Healing: Ways To Reclaim Our Personal Power

As a believer in Christ, the term personal power is probably an unusual term for me to use. In fact, in our circles, all power belongs to the Lord Jesus – end of discussion. Unfortunately, when a person has been abused, traumatized, or suffered through years of chronic illness, God seems far away. Feelings of intense powerlessness begin to envelop her.

photo by Anthony Tran

Hopelessness is a daily companion.

In those times, emotional, mental, or physical healing are a dream out of reach. The darkness cloaking us feels eternal. Finally, we lay down whatever fight we had left. Internally, we curl into the fetal position and cede our power or personal will over to the invader.

Healing And The Medical World

After living with fibromyalgia and chronic migraines for 15 and 13 years, respectively, I am no stranger to the medical world. Until that time, my personal interaction with doctors was yearly check-ups and birthing my children.

Consequently, I entered the world of medicine expecting an answer to my pain and fatigue. However, what I received for 8 solid months was more questions. In fact, a rheumatologist insinuated that my symptoms were psychological. In other words, he said I was probably ‘just depressed’.

Photo by Arnold Obizzy

I wonder if he would have said that to a man? Furthermore, I wonder how many other suffering women he dismissed?

Thankfully, due to the support of my husband and family, I persisted until I found a doctor who could diagnose and help me. My point is, the medical world has the power to demean us and deepen our sense of powerlessness. Although there are empathic physicians available, there are many who have no bedside manner while they are informing us what they know (or don’t know) about our illness.

At least that was my initial experience. And I know I am not alone.

Can the medical community help us? Most of the time, yes! However, when you have questions, do some research of your own before your appointment. Arrive prepared with personal knowledge. Finally, when you are hurting, never allow yourself to be shut down by a doctor on an ego trip.

There are other, caring physicians available.

Photo by Kaur Kristjan

1st Way To Help Ourselves

For many years, my perennial flower beds have been a source of peace for me. I’ve called it my dirt therapy. Recently, I discovered that there is a reason for the positive feelings I have when I play in the dirt.

Scientists have discovered a bacterium in soil microbes that have a similar effect on the brain as an anti-depressant. After testing rats by injecting or ingesting the microbes, researchers found that the rats had less stress, better cognitive abilities, and increased concentration.

Lettuce provided by Unsplash

The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier. Studies were conducted on cancer patients [who]reported a better quality of life and less stress…Gardeners inhale the bacteria, have topical contact with it, and get it into their bloodstream when there is a cut or other pathway for infection. The natural effects of the soil bacteria antidepressant can be felt for up to 3 weeks if the experiments with rats are any indication.

Other studies revealed many positive results from gardening. These included reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community. In addition, gardening increased life satisfaction, vigor, psychological wellbeing, and cognitive function. Further research on gardening found it improved life satisfaction and mood.

Photo by Sasha Matic

2nd Way to Help Ourselves

Gardening may not be something you can or want to do. I understand. What about a walk in nature?

“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. “You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”

Moreover, studies have shown that a 30-minute walk in nature will speed the health recovery process, reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of cancer. In addition, it will lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone.

Photo by Yoksel Zok

Unfortunately, we humans tend to brood. Scientists call this morbid rumination, and it causes us to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. Naturally, focusing on the negative can lead to anxiety and depression. Scientist and researcher Gregory Bratman, and colleagues, discovered that participants in his rumination study who walked in wooded places had less brooding activity in their brains.

3rd Way to Healing

In 2015, UC Berkeley psychology PhD candidate Craig L. Anderson began investigating awe and its association with nature. He conducted two studies, the first with 124 vets and underserved youth who went on either one-day or four-day whitewater rafting trips. Each kept a diary of their daily experiences and emotional responses.

Anderson wanted to track awe, amusement, contentment, gratitude, joy and pride.

In the second study, with a similar number of participants, Anderson chose to have them in nature – hiking, walking, etc. However, this time they did not participate in the excitement of whitewater rafting. Again, they kept daily diaries noting experiences and emotional responses.

In both studies, says Anderson, awe was the only element that predicted whether people would feel less stressed and more “healed.” Further, awe was the only emotion directly associated with nature.

Anderson said, “…awe essentially stops the brain and allows the expression of other positive emotions.”

Photo by Irina Iriser

The Healing of Awe

First, I want to thank Ann Voskamp for pointing me to the studies on nature and awe. As one who understands suffering, she has a gift for putting words to pain. My intent here is to spread the word farther.

My grandchildren know that around me, the word awesome is reserved for God alone. Of course, since God created the world, nature is indeed, awe-inspiring.

Photo by Erda Estremera

According to the Bible, nature serves as a testimony to the majesty and glory of the Lord.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Psalm 19:1, ESV

And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3

His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise. Habakkuk 3:3b

 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Psalm 95:4-5, ESV
Lastly, in Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes that our unbelief is without excuse. Why? Because the awe of nature is enough to convince us of God’s existence.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse
Photo by Vlad Dyshlivenko

The Ultimate Healer

Since the creation of the world, we have been lavished with the beauty of nature. Some may have to drive or walk to a park to enjoy it. Others live in the midst of it. Fortunately, we can all look up at the stars or own a few house plants.

The point is, time spent in nature brings healing to our troubled souls. Most importantly, it also leads to the awe of our Creator and Lord…the ultimate Healer.

Photo by Josh Hild

 

Continuing The Conversation: PTSD After Sexual Trauma

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

photo by Angelo Pantazis

In the late 90’s, I began venturing into the early stages of my counseling education. In addition, I began a required semester of volunteer counseling. My first clients were women from the large church my family attended. One particular young woman came to see me who had been in an elementary Sunday School class I taught years before. Therefore, I struggled to maintain a calm composure as she described the sexual trauma she had endured at the hands of her brothers…and the subsequent PTSD she was suffering.

Unfortunately, I was not equipped to help her then. As a professor told us in our undergraduate program, we knew just enough to be dangerous. In the following years, more Christian women came to me with similar stories. As a result, I quickly realized that I never wanted to be in that position, again. There are people, trained therapists, programs, hotlines available for women who no longer want or need to be silent about their abuse and the resulting PTSD.

PTSD And Sexual Trauma Identified

As noted last week, initial research on trauma and PTSD focused on men. Most of these researchers concentrated on male combat veterans and how they responded to trauma sustained from war. However, in 1995, researchers who studied women’s experiences of sexual assault identified a syndrome that was similar to that experienced by combat-exposed men. This recognition led to an increase in research on women’s experiences of traumatic events and risk for PTSD. 

photo by Daria-Nepriakhina

Consequently, research exploded on women, trauma, and PTSD. As mentioned in my former blog, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. did extensive research on trauma and the brain, (The Body Keeps The Score). (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

What is Sexual Assault?

This may seem like a silly question. Nevertheless, I fear that it has grown so common in our culture that we have grown numb to the reports.

The term “sexual assault” refers to a range of behaviors that involve unwanted sexual contact or behavior. This can include actual and attempted rape as well as unwanted sexual touching.

Furthermore, sexual assault occurs at staggering frequency in the United States. The CDC, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,) estimate that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Common examples of sexual assault are:

  • Being taken advantage of by someone who has authority over you (boss, parent, teacher, doctor)
  • Bribed or manipulated into performing unwanted sexual acts against her will
  • Being forced into sexual activity because a woman is unable to give consent due to intoxication or being mentally/physically incapacitated
  • Being physically forced or violently sexually assaulted
photo by Liza Summer

Short-Term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Initially, the trauma of being assaulted can leave you feeling scared, angry, guilty, anxious, and sad. Additionally, the stigma surrounding sexual assault causes many to feel humiliated, embarrassed or ashamed. Other things someone who has been traumatized by sexual assault may experience are:

  • Shock and disbelief
  • Mistrust, sense of betrayal
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Heightened sensitivity to touch
  • Repulsion to sexual contact, or hypersexuality
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Anger, thoughts of revenge
  • Disorientation, confusion
  • Overwhelmed, fear of “going crazy”
  • Intense fear of injury or death

Many survivors experience a reduction in symptoms within a few months, whereas some women experience distress for years

photo by Alex Green

Long-term Effects of Sexual Trauma

Unfortunately, sexual assault produces negative, long-term side-effects when left untreated. Children who have experienced sexual abuse have many, sometimes severe long-term negative effects. We may discuss that in a later blog.

Surprisingly, the long-term effects of PTSD are global – mental, emotional and physical:

  • Chronic pain and worsening physical health problems
  • Risk of developing autoimmune diseases
  • Depression, anxiety, social withdrawal or suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Loss of occupational or academic functioning
  • Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
  • Substance abuse, addiction
  • eating disorders
  • suicide

Healing: Is It Possible?

First, YES, healing is possible for most people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. The process can be slow, however, and requires patience and a therapist. Regrettably, for some PTSD symptoms will be lasting.

Notably, the recommended therapy for PTSD is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, (EMDR.) Dr. Van Der Kolk found this to be true in his research and therapists support it today. This therapy helps the client process the trauma and release the past.

Secondly, Van Der Kolk recommends yoga. The brain tends to shut down during a trauma event which leads to numbing. Yoga enables you to reconnect with your body.

Helping Yourself While Healing

Along with therapy, there are several ways an assault survivor can help herself.

photo by Rachel Claire
  • Focus on slowing your breathing when you feel frightened. Your breathing may become irregular when you’re scared, which could lead to panic.
  • Carry an object that reminds you of the present. Some people find it helpful to touch or look at something when they’re having a flashback.
  • Tell yourself you’re safe. Write down key phrases ahead of time which you can refer to when you are frightened.
  • Comfort yourself. Curl up in a blanket, listen to soothing music, or cuddle a pet.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down what happens when you have a flashback could help identify patterns in what triggers those experiences. You might also learn to notice early signs that they’re beginning to happen.
  • Try grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help you stay connected to the present. For example, describe your surroundings out loud.

Where Was God?

I’ve heard the anguished question many times as a hospital chaplain and as a therapist, “Where was God when my baby died?” or “Where was God when I was repeatedly raped as a child?” or date raped or…

Fortunately, there have been several books written over the years asking similar questions. These books were written by people wiser than me. For instance, C. S. Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain. Philip Yancey wrote Where is God When it Hurts?

In addition, Tim Keller wrote Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. Joni Erikson Tada wrote When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty. One last book by an author I especially admire: Suffering and The Heart of GodHow Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Dianne Langberg, PhD.

These authors have each suffered and/or worked with suffering people.

What I know is sin entered the world in the Garden. With sin came death, evil and destruction. And we have been suffering the consequences to this day.

photo by Lina Trochez

Suffering and The Bible

As one who has suffered, I also am convinced that God never wastes our sorrows, though they may be many. Jesus suffered greatly. He identifies with your suffering.

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 

And He comforts us with the comfort that only He can give…if we will accept it.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It may be hard to see now, but our sufferings are not comparable to the glory we will see later.

Romans 8:18

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

And His love will never be taken from us.

Romans 8:18

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

And then, when it’s all over…

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Hear this song from a man whose son committed suicide in Nov. 2020.

Resources:

The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis (https://amzn.to/3hwkcbX)

Where is God When It Hurts (https://amzn.to/3hwkz6l)

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering (https://amzn.to/3k3kVDc)

When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to The Almighty (https://amzn.to/3r1rO9p)

Suffering and The Heart of God – How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores (https://amzn.to/3qXX8G5)

Let’s Talk About PTSD

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

My father was a World War 2 veteran. I can’t remember a time he talked about his war experiences. What I do remember are times when something would trigger him, and he would withdraw into their bedroom for hours. My brother and I knew something was wrong, but not what.

Years later, while doing research on the topic in graduate school, I suddenly realized my father had post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

As I mentioned, my gentle, soft-spoken dad never spoke of his years in the war to his family. In fact, he likely would have taken those memories to his grave until my college-aged son asked him to tell him about it for a research project he had. Only then, in his mid-seventies, was my father willing to speak of some of the unspeakable horrors he witnessed during the war.

Compliments of British Museum

Ancient History of PTSD

Early attempts at diagnosing PTSD were made by an Austrian physician, Josef Leopold (1761), who called it nostalgia. He reported that soldiers exposed to military trauma, reported missing home, feeling sad, sleep problems, and anxiety. This list helped the U.S. military efforts in assessing soldiers for psychological injury during the Civil War.

A second model of this condition was called Soldier’s heart or irritable heart. This model suggested a physical injury as the cause of symptoms. These symptoms included a rapid pulse, anxiety, and trouble breathing. U.S. doctor Jacob Mendez Da Costa studied Civil War soldiers with these cardiac symptoms. He described it as overstimulation of the heart’s nervous system. It was also known as Da Costa’s Syndrome.

Unfortunately, soldiers were often returned to battle after receiving drugs to control symptoms.

Compliments Victoria Museums

WW I, WW II Treatment of Pre-PTSD

Later, during World War I, PTSD was thought to be caused by the loud explosions from the artillery shells. For this reason, the term shell shock was coined. Symptoms were much the same as earlier wars, with the addition of panic. Moreover, it was first thought to be the cause of hidden brain damage due to the impact of the large guns. However, that thinking had to change when auxiliary soldiers, not near the explosions, began presenting with the same symptoms.

This condition also came to be known as war neurosis.

During World War I, treatment was varied. Soldiers often received only a few days’ rest before returning to the war zone. For those with severe or chronic symptoms, treatments focused on daily activity to increase functioning, in hopes of returning them to productive civilian lives. In European hospitals, “hydrotherapy” (water) or “electrotherapy” (shock) were used along with hypnosis.

Unsurprisingly, World War II’s long surges of battle called for a new name for the symptoms the soldiers were showing. Therefore, shell shock was replaced by Combat Stress Reaction (CSR), or battle fatigue. Due to the long surges during this war, soldiers became battle weary and fatigued. Unfortunately, some American military leaders, such as Lieutenant Gen. George S. Patton, did not believe battle fatigue was a genuine problem.

On the contrary, up to half of World War II military discharges were reported to be the result of combat exhaustion.

Photo by Aaron Blanco Tejedor

PTSD in the 20th Century and Today

In 1980, after years of research involving Viet Nam veterans, Holocaust survivors, sexual trauma victims, and others exposed to traumatic situations, the American Psychological Association added PTSD to their diagnostic manual, the DSM-3. Finally, they had established a link between the trauma of war and post military life. Moreover, and to the researchers’ surprise, PTSD was more common than previously believed.

Each update of the diagnostic manual reflected the advancing research in this area of mystery regarding those exposed to trauma. Ultimately, in 2013, PTSD had earned it’s own category in the DSM-5, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.  There were too many other moods and behaviors associated with PTSD, (depression, anger, reckless behavior, etc.) to keep it under the umbrella of another disorder.

PTSD includes four types of symptoms:

  • reliving the traumatic event (also called re-experiencing or intrusion)
  • avoiding situations that are reminders of the event
  • negative changes in beliefs and feelings
  • feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal or over-reactive to situations)

Realistically, any of us could experience some of these symptoms immediately after a traumatic event. Therefore, all four types of symptoms must be present and last for at least a month before a PTSD diagnosis is made. In addition, they must cause significant distress and/or problems with daily functioning.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov

PTSD – The Discovery and Some of Its Effects

Fortunately, a few researchers and scientists like Bessel Van Der Kalk, M.D. and clinician, began studying posttraumatic stress in the 70’s. In the 1990’s, the introduction of brain scanning revolutionized their work. In his 2014 book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma, Van Der Kolk transformed the understanding of traumatic stress or PTSD.  Their research uncovered the fact that trauma actually rewires the brain, specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust, (The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma). (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

Van Der Kolk’s team’s ongoing research was also able to clearly establish PTSD symptoms in anyone who experienced trauma. In fact, there was a concurrent study in the 1990’s, instigated by Dr. Vincent Felitti, called Adverse Childhood Experiences, aka ACE. They interviewed over 17,000 people regarding carefully defined categories of abuse in their childhood homes, including physical and emotional neglect, and family dysfunction. The ACE study revealed that traumatic life experiences during early childhood and adolescence are far more common than expected, (The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma, Van Der Kolk.)

Two thirds of the group with mid-high ACE scores reported various effects from their childhood trauma/PTSD. More than half had learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Sixty-six percent suffered from chronic depression and/or chronic pain. Furthermore, there was a 30% increase in the risk of cancer  Additionally, those with a high ACE score:

  • dramatically increase the risk of suicide over their lifetime
  • are 33% more likely to be raped in adulthood (women)
  • have a 70% chance of being a substance abuser
  • are more susceptible to ischemic heart disease, COPD, skeletal fractures, and liver disease
Photo by Noah Buscher

How Shall We Live After Trauma?

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975…That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past…Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.

Khalid Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I resonate with Hosseini’s statement. When the light in my brain finally clicked on to reveal the dysfunction in my childhood family, I felt like curious people going by a car accident. Even though they know it’s none of their business, and the police/EMS are rendering aid, they can’t tear their eyes away from the carnage.

I could not stop staring at the pain, poking at the damage which had been perpetrated. Moreover, I had been numb for so long that the anger surged over me like fire – I thought I would smother.

But God…

God whispered my name. He revealed to me anew that He had never neglected me or abused me.

And He never will.

He lifted my eyes away from what I perceived as my personal carnage and highlighted how He had carefully placed people around me all my life. These adults were supporters, encouragers, teachers, pastors, even neighbors.

They helped me be one of the resilient ones. I’m not an ACE statistic due to those whom God supplied.

That’s not to say I’m not headed that way a time or two or fifty! But God always pulls me back to Himself with His love and comfort, (Isaiah 41:10.)

And He longs to do the same for you, (Isaiah 30:18; Hebrews 13:5.)

There is help for you; there’s no need to keep peeking down the alley of your past.

 

Resources:

https://www.houstonmds.org/blog/post/dacostas-syndrome-chest-pain-and-anxiety.html

To take the ACE test:

What ACEs/PCEs do you have?

I highly recommend Van Der Kolk’s book, if you struggle with PTSD. He wrote it for the average person to be able to understand. In addition, he also offers ways to help  yourself when you are triggered. ( (https://amzn.to/3gSijpA)

 

Fear: Is It A Friend or A Foe?

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

My husband and I recently kept 3 of our grandchildren for a week. Their parents went on a lovely vacation to celebrate my son’s birthday. They have a wonderful tradition of reading to the children each night before bedtime until they are proficient enough to read to themselves. When she is here, our five year old often chooses a book we have called Fears, Doubts, Blues, and Pouts by H. Norman Wright and Gary J. Oliver. At five, fear still feels more like a foe than a friend. (https://amzn.to/3xwsoOt)

Photo by Cottonbro

Fear as a Friend

Fear is a powerful emotion. It originates in the amygdala, which is located near the base of our brain. This almond shaped structure is primarily involved in emotion and memory. However, it serves another important function. When faced with a real or imagined threat, the amygdala gives us the fight or flight urge.

In this way, fear keeps us safe. With lightening quickness, we have heightened awareness when our safety is threatened. For instance, fear will quicken the footsteps of a woman who is walking to her car at night when she senses she is being followed. Additionally, it will cause her to grab her keys or mace.

Fortunately, fear can motivate us to change. For instance, if your doctor told you to change your diet and to begin walking daily or you will have an imminent heart attack, fear would motivate you to do so. At least, it would for most people.

Fear motivates and drives us. The fear of failure, of rejection, or a fear of loss will often drive us to do whatever it takes to overcome those negativities. We’ll tap into or explore options or resources or approaches we haven’t tried in the past. The fear of rejection often drives us to go out of our way to add value to a relationship. It causes us to make that extra effort to succeed. Fear is there to drive us in the direction of whatever it is that we really want.

And finally, fear must come in order to develop courage. Courage cannot exist and cannot be experienced or expressed without the presence of fear. Fear is often brought into the equation in order to help us tap into, develop and embrace our courage. (emphasis added)

photo by Kat Jayne

Fear as Our Foe

When we allow it to grow out of its healthy boundaries, fear becomes our enemy. Furthermore, it is the root of anxiety, phobias, and stress. The needed hormones released during a fight or flight situation are damaging to our bodies when we live in a constant state of fear, whether low grade or otherwise.

The cortisol hormone released during fight-or-flight mode and when we experience stress weakens the immune system by decreasing the volume of lymphocytes circulating in our body. Being stressed out all the time makes us more susceptible to infections and even cancer. The lymphocytes are partly composed of B-cells that release antibodies to terminate invading bacteria and viruses external to the cells. The T-cell type of lymphocytes target invaders that have entered into cells and begin destroying the virus or bacteria. Another aspect of living in long-term fear that can damage the health may be collateral. Individuals suffering from extreme stress or the fear of something may abuse substances to cope.

Furthermore, fear that produces anxiety and self doubt paralyzes us from achieving goals and dreams. American writer and film director Suzy Kassem once said: Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will. I second that!

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Another Downside to Fear

A second area fear targets is memory. As mentioned above, fear floods the amygdala area of our brains with hormones. During the initial fear-inducing event, the perceptions we have are vividly imprinted on the brain.

This impacts memory by storing the moments when our perceptions became more acute in high-resolution. These memories will burn into our souls as thoughts that have paramount importance over any others… These may be perceived simply as red flags in our subconscious minds that make us feel a looming sense of dread regarding individuals associated with these fears. This reactive irrational fear-based thinking is the force behind PTSD and can lead to long-term memory formation problems and damage to the function of the hippocampus. The memories incurred from the mechanism dubbed the ‘amygdala hijack’ are always perceived as negative, as a warning to avoid similar situations in the future, possibly explaining why first impressions are so important.

It also causes what is known as brain fog in people who have PTSD or acute anxiety.

What Else?

Lastly, the long-term effect of being exposed to adrenaline is certain to result in cardiovascular damage.  This will reveal itself in the form of tissue damage and the constriction of blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure.

Clearly, unhealthy fear is not to be disregarded.

Photo by James Coleman

What Does God Say About Fear?

There is a reason God placed fear not in the Bible 365 times. We are a fearful people. In fact, politicians and unhealthy leaders of any field know this. They use fear in attempts to control their followers.

So does the enemy. Satan whispers the “what-ifs” in our ears over and over.

What if you:

  • fail?
  • are rejected?
  • lose?
  • succeed?

The list can be endless! However, God’s Word says something altogether different. Some of my favorites follow:

Psalm 34:4:

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 118:6

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Isaiah 41:13

For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

I John 4:18

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

These are simply a small representation of the reassurances the Father has offered us. It isn’t necesary to live in fear any longer. It never was, but we fell into the trap at some point along the way.

I am fully and personally aware that it is a difficult task to forsake living in fear, but take courage my sister. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world…and unhealthy fear is a liar.

 

Unsafe People: Knowing the Difference From Safe People

This site contains affiliate links to books. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Have you ever started a relationship with someone only to discover along the way – weeks, months, even a year later – that he isn’t who he presented himself to be? The loving promises turned into defensiveness over not keeping promises. What you thought was an honest man is ultimately revealed as a deceiver? You thought he was a safe person…how could you not have seen how unsafe he was??

Perhaps we have all experienced a similar situation at least once in our lives, with a friend or in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, many have multiple relationships like the one described. Each time they come away from it exhausted, hurt, and feeling betrayed.

Why?

The Necessity of Knowing the Difference

Unless we had a childhood that instilled distrust, or a traumatizing event, most of us generally trust people we first meet. We give them the benefit of the doubt. Regrettably, there are those who take advantage of trusting souls.

Therefore, it is necessary and healthy for us to be able to recognize the traits of unsafe people so that we can avoid unhealthy relationships. It’s important to have clear boundaries in place. Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend wrote a groundbreaking book in 2009, which is still handed out or referred to in counseling offices across America today. It’s called Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good For You and Avoid Those That Aren’t.  (https://amzn.to/3iu8cID)

Types of Unsafe People

In Safe People, the authors identify three types of commonly recognized “unsafe people.” Though these types of people are not necessarily abusers, recognizing them as unsafe is still a good first step toward a healthy relationship.

Abandoners. These are people who start a relationship but can’t stick with it. They often leave when you need them the most. The authors say this type of person has typically been abandoned themselves at some point in their life and are afraid of getting too close. Others are simply perfectionists. They leave people when the discover what they perceive as faults.

Critics. These individuals are judgmental without being caring. There is no room for grace or forgiveness. They often jump on doctrinal and ethical bandwagons,  more focused on pointing out others’ errors than they are with making real connections with people. They can make you feel guilt-ridden and full of anxiety.

Irresponsibles. These people are those who don’t take care of their own lives very well. They’re like grown up children. Irresponsibles don’t think about the consequences of their actions, or follow through on commitments. They’re people with whom you will grow to resent after giving them countless chances. You’ll find yourself often making excuses for them.

Learning the Traits of Unsafe People

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but enough to give you insight into a questionable relationship.  If you recognize several traits, consider leaving the relationship for your own emotional health. This person could be someone who needs to work on their own personal struggles, but staying with him will not guarantee him doing so.

However, if you are married, I recommend that you seek counseling. If he won’t go with you, go alone. Afterward, when you feel stronger, ask, again, if your spouse wants a healthier marriage.

Unsafe People:

  1. think they “have it all together,” instead of admitting their weaknesses
    2. are religious, instead of spiritual
    3. are defensive, instead of open to feedback
    4. are self-righteous, instead of humble
    5. apologize, without changing their behavior
    6. avoid working on their problems, rather than dealing with them
    7. demand trust, instead of earning it
    8. believe they are perfect, do not like to admit weaknesses
    9. blame others, instead of taking responsibility
    10. lie instead of telling the truth, (use deception as a way of dealing with problems)
    11. are stagnant, instead of growing

Safe People Traits

Safe means that we feel protected from danger, that we feel cared for and not likely to be harmed. People who are “safe” aren’t out to hurt us physically or emotionally, and these types of people are the ones you want in your life, especially if you have experienced their counterparts—unsafe people.

Dr. John Townsend once wrote, “A safe person is someone who influences you to be the person you were designed to be. It’s just that simple. It’s a person in your life who influences you. They encourage you.”

My husband is one of my safe people. He’s the first person I want to call when I have good news to share…or bad news, for that matter. He has proven over the years that he is a safe person to whom I can entrust my heart. I believe he feels the same about me.

Safe people tell us the truth, even if it’s a difficult truth. They give honest feedback without judging us. Despite our flaws and fears, they accept us and we accept them. In fact, we have a mutual respect for one another.

Characteristics of safe people include:

  • Honesty
  • Gentleness
  • Directness
  • Humility
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to listen to and receive truth
  • Acts on needs, not just hears
  • Grows and works towards personal improvement

At times, each of us fails in our relationships. However, if there are consistent failures, this is a good time to assess for ourselves – Am I a safe person?

If not, what can I do to become one?

A Parable of The Safest Person

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Final Thoughts

The son left as arrogant, unteachable, demanding. In that culture, by demanding his inheritance early, he was, in essence, telling his father that he wished his father was dead. The son was the quintessential unsafe and unredeemed person.

After the prodigal’s humbling experience, rather than receiving rebuke and humiliation, he received open arms and celebration. To his shock, he was lavished with love and gifts. He was home, safe, in his father’s arms.

That’s the safest place on earth to be. Have you experienced this kind of safety?

You can.

 

Verbal and Emotional Abuse: Can You Recognize It?

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Photo by Cottonbro

What is Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse, also known as emotional abuse, is a range of words or behaviors used to manipulate and intimidate another person. In addition, these behaviors are used to maintain power and control over that person. It can occur in the home, at work or in a religious institution. Furthermore, verbal and emotional abuse may not begin as physical abuse, but it often progresses to physical abuse.

Regardless, it causes serious emotional and psychological harm,

Verbal abuse creates emotional pain and mental anguish. It is a lie told to you or about you. Generally, verbal abuse defines people, telling them what they are, what they think, their motives, and so forth.

Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship (https://amzn.to/3pkd5FE)

Not all verbal and emotional abusers become violent, but they all create pain and fear in their homes. The atmosphere they create impacts their children to such a degree that they do not know what is normal and what is no.

Children from abusive homes may learn not to feel, may learn to become perpetrators or victims, and may try to perfect themselves through eating disorders and compulsive behaviors to escape in drugs and alcohol. Bottom line: Defining people and their inner world is a very irrational behavior. It is mind numbing and very scary to the recipient, especially when the person who is behaving irrationally says, “I love you.”

Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change? (https://amzn.to/3z0ZRC9)

The Violence of Verbal Abuse

Verbal and emotional abuse includes violence. However, initially, the violence is not directed specifically at their partner. The violence used is to intimidate or frighten. (Remember, the behavior is about control.) For example, slamming doors, punching walls, throwing things, destroying property, or harming pets are tools to threaten and bully.

Sadly, these combined behaviors are just as damaging to the victim as other forms of abuse.

Emotional abuse may start out innocuously, but grows as the abuser becomes more assured that you won’t leave the relationship… If you look back, you may recall tell-tale signs of control or jealousy. Eventually, you and the entire family “walk on eggshells” and adapt so as not to upset the abuser. Being subjected to emotional abuse over time can lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, inhibited sexual desire, chronic pain, or other physical symptoms.

Why Don’t We See Verbal Abuse?

Verbal/emotional abuse is more difficult to recognize than other forms of abuse.

It doesn’t leave physical marks.

In many cases, perpetrators of verbal abuse will raise or recondition the other person. This may lead to the person on the receiving end believing that these behaviors are normal, which may also make it difficult to recognize.

Types of Verbal/Emotional Abuse

Here are some things to look for if you suspect that you are in an abusive relationship. It could be with a friend, parent, boss, or romantic partner.

  • Humiliation, Threatening, Intimidation
    • Cruelty can create fear and coercion. This allows the abuser to maintain the desired power and control he/she desires. For example:
      • Belittling or humiliating you, especially before others
      • name-calling or constantly criticizing – “You’re so stupid,” “You’re an idiot”
      • threatening to leave you or harm themselves if you leave
      • driving erratically to frighten you or force compliance
      • threatening to take your child or pets away from you

3. Emotional Manipulation

    • Abusers create chaos. An abuser may:
      • accuse you of cheating
      • blame you if they are cheating
      • blame you for their abusive behavior
      • give you the silent treatment
      • constantly argue
      • tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about
      • make confusing and contradictory statements

3. Gaslighting and Discounting

        • Gaslighting is a type of manipulation that causes you to question your sanity, judgments, and memory. Discounting involves repeatedly discounting and dismissing another’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The abuser may often say you’re:
          • too sensitive
          • are childish
          • don’t have a good sense of humor (after he has said something cruel and then claims he was “only kidding”
          • are being too dramatic
          • The abuser may also:
          • insist you said or did something you didn’t
          • deny an event happened
          • question your memory of facts and events
          • deny their earlier promises and statements

4. Judging

    • This involves repeated negative critical, judging statements. They usually begin with “you” or “you’re”:
      • never happy
      • always mad for no reason
      • are so negative
      • wear that to get attention

Dealing With Verbal Abuse

The first step in dealing with any abuse is to recognize it. You can begin to discover the support that is available to you by naming your experience. Next, there must be a plan for emotional and physical safety.

Patricia Evans said, Domestic violence begins with verbal abuse…(The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change?) Not all verbal abusers become physical abusers, but the majority of physical abusers were verbal abusers first.

Create a Support Network

This step is vital. The abuse has likely isolated you to an extent. However, now you need a trustworthy friend, therapist, or mental health advocate with whom you can confide. It may be difficult to be vulnerable. Moreover, you could find it embarrassing or even humiliating to realize that the abuse has gotten this far before you realized it.

After being demeaned and criticized constantly, it may be hard to wrap your mind around treating yourself well.

But, this, my friend, is a huge part of the healing process. You are taking back your self-worth, even for just a few minutes a day. As much as you can, take a stress-free break each day. Do something you love for 5 to 30 minutes.

Remind yourself of your value and that you deserve to be respected and cared for.

Make a Safety Exit Plan

Unfortunately, it may be necessary to leave a relationship in order to be safe. That is a big decision which requires planning. Therefore, reach out to your network of friends/helpers and local resources to assist you. There are people who are equipped with the tools to help you develop an exit plan and thereby give you a sense of control.

Be cautious using your phone and personal computer.

Photo by Jill Wellington

You Are Valued

In Isaiah 49 (ESV), Israel had accused God of not caring about them. God spoke these words to His people. He revealed that His love was greater than a mother’s love for her child.

They apply to us today through the new covenant, made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

Furthermore, God knew and loved us before we were formed in the womb! Don’t let anyone take that knowledge from you…or if they have, be assured that you have been lied to. Psalm 139 (ESV):

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

God believed we that we are such a treasure that He gave His only Son to die for us. Decide today that no one is going to convince you otherwise.

National Domestic Violence Hotline : 800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Dating Abuse Abuse Hotline: 866-331-9474; 866-331-8453 or text: loveis to 22522

Shame: Healthy Shame Versus Toxic Shame

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Photo by Caleb Woods

There is healthy shame and there is toxic shame. I have known mostly toxic shame throughout my life, gleaned from dysfunctional parenting and religion…

but I have ever so gradually learned that healthy shame is possible to achieve.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

Brene Brown, PhD.

from her book: I Thought It Was Just Me: (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (https://amzn.to/3ia61d0)

Healthy Shame

All toddlers experience a healthy amount of shame if their parents set boundaries for them. I have never met a toddler who liked the word no; however, providing limits for young children enables them to develop important developmental and socialisation skills. Not to mention keeping them safe.

It also helps parents to maintain sanity.

I find it fascinating that shame is so embedded in the human race. Even infants and toddlers, when told no, display signs of shame, (feelings of “I am bad.”)

 Shame deactivates the sympathetic (nervous) system and activates the parasympathetic system. The infant becomes quiet and may try to hide.  A healthy parent or caregiver recognises this and reconnects immediately; the parent repairs the relationship, comforts and soothes the infant, and either shows them how to do the activity appropriately, or redirects the infant’s behaviours to another activity.

The child experiences small amounts of shame that are manageable within a safe and secure parent-child relationship.  This is the easiest time to teach the infant:

  • “Its not you, it’s the behaviour”
  • “Its not our relationship, it’s me teaching you”

Attunement is the interactive process between a parent and young child.

Sadly, many parents or caregivers are not attuned to their children and the shame voices begin to grow within the child.

 Shame Thinking

Shame thinking originates from deep roots in our childhood, family, culture, or religion.

As children we tend to blame ourselves for things that
happen around us, because we are limited in our capacity to think about others being responsible. In a five-year old’s mind if something bad happened, then she or he must have deserved it, therefore the universe makes sense. It is not until around age 12 that we gain the cognitive capacity to see how others’ actions and behaviors are more
complex with varying degrees of culpability.

Therefore, it’s easy to see how children can take on shame without a parent being aware that it has happened! Children are naturally egocentric.

In addition, unhealthy religious institutions often resort to shaming in order to keep their flock obedient to creeds, doctrines, leadership, etc. It can be a slow, insidious process, but effective, nevertheless.

We are all susceptible to shame. It began in the Garden of Eden.

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.

Brene Brown, PhD

Photo by Tabitha Turner

Toxic Shame Hides

Nothing silences us more effectively than shame.

Brene Brown, PhD

Toxic shame is painful to experience. In fact, the feeling is so distressing that we often find ways to avoid it. Unfortunately, shame is more destructive and powerful when it hides. Being aware of our defense mechanisms and bringing shame out into the open is the first step toward healing.

Here are some things to watch for:

  • Being defensive 
    • We can avoid taking responsibility for our behavior when we can transfer blame to another. If we equate responsibility with blame, then we run from it.
  • Perfectionism
    • Shame drives perfectionism. If we’re perfect, no one can criticize or shame us. However, the energy to attain the impossible goal of being perfect is exhausting. Furthermore, attempting to be someone we’re not disconnects us from the person God created us to be, flaws included.
    • Researcher Dr. Brene Brown said, Perfectionism is self-destructive and addictive
  • Apologizing
    • People who are overly apologetic and compliant are often prompted by deeply rooted shame. There is an assumption that others are right and they are wrong. In hopes of preventing criticism, a shaming attack, or conflict, we’re quick to apologize.
    • On the other hand, a deep, unconscious shame can have the opposite effect. This person can be so ruled by hidden shame that she can’t allow herself to be exposed to the possibility of ever being wrong. Admitting a mistake or being wrong is unthinkable. Human vulnerability is considered weak and shameful.
  • Procrastination
    • Shame often drives procrastination. Underlying the consideration of projects, especially new ventures, is the possibility that they might not turn out as we planned. Consequently, we might be criticized or be shamed. If we don’t attempt it, we won’t  fail. We won’t face the shame of failure.
    • We may live a safer life, albeit a smaller life.

Healing For Shame

When we are shamed repeatedly, we are taught to think that our feelings are wrong and our experiences are delusive. Whether this happens as a child or as an adult, the result is the same: if there is no one compassionate and perceptive enough to acknowledge the validity of our stories on a repeat basis, then we, too, are challenged to see them as true. We learn to distrust ourselves; we learn to deny our own truth, even to ourselves. Transforming this mindset requires a witness with a willingness to look and listen in a most powerful way—by seeing, feeling and believing.

Shame causes us to hide.Photo by Ivan Aleksic

It’s important to recognize when someone is shaming you. For example, the following statements are shaming:

  • You’re stupid!
  • You’re so fat!
  • What an idiot; I can’t believe you said that!
  • You’ll never be as good as _____.

If or when you hear things like this, don’t accept them as the truth about yourself. In fact, challenge shaming behavior.

In addition, be aware if you are the one who shames you the most! Open your ears to hear shaming words and discover who they are coming from.

Don’t be a shamer, yourself.

It’s good to understand the origin of the toxic shame. Are you with someone who often shames you? Do you perpetuate it by staying?

Learn to have compassion for yourself. This will take time. It will likely require a therapist if the shame is deeply rooted, but the freedom gained is like a huge weight lifted from you.

Work toward accepting that you are human and have flaws.

Forgive yourself for past mistakes.

Jesus Experienced Shame

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV
The Bible declares that sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, they were naked and not ashamed. Pivotally, they chose to eat from the Tree of Life, the single thing God instructed them not to eat. They chose their own unsound wisdom over God’s proven, loving wisdom.
 
Immediately, they attempted to hide from God. Adam and Eve felt shame for the first time.
 
On the cross, Jesus experienced the humiliation of our shame. The very weight of shame that was introduced in the Garden by Adam and Eve was laid on Him.
 
And He despised it.
 
But Jesus suffered it so it would not be necessary for us to live under the bondage of shame any longer.
 
Dr. Brown’s research on shame is brilliant. I recommend her books and her Tedtalk*.
on shame. John Bradshaw wrote a seminal work on shame in 2005, Healing the Shame that Binds You, (https://amzn.to/3yJlkPT). I recommend that, as well.
 
Pure Joy, by Ben White
However, my personal experience has taught me one thing.
Jesus alone can completely free us from the chains of shame. God gives us a new identity. His mercy and grace bring joy.
 
Photo by Eye for Ebony
 
 
Chain Breaker, by Zack Williams
 
Brene Brown “Listening to Shame”
 
Brene Brown “The Power of Vulnerability”

 

Good Grief – We Can’t Escape It, Yet It Need Not Consume Us

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Understanding grief

Anyone who has lived long enough has experienced grief. We can’t escape it. The late professor and Clinical Pastoral instructor, Wayne Oates once wrote, “Bereavement is the universal human crisis, striking everyone sooner or later,” (Basic Types of Pastoral Care & Counseling, Howard Clinebell). (https://amzn.to/3hTHuJt)

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Unfortunately, and to our discredit, too often our culture grows weary of a grieving soul. There becomes a growing pressure, although usually a silent one, placed on the grieving one to move past the grief. Moreover, this pressure isn’t for the griever’s benefit; it’s so that others no longer feel the burden of your pain while in your presence.

However, be assured; your grief is personal. It is healthy. There is NO universal time limit on grief.

Grief is personal and individual, and every person experiences its nuances differently. Your personality, your support system, your natural coping mechanisms and many other things will determine how loss will affect you. There are no rules, no timetables, and no linear progression. Some people feel better after a few weeks or months, and for others it may take years. And in the midst of recovery there may be setbacks — this nonlinear process can’t be controlled. It’s critical that you treat yourself with patience and compassion and allow the process to unfold.

Stages of Grief

Most of us have read or heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief listed below. Let’s refresh:

  1. denial- This can’t be happening to me!
  2. anger – Why is this happening? Who is to blame?
  3. bargaining – Make this not happen and I will _____
  4. depression – I can’t bear this; I’m too sad to do anything.
  5. acceptance – I acknowledge that this has happened and I cannot change it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this process was a neat, little package deal which we could make one pass through and be done with it? However, reality and experience has shown each of us that is not the case.

As noted earlier, we are individuals. Our grief responses are personal and individual, as well. For some, grief may last months; for others it may last a year. If the initial stages of grief are still in effect after a year, however, (continually feeling sad, hopeless; can’t function in daily activities,) it may have developed into complicated grief. If your emotional symptoms are coupled with physical symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Energy loss, exhaustion
  • Body aches and pains
  • Physical complaints similar to deceased

It’s time to seek outside help from a professional, a faith group, or support group. Seeking to walk this road alone is not working.

Ways to Avoid Complicated Grief

It’s not clear why one person’s grief develops into complicated grief and another person’s doesn’t. Nevertheless, there have been studies linking it to resilience, which is usually learned in – you guessed it – childhood. Regardless where we learned, or didn’t learn resilience, it’s never too late to begin implementing it into our lives.

Sadly, it is natural to want to isolate when we are grieving or depressed. However, that is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves. The following is a list of risk factors and protective factors for complicated grief.

  1. Having good social support, from close family or friends, can protect you from complicated grief when you lose a loved one.
  2. Being mentally healthy will also protect you, even if you have diagnosed mental illnesses. Untreated conditions, especially depression and trauma disorders, can put you at greater risk.
  3. Knowing how to manage stress in healthy ways makes complicated grief less likely. A great deal of stress that you can’t cope with puts you at risk.
  4. Trauma, including a very violent or unexpected passing of a loved one, can put you at greater risk for complicated grief. But, having processed trauma in productive ways can protect you.

Do We Only Grieve Death?

Whether we recognize it or not, grief encompasses more areas than the loss of a loved one. We find it much easier to heal when we can recognize that grief is what we’re feeling instead of (you fill in the blank).

For instance, when my husband and I left the church in which we had grown up, and raised our children, we were unprepared for the grieving process of no longer having that affiliation. We grieved our loss of identity.

A loss of identity occurs for a person

  • who loses a job
  • who has experienced divorce
  • moved to another city

It takes time to reestablish who you are in a new job, without your spouse, in another church or community.

Whenever a person loses a primary identity, they mourn a lost sense of self. They’re tasked with grieving who they thought they were and eventually creating a new story that integrates the loss into their personal narrative.

Loss, Loss, and More Loss

A second loss we grieve is a loss of safety. This occurs for people who have been physically, emotionally, or sexually assaulted. In addition, children of divorce grieve the loss of safety of an intact family, (though they may not verbalize it in those words.) Loss of safety can effect entire communities which have been mired by violence.

A third loss is a loss of autonomy. Examples of this include:

  • people with chronic or degenerative illness, grieving the loss of physical or mental abilities
  •  older adults no longer able to care for themselves who grieve their decline (this may also tie to a lost sense of identity as a contributing member of society)
  • someone experiencing financial problems and needing to rely on others for assistance, grieving the ability to provide for themselves

The truth is, every major life stressor involves some loss and therefore, some measure of grieving.

Laying Down The Burden of Grief

There is a story told in John 11:1-38, about the death of a friend of Jesus. His name was Lazarus. The sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus that he was ill, but Jesus delayed His arrival, for reasons only He knew.

As a result, Lazarus died.

I don’t think Jesus was surprised by this, because…well, He is all-knowing.

Nevertheless, when He arrived and witnessed the grief of the sisters, Mary and Martha, and the weeping of all the gathered friends, Jesus was deeply troubled.

In fact, Jesus wept.

This verse warms and encourages me. His heart was broken over the grief of those who loved Lazarus, despite the fact that Jesus knew He would be raising Lazarus from the dead.

He is a compassionate God. He comforts us in our sorrow and grief, (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV). Never do we need to carry our grief alone…

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Psalm 34:17-19, NKJV

And even if He doesn’t, Jesus will walk with us through every loss. Sometimes, He even carries us.

The Dark Night of The Soul vs Clinical Depression

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Last week we discussed clinical depression, its symptoms, and when to go for help. This week I want to turn our attention to something that looks like clinical depression, but is actually a type of sickness in the soul. St. John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul, (https://amzn.to/3blkm2k).

Some, like the late psychiatrist and spiritual director Dr. Gerald May, have written about the dark night in an effort to explain it, (https://amzn.to/3tI9eTg). Others, like the late monk and psychotherapist Dr. Thomas Moore have written as a guide to walk through the dark night without losing hope, (https://amzn.to/2R50OZd).

What is The Dark Night of The Soul?

Photo by Atanas Dzhingarov

First, the dark night of the soul is not for a select few, the holiest of holy people. Neither is it simply bad things happening to good people. Dr. May believed that in some ways it could happen to anyone.

Yet it is much more significant than simple misfortune. It is a deep transformation, a movement toward indescribable freedom and joy. And in truth it doesn’t always have to be unpleasant!…The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely.

The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald G. May, M.D.

Although May’s description is more upbeat and glowing, Moore tends to describe the dark night perhaps more realistically.

“To be spiritual is to be taken over by a mysterious, divine compulsion to manifest some aspect of life’s deepest force. We become most who we are when we allow the spirit to dismember us, unsettling our plans and understandings, remaking us from the very foundations of our existence. Nothing is more challenging, nothing less sentimental, than the invitation of spirit to become who we are and not who we think we ought to be.”
— The Soul’s Religion: Cultivating a Profoundly Spiritual Way of Life

Secondly, a season of darkness implies nothing sinister, as May points out. Neverthless, it is generally a time of stripping away things or ideals to which we have clung. In the midst of the upheaval is confusion and oft times pain. Therefore, we feel as though we are wandering in a dark forest without a light.

A Personal Dark Night

My first experience with a season of dark night was deeply wounding. It happened during a time when our eldest was undergoing his own painful struggle within a personal relationship. In addition, he had been tossing overboard most of the belief system we had instilled in our children since their birth.

For a brief time, he tossed us overboard, too.

I remember lying on the floor of my bedroom, wailing before God. Hadn’t we followed His commands to raise up our children in His ways? Hadn’t we loved them all unwaveringly? (In other words – hadn’t we followed the spiritual A, B, C’s in order to have godly children?) Then why wasn’t God holding up His end of the bargain??

Looking back, I’m a litte surprised the Lord didn’t strike me dead due to my impudence!

Yet, His mercy never ceases. Over time, He revealed to me the useless, false beliefs I had clung to in an effort to control the outcome of my life. Dr, May was right about me when he said:

We cling to things, people, beliefs, and behaviors not because we love them, but because we are terrified of losing them.

The Dark Night of The Soul, Gerald G. May, M. D.

I would never have seen the error or rigidity of my belief system had I not gone through that season. Yes, the pain was searing, and it was long. However, when I emerged, a new grace flowed into areas of my soul that had been parched.

That is the fierce beauty of the dark night. 

The Bible and Spiritual Darkness

The late R.C. Sproul wrote about the dark night of the soul:

This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

This malady afflicted Jeremiah, who gained the nickname The Weeping Prophet, (Jeremiah 13:17). In addition, David soaked his bed with tears, (Psalm 6:6). Elijah was more defiant in I Kings 19, when he believed that God had forsaken him.

But then…when we grasp our lies to our chests while God is attempting to loosen our fingers, we can become defiant, too.

Moreover, Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon experienced numerous seasons of spiritual darkness. Yet, each of these eminent men of faith continue to have impact today due to their depth of intimacy with God, which they gained from those seasons of darkness.

It’s a paradox, I know. However, I’ve come to realize that’s how the upside down Kingdom of God works. For instance:

  • we must die in order to have life (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:21-22
  • when we are weak, we are made strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  • whoever desires to be great in the Kingdom of God must learn to be a servant (Matthew 20:25-28)

Light Emerges From the Darkness

Since I was a young adult, the beach has been a favorite spot for me to relax. Perhaps there more than anywhere else, I experience the majesty of God and His creation. Waves constantly rolling in to shore soothe my spirit. My husband, who is a gifted photographer, enjoys taking photos of the sunrise over the ocean.

Consequently, we have some beautiful shots of the sunlight emerging from the dark.

These photos remind me of times we come out of the darkness of depression or a deep disappointment in God. It’s as though we are stepping from behind the clouds. Rays of light begin to fall across our faces once again.

David must have felt frightened and somewhat abandoned in Psalm 30. Even so, in the last two verses of the chapter, his faith reemerges as he practically sings:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

He will, you know…one day; all the mourning will be turned into dancing. What a glorious day that will be.

Hold on, sisters; hold on…Light will shine in your darkness, again. But for now, be held through the dark hours before the dawn.

 

 

 

 

Depression: No One Cares For My Soul

I was out much further than you thought and not waving but drowning.
Photo by Ian R

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I was out much further than you thought and not waving but drowning. (Stevie Smith, Selected Poems, 1964, in Trauma and Addiction, Tian Dayton, Ph.D) (https://amzn.to/3o1acc8)

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Following is the voice of David in Psalm 142. At the time, he was running from King Saul to save his life. Depression and fear had plunged him into despair. David experienced what some call a dark night of the soul.

142 I cry out to the Lord with my voice;
With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.
I pour out my complaint before Him;
I declare before Him my trouble.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. In the way in which I walk they have secretly set a snare for me.

Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul.

Depression Statistics

Depression is both a brain disorder and a state of mind. It is the only organ whose function we consciously experience because the brain is the organ of the mindThe term depression includes Depressive Disorder and its related disorders. Seasonal Affective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, postpartum depression, and suicide also fall under the Depressive Disorder, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V).

  • Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in America.
  • In early 2020, 27.8% of American adults claimed to be struggling with the symptoms of depression during the pandemic.
  • Between August 2020 and February 2021, the percentage of adults who reported symptoms of recent anxiety or depression rose to 41%.
  • The increase was largest among the ages 18-29.
  • Treatment for depression has proven effective in up to 80% of the cases within 4–6  weeks.
  • Despite the above fact, 35% of adults with depression receive no treatment at all.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder is a type of depression that lasts two or more years. It effects over 3 million Americans, yet only about 40% are receiving treatment.
  • Women are twice as likely to have depression as men.
  • Depression is the primary reason why someone dies by suicide every 11 minutes.
  • The suicide rate is four times higher for males than females. In the United States, male deaths make up almost 80% of all suicide deaths

Why Are We Depressed?

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, there are usually other factors involved, as well. For instance, it often runs in families. In addition, if a major caregiver was depressed when you were a young child, you are more likely to struggle with depression as an adult, (The Developing Mind, Daniel J. Siegel). (https://amzn.to/3tswRzn)

Life events or some types of illness can also trigger depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Sometimes it’s easier for the people around you to see your depression before you do. Moreover, the descent into inner darkness is often gradual. The following is a list from Johns Hopkins Medicine of the most common symptoms.

Of course, we’re each individuals and can have some different or additional symptoms.

  • Lasting sad, anxious, or feeling of emptiness
  • Loss of interest in nearly all activities
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Slowing of physical activity, speech, and thinking OR agitation, increased restlessness, and irritability
  • Decreased energy, feeling tired or sluggish almost every day
  • Ongoing feelings of worthlessness and/or feelings of undue guilt
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Repeating thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide (Note: This needs emergency treatment)

If you have 5 or more of these symptoms for at least 2 weeks, you may be diagnosed with depression. These feelings are a noticeable change from what’s normal for you.

What Now?

It’s possible that you feel ashamed or weak once you realize you are depressed. This is likely due to our culture’s dishonesty regarding mental health. We talk a lot about helping those with mental health issues. Sadly, however, as a society, (including our governing authorities), there is too much talk with little action to follow.

You may feel like a burden to others, not worth the trouble of asking for help.

That’s the depression talking. It isn’t who YOU are.

More importantly, it isn’t who God says you are, either, (Zechariah 2:1-8; NKJV).

…for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.

Where to Go For Help- First

My first go-to is God. He is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer. He is my Refuge, (Psalm 18:2). There have been times, however, when the Lord felt distant and His voice was silent for me. With David in Psalm 142, in weak faith I have called:

I cried out to You, O Lord:
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
Attend to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are stronger than I.
Bring my soul out of prison,
That I may praise Your name;
The righteous shall surround me,
For You shall deal bountifully with me.”

Depression does feel stronger than us. It brings us low and we feel like we’re in a prison.

During those times, we need a righteous, faithful friend or two to surround us with prayer and encouragement. We want to praise God for His deliverance…even when we can’t see it, yet.

The Two-Step For Help

Most people suffer silently with depression for too long. We sink deeper and deeper into despair, clutching at the falsehood that we will snap out of it.

Unfortunately, the longer it lingers, the less likely you will awaken one morning with the heaviness magically lifted. In clinical terms, that’s called magical thinking.

As a former therapist, I am a firm believer in seeking a professional to walk with you in your healing journey. As a Christ follower, I prefer a fellow believer. For you, I urge you not to attempt to walk this road alone.

It is a treacherous journey without a companion walking alongside you.

Furthermore, please don’t tell yourself you can’t afford therapy! I hear that all the time. Think of the things money is spent on in your household. Your mental health is worth more than some (or most) of those things.

Moreover, there are therapists out there who will work with you, financially. Yes, it may take time to find her, and you don’t think you have the energy now, but YOU ARE WORTH IT.

Believe it. Not because I say you are, and I do. God gave His Son for you. HE says you’re so valuable that you’re worth dying for.

Aren’t you worth living for?

 

Great resources!

Find a Therapist by Location: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/christian

Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

1-800-273-8255 Suicide hotline #