Posts Tagged: counseling

Your Life Changing Moment

Have you ever had a moment of enlightenment when all of a sudden, the world seems to make sense? The marry-go-round stops. Your vision clears. The noise silences. And you knew something for sure. Like, for sure, for sure. There are a few times in life that we can all point to, where a word spoken at the right time simply transforms our life. It’s the light bulb moment. It’s the angels singing. It’s the come-to-Jesus-moment. It’s enlightenment.

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My bible study (btw, I like to pronounce bible like a southern woman… bobble study…) has been studying truth- things like core beliefs and how truth makes a difference in our lives. We sound like philosophers pontificating. We seriously need port, cigars and an MDiv to make us official.

Even if you’re not religious, you probably know the interchange between Jesus and Pilate before he was sentenced to death by cross. They talked about this very issue. When Jesus was taken to this Roman Governor’s Palace for questioning, Jesus said to Pilate, “…the reason I was born and came into this world was to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Then Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?”

Good question, right? What is truth, anyway?

Simply put, Truth is aligning your thoughts with Reality. Reality is the picture you take on your iPhone listed as “Original”- with no filter. Our experiences, addictions, traumas, and belief systems see reality with different filters. Looking at life with a warped filter affects how we think, behave and relate to others. But seeing reality filter-less makes life a whole lot clearer.

Enemies of Reality

  • Denial– the refusal to believe something is true even when substantial evidence proves it. Denial is especially favored in relationships where the truth seems too hard to accept.
  • Pride– believing that being right, best, brightest or biggest is more important than being honest with self, God and others.
  • Shame– the belief that the pain of being wrong, weak or less-than is too crushing and must be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of truth.

 light at the end of the tunnel

The Psychology of Enlightenment

  • First Comes the Light: The light is sometimes so bright, it blinds. It might even hurt, like a sunny day without sun glasses. I’ve been in a room with someone I love, hashing out a problem, when the truth of what he/she says feels like lightening hitting. The truth is, I said or did something that was wrong and hurt my loved-one. When I come to the realization that I was the one who caused the problem,  I can’t argue my way out of it. I can’t excuse it or justify it. It is just true. It is just reality. I would be foolish not to accept it. I don’t have to like it. And it never feels good. If I’m a first-adopter of this truth, I tuck my tail without much growling, and I ask for forgiveness. If I’m slow, however, I sulk and mope and argue and then come around to the shuffling-feet-muttering-I’m-sorry- you-were-right-I’m-gonna-work-on-that stance.

Living in reality, and accepting my part in it, might mean swallowing my pride, but that is better than being foolish. Can I get an Amen?

  • Second Comes the Power: Once I have accepted reality, and my part in it, I am able to move forward in power. Years ago, my counselor said to me, “You haven’t forgiven your dad, yet.” Incredulous, I listed all the ways she was wrong (denial) because I couldn’t stand to be less-than a good Christian girl (pride) and because being a bad Christian girl would be too heavy a burden to bear (shame.) Once my counselor pressed me a little further (over the course of a month), pointing out the signs of my unforgiveness, I realized she was right (denial lifted) and I realized I was the one with the problem (pride turned to humility) and my problem was normal (shame turned to acceptance.)

Once I could identify the burden I was feeling, I all of a sudden, had the power to do something about it. Enlightenment delivers energy that empowers its adopters for transformation.

  • Third Comes the Freedom: Accepting reality is always a humbling experience. Sometimes we have to apologize or admit we were wrong. Sometimes we have to change course or ask for help. It’s hard. But it’s the only way to empowered and free-living. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Once I accepted my problem of unforgiveness, and I felt empowered to change it, I then became burden free. All that was left was acceptance and peace. In the matter of a few days, the burden I had carried for 20 years was shifted into empowered freedom, all because I aligned myself with the reality of my problem. The truth. I don’t mean that I didn’t have healing work to do, or communication work to do with my dad. I did. But, I had a totally new perspective and power on HOW to heal and communicate. Aligning yourself with the truth of your situation never results in a crushing defeat. Instead, it results in ultimate peace, and an -it’s-going-to-be-ok faith.

light unto my path

Telling the Truth

I’ve been on the other side of Truth Telling too. A woman can tell her story with crafted niceties explaining her marital problems. She may say they have a communication issue, or just don’t see eye to eye. She is obviously in a good deal of pain but feels hopeless she can do anything about it. The more she goes on, I hear troubling phrases like, “he has a temper,” and “not always truthful,” and “I don’t seem to do anything right.” And the more she talks, the more I feel a knowing in my heart and my head that there is more to the story, that something is going on that she is not admitting. I ask a few more pointed questions about what exactly she is experiencing at home. She gives half-admissions, which are enough for me to know the truth. And at the end of our time together, I softly say to her, and sometimes with tears, “My friend, your husband is abusing you. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

And then the flood gates open and she is hearing the truth spoken out loud that she has always know but was too afraid to admit. Denial is broken. She weeps because for the first time in a long time, she has aligned herself with the truth, and the truth is slowly setting her free. The truth is weakening the deception of “everything is fine,” and opening her to the possibility that God has a different plan. A better plan. A plan of healing and loving, and no harm.

Once she accepts the reality that she is a victim of financial/sexual/physical/emotional/psychological abuse (women who come out of abusive relationships can usually identify abuse in each of these areas) she can have the power to change her situation.

Sitting in a room when this kind of lightening strikes is the reward of my work. There is nothing like it on earth. That moment when time stops, eyes lock, and two souls are bound by the truth that settles down over the room. That’s when I feel God.

It’s magic. It’s love. It’s grace.

light on the journey

Actions Steps toward Enlightenment

  • Be open to honest feedback – instead of being defensive or overly sensitive, seek out honest feedback and take what is useful.
  • Let go of sacred cows– inventory the reasons why you keep your filter on, and see what destructive people, habits, thought patterns need to go.
  • Test your Belief System– you might be believing something wonky about yourself, God, or the world around you. Give some effort in determining what you believe and the effects of your belief system on your life.
  • Talk to Somebody– not just anybody, but somebody helpful and trustworthy. Letting other people know what you’re going through solidifies the truth in your own heart.

When Couples Counseling Isn’t Working

We all know that communication is key to happy relationships. I teach interpersonal communication and conflict resolution classes and I know the positive impact communication can have in the couples counseling session. But what about the relationships that just refuse to improve? That no matter how many communication skills are learned, progress just isn’t made?

Some relationships are so entrenched in destructive patterns, that no manner of communication can fix them. When improved communication does not improve a relationship, I usually look to deeper reasons of toxicity.

When Communication Skills Don’t Work

Communication skills can solve a host of issues, help with understanding, improve problem solving and build relationships. But there are some things it can’t do. Communication, by itself, can not help a couple when…

  1. There’s a secret– sometimes relationships can not improve because one partner is keeping a secret. These secrets range from hiding an affair, a gambling addiction, a financial crisis, or an entire secret identity. If honesty and trustworthiness is not at the core of a relationship, it is doomed. Communication without full honesty is just lying to someone.
  2. There’s a lack of empathy– sometimes a partner simply can not or will not feel empathy for the other person. One partner refuses to put him/herself in the other person’s shoes because it makes him/her feel weak or vulnerable. This type of person can learn complex communication skills, but without compassion, the relationship will fail. Communication without empathy is just talking at someone.
  3. There’s a power imbalance– some relationships adopt a hierarchical structure where one person has more power than the other. This partner uses his/her hierarchical dominance to control the other person. Equal treatment, privileges, or priorities are not given to both partners. Communication without equality is just talking down to someone.
  4. There’s abuse– abuse comes in a lot of forms. Psychological, religious, financial, physical, sexual, emotional abuse occurs when one partner intimidates, harms, takes advantage of, or manipulates the other for personal gain, control or dominance. Communication without safety is just talking abusively.
  5. There’s apathy– some relationships consist of one highly motivated person and one apathetic person. The motivated person feels all talked out, and wants to see real action. However, if the conversations don’t result in tangible change, then communication is useless. Communication without follow through is pointless.
  6. There’s addiction– if addiction is present within the relationship (alcohol, prescription meds, marijuana, gambling, porn, etc.) counseling will offer little help until the addiction is addressed and treated. Communication without addiction-recovery is sickness.
hopeful woman
If you find yourself in a relationship where mere communication is not helping, then put your energies into becoming as healthy as possible. Make a commitment to yourself to invest in your emotional, spiritual and physical life. In the face of feeling the sorrow and anxiety of a difficult relationship, give yourself some nurture and friendship. Ask God to give you clarity and comfort.

What if He Doesn’t Stop? Escaping Destructive Relationships

What if your partner won’t respect your boundaries? What if you asked for what you need, and your boundary is ignored, dismissed or worse, judged sinful or wrong? What should you do when you know you’re in a destructive relationship?


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What are Boundaries?

Quick Version: Boundaries are your needs, limits and wants. Having good boundaries means not taking responsibility for your partner’s needs and feelings, taking responsibility for your own needs and feelings, saying “no” to the things that you don’t want and need, and “yes” to the things you do.

Signs of Destructive Relationships

Relationships where one or both partner do not respect the other’s boundaries or needs are emotionally destructive. If you are in an emotionally destructive relationship, here are some things that you may be experiencing when you try to set a boundary or express a need:

  • Turning the conversation back to him and his needs.
  • Telling you that you are wrong for setting the boundary.
  • Insinuating that your boundary is ridiculous, misguided, feministic, unbiblical, unkind or just dumb.
  • Turning the blame back onto you.
  • Evading personal responsibility using different tactics

22986368 - great potential business metaphor with an old dark forest of tall trees and a young red leaf sapling emerging out of the ground as a symbol of future growth and hope for the future as an icon of investment growth and conservation of nature

Confronting the Problem

If ignoring your boundaries or needs becomes a pattern, then confronting the pattern of behavior is the next step. When an apology and plan of action are the appropriate response, women in destructive relationships will experience these common responses to confrontation instead.

  • Rage-filled tirade listing your faults, your personal flaws.
  • Personal Attacks claiming you are the one with the problem.
  • Sob story how he is really the victim.
  • Threats to leave you, harm you, or turn the kids against you.

Some women intuitively know that if they advocate too hard for their boundaries and needs to be respected, then their partner will do something drastic, like threaten suicide, or even harm them or their children. Many women are paralyzed with fear over the consequences of “upsetting” him.

One thing you can be sure of, is nothing will change, unless you remove yourself from the abuse.

I know. This part really sucks. Many women want tools and techniques to help deal with these dismissive, disrespectful and abusive behaviors. They want techniques to survive their destructive marriage, instead of breaking free from their destructive marriage. But destructive relationships… destruct, destroy, and deplete until there is nothing left. Ultimately, there IS NO surviving destructive relationships.

Surviving can only be a TEMPORARY plan, and Breaking Free must be the ultimate goal.

written on it

When Communication Doesn’t Work

Abusive behaviors WILL NOT STOP unless you refuse to put up with them anymore. What does REFUSAL TO BE ABUSED look like? Although every relationship is different, here are some options to consider as you make your personal Breaking-Free goals.

  • Addressing the abusive behaviors (blame shifting, personal attacks, sabotage, lying, manipulation, critical judgments, name calling, etc.) in a counseling session with a counselor or pastor. Having a third party witness and affirm your needs can be a powerful change agent.
  • Refusing to stay in a counseling session where the counselor or pastor does not recognize these behaviors as abusive. Combative, manipulative, rage-filled tactics should be identified in session and proclaimed as unacceptable. If your pastor or counselor is unable to do this, give yourself permission to find another who has experience with abuse tactics.
  • Communicating repetitively and clearly that “Hostile and abusive behavior is no longer acceptable to me.”  Just saying these words out loud can be empowering to you.
  • Consider increased separation (i.e. sleeping in separate bedrooms, separate homes, etc.)
  • Talking with an attorney to educate yourself about temporary orders. It is important to gather information about all your options. You do not have to act on any option until you’re, but getting the information is empowering to help you make important decisions.
  • Calling the police when you feel threatened, or are being harmed. This is an important step to keeping yourself safe and setting a boundary against abusive behavior.
  • Attaining a No Contact Order. Visiting your local police department to find out what this entails and when a No Contact Order should be used. This is another step in educating yourself about all your options. This may be the extra help you need to resist his attempts at controlling you.
  • Filing for Separation or Divorce. Many women stuck in these destructive relationships resist considering separation or divorce. They are desperate to keep the family together. To see him change. To try a new miracle retreat or counselor or relationship book. However, when you get to the “end of all trying,” consider separation or divorce as a gift from God on the pathway to recovery, wholeness and new life. Consider divorce as the legal way of protecting you from more harm.

Most women are afraid that if they start setting these boundaries and taking action, things will get worse, he will get angrier, and an ugly divorce will be inevitable. This is sometimes the case, but steps to protect yourself are necessary. Instead of thinking of all the worst case scenarios, take one small step at a time. If you need help with these next steps and you are in the Seattle area, I have a great resource for you. You can call Havens Community Connection for coaching support and resource referrals at, 425-610-8612. If you are not in the Seattle area, call the Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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