A New New Year’s Experiment to Improve the Outcomes of Your New Year’s Goals

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

2014By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

So, it’s the New Year again. And probably almost everyone will be thinking about New Year’s Resolutions or plans or desires about what they want to achieve during the year ahead. We seem to be oriented this way – to take stock once a year – to mark off our life journey, and use intervals to review and evaluate our course. That is what you are doing, right? Right?

I bet I probably had you with the first part – the part about making goals for the year ahead. But what about the next part – of evaluating and reviewing your course? Might you be doing the one without the other? If I’m right, I would say that if so you would be among the majority. It seems to me that many folks had all kinds of dreams, plans, goals etc. of where they want…

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Getting Through the Holiday Blues

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

holiday sad

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

It seems like a wonderful time of year. People get excited for time with their families, to enjoy holiday traditions and make new memories. But – I think it’s actually just as common for people to not look forward to this time of year. If you are one of those who don’t you may feel like you are the odd ball, thinking that most people can’t identify with your perspective. And so, like those many who can identify with you, you keep those feelings and thoughts to yourself and put on a pretend face. Maybe you have found someone with whom you can commiserate, and if so, you may end up mocking those who seem naively upbeat. It’s a common way of coping with our hurts, by mocking folks who don’t really get it, and elevating our own higher sense of clarity and realism. Problem…

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The Elephant That Comes for Thanksgiving: Family Secrets

elephant 1

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Elephants will be dining at Thanksgiving dinners all over the country, won’t they? Our culture has used this concept of an elephant in the room when it comes to the things that are awkwardly not spoken about. Families are known to control what is spoken about and what are considered acceptable topics and are able to make it known what is off limits without ever putting it into words. And anyone who has experienced this type of thing, particularly in family situations, knows what that awkwardness feels like. If you’re the one whom some kind of wrong has been perpetrated against you feel strangled by the way your hurts have been invalidated and you just can’t acknowledge it. You are wounded again every time you are back with those people, as they continue to invalidate your hurts, communicating insensitivity, rejection, ostracism, betrayal, judgment, callousness and a lack of love. It could have been sexual or physical abuse or emotional abuse, it could have been that you were manipulated or controlled, it could have been that you were scapegoated, meaning blamed as the black sheep or the one with the problems in the family. Maybe your family is pretty dysfunctional? Maybe the heads of the family didn’t allow honest expression of emotion, but instead required only certain emotions to be displayed; only positive emotions, or crying or weakness were censored or punished? Maybe it was a performance based environment, in which love was doled out like a commodity such that you had to achieve to receive?

So, what have you done with the elephant? Have you passed it the sweet potato casserole and grinned, as you focused on getting through the day and checking it off? Have you in the past stood your ground and chosen not to go if that elephant is going to be there? Have you gotten there and ended up poking the elephant, as you tried to expose it and seek to change the culture in your family and see if there could be ownership of the wounds and restoration? Are you burned out from trying to accept it or ignore it? Are you deeply frustrated with your attempts to address it that have gone flat or badly? Let me give you some fresh ideas.

1. Get Real

Start with yourself and wrestle with what you have been hoping for. Do you go into it every time hoping it would be different – as if by magic or time? If so, you have been setting yourself up for disappointment. If your family is good at burying things or living by the “just move on” or “it is what it is” philosophy, then it is unlikely that they will suddenly “wake up” and see what you’ve been waiting for. I know this is hard and scary to face. But careful here – I am NOT saying you need to give up hope of there being change or progress. I am saying that the position of believing that change will just happen on its own isn’t very realistic and doesn’t really give you anything concrete to aim for and doesn’t engender hope. Because every time it doesn’t happen your hope is eroded, is it not?

2. Self First

This does not mean selfishness, so let me clarify. When we put our emotional needs in the hands of someone else, we are in trouble; we’re dependent and we’ve lost the power to address our own needs, meaning we have weakened our self efficacy. Self efficacy is the belief that I can handle what comes into my life. I don’t mean an arrogant believe that I can take on the world by myself. I mean a grounded sense that I am able to get through, find resources, lean on others and learn and grow. But when you find yourself resorting to anger, resentment, blaming, or stuffing and avoiding and numbing you steal your self efficacy, your energy and motivation and block spiritual growth. You see, even if someone has offended or wounded you, and even if they won’t acknowledge it or repent or apologize, dealing with what is in my heart is for my own good. This is about the process of grieving, that enables us to get to a place of forgiveness. I would encourage you to pursue good resources on these two related types of emotional work; that’s taking care of yourself. That’s what you do have control over and responsibility for.

3. Keep Your Eye on the Ball (meaning – set a goal and focus on that goal)

In baseball the way to get the results that you desire is to keep your eye on the ball. The same is true in relationships. If you have sorted out your desires and clarified that you want to rebuild the relationship, then you are going to need to talk about it with the offender. I guess that would be hitting the ball, if you have in the past avoided talking about it. But, if you want to do more than just hit it, but hit it to achieve your desired result, then you will need to go about it strategically.

  • There are ways to bring something difficult to someone that is more likely to produce a favorable outcome. You will want to consider the time, the manner, and the place in which it is brought up.
  • It would be best to prepare yourself. For emotionally tense situations, it can really help to practice ahead what you want to say, because we all can get drawn into emotional reactions, old patterns, or lose it and clam up or get tongue tied.
  • Consider writing out your thoughts ahead of time.
  • Ask yourself if you’ll need to have someone there for support as well. If you have tried to present the matter before and it did not go well, there is Biblical support for bringing along a second person (Matthew 18:16).
  • Consider how you would want to be approached about some blind spot in your life. How likely are you to respond favorably to someone coming to you in an accusing tone, or dumping on you years of mistakes you’ve made?
  • And with that in mind, try to stay on one issue at a time, and be aware of the tendency to start rolling off a litany of past wounds once you get started.
  • Keep in mind that the goal is NOT to change another person, but rather to choose to stop living in secrecy, shame and fear. The goal is your emotional health and developing courage.
  • Lastly, focus on presenting how such and such an event produced these feelings in you.

4. Run Away, Run Away!

There is a time for everything under heaven says Solomon in Ecclesiastes. There are situations in which it is warranted and even wise to put more distance between yourself and someone. If quality attempts have been made with little positive response, and some form of abuse or mistreatment continues, you may need to grieve and focus on protecting yourself. Facing a loss and going through the process of acceptance can open us up to new opportunities – such as building healthy relationships elsewhere. This is why I believe God calls us into his family; so we can all have a descent (and yes, still very flawed) one. We can make our own family!

So, what will you do with your elephant?

If you would like to schedule a counseling appointment with me, please call 407-647-7005.

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

“Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2013), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005

Is Psychology Still Operating on a Medical Model?

I just read this from a great book called The Resilience Factor:

“Ours was not always a discipline of illness and remediation. Certainly, diagnosing and  and curing mental illness has been a core part of psychology since the age of Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C. But prior to World War II, psychology held two additional focal missions: to nurture above-average talent and to promote life satisfaction and fulfillment in all people. However, with the advent of the Veteran’s Administration in 1946, practitioners found that they could make their living treating “the sick”. In 1947 came the establishment of the National Institute of Mental Health, which provided large grants to research psychologists, provided that their area of inquiry was mental disorders. Thus, due to narrowly defined funding areas, psychology shifted its focus profoundly from the positive aspects of life to the negative.”

Now, I cannot say that I have all the data on the time period and the factors that went into the “illness” mentality, but I am tending to believe that what they are claiming has a lot of merit. I believe we see it now in the general conception of counseling – that is, that it is really only for people that have problems. And that for the most part, people think that this does not include them (or at least hope it doesn’t).

It does seem that public perception is slowing changing in this regard, with people coming to accept more and more the applicability of counseling to their own situation and seeing its many benefits for all people to make progress in their lives. Although it may also be related to the growth rates of emotional difficulties? The same authors state, “The rates of depression are accelerating in epidemic proportions. In western countries, we have witnessed a tenfold increase in the incidence of depression across two generations in the twentieth century.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that there are ten times as many people who are depressed as there were, it means that ten times as many are expressing that they are depressed. Does it mean the western world is becoming more and more depressed, or that depression is becoming more and more understood and more and more acceptable to report? That seems to be a difficult question to answer.

But hopefully more people will chose to embrace counseling as a means to help with their struggles with depression or anxiety or whatever emotional pain they are struggling with. And – that counseling will continue to grow in its abilities to help not only those with particular struggles but also to equip everyone to become more healthy.

As it was back when it was considered – soul care -

Matt

The 3 Types of Responses to Financial Stress

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Financial stress is about as common as Geigo commercials, just much more annoying. The commercials are short and sometimes funny. Not so with most financial challenges and the stress they produce. However, I’d like to propose that there are three types of stress responses associated with financial difficulty, based not on someone’s situation as much as on their perceptions about their situation. I’m going to break down these three types and then offer my take on how to address each one.

The first type looks over the basic situation of amounts coming in and going out. They tally up the numbers and see the shortfall. They also look around at all the things that are missing from their homes or lives or environment and they compare to what the other families around them have. “Wow, my kids don’t have those new phones, or that new thing that they’ve been bugging me about. They say everyone has one. And it probably would help them with their school work.” Or maybe they’ve been persuaded by some commercial. “Yeah, that Omi-zoomi ap actually would be preparing my kid better and what kind of parent would I be if I don’t want my kid to get ahead!” And then there’s the things that we parents want, too. And we focus on our deficits and we feel bad. We feel that there is something wrong that we aren’t able to have what other people have. We may reflect on the occasions or the people that we feel have ripped us off or made our life harder. Or we may sulk about our rotten situation and how we feel stuck financially and how it is not fair.

The second type gravitates instead towards worry. They have done the tallying and see how they are coming up short and their mind goes into overdrive. They start working through possible scenarios – could I this, what about that, maybe if this or that… They carry this with them and it affects their sleep and maybe their eating patterns. Where can we cut back and where can we make more? This type gets caught up in obsessing about their needs and may transfer their stress into medical issues like back aches and digestive problems. And likely everything feeds their worry.

The third type may begin in much the same way; calculating their situation and struggling with much the same feelings or stuckness, anger, and anxiety. But at some point it dawns on them to go to God with their emotions and their situation. I’m not suggesting that type one or type two folks don’t run to God. Sure they do. Although I think that many of type ones or twos run to God not to resolve their anger and anxiety, but either to demand or plead with God to rescue them and resolve their financial difficulty.

You see, I think that we struggle culturally with the sense that God loves us. What I mean is that we have been conditioned to understand God’s love as a sense of favor that is expressed through protection and comfort. From our perspective America has been so blessed and we interpret this to mean that God has favored us.  Or we learned somewhere that love means to be sheltered and so we project this onto God. And when we struggle we feel that God has disappeared and removed his care and may even feel abandoned by him. When we interpret God’s love and care for us in this way we will inevitably struggle with great anxiety or resentment when things go badly for us.  Jesus spoke of this struggle in his parable of the sower, which you’ll find in Matthew 13 and in Luke 8. Jesus describes a farmer sowing seed and he says that some falls on rocky ground, but since there was no depth of soil the plants had no root and withered away. And he says that some seeds fell among thorns and that the thorns choked them. He later interprets the parable and explains that the seeds that fell on the rocky ground are those who “endure for a little while, but when tribulation or persecution arises”, he falls away. As for the seeds who feel among the thorns he says, “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” I believe that the seeds that fell on rocky soil parallel the type that gravitates towards anxiety and the seeds that fell among the thorns parallels the angry, resentful type.

I used to read this parable and analyze it to discern which seed I was and then worry about my not being the “right” seed. However, I have grown to believe that the parable can be interpreted as conditions that are changeable. That is, that if I am at some point on the rocky ground that I don’t have to stay there. The parable is not representing determinism, such that these denote destinies that are programmed. They represent attitudes or maybe even stages of growth.

That brings me back to the third type. I believe the third type has grown; grown through their financial struggles and so when they encounter them they are drawn to run to God to depend on him. They have grown to see their heart and their tendency towards either anxious fear or angry control. And so they surrender their inclinations and they acknowledge God as the wise provider who is in control. As they practice this they find that their anxieties diminish or their resentments are resolved by a love that doesn’t provide comfort and ease but instead comforts them with what they really needed – God’s presence.

You see, no matter what we are lacking situationally there is always something we need more. Let’s learn with the Apostle Paul how to be content whether in plenty or in want.

That’s the way to manage financial stress.

 

If you would like to schedule a counseling appointment with Matt, call 407-647-7005.

 

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

“Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2013), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005

 

 

 

Using Boundaires to Build Better Relationships

What Are Personal Boundaries and Why Do They Matter?

This is the introduction to a series of videos on how to use boundaries to build better relationships, increase self confidence and deal with difficult people.

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