take into consideration the wisdom and knowledge of your body can lead to anxiety and depression.

It is therefore of utmost importance to be involved in an ongoing process of being changed by the renewing of your mind through exposing yourself to truthful and accurate streams of information, such as reading your Bible on a regular basis and attending services wherein the Word of God is spoken. God tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” which involves placing yourself in front of reliable sources of truth.

“Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

Spiritual causes of mental health concerns often involve a kind of misalignment with truth and honor. When we tune into the fearful channel of deception or repeatedly behave in ways that violate our own sense of right and wrong, we become unable to see, hear, or discern truth. Then we tend resort to ill-advised attempts at controlling others, becoming even more small-minded in the process of manipulation.

Maybe during times of disagreement, we tend to resort to sarcastic puts downs of self and others. Or perhaps we engage in name calling, use exaggeration, portray a sense of entitlement, or are generally unsafe people in relationship with others. The antidote to this kind of depression is to root out deception and tune into the faith channel made available to each of us by the grace and mercy of God.

Lifestyle Risks

Other often overlooked contributors to depression include what I refer to as lifestyle risks. As previously mentioned in this article, alcohol and substance abuse contribute to the likelihood of developing depression, as do addictions such as gambling, pornography, binge eating or substance abuse, and prescription medications. Behaving badly, dishonoring agreements, a lack of proper and adequate self-care, being involved in deception, and living a secret life are all ingredients in a recipe for mood disorders and especially symptoms of depression.

Christian Counseling for Depression

In summary, there can be many different causes of a depressed mood and sometimes it may not be preventable. Other causes of depression could be situational or related to loss.

In my clinical practice, we will first look for any biological basis for your pattern of symptoms. From there, we will also examine your lifestyle and nutritional habits. Then we will carefully examine your relationships with others, yourself, and God for areas of misalignment. Please come back next month to read a follow-up article addressing the treatment and resolution of depression from a faith-based perspective.

Feel free to contact me or one of the other practitioners listed in the counselor directory to schedule an appointment.

“Alone,” courtesy of Jude Beck, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Solo beach walk,” courtesy of Saksham Gangwar, unsplash.com, CC0 License 

9 Steps to Increase Emotional Resilience for Improved Mental Health

All around the country, individuals suffer from mental health issues brought about by various circumstances in their life. This is why many seek professional assistance to help them overcome their situation. Recovery, however, may come in differing ways and in varying speeds, as each circumstance is different. Regardless, what is important is that the client is able to get back on their feet and, hopefully, not regress. For those who were able to make a complete recovery, one factor is quite clear among them – they generally have greater emotional resilience than other sufferers.

About Resiliency

Resiliency is the ability to quickly or easily recover from difficulty or a change. If a person has emotional resilience, though they may still experience and struggle in tough situations (such as a battle with addiction, depression, or severe trauma), they are able to get better a lot faster than others in similar situations.

This is quite different from those with less inner strength as these individuals usually end up returning to their old ways, negating whatever progress was made in their therapy – much to the detriment of family and friends, and their bank account.

Many believe that emotional resilience comes about because of a person’s upbringing. If as a child the person was able to learn from someone resilient (e.g. a parent bravely dealing with their life issues) or if they encountered and solved troubles on their own, then chances are their inner toughness was strengthened. This is why it is easier for them to deal with big issues in their adolescent or adult years compared to their peers.

Others, however, realize that resiliency can be learned, even if one is already an adult. It just takes practice and focus in order to become mentally and emotionally tough.

9 Steps to Increase Emotional Resilience

Just like in other aspects of life, resiliency will not suddenly occur overnight. The person must purposely strive to achieve it. The following are nine important steps to become a more resilient person.

1. Strengthen Your Spirituality

Perhaps the biggest building block of resiliency is to truly have faith in a higher power. This is not just the casual church goer or having one’s named registered at the local church; this means being able to anchor one’s life around a set of beliefs that drives the person forward, regardless of their circumstances.

Many who have overcome difficulties like addiction, assault, depression, or domestic abuse attest that it was their faith that allowed them to believe that positive change was attainable and that God would empower them to achieve it. Such faith, however, did not mean that they could just sit back and watch God work to resolve their issues.

They still had their own part to play to remain sober, improve their attitude, change their environment, or mend their relationships. But it was their spirituality that allowed them to keep pushing forward despite emotional, mental, and even physical setbacks (e.g. withdrawal symptoms).

2. Discover Your Purpose

After strengthening one’s spirituality, it is necessary for the person to discover their purpose in life. Why are they here? How can they contribute to their family? their community? the world? What does God want them to do? What does God want them to do differently?

A person who is still figuring out who they are often has more difficulties recovering from major setbacks in life since they are still clueless as to what direction in which to head. Many times it becomes far easier for them to just give up and return to what they were before, believing they are useless.

But a person who knows their purpose is aware that there is still something more to be done. This makes it easier for them to pick themselves up and do what is necessary to fulfill God’s plan for them, even if they are still hurting inside.

3. Develop Compassion

The third important step to build up resiliency is to develop compassion for others. When a person is too self-absorbed, they often focus on their personal flaws and hurts while missing out on the small, yet good things happening around them. This is why they often wallow in their own sadness or bitterness as they wrongly believe that God’s blessings have been given to others, not to them.

Acts of compassion, however, redirect the person’s focus from themself to others. It is often in these small acts of service that the person begins to notice God moving in the background, touching lives, and making changes. This allows the person to now see the blessings they have in their own life which then builds up their inner strength and their appreciation for what God has given them.

4. Seek Mentorship

The next step towards emotional resilience is to seek mentorship, something that many people lack in today’s time. Nowadays, many believe the lie that they are strong if they can discover and do everything on their own; hence, the generation now proclaims the need for “independent living.” But life was not meant to be that way. This is why so many become frustrated with life because they shoulder their burdens on their own when they are supposed to be loving and helping one another.

A true mentor is someone who takes the individual under their wing to share invaluable insights about life. These insights greatly help the learner as they can avoid many pitfalls in life, as a life of trial-and-error is very difficult indeed. The mentor is also there to help pick the person up should they fall, making challenges easier to overcome. Their care and words of advice do much to build up the resiliency of the person.

While parents are often the first option, sometimes busyness or relationship issues prevent parents from doing a good job. Other than parents, one can also seek mentorship from other older relatives, teachers, bosses, pastors, or church elders.

5. Practice Discipline

The fifth step is to practice discipline. Sadly, with everyday mantras such as “Live for the moment,” “Seek your own happiness,” or “You only live once,” discipline has become something that people wish to ignore unless they are an athlete, musician, or soldier. Such thinking, however, is far from the truth as discipline is necessary for success, especially if one wishes to recover from mental health issues.

If a person has discipline, it becomes easier to follow helpful routines, such as eating right, exercising, and getting enough rest. Discipline also allows a person to better manage their work and leisure schedules to avoid conflict and burnout. Moreover, a disciplined person is able to keep their thoughts and emotions in check, making it easier for them to focus on and solve their problems.

6. Embrace Hard Work

The sixth step is to embrace the need for hard work. Similar to discipline, this is another trait that is missing today. In this world of instant food and instant messaging, many people, particularly the young, expect instant success.

Unfortunately, such thinking leads to much disappointment which is why lots of individuals suffer from mental health issues like anxiety or depression. And when they do try to recover from such issues, they sadly regress since they were expecting instant recovery as well.

But when a person understands that hard work is necessary to accomplish their goals, their heart and mind are better prepared to push forward despite the obstacles. When coupled with strong faith, understanding the importance of hard work also leads one to become more patient in waiting for God’s timing, rather than insisting that they see the fruit of their labor right away.

7. Become More Ambitious

The seventh step is to become more ambitious. In most cultures, people derive meaning from the work they do, so it is important to have ambition. An ambitious person is someone who wishes to accomplish something. Though a person may recognize their purpose in life (Step 2), if they do not have much ambition, they may not have many achievements which may greatly affect their self-esteem.

Such ambition, however, should not be solely focused on one’s career or financial status. It ought to also include other creative passions (e.g. art, gardening, music) and helping others in need (e.g. community work). As mentioned earlier, if a person has compassion for others (Step 3), they are better able to appreciate the small joys in life.

Though it may be possible that those who lack ambition are just lazy, oftentimes the deeper story behind it is that they do not believe in themselves which is why they do not seek newer challenges. So ambition is necessary to build up self-worth, increasing one’s resiliency.

8. Change Your Behavior

Another key step to building resiliency is to change one’s behavior. Those who suffer from mental health issues (or even just low self-esteem) have problems with how they think and behave (speech or actions). Instead of thinking or reacting positively, they do something different which may hurt their self-worth (e.g. blaming themselves for the wrongs) or hurt others (e.g. lashing out instead of keeping calm). While some are unaware of these aspects, others simply believe that that is who they are and that they cannot be changed.

Fortunately, behavioral changes can be made with the right help and if the individual desires to seek such changes. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, is one method that seeks to make incremental adjustments in how the person reacts to situations, aiming for more positivity than before.

Though it takes time and much practice, the small adjustments in how they control their fears, words, and actions do make a difference. But again, it all starts with the individual making a conscious choice to change their behavior for the better.

9. Adjust Your Perception

The final step toward increasing emotional resilience is to adjust one’s perception. How a person views their world and their problems impacts their resiliency. If they believe all is hopeless, then the desire and energy to recover will not be there, causing them to regress or even develop more mental health issues e.

But changing one’s perception is easier said than done. It does take much time and requires a shift from how they view life to how God views it, which is why spirituality is so important. Once they are able to understand that the negatives in their life may actually be building blocks of character or possibly consequences of sin, they may have a better understanding about what life is really all about and be able to finally move forward, rather than dwell in the past.

Seek Christian Counseling to Increase Emotional Resilience

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

The previously mentioned steps can really help a person build up resiliency that leads to mental health recovery. Conscious effort and patience are needed to help an individual achieve this, yet it can be done.

However, for those who have difficulty in achieving this as they may lack the willpower or wisdom to do so on their own, it is best to seek Christian counseling to help build up their emotional resilience.

In Christian counseling, the latest therapeutic techniques will be used to help the individual overcome any lingering mental health issues they may still be suffering from. The counselor will then be there, acting as a mentor, to help guide the person to achieve the steps needed for resiliency.

But most importantly, the faith-based counselor will seek to strengthen the person’s faith in God through a strong relationship with Jesus Christ which is very necessary for healing. The counselor will also answer any questions the person may have about their understanding of faith or about their personal walk with God, as many usually have such unanswered concerns. Once their faith has been truly strengthened, then resiliency and true recovery are possible.

If you or a friend is recovering from a mental health issue and stronger inner strength is needed, then seek Christian counseling soon. Full recovery will be possible once God is involved.

“Happy”, Courtesy of Matias Saw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Happy Couple,” Courtesy of Arentas, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Journaling,” courtesy of Hannah Olinger, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

The Practice of Renewing Your Mind Through Principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? How can it help you? In this article, I’ll answer these questions and more.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

It is interesting, this idea of transformation by the renewal of your mind. What does it mean? Is it even possible?

The human brain is an amazing phenomenon. It is capable of so many incredible and complicated things, but it can also be a place of great struggle. Human beings fight battles in their minds daily. They battle cognitive distortions that can greatly impact emotions and behavior.

In fact, the Cognitive Triangle (a foundational principle in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) shows that thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all interconnected and mutually impact the others. Cognitive distortions are the ways that one’s mind convinces him or her of something that is not true, rational, or even helpful. Some have identified ten cognitive distortions, but we will consider fourteen.

What are the Common Cognitive Distortions?

Filtering: when someone filters out (or even ignores) the good or positive aspects of a situation and focuses solely on the negative.

Black and White Thinking: when someone sees no middle ground or gray area, seeing all or nothing. Something is either this or that, there is nothing in between.

Overgeneralization: when someone comes to a general conclusion about something based on a single experience.

Jumping to Conclusions: when someone assumes that he or she understands the thoughts or behaviors or feelings of another person without evidence. This could also apply to situations, not just in relationships.

Catastrophizing: when someone thinks about the worst-case scenario in most situations. They put magnitude on situations that are more minimal. They get lost in the “what ifs.”

Personalization: when someone believes that situations or interactions with others are always related to something about them on a personal level. It becomes “all about them,” to an extent.

Control Fallacies: when someone believes the illusion of being in control of everything in their life (whether internally or externally).

Fallacy of Fairness: when someone is hyper-focused on what he or she believes to be fair and expects others to follow this. When something is “unfair,” a person with this distortion will often become angry.

Blaming: when someone holds others responsible for his or her emotions or emotional experiences.

Shoulds: when someone has a list of rules (dos and don’ts) that they believe they must follow for a certain reason. This person will tend to get angry when they, themselves or others do not follow these shoulds and often feel guilt and shame as well.

Emotional Reasoning: when someone believes that if they feel something, it must be true, instead of understanding that emotions are not always indicative of what is true or accurate.

Fallacy of Change: when someone feels the need to change others because the success of others depends entirely on this person. They often pressure others to change because they believe it is what is best from them.

Global Labeling: when someone generalizes one or two negative qualities about a person, group of people, environment, or situation to mean that the whole is negative.

Always Being Right: when someone constantly tests others in order to prove that he or she is right about a topic. For this person, being wrong is unthinkable. (from PsychCentral, 15 Common Cognitive Distortions)

Looking at this list can be a bit overwhelming because you probably notice that you struggle with several of these distortions, but it is possible to change the course of these thought patterns. It is possible to renew the mind, to travel down a different thought path that is more accurate, helpful, and true. This is where other principles from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can come in.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): What is it?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that focuses on thought patterns- what they are, how to evaluate them, and how to replace them with more accurate and helpful thoughts. The goal is for the altered thoughts to then positively affect one’s emotions and behaviors (as stated earlier about the Cognitive Triangle).

It not only focuses on evaluating and replacing thoughts but also on calming skills and other ways to cope with some uncomfortable emotions as well as some behavior therapy to manage unhealthy behaviors.

It is based on several core principles as found in the Cognitive Triangle (list from apa.org, What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy):

  1. Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking. (Cognitive Distortions)
  2. Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
  3. People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.

Interventions for Cognitive Restructuring

Since the focus of this article is mainly on thought patterns, the interventions discussed will also focus on cognitive restructuring exercises. There are many other interventions that help one manage emotions and behavior, though, in CBT.

Identification of Cognitive Distortions

You will sometimes have automatic thoughts that pop into your head. You might even think, “Why am I thinking this thought?” or “Where did this thought come from?” These thoughts become automatic because they are the road most traveled in your brain.

For example, when you drive you have often thought about the possibility of being in a car accident, so now every time you get into your car, these thoughts of a car accident pop into your head and lead to high anxiety. Cognitive distortions can become automatic when you allow your brain to go too far down that path.

Part of redirecting thought patterns down a new and more helpful and accurate path of thinking is to simply pay attention to what those thoughts are and understand what distortions are present. Therefore, it is valuable to know what the common cognitive distortions are to be aware of what they are for you.

Identification of Feelings

Feelings and thoughts are interconnected, so it is vital to pay attention to the feelings you are having in a situation. Pull out a feelings wheel (easily accessible through Google), and then find the most prominent feelings that you are experiencing in a certain situation. Rate them. How intense are they on a scale from 1-100?

Evaluate the Thought Patterns/Distortions

This is when you would need to ask yourself some questions about the thoughts you have noticed in a situation. Is this thought accurate? Is this thought helpful? Is this thought necessary? Is there any evidence that supports this thought? Is there any evidence that does not support this thought?

Replace the thought with a more accurate, realistic, or helpful thought

After evaluation, it is necessary to replace. This is how you can literally renew your mind. This is how to train your brain to think differently. For example, instead of allowing yourself to automatically think about getting in a car accident every time you get in your car (which leads to anxiety), you could think something like this, “Well, I do not know anything that will happen in the future. All I know is that right now, I am safe.”

This is a more helpful thought. The more you replace unhelpful or inaccurate thoughts, the more your brain will stop going to those thoughts automatically and will start moving in a healthier direction.

Identification of Feelings after Replacing the Thought

Now that you have found a healthier way of looking at the situation, how you do feel? Has the intensity of your emotion decreased?

Identification of Behaviors

Now how do you act? Example: when you ruminate on your thoughts and fears about driving, sometimes you get out of the car and completely avoid driving. When you evaluate and replace unhelpful thoughts, your anxiety goes down and you can drive your car.

This is the basic structure of a thought log (or thought record) which is simply a chart that leads you step-by-step through this process. There are many examples of thought records on Google that you can find to help you.

Christian Counseling Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

However, people often struggle with this and find themselves stuck. A counselor who is familiar with or trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will help you through this process. They can help you see things that you cannot see yet, and this therapy is proven to be helpful in treating many mental disorders along with other mental health issues.

If you are struggling with your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions in some way, CBT may be the right fit for you. Maybe it is time to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The growth and healing that can occur can be exponential.



“This Is Your Brain…”, Courtesy of Natasha Connell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Prayer,” Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pointing the Finger”, Courtesy of Adi Goldstein, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Isolation”, Courtesy of Guilherme Stecanella, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Stop Worrying in a World Filled with Anxiety

Lisa began her day by announcing, “Good Morning!” in a groggy, insincere voice. She tossed and turned all night over her father’s unexpected diagnosis, not knowing how to stop worrying about what might happen. Her anxiety builds and sweat beads on her upper lip as she mentally reviews her to-do list.

No REM sleep and too many alarm snoozes mean no quiet time. She expects a pumpkin spice latte with an extra shot of espresso to replace her spiritual need. She tries to catch the weather on the local news only to be bombarded with a crisis overseas or a brutal murder.

Quickly, she turns off the television to spare what is left of her children’s innocence as they get ready for school. She grabs a protein bar on the way out the door and dreads the traffic she will encounter on the way to work due to her late start.

Her negative internal dialog begins. “There is so much to get done and no time. I can’t find peace. This world is crazy. Does everyone feel overwhelmed? This is too much! Do I have an anxiety disorder or is it my hormones? Why can’t I figure out how to stop worrying? Is it time to get counseling?”

Everyone has different ways of coping with anxiety in their lives and figuring out how to stop worrying. Lisa is unsure if her anxiety is normal anxiety or if maybe it has crossed over into a general anxiety disorder. She has gone from having a few sleepless nights to many over the course of the last month. She is premenopausal so she has blamed her anxiety and sweating on her hormones. Maybe it is just hormones, but maybe it’s General Anxiety Disorder.

Symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The National Institute of Mental Health describes the symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder as:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Other symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Social isolation

Since Lisa exhibits several of the symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder, it would be wise for her to schedule an appointment with her physician. In order to properly diagnose Lisa, the physician will follow these steps:

  • Do a physical exam to look for signs that anxiety might be linked to medications or an underlying medical condition
  • Order blood or urine tests or other tests, if a medical condition is suspected
  • Ask detailed questions about symptoms and medical history
  • Use psychological questionnaires to help determine a diagnosis
  • Use the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association

As a Christian, Lisa has access to more than physicians. What could she do immediately to find some relief from her anxiety? She could pray. She could open her Bible to 1 Peter 5:6-7 and find hope from the Good Counselor.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.1 Peter 5:6-7

To cast means to throw off. Lisa needs to throw off her anxiety. The anxiety is a tool of her adversary. Peter instructs further in verses 8-10.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:8-10

Lisa could just be struggling and suffering from ordinary complications of life, but if symptoms persist that seem to worsen regardless of prayer and healthy life choices professional treatment is available and should be considered to prevent Lisa from becoming clinically depressed.

How to Stop Worrying: Natural Remedies

There are natural remedies that Lisa can incorporate into her life. First, her physician should rule out any medical causes for anxiety such as her thyroid.

Natural remedies include:

  • Prayer
  • Casting your cares on the Lord
  • Scripture memorization
  • A healthy diet free of caffeine and processed foods
  • Exercise
  • Relaxation
  • Massage
  • Aromatherapy such as lavender essential oil
  • Forest bathing-time spent outdoors
  • Time spent with animals
  • Writing
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Deep sleep
  • Chamomile tea
  • Green tea

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2

Imagine Lisa sipping her chamomile tea before bed as she looks over a Bible verse that she is memorizing. She sets her alarm an hour early so that she can enjoy a healthy breakfast and spend quiet time alone with God.

She skips an unhealthy gossip laden lunch with coworkers and has a healthy salad that she brought from home followed by a nice walk on the greenway surrounding the office complex. As she dodges traffic on the way home, she is listening to a Christian podcast or recites that bible verse. She is taking every thought captive.

These are ways that she can put 1 Peter 5:8 into action.

  • She’s of sober spirit, alert: No caffeine, no alcohol
  • She’s resisting her adversary: No gossip with co-workers
  • She’s standing firm in her faith: Prayer, Bible Study, Memorizing God’s Word

Christian Counseling for Anxiety

Still, there are times when normal anxiety crosses over into something more and there is no shame or disgrace in seeking a clinically trained Christian counselor.

Lisa may find that regardless of all of her attempts at conquering her anxiety naturally, medication and psychotherapy is necessary. Medications are diverse and depend on the anxiety disorder.

Or, Lisa may have another anxiety disorder that can only be diagnosed by a psychiatrist or specialized counselor such as: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

If you’re struggling with how to stop worrying, feel free to contact our office today to schedule a counseling appointment.

Many times Christians avoid specialized treatment due to the stigma attached to having a mental illness or disorder. Christ died on the Cross so that the children of God could walk in freedom. Shame was nailed to the Cross so that Christians wouldn’t have peace in their eternal salvation. Shame has been exchanged for peace and freedom.

Having an illness is not a sin. The sin is living under daily condemnation that is self-inflicted or assumed due to another person’s faulty belief system. Own the freedom that has already been paid for by Jesus. Lay aside every encumbrance and sin. Run with endurance. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of faith.

“Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Energepic.com, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Anxious”, Courtesy of Alexander Dummer, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Freedom”, Courtesy of Olga, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Approaching the Tree”, Courtesy of Vlad Bagacian, Pexels.com, CC0 License