How to Deal with Rejection

Most of us can agree that rejection is painful. Whether rejected by a potential spouse, a loved one, or a career maker, the ego takes a hit. Sometimes it is difficult to move past the hurt and carry on with life as we know it. But life does go on, and we can learn how to deal with rejection in a healthy manner that will propel us forward into our future.

How to Deal with Rejection

Some people can experience a painful rejection and yet find it in themselves to regroup and try again to reach their goal. However, others have trouble once rejection has taken root, especially if they have heard the word “no” constantly. Why are some people resilient after rejection and others are not?

Resilience after a rejection is not a trait only some people are blessed with. Dealing with rejection is a behavior that you can learn. It is how you identify and analyze your thoughts and emotions after rejection. It is learning how to use that hurt to mold and create your purpose by shifting your perspective.

Learning how to deal with rejection is not easy. Being slighted by someone stings and according to studies using MRI scans, the brain responds similarly to physical pain and the pain from rejection. Unfortunately, with social media only a swipe away, more and more people are experiencing rejection on a frequent basis, but there are things you can do to help build your resiliency and bounce back to reach your goals.

Remember Who You Are

When the world rejects you, it’s easy to forget who you are and whose you are. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19). No one wants to be hated, disliked, snubbed, or rejected. Yet, Jesus prepared us for how the world reacts to people.

Most of the time, it’s not that people are meaning to slight you. It may be that they are in a hurry or have important matters on their mind and simply forgot to speak or acknowledge your presence. They may feel overwhelmed at work and take a quick break to scroll social media and inadvertently skip “liking” your post. Or, perhaps they are trying to manage all the small details for a social gathering and forget to personally invite you.

Of course, there are situations where you are outright rejected – a potential spouse or clique at school or work. This is the time that you need to remember that God created you and loves you just as you are. You don’t have to prove your worth to Him. You are already a part of His eternal kingdom. “And this is the promise that He has promised us – eternal life.” (1 John 2:25).

In Him, you are whole, eternal, and perfected in every way. It doesn’t really matter what other people think. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18).

Give Yourself Grace

Rejection is hard enough without the inner voice chiming in and over-analyzing situations. We can tear apart a conversation or something as simple as a look from across a room. The thoughts that form can take on an ugly personality – attacking with negative self-talk. Some of this inner voice originated when we were children through experiences that left an imprint.

More of the inner voice stems from adult experiences that seem to confirm what the childhood inner voice already demands. Have you heard any of these thoughts from your inner voice?

  • You can’t please them because you will never be good enough.
  • No one will ever love you.
  • You’re not meant to do great things.
  • No matter how hard you try, people will never like you.
  • You’re not smart/pretty/clever/wealthy/talented enough.
  • Why even try? You will only fail.

These are harsh statements living in your head and it’s time to put a stop to them. It’s time to give yourself grace. Why should we listen to that negative inner voice say things to us that we would never say to another human being? Even if these are comments you heard from someone in your past that doesn’t mean you have to talk to yourself that way now. Don’t believe these lies. Be kind to yourself.

It’s Okay to Feel the Pain

Keeping the pain from rejection bottled up inside however is unhealthy and can lead to other long-term problems. You can feel the hurt, just don’t get lost in it. You don’t want the emotions to override your controlled behavior. Under the initial sadness, anger, or resentment of rejection is the hurt that needs to be addressed.

In some people, especially those who have faced rejection multiple times, the pain is too much. These people feel the pain, but they can’t seem to separate themselves from the hurt. This can lead to anxiety and depression.

If you think you are having trouble moving past rejection, consider seeking help from a professional therapist. Using a combination of talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a therapist can teach you techniques to move past the pain and shift your perspective.

Feeling the pain can bolster you to higher goals. Celebrities, business executives, CEOs, among others have told stories of being rejected only to reemerge stronger than before. The rejection was actually a blessing and opportunity in disguise. However, these successful people would never have realized that if they hadn’t first embraced the rejection and acknowledged the hurt.

Avoid Dwelling on the Situation

As we recall the painful scenario, we tend to dwell on the pain which gives permission for the inner voice to give its opinion. Slowly we chip away at our own self-confidence. We begin to doubt our ability, talent, skills, worth, appearance, and other things that are important to us. We become our own worst enemy. We manage to twist the truth to fit into new belief molds that are not necessarily true.

Allowing a situation to take the forefront in your mind can also exacerbate the pain and emotions toward the person or people involved. Anger, bitterness, and resentment can grow exponentially. The problem with allowing these emotions to grow is that they end up hurting you.

You are probably not in a place where you can readily forgive the other person just yet for hurting you but holding onto the pain only keeps you from moving forward. “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26). As a child of God, you have more important things to think about.

When Your Hurt Can Help Others

Not all rejection is personal. Yet, rejection can also serve a purpose in God’s plan for your life. Consider the heroes from the Bible. For example, Moses was rejected by his Hebrew brethren which led to his running away until God called him to return to help His people. Joseph was rejected by his brothers and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife until God moved him into a position that others may not have thought he was worthy to hold.

The rejection you recently faced may have a purpose to it that you aren’t aware of yet. Sometimes in order to get our attention or to steer us back on track, God will use rejection. Ask Him what the purpose of this hurt is and to reveal your purpose.

As seen countless times in the Bible, God doesn’t use someone for something great without first testing them thoroughly. Perhaps what seems like rejection is really part of a test to make you stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for the future.

Your story could one day inspire another person, maybe the entire world. If you need help dealing with the rejection so you can get back to fulfilling your purpose, seek help from a Christian counselor who can point you not only to techniques that work but also to biblical truth about yourself as someone God created in His own image.

Photos:
“No”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Thumb Smiley”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Success Ahead”, Courtesy of Geralt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sad Heart”, Courtesy of Conmongt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms and How to Recover

Do you feel like taking a step back when things get tough in your life? If so, you may be using emotional withdrawal as a defense. This is a common situation, but it can lead to other problems if not addressed.

Withdrawal is a coping mechanism for pain. It’s a self-protective measure a person uses to keep from getting hurt again. However, when withdrawal is used over long periods or repeated, it can cause further relational decay.

Reasons for Withdrawal

The reasons for withdrawing can be myriad in number. They can be due to either real or perceived threats to one’s mental, physical, or emotional safety. Here are several common examples of why people may withdraw.

  • A boy is bullied at school and withdraws from all social contact with peers.
  • A young girl is sexually abused by an uncle and withdraws from all males in her family.
  • A wife withdraws from her husband after he has an affair with a coworker.
  • A young woman experiences spiritual abuse at church and refuses to attend organized services again.
  • A man is treated poorly by his boss and withdraws from social contact with other coworkers.
  • A divorced father withdraws from his children.
  • An elderly mother refuses to see her adult children.

Shame is often a root of withdrawal. In each example above, the people may partially blame themselves for the mistreatment they received. They may even feel like they deserve poor treatment, due to a damaged self-image. Shame can hold us down and keep us from living the life God intended for us to live.

Real guilt may also be involved in withdrawal situations. While shame is attached to false guilt, real guilt is attached to something we did to hurt others. The divorced father may feel guilty for turning his children’s lives upside down. The elderly mother may feel guilty for prioritizing her career over her children when they were young.

Anger is often a reason for withdrawal. The bullied boy is understandably angry at the bully. Likewise, it’s reasonable for the wife to be angry about her husband’s affair, and the teen girl to be angry over the breakup. Anger is a normal, even healthy, reaction to unwanted changes. But when it is not handled properly, it can cause a person to withdraw.

Fear can be attached to reasons for withdrawal. Many people who withdraw live in dread of getting hurt so badly again. Though the real threat of danger may have passed, the trauma from the original incident runs deep. The fear of getting hurt again can drive the urge to withdraw.

No matter the reason for your withdrawal, a caring Christian counselor can help you deal with it. In many cases, talk therapy is highly effective for handling withdrawal and moving toward healing. Your counselor will be able to help identify the reason for your withdrawal and get you past it.

Signs of Withdrawal

The signs of withdrawal run parallel to the signs for the underlying feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and fear. Here are some signs you may notice if you are withdrawing from others.

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • One-word answers
  • Silent treatment
  • Leaving the room when someone enters
  • Fear of returning to where the original incidents occurred
  • Spending much more time alone than usual
  • Not responding to texts, emails or calls

Withdrawal can lead to intense loneliness, and untended loneliness can lead to depression, which can have major risks. These are the signs of depression to watch for:

  • Bouts of tearfulness
  • Feelings of inappropriate or excessive guilt
  • Irritation or uncharacteristically short temper
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of energy even with normal daily activities
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Memory problems
  • Negative impact on work
  • No longer attending normal social engagements
  • Restlessness or pacing
  • Significant increase or decrease in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia
  • Slow movements or slowed, quiet speech
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Recurring thoughts about death, dying, and suicide

If you have at least three of these symptoms for more than two weeks in a row, it’s important to meet with a counselor. In counseling, you’ll receive the help you need to overcome your depression and start connecting with safe people again.

Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms

Emotional withdrawal symptoms can last for a few weeks after a trigger incident. If not handled right away, these symptoms can persist for months or even years. You need help to deal with these symptoms, so they don’t exact a heavy toll on your physical and mental well-being.

If you’ve had any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks in a row, it’s time to get help.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intense loneliness
  • Irrational fears
  • Not leaving your home

No one can successfully navigate these problems on their own. We can help you discover the roots of your withdrawal so you can eliminate these symptoms. If you are not making progress on your own, a consultation with a professional can give you a new perspective plus practical tips for recovering.

Recovering from Emotional Withdrawal

To recover from emotional withdrawal, you not only need to deal with the roots of the problem but find new ways of relating to others. A counselor can help you find the solutions, plus role-play improved relationship dynamics. Let’s look at the examples above to see how these people were able to move past withdrawal.

  • The boy who was bullied gains some boundary-setting skills with his counselor. He learns to view his classmates as not “all bad” any longer. By taking a few calculated risks, practiced with his counselor, he connects with one child in the class and begins building a friendship.
  • As the young girl receives counseling, she learns to grieve her losses and heal from the trauma. Her counselor helps her see that while her uncle made very poor choices that hurt her, other males in her family have been consistently loving and kind. She begins taking baby steps toward a closer relationship with her father.
  • The wife attends her own counseling sessions in addition to marriage counseling sessions with her husband. As they work to repair and restore their marriage, the wife works on her own tendency to use the silent treatment when she’s hurting. By overcoming that relationship problem, she learns to stay connected to her husband even when they experience conflict.
  • The young woman who was spiritually abused walks through the grieving process with her counselor. In her counseling sessions, she learns what personality traits attracted her to the abusive church, and how to overcome those weaknesses. She begins testing out other churches with her friends, not committing to any but keeping her eyes open.
  • Through counseling, the man decides he needs to quit this job, mourn the losses, and build up his emotional strength to start a new job. When he finds a new job, he’s better prepared to build connections with coworkers from the start.
  • The divorced father deals with his guilt and shame in the counselor’s office. There, he discovers that he still has great worth in God’s eyes and finds the courage to rebuild the relationships with his children.
  • The elderly mother talks with a counselor about her past. Though she cannot go back and change anything that happened, she learns that a sincere apology goes a long way toward building bridges. She practices that conversation with her counselor and hopes that her later years will be the best ones yet.

If you are suffering from emotional withdrawal, you can find the same hope and healing as in the examples above. A compassionate Christian counselor is waiting to help. Give us a call today at Seattle Christian Counseling to set up a meeting.

Photos:
“Alone in Church”, Courtesy of Polina Sirotina, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Grief”, Courtesy of Kat Jayne, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Workout Partners”, Courtesy of Luis Quintero, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Cooking Together”, courtesy of August de Richelieu, Pexels.com, CC0 License

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

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

9 Steps to Increase Emotional Resilience for Improved Mental Health

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

About Resiliency

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

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

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

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

9 Steps to Increase Emotional Resilience

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

1. Strengthen Your Spirituality

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

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

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

2. Discover Your Purpose

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

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

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

3. Develop Compassion

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

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

4. Seek Mentorship

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

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

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

5. Practice Discipline

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

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

6. Embrace Hard Work

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

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

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

7. Become More Ambitious

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

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

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

8. Change Your Behavior

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

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

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

9. Adjust Your Perception

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

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

Seek Christian Counseling to Increase Emotional Resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the Common Cognitive Distortions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): What is it?

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

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

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

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

Interventions for Cognitive Restructuring

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

Identification of Cognitive Distortions

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

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

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

Identification of Feelings

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

Evaluate the Thought Patterns/Distortions

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

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

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

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

Identification of Feelings after Replacing the Thought

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

Identification of Behaviors

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

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

Christian Counseling Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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

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

Resources:https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral

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

How Could the Enneagram Personality Test Relate to Christian Counseling?

Words can be a funny thing. Over time, their meaning can change and new words come into our vernacular. One word you might be hearing more often is “Enneagram.” For those who don’t know what it is, it might sound like a diagram. Others think it’s a medical tool, like a sonogram. Often people hear it and think it’s something scientific that doesn’t apply to them.

Today let’s unravel what it is and why it’s useful for everyone. This helpful personality tool is being used by counselors, spiritual directors, pastors, small group leaders, and everyday people. It has even been connected to the Seven Deadly Sins to help us understand our sin nature.

What is the Enneagram Personality Test?

“The Enneagram opens you to an extraordinary view of the truth about you. It can help you recognize your unique melody as well as where you are off-key internally and relationally.” – Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, by Adele Doug Calhoun and Clare Scott Loughrige

At its most basic, it is a tool for understanding personality. As we expand from there we see it’s a valuable resource for spiritual development. It teaches us ways we’re prone to struggle, our weaknesses and strengths, and ways to find harmony.

Nine Enneagram personality types are the main focus. Though there are sub-types and wings as well, most people are concerned with their main type. Each type corresponds to a number. These types influence how we understand and interact with the world, others, God, and ourselves.

The name comes from the Greek word enneawhich means nine andgram meaning figure. Each of the nine types is mapped out into a geometric design. On this chart, we see how the other numbers interact with and influence one another. It can also show ways we lean to another number during periods of stress, trauma, or transition.

The exact origins of the Enneagram personality test are a mystery. It’s an ancient method for understanding human personality. This tool has been used by Christians and other religions around the world for centuries.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that tool came to the United States. American-trained psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo brought it here. He helped merge the nine types and modern psychological research. After bringing it to the US, one of Naranjo’s first students was a priest named Father Robert Ochs. He began teaching it as a tool at Loyola seminary. It has continued to spread and is now known by millions.

Today many of Ochs’ original students are teachers themselves. Often those who teach and offer Enneagram coaching share their lineage to Ochs. This is similar to how we share our family lineage. Coaches are available through counseling offices, churches, private practice, online, and more. You’ll find books, classes, and even a few apps available to help guide you on your journey, all thanks to one man bringing it to the US.

Using the Enneagram in everyday life

It can be far too easy to take a personality test and never think about it again. We take the test everyone on Facebook is taking, think “hm, that’s interesting,” post our results, and never think about it again. Even with a tool this transformative, this still happens. There is an urge to find out our type without exploring it so we feel like we fit in is for all of us.

Diving into our type feels vulnerable. It feels like opening ourselves up to parts we may not want to know about or face. Yet diving in has the chance to transform your life in the best of ways.

Knowing what our type looks like as healthy and unhealthy gives us tools to approach challenges. Your study will point back to yourself, as well as to how you relate to others and to God.

Benefits of the Enneagram

These are some of the ways the Enneagram has benefited people in their everyday lives:

  • Couples have found it helpful to understand their partner’s behaviors, beliefs, core longings, and struggles.
  • In the workplace, bosses and managers are using it to improve productivity, employee satisfaction, and build a strong team.
  • Pastors and priests can use it to better understand themselves and their parishioners.
  • Parents have found it to be a wonderful way to relate to their adult children.
  • Our type can also give us unique insight as to how we relate with God, the areas where we sin, and spiritual disciplines that will benefit us.
  • In small groups knowing one another’s type can help group members interact with each other with more grace and kindness.

This is transformative and has changed countless lives worldwide. According to author Beth McCord “…The Gospel itself is the transformation. The Enneagram simply illuminates our heart’s intent. The Enneagram can show us what’s wrong; only Christ can fix it.” (Becoming Us: Using the Enneagram to Create a Thriving Gospel Centered Marriage)

Some people are private about their type. Perhaps they feel ashamed of their type or feel revealing their type will give away information they’re not ready to share. Just as we never push someone to tell us personal information, we never want to push someone to tell us their type.

Finding your Enneagram type

People are usually eager to find their types. For some, this is a quick process and they’re able to find their type within a matter of days or even hours. In other cases, it can take weeks, months, or even years.

It seems to be especially difficult to find one’s type if someone has been through trauma, chronic stress, or other challenging situations recently. In those situations, we often lean towards a different type. It’s not at all uncommon for someone to type themselves then study more or come out a chaotic life situation to realize they were actually a different type.

The best way to begin finding your type is to read brief descriptions. Next, find additional resources and do more in-depth reading about that type and its wings. Sometimes people will choose to do a thorough study of each type over a long period of time. Then they type themselves after coming to an understanding of all the types.

There are a few apps and online quizzes that offer the ability to type yourself as well. As with anything online, some are better than others. Take them with a grain of salt as only a good way to get initial ideas. Then dive into deeper research of that type to see if it sounds like you.

You’ll find courses and books galore. There are dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, and sermons available to help out. The Christian band Sleeping At Lasteven wrote a song based on each type. People have found them to be quite helpful when trying to discern their type.

It can be tempting to type others but don’t try. We want to relate to them better, unravel their quirks, or justify their actions. A person’s type is personal. In typing ourselves, we face aspects we may not have ever faced before. Typing oneself involves exploring things our closest friends and family may not even be aware of. It’s not possible to know what others think, feel, or experience so it’s not possible to type anyone else.

Don’t worry if this all feels overwhelming to you – it’s almost like learning a new language. Exploring with a trusted guide such as a spiritual director, pastor, priest, or counselor can be helpful. They can help you to find your type and help work through feelings that might arise. Then you can work together to figure out how to engage with God and how you understand God in light of your type. Christians are finding this to be one of the most helpful resources in understanding their own sin nature and building a strong walk with God.

The Enneagram Personality Test is also a powerful tool in the context of a counseling relationship. Working with the psychological background in mind has proven to be quite helpful. Let your counselor know if this is a tool you’re interested in exploring together.

Photos:
“Writing”, Courtesy of Green Chameleon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Discovery”, Courtesy of Noble Mitchell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Ethereal Lane”, Courtesy of Casey Horner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Studying”, Courtesy of Joel Muniz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Ways to Relieve Stress from Your Life

When is the last time you felt stressed? What caused it? Are you stressed right now? Take a minute to consider when, during your day and week, you tend to feel the most overwhelmed and tense. When are you under the most strain? What physical and emotional signs of stress do you experience when the tension goes on for too long?

We all go through times of feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Maybe you think being constantly stressed is normal. Or, maybe you feel like it’s a completely negative condition to have that sense of emotional stress.

It’s possible, especially if you grew up in an abusive or dysfunctional household, that you’re not used to living without a feeling of constant stress and tension. But, you should know that even though feeling stressed out is a normal occurrence for everyone, you don’t have to live with chronic stress with no healthy coping mechanisms. There is hope to deal with chronic stress, to escape it when possible, and to manage it optimally if you can’t escape it.

The truth is that stress is a complex experience that affects the brain, body, and emotions. There’s no simple explanation for what causes it, how to reduce stress, and how to manage the necessary stress that’s an inevitable part of our daily lives.

But, there are some answers available to you, and more importantly, there is support if you are feeling too overwhelmed to manage life stressors on your own. Let’s talk more in detail about the meaning of stress, types of stress, ways to relieve stress, and what you can do if there’s just too much for you to manage.

Defining Stress and the Causes of Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic:

“Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses. Stress is a normal part of life. You can experience stress from your environment, your body, and your thoughts. Even positive life changes such as a promotion, a mortgage, or the birth of a child produce stress.”

In other words, not all stress is bad stress. It’s just that our bodies respond to change with physical symptoms of stress, and all of us have different thresholds for how much we can tolerate before feeling overwhelmed. Negative life experiences will inevitably affect us physically and emotionally.

So, if your body reacts to significant life events with specific responses, how can you know how much stress is too much? If you’re noticing signs of stress, or if you’re going through a long season of chronic stress, what can you do to cope? Coping with difficult experiences or life changes helps us build resiliency, the ability to emotionally navigate and withstand hard circumstances.

If we never faced the need to adjust to new situations or cope with tough experiences, we would never develop the emotional resources to manage difficulty. People who cannot cope with any form of stress end up being emotionally immature and having life and relationship difficulties. Paradoxically, the less we can cope with stress, the more stressed out we will become.

But let’s reiterate, this doesn’t mean that stress is always a good thing. In fact, chronic stress is linked to increased risk of disease and death, and it can cause physical and emotional problems, or lead to unhealthy and destructive coping mechanisms such as chronic procrastination, overeating, or substance abuse.

Causes of Stress

That’s why it’s so important to identify the causes of your stress, do what you can to reduce it, and develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage your response to circumstances you can’t change.

According to WebMD, the biggest causes of stress are:

  • Work and the various difficulties inherent in a person’s job.
  • Life events such as moving, divorce, or trauma. These can be positive (marriage, the birth of a child, etc.) or negative (difficult situations, trauma, tragedy, etc.).
  • Internal feelings of fear, unrealistic expectations, or negative attitudes.

Types of Stress

Psychology Today explains that there are three types of stress:

  • Acute: An argument, a missed deadline, a car accident.
  • Episodic Stress: Regular small crises that cause accumulating tension.
  • Chronic: Serious life problems that may be fundamentally beyond our control: poverty, war, or racism. The demands are unrelenting and you don’t know when they will stop.

The Effects of Stress

Everyone has their own natural level of response to stress, but all of us have a built-in physical stress response. In the short-term, when we feel unsafe, our bodies produce “fight-or-flight” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare us to flee or overcome an attacker.

But, if we are exposed to these hormones consistently for long periods of time, we will start to notice negative health effects and signs of stress, such as digestive problems, sleep problems, headaches, flare-ups in chronic conditions, etc. Mental health issues are also common with long-term stress, including depression and anxiety.

Although you can develop positive coping mechanisms in the short term or for acute stress, chronic stress is very detrimental to health. According to Medical News Today, symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Frequent illness
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

These are some of the conditions that may be a result of chronic stress:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • PTSD
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety disorders
  • A weakened immune system

Clearly, chronic stress can be a dangerous condition. Sometimes, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if you use unhealthy coping mechanisms to respond to stress. These negative patterns can cause more stress.

This means you lack the ability to move on from difficulty, change what you can in your circumstances, and respond in the best way possible that doesn’t cause you more problems on top of the original stressor.

Ways to Relieve Stress

Some causes of stress are outside of your control:

  • Maybe you or a loved one has a disease or chronic condition that you have to manage, and there’s no cure, or treatment stretches out for years.
  • Maybe you are in a toxic marriage or household, and you don’t have the means to leave.
  • Maybe you are in a destructive situation at work, but you have to keep working because you are the sole source of income for your family and other jobs are scarce.

In these situations, your feelings of being trapped and helpless can exacerbate your ongoing stress.

Even if you can’t eliminate the causes of your stress, there is still hope for you. There are resources that can help you live your best life even in the midst of a situation you can’t change. There are measures you can take to care for yourself in the midst of toxic or tragic situations.

Learning small coping mechanisms can be step #1 on the road to regaining a sense of agency in your life. There are some situations we can’t change, but we don’t have to let learned helplessness take over. Stress reduction can look like breathing, relaxation, walking, or art. You can proactively care for yourself by eating well, practicing gratitude, doing yoga, or exercising.

Verywell Mind includes the above strategies in the category of fast-acting stress relief. Sometimes, though, there are things about a situation that you do have the power to change. If this is the case, it might be time to shift into problem-solving mode:

  • Can you reduce your workload, get help from others, or cut back on caffeine and sugar?
  • Can you make a long-term plan and take the first step for getting out of a toxic situation?
  • How can you take a break, even if you can’t avoid the source of the stress altogether?

Christian Counseling to Reduce Stress

Seek counseling for stress if you need to. Feeling heard, understood, and supported is vital to help your mind, body, and emotions cope with a host of difficult stressors.

Christian counseling for stress management can help you process your emotions in a safe and compassionate environment, then take the next step to develop coping mechanisms and problem-solving strategies. Your counselor will use proven therapeutic techniques integrated with a faith-based perspective, with the goal of drawing you closer to Christ.

Contact our office today for your risk-free initial appointment.

Resources:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/open-gently/201812/the-three-types-stress

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/causes-of-stress#2

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323324.php

Photos:

“Stressed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Checking Social Media”, Courtesy of Jeshoots.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Enjoying the Sun”, Courtesy of Radu Florin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “…and breathe…”, Courtesy of Rabin Benzrihem, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Eight Truths About Therapy You Might Not Know

Many people claim that they are “aware” about the use of therapy for mental illnesses. In fact, on both the big and small screens, characters are often shown visiting a therapist to assist them with their mental or emotional issues.

Unfortunately, this “awareness” of theirs leads to the conclusion that only those in dire straits, those with no one else to talk to, or only those with the means can avail of such help. Sadly, this prevents many people from availing of needed help until it is too late, which should NOT be the case.

There is still much to clarify about therapy in this modern age.

Some Important Clarifications about Therapy

1. Therapy IS meant for all.

Aside from worries about the cost, there really is a stigma attached to the idea of therapy. People just don’t want themselves, or their loved ones, to be labelled as “crazy,” particularly in this age of social media where news can spread instantly.

Although self-respect is important, too much pride – either for oneself or for one’s family – becomes a big hindrance. Without professional help, a person suffering from mental or emotional issues has a slimmer chance of getting better and a higher chance of life becoming more difficult.

Mental and emotional problems interfere with many aspects of life, lowering the possibility of success at school, work, or at home. So the earlier a person is properly treated, the better for everyone involved.

2. Therapists are NOT there to judge their clients. They just educate impartially.

The idea of sharing one’s deepest fears and secrets can be very frightening. This is why many choose to stay quiet about such, even if a close loved one is asking.

Therapy, however, is meant to be a venue where a person CAN share these inner thoughts, fears, and desires without being judged, ridiculed, or exposed. Professional therapists know this and approach each situation with an open mind, giving unbiased advice on what to do. As they are not personally involved, it is sometimes even easier for them to notice things that family members and friends cannot see; or share the advice that loved ones with vested interests do not want to say.

When many people are involved, group therapy can become a way for all parties to share their side with an unbiased therapist managing the conversation so that negative emotions are handled well. In such a neutral environment, rocky relationships have a better chance of mending, giving hope to all concerned.

3. Therapy takes time.

Unfortunately, many try therapy thinking it will be a quick fix. But after a few sessions, they decide to opt out because it is seemingly taking too much time.

Just like many other medical conditions or emotional setbacks, therapy requires time for things to sort themselves out. Years of abuse, anger issues, low self-esteem, or addictions cannot be overcome in a week’s or even a month’s time. Sufficient time is needed for the therapist to help sort through the underlying issues, and time is necessary for the person’s heart and mind to finally accept what has happened and move forward in life.

4. Full participation is necessary.

Every person’s circumstance is different, which means the therapist has to consider what approach will work best. This is why there may be different suggestions or assignments for the person to try. If they do not work out, then something else may be suggested in the next session.

Things, however, become difficult when the client does not fully participate. Because of doubts, busyness, or pride, some clients do not accomplish their assignments, making it hard for the therapist to do their job. Full participation is a must for therapy to work well.

5. The client is in control.

Most people are not happy about always being told what to do, especially when one has invested much time and money into something. This is another reason why some shun the idea of therapy as they believe that in therapy they will simply follow someone else’s regimen, not theirs. Such thinking, however, is far from the truth.

While there are protocols that therapists follow, each therapist knows that healing cannot occur if the client is not comfortable with the process. So while there will be suggestions to follow and assignments to do, everything begins with what the person needs as communicated in the sessions. Therapists understand this and are willing to adjust according to what works best for each client.

6. Sometimes the situation may get worse before it gets better.

Since mental issues are very complex, it is often necessary to revisit painful experiences or discuss shameful thoughts or desires. Doing so, however, usually elicits negative emotions which can make the counseling process more difficult to bear. In fact, many clients feel like quitting as they wrongly believe the therapist is adding to their mental burden rather than alleviating it.

But as stated earlier, therapy takes time and requires full participation. And if there are many layers of pain that have caused the present situation, each layer needs to be addressed lest they return to haunt the client in the future. Hence, each client needs to stay the course, knowing that sometimes things have to get worse before changes can begin.

7. Therapists CAN understand what the client is going through.

Some people are hesitant to continue therapy, or even start it, because they believe that their situation is much too difficult for someone else to handle, regardless of their expertise. They think what they are going through is “too crazy” for anyone else to understand, so they opt to deal with it on their own.

Professional therapists, however, have already learned, seen, and experienced much in their training and practice. While each person’s situation is truly unique, there are still many similar emotions and desires that each client feels. So therapists CAN understand what the client is feeling, no matter how grave their circumstances. This is why they are able to help those who seek their assistance.

8. Therapy requires the right therapist.

Unlike other physical ailments, there is no single solution to each mental health problem. Every client’s background and personality have to be taken into consideration before the right steps can be made. This is why it is important that both the client and therapist are able to work well with one another.

While it may seem strange that a trained professional cannot help their client, such an occurrence happens regularly in many fields that require close communication like teaching, coaching, and even wedding planning. Sometimes particular personalities and styles fit; while other times they clash, preventing positive gains. Thus, it pays to put some effort into the search.

One good way is to ask friends for referrals as they may have had firsthand experience. It also pays to search online as many counseling websites post the expertise of their therapists. But in many instances, the “right fit” won’t be gauged until client and therapist have sat down and begun their discussions. Fortunately, therapists are aware of the need for a “good fit” so they are not hurt when a client opts to continue elsewhere.

Christian Counseling as a Better Option

Mental and emotional issues take a heavy toll on both the mind and body. But one other aspect they also hurt is the spirit. This is why even though the person may seem to be on the road to recovery, there may be inner spiritual turmoil that causes them to regress later on. So though secular therapy can be helpful to an extent, it is always better to seek Christian counseling.

Similar to secular therapy, in Christian counseling the latest therapeutic techniques will also be used to discuss and resolve the client’s mental and emotional issues. But most importantly, the faith-based counselor will introduce the client to the love and mercy of God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. With prayer and meditation on God’s Word, the client’s spiritual needs will be addressed leading to a more complete recovery.

If you or a friend is suffering from a mental or emotional issue, do not hesitate anymore to seek professional help from a Christian counselor. Complete healing can only begin with the right assistance.

Photos:
“Comfort Therapy”, Courtesy of Mindy Jacobs Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Group Therapy”, Courtesy of Rudamese, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “Therapy”, Courtesy of Rawpixel.com, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Screen time,” courtesy of Neonbrand, unsplash.com, CC0 License

How to Set and Achieve Realistic Personal Development Goals

It is important to live with intentionality. To achieve our own personal growth, we need to set goals and make active progress forward. These can’t just be any goals. They need to be specific goals covering three aspects. These goals need to be guided by purpose, give you direction, and need to be made thoughtfully and well.

Imagine a motor boat. It has all the normal parts an engine, propeller, rudder, compass, and hull. The engine and the propeller allow it to move forward. This is your purpose. The rudder and the compass help it navigate the seas. This is your direction. And finally, the hull makes sure it makes it through stormy seas. This is a thoughtful, well made decision to help you get through adversity. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Personal Development Goals: Guided by Purpose

The first aspect of goals we will examine is the purpose. A good goal is guided by purpose. Every goal should move you toward a purpose, and more importantly, toward your purpose.

To put it simply, the purpose of a goal is knowing what you want to achieve.

As a result, you can set goals like this in all sorts of realms whether it be financial, spiritual, personal, romantic, etc. The idea of a goal is to keep us heading in a direction with a purpose rather than vaguely moving forward.

What can be more difficult to determine is to ask “what is your purpose?” “What are you supposed to do?” “Why did God create you?” To help you orient yourself, consider a few general principles about human purpose. We exist for the glory and joy of God and should live in a way that honors our calling to him. We should live for others, willing to give up things for ourselves.

Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

This verse speaks of offering ourselves upon the altar, which could be translated to giving up ourselves for his mission and calling on our lives.

When we consider our personal development goals, we consider them in connection with our general calling as children of God. Once you move beyond our general calling given by God, you can begin to consider your individual purpose and calling. Maybe you haven’t really considered your individual purpose before if so, that’s okay!

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the ominous question of “what do you want to do in your life?” especially among younger people. What helps eliminate some of the stress is to re-frame the question, asking “who do you want to be?” This often helps people release some of the pressure to perform and focus on who they want to be.

By focusing on who you want to be, you are able to move beyond work. Perhaps you would like to have more space for your passion. Or maybe your passion can become your work. Or maybe you want to be able to provide well for your family and you know that requires long hours.

Making decisions regarding who you want to be can turn into your individual purpose. Then, you just need to make sure your goals line up with this purpose, and you will be headed in the right direction (or as MxPx put it: free to do what you want to be).

Finding Your Purpose

As you start to think about your purpose, remember the importance of prayer. It is a good place to start. Ask God to speak to you and show you what he has for you. What you feel called to might be scary or risky. It might not even totally make sense financially, but remember money can’t grant you fulfillment. Remember the verse from Romans 12, it calls us to sacrifice, not comfort and riches.

Also, remember this will require trial and error. You will likely need to explore a few different paths before you find what exactly is your purpose and that’s okay! Your story doesn’t have to match the timeline of a friend or a sibling, it’s yours. Sometimes it will take years to fully discover your purpose and that’s okay. You will figure it out along the way as you move forward.

Lastly, when you do find your purpose, keep in mind that it probably will (and probably should) influence all areas of your life (social, personal, professional, spiritual). Finding your purpose reorients your life. It isn’t just a hobby or a side hustle. It will produce meaningful and significant changes to your life!

Goals Give Direction

The second important aspect of personal development goals is to provide direction. If you’ve ever wondered what you are doing with your life and felt like you were going nowhere, then you probably weren’t setting up goals guided by your direction.

It may be helpful to think of personal development in both the short-term and the long-term. First, start with the long-term — Where do you want to be? When do you want to be there?

Start with the short term. What do you need to do to get headed in the right direction? Are you considering ministry, then maybe you should look into seminary or pastoral internships? Or maybe you want to get into web design? Then it would probably be good to find a coding bootcamp to get started.

When it comes to direction, a contradiction exists. You need to start with something small that moves you forward. Even reading this article is a good step. But on the other hand, you need to remember that achieving your greater goals takes time.

In order to achieve your personal development goals, you will need to have patience, motivation, and energy. It takes time to accomplish goals, which is okay, but the waiting can be frustrating, especially when you are eager to move forward. It can feel like if you don’t start right now, that you will never be able to accomplish your goals, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another note about direction is to start big. Think as if there were not obstacles. Imagine where you would go if nothing stood in your way. You can deal with obstacles better when you know where you are headed. Even when you know where you are going, obstacles remain obstacles.

But if you don’t have a larger vision, simple obstacles can turn into full on roadblocks. By thinking big from the beginning, you will be able to stay focused on what lies behind the problems, so you can face the difficulty as it comes.

Goals are Manageable When Made Well

Finally, personal development goals need to be made in such a way that sets you up for success. If your plan is to “get to Mars,” you’re not likely to achieve your goal. But, if you are in NASA or the Air Force, then maybe it might work out.

The best goals can be defined as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound). To help illustrate this definition, let’s consider someone with a passion for wildlife working on a biology degree so they can work on a creation care team. Their love for animals and desire to help care for them give them direction and purpose.

But, they are struggling in some important courses and currently have D’s.

Specific goals include a higher desired grade, not simply “doing better.”

This is also a measurable goal because if you work hard, you will see your grade raise.

Other goals will be more difficult to measure, which may force you to think more creatively about how to quantify your given circumstances.

The goal needs to be achievable,

which means that an A might not be possible to achieve halfway through the semester, but you can still try for a B. Setting unrealistic goals can be discouraging.

Goals need to be relevant.

For example, cutting out TV may help improve your grades, but isn’t directly relevant. It is better to set an amount of time you want to study for or to get a tutor.

Lastly, it should be time bound,

which means you need to have a deadline. It can’t be ambiguous and open ended.

Making time bound goals helps you create checkpoints, thereby making them more measurable. For example, you could decide to study for two hours a night for two weeks in order to get an A on a test. The is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. Each goal will look different, but you should always have an end date.

How Christian Counseling Can Help

If this article has you excited, but you still feel apprehensive the amount of work you need to do or don’t know where to start, that’s okay.

A great way to jumpstart your personal development is counseling. Counselors can help you understand your passion and purpose so you can establish personal development goals and overcome any obstacles you face. They are a force of clarity and accountability as you seek to grow.

When we try to do things alone, it’s very easy to get distracted or lose track, but a regular counseling session can help keep you on track toward your long-term goals. So don’t just sit there! Get started on your personal development today.

Photos:
“Boating”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wish for it”, Courtesy of SOCIAL CUT, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man on Arrow”, Courtesy of Smart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Goals,” courtesy of rawpixel.com, pexels.com, CC0 License