Broken Things: God can’t use perfect people

I always wanted to be a counselor. From the time I was just a kid, I found myself sitting on couches, listening to people’s stories. When I suggested the idea to my parents prior to heading off to college, my dad seemed confused by the idea of it. He was the son of immigrants, grew up in a gang in East LA…he did not get the concept of sharing your story with a STRANGER. Plus we had church, which was supposed to be where you got that kind of support. So instead of focusing on an actual profession right at first, I attended a liberal arts college and studied Communications and Political Science and got a Masters in Education so that I could teach high school history and government. I loved teaching but even then, my favorite part of the job was building relationships with students and mentoring them in life. My revised plan became to continue in the field of education and be a school counselor someday. But marriage and my girls and a few moves across state lines changed all that. I now realize that our journeys are not completely our own, and there may have been just a tiny bit of wisdom in the madness of God’s plan for me.

When I finally went to seminary to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health, in my forties, I was actually thinking that I would use my degree in a ministry setting, since at that time I volunteered in those capacities on a regular basis. I was going to grad school again because I had a number of life experiences by this time that gave me some wisdom to speak into other people’s lives and I wanted to enhance that life experience with some big time book knowledge. But my time in my second-time-around grad school, mostly outside the classroom, broke me in so many more ways. Once again, life journey often outweighs book stuff. I have seen things now…hard things. I know now, all that real life was so that today, I can sit across from almost anyone and empathize with their situation, using an emotion I have once experienced, maybe not in the exact way, but similarly. It took me awhile to fully understand that it isn’t the perfect stories that minister to people, but rather brokenness and rebirth that encourages the downtrodden and broken hearted in their pain.

Have you ever been weary? Are you broken hearted now? Do you wonder what you have to offer anyone? My guess is that if you have endured trials in your life, you are more than prepared to be a mentor, a soul mate and an encourager. You might be just getting started in leaving a legacy of helpmate and friend. When people are perfect, they really have nothing to offer the hurting world. Who wants to be told how to live by someone who has not faced struggles? Are you ready to accept the challenge of taking your brokenness and turning it into service to the world?

When I look back at the times in life that I felt broken…when I was lonely, depressed, struggling in relationships, financially wrecked, betrayed and overcome with grief…I never felt that I had something to offer anyone. But once the wounds began to heal, because of God’s mercy, good counsel, the elapsing of time and support of other encouragers, I started to realize the power that comes from overcoming the battles of life. Do you have some power that has yet to be tapped into?

 

This morning, I was listening to this song…and I once again was reminded that in brokenness, we are simply in training for our calling. Are you ready to join in the hard work of turning your sorrow into dancing?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Panic Attacks: What are you doing to empower yourself?

Personally, I have had one panic attack in my life. It was a horrible experience. It occurred when my father was hospitalized near the end of his life, my husband was out of work, I was in my last semester of grad school and I got my breast cancer diagnosis. I remember feeling like I was suffocating and needed to lay down, which occurred more like a faint than sitting down gracefully to catch my breath. I knew to put my head between my knees and regulate my breathing but honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it out alive. I have to say I am grateful for the experience, as it has given me a point of reference for the clients I serve that have ongoing, debilitating occurrences. 

Having a panic attack can make you feel like you are going to die.

Panic attacks come on fast. There is a general feeling of being overwhelmed that leads to a temporary paralysis both mentally and physically. Often the person experiencing a panic attack feels a shortness of breath. People report thinking that they were dying, feeling cold, losing feeling in a limb or rapid heartbeat. If you, or someone you love, experience panic attacks, there are many strategies that you can put to practice that can help you get to “the other side”.

Here are some of the basics:

1.  Breathe: deep, not shallow, inhales with slow exhales, head between your knees if needed.

2.   Identify the “triggers”: Know the situations, or people, that cause you to feel overwhelmed and plan for those experiences in advance.

3.   Calm yourself ahead of time: Meditation, prayer, quiet time, yoga, long walks are all good ways to spend time processing life, making stressful situations more manageable.

4.   Write the script: Once you know the triggers, practice the scenarios through imagery to give yourself confidence. Remind yourself how you have survived in the past and that whatever you are encountering is temporary. 

5.   Identify your support system: Trusted friends, support animals, mentors or professional counselors should be used to provide accountability and for traumatic moments where you need to be “talked off the cliff”.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia 

Empaths: Boundaries are always going to be an issue for you

I will never forget my first reading of Drs. Cloud and Townsend’s book Boundaries. I was in my early thirties and had never understood the part I played in my boundary-less life.  The unrealistic expectation that my people-pleasing ways would bring relationship and that if I was just “nice enough”, people would respond positively, had lead to some pretty difficult disappointments. So being given permission, from a faith-based perspective, to advocate for myself was freedom I had never experienced!

I wish I could say that all it took was that one read-through to cure me of my rejection based wounds. But as anyone who has done extensive counseling for “woundedness” that stems from a fear of rejection, it is not that easy. Being a natural Empath, I struggle with over-identifying with other people and therefore lose sight of what my needs are until I am feeling really taken advantage of!….Can you identify with this?

As our greatest struggles often become our passion, I find myself counseling people who are also high on empathy and low on advocating for self. My clients need encouragement to stand strong with spouses, bosses, children, and friends. A problem that can become a hurdle is that the energy that it takes for an empath to stand up for his or herself, even once, can leave them exhausted and then they fall right back into that line of thinking where they assume others will see them, hear them and then respond with the same level of commitment. 

I realized recently that boundary work is always a work in progress for the hardcore Empath. Here are three guidelines to use when navigating relationships:

  1. In relationships meant to be reciprocal, if you do not have expectations on the table, you will feel misunderstood and eventually will get burned. Setting expectations is important no matter how secure you understand the relationship to be. Assuming that you will be valued and respected is what gets empaths in trouble! Learning phrases like, “I have been more than happy to help but going forward, I have some expectations as well” and “I enjoy working toward our shared goals but not at the cost of my own”, will alert the person not as high on the empath scale that they are close to crossing a line with you.
  2. Mirror the level of commitment you are getting in return and there is less chance of feeling used in a relationship. High-level Empaths tend to work harder when they sense the other person pulling away, leading to an even greater investment and more to be disappointed about. 
  3. All information is good information. When you learn that the other party has less of an investment in the relationship than you do, don’t let that feed your rejection-minded tendencies. It is important to embrace being your own greatest advocate!  You can choose to protect yourself rather than get punched in the gut and no one will think less of you!

As a general rule, Empaths tend to want to help and encourage. They share easily and have a Mi Casa Es Su Casa mindset. What they do not often want to admit is that they expect reciprocal actions. This is where that Su Casa mindset stuff is really important because those who are not so Empathy-leaning are surprised when they are asked for a reciprocal response that was not spelled out for them. 

Living emotionally healthy lives is a lot of hard work. Keep swimming!

Sonia

Trash day was a little teary: New life sometimes means getting rid of the old.

Yesterday, trash collectors hoisted my sofa into the back of their amazing truck and within just minutes, it was shredded into a memory. When did trash trucks become so high tech?

When we moved to Colorado 16 years ago, one of the first things I purchased was a big leather couch for our family room. I bought quality so it would last, and even though it was on sale, it put us back a bit. To say that it has been “used” is an understatement. That couch was sat on, napped on, spilled on, snuggled on, everyday for those 16 years. In a weird way, it was a holder of some deep memories: Movie nights, game nights…and the place where the sick member of the house would lay to re-coop.  I remember sitting there to hear good news from my daughters’ days at school and also to hold crying members of my family when their day had not gone well. I was held on that couch in some very dark moments of my life. (It was also the place I was sitting when I saw the snake in my house and thought I would have to move, but that is a story for another day….)

In the last years, I went from loving the worn look of the leather to hating that my couch had holes. The worn leather was beautiful but the holes made me feel un-put-together and like I was not adulting well.  I even tried to repair it a number of times, using YouTube videos to assist, patching it up with a number of DIY remedies that worked for a while and then split like the old leather. Super glue and leather filler, it turns out, were no match for the aging cushions. So, even though it served us well, it was time for it to go.

Are there things in your life that have served you well but it is time for them to go? Are there some fresh starts that need to happen? As humans, we resist change sometimes, even when a change in our job, our activities, or our relationships could offer us a much fuller life. We are afraid of losing the positive memories from the old comfortable place and resist the work it will take to start again.

I attended a number of graduation parties this past weekend, where recent graduates expressed a lament for their time in high school coming to an end, mixed with an excitement to start something new. If they are like me, they will look back fondly on this time of their life but will also realize in a VERY short time that college is SO much better than high school! I was reminded that it is good that life forces some changes to occur, whether we are ready for them or not!

What changes do you need to make to help yourself feel “unstuck”, or even empowered, in a life of your choosing? Do you need a new couch, a new job, or a new adventure to help you to be more you? Are there activities or situations that should be life giving but they are sucking the life out of you? It might be time to graduate into the next season of life, whether you feel ready or not!

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia