Posts Tagged: secrets

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.

The Secret We Can’t Afford to Keep

Maybe because it’s the clients who come for run-o-the-mill depression and anxiety always have a story- a story that begins with, “I’ve never told anyone this before…

Maybe it’s because my friend just texted me for PTSD resources because her childhood friend is finally getting treatment for the trauma in her past.

Maybe it’s because at bible study, the ladies talk about it like it’s real, and it happens, and it happens to one in four women, and if it hasn’t happened to us, it’s happened to our friend or our sister or our mother.

Maybe its because the recent Duggar family reports of sexual abuse are now in magazines and blogs and the news. What was well hidden is finally reaching the light of day.

It’s probably because of all these things together, that I’m overwhelmed with the damage of Sexual Abuse in our society. Sexual Abuse is real. And it hurts. And it stays with you long after its expiration date.

“For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 30:17

My college students and I were discussing the pros and cons of reading Fifty Shades of Grey last semester. I teach at a small Christian college with a diverse population of kids from the farm, the hood, uptown, and fresh out of their mamma’s kitchen classroom. You can imagine this sparky debate. After the banter died down, I simply sighed and said, “But your brains. Your brains just can’t handle that kind of stimulus. They’re not even fully formed yet, and your sexual experiences haven’t even culminated in marriage yet, and geesh…. Your neuro-pathways, and synapses, and desire and pleasure centers will learn to feast on trash so they won’t even recognize homemade ice cream as being good. And why is abusive sex glamorized, anyway? When, in our society, did it become sexually gratifying to be used?” I don’t know if those 18 and 19 year olds even knew what I was rambling on about- me with my hopeless shoulder-shrugging, and old-fashioned ideals.

But I know.

I know that the victims of an oversexed culture are always, ALWAYS the children.

I know that sex learned through domination takes a really long time to unlearn.

I know that sex learned from pictures that display submissive women and heavy-handed men warps the brain to only find desire in that set-up.

I know that sex learned at the hands of a trusted big person taking advantage of a trusting little person brings years of shame and worthless feelings.

I know that sex abuse begets sex abuse begets more underground sex abuse. That Shame begets Shame begets blame and underground deviance.

And no one could ever convince me that there is no real evil, no real Satan, no real wickedness because I’ve seen its handiwork on the ravaged soul of the victim.

And I also know that every abuser, whether we think him/her wicked, vile or sick, has once been a helpless victim of abuse him/herself.

And I hate it all the more that some of this sexual abuse happens in “nice Christian families” that look so “perfect” on the outside but are hiding a secret they feel too ashamed to share. It reminds of the “white-washed tomb” analogy Jesus used to describe the religious leaders and law makers of His day.


 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:17

Sexual abuse happens in trustworthy settings like families, friends’ houses, schools and chapels. The victim always feels responsible at some level, and takes the blame and shame upon themselves. Upon finding out, adults often feel compelled to keep it quiet fearing shame or scourge may befall them all.  They also fear what might happen to the abuser- will he be fired? Will he be angry? Will he retaliate? When the only appropriate question is, “Will he offend again?” Their inaction increases the felt shame of the victim, heightens their feelings of worthlessness, and gives silent permission to the abuser.

Bringing the abuse out into the light gives it a chance to heal. Exposing the darkness drains it of its power. Secrets serve to shame, but bringing pain out of hiding releases the pent up energy for healing.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10

So, if this is talking to you- if it’s ringing in your ears and pounding in your chest, then you know it’s time. It’s time to give yourself the priority your abusers never would. Reach out to a professional, a counselor, a specialist to talk. Healing can’t happen all by yourself in the dark. Journal your thoughts, your prayers and your pain. Record what’s been taken from you, and express your grief in a support group or counseling office. Tell a trusted friend that you are working through painful stuff, and you need their support and prayers. I know forgiveness is scary, but it will set you free.

And please, tell yourself that it wasn’t your fault.

Over, and

Over again. 

Are Psych Meds for the Birds?

“Girl, did you forget your meds this morning?” My friends and I joke about needing meds to keep us functioning, because we want to laugh the shame out of it. I joke with the ladies at the gift shop that I need Xanax to be calm enough to watch my 9 year old play catcher (those bats swing fast and hit hard), and the store erupts in laughter because they all get it. They probably all use it too, they just don’t talk about it publicly.

Truth is, the people in my life who are the healthiest, most well adjusted folks are either in counseling, getting meds or used a combination of both at some point in their life. These folks are real. They’ve accepted the fact that they are not equipped to meet all their own needs, solve all their problems and face their demons alone. They are ok admitting they need help, asking for it, and then accepting help in its various forms. These people are my people. These people know how to fail, make mistakes, be weak, fall apart, and then get back up and knock the hell out of their “diagnosis” by doing stuff that their “diagnosis” said they couldn’t do.  They’ve learned to accept themselves as real, instead of ideal, and they’ve worked with what they got, even when what they got was not a lot, until they overcame each obstacle. They determined their “problem”, their “anxiety”, their “addiction” would not define them. They would define it. Period.

But not everyone in my life plays it like this.

There’s the people who should admit they need help, but won’t. They need to accept they have a problem that is affecting their family, their health, their job- but they won’t. These people are not my people. I love them, and even like them, but as far as getting close? I can’t because their “diagnosis” gets in the way. Correction. Their untreated diagnosis gets in the way. How can I have authentic relationship with someone who is inauthentic about their own weaknesses?

A word about “diagnosis”- it’s just a label to help us professionals categorize and treat- and to make your insurance company pay the bill. But it only means what you make it to mean.  Whether or not you have a clinical diagnostic label to call your own version of hang-up, bang-up, habit or sin, is not the point. Admitting that you have a few (hundred) hang-ups, bang ups, habits and sins is. And not just some random, “I know I’m not perfect,” crap. I mean a get-down-and-dirty specific naming of what your issues are, and how you are going to get help to manage them, grow out of them, and ultimately break free from them.

The saddest thing is to suffer with depression or anxiety needlessly because you’re too proud to get help. So many people tell themselves, “I should be able to beat this thing on my own,” and then punish themselves with their symptoms. They think they deserve their depression and anxiety symptoms because they are too weak to overcome them. This sounds silly and back-asswards, but it happens all the time, every day with people you and I both know. Christians may be the very worst at accepting help because they feel like they are not trusting God enough. That crack pot line of thinking makes me hyperventilate. Well, not anymore, because I take meds for that.

In my estimation, there are three kinds of people.

1)      The ones who know they are out of control and ask for help when they need it. They live victorious, and have the power to set other people free, too.

2)      The ones who know they need help but won’t get it. They live defeated, and teach others to respond to them as such.

3)      The ones who flat out deny that they need help, never get it, and end up wrecking themselves and their relationships.

I’m not saying that everyone has diagnosable mental illness. I’m not saying every body needs meds.  But I am saying that everyone needs help from time to time to face their problems and move forward. Don’t let shame and pride keep you from experiencing the freedom of accepting help.

Preachers, Counselors and Doctors

I had the privilege of listening to a sermon last Sunday where the preacher came out of the depression closet, and announced that he struggled with lack of motivation, isolation, negative and obsessive thinking- all signs of the big D. Depression. After his symptoms went on a while, he admitted to himself, his wife and his church staff that something was wrong. He sought professional help in the form of counseling and psychiatric treatment. He told us about how Prozac helped him get his feet underneath him, and that getting help is Godly. It’s one thing for a pastor to get psychiatric help, it’s another for him to tell a church full of people. I wanted to stand up and shout hallelujah! I wanted to give him a standing ovation. I wanted to run up on the stage and hug his scrawny middle aged neck! I wanted to dance naked up and down the isles (what? David did it). This preacher completely trumped shame and sent it back to where it came from. I was elated.

Shame’s grip loosened on every person who heard his story. That’s the power of admitting our weakness and getting help. To the degree we experience freedom, we are able to set others free. It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s the shame that keeps us from getting help for the problem.

Coming Out of My Anxiety Closet

I come from a long line of anxiety-ridden kin. Through the generations, it has reared its anxious head in the form of panic attacks, rage, alcoholism, religious legalism, and most recently the redonkulous madness of PMS. A few years ago, when Mr. Dashing had his second come-to-Jesus talk with me about being a real peach to live with every fourth week, I had to take account of myself. Symptoms? Well,

  • Irritability (that sounds so much better than being a control freak with a short fuse). My sharp tongue wagged it’s blade right to the tender part of my childrens’ soul.
  • Hyper arousal (not in the good way. Let me assure you, Mr. Dashing would not complain about  good hyper arousal.) Hyper arousal is when you are so keyed up even the toaster popping can send a rush of adrenaline through you. And I won’t even get into my husband’s driving. Panic attack comin’ on! (unapologetic jab.)
  • Excessive Worry (about juggling work and home, about my kids’ childcare, about being a good enough mother, wife, you know, basically everything, oh, and what other people thought about me, bla bla bla). 

These symptoms were always present but were on steroids the week before Aunt Flo visited.

I was active in my own counseling and my own work (counselor speak for doing some trauma work, addressing family of origin stuff, staying differentiated and appropriately connected to myself, God and others without being co-dependent, etc, etc.) I worked the program and the program worked me- I practiced what I preached. But this repetitive anxiety spike was out of my control.

I made an appointment with my regular doc and she told me to eat more broccoli. No kidding. She gave me an anxiety handbook (as if I hadn’t read them all). She told me anxiety meds weren’t for people like me. She was resistant to prescribe anxiety meds for me- probably because she saw me as a put together mother of two with a private practice in counseling- a clinical counselor that she referred patients to…. Me, needing psychotropic help was cognitive dissonance to her- an impossibility. She probably needed them too, but wouldn’t let herself admit it. Just guessing.

People who “should” have it all together often receive the most judgment from others when they admit weakness. Pastors, leaders, counselors, doctors- they should be fit, healthy, calm, wise, ethical, moral, and have an outstanding devotional life. And above all, they shouldn’t need meds to accomplish any of it. Poppycock.

Well, I got a script and got out of there. And slowly but surely, my edginess leveled out, my worry fell into normal range, and I could toast my bread without peeling myself off the ceiling when it popped. I relaxed, and so did my kids. PMS? Eh, it’s a work in progress…

What Made the Mental Health Professional Take Something for her Mental Health?

Maybe I didn’t do it for me. Maybe I did it for them- my husband and my kids. I wanted to love them fully. I wanted to be all the way present, not preoccupied. I wanted to respond instead of react. I wanted to enjoy them instead of control them. I wanted the blessing of just being instead of the compulsion of doing.

Shame and pride can’t win over love. They are impotent against love. Love casts out all fear. Love wins! Ok, love and Prozac.

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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