Myth Busters, Counseling Edition

What are some misperceptions about counseling?  You probably don’t have to think very long before conjuring up an image of an “insane asylum” (ala Cuckoo’s Nest) or a highly pedigreed analyst who only listens and grunts acknowledgment of what you say.  Courtesy of media portrayals, cultural views, and personal fears, there are many myths which abound concerning counseling.  Here is a comprehensive guide to the most common (go to my resources at http://www.JustinKHughes.com to download a printable version).

nurse ratched microphone imdb copyright One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

 “Counseling is for those who have severe mental and emotional problems.”

There is a wide range of needs and goals addressed through counseling.  Different challenges are met with varying degrees of support- from mild to severe.  A great reason to address problems early, while they are still mild to moderate, is to prevent them from becoming severe.

 

“Going to a counselor is a sign of weakness.”

Being vulnerable and open about thoughts and feelings takes maturity and courage.  It takes risk.  It takes strength.  Counseling at its best is simply a) a pursuit of truth in what is really going on for a person and/or b) a pursuit of solutions that may really help in addressing problems.  Every person needs help and support in miscellaneous respects.

 

“I don’t have a problem; there’s a reason for the way I feel.”

Disorders most often spring up as a result of stressors, and this is where a mental health professional can assist in identifying when a problem crosses the line into a disorder.  For example, it’s difficult to differentiate when someone’s grieving turns into depression.  Though there may be identifiable and explainable stressors, this does not insulate a person from having one of two things: a) an actual disorder or b) a need for support and help in working through problems.  Counseling can address both.

 

“Counseling is not a proven science; it is theoretical and hypothetical.”

Yes and no.  What is usually meant by this is that a problem in counseling may not have an obvious causal link.  And often this is true- which is why clients usually end up in counseling in the first place.  However, there are very good and reliable outcomes expectable from many approaches of counseling (and evidence/research to back them up).  The question to ask might be, “Is what you’re doing working?”  You may want to give something different a try.

[Additional note: As of yet, most disorders are still determined and treated based on clinical interview rather than biomarkers- e.g., pinpointing a disorder through a blood test.  Remember, though, we are dealing at a minimum with the most complex physical matter in the empirical universe: the brain.]

 

“Counselors are too expensive.”

There are certainly special reasons where some types of counseling cannot be afforded.  However, did you know there are many community and state-sponsored resources for either free counseling or support?  There are additionally many places, such as universities and clinics, where counseling is offered at a very minimal cost, or even pro-bono.  Payments are tax-deductible as a medical expense.

Rationalizations to not spend money on counseling can be an issue of priorities.  For instance, if a marriage has been struggling for several years, will 8 therapy sessions really cost that much (the price of a new TV)?  If drug/alcohol addiction has cost thousands of dollars and many hurt relationships, is it worth getting better?

 

“I don’t need to go to counseling.  Someone else does.”

We can only take responsibility for what is in our control.  Counseling gives the opportunity to take charge and seek success despite whether others do or not.

 

“It’s not my fault that I am where I am- I shouldn’t have to go to counseling.”

Similar to the last concern, a person can find themselves in need for many reasons: suffering caused by self, others, authority, medical problems, etc.  Counseling provides the space to work on troubles, despite where they originate.

 

“A counselor is just going to tell me what I already know about myself.

Though new information can be useful and stimulating to discover, the concern of counseling is more about how to bring about change and overcoming barriers that hold a person back.

 

“I can handle problems on my own.”

Human beings require the support of others on many levels- evident as an infant, but equally true as an adult.  Living with electricity, a phone, food supplies, and using currency are examples of ways we are dependent on other people.  Mental health is really no different.  No one person has all the answers; being open to possible solutions by others, especially through professionals who work extensively with the challenges you face, might just yield some different results.

 

“Counseling doesn’t work.”

As a whole, a widespread body of research advises that counseling is effective.  Sometimes it does not work for a particular individual.  Some reasons it might not have worked are that the person was not ready, there was a bad fit/connection with the professional, specialized work is needed on specific issues, and many other reasons.  You may want to try again; be honest about your concerns; that is the best way to identify what will work for you.

 

“There are so many different perspectives and approaches with counseling.  I can’t trust a counselor when they all disagree.”

With over 300 registered schools of counseling theories, it’s understandable to think of counselors as a confused mess.  However, a counseling theory is a paradigm simply to understand disorders and problems, and how to bring about change.  No one approach in counseling has all the answers, but each can offer particular insight and options.  There are unquestionably moments when counseling theories get something wrong- just like in the medical world, business world, etc.  However, there is an increasing evidence-base for many approaches (CBT, Behavioral, Family Systems, Psychodynamic, and more).  At the end of the day, there only has to be a shred of willingness to try counseling- taking the opportunity to get a different result from what you have been getting.

 

“Counseling makes things worse.  My family member went to counseling and it messed them up.” 

I am truly sorry- I really hate to hear when someone has a bad experience in counseling.  Sometimes this happens; there are various reasons why.  Similar to the feedback given concerning “Counseling doesn’t work,” there may have been a bad fit, an inexperienced counselor, specialized focus might have been needed, or maybe the client was not ready.  One experience- or even multiple bad experiences- does not determine future experiences or the overall benefit and effectiveness of counsel.  Let me encourage you to share your concerns and talk with a provider up front to figure out how they respond and if they are a good match.

 

“Counselors just focus on the past; I want to find solutions for now.”

Different counselors have different styles.  Check with them to see what their methodology/theory is.  Many counselors only reference the past insomuch as it influences, guides, or impacts the present.  Then, often, tools and skills are developed to live most effectively in the present.  Think of how a past injury may have to be considered in the present in order to guard against re-injury.  It is no different with counseling.

 

“All I need to do is trust God and/or pray.”

Without getting into particulars of theology, it is important to consider how the help of others fits into trusting God.  Each person has to examine this for themselves.  Consider what responsibility is yours to act on, all the while considering how trust and prayer fits into the picture.  Mental health care might (though not always) be a direct result of trusting God to bring about growth and healing.

 

 “Counseling has only been invented in the past century.  Why do we need it now?”

Though counseling psychology as a field of study traces its roots back to the late 1800’s, “counseling” in some fashion or another has been documented for centuries through pastors, priests, mentors, teachers, guides, and so forth.  Nonetheless, professional counseling for-fee is relatively new.  Most of what occurs in medicine and healthcare has arisen in the past century.  This does not mean every advance is good.  However, reflect on how you might benefit from the level of specialty and expertise that is offered by a professional counselor- much in the same way a person can benefit from a doctor or college professor.

 

“Other people will find out what I share.”

If you locate a state licensed professional, every U.S. state has limitations on what information can be released to others.  Unless you are in a situation of immediate harm to yourself, others, or another rare condition, your information is protected as highly confidential.  Check with each provider and licensure type.  Our policies can be found at www.JustinKHughes.com.

 

“Mental health professionals are getting rich off of the problems of others.”

Unfortunately, this is a blanket assumption that might be true in some extremes, but it doesn’t look at the reality of costs associated.  Extensive and expensive training and education is required to become a professional counselor, in addition to costs related to keeping up a practice.  There are always costs associated for receiving specialized help.

 

“You can’t change people.”

Half-true.  You can’t change anyone except for yourself.  And you can always be an influence on others without forcing change.

 

“I am past changing.  Old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

Just ask someone experienced in the mental health field to share stories of hope and healing to encourage you that change is possible at any age.

 

“I can get all the answers I need from my family doctor.”

Primary care physicians as a whole are incredible people.  In fact, the trust in these doctors is so strong that they are a “front door” to mental health issues, prescribing a majority of all mental health medications.  Nonetheless, every treatment provider has limitations.  If you need someone with unique and particular training in human psychology, you may want to contemplate working with an authority on your particular challenges (such as a Psychiatrist for medication and a counselor for skills and guidance).  Don’t be afraid to ask any practitioner about their proficiencies and expertise- it is their job to be honest about it.

 

“Counselors tell you how to fix your problems.  Their role is to be an expert advice-giver.”

Though some problems have more immediate solutions, there are very few quick fixes in counseling.  A professional counselor helps you explore your thoughts and emotions, and to explore the options you have based on your goals.  Rarely- if ever- is it telling you what to do.

 

“Counselors just sit back, nod, and grunt their understanding.”

A common misconception, most counselors are much more dynamic than this.  There are many different styles of counseling with varying levels of interaction.  You can discover how active your counselor is by looking at their theoretical approach, or simply by asking them.

 

“The counselor can’t understand me.  They need to have the same experiences or background.”

Counselors are trained to be sensitive to a wide range of human struggles.  To be licensed necessitates that counselors 1) cannot falsely advertise what issues they work with, and 2) they must have skills, techniques, and insight relevant to the specific problems they treat.  Sometimes it is a nice bonus to find a professional with a similar story; however, this can be unrealistic and a rationalization to avoid confronting problems.  One of the unique offerings of a professional is being more objective and less impartial, and thus being able to see more clearly into your life so you can discover remedies that will work for you.

 

“Change is not hard.”

Long-lasting, meaningful change takes time.  And work.  Consider managing money well, raising a child, getting good at an instrument, playing a sport, etc.  Mental health is no different.  It’s going to take some investment if it’s of any lasting value.

 

 “Counseling takes a long time.”

Determining the length of counseling is structured on numerous factors: the client’s goals, the severity of problems being worked on, client motivation, and counselor expertise- to name a few.  Some clients only need a one-session evaluation, some stay for several sessions, and others are invested in counseling for a couple of years or more.  Talk with your clinician to determine roughly how long it will take.

 

“Sessions will vilify my parents.  OR, they will find a scapegoat for my problems.”

Counseling requires focus on the client’s experiences and perceptions.  Sometimes this brings up points of reference involving hurt from others.  However, responsibility can only be taken by the person who is present.  Any work that devolves into a blame game of others is missing the point, as empowerment to take personal responsibility is central to successful counseling.

 

 “Counseling will change me (and who I am) forever.”

First of all, a counselor cannot change you; you must choose the change you want.  If you desire anything to be different in sessions, you can address this directly with your counselor.  If still not satisfied, you can always discontinue meeting with that particular counselor.

 

“I already have a good support system.  Seeing a clinician for my problems is unnecessary.”

Friends and/or family are essential to a healthy support system.  When needed, seeking a specialization in mental health can offer solutions and possibilities that may go beyond the feedback and support of friends and family.

 

“I don’t have the time for counseling.”

It may be worth considering how much time, cost, and impact various problems are costing you.  Counseling is an investment- of time, energy, money, and emotion.  You get to determine if it’s worth it to you.

 

“I am uncomfortable sharing my private matters.”

Confidentiality highly protects what you share to the extent the law provides.  Personal issues are explored only when they are relevant to your growth, and it is always up to you what you share and what you don’t.  It can be very hard to open up to another person, but the benefit just might outweigh holding in your emotions and thoughts.

 

“The clinician is going to spend all the time talking about my childhood.”

This really depends on the focus of your goals and the counselor’s approach.  Some counselors barely reference childhood, but others explore it extensively.  Your childhood will only be examined if it is seen to be relevant to your goals.

 

“I don’t want some shrink getting inside my head.”

You cannot be forced to share something you don’t want to.  Plus, even the best clinicians cannot know your mind without input from you.

 

“I only need medications to feel better.”

Research study after research study report an increase in positive outcomes when counseling is sought in addition to medication for many types of problems.  A medication does not help a person develop tools and skills to resolve distress and discover solutions when problems arise.

 

 “My genes determine my struggles.”

Without getting lost in a philosophical battle of genetic determinism, if you believe any of your thoughts and actions affect your existence, counseling can help you determine how you want to live and give you the tools to get there.  On a scientific note, we are discovering more and more how much impact our choices have upon the expression of genes.  In fact, some genes might not even express themselves if a person doesn’t have certain stressors present.  Choice does affect even our genes.

 

“Nothing can help me.  I’m hopeless.”

This is a common feeling of those who come into counseling, and there are many success stories of those who report significant progress in what are considered the most hopeless of situations.

 

“Going to therapy is selfish and self-indulgent.”

Psychological and emotional pain can affect every part of life.  Working on these areas commonly impacts how a person interacts with others- and can free them up to better love, serve, and invest.  Bear in mind, for example, how feeding the body can nourish and generate optimal functioning.  Feeding and nourishing a person emotionally is vitally important, as well.

  

Disclaimer:

Unfortunately, there are instances where the ideals listed are not met.  Please know that is a factor of an individual situation and not counseling as a whole.  Please never hesitate to talk to a counselor about setting up safeguards in counseling that help you feel protected.  Best wishes!

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Justin pro shot leaning

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Sex Sells (And How I Survived The Ebola Scare Of Dallas)

doctorWhile purchasing my Kung Pao Chicken with steamed rice yesterday, the young lady at the counter put on gloves to handle money (she normally doesn’t).  Though I always appreciate an extra measure of hygiene, she stated she was nervous about Ebola.  This week, the nation discovered that the first U.S. case of naturally occurring Ebola showed up in a patient at a hospital in Dallas.  Panic for some has ensued concerning Ebola- much more than other riskier conditions.  But why?

Let’s look at the numbers.  Tens of thousands of people die every flu-season from influenza in the U.S.  This number has peaked at 49,000 people per year, according to the CDC.  0 have died in the US from Ebola so far (as of October 3rd, 2014).  Zero.  Just over 3,300 people have died from Ebola- over the span of 50 years!  Don’t get me wrong, Ebola poses a significant threat and is not the same as the flu, but does it deserve some of the extreme responses it’s getting?  Is it reasonable for parts of Dallas to become a zoo?  Unfortunately, some media outlets are using fear to make a buck.  And people all over social media are blowing up posts of doom and gloom.  We all know the saying, “Sex Sells.”  But what does that have to do with Ebola?  A lot, I assure you.

I work regularly with disorders such as Panic, PTSD, OCD, Addiction, and Phobias.  The reasons a person experiences these problems is multi-faceted.  However, one of the commonalities of each is that they are “disorders of the limbic system.”

Neuroscience has offered some great insights into brain functioning in recent years.  Our Limbic System is a section of the lower rear brain where much of our protective instincts, sexual drive, and hunger drive is thought to originate.  This is different from the Prefrontal Cortex, which is where our “executive” functioning comes in- using self-control, deciding how to approach situations- rational thought.  Of course both are important (these are simplistic definitions).  If something triggers our fight/flight/freeze response, it is mostly originating in the limbic system.  These responses can help us gear-up for survival and protection (think: Bear Grylls).  Many problems that occur in life are ones born out of managing our limbic system: fear, anger, difficulty controlling desires, and an inability to regulate emotions.

A case in point, with panic disorder, a client will feel overwhelming physical and/or mental duress, and their anxiety will shoot through the roof for a short period of time- all in the absence of a threat to their immediate well-being.  In counseling, my job is to help clients find hope and experience freedom in the midst of this.  And this goes contrary to being controlled by the limbic system.

Back to Ebola.  How do we handle a threat such as this?  We face it for what it is.  One of the most important things in mental health is to tell ourselves the truth.  If we face reality for what it is- good, bad, and ugly- we will respond soberly.  And this gives us a better ability to confront threats for what they are: to make smart decisions about health and contamination, research options available and new possibilities, accept what can’t be changed, and find peace in the midst of suffering.  Then we can evaluate what is or is not a threat- realistically.  This is a powerful counter for limbic system disorders.

But wait, that doesn’t sell.  It doesn’t grab people’s attention.  To stay rational and at peace, we usually have to go counter-cultural to messages around us.  Many people get rich every day playing off of people’s limbic system reactions (remember, sex sells).  If we can market to the brain’s “pleasure center,” people will crave more.  If we can rouse fear, attention will be won.  If we can play off of a sense of not being good enough without the newest gadget, any product can be sold.

Messages swirl around us at all times, including mixed messages about Ebola.  How will you handle it?  How will you respond?  Sex sells.  Fear sells.  But you get to choose what you buy.

Yours Truly,

Justin

Ways to Be Miserable In Your Marriage

No relationship is the same.  People are extremely complex- a marriage multiplies that intricacy.  How can a marriage work?  Amazingly, we really know a lot about what makes marriages function on all cylinders.  But there is a gap between knowing and doing, and this is in large part what I work with in counseling.

Instead of recreating the wheel, I am reproducing word-for-word here the “Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage.”  With wit, wisdom, and brevity, Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix offer a tongue-in-cheek way to keep a marriage strong.  I want to express my thanks to them for the incredible contribution they have made to marriage counseling.

The Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage

by Dr. Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix

1. Be as critical as you can! All criticism, including constructive
criticism, is an ideal way to keep your partner’s
defences on high alert. Being judgmental will ensure that
you don’t get what you really want from your partner.
And disparaging words when angry or frustrated will
stimulate their fight or flight response. If you ritually
play the “blame and shame game,” your marriage will be
safe from the anxiety of being happy.

2. Expect your partner to be just like you. You and your
partner should have the same needs, wants, likes, and
dislikes. You should have the same perceptions, feelings,
and experiences. When your partner wants something
different from you, be swift to show them how being like
you is the only way to be. Absolute compatibility is the
key to a boring marriage, and insisting on it will bring
you unbearable despair.

3. Avoid intimacy as much as possible by engaging in
exits. Engage in activities that help you escape from the
day-to-day intimacy of your relationship. Engage in any
activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids
emotional or physical involvement with your partner.
Increase functional exits (car-pooling, work, taking care
of kids), motivated behaviors (watching TV, reading,
sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic actions (emotional
or physical affairs, addictions, threats of divorce). This
will help magnify the distance between you and your
partner.

4. When upset, use “You” language as much as possible.
Avoid saying “I feel” and express instead what your partner
is doing that frustrates you. Engage in language such
as, “You always…” and “You never…” to insure that your
partner remains defensive and reciprocates with rolling
eyes, deep sighs, and reciprocal speech. Remember: your
goal is to keep the power struggle active and your intimacy
level comfortably low!

5. Give conditionally and receive cautiously. Bargaining
is the process to ensure minimal growth in your relationship
and keeping score will help maximize your
frustration level. Make sure you only do things for your
partner if s/he will promise to give in exchange. But be
wary when your partner comes through with a gift—
follow the string and see where it leads. Cut the string if
necessary and refuse the gift.

6. Be unintentional about romance. Inevitably, the joy
that came easy in your romantic days disappears. At all
costs, don’t try to make sense of this since you risk moving
through the stage to a deeper experience of love.
Avoid committing to fun activities on a regular basis and
embrace the emptiness as proof you are probably married
to the wrong person.

7. Amplify the negative in your relationship. When you
are away from your partner, think about how s/he has
changed (for the worse) since you first met. Focus on
what is going wrong in your relationship and all the
things your partner is not doing for you. It’s not only the
words you use, but your thoughts, tones and actions that
will help keep you despondent. Live by the motto:
“Negativity breeds contempt.”

8. Avoid learning new communication skills. Basically,
keep doing what you are doing and engage in a one-way
monologue. Talk to your partner as if all s/he has to do is
to listen to you. Make no attempt to listen to your partner.
That will make your partner feel invisible and maintain
the set point of misery you need to regulate your
anxiety about closeness. Insist that the two of you are
ONE and that you are the ONE. There just isn’t room for
two in a dismal marriage.

9. Be sure not tell your partner what you need or want.
After all, s/he should know by now. Never, ever, tell your
partner what you really need or want. Do not drop hints
about things that truly touch your heart. Saying what
you need could tempt your partner to give you what you
actually asked for and then you will have to reject their
offering because you had to tell them. By deflecting as
much love as possible, you can maintain your narrative
of deprivation. Re-read #5 as a review.

10. Expect your relationship to be a fairytale romance.
Live in the illusion that romantic attraction should be
forever. Once the illusion breaks down and your partner
is no longer spiking your highs, demand s/he return to
your dream (and ignore their reciprocal requests). When
s/he fails miserably in sacrificing her/his authentic self
for your insatiable longings, you will realize the dream
has become a nightmare. Congratulations! You have
reached your destination.

 

P.S. For Ten Commandments to a Happy Marriage,
reverse all of the above.

Drama Triangle

Dad is the tough one; when he comes home, the two kids know there will be a “blow out” if he finds out about their behavior.  He functions as the Persecutor, letting off his steam at Mom and the kids.  But Mom is the Rescuer, jumping in to tell Dad he’s being too hard.  And the kids know they won’t ultimately face consequences, because their parents will fight each other, both becoming a Victim and burned up that they are not respected by anyone in their household.

The Drama Triangle (founded by Dr. Steven Karpman, 1968)[1] brilliantly describes certain scripts found in relationships marked by dysfunction.  These are generally unconscious “game plans” that take shape early in childhood.  Here’s what the 3 roles look like:   

Persecutor:

  • Statements: “Get your act together!”  “You are an embarrassment to this family.”  “I am the one who has to whip people into shape- no one else will do it!”
  • Behaviors: Yelling.  Silent-treatment.  Verbal put-downs.  Blaming.  Aggression.
  • Internally: Driven by shame, anger is a cover for other avoided emotions.  Though in denial, will blame and attack others.
  • Psychology: Delivering “just” punishment.

Rescuer:

  • Statements: “I guess I’ll just be the one who has to do this.”  “This is for your own good.”
  • Behaviors: Focused on others, fixing problems, ignoring own needs, advice-giver.
  • Internally: Driven by guilt, high anxiety, low sense of self.  Feels sense of importance when someone is rescued (enter the victim).  Sees themselves as a helper or caretaker.
  • Psychology: The classic codependent (and enabler).

Victim:

  • Statements: “No one appreciates what I do.”  “Here I am, helpless, left all alone.”
  • Behaviors: Makes excuses, blames others, pouts, won’t apologize, shuts down.
  • Internally: Feels disappointed, believes they are not cared for, thinks they do not count, overlooked and overwhelmed.
  • Psychology: Worthless and damaged; “Murphy’s law.”

 
Sarah continued to watch her friends get married off, one by one.  She is sick and tired of being the one no one wants, the Victim.  Her circle of friends after college is getting smaller by the week, and the ones she still talks to are more difficult to relate to, because they have their busy lives with their families.  She meets Nate, and he loves making her feel special.  She quickly thinks she’s in love.  Nate feels incredible that he can help Sarah with all her problems, her Rescuer, and finds identity in this.  However, when he decides to spend a weekend with the guys, Sarah objects, with Nate exploding as the Persecutor, telling her she needs to stop suffocating him, and Sarah withdraws into herself as the Victim, realizing it is her lot in life to be rejected.

drama triangle

In the Drama Triangle, though there is a primary role, sometimes referred to as the “starting gate,” a person will/can switch between different roles.  In the diagram above, the two roles at the top are placed there because of their relative “one-up” position.  But if a person functions anywhere on this triangle, they will eventually end up as the victim. 

Why continue on this defective course?  There are many reasons, or “pay-offs.” 

  • Meeting legitimate needs for love, respect, and intimacy in illegitimate ways.
  • Denial- avoids painful truths and real emotions. 
  • Poor emotional regulation and reacting rather than being proactive. 
  • An identity is provided- a sense of direction can be felt when a person fills a role, even if harmful.
  • Offers a sense of closeness (ever felt closer to someone you argue with vs. apathy?).
  • Offers a position of power over another.
  • Avoids personal responsibility.
  • Inner drama is converted externally.
  • Cycle of shame- feeling defeated enough that a person continues to choose defeat.

Lynne Forrest (2008)[2] poignantly observes, “Whenever we refuse to take responsibility for ourselves, we are unconsciously choosing to react as victim.”  When we don’t take responsibility, we miss out on the blessings and avoid the natural consequences that help us grow up.  Shielding from reality turns sanity into insanity.  If you’re looking for a way to feel miserable, wait for everything outside of you to change before you can be content.  However, there are ways to give up the drama. 

Trading in your Role.  Sorting through genuine beliefs and feelings, owning them, and pursuing solutions, options, and personal responsibility are all a part of being a healthy adult.[3]  You can choose well-being, even if others don’t.  Negotiating boundaries is not about controlling another person.  It is about truth rather than drama.  It is about respect rather than demoralization. 

Empower instead of disable others- instead of making someone dependent on you or being dependent on another for salvation, a place of humility is needed.  Humility generates the best self-esteem; it is seeing yourself and others with a clear, respectful lens.

  • Identify and communicate in suitable ways how you truly think and feel.
  • Maintain, implement and follow-through with boundaries. 
  • Admit you make mistakes regularly.
  • Negotiate options.  Often, there are many options available.
  • Avoid talking down; dialogue.
  • Grow in self-awareness.  Seek to understand what others really think by asking them. 
  • Stay teachable and willing to learn.
  • Realize relationships are complex- there may not be an easy answer, and your perspective is only one.
  • Unify your heart and head (be not only intellectually intelligent, but emotionally intelligent).
  • You can’t have it your way all the time.  Learn to sacrifice.

 
Steve wasn’t “on his first rodeo.”  As a classic Rescuer who was the oldest child and the trusted man of the house when his father abandoned the family, he learned to find value in fixing broken things.  He would say yes to projects at the church, neighbors’ requests, girl scouts, 70 hr./week workloads- and then he crashed.  After ending up with suicidal thoughts and deep resentment (Victim and Persecutor) that others didn’t care for him like he cared for them, it was in therapy that his counselor first introduced him to The Drama Triangle.  When he realized he was creating his own chaos by living out unhealthy and, often, unseen patterns, he developed “muscles” around saying no, having limits, and allowing margin (aka, breathing room) in his life.  And he finally found that he stopped attracting other women who took advantage of him- because he allowed it in the past.  Now Steve is conscious that well-being requires daily work, but finds the reward of not living out of obligation and guilt, but rather choice and love. 

[1] Karpman, Ph.D, Steven (1968).  Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis.

[2] Forrest, Lynn (2008).  The Three Faces of Victim.

[3] McGill, Ph.D, Ken (2014).  “Cultivating Love.”  The Karpman Triangle and The Equality /Empowerment Triangle.

 

Launch

Image

Birds learn to fly after they step away from the nest; otherwise, they will die.  Most of us intuitively know a similar growing-up progression is required for human beings, but a lot can get in the way of raising a child to become an adult, and conversely, being an adult.A significant portion of my caseload as a counselor is working with parents, teens, and adults in addressing the problem of individuation in relationship.  It’s a big deal!  Commonly, parents come in very disturbed at the choices of their teen.  Teens present frustration that they can’t be themselves.  Adults struggle with how to be in relationship without being a doormat, being too demanding, or somewhere in-between. 

Let’s do a quick survey of what’s supposed to happen.  Children start out with 100% dependency upon their mother.  Ideally, a child needs to move to 100% self-responsibility.  Of course, this excludes circumstances of intensive disability and so forth.  Somewhere between that delicate balance of connection and individuality is where we spend much time struggling in our relationships.  It takes work and intentionality to make individuation happen- on both sides (parents and children).  In fact, if you don’t have a good paradigm for it, there will be problems. 

In counseling, an important term is differentiation.  Developmentally, it is one of the hardest tasks for parents and children alike- transitioning a dependent human being to independence.  Differentiation means being connected in relationship and also maintaining a unique self and identity.  The opposite extremes are enmeshment and disengagementEnmeshment doesn’t allow or respect separation- you must do, say, and think what the other person does, or you are wrong. Disengagement draws such separate lines that intimacy can’t happen- closeness with someone who is distant is impossible.  Differentiation, on the other hand, allows for closeness and understands what uniquely belongs to the individual (thoughts, feelings, etc.).  A differentiated individual feels the pain and joy of another person making their own decisions relative to their development, all the while accepting responsibility for self.

Example: a child’s future goals.  Parents that believe their child’s best is college and then a stable, conventional job in accounting don’t have bad goals.  They may even know that this would be a great fit for their child.  But if their child-blooming-into-an-adult doesn’t want this, and maybe adamantly opposes it, navigating these waters is arduous for both sides. 

Every situation is unique, and different factors require varying levels of application, which is why counseling can be such a help.  However, a necessary start is to identify what is healthy.  You can ask yourself, “Where do my responsibilities begin/end, and how about for the other person?”  One of the hardest rules to live by is: You cannot change other people.  This is just as true for me as for anyone.  I can only provide feedback, resources, tools, support, and boundaries.  What the other person does is up to them.  If we try to force or coddle, we allow and create emotional injuries.

What we can always do is be responsible for ourselves, learn how to be in relationships, find effective ways to interact and influence others, and grow up.  I’m still working on that one….



Yours truly,
Justin K. Hughes

Google-itus

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If you’re like over 1 billion people on this planet that use the internet, you have probably searched at some point for information pertaining to your health.  From understanding whether you have a common cold to symptoms of depression, these searches can provide useful information.  I use Google almost daily, and sometimes to understand health-related topics.
Conversely, many clients I work with find that the internet/Google/WebMD/etc. can also be an enemy to well-being.  For some clients, I recommend the intervention of avoiding scouring the web on topics related to their diagnosis.  Problems come up in one of several ways:

  1. Compulsive searching for reassurance, connection, and understanding- producing more anxiety
  2. Making doctor-like decisions about health
  3. Self-diagnosing complicated diagnoses
  4. Getting suckered into a product or service
  5. Getting unbalanced information

The internet is an amazing tool.  I see how it can also become the “decision-maker extraordinaire.”  I caution folks to consider the limitations of this tool- as with anything.  In my office, I hear how people fall deeper into fears, phobias, health concerns, and cognitive distortions.  When you read news stories, blogs (this one included), and comments, are you discerning into what you’re reading?  Do you just take it as Gospel-truth, or do you approach actively?

Here’s a brief study in statistical science (trust me, I’m getting somewhere).  The famous saying is, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Just because something seems to relate to another thing doesn’t mean it really does.  One experience or claim, even multiple ones, don’t prove truth.  This is where science itself has to be careful.  Research can be ever-changing, sometimes with very different results under the same conditions.  Examples in the last half-century alone are:

  • Eggs are bad for you/good for you
  • Alcoholism is insanity/brain disease
  • Spicy foods boost metabolism/don’t
  • Exploding with anger gets rid of it/intensifies it

If scientific studies disagree with each other, information found through an online search probably needs to be ‘taken with a grain of salt’ even more.  Sensational news receives the most attention.  The loudest voice gets heard.  Being healthy requires sifting through all of the harmful and worthless information with discernment and wisdom.  Enjoy Google searches; but remember its limitations and what you’re getting.  If you learn to be a discerning researcher and critical thinker, your mental state will thank you.

Truly Yours,

Justin K. Hughes

Addendum to “Stages of Courtship” Post

Last month’s newsletter introduced Dr. Carnes’ 12 Dimensions of Courtship.  Following up with some questions that were asked, I want to note that these are not stages in the sense of literal steps, but more “aspects” and “dimensions.”  A great question that was asked by readers was something akin to, “Why is commitment listed as one of the last steps?”  This is where I want to be very clear and state that commitment is VERY important (research-wise AND faith-wise) as a relationship develops, andespecially before foreplay and intercourse.  Getting right down to it, intimacy requires trust and safety.  If we get technical, being a committed person is an important trait to have before Dimension 1.  Carnes’ dimensions are also interchangeable with one another.  I hope this provides clarity.  Thanks for listening, and always feel free to pass on your thoughts and questions!  Image