Abortion: Some thoughts from a mental health professional

I remember when most of the debate surrounding the abortion issue revolved around whether or not a woman who was impregnated during rape should be required to carry that baby to term. The debate has changed so much and for the first time in a long time, people are starting to question the practice.

I have never been faced with the decision to abort my baby. For goodness sake, after three years of infertility treatments, my twins are a miracle. I only had 2 viable eggs when I went through the in vitro process and I was told I had 0% chance of having twins, 1% chance of having a single baby…so no, never faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I planned more than most for the one I had.

I remember thinking in high school that my parents would kill me if I got pregnant. I realize now, looking back, they were just good parents who were empowering me to self-protect, and if I had gotten pregnant, they would have built a wing on their home for us to live. But their parenting, my faith and the fact that I only dated really wonderful people, made this a non-issue in my life. (I am adding this to the list of things I am grateful for…)

But it is an issue that I sit within the counseling space quite a bit. I remember in my first couple of years of counseling being surprised and touched to the core, at how many women had experienced sexual trauma in their lives. By sexual trauma, I mean, harassment, molestation, rape, unhealthy sexual boundaries within both committed and non-committed relationships or even marriage, and yes, I would add abortion to that list.

For the purpose of my thoughts today, I am not addressing whether you believe a baby is a baby when it is a clump of cells, when it has a heartbeat or when it kicks it’s a mama in the last trimester like it is kicking a football. I am not talking about the baby. I am talking about mama. Remember? That is who this original discussion was all about.

I have never, I mean never, had a woman in counseling say that her abortion was a great experience. I have never had a woman say it was the best decision she ever made. There is always regret, sadness, wondering, and wishing the decision had not had to be made. My work within this space is always about being able to forgive yourself, allow healing and being realistic about the consequences of decisions we live to regret. Not one woman that I have sat within this space, whether the abortion took place recently or 25 years ago, felt that she would ever “get over” it. At the time of her abortion, she was lead to believe that she could keep her life… stay in school, keep the boyfriend, whatever… But in reality, she was never the same. She just moved forward, wounded and often alone in her pain.

So, if we, as a country, are going to adopt practices that we say are to protect the rights of the mother, let’s get real and say that we are not doing a good job of protecting those women. They are feeling abandoned, judged, and alone, whether they keep the baby or whether they abort it. If you take the side of allowing abortions as a means for birth control, then get honest and provide mental health resources for the women who follow your lead. Mental health resources can go a long way in preventing unplanned pregnancies as well…empowered people make better decisions for themselves. And if you are advocating for protecting the unborn, give your time and resources to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, and fight for legislation that provides resources for women who keep the baby or choose to bless another family with the baby they can’t keep. Trust me, there is a long line of people who would welcome these babies with open arms. I see these broken-hearted women in counseling as well. Many of the women in these families know the pain of being unable to carry a child or having to abort to save their own life. Is there a way to bless these women as well, rather than minimize their experience by celebrating abortion in the face of their loss?

Let’s advocate for women. All women.

If you or someone you love has a struggle in this area, as always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

Eliminating Chaos: Think Marie Kondo for your emotional state

Living simply, minimizing your carbon footprint, downsizing…it is for good reason, all the rage. I have personally been hoping to move for a few years now, so every time Goodwill or ARC calls and asks for a donation, I use it as an opportunity to get some of my castaways to the curb. I have never, in my married life, lived in a house so long. For awhile there, we were moving every couple years which is great for cleaning stuff out. I moved into this house when my kids were 5 and now they can legally buy beer. I don’t want to think about what it is going to look like when we finally journey on!

I am fascinated by the cult following of Marie Kondo. She is an organizing mastermind and is taking over the world with books and speaking engagements. Her method, known as KonMari consists of taking a look at each possession and determining if it brings you joy or not. Out with the bad… the joy-inducing possessions get to stay.

One could argue that it isn’t that easy in real life to get rid of stuff. When my kids were little I would have to throw out the broken toys in the middle of the night, to avoid a meltdown. I would like to get rid of my daughter’s comforter-used-more-by-the-dog-than-her, on her bed, but she may divorce me if I do. She told me it reminds her too much of her childhood. Still, there is merit to this method and I can see that it could be of value in our emotional lives as well.

It is a proven fact that visual clutter can contribute to stress, depression, anxiety, lethargy…many life-halting conditions. Cleaning up our surroundings helps us feel energized, focused and ready to get things done. I remember when I was in grad school, Mike loved it when I had a paper due or a test to study for, because he would come home to super tidy surroundings. I wasn’t able to concentrate when I felt my surroundings were a big hot mess.

We can also experience negative symptoms when our emotional lives are in disarray. For example, it can be hard to concentrate at a job you hate, when your child is struggling with addiction or failing out of the 7th grade. Our relationships with frustrating friends can get strained when we are dealing with a struggling marriage, fighting an illness or dealing with a personal loss. When we find ourselves feeling out of control in our emotional space, it can be a good idea to channel our inner Marie Kondo and do some tossing out.

If you are in a particularly stress-filled season of life, you might feel out of control and overwhelmed. Think about it. When you are feeling awesome and in control, there might be people or situations that are not joy-inducing that you can tolerate because in-balance, life is feeling breezy. But when life gets super hard and you are being tossed in the waves a bit, those same relationships can feel toxic. Self preservation might include taking some of those people or situations out of the mix until you have the bandwidth for them. You might need to, for a time at least, focus only on the joy-inducing situations and relationships. I don’t want to go so far to say that you are going to “throw out” relationships but my guess is, once you take a break, you may want to continue to focus on the joy, don’t you think?

This doesn’t mean that you only hold on to what is perfect. I have a cracked teacup that I will never throw away because I can still see my mom holding it in both hands. It brings me joy. I recently spent a few days with some of my besties from college. Each of us are in a tough life season and are less than our awesome selves right now… but in our weakness, we shared, loved and laughed and brought one another great joy. I will keep those girls forever. They bring me the kind of joy that I can barely put into words.

Is it time to focus on joy?

Romans 12:12 says: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Do you have people in your life that will do this with you? If you do not, it might be time for some KonMari…

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia

2019: Choosing to live with a gun to my head

Almost exactly 21 years ago, Mike came home from work with the good news that he had been promoted. He excitedly told me, a woman pregnant with twins on bedrest, that we were moving to Salt Lake City. You can imagine the response he got as I processed the information that after waiting for over three years to have those babies, I would immediately be moving away from my all my family and friends. I look back at that time now and remember thinking it was the hardest thing I would ever go through….hmmmm.

The Robie and Bell families back in the day….

Living in Draper, Utah, was not what I had planned. I thought it was going to be the most awful, no-good thing that ever happened to me. I look back at that time now and smile. I cannot fully express how grateful I am for the personal growth that took place during that time. Most of that growth occurred because, through an act of God, Mike and I got connected with a group of folks who were following a call to start the first protestant church in town. Ironically, the leadership team of South Mountain Community Church were people that I had crossed paths with throughout my life in California. We had not officially met, but we were connected through friends and family in a supernatural way. Paul and Jini Robie and Mike and Joanie Bell are the real deal…

Jini Robie, to this day, holds a place in my heart as the most authentic, most challenging “pastor’s wife” that I have ever known. In my opinion, her efforts to minister to the women of our little community fostered a growth in that church that was nothing short of amazing. I look back at the time spent sitting in a circle, first with just a few of us, and then an increasingly larger circle, talking about God, about life, about being God-filled women…learning, loving and laughing.  Many of us were new to the area; searching, or in need of friendship.  I marvel at how Jini’s no-frills approach spoke to each of us in a powerful way. We grew in our relationships with one another, our families and, most importantly, with our Maker.

On one particular occasion, I specifically remember Jini talking about something she had recently read about persecuted Christians. She had heard of a family held at gunpoint, where the parents were asked to renounce their faith to save the lives of their children. I was a first-time mother of six-month-old twins, and at the time did not appreciate having to evaluate if I was committed to the Lord enough to give up my kids’ lives or mine. I did not want to think about what it would be like to have a gun to my head for any reason!  But that conversation impacted me, and I woke up at 2 am just the other morning thinking about it. I do some of my best thinking between the hours of 2 and 3 am…

Recently, as many of you know, I have been put in a position to HAVE to think about serious life and death issues. I have been put in a position that I have to evaluate what is important to me…what legacy I want to leave….how I will invest in others…how I will spend my time… But before this whole thing gets overly dramatic, I want to stress that my prognosis is very hope-filled. I have a team of doctors committed to giving me the best of modern and naturalistic medicine. I believe I have MANY years to sit and contemplate…plus it is my plan is to be an over-achiever and defy all odds…but contemplate I will what it is to live fully in Christ and become all I am meant to be.

Most likely, I will never be in a position where terrorists invade my home and put a gun to my head. But I have a metaphoric gun pointed at my head, and I am strangely accepting of the position it puts me in. Maybe God loves me enough to force me to hurry up and get my health protocol ironed out so I can pursue my private practice more than ever, commit to my ministry with a sold-out passion, and invest in people intentionally and with a sense of urgency. Have I been too lackadaisical in my former approach to life?

What is it that you are called to? What passions do you need a nudge to pursue? Is there some physical or emotional baggage that you need to iron out in order to be the man or woman that God has created you to be? Maybe you would like to join me in living 2019 as if you have a gun to your head….

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Value Your Time: Are you worth more than a tank of gas?

A few years ago, my husband and I began using a phrase when we felt people were taking advantage of our Empathic-ness. It came out of an experience he had with a local realtor who kept canceling meetings and when they finally settled on a time to share a lunch, the guy was over 30 minutes late. Mike left the restaurant and when the realtor called to explain his tardiness, his excuse was that he had stopped for gas and he hoped to reschedule. Now, let’s be clear…there are lots of good reasons to cancel a commitment and lots of reasonable excuses for tardiness but….really?

So now, when we encounter situations in our life where it is clear that our time, our love, our commitment, is not being appreciated how we hoped it would be, we declare (or mumble…or emphasize with an eye roll…) that we are INDEED worth more than a tank of gas!

It took us years to get here.

Are you an Empath that finds yourself in situations where the other person in the relationship does not seem to put the same value on you, your time, your commitment, that you put on theirs?

Is it hard for you to claim self-worth because it feels selfish? Let’s try to reframe this so that you can start living in an empowered, more “true to yourself” way! Give and take in a relationship is part of every healthy friendship, marriage or business relationship. However, an imbalance can occur, leaving one side or the other feeling really taken advantage of and hurt. Without fail, the more Empathic you are, the more you tolerate as you seek to preserve the relationship.

Chasing after a relationship that is doomed to fail, is common for Empaths. They are prone to think that there is something they can say or do that will make the other person respond more favorably. Unfortunately, in this process, respect can be lost leading to more situations where the Empath does not feel heard, understood or valued.

If you are the Empath, there is wisdom in taking care to reserve that “extra effort” for relationships that have a hopeful outcome, or for members of your family that you are bound to for life. But putting on some protective armor for other relationships is important if you want to find meaningful relationships in this life. The longer you stay connected to someone who does not value you, the longer you risk being away from the relationship that will value you.

Because YOU are worth more than a tank of gas!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #4: Couple Culture

Studies show that couples who struggle early in their marriage, often have conflict over unmet assumptions. I hear struggles when young couples come to counseling, that suggest there were conversations that should have taken place, prior to the walk down the aisle, if the merger was to be without some tension:

I thought he would be the one to take out the trash.
I don’t think we should have separate bank accounts and my spouse thinks we should.
We used to do lots of fun things together and now we just stay home.
I thought we would have more sex.

Couple culture is like a marriage mission statement

I went to pre-marital counseling back in the day, with a church pastor…not a therapist. Let’s just say that it was not an amazing experience. In retrospect, the counseling was very focused on whether or not we were compatible and less about helping us to create a couple culture that would help us navigate through our early years.

Let’s be honest, if you are going to pre-marital counseling, you are going to get married regardless of being found compatible or not! What you really need is a discussion about techniques that can be used to create a dynamic within your marriage that allows each individual to have their own needs met, while they develop tools to meet the needs of their partner.

One simple tool that can be used to help create a couple culture is for each person to identify personal values that they want to be respected within the new couple dynamic. These values can be altruistic goals, career aspirations, personal hobbies, religious and political ideals, and any other idea…just generalities that define a life vision. The collaboration of these ideas should result in goal statements that look something like this:

We are a couple who ______________________.

Our home is a place where __________________ is important.

We want to become a couple that ___________________.

We do not want to be a couple that _______________________.

There are obviously a variety of statements that could be made here, but do you get the idea?

The second step is to take each statement and come up with a couple ways that each person can assist in making that statement come true.

I can help us become a couple who _________________ by _____________________. (Example: “I can help us become a couple that continues to date by planning an outing once a month.”)

A good thing to put in your back pocket is the idea that whatever your “couple culture” is, prior to expansion of the family with little ones, will be the start of your “family culture”. If you want to be a family that goes hiking, volunteers at the homeless shelter and shows respect to one another, that dynamic is best started when there are just two of you!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #3: For you, for me or for us?

If you have been married any time at all, you know that there are moments in marriage that are very imbalanced. One person is out doing the other person by carrying the emotional weight of a stressful conflict or by doing the bulk of the supposedly shared responsibilities. There are a number of very good reasons for imbalance, the most obvious being that one person is going through a particularly stressful time, for whatever reason, and the other spouse has to pick up the slack.  However, there are also times when life does not necessitate an imbalance and one person gets sick and tired of doing most of the emotional or physical lifting, when they are married to another perfectly capable human being.  When couples end up on my couch, oftentimes that imbalance has gone on too long and some reorganizing has to be done to save the harmony of the home.

Much of the time, in conversations surrounding the “who-does-what”, it becomes very clear that  people do the tasks or take on the emotional burdens that make sense to them. For example, one spouse may not mind a little clutter around the house, while their honey may need things tidy at all times. So each time the neater spouse picks up something left out-of-place, they are making a mental checklist of their efforts and then slowly, like a crock pot, resentment is building.

A quick reframe that can be used in these situations is to ask yourself who you are actually doing this task for….yourself, your spouse or for the marriage!

Couples that live well together have usually figured out a system that works…each of them have areas of their shared life that fall within their “jurisdiction”. For example, regardless of my strong views on equality for women, it is best if I do the bulk of the laundry in our family and Mike tackles all things related to our cars. It is an area of our life that we are both comfortable with traditional roles. These are not the areas where conflict arises.

The areas of conflict for married folks, arises where there is expectation on one person’s part that the task should be performed by the other person OR the other partner is not pulling their weight. For example, I have the expectation that my husband should be able to get his socks in the hamper and he has the expectation that I will close the cupboard when I take a dish out. (We both have improved in these areas over the years, but honestly, the struggle is real.)

Of course, neither of the above scenarios should land us in counseling but you would be surprised, how if gone unchecked, numerous imbalances can lead to built up frustration between two people. I once had a family in counseling that literally talked about kitchen responsibilities in my office for a solid three months. Each person had different expectations of the part they should play and it lead to some intense conflict. Fortunately, we were able to reframe their approach to shared responsibility, not only in the kitchen, but in their interpersonal dynamic as well.

A healthy switch in viewpoint can sometimes change the whole dynamic.

Step one: Ask yourself why the task or issue at hand is important. Who does this affect the most? Are you making something that is only important to you, everyone’s problem? Or is the task or idea being challenged something that has to be addressed, in order for your home to function properly? Set expectations and communicate time lines so that you avoid disappointment.

Step two: Realize that even though you have pledged to cleave as one, it doesn’t mean that you are going to share a brain. Don’t expect that your spouse knows what you think is the priority for household chores or child-rearing. Each of you were raised in different homes, by different parents. Blending those experiences takes numerous, ongoing conversations, to find a happy medium that you both are comfortable with.

Step three: Find ways to serve one another. Healthy marriages involve two people that WANT to help one another get through life. When I toss those wayward socks into the basket and Mike closes the cupboard, without making an issue of it, it should not feel like a big sacrifice. You are doing those tasks for harmony within your marriage! Also, remind yourself not just of the tasks your spouse doesn’t do, but what they do! You may even find that it is not as imbalanced as you thought.

Step four: Own up to the areas you fall short and work to improve. “It’s just the way I am” seems like an authentic, self-aware statement, but it does not usually promote positive feedback from the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with. For goodness sake, give them some hope that your relationship is going to improve with age!

While I purposefully used simple illustrations, I am aware that imbalance in relationship can run much deeper than who is mowing the lawn each week. If you sense there is an imbalance that is rocking your marriage, don’t wait until you are ready to leave your spouse to start the conversation!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia