Thursday, November 5, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

One of the things that I always tell people is not to make decisions, especially really important, life-changing decisions when you are emotional. Sometimes you are forced to, of course, but if possible, always make decisions from a calm and collected place.

In making decisions, here are some things to consider:

1) I am a big believer in getting feedback from those in my life that I trust. We all need to develop at least two or three relationships with people who we know love us and want the best for us. Those who love us enough to be honest with us. My preference is to get feedback from someone who has a close relationship with God and knows and lives by His word.

Getting feedback helps you to see a different perspective. If you were to tell a particular situation to a group of ten people, everyone would have a slightly different take on it. That is a GOOD thing, because we often have tunnel vision in seeing the things we face in our lives. Getting feedback from others gives us a broader perspective and it also may generate solutions that we haven't even thought of before!

2) Don't make decisions hastily. Take your time. If you are making a decision from a place of urgency ("we must file bankruptcy today" or "we have to move to Indiana NOW") then you probably are not working with a clear head. Realize that the vast majority of the decisions that we make don't have to be made TODAY, and if we are having an urgent feeling we are much more likely to make a decision we will regret.

Of course, there are times when we have to decide immediately. All I am saying is to be very careful in rushing to a decision in the midst of a crisis. Whenever possible, take your time and think carefully.

3) Look for all the alternatives in making a decision. Talk with people, both friends and professionals. Ask for information and advice. You will much more likely make a good choice if you are armed with as much information as possible.

4) Ask yourself if the choice you are considering lines up with your moral code, ethical standards, and religious beliefs. In my case, I check my thinking against what the Bible says. If I am not thinking/acting in accordance with my core beliefs, it will be something I will regret down the road.

Be true to good morals, ethics and spiritual beliefs, and you will much more likely not deal with regret or guilt. When we violate our core values, it has a ripple effect that can last years.

5) Ask yourself if the situation you find yourself in is a pattern in your life. If so, take measures to break the pattern, but also to respond to the situation in a different way than you have in the past. Changing your response can be the first step towards breaking the pattern.

These are tough times. Make decisions carefully!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Self Care is Essential

One of the things that I notice in working with clients is that when times of great distress come along, clients need to work very dilligently at good self care. The way we get through the tough times will be affected greatly by how much we attend to our needs--physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and in other areas as well.

When I am with someone who is going through a tough time, I sometimes work with them to help them to keep the essentials in place in their lives. Some questions I ask:

Are you eating properly? Your body needs not just calories, but good nutrients in order to function well. Make sure you are getting good food into your body, not just empty calories. Concentrate on good carbs, healthy fruit and vegetables, and an adequate amount of protein. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

Are you sleeping? Your body needs a certain amount of sleep (average person is eight hours, but for some it is more or less). If you are not sleeping, your body is not replenishing and in a short time you will run out of steam to deal with your situation. If you are having trouble sleeping, cut down on caffeine and take the other steps that sleep experts advise (i.e. going to bed at the same time each night, etc.). If you can't get adequate sleep after doing everything you know to do to remedy it, then it may be time to consult with your doctor.

Are you exercising? You may feel better if you do some form of exercise: walking, running, cycling, aerobics, swimming, etc. It will help both your body and your mind to function better.

Are you connecting with your support group? Make sure you do not isolate, even if you are tempted to do so. Join a Bible study group or a small group at your church. Have lunch with a friend once a week. Attend a twelve step group or other kind of support group. Make sure you have people in your life that you can and do talk to and confide in.

Are you taking care of your body? Are you taking prescribed medication? Are you practicing good hygiene? I have found it to be true that clients may do better if they get showered and dressed each day and attend to hair and makeup, even if they don't step foot out of the house.

Are you filling up your spirit/soul? Are you reading your Bible? Are you listening to music that lifts your spirit? Are you doing enjoyable activities/hobbies as much as you can? It is easy to get so intent on getting through the difficult time that you forget to fill up your starving soul. Try to do what you can to lift your spirits with enjoyable activities or music or anything else that is pleasurable.

It should be noted that some of this is pretty basic, but in a time of great distress, we sometimes have to work very hard at the basics of life. These are suggestions to help anchor you during a rough period of your life.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Psalm 119:60

Psalm 119:60 says, "I will hasten and not delay to obey Your commands."

I was thinking about that just the other day and I was wondering about how that would apply to all of our relationships.

When we consider that all relationship problems have to do with bad behavior or poor attitude on the part of one or both of the people involved, obedience to the Lord could have a huge impact.

In a conflict with a co-worker, a neighbor, a spouse, or anyone else, one of my questions (to myself) should be, "Am I obeying the Lord's commands right now?"

More often, our disobedience is in our hearts. We have jealousy or resentment or bitterness or revenge or something else that is in direct opposition to what God says we should do.

Sometimes one person's behavior is in DIRECT opposition to God's commands. The person is lying or cheating or abusing or whatever.

But what about the other person? Is his/her response to that sin one that obeys God's commands? One person's sin does not give the other person permission to sin as well.

Set boundaries. Leave. Walk away. But don't engage in sinful behavior yourself.

I often think that if two people in conflict were to decide to obey God's commands and live like the Bible says to, 90% of all conflicts would subside or go away. Truth is, though, that we are not perfect people and conflicts will always exist in some form. But if we are in a relationship and we determine to obey God's commands in our relationship, we may have far less conflicts and the ones we do have will at least be "fighting fair."

As a side note, it cannot be emphasized enough that if we are in a dangerous and abusive relationship, we must get out of the situation into a place of safety. We still have to obey God by guarding our heart and our attitude, but we must do it from a place of safety.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yes or No?

Boundaries are a part of any healthy relationship. In fact, one way to begin to move a relationship towards health and balance is to begin to practice boundaries. Setting boundaries may begin to change the relationship for the better.

One of the ways to set boundaries is to speak the truth by saying "yes" when you mean "yes" and "no" when you mean "no." Tune in to what you feel when your loved one asks for help or money or your time.

People with poor boundaries often do things out of a feeling of obligation, or fear, or guilt. Let's look at that a little closer.

Obligation -
People often feel obligated. They'll say, "But he's my son," or "I owe it to him," or something like that. Remember that if you don't have a choice (in your mind) then you can't know if you are taking your action out of compassion and love or out of obligation.

When you feel obligated and like you don't have a choice, resentment may be building up within you, and you will end up angry in the relationship. Far better it is to say no from your heart than to say yes from your sense of obligation.

Fear - People sometimes feel fear of the consequences of saying no. They feel the anger of their loved one, or they fear dire consequences for him/her. "He may end up homeless if I don't help him." "She might lose her job if I don't bail her out of jail." "He might quit coming to church if I don't pay his bills for him."

Fear is rarely a good motive. Things done out of fear are very often unhealthy choices. When we try to help a person avoid consequences of his/her own behavior, we are really robbing them of an opportunity to learn and change their behavior. If we really love the person, we must allow them to learn from their mistakes. This is not punishment, but it is loving them enough to set boundaries and send the message that their behavior is not acceptable.

Guilt - People with poor boundaries often make their decisions out of guilt. They fear that the consequences of the other person's behavior are just too great. Sometimes people actually try to make the other person feel guilty about not helping or giving or whatever.

If you feel like you don't have a choice because of your sense of obligation, or your guilt or fear, you probably need to take a step back and really think about granting a request for help. It may be that the guilt or fear are actually "fogging your thinking," so that you can't make a healthy decision.

Matthew 5:37 says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No.' " Basically that means that if your heart is saying yes, then say yes. If it is saying no, then say no. How can you know what your heart is saying? A good indicator is tuning into your feelings. Do you ever feel resentful towards this person? Do you have feelings of being taken advantage of? Do you feel angry after helping? Do you feel like a doormat? If so, you are very likely saying 'yes' when you mean 'no.'

Think about it!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hot and Cold

Do you remember playing the "Hot and Cold Game" when you were a kid? You remember, right? Someone gets sent out of the room and an object (a spoon, a tennis ball, an eraser, or whatever) is hidden somewhere in the room. The person returns to the room and tries to find the object. When he or she moves closer to the object, the group tells him/her that he/she is getting warmer, and when he/she moves farther from the object the group tells him/her that he/she is getting colder.

I remember being told, "you are getting warmer," "you are getting REALLY warm," and "you are really hot." Those were clues that I was moving in the right direction.

We can use those same principles in our relationships, especially with our spouses or significant others.

Sometimes, our partner literally doesn't understand what we are wanting or needing from them. They just don't get it. We find ourselves angry and frustrated and may think to ourselves, "How many times do I have to tell him/her?"

They need coaching. So if you apply the "Hot and Cold Game" to life, what would that look like?

People respond much better to praise than criticism, so let your spouse know when he or she is "getting warmer" in terms of moving towards the behavior you want or need.

For example, if you want to feel more loved, then when your partner does something that makes you feel more loved, tell him or her:

"When you are holding my hand like this, I feel so loved."

"When you offered to take care of the kids so I could go get my nails done, it made me feel really special."

"When you ask me about my day and take the time to listen, I feel really connected to you."

"I love the way you turned off the TV and went for a walk with me tonight."

When you give your partner "hints" like that, affirming what he/she is doing right, then it, just like the "Hot and Cold Game," points him/her in the right direction in terms of what to aim for in his/her behavior.

Try it, and see if it works!

Monday, July 13, 2009


One of the things we really need in order to be healthy is a support system. We need family, friends, or co-workers around us. People we know we can depend upon in tough times. We need community!

It is important for each of us to build those relationships that help us to know we are not alone in this world. We need people that we can talk to about those things that concern us. People that will listen and give encouragement or good counsel.

Not all of our support has to be close relationships. The support we get can be on different levels. Think of concentric circles.

You are in the center. The small circle immediately around you are your closest support people. Those that you can share very openly with, and those you can count on for support and love, no matter what. They know you at the deepest level. You trust them completely. You probably need at least three or four people in that circle.

The people in the next circle out are still close to you, but maybe less close. You can talk to them, but may not tell everything. You may keep certain situations or parts of situations out of your conversations with them. You trust these people, but not completely. This doesn't mean that they aren't trustworthy, it is just that the relationship may not have developed to that level. You may talk to them about MOST things, but not everything. You probably need at least six to eight people in that circle.

The last circle (in our example, because you can have as many circles as you want) are those people who you know care about you and they are there for you as much as they can be. You probably don't share the intimate details of your life with them, but can share the more "public" things (death in family, divorce, loss of job, etc.) and know they will care and help you in practical ways. In this circle you probably need ten to twelve people.

We all need a minimum of twenty people (at the various levels) in our lives in order to be healthy. Work at developing those relationships one step at a time.

Don't rush into "spilling your guts" to people. Let them earn your trust by opening up a little at a time, and seeing how they handle it. (Do they gossip? Do they lecture you? Do they make you feel guilty?)

If you begin to work on developing relationships today, then later on when we hit a difficult part of our life's journey, we will have those relationships developed and will weather the problem much better!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stressful Times

We all have stress in our lives. Stress is a part of life, and it is a useful thing that motivates us to change or to move or to work. However, if it gets out of control we can begin to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

I am noticing the stress people are under for the past many months. With the economic issues our nation is facing comes a feeling of uncertainty among our people. Job losses, foreclosures, bankruptcies, furloughs, and major corporations going under all cause people to feel anxious in ways that they may not have felt before. "What will happen next?" is a common question we hear on a regular basis.

This is a stress that, for the most part, we can do nothing to alleviate. So what is called for in order to deal with it is to learn to manage the stress. One of the main things we can do to manage this kind of stress is make sure we are not "running on empty."

For the Christian, our starting place is in our relationship with God. We need to seriously rely on God's promises to take care of us and to be with us in difficult times.

Philippians 4:19 "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus."

Hebrews 13:5 "God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'."

We also know that we have access to God's wisdom as we face the uncertainties and decisions in our lives.

James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

From a practical perspective, in times like these we need to replenish our strength and energy on a regular basis.

Make sure you are eating a healthy diet full of the nutrients your body requires to function properly.

Get enough rest. If you're not sleeping, you are not replenishing yourself at night. You will not have the mental, emotional, and physical resources to deal with life each day. Take steps necessary to get the sleep you need.

Allow time to play on a regular basis. Recreation or pleasurable activities are one of the biggest antidotes for stress. Do things that fill you up and get your mind off of your problems. Anything that you enjoy as recreation may be a big stress reliever for you, so find out what it is that fills you up emotionally.

Make sure you get some form of exercise on a regular basis. There is a strong link between exercise and endorphins, the natural substance that the body produces that gives us a sense of well-being. People who work out or run talk about the euphoria or "high" they feel afterwards. That is because of the release of endorphins as a response to the exercise.

Train your thinking to be more positive and less anxious. Stress is enhanced by worry and worry is enhanced by negative thoughts. If you think in a negative way, it will increase your stress and may lead to depression or anxiety.

Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things."

Stress is part of life. You cannot eliminate it completely, but you can manage it and not let it become overwhelming. Make some changes in your life to deal with it, and you will find that you will feel better and will weather difficult times better.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Doing Your Part

It is not unusual to have an individual or a couple in my office who talks about a difficult situation with another person. Very often the client is angry and frustrated with another person's behavior. Sometimes the client is frustrated because he or she can't seem to get along with a difficult person.

The Bible tells us, in Psalm 133:1, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!" I think we would all agree that unity is both good and pleasant. It is wonderful when people are in harmony as they work and live side by side. Hebrews 12:14 tells us "Make every effort to live at peace with all men and to be holy."

One of the things I often remind people of is this: You are only responsible for yourself. Sometimes when we feel very angry or frustrated, we begin to do or say things that only add fuel to the fire and we make things worse. Later we regret what we said or we are not proud of the the choices we made in terms of our behavior.

The verse in Hebrews only tells us to "make every effort" to live at peace. It doesn't say that we always will live at peace. The message here is that we are to do our part. How? By remembering that although we can't control another person's behavior, we can always control our own. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1) When you are extremely angry, take a time out to cool off. Any conversation that you have when you are very angry will probably not be very productive. The reason for that is that you are in "fight or flight" mode, and you are probably not going to behave out of your "mature self" but rather out of your "angry child" self. That is rarely a good thing.

2) If anger is a problem for you on a regular basis, you may want to work on some anger management techniques or get to the bottom of why you are so angry. Out of control anger hurts people, and damages relationships as well.

3) Keep in mind that no one can "make" you do anything. They can't make you be violent or yell or call them names or anything else. You can choose to behave in an appropriate way even when you are frustrated. If you feel you cannot choose healthy behavior, then it is time to breathe and take a time out.

Waiting for the other person to change before changing how you deal with conflict only prolongs the problem and postpones the possibility of living in harmony with that person. Be the hero. Choose to "do the right thing" in conflict, even when the other one does not. At the end of the day, you'll feel good about behaving in a healthy way.