“Why can’t I stop thinking about this?”  “I know it’s stupid, but I can’t get it out of my head.”  “Why must I put up with this?” 

William went to Afghanistan after a Platoon was deployed from Ft. Hood.  Most of what he heard about soldiers’ experiences in the Middle East were rumors and media stories- he had no way to be prepared for what would happen to him.  After nearly 6 months of swallowing sand stirred up by 110 degree winds, William had 5 days left until he would return home.  Momentarily losing his hearing, all his senses were shaken when an IED tore shrapnel through his three closest friends.  They were dead.  Just like that.  After being rushed by helicopter for triage medical care, William soon discovered he narrowly missed death himself- the same shards of nails and rocks that killed his friends were found inches away from where he stood. 

Returning home is where cleaning up the fragments took the longest.  After being debriefed and allowed medical and family leave, Bill struggled getting back to civilian life.  Some of the most difficult times he faced were trying to overcome his own unexpected reactions to situations, usually late at night where he would awake from a noise, pulling his wife down from the bed onto the floor to take cover.  When he became calm, he was covered in sweat, visually stunned by recalling what had happened weeks before- and so embarrassed to be dragging his wife- literally and metaphorically- into the center of his problems. 

This is trauma.  This is the story of William’s PTSD (post-traumaticstress disorder).  Hopefully his story can help bring understanding to struggles faced by those dealing with trauma and respect for our service men and women. 

It’s not very difficult to have some sense of empathy for William’s situation.  It’s often much harder to understand another very real and very overwhelming problem.  It is called obsessive compulsive disorder(OCD).  You may be curious why this article spends so much time talking about PTSD, only to discuss OCD.  Two reasons.  OCD has similar features and neurobiology to PTSD, and secondly, if we are to listen to the struggles of others, often we must start with something wedo understand.

You see, whether a person is triggered into feeling distress from trauma or obsessive anxiety, their limbic system (the area of the brain dealing most with survival and protective reactions) becomes active to ward off a threat.  This is a wonderful system when it is working properly, but when it is overly sensitive, it is like a faulty check engine light on a car that becomes counter-productive.  It is a normal reaction- out of context.  Think of the panic you would feel if you saw someone almost being run over by a car- your limbic system would activate and prepare the body and mind to fight, flee, or freeze.  Now imagine it occurring at random times and being uncontrollable.  

Despite popular references of, “She’s just OCD!” and “He really likes his house OCD,” the diagnosable mental health condition is a serious foe- and far beyond a person’s immediate ability to just “stop” their ruminating thoughts.  Because the anxiety and distress a person with OCD feels is so bothersome and intrusive, they naturally seek to alleviate it- sometimes with elaborate mental rituals to “do away” with the anxiety, sometimes with physical compulsions to feel better (for example: “I feel anxious when some unknown object touches my clean clothes, so I either have to wash the affected area or change clothes”).  To some people, this sounds crazy.  But for the person with diagnosable OCD, their mind and body both SCREAM with discomfort until they do something to alleviate it.  And the compulsion works!  Momentarily.  But what it does is reinforce the neuropathways linked to disorder as opposed to reinforcing healthy, non-compulsive behavior. 

What it takes to find longer-lasting relief is to accept the problem and productively counter it, pursuing a number of treatment options that help free the person from thinking obsessive thoughts or acting upon mental or physical compulsions.  There is hope and treatment that WORKS.  We don’t have to understand, ultimately, to love.  As many as 1 in 100 people wrestle with this.  Look around- that’s someone in your neighborhood or at the restaurant where you last went.  Will you lend a helping hand to those who suffer?

Yours truly,
Justin K. Hughes


Attracting Bad Relationships: How You Become a Jerk-Magnet

How did this happen again?  Do I have a sign on my face that says, ‘Take advantage of me’? 

A common counseling topic is addressing habitual and self-destructive patterns in relationships.  For the person that keeps getting stuck and attracting the same jerk over and over again, I have good news: there are clear, identifiable characteristics that actually do make you a magnet for certain types of people.

Addictions, compulsive, and impulsive behavior.  Each of these keep us from feeling true emotions; they insulate us from reality.  And in so doing, they keep us from seeing things as they truly are.
Betrayal Bonds and patterns of abuse.  In the classic work, Betrayal Bonds, renowned addiction specialist Dr. Patrick Carnes poignantly notes that people who experience trauma in relationships (and who don’t deal with the trauma) are often bound in some way to the same person/type who deeply, and often repeatedly, hurts them.
Codependency.  A person who is codependent finds their identity in fixing others and ensuring everything goes well.  In so doing, they often lose their own sense of self and boundaries.  See Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
Cognitive distortions.  If you have harmful thought patterns that are not based in truth, you won’t be in touch with what’s really going on or what is actually needed to be healthy.  See Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.
Depression.  Low motivation and energy along with hopelessness all make healthy decisions difficult, especially if another person fills a void.
Lack of Direction or Spiritual Anchor.  Confusion as to who you are and what you are doing with your life goes hand-in-hand with picking the wrong person.  If you don’t know who you are, how can you express yourself and be understood?
Law of Complementary Personalities.  The saying, ‘opposites attract,’ often is true when it comes to negative relationship styles.  For example, a passive person pairs with an aggressive person, often attracted to their leadership (or on the flip side, attracted to how easy-going the other is).  Someone who is pathologically controlling must find someone who can be pathologically controlled.  The two fit together like sweet tea on hot Texas day.
Learned Helplessness.  Elephants who are originally chained down will later believe they can’t escape when they only are held by a flimsy rope connected to a stake in the ground.  Have you learned helplessness?  Do you stay in a relationship because you don’t think it will get any better, or because it would get a lot worse if you made changes?
Love Addiction.  When a person is addicted to the “high” of falling in love, often they miss important signs and signals and get into unhealthy relationships.  Check out Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction.
Poor Emotion Management.  Not knowing how to identify and regulate emotions leads to a lack of self-control and direction.
Training.  I love the phrase: We train others how to treat us.  Examples are letting people into your personal space, not letting someone know they’ve harmed you, and not telling others your wants/needs.  All of these train others.  Do you stand up for respect and honor for yourself and others?
Self-Esteem Issues.  If we look hyper-negatively at ourselves, any person who seems to boost our self-view will make do.
Self-sabotage.  Due to insecurity, a person fears getting something good, so they inadvertently or intentionally damage opportunities.  Too much potential threat is involved.
Toxic Shame.  If you consistently see your value as worthless, you won’t make decisions to secure respect and love.  A great read on this is John Bradshaw’s work, Healing the Shame That Binds You.


These are just a beginning.  Knowing underlying patterns is only a start to changing them.  If you see yourself in these descriptions, write it out and talk to a trusted person about what you want to change.  After all, acknowledging a problem is the BIG first step.  If you need more help, this is why counselors exist!