Overcoming Social Anxiety

Many people struggle with the fear of public speaking or performance anxiety in public. But when this fear becomes pervasive and drives you to avoid even neutral, everyday social situations, you may be suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder, otherwise known as SAD or social phobia.

SAD is the official psychological diagnosis for social anxiety so intense that it disrupts your daily life and functioning. Not everyone with social anxiety has a mental health disorder, but whether or not your anxiety has prevented you from functioning, it has probably caused you significant distress.

The DSM-IV defines social phobia as: “A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing” (APA, 1994, p. 416).

According to experts, “the distinctive characteristic of individuals with social phobia is fear of scrutiny by others.”

In 2013, the DSM-V was published, with this updated characteristic of Social Anxiety Disorder: it lasts for six months or more. At that point, it qualifies for diagnosis as a disorder.

Social anxiety is a common fear, affecting around 7% of Americans (and up to 12% will experience it at some point during their lifetime). But just because it is relatively common doesn’t make it less isolating. When you struggle with social anxiety, you might think no one else feels this way, and this sense of isolation can increase your anxiety.

If you have a social phobia, you’re aware of your anxiety and how it interferes with your functioning, but you might feel powerless to stop your physiological symptoms when you are in a given social setting. Your fear of physical symptoms can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing more involuntary physical symptoms.

Sometimes this condition may seem to go away for awhile, but it flares up under stress, or when it’s no longer possible to avoid a triggering situation. If that is the case, you may think you don’t need to seek treatment for the anxiety, but fast forward several months or a few years. You’re going through a lot of life stressors, and suddenly you find that your social anxiety has driven you to avoidance and you’ve become isolated.

This situation can wreak havoc on your mental health, so it’s important to seek social anxiety therapy as soon as possible so the anxiety doesn’t become unmanageable. Keep reading to learn some of the most common signs of Social Anxiety Disorder, and to find out what you can do for social anxiety treatment if you think you may suffer from this mental health condition.Symptoms and Signs of Social Anxiety

As mentioned above, adults with social anxiety are usually aware that their level of fear in social situations is unusually high. This awareness doesn’t make the problem go away, though. And, even if you’re aware of your fear, you might not recognize all of the symptoms.

Here are some of the most common signs of SAD:

Emotional and Behavioral Symptoms

According to Mayo Clinic, these symptoms include:

  • Fear of being judged in social situations.
  • Fear of having to talk to or interact with strangers.
  • Fear of embarrassing yourself in public or around other people.
  • Avoidance of the situations you fear.
  • Avoidance of talking to people.
  • Overanalyzing your performance after a social situation.

Physical Symptoms

Mayo Clinic also describes the physical symptoms that accompany social anxiety:

  • Blushing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Breathlessness
  • Upset stomach

If you suffer from social anxiety, you know that these physical symptoms make it more difficult to successfully navigate social situations, which in turn makes your fear worse. That’s why having social phobia can make you feel trapped. Facing your fears means having to go through those symptoms again, and that can make it seem like overcoming your anxiety is impossible.

Causes

Experts aren’t completely sure what leads to the development of social phobias. Some studies have suggested that genetics play a role, or that your environment may have something to do with it. For example, if one or both of your parents were anxious in social situations, you may have inadvertently internalized this anxiety, and then it manifested in you as you got older.

Or maybe you grew up with parents who were controlling or overprotective. If children are not allowed to naturally develop independence, they may internalize the message that they are not capable of successfully navigating the world on their own. If children are overly dependent due to being overly protected, they may develop social anxiety because they don’t have the necessary skills to navigate social situations – or they just don’t have the confidence.

This isn’t to say that parents are to blame when a child or teenager develops social anxiety; in some cases, it may just be that their personality makes them naturally shy and withdrawing, and then their social anxiety was triggered by an embarrassing or stressful situation (or a series of them).

Someone who has a lot of risk factors or is temperamentally prone to developing social anxiety may be triggered by an event or series of events, or new demands placed upon them, and find themselves with Social Anxiety Disorder.

Studies have also found a link between an overactive amygdala, which is the fear center of the brain, and social anxiety. And, we know that social anxiety often presents along with other anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, or substance use.

Therapy Options

Regardless of the root cause of your phobia, or your specific symptoms, social anxiety can be distressing and debilitating. It strongly impacts daily life and functioning, making it difficult to have a successful career and social life. The more you experience fear, the more you avoid situations that provoke your fear, and the more fearful you become.

The sooner you seek social anxiety treatment, the better. If you catch it early, you have a much better chance of overcoming social anxiety than if you have given it years to become cemented in your brain. However, even if you have suffered from this condition for many years, there is still hope for overcoming social anxiety. Here are some social anxiety therapy options.

Journaling

This first suggestion is one you can try right now, even before you are able to get an appointment with a professional. When it comes to any form of anxiety, writing can be an incredibly effective and free form of therapy. This is not to say that journaling should be used as a substitute for professional help, but you can use it in conjunction with other forms of therapy.

Expressive or therapeutic writing is connected to better mental and physical health, and it has even been shown to lower social anxiety levels over time in subjects who wrote about a stressful public speaking event.

If you want to try journaling, try setting a timer and writing for five minutes, then examine what you wrote and try to write about it from a different perspective. You can also write down a simple step to take to improve your situation.

When you can write down what you’re struggling with, reframe it from a different perspective, and imagine a possibility for handling it, this process can help your brain deal with your fears and begin to take a step towards overcoming your challenges.

Learning Healthy Coping Strategies

When you are struggling with this issue, learning some techniques for coping can make a big difference in your daily functioning. A counselor can help you learn specific techniques and make a plan for implementing them in your everyday life.

A few of the coping strategies you can try include:

  • Naming your anxiety
  • Recognizing that it’s irrational
  • Practicing deep breathing
  • Focusing on what you can notice with your senses (colors, textures, objects in the room)
  • Accepting your discomfort

These strategies may not be possible to implement immediately, but they are something to work toward, especially with a therapist.

Christian Counseling for Social Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, can include exposure therapy, in which your counselor helps you face the situations you fear. Your counselor can help you set specific goals for each time you are exposed to a situation you fear – for example, trying to talk to one new person at a social event.

Medication is sometimes prescribed for social anxiety, but it depends on whether your anxiety is generalized or not.

Social anxiety can feel paralyzing, but you don’t have to let it take over your life. Treatment for this condition is very effective and can start you on the journey toward overcoming your struggles today. Christian counseling provides a safe setting for you to discuss your challenges in a judgment-free and compassionate atmosphere.

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What is the Christian Perspective on the Law of Attraction?

Ever since the publication of the 2006 book The Secret and the 2007 movie of the same name, the law of attraction has circulated in our pop culture vernacular. Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey, and other celebrities are adherents of this movement. You might not even realize the roots of the movement, but maybe you’ve heard people talking about positive vibes, manifesting what you want, and other similar buzzwords or phrases.

If you’re interested in self-help or self-development, you might have noticed popular social media figures promoting law of attraction concepts. For example, YouTuber Lavendaire, who has a million subscribers, wrote this on her blog:

All realities begin in the mind: your beliefs become thoughts, thoughts become words, words become actions, and actions become reality. As you take action towards your dream, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it.

What exactly is this philosophy? Where does it come from? Is it compatible with a Christian worldview? Let’s talk about the background of the law of attraction and compare it with Scripture, and consider how we as Christians can think about this philosophy.

What is the Law of Attraction (LOA)?

The law of attraction is based on the New Thought movement, which began in the early 1800s in the United States under the teachings of Phineas Quimby. Quimby believed in mind healing and practiced hypnotism. Throughout the 1800s, Quimby’s ideas gained popularity, and in the early 1900s, the New Thought Alliance was formed, based on the idea that your mind creates your reality.

In 2006, Australian author Rhonda Byrne published the book and created the documentary called The Secret, and these ideas subsequently went viral. Dr. Neil Farber, writing for Psychology Today, summarizes the law of attraction:

The law of attraction (LOA) is the belief that the universe creates and provides for you that which your thoughts are focused on. It is believed by many to be a universal law by which ‘Like always attracts like.’ The results of positive thoughts are always positive consequences. The same holds true for negative thoughts, always leading to bad outcomes.

In other words, you focus on your desired outcome, and the universe will give you what you want. Your thoughts become your reality, and even more so, your feelings become your reality. The more you focus on health and prosperity, the more healthy and prosperous you’ll become. The more you focus on sickness, negativity, and poverty, the more sick and unhealthy you’ll become.

Of course, this concept is attractive! It offers us a sense of control. Who wouldn’t want to be healthy and wealthy? But is this belief based on science and evidence, or is it pseudoscience? And more importantly, does this concept align with Scripture, or is it based solely on humanistic or New Age teachings?

LOA ideas include many concepts you may have heard in passing, including visualization, positive vibes, manifesting, mind over body, source energy, and more. This article will address some of those specific concepts and compare them to the truth of Scripture.

The LOA sucks people in by convincing them that they can receive their truest desires if they:

  •     Believe hard enough,
  •     Visualize clearly enough,
  •     Put out enough positive energy,

These ideas hold a kernel of truth. Positive thinking can, to a certain extent, improve your mental and physical health. Optimism is one key to resilience. Treating other people well and being a happy, upbeat person tends to have a ripple effect on those around you. In the book of Proverbs, we often see that wisdom is its own reward (e.g. Proverbs 8:18, 9:12, 22:4).

However, LOA ideas represent a perversion of these truths. You can’t trust the universe to bless you just because you’re putting out positive vibes. Indeed, because the universe is a created thing, it has no power at all to either bless or to curse – that power belongs to God, alone. In the end, this belief is just another futile attempt to manifest happiness and prosperity through one’s own efforts.

Criticism of the LOA

Scientists, psychologists, and other experts claim the law of attraction is pseudoscience, yet its ideas are still wildly popular and gaining traction. Writing for How Stuff Works, Nathan Chandler says:

But Byrne’s ‘secret’ is not really a secret. For centuries, both philosophers and con men have leveraged the LOA and its ilk both to buoy the spirits of the downtrodden and in some cases bilk vulnerable targets out of their cash.

Certain aspects of positive thinking can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You decide to be positive, so your happiness attracts people to you, leading to improved relationships, career progress, etc.

Ultimately though, the law of attraction requires belief in order to “know” if it works or not, which is why it can suck you in. You place your faith in attracting positivity, but you have to be fully invested – mentally and emotionally – to see if it “works” for you.

And if it doesn’t work? Well, instead of acknowledging their ideology is false, LOA proponents will claim that you didn’t put out enough positive vibes:

If you are focused on the belief ‘The Law of Attraction isn’t working for me’ then you dramatically increase the chances that the Law of Attraction won’t work. This is because you are focused on the concept of lack, which attracts yet more lack into your life.Katherine Hurst

The Bible and the Secret Law of Attraction

Let’s compare some of the most popular concepts from the law of attraction with relevant Scripture passages:

Cognitive reframing and creative visualization.

The law of attraction requires that you reframe your thoughts from negative to positive, and visualize what you want to achieve. There is a scientific basis for visualizing an action before performing it, and how that makes you more likely to succeed. This is different from visualizing yourself winning the lottery, however.

The Bible teaches us to reframe our thoughts according to God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). It also teaches us that we can trust and rely on God to take care of us (Proverbs 3:5). We don’t have to rely on putting out the right energy into the universe. The Bible tells us that God wants us to rely on Him, and He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Positive vs. negative and like attracts like.

Again, there is a kernel of truth here. Science shows us that positivity improves mental and physical health. Common sense tells us that happy, healthy people tend to have more stable and functional lives.

But this doesn’t mean that your mind creates your reality. While God’s word teaches us to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2) and that we will reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7), it also teaches us that we’ll have trouble in this world (John 16:33) and that we must overcome evil with good (Romans 12:1).

Mind over body.

LOA proponents teach that you can overcome sickness and poverty, etc. if you let your mind conquer your body. But God’s Word teaches that he is the Creator, who is sovereign over his creation (Colossians 1:16).

If you’ve ever had the stomach flu, you know that all the positive thinking in the world isn’t going to get you out of it. You can’t manifest a cure for cancer (or coronavirus). Instead, we must turn to God the Creator and trust him in both good times and bad.

Source energy.

We don’t all come from the source energy of the universe, as The Secret Claims. We were made by God, and he is a being whom it is possible to know.

Manifesting.

Some adherents of the Law of Attraction claim Bible verses to support their beliefs (e.g., “with God all things are possible”). The prosperity gospel and Word of Faith movements teach similar concepts: if you believe in God’s Word, you will have a good life with many blessings; if you “speak truth” from God’s Word, you will attain material benefits and wealth.

The Secret claims that we are all divine and have one consciousness. If we just tap into the source energy, meditate, and put out positive vibrations, we will attract wealth and happiness.

These concepts are not in line with Scripture or science. They provide a false sense of control, as well as the temporary benefits that you can derive from optimism and healthy positivity. The shreds of truth can suck you in. We don’t manifest our reality. We simply take action, as human beings whom God created.

The law of attraction is not the same as the Bible. Here’s what Christians should do instead to improve our lives: live by faith, walk in obedience, and trust God. God is pleased by our childlike faith, rather than our hope that the universe will manifest wealth for us.

If you are struggling with hope and want to experience the mental health benefits of optimism and positivity, grounded in a biblical worldview, don’t hesitate to contact our office to set up your first appointment for Christian counseling.

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-blame-game/201609/the-truth-about-the-law-attraction

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/boundless/201706/the-law-attraction

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_attraction_(New_Thought)

https://www.britannica.com/event/New-Thought

https://people.howstuffworks.com/law-of-attraction.htm

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-science-of-visualizat_b_171340

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The Grieving Process: Reaching Acceptance in the Midst of Grief

There is great freedom in reaching acceptance. But it does not come without a cost. Typically, you must go through a grieving process to reach acceptance. Going through this journey can be difficult, but the rewards outweigh the costs.

The Stages of Grief

There are five well-known stages of grief, and acceptance is the last one. To reach acceptance, you will go through the other steps of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression first, though grief does not always run in a straight line through these stages. You may jump back and forth between them (and some may not occur at all) before finally reaching acceptance.

Grief is not always related to physical death. It can be the death of a dream or the death of a life stage that you enjoyed. A new mother of a special needs baby may need to give up dreams for her child and the future she expected.

A recently retired man may need to grieve the loss of his livelihood and sense of identity. Both people will need to go through the stages of grief to reach acceptance in their new situations. When they take on that challenge, they can be greatly blessed on the other side.

An Example of Reaching Acceptance in the Grieving Process

Let’s look at an example of how the grieving process might play out in one woman’s life. Diane and Paul are recent empty nesters. They have raised three children together. Paul has spent the last ten years in a recovery program, overcoming his alcohol addiction that affected most of their 30-year marriage. They are looking forward to celebrating a new, happier future together.

However, Paul’s decades of drinking took a toll on his internal organs. Only two years into their empty nest journey of traveling and enjoying time with friends, Paul is diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. He chooses to be put on hospice care rather than endure chemotherapy and radiation. After three months of hospice, Paul passes away, and Diane is left a grieving widow.

Two months after the funeral, everyone has gone back to their regular lives, except Diane. She has felt numb, telling everyone she is fine. But her anger at the slightest provocations, as when she is driving, shocks her. Diane feels withdrawn, sullen, and miserable. Finally, she reaches out for help at church. Her pastor suggests that she meet with a Christian counselor to deal with her grief.

Diane’s counselor helps her review her marriage, along with all the hopes and dreams she had to give up due to Paul’s addiction. Diane struggles with feeling like she was partially responsible for Paul’s declining health. If only she had confronted him sooner, helped him eat healthier, and more.

Her counselor helps her see that she is going through the bargaining stage, which is normal and healthy. Diane is moving past anger into bargaining, which leads to deep sadness. At this point, she joins a grief support group at church, where she connects with other widows. For the first time since Paul’s death, she feels a spark of hope despite her depressed feelings.

With the passing of holidays and anniversary dates, Diane’s grief stages of anger, denial, bargaining, and sadness resurface. But she sticks with her counseling appointments and support group meetings to weather the changes. She also stays in touch with her children and takes up sewing, an enjoyable hobby she put on hold when her children were growing up.

Diane joins a quilting guild to connect with other quilters. The guild’s show-and-tell meeting is a highlight of her month, and she gains satisfaction from working on small sewing projects throughout the week.

On their wedding anniversary three years after Paul died, Diane visits his burial site with a much lighter heart. She still feels sad, but she is no longer consumed by grief. She thanks God for all the goodness Paul brought to her life. As she drives away, she praises God for bringing her to a place of acceptance.

Your story of grief and acceptance may not look exactly like Diane’s story. But you will likely have to overcome several challenges to reach acceptance, just like Diane. Here are more types of acceptance you can attain with God’s help.

Contentment with God’s Plan

The Bible says that God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). You may need to grieve about what God allowed to happen in order to reach acceptance. Once you go through the grieving process with God, you can gain contentment despite your challenging circumstances.

For example, you may not naturally like a certain aspect of your physical body or personality. However, with God’s help, you can reach self-acceptance by grieving what you wish you would have been given and accepting what God gave you. Meditating on Psalm 139 can help you understand your great worth in God’s eyes, just as you are.

Social acceptance is another common struggle that many people face. You may not feel accepted by your peers, your family, your coworkers, or other groups. If you have faced rejection, betrayal, or exclusion, you may struggle with a strong desire for social acceptance.

Rather than striving to win the approval of others, you can work on your relationship with God. When you put more trust in him than people, along with grieving what may not be possible in your relationships, you can find the peace and acceptance you seek.

Conditional acceptance is a compromise. It means that you are willing to accept one aspect of a situation but not another. For example, a newly divorced man may grieve the fact that he needs to move in with his parents while he financially recovers.

But he reaches for acceptance by setting a 24-month deadline to move out on his own again. During that period, he will receive the counseling support he needs to rebuild his spiritual and emotional reserves.

Contentment with God’s plan usually means giving up something we deeply desire. God wants us to be honest about this. The longer you deny what you wanted, the less spiritual growth you can experience.

You may get stuck in one of the stages of grief if you don’t make acceptance and contentment your ultimate goal. However, getting stuck in a grief stage is a common problem. You can reach out for help if acceptance always seems outside your reach.

Finding Acceptance in the Grieving Process

The day you find acceptance is the day you step into the new life God has for you. But you may need help reaching acceptance. The grieving process is difficult and painful, and it may last much longer than you expected. A caring Christian counselor can help you walk through the stages of grief and find acceptance.

Often, what you are grieving about now may be related to older grief. As we can see in Diane’s story, she wasn’t only grieving Paul’s death, but also the toll that his addiction took on their marriage. She needed to work through both problems before she reached acceptance. You may also need help dealing with deeper issues from your past while you cycle through all the grief stages.

When you enlist the help of a Christian counselor in your grief journey, you have true hope of reaching acceptance. Your counselor will listen with compassion, ask thoughtful questions, and offer guidance for making new choices. By connecting with other support groups, as Diane did, you can have even greater hope of reaching the acceptance stage of the grieving process.

The team of counselors at our office is trained in walking you through all the stages of grief. No matter what life situation you are facing, you can find the hope and healing you are seeking by reaching out to us. Give us a call today, and we’ll help you reach out for acceptance.

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The Fear of Abandonment: Getting the Help You Need for Abandonment Issues

The fear of abandonment can create lasting problems from childhood long into adulthood. Adults with abandonment issues may sabotage, consciously or subconsciously, personal relationships with others. This can take the form of pushing a partner away after a period of time to keep that person from eventually leaving first.

For example, a man with abandonment issues may leave his wife of ten years for another woman for fear that his wife would have eventually left him. Before the marriage ended, he may have emotionally pushed her away. In another five or ten years, he may repeat the behavior with his second wife due to his fear that she too will someday leave him.

Although these issues can stem from childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma, adults can develop a fear of abandonment as a result of traumatic experiences later in life.

Abandonment During Childhood

It is common for children to become teary-eyed and sad when their parent leaves them at daycare. A child may cry when their guardian leaves them in the church nursery for an hour or two while the adult worships in the sanctuary. However, children with healthy emotions will move on and play with toys after a while. Or, if they are new to daycare, they will adjust within a week or so of consistent attendance.

Children with emotional abandonment issues, on the other hand, may panic at the thought of the guardian leaving them. The child might develop a severe case of anxiety or refuse to sleep alone. Sometimes this behavior is due to the fear of being left alone. Other times, it is the result of a child having been abandoned.

Abandonment can come in many forms. The parent may physically leave, such as when one parent leaves indefinitely due to divorce or death. Or, it might be from emotional abandonment as when the parent refuses to meet the child’s basic needs for love, attention, and nurturing.

If the child comes from a poor family where the basics of food, running water, power, and heat are not provided consistently, the child may associate that with a lack of love. Loving parents try to provide for their children’s basic needs, and on some level, children instinctively know this.

However, it is not only children from low-income households at risk. Influential families can raise their children without meeting their emotional needs. Children who feel that their parents or guardians are withholding love and attention may develop abandonment issues.

Abused or neglected children from all social-economic backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing a fear of abandonment. These feelings of rejection can shape a child’s mind and their self-belief. This can lead to issues later in life as they try to manage personal relationships.

A child’s mind also perceives events differently than an adult would. A child might conclude that a parent leaving the family permanently due to divorce is because the parent no longer wanted the child in their life. They may believe that the parent felt their life would be easier (or happier, richer, etc.) without the child present. The child may begin to show signs of separation anxiety with the remaining parent.

Separation anxiety is common in children for whom one parent is gone due to death. The loss may have been forthcoming, such as a long illness, or sudden, like a tragic accident. The loss is still deep in either case. Some children suddenly become hyper-aware of the remaining parent’s presence and are afraid of losing them. Other children may feel a sense of betrayal, especially if the living parent is domineering, abusive, or emotionally distant.

During the aftermath of a parent’s death, the surviving parent must cope with their own emotions. Sometimes this means that they wind up neglecting their child’s emotional needs. This isn’t necessarily done on purpose; both child and parent are hurt.

If you are the parent or guardian of a child with abandonment issues, let the child know you are open to hearing how they feel. If it is your own child, they may feel awkward or afraid that they might hurt your feelings. Assure them that you will not overreact. Allow them to express their fears.

If you are worried about the child’s emotional health, seek professional help. You can speak to your child’s pediatrician or school counselor. Sometimes the act of sharing their fears and having someone reaffirm that they are wanted and loved can place a child in a better mental state. Your child’s doctor may refer you to a therapist if the anxiety from the fear of abandonment is extreme.

Abandonment Issues in Adults

Adults are at a higher risk for developing abandonment issues if they experience a traumatic event. This can include sexual assault, domestic violence or abuse, the end of a relationship, or another high-stress situation. It is not only the fear of physical abandonment or neglect but of emotional abandonment as well; the feeling of the other partner pulling away and leaving the person unloved and rejected.

These adults may leave relationships to keep from getting hurt. This fear of intimacy can also result in shallow relationships. The person wants a deeply committed relationship but is terrified of someone they love eventually leaving them. The hurt they will feel at the dissolution of the relationship (not on their own terms) is an emotion they need to avoid at all costs.

This person may sabotage their relationship by becoming emotionally distant, verbally abusive, or indifferent to their partner. They may engage in extramarital affairs or choose work over family life. They may start arguments and contradict their spouse when the spouse tries to confirm that they would never leave the marriage.

The adult with abandonment issues may accuse their spouse of infidelity or some other betrayal. Furthermore, to widen the emotional gap, they may tell others about this alleged betrayal, so that no one will blame them for leaving the spouse.

The behavior from the fear of abandonment causes a reaction from those involved. Unfortunately, the adult with these issues may get a sense of satisfaction from these reactions and the attention they garner and cycle through the behavior again. To the outside world, these people appear full of drama and consistently in new relationships. However, the truth is that the person is hurting with an emotional need that is still unmet.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, fear of abandonment can cause a person in a bad relationship to stay longer. The fear of loneliness outweighs the fear of staying in the relationship. Even if their partner is emotionally or physically abusive, the person with abandonment issues cannot break free for long. This “stuck” feeling can lead to additional mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Getting the Help You Need

If you recognize the symptoms of abandonment issues in your own life, seek the help of a licensed mental health care professional. Your primary physician can refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counseling center near you.

A faith-based counseling facility can help you overcome the fear of abandonment while reassuring you that there is One who will never abandon you. By relying on your faith in God, you can resist the urge to ruin and flee a loving relationship. You will find the necessary courage to leave an abusive relationship that does not adhere to your Christian values that love is patient and kind, not jealous, boastful, or proud (1 Corinthians 13:4).

A common treatment for emotional abandonment and the fears that accompany it is psychotherapy. This includes talk therapy which can be done in an individual setting with the therapist or in couple’s sessions.

The therapist will help you to identify the thoughts and emotions that accompany these issues and change your responses. It will take time to learn to react with the new behavioral patterns, but this is something you can do. It is not only for you but for the future of your relationship.

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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.

Photos:
“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.

Photos:
“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.

Self-exploration

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.

Photos:
“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.

Photos:
“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.

Resources:

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

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.

Photos:
“Hands and Flower”, Courtesy of Lina Trochez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Broken Heart”, Courtesy of Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

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.

Photos:
“Alone”, Courtesy of Anthony Tran, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Inside Looking Out”, Courtesy of Sasha Freemind, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope”, Courtesy of Ron Smith, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lonely Road”, Courtesy of John Towner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License