Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 2: The Well of Resentment

December 21, 2013

deep wellHe had married her 22 years before; and now he stood in my office in front of her and said “I don’t love her any more. I want a divorce.” I actually thought he had asked me to be there so he could reconcile with his wife. Why else would he want his counselor there for what he had to say? But no–he wanted me to be a witness to his final declaration.

I couldn’t leave it at that. I had counseled him for several months and never had any idea he was thinking about divorce. So I asked him to go through his train of thought leading up to this decision. He mentioned a number of grievances he had stored over the years. He chronicled a long line of things which hurt him, annoyed him, bothered him and made him angry. He carried a long list with him.

However, he failed to mention a single thing that most people would associate with marital failure. She had not committed adultery, been violent, lied to him, appeared on a Reality T.V. show, hit the children, poisoned his food, withheld sex, had her mother stay for a year or joined a cult. Even though he carried a laundry list of grievances, none of them were that serious.

The biggest problem he carried with him to the end of his marriage was Resentment. Resentment is the idea that someone has done wrong by us and we refuse to let it go until they apologize or give retribution. We can resent someone for a small infraction or a huge sin. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the resentment is, it has the same effect: It sucks the life out of our love.

I tried to convince him to let go of his resentment and move on in his relationship with his wife, but he was not interested. A year later, their divorce was final and their lives in turmoil. I could have saved him a lot of hassle if he had just dealt with this like an adult.

Children cultivate resentments like a farmer grows corn. They can complain if someone gets a bigger portion of dessert. They will whine if someone bumps into them. They don’t like it when their brother looks at them funny. They will hit back when hit and curse back when cursed. But we expect that out of them–they’re children.

If you want to be a mature adult and have meaningful and long-lasting relationships, then resentments have to go. But that’s a lot easier to say than to do. I believe resentment is the most prominent disease known among mankind. We do not let go of them at all and certainly not easily. But I have an exercise that helps.

In the 4th century, there were a group of men and women called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They lived in the Egyptian desert and taught many people about the deeper ways of living as a Christian. One of these, Abba Poemen, taught a practice called “The Well of Resentment”. (Note: This is a translation…it has been called the Well of Longing and the Well of Bitterness).

He taught his disciples to do the same thing at the end of every day. He said they were to picture themselves coming to the edge of a large and deep well. As they mentally look into this well, they should consider how things went for them that day. Each person was to probe their soul and see if there was anything that happened which caused any resentment. If a person identified resentment, they were to visualize casting that resentment into the well and watch it fall into the depths. Then they were to keep doing this until all resentments were gone. At the end, they should pray the Kyrie Eliason (“Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy on me”).

I have taught hundreds of people to do this the end of every day. I have yet to have someone come to me and tell me it doesn’t work. Rather, I have heard from many that it has revived their love for spouse, parent, child, co-worker, fellow-Christian and others. It is a practice which refuses to allow the little or big resentments from gaining hold. The Well of Resentment is like powerful vitamins which bind to viruses and snuff them out before they get destructive.

Try it for three days and see if it doesn’t begin to change your heart toward others around you.

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Ten Healthy Ideas – Day 1: Get Rid of Body Lies

December 20, 2013

rs_634x797-131216100228-5ht7pRecently, “E” Magazine reported on an animated Gif file circulating among Jennifer Lawrence fans. It is an older picture of Lawrence from the cover of Flare Magazine. The animated Gif file reveals that they took Ms. Lawrence’s picture–an actress considered by many to be very beautiful–and then proceeded to photoshop it. Here is the website showing the original photo and then how they doctored it.

They made her skinny in places, more pronounced in others and changed her shape completely. Fans around the world are outraged, mainly because she has been on a crusade against this kind of body image tinkering. Here is an interview she did with BBC Television where she expresses her view that every women needs to have a strong image of who they are. This includes viewing their own bodies realistically.

In counseling, I see hundreds of women obsessed with poor body image. They want to blame others for their personal beliefs–and certainly other people are contributing factors in what they believe–but blaming others does not solve the problem. Each person needs to recognize they chose to believe every thing they hold onto. Until a person owns those false beliefs and discards them, they will not be free.

The media, parents, friends, and enemies–including the enemy of our souls–may all feed us false beliefs about our bodies. Let me identify the three main false beliefs:

1. Shame: This is a belief which says ‘There is something essentially wrong with me’. The idea of “wrongness” is completely subjective and has no real basis in fact. What is “wrong” in one setting is “perfect” in another. This includes body size, body shape, and body parts. One culture prizes Aquiline noses (long and curved) where another culture champions small noses. Which one is right? Neither of course. But the belief that says “there is something wrong with me” goes deeper. This belief destroys the idea that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Since there is no objective standard of the right or wrong body type, then anything we believe about ourselves which ends in us concluding “there is something wrong with me” is completely false. 

2. Fear: This belief focuses on how we are perceived. “I will not be accepted for how I look” gives other people the right to speak into how we should look. No longer do we decide if we our bodies are acceptable–we give that right to others. This fear also centers on the idea that we can accurately predict how others see us. This belief is false because even if we are mostly accurate in our assessments, we cannot be completely accurate. Humans are completely different in their preferences. What 100 people dislike, another 100 people may like. But the fear that “all” people will react the same way to us causes us to change who we are–or wish we could change who we are.

3. Helplessness: This is the idea that our bodies are in charge and we cannot do anything about it. For the most part, helpless beliefs are formed when we tried to change something while not doing so with our entire will. For instance, take a young child who comfort eats. This child eats when they are emotionally stressed. They do this because the food makes them feel better. They may do this enough so they become heavier than their friends. At some point–probably during adolescence–they decide it is time to lose weight. The problem is, even though they want to take charge of their body and lose weight, they don’t want to let go of comfort-eating. Therefore, they hinder their own weight-loss efforts. When they fail at this, they believe they are helpless to change the way their body functions. This can result in them choosing to depress themselves and keep their body behaving differently than their ideal vision of themselves. This helplessness gets seeded into their beliefs and they soon react as if they can never change anything their body is doing.

These three false body beliefs–shame, fear and helplessness–torture so many people. But they don’t need to. The solution is to admit these beliefs are choices you made at some point in your life. They don’t feel like lies because you have fed and cared for them for so long.

The secret to overcoming them is to ask God about them. God made you and knows who you are. He knows how you are perceived. He is the one who says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.

I counseled a woman years ago who struggled with being “overweight”. (I put that word in parentheses because I do not accept the concept of “overweight”. I think it is a false concept designed by the enemy to have a false measuring stick of our value). She believed she would never be acceptable to others unless she reached a particular weight value. In our counseling, I asked her to listen to what God had to say about it.

After several weeks of doing this, she stopped dieting and started to find out more about how God saw her. God showed her the problem had nothing to do with her weight. Her life was being ruled by one resentment she had after another. She decided to let go of all her resentments over a 6-month period. Because she no longer held onto her griefs and pain, she started eating differently. She got out of the house more. She dressed differently. Inexplicably, her body began to take on a different shape.

She had no idea if she lost or gained weight because she threw out her bathroom scale. God showed her that the weight was a measurement of gravity, not worth.

When we get to what God has to say about our bodies, we will inevitably change how we see them. And if we change how we see them, we won’t give in to the terror of false beliefs.

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The Danger of Dishonor

September 23, 2013

Stuart and I prayed for a half hour about his wife. She was suffering  through a series of painful attacks, bizarre maladies that seemed unrelated to each other. Her doctors could not find the cause. She had migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, joint irritation, ear infection, low fevers, foot pain, tremors and panic attacks.

During the previous six months, she had seen a gynecologist, neurologist, arthritic specialist, gastroenterologist, pain specialist, physiotherapist and immunologist, and was now being sent to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having failed to find any physical cause which would tie in all of these symptoms, the doctors decided they needed to check if her emotional state caused all of these problems. This referral to the psychiatrist seemed to mock her pain, and she gave up trying to fight it all.

As I was praying, I had a thought that this may not have a physical root cause. I sensed an enemy of the soul, an unclean spirit, was attacking her. Though I have not seen this happen often, I know it does occur. But because this is not a common reason for people being ill, I kept quiet about it. I continued asking the Holy Spirit for more insight into this, and as I did, another thought went through my mind. I acted on it.

“Stuart, do you have a problem with pornography?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like to admit it, but I view porn every couple of weeks.”

“Just porn? Have you ever acted on your fantasies with other women?”

He hesitated and looked down. This, coupled with his worried expression, lent me courage to press further.

“What have you done, Stu?” He then began telling me about a web site he had joined several months earlier which allowed married people to find sexual partners with other married people. After telling me about a number of women he had talked to, he assured me he had never met any of them in person. He was quite adamant that he did this because of curiosity, not because he wanted an affair. I had heard variations of his story from a lot of men and women.

I knew my next question was most critical. His answer may hold the key to his wife’s illness. “Stu, did you talk about your wife with any of the women?” He blanched openly at my question.

“A lot of the women wanted to know why I was on the web site. It bothered me that they asked what was so wrong with my marriage that would lead me to seek out an affair. So I told them some stories. I have to admit Mike that many of the things I said weren’t true. I lied to a few women.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them all that my wife didn’t want sex any more, that she was only interested in the kids and her business. Which, of course, is not true at all.”

What I told him next is the basis of this article. Stuart had dishonored his wife. To honor someone means to show respect to them, to show how they are important and special in our lives and in general. Therefore, to dishonor a person means to disrespect them, lie about them or act like they are unimportant. I explained to Stuart how his dishonor had started with his porn usage. By looking at hundreds of women in various sexual poses and situations, he had downgraded his wife to lesser status. This made it so much easier for him to lie to other women and tell them how unimportant his wife was to him. I explained this was only the beginning of his problems.

After a while, he stopped me and asked “So, what you’re saying is that my wife’s illnesses are God’s judgment on her for the way I’ve acted?”

“Stu, that’s not it at all. God forgave all your sins on the cross. He has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus. You are not guilty in God’s eyes. The Bible says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No, it is not God who is bringing these illnesses upon your wife. God himself does not bring disaster and illness upon us. God is love and would never harm us. But there is a class of beings in this universe whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Collectively, we call these beings “Satan”, but they really are a host of opportunistic spirits looking to attack and destroy our lives. However, they are not allowed to attack us unless they have permission.”

“How do they get permission?”

“If people commit certain sins over a period of time, then the enemy is allowed to attack in those areas.” I explained to Stuart some of the verses from the Bible which show this, and then came back to my explanation of events.

“Stuart, your relationship with your wife is a covenant relationship. In spiritual terms, the covenant is the deepest promise you can make to a person. You may not know it, but to do harm to that covenant is to do harm to yourself and to her. Satan’s name means “accuser”. He loves to act as the Prosecuting attorney before God, claiming that we are guilty of crimes and need to be punished. When those crimes are against God, he will not allow us to be attacked. But when the crimes involve others, especially when we hurt those closest to us, we incur the wrath of the Accuser. You have dishonored your wife. There are few ways you could have acted worse than this.”

Here is the end of his story: He repented before God for his actions, quit the website and stopped viewing porn (this last part took a longer time to correct, but that’s another blog entry). He then anointed his wife with oil and we prayed for her.

From that day, her symptoms stopped and have not recurred.

Often, we dishonor our spouses a lot more than we realize. In order to see what this does, let’s look at 9 categories of dishonor.

  1. Gossip: When we break a confidence of a friend or loved one, we are dishonoring the relationship we have with them. I probably have done this more than I want to admit. Often, I make this mistake when complaining to a friend about people closest to me. This can even be done with a counselor, and if the counselor is unwise to allow it to go on too long, gossip can devolve into slander. This is what Stuart did to his wife. 2 Timothy 3:3 puts gossipers with some other nasty offenders.
  2. Broken Promises and Oaths: Once again, most people do not know how important an oath is in the Spirit realm. God tells us that broken oaths will have serious consequences (James 5:12). Many times in the Bible we are told not to break our vows or judgment will come. The enemy loves to prowl around looking for those who have broken their promises and oaths. Obviously, adultery is the classic example of this. But we can also make promises on many other levels, and each broken oath brings destruction on our heads.
  3. Violence and Abusive Language: Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. But it also tells us that he hates when a man covers his wife with violence as if it were a garment. Violence is a severe break of the covenant relationship. And violent words can also sever that covenant. When the enemy sees these things, he initiates a spiraling pattern of violence, fear and anguish. Few actions dishonor a person more than taking power away from them through violence or violent words.
  4. Threats: Threats can appear non-violent and still cause harm. If someone threatens to leave, to cut off intimacy, to get even, to take something away, then all of these dishonor the marriage vow. Most marriage vows contain the word “honor,” which means to count someone as important. If you deem a person valuable, you will not threaten them.
  5. Resentment: John Bevere calls resentment “the bait of satan”. Our enemy loves to dangle this in front of our noses. Resentment is not unforgiveness or hatred. It occurs when we decide “I will never let go of this hurt you have caused me.” More marriages are dishonored when partners will not release resentment than from any other cause. It is that common.. Resentment often becomes bitterness, which we are told in Hebrews 12 can regress into “a root of bitterness which grows up to defile many“.
  6. Curses: When we wish harm or ill on another person, we are cursing them. The stronger we wish these things, the more power the enemy has to bring them about. Unfortunately, many spouses say foolish things like “I wish you would die” or “I hope you get everything coming to you” or “I am done with you” never once knowing there is an enemy who views these as open invitations to wreak havoc in a household. The bible is clear that curses and blessings work (Luke 6:28, James 3:9).
  7. Reveling in hurt: There is a more passive way we can dishonor our spouse. When they fail or are wounded, if instead of bringing comfort and love we hold onto a smug attitude of “I told you so” or “You had that coming”, this reveling can give room to the enemy to drive a wedge between spouses.
  8. Neglect: Instead of actively hurting our spouse or betraying them, we neglect our duties to love, honor and cherish them. By withholding support, love, information, help, partnership, affection, or any number of other essentials, we leave them to their own devices and act as if they are meaningless to us. This neglect of our covenant responsibility offers the enemy an open invitation to attack.
  9. Humiliation: People rationalize their active criticism of their spouse in public. They think it helps to push them to make changes. But we often take it way too far. When we actively humiliate our spouse, it is the most public way we can use to say “You are not special to me.” When we do this, not only do people see us as weak and our marriage as troubled, the enemy sees it as dishonor and uses that springboard to cause trouble.

I believe there are four keys to overcoming these pieces of dishonor.

  1. Repent. This means more than just saying you’re sorry to God. It means to acknowledge and understand what you’re doing wrong and choose actions that counter-act it. Breaking off bad relationships, apologizing for hurts, cutting off access to things or people that make it worse – all of these are repentant actions.
  2. Change: Get to the roots of why you do what you do. A counselor or coach can help with this.
  3. Accountability: Admit to others what you have done and ask them to watch for it from you and call you on it if you persist in doing it.
  4. Pray for Blessing. The Bible tells us we are to bless others and not curse them. If we have cursed our spouse through dishonor, dedicate the future to blessing them through word, deed and prayer.
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Ecstasy: The Real “Brave New World”

September 10, 2013

SomaA recent article in The Daily Beast chronicles the latest attitudes toward the drug MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. From what author Abby Haglage reports, it is not only teens at raves that are using it. It is actually the same group, but now they have matured into their early 30s. They see it as the safest alternative to pot, alcohol or amphetamines.

One of the women interviewed for the article is Sarah, a 26-year old who has a Master’s Degree in Public health. Here is her assessment of the first time she used MDMA:

She says she uses Molly (Molly is the nickname for Ecstasy) regularly. Thirty minutes after taking it for her first time (while working in England at the age of 22) Sarah was happier than she’d ever been. “Don’t you just wish it could stay like this forever?” she told her friends, something they still laugh about today. Now, working as a public health professional, she says it’s not uncommon to hear her colleagues talk about doing the same thing

It is this idea of Sarah’s that she would want this feeling to stay with her forever that perked my ears. I mentioned this to several friends and they couldn’t see the significance of it.

It may be time for all colleges (and maybe high schools) to require that certain classics of the modern era be required reading. I am pretty sure that Brave New World is still on most reading lists for high school, but because none of my friends caught the reference in this article, I felt it was time to shed some light.

Brave New World is set in the distant future, at a time where humanity is controlled from birth to death. Everyone, at conception, is divided into five groups. The Alpha and Beta groups rule the world and the other groups are the drudges. In order to help the drudges cope with their existence, they are given a free drug called Soma. It has very few side effects and causes the person who takes it to feel content, passive and happy. Any time a person feels discomfort, they immediately take Soma, something they have been mentally conditioned to do since they are born.

The prevailing attitude toward Soma is that it is safe and is the essential ingredient that keeps the world running smoothly. At one point in the story, several people decide not to take Soma when they feel discomfort and realize in the end that they are left with no way to cope with fear, pain, loss and grief. Most of them quickly go back to Soma and then can’t remember why they ever wanted to live without it. At one point, one of the main characters, Lenina, is challenged to lay off the Soma. Here is her answer: “I wish I could feel this way forever.”

This is why the quote above set me off. This world now has two great sins it seeks to avoid at any cost: Boredom and discomfort. With drugs we can now eliminate (temporarily) both of these “horrible” conditions. The rampant use of Methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, crank,  ecstasy and even milder drugs like Adderall show a culture that cannot deal with inner relationship problems any more.

It is not much different with people who drink more than they ought, who smoke dope more than they ought…for anyone who takes a substance to give them inner peace.

Jesus says he came to offer a peace “that passes understanding.” The level of contentment we reach with his peace is one that a drug cannot touch.

Soma’s role was to control and hold in abeyance. The role of God’s Holy Spirit is to give us victory over the discomforts of life by facing them square on with God’s truth.

You choose: A brave new world or a True New Life.

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Want to Smoke a Bowl?

August 13, 2013

Since five states have now legalized marijuana for personal use and the federal government is now deciding to stop prosecuting people who bring it into the country, more and more Christians are going to think about trying it for themselves. The argument is often like this: “It has less side-effects than alcohol and we don’t have any problem with drinking.”

Well, I would dispute that we don’t have any problem with drinking. I have long held that Christians have over-reacted to the Temperance movement and now allow too much drinking to be part of our lives. But I want to spend a moment interacting with an article that came out this week about the harmful effects of Marijuana.

This study (view it here) concludes that pot severely hinders the brain’s ability to produce Dopamine. Because of this, pot can bring on a number of disabilities related to low dopamine output. These include Parkinsons disease, ADD, Restless leg syndrome, drug-induced schizophrenia etc. Not only that, but the lower levels of dopamine in our body, the less likely we are to be motivated to do anything. This is what causes the typical “stoner” personality – the totally under-motivated, carefree individual who stops many steps short of success in life.

The Journal of Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University, Imperial College and King’s College (both based in London) all concur with the findings that marijuana lowers dopamine. Please read this carefully and decide if the upcoming legality of pot makes it desirable in the long term.

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A Look at Suicide: An Outsider’s View

April 12, 2013

yellowribbonBy age 12, I thought about a lot of morbid things and, regrettably, these included thoughts of suicide. I was both depressed and full of anxiety, and the thought of ending my life gave me a sense of power over events and a promise of relief from my inner turmoils. I even made a few plans on how to do it, though I never carried any of them out.

By age 13, I never thought about suicide again. I was fortunate. Many are not.

From Roger Establet, and his book “Suicide: The Hidden Side of Modernity” I learned I would have fit into the prototypical suicide demographic had I gone ahead with it. I was male (men commit suicide 4 times as often as females), I was young, and I had an alcoholic parent. The only demographic I didn’t fit was the birth order: More suicidal males are the youngest among the siblings. I am the oldest.

Three weeks ago, one of my childhood friends contacted me and let me know his youngest son had taken his life. Two weeks ago, I had lunch with a college friend who told me one of our professors had taken his life after finding out he had cancer. This past weekend, one of America’s best-known pastors announced to their congregation that his son had committed suicide.

This horrific subject of suicide rears its head in the forefront of my brain again.

One of my closest colleagues experienced the agony of his son’s suicide ten years ago. The last time we talked, it was just as painful as year one.

In the 33 years I have been a counselor, two of my clients took their own lives. The first was a 42 year old woman with a lifetime history of depression and suicide attempts. The second was a 27 year old man who had kicked a cocaine habit, but was arrested for possession a year later in a bizarre circumstance. Out of shame for how this would look to his family and friends, he hung himself in jail.

Both suicides made me want to give up counseling. Even though I resisted this thought, both lives convinced me I needed to understand as much about suicide as I can. Yet, I found very few helpful resources on the subject. There is good reason for this.

Only the dead know what really happened inside of them. And they aren’t talking. If we could just ask them to describe the downward cycle right before they ended it all, we might know how to prevent this.

Yet no one wants to talk about suicide. Very few people feel they can ask the questions that niggle at our brains. Even fewer will allow their emotions to surface when we discuss why and how someone took their lives. Why is that? Do we all fear somehow by talking about it we will dishonor the person or their family?

Perhaps we all fear the power that suicide vainly offers us to end all our miseries. And we all have some misery at some time.

I was asked many years ago to officiate at the funeral of a police officer who had shot himself. I had actually been called on the scene of his death as the police arrived, primarily to support the mom and step-daughter who were part of our church community. The step-daughter and the man had been fighting. He excused himself, went upstairs, took his service revolver and ended his life.

In preparation for the funeral, I met with his family. He and his four brothers were all police officers. This was the second brother who had taken his life. I asked their permission to get direct and serious with everyone at the funeral. I looked the other three brothers in the eye during my homily and told them how selfish the act of suicide is and can be. I wasn’t being unsympathetic; I was trying to prevent a third suicide.

Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point” highlights a sociological study done in Micronesia in the 1970s. Suicide on that tiny chain of islands was almost non-existent before a particular date. After that date, for ten years, Micronesia had the highest teen suicide rate of any country in the world. Then, just as quickly as it started, suicide was rare again. As Gladwell studied the statistics, he found that near the beginning of the epidemic, two very prominent young men had committed suicide. This led to a rash of copycat behavior and many young people died copying these examples.

One of the things that Gladwell concluded is that suicide is one of life’s most difficult decisions; but unfortunately, it gets easier to make if people you know have done it.

In 1995, in Kalispell, Montana, 18 teens made a suicide pact with each other. They had a crazy notion they would die and then haunt each other’s funerals and get even with their enemies. Anyone who broke the pact would be haunted for the rest of their lives. Four of the students actually took their lives and then one of the still-living students spilled the beans to her parents. The entire town was shaken to the core. Pastors, counselors, social workers and teachers were brought in from a great distance to counsel every student at that high school of 1800. We were trying to prevent an epidemic.

Some of my colleagues interviewed the surviving girls who signed the pact. Strangely, these girls did not have a bad life. They were not depressed or particularly angst-filled (at least, not more than any other teen). They had signed the pact because they wanted to be part of something esoteric and supernatural. They were toying with eternity and knowing that others were joining them made death less scary. Unfortunately, the real death of four friends struck them with an emotional punch. They couldn’t go through with it.

But they still had contemplated it. And that is the danger of suicide in a culture: Once one person takes that route, it gets marginally easier for others to do the same. That is why I preached the message I did at the police officer’s funeral.

However, here is my point. Suicide comes in flavors and it would be good for us outsiders to understand that as we intelligently discuss it. To be helpful for your understanding of this real tragedy of people taking their own lives, let me give some reality checks about what may be happening inside a person who ends their lives.

1. Not all Suicide Is for the same reason. This excellent article from Psychology Today lists the six reasons people attempt suicide. To summarize, they come down to these:

  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Impulsive behavior
  • A cry for help
  • A philosophical desire to die
  • They made a mistake (as in, they didn’t intend for their action  to end their lives).

2. Not all self-destructive behavior is suicidal behavior. For instance, a girl who cuts herself with a razor blade may not be trying to kill herself. More likely, she is cutting herself to relieve stress by triggering endorphins when the pain starts. People sometimes like to hurt themselves to relieve a sense of shame also.

3. Mental illness is not a spiritual disorder or a sin problem. It is a malformation of the brain. We would never say a Down Syndrome child has a sin problem. They have a misjoined chromozomal pattern. Yet when a man has a Limbic system that has been malformed since birth, causing him to have depression and suicidal thoughts every day, we often associate this with a lack of faith or bad behavior. It is revealing how many times the family of suicidal men describe their lost loved ones as kind, thoughtful and moral. This is not the profile of a sin-obsessed person.

4. Some suicides are copycats. Having said that, the best thing for someone who is contemplating suicide, being spurred on by another person’s example, is to talk about it. Once it comes out of their minds and into the arena of discussion, it will sound differently to them.

5. Never call their bluff. If a person says they are thinking about suicide, it may be a call for attention. But it may not. Even the most skilled professionals are unable to tell the difference between a serious cry for help and a call for attention. If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, ask them if they are willing to go to a professional for help. If they aren’t, ask them if they want to talk about it. NEVER, EVER say “Go ahead.”

6. Some suicide is rooted in selfishness; some is not. There is no way as an outsider to tell the difference. I suggest you don’t try.

7. Suicide is almost never the result of someone else’s actions. Romeo and Juliet aside, most people are not driven to suicide; it is completely their choice. It is a decision of course, but there are always alternatives. If you are one of that tragic group of people whose friends or family members have taken their lives, you may be tested by the thoughts of what you could have done to prevent it. Or, conversely, you may wonder if you were one of the causes. If you are even thinking that, it means you are not one of the causes.

8. Remember, you don’t see the world the way they see it. If you could see the world through the eyes of someone with psychosis, suicide may make sense. If mental illness had caused you to construct a psychological world where you are the superhero and your death would save hundreds of people, it looks noble, not meaningless. To wit: Do not try and evaluate someone who kills themselves. We do not have their internal point of view. Grieve for them certainly and find a way to move on. You will never fully understand.

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Exercises That Will Help When You’re Offended

April 2, 2013

OffendedSeveral years ago, I was counseling a woman who had severe depression marked by suicidal tendencies. After a month of counseling, most of the depression had lifted. But every time we made progress, she would return to issues regarding her sister. She could not let go of the pain her sister had caused.

She refused to talk about it. She would get choked up, and the knot in the center of her brow tightened. Finally, after we had exhausted every avenue of getting past this hurt, I told her I didn’t think there was anything else I could do to help her.

I could see her struggle internally – and then she decided to tell me.

“She told everyone in the family I was always going to be fat!” As she said this, her skin became flushed, she knotted her hands together in the middle of her chest and she bent over in pain. This hurt so badly it even caused somatic symptoms. It had happened 27 years before, when the girls were teenagers.

John Bevere, in his book “The Bait of Satan” calls this “personal offense”. He believes that personal offense is the root cause of almost every relationship problem on the planet. I have taught on this truth in seminars and no one ever disagrees with it. Unfortunately, the solution most people recommend is to “gut it out” and “just forgive them.” I really wish it were that simple.

But it isn’t. You cannot  just will away the hurt others have caused you.

But I have found we can dig up the root reasons for why personal offense burrows into our soul and eats away at our peace of mind. Here are eight exercises (and one final healthy response) I recommend to my counseling clients when they struggle to let go of past pain and move forward into forgiveness.

1. Think of a time when you did something similar to the thing you are offended by. Part of the ache we experience comes from a sense of injustice. It is not fair that others lie to us, gossip about us, take advantage of our trust. It is fascinating though, if I ask people to think about a time recently when they did something similar to the way they have been mistreated … people often feel the internal knots start to loosen.

Most of us commit offenses on a semi-regular basis, but we often don’t see the troublesome nature of our actions. It is only when it is done to us that we get upset. As we go through the exercise of thinking how we have done the same thing, it gives us a measure of empathy for those who have sinned against us.

2. Ask God to show you how He sees the situation. Several years ago, a friend of mine made a list of things I needed to improve upon. It was not a pleasant list; many of the items called into question my intelligence and choice-making. I was deeply hurt by the list. After marinating in my inner irritation for several days, I asked God to show me how He saw the situation.

First, God pointed out how some of the list items were actually true. Second, he showed me how my friend had been feeling cut off from me and didn’t know how to express his own hurt. This gave me enough solace so I could forgive him and set up a meeting. During our time together, I expressed my regret at how I had cut him off recently. Then I proceeded to tell him how some of the items on the list were very true. I also ended by helping him see how he had gone beyond the truth in some items as well. We re-established our relationship at the end of that meeting. (By the way, I have his permission to share this story).

3. Ask yourself who the person who offended you reminds you of. If the same person keeps offending you, and especially if your reactions to these offenses seem more intense than they ought to be, ask yourself if this person reminds you of someone else you were hurt by in the past. Often, we have trouble letting go of a personal hurt because the person reminds us of a person or situation we have not forgiven years before.

4. Put yourself in their shoes and ask how they would want others to react to the situation. If we can begin to see how it probably looked from the point of view of the person who hurt us, we may perceive the incident differently. Perhaps what we interpreted as a criticism was just a simple question. Or maybe the attack was motivated by fear for our safety. Even if the offense was truly offensive, we may discern how it was motivated by something we had done. Seeing things from the other person’s perspective softens the blow.

5. Keep short accounts. Wherever possible (and it’s always possible) try to let go of the hurt before the end of that day. Each day you coddle an offense, the larger it grows. Think of it as a debt. The longer you take to pay off a debt, the more you will have to pay and the more onerous the burden.

6. If feasible, talk to the person who offended you. Don’t just assume they know what they did or how you reacted to it. I can’t even begin to count how many times couples have said to each other in counseling, “You know what you did”. The reality: they often don’t.

7. React in the Opposite Spirit. One of the great teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is this concept of giving people back the opposite of what they give you. If a person speaks hurtful words, speak a blessing. If they take something from you, give them even more. If they force you to do something you don’t want to do, help them in love. This will completely leverage your own soul and feed it while they witness you are not affected by their hurtful behavior.

Early in my walk with God, a man cheated me at a local business. The details are unimportant. I made plans to go to the local Better Business Bureau with the hope of causing him some kind of grief. My roommate in college offered to pray with me about it. As we prayed, I had a sense I was supposed to go into his shop and ask if I could pray a blessing over it (even though we both knew he had broken something of mine). When I went down there and asked him if I could pray, he mumbled that I could do whatever I wanted. So I prayed God’s blessing on his business. I left that place a free man.

8. Forgive and Release. When you have done some of the exercises above, then meditate on this question: Do I feel free now to forgive them? If you don’t, do some more exercises. But keep testing the water of your soul until the release comes.

9. Set boundaries that are safe and healthy. If a person keeps on hurting you, and if there is something you can do to prevent that hurt from happening, do so. The best medicine, after all, is preventative medicine. I have a friend whose husband had cheated on her four times. At one point, as she concluded he was going to keep doing this, she asked him to move out and get his own apartment. She told him not to tell her about any of his extra-marital relationships. In the end, she fought through her personal offense and decided not to divorce him. She often had him over for family dinners with her and the children.

So why did she ask him to move out? He had truly broken the marriage bonds between them and she didn’t want to keep hating him. If he stayed in the house while continuing to trample their marriage vows, the pain would not end. She truly forgave him, but she put a boundary so she didn’t have to keep looking at his offense.

The woman I mentioned at the beginning of the article did several of the exercises written here. What finally helped was going to God and asking how He saw her sister. God showed this woman that the sister was jealous because the mother favored the older sister. She got revenge by criticizing her sister in public. My client realized she had carried all this pain for years and had no idea what her mother’s favoritism must have done to her sister. Within a year, they had reconciled and now have a healthy adult relationship.

This works wonders if you’ll allow it.

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