Henry Cloud and John Townsend are the authors of the very helpful book, “Boundaries in Marriage.” In this book they list these two common pitfalls in a marriage.

Moralizing Your Preferences

The problem here comes when one of the partners in the marriage claims his or her preference in somehow superior. One person’s hobby may seem more “productive” or “important” because it is satisfying or enjoyable to them; but that does not mean the other person’s hobby or way of relaxing is somehow wrong. Spouses may have differences in how they relax or socialize. This does not make one way right and the other wrong. We are in danger of working against our spouse in our marriage if this becomes a norm.

Score-keeping

Another problem area in marriages is score-keeping. At times couples may get into seemingly endless arguments about how time needs to be more balanced. When this replaces kind loving exchanges our marriage is obviously going to suffer. Trying to keep up with what the other person gets to do versus what you get to do can be a way to build resentment. Remember, balance does not have to mean equality. The important thing is that both people are satisfied. It all probably evens up in the end, anyways.

Most importantly always be open when there is conflict or resentment building. It’s much easier to handle in the early stages than when it becomes a habit. At Christian Counseling Center we are willing and able to help couples create healthy habits and learn communication strategies. Feel free to contact us for an appointment.

Emma Goldmann, a political activist from the early 20th century wrote, “No one has yet fully realized the wealth of sympathy, kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.”  Ms. Goldmann’s words aptly describe the attachment injured child.  It is as if they are gems waiting to be discovered and polished.  Until that discovery, they are viewed as useless and unwanted.  In order for these children to reach their value, persons like foster/adoptive parents, teachers, and friends will have to learn the skills needed to “unlock that treasure.”  

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It might be appropriate to call these children, “Children from the hard places.”  They may have known safety and stability at some point in their lives.  More likely, most of these children have had a “hard time” and have been forced to rely on themselves.  They do not have a sense of safety or stability.  A child’s sense of safety is created when the child begins to feel that his needs will be met not only physically but also emotionally.   This is called “felt safety.”  As a byproduct of the lack of “felt safety,” many children function in ways that seem dysfunctional.  These behaviors and attitudes have been useful survival tools.  Within a new family system, these behaviors are not only dysfunctional but can are destructive. 

Children, who display unwanted behaviors, are often diagnosed with disorders like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, or Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder.  While your child might exhibit and meet the qualities of these disorders, the scope and severity of many of these problems may be exacerbated by a developmental trauma and attachment injury.  In a sense, attachment injury is the body’s defense to the lack of safety or care it has received.  By this standard, it might be impossible for a child from the “hard place” to function in a “normal way.” 

A child who is from the “hard places” functions out of the lower brain.  This child has not experienced a stabile relationship where he learned to interpret and understand every day human interactions.  He has not had healthy, nutritionally loaded food to eat for brain development.  He has likely experienced chronically high levels of fear which compete with higher brain function.  More precisely, the events, in utero, infancy, or childhood create a neurochemical set point for how the child will respond in stressful situations.  These set points can occur if a mother experiences a stressful or difficult pregnancy, the child has a traumatic birth, or if the child experiences early hospitalization.  These are significant and profound ways that children can be programmed to struggle with attachment.  Furthermore, a child can also receive attachment injury through abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma (i.e., an overly critical parent). 

Dr. Karyn Purvis, creator of TBRI© (Trust Based Relational Intervention), believes that gaining the trust of an attachment injured child is the integral part of helping the child heal.  A child cannot operate at a higher brain function if he remains wary of his environment.  This requires that the caregiver learn to respond by first connecting to the child, later empowering the child, and last and least, correcting the child.  This seems to be the antithesis of most parenting approaches.  This approach, however, makes the most sense.  A child who is healthily attached to a parent can whether some emotional turbulence.  A child who is not securely attached will be tossed about in that same storm.

Most often, parents fear that if they are not correcting this child, he will not learn.  An attachment injured child’s brain will not learn if he is in a constant state of fear.  Fear must be reduced for learning to take place and new behavior to be enacted.  Connection is the best tool for reducing fear.  Connection is a time consuming work, but it is extremely rewarding.  Connecting requires that the parent learn to manage her fears about how she is perceived by others as well as managing fears about not being “in charge” of the child. 

There are several simple methods for connecting.  First, create an environment of “felt safety” by making available high nutrition snacks, attending to a child’s sensory needs (i.e., too loud, too bright, too scratchy, etc.), addressing their physical space needs, and using safe child appropriate language.  Second, model the positive behavior desired from the child.  This will include using encouraging language.  An example: Instead of saying, “Don’t run” say, “Remember to walk.”  Third, work to match the child.  A parent will make a powerful statement to a child about connection when he is attuned to the child.  One of the easiest ways to show attunement is through play.  Play by matching the child’s motions and actions; allow them to lead. Last, make both eye and, as allowed, body contact with the child.  This will require the adult to get down on the child’s level when talking to them.  If a parent can do nothing else with an attachment injured child, it is imperative that he work to make connection with the child. 

The sad truth is that many adults in our world are unprepared to deal with developmental trauma and attachment injuries.  Attachment injured children not only show up in foster and adoptive homes, they also appear in schools, churches and playgrounds. While these interventions will not “fix” attachment injured children, the connection created is the bridge to helping this child begin the healing process.   Understanding and connecting to attachment injured children not only helps the hurting child, but also those who are in the daily struggle with them. 

If you are in the midst of the struggle with an attachment injured child and are interested in more information on this subject, seek a licensed mental health professional, preferably one trained in TBRI©.  You may also be interested to read, The Connected Child, by Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine.

Daniel, the book in the Old Testament, contains one of my favorite stories in the bible. Chapter 3 describes this–the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

For those who are not familiar or need a refresher this story is about three Israelites living in captivity under the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. The empire he ruled was Babylon. A law that he set in motion was for all the people to worship an image of gold by bowing to it after a horn is blown.

So, it happened that the horns blew and the people bowed before this idol. Except for three Jews. See, they worshiped the true God and God does not allow for worship of idols. These men, Sharach, Meshach, and Abendnego refused to bow down even under the pressure and example of those around them.

King Nebuchandnezzar was furious. He demanded they worship this idol or be thrown into a blazing furnace. They refused by giving one of the most faithful rebuttals in all of scripture.

They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

There are a number of directions to take this story. The focus I want to give it is the faithfulness and trust in God–no matter the consequence. They were so trusting in the power of God that he could save them from the most dangerous of situations. They were also so dedicated to his service abandoning the faith was not an option, even if God chose not to save them.

What does this mean for us?

There are situations in which we realize the power of God could change our circumstance. Our hopes seem so pure and reasonable. Why doesn’t God let this happen? Or why has God allowed this to happen?

In these instances it is helpful to have the attitude these three people of God had:

Even if my circumstance does not change–I will continue to serve God.

 

Justin P. Lewis, MA

I envy Kevin. My brother, Kevin, thinks God lives under his bed. At least that’s what I heard him say one night.

He was praying out loud in his dark bedroom, and I stopped to listen, ‘Are you there, God?’ he said. ‘Where are you? Oh, I see. Under the bed….’

I giggled softly and tiptoed off to my own room. Kevin’s unique perspectives are often a source of amusement. But that night something else lingered long after the humor. I realized for the first time the very different world Kevin lives in.

He was born 30 years ago, mentally disabled as a result of difficulties during labor. Apart from his size (he’s 6-foot-2), there are few ways in which he is an adult.

He reasons and communicates with the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and he always will. He will probably always believe that God lives under his bed, that Santa Claus is the one who fills the space under our tree every Christmas and that airplanes stay up in the sky because angels carry them.

I remember wondering if Kevin realizes he is different. Is he ever dissatisfied with his monotonous life?

Up before dawn each day, off to work at a workshop for the disabled, home to walk our cocker spaniel, return to eat his favorite macaroni-and-cheese for dinner, and later to bed.

The only variation in the entire scheme is laundry, when he hovers excitedly over the washing machine like a mother with her newborn child.

He does not seem dissatisfied.

He lopes out to the bus every morning at 7:05, eager for a day of simple work.

He wrings his hands excitedly while the water boils on the stove before dinner, and he stays up late twice a week to gather our dirty laundry for his next day’s laundry chores.

And Saturdays – oh, the bliss of Saturdays! That’s the day my Dad takes Kevin to the airport to have a soft drink, watch the planes land, and speculate loudly on the destination of each passenger inside. ‘That one’s goin’ to Chi-car-go! ‘ Kevin shouts as he claps his hands.

His anticipation is so great he can hardly sleep on Friday nights.

And so goes his world of daily rituals and weekend field trips.

He doesn’t know what it means to be discontent.

His life is simple.

He will never know the entanglements of wealth or power, and he does not care what brand of clothing he wears or what kind of food he eats. His needs have always been met, and he never worries that one day they may not be.

His hands are diligent. Kevin is never so happy as when he is working. When he unloads the dishwasher or vacuums the carpet, his heart is completely in it.

He does not shrink from a job when it is begun, and he does not leave a job until it is finished. But when his tasks are done, Kevin knows how to relax.

He is not obsessed with his work or the work of others. His heart is pure.

He still believes everyone tells the truth, promises must be kept, and when you are wrong, you apologize instead of argue.

Free from pride and unconcerned with appearances, Kevin is not afraid to cry when he is hurt, angry or sorry. He is always transparent, always sincere. And he trusts God.

Not confined by intellectual reasoning, when he comes to Christ, he comes as a child. Kevin seems to know God – to really be friends with Him in a way that is difficult for an ‘educated’ person to grasp. God seems like his closest companion.

In my moments of doubt and frustrations with my Christianity, I envy the security Kevin has in his simple faith.

It is then that I am most willing to admit that he has some divine knowledge that rises above my mortal questions.

It is then I realize that perhaps he is not the one with the handicap. I am. My obligations, my fear, my pride, my circumstances – they all become disabilities when I do not trust them to God’s care.

Who knows if Kevin comprehends things I can never learn? After all, he has spent his whole life in that kind of innocence, praying after dark and soaking up the goodness and love of God.

And one day, when the mysteries of heaven are opened, and we are all amazed at how close God really is to our hearts, I’ll realize that God heard the simple prayers of a boy who believed that God lived under his bed.

Kevin won’t be surprised at all! 

Our society does not accept waiting. In fact, waiting motivates innovators. Finding faster ways of doing things is one of the most advertised selling points. We have fast food, faster internet, etc. Also, our society feels entitled. There are certain things in life we believe we are owed. Neither of these ideas are respected by God.

A theme throughout the bible is faithfulness. God calls Noah to be faithful in building a huge boat. Abraham is to be faithful in waiting for a child, even into old age. In the New Testament a theme of faith in God exists as one of the most important aspects of being Christian. It is listed as a “fruit of the Spirit” in the book of Galatians.

Faithfulness is impossible without waiting. If we got everything we wanted or thought we deserved there would be no need for a faith that God will be our provider. A struggle is that some of these things we have to wait on–or never receive– may even be honorable.

Ultimately, we have to remember our time is not God’s time and God decides how we should be blessed. When we live remembering this we can live more freely. We can be open to serving God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves knowing that God blesses us.

God’s blessings just may not come the way we expect them or when we want them. This is why we must faithfully wait.

 

Justin P. Lewis, MA, LMFT

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Building one’s esteem or self value is an important part of functioning as a person. Obviously, positive esteem is what we are striving for, rather than having what is often termed, “bad self-esteem.” What we think about ourselves is going to determine how we act which determines much of how our life will play out.

In this post I want to focus on what I see as the three levels of building esteem.imgres

The lowest level of building esteem depends on other people. This is allowing the thoughts, opinions, and statements of others to determine how we feel about ourselves. Just as we should not let other people’s negative comments bring us down, we do not need to depend on other people’s positive comments to build us up.

The next level of building esteem is feeling good about ourselves based on our accomplishments or our abilities. While it is appropriate to do the best we can and take pride when we do well, this cannot be what our esteem is built upon. Our accomplishments and abilities will fade over time. Seeing the good in ourselves has a higher, more mature meaning.

The highest level of esteem is “God-esteem.” When we are able to see ourselves the way God sees us, as a good person just because we exist. To be able to consider the fact that we are loved by an almighty God to the extent of sacrificing his son, then we will reach the highest appreciation of ourselves. We will see the good in ourselves and feel free to be the person God created us to be, no matter what the feedback of others is or how many accomplishments we attain.

Let us work towards moving past needing to gain positive esteem by other people’s words or by our accomplishments and abilities. May we climb onto the level of “God-esteem.”

 

Justin P. Lewis, MA, LMFT

Planning on getting married soon? Congrats!

Preparing for a wedding can be an exciting time, it can be busy and a little stressful (especially for the bride) but it leads to one of the most memorable days of your life and that makes it more manageable.

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As important as it is to prepare for the wedding, it is even more important to prepare for the marriage. The wedding lasts a couple hours and is over before you know it, the marriage lasts much longer. So, as much detail and effort that is involved in the wedding should not compare to the preparation for the marriage.

A helpful process is pre-marriage counseling. Most people have heard of pre-marriage counseling, but may not be familiar with what exactly that involves.

Pre-marriage counseling is not someone sitting across from you finding reasons why you should not get married. A counselor’s goal in pre-marriage counseling is helping the couple identify areas that are strengths and areas that could be challenges. These are discovered by a face-to-face interview and possibly a standardized inventory named Prepare/Enrich.

No need to be intimidated about this process, pre-marriage counseling is often fun as the couple gets the opportunity to share their story. They are able to look forward to building a new life with someone they love.

Attending pre-marriage counseling does not mean there is something wrong with your relationship, it means you care about it enough to prepare for it. 

At Christian Counseling Center we are qualified and willing to provide this service. We love working with couples at this point in their relationship.

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Our community remains aware of tragedy because of the events on December 1st, 1997. We experienced a shooting at Heath High School. Lives were changed forever on that day. Since the Heath shooting there has been much healing, though it was not thought possible at that time. In light of the recent events that took place in Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, I want to offer a few suggestions to assist our community. We want to promote healing while avoiding further traumatization of our children.

Life can be compared to a huge heavy suitcase. It can be so heavy that a little child cannot carry it.  Children cope much better when we put what they can carry in a smaller suit case that they can master. We might otherwise overwhelm the child or children leading to stressful reaction. The following are suggestions that will hopefully lead to helpful actions in what a child may be able to bear.

Start the school day as you would normally do with regard to schedule and routine. You might engage your students by asking if there had been any events that have taken place that they had noticed on television. The open ended question allows them to tell whatever is on their minds rather than being led to specific events. You may learn more than just trauma of the school shooting.

Keep the students under control by asking them to speak one at a time. It may prove beneficial for children to share their questions about the event.  Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings. Be ready for emotional responses with a box of Kleenex nearby. You might allow a little more time for play and self-expression with younger children.

It may be beneficial to talk about death and what happens when people die. There is a great book for preschoolers, “Dinosaurs Die” by Marc Brown. It is based on the public television character, Arthur. It is wonderful book to allow for expression as well as questions about death.

Children may want to tell stories of death or violence that they have witnessed. Keep close watch on the level of gruesome details; also watch reactions of children who avoid discussion. This may be a time where you observe children who may have need for additional counseling due to traumas of their own.

Children benefit from being reassured that adults are watching out for them both at home and while as school for their safety.  Repetition of this statement by both teaching staff and parents may be very beneficial. Statements should be made with confidence and concern. Encourage children to let you know anytime that they feel upset, unsafe or overwhelmed. Share with the children about counselors being available for them to talk with if needed.

It is important during a response to a trauma that we do not say too much or over react creating a new trauma which will only worsen existing events. A calm reassuring voice is a must while keeping your point’s simple and age appropriate. The most important thing we can do in response to the recent events is to listen. LISTEN!!!

Here are some tips in dealing with these types of situations:

  • Be cautious about the amount of exposure to TV or other media forms with photos that could be upsetting.
  • Parents and teachers are both encouraged to pay attention to their children’s behaviors and emotions. Please seek help if new sudden changes should occur.
  • This is an important time for parents and teachers to keep one another informed of the changes that they may be witnessing.
  • Seeking the assistance of a school counselor or mental health consultant may be required based on the events and the needs of the child or children.

 

Roger D. Thompson, MS, LMFT

 Adapted from “Caring about Kids after Trauma or Death” by the Institute of Trauma and Stress at NYU.

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