The Gates Are Open

Communication

The Three-Fold Mental Test for Anxious and Depressed Thoughts

Posted on June 5, 2017

If you’ve been in my counseling office for any length of time, you’ve heard me explain the “Three-Fold Test”. For those who haven’t heard it, let me give it to you and then spend the rest of this article explaining its significance.

With any bothersome thought pattern, a three-step test will guide you to determine whether you want to spend any more time considering that thought. This test goes like this. (Note: If the thought pattern fails at any point in the test, you immediately stop and move onto a different focus for your thoughts). These are ranked in order of most common to least common. This means, most people’s bothersome thoughts will fail the first test, the second most will fail the second test, and the third most will fail the third test. Hence, this is the order you consider them.

No more explanation; here is the test.

  1. Do I have any control over this thing I am spending time thinking about? If you don’t have any control over it, change your focus to something else.
  2. If I do have control over this thing I’m thinking about, am I responsible for this thing? If you don’t have any responsibility for it, change your focus to something else.
  3. If I do have control over this, and I am at least partially responsible, do I have time right now to do anything about it? If you don’t, then schedule a time to take care of it, and move on to another focus.

For those who are wondering, I did develop this test about 15 years ago, but the concepts are not original with me. I am sure I borrowed these concepts from many sources, but I can name two very quickly if you want to study more of the background. First, I gleaned the overall concept from Dr. William Glasser, the founder of the Choice Theory/Reality Therapy school. The concept of working this through like a series of filters I got from Dr. Ed Smith, the founder of the Transformation Prayer therapy method. Read any of their books and you’ll see how their models became the basis for this test.

To show the importance of using this test frequently, I must explain some of the underlying presuppositions to strengthen your resolve to use it. There are several of these and I will try to be brief in explaining them.

First, let’s address the overall concept of choice. For roughly 50 years, psychology got mired in the idea that we are simply the product of our biology and that this prevents us from getting rid of anxiety and depression. This Behaviorist model assumed that you were “wired” a particular way and nothing could change that. Even though we describe everything else we do in life as a verb—that is, we learn, we love, we hate, we eat, we watch a movie, we travel, we hit someone, we voice our opinions, etc.—we describe our most troublesome thoughts as a noun. We don’t say “I am depressing myself”, we say “I have depression.” We don’t say “I am anxieting” we say, “I have anxiety”. We find it easier to see our depression and anxiety as things outside of us over which we have little control.

Dr. Glasser proposed in 1968 for the first time that other than a few hormonal situations and traumatic brain injury, most people choose to depress themselves. They do this for the most part to deal with anger. He also noticed people choose to anxiety, for the most part to deal with fear. His assumption was that if we can choose something, we can choose something else.

But he also noted, most of us will not. Depressing and anxieting produce things we want in our lives, even if we don’t want the results that come from depressing and anxieting. We want to worry. Yes we do. We want to anticipate what is coming so we can be ready for it or be prepared in some way. To do this, we anxiety.

Therefore, the focus of anxiety or depression is often on things we cannot control. This comes into play in a moment.

Next, it is important to know what we actually do control in life. Get ready for this list. The only things we control can be boiled down to three things:

  1. We control what we will focus on next.
  2. We control what action we will take next
  3. We control whatever other people allow us to control.

You do not control the past. We cannot change it, so we do not control it. Any time spent looking at the past with a focus on regret, shame, bitterness, revenge, blame, or fear is useless. The only focus on the past which yields results is how it affects the present. If you look back to learn or to process past beliefs, you can find good results.

You do not control the future. That is an illusion. Your planning does not control the future, it simply places you where you think you need to be. But we forget how many thousands of times we planned and we were wrong. Any time spent on worrying or depressing about the future is wasted thought.

You cannot control other people unless they allow you to. And the problem with controlling other people is that you become responsible for them. This is the basis of all co-dependency, but that’s another article.

Most people who depress themselves or anxiety themselves are convinced they cannot really control their own thoughts. But Dr. Glasser and many others in the Brain Plasticity movement (i.e. Daniel Amen, Norman Doidge, etc.) have shown in countless studies this is not true. What is true is we have convinced ourselves we cannot control our thoughts because we don’t really want to. As badly as it feels to depress ourselves, it is our choice and we are doing it for a reason. We think we can control things which we actually can’t control. The same is true with anxiety.

This is where the three-fold test comes in. Here is a short commentary on each step so you can see why they are important questions.

 

  1. “Do I have control over this thing I am spending time thinking about?” If you are thinking about the past or the future, you are putting mental energy into something which you can never change. Even if you believe you can, you cannot. Come to grips with that and leave it behind. Stop telling yourself you have no control over these thoughts. They are actually one of the only things in life you do have control over. For instance, I spent years thinking about how people reacted to some of the things I teach. When I applied this test to that thought pattern I realized I could not control their reactions, nor their attitude toward me, nor their choices for how they would treat me. Therefore, focusing for a second on how they would think about my teaching was useless. What I did control is whether what I taught was accurate and helpful. When I started to focus my thoughts on those things, I started to live more healthy.
  2. “Am I at least partially responsible for what I am spending time thinking about?” In life, there are many actions we can take to work with others. At any given moment, there are millions of things any of us can be doing. But we know deep inside we don’t have the time or energy to do more than a few things each day. Therefore, if we want our lives to matter, then we will do those things which mean the most to us. The healthiest actions we can take are ones which acknowledge and follow commitments we have made. For instance, it is proper for a parent to help a child make their lunch in the morning before school starts. This is especially true if the child doesn’t know how to do it. But as the child gets older, the parent needs to withdraw their help slowly so the child will take responsibility. On the other hand, if you are married to a drug addict, you often feel that need to worry and act in such a way as to prevent them from using. The problem is, their addiction, though it affects you, is their problem not yours. If you spend too much time focused on what you will do for them in it, you are taking responsibility for things both outside of your sphere of responsibility and control.
  3. “Can I take care of this responsibility right now?” Much worrying is done because we want to solve situations which haven’t happened yet. We don’t like to be caught off-guard, so we worry a future situation out until we have solved every possible thing which can go wrong. But we haven’t really solved anything. Think of a basketball team. They can plan how they will play the other team, but all the decisions have to be made at real speed in the game. If you have responsibilities which are coming up but haven’t happened, only focus on the principles, not the actual working out of the responsibility. All other mental effort is wasted.

 

Most people don’t think the test will work because they have chosen anxieting and depressing as solutions to their unsolvable problems. But, as I tell all my clients, if you apply this test each and every time in place of anxieting and depressing, you will take control of your thoughts again, and you will accomplish what you are setting out in life to achieve.

Layered Communication

My friend Charlie and I used all our geek abilities and finally got the turntable to make sounds as we played the LP backwards. It was the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. We had heard through a reliable source there were hidden messages in some of the songs. We played it for an hour and then we found one. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” there was some funky background music and then a creepy voice made an announcement.

Charlie was sure the voice said “I BURIED PAUL”. I believed the ghastly voice said “CRANBERRY SAUCE”. Stephen King I’m not.

Whatever it was they put on the album (John Lennon claimed it was “Cranberry Sauce”…I feel vindicated…), they masked some of their messages deep in the midst of their music. I know they probably did it to create buzz about the album, but that is ludicrous to me. They were one of the greatest rock bands of their day. They didn’t need the gimmicks. Apparently, someone in their decision-making circle felt they did.

This is the picture I lead with to help you understand Layered Communication.  Layered Communication is one reason there are so many misunderstandings in human interaction.

If we committed ourselves to single-layered communication as often as possible, we would eliminate most of our fighting.

Why do we hide so many messages within simple statements? There are probably many reasons for doing this, but I find five categories for these reasons.

1. Fear: We fear saying some things so we hide them among the words of another piece of information. This motivation sits at the heart of most passive-aggressive communication. One person is angry and wants the other person to know it. But they don’t want to be seen as angry. Or maybe there are afraid of retribution. Or perhaps they believe the person will reject them when they express their anger. So instead of letting the other person see their anger clearly, they let it color otherwise simple communication. If you’ve ever had a friend say something innocent to you and it didn’t feel innocent at all, you know this practice. Fear drives more layered communication than any other factor.

2. Revenge: We hide some of our communication so we can get even with other people for recent occasions when they have not communicated properly with us. If you won’t be straight with me, I won’t be straight with you. This game can go on for years.

3. Intimidation: People sometimes cloak the information they want to share so that those close to them will feel less confident. For instance, a husband may want his wife to appreciate him more, so he tells her all about the pretty women at work, hoping she will feel like he is a great catch without him having to say it. Unfortunately, this approach often backfires.

4. Calculation: Often, when one person wants to win an argument with another person, they will say things in order to get certain reactions. Then, they have a plan how they want to respond to those reactions. In this way, the layered communication is calculated to bring a certain result.

5. Ignorance: Many times we layer our communication because we are not aware, or have not acknowledged, that those layers are even there. Nothing surprises us more than someone who asks “What do you mean by that?” when we really thought we were being straightforward.

With those motivations in mind, let’s define each of the 8 possible layers that can be added to simple communication:

Emotions: Even those people who are in touch with their feelings often do not know how to express them. So they combine them with other pieces of information. This can be confusing. A person who says their day was fine, but the voice and body language speak “frustration”, can put the conversation on the wrong footing.

Bitterness or Resentment: I won’t seek to define either of these, and though they are different, they look the same as a sub-layer. If you are bitter or resentful, even simple information comes across as complex. Resentment is very hard to talk about, especially with the person we resent. Resentment is a decision where we have decided we cannot change a situation but we will not let go of the hurt. This hurt often bleeds over into many other things we want to communicate. When resentment has been in residence for a long time, it evolves into bitterness. The Bible tells us that bitterness then becomes ” a root which grows up to harm many people.

Sarcasm: This is often the front layer in a conversation. Sarcasm is masked anger. But it is a more societally acceptable way of expressing anger without having to admit you’re angry. This layer shows up to disguise the anger underneath. In this way, it creates a smoke screen and prevents two people from getting further into the truth of their relationship.

Body Language: Social Scientists have studied this layer for decades and still cannot come up with a definitive way to tell how to read the body language of another person. But when a person says one thing and their body seems to say another, it confuses the issue and negates much of what is being said.

False Beliefs: This layer is numerous and often the person who has these is blind to them until they make it to the top layer. For instance, a wife may be frustrated for months that her husband spends little time with her. But because he seems to be working hard, she feels like she can’t bring it up. In a conversation, she blurts out “You hate spending time with me, don’t you.” Then she feels embarrassed she said it this way.

She may be revealing a false belief. Perhaps she believes that everyone will find her to be boring, or unimportant, or that her significant friends are always going to find something better than her. Any of these “universal” beliefs can form a layer underneath what we’re trying to say.

Distraction: We often say one thing while our mind is on another thing. Or, in this distracted world, we have too many things we want to say to other people and we make the mistake of trying to say them all in one statement. This is overwhelming to both parties.

Hatred: After years of not properly dealing with anger and frustration, a person can decide they hate another person. Every time they try to communicate with this other person, the hatred layer is transmitted. This layer will often poison every piece of communication. With hatred, we hurt other people and do not even feel badly for doing so.

Parenting Teens in their Crises

Posted on January 4, 2016

teens in crisis2I earned an undergraduate degree in Theology from a small Christian college in Canada. During my freshman year there, I and three other men went into the main women’s dorm in the middle of the night and played a very messy practical joke on them. Everyone on campus noticed this bit of tomfoolery –which, of course, was our goal–and the Dean of Women wanted to take severe action against us perps.

So as not to cause more trouble on campus, we turned ourselves in. The Dean of Women wanted the four of us expelled. But the Discipline Committee of the school opted for another approach. We would clean up our mess and keep cleaning other parts of the campus to a total of 40 hours work each. And we were to receive a “stern lecture from a chosen staff of professors and college leaders“.

The panel designated to deliver the “stern lecture” was made up of the Academic Dean, the Dean of Students, a church history teacher, and a wizened theology prof who had two doctorates. They were an ominous and scary tribunal. The four of us had trouble making eye-contact with this panel. After entering the room, the Dean of Students looked at us, shaking his head. Then he addressed us:

Boys, you made a huge mistake this week.”  We all dutifully agreed by nodding our heads.

You should never have turned yourselves in!”

What?!

Then, the four of them proceeded to tell us about practical jokes they had played during their college years. For an hour, we were entertained by the exploits of these respected gentlemen as they told us about their own memorable pranks. They spoke of dismantling cars and reassembling them in libraries. They described using winches, ropes, gears, pullies, chicken feathers, tar, car engines, duct tape and firecrackers to pull their pranks.

At the end, they made their main point.  The four of us had had our fun; now it was time to consider putting that phase behind us and grow up. It was a good point. I think all four of us could look at the results of our freshman year and come to the same conclusion. We had not put a lot of academic effort into our time there thus far.

One of the men on the panel came to me after and asked if he could help in any way. My father had died when I was 16 and I really did miss having an older man to mentor me. I asked if he could help in that way. He agreed. Over the next two years, we met weekly in his office in the basement of the library. He  helped me in academic ways–writing papers, understanding grammar, time management–but also in life skills. I remember the day he bought me a stick of deodorant and highly encouraged me to use it daily.

I may never have married if it wasn’t for him.

My brother, sister and I made our way through life without a father during the last half of our teen years. By age 18, I was living on my own. I am proud of how I was able to find a path for life when many obstacles stood in my way. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided with some good paternal advice. But, I did have God helping me as well, so I can’t claim all the credit.

But it could have been easier with a father there during the crises. I feel this way about many of the teens I see for counseling. If their parents walked with them through life’s dangerous turns, without over-reacting to crises, then teens are often more successful.

Almost anyone can parent a teen when there is no crisis. It’s the same as saying that marriage is easy if you have no conflict. But every teen has crises, either real or contrived. And they all feel real to teens.

There are those days when a teen admits they are suicidal.

Or when a daughter comes home and tells mom she has missed her period for two straight months.

Or when the smell of marijuana, whiskey, or cigarettes is too strong to ignore (and for some reason, teens don’t think that parents can smell).

Or when the phone call from school comes saying your teen has not attended a single class in a week, is missing all the assignments in English, punched out a fellow student in Phys-Ed, bragged about having sex with a classmate, and didn’t pay for class pictures (even though you gave them the money).

Or, when your teen tells you that you are the worst parent in the world and doesn’t come home from school that day.

You want to be their mentor, friend and guide–not their warden and executioner. But when the crisis starts, it seems you have become enemy #1. If you are following what I am writing so far about Respectful Parenting, you probably realize that this approach is easy when there are no crises. But I have had several people predict the technique fails when a teen blows everything up.

How do you do Respectful Parenting during a crisis?

Before I had kids, I was privileged to be in a friendship with Dr. John White, author of over 30 books on psychology, counseling and Christianity. Dr. White was the department chair at the University of Manitoba School of Medicine responsible for training psychiatrists. He also was a pastor of a church a block away from the church I pastored.

Inexplicably, this famous older man befriended me during our first year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I learned so much from John. It was during those years there that Dr. White came out with his book, “Parents in Pain.” This was an autobiographical book, telling the story of how both his boys became drug addicts during their teen years. Here he was, a well-loved pastor, college professor, psychiatrist and author, and both his teens went off the rails into drugs. In the first chapter of this book, he makes this observation:

“God had two children–Adam and Eve–and both of them rebelled and made a mess of life. How can we as human parents expect to do much better than God? God is not responsible for the sins of Adam and Eve, and neither are we parents responsible for the mistakes of our children.”

This statement emphasizes the first critical need when helping teens through their crisis. Learn this truth: parents, it is not your fault. The crisis was created by the teen and their cohort. You did not cause the crisis and you, ultimately, cannot solve it. The teen must put the effort in, or your efforts are useless.

What this means is not jumping in too early to rescue them. Let them sort the options through for awhile. At the very least, let them know you’re there to help them process the problem. But don’t immediately offer solutions. It is in the process of panic, retrenching, seeking resources and answers, and final execution that we all learned to grow through life’s difficulties.

Also parents, resist the temptation to read too much meaning into a child’s failure. Unfortunately, parents like to extrapolate one event into an entire predictive future. One drunken experience suggests to a parent the teen will grow up to be an alcoholic. Or if a teen shoplifts, parents fear they will adopt a life of crime and delinquency. But resist that fear and remember that you had many preteen years to teach them right and wrong. Those teachings will not be forgotten overnight, no matter how many experiments the teen tries.

And even if the teen does grow up to become a failure at life, that still is not the parent’s fault. David Sheff, in his autobiographical book on his son’s Meth addiction “Beautiful Boy”, tells how he and his ex-wife worked through the process of watching their son’s life fall apart. At one point, Sheff blames himself and the divorce for causing the addiction. But when his son went to his third treatment center for meth addiction, part of the healing process was having the parents meet with a counselor. The counselor asked each of them who they thought was to blame for the problems Nic was having with meth. They both blamed themselves. Then they blamed their marriage. Each of them blamed their new spouses as well.

The counselor let them go through this blaming process for a long while. Then, he looked at them and said “No. You have just told me all the people who are not to blame. Only one person is responsible for Nic’s addiction and his descent into hell. That person is Nic.”

It is fascinating to read the other side of this story. Nic Sheff himself also wrote a book about his addiction called “Tweak”. Nic observes many times how he would blame his family and friends for his drug use. But he finally realizes that he himself is responsible for all the garbage in his life. He also realized at one point how badly his family suffered because of him. These are his words from an article in “Fix” Magazine:

“Because, something that does truly make my situation unique, is that, unlike with most addicts, my dad actually wrote a whole book (that is, a New York Times #1 bestselling book) about his experience with his drug addict son. So, uh, I got to read in detail about how my addiction had nearly destroyed his life and his marriage and the lives of my little brother and sister. I got to read, along with a lot of other people, just how much my actions really did affect the people that loved me.

It was super f****** intense. I remember when I got my first copy of the book, I could only read like three pages at a time ‘cause it was so painful and embarrassing.”

Then later in that same article, this is what he says he would do if one of his children was an addict:

“And, if I were to have a child of my own one day who was struggling with addiction, I’d like to think I’d do the same thing for him that my dad did for me—not necessarily write a book about him or anything like that but just telling him the truth about how he was affecting me and my family. Because really, trying to “protect” an addict from the truth is like nailing up their coffin. I’ve seen it before, with the parents of addicts who refuse to ever acknowledge the problem. And I’ve seen those addicts die the way I’m a hundred percent sure I would have, too, if the people in my life who love me hadn’t been willing to tell me the truth about what an asshole I’d become.”

What rescued David Sheff from being defeated in working with his son in crisis was the idea that none of this was his fault: none of it. By recording his thoughts in the book, he was able to externalize the pain he was feeling. I am describing this to you so you can see that even if things turn out the worst they can possibly be, there is still hope and it is still NOT  YOUR FAULT.

My wife, a school nurse, works with pregnant teens much more than she would like. It’s not that she dislikes them–she is able to bond with most of them on a deep level–it is that she knows they will face challenges their classmates know nothing about. When I asked her what the biggest fear pregnant teens have, she didn’t hesitate to answer: “They are afraid of how their parents will react.”

Of course, in today’s culture, a pregnant teen can get an abortion without informing a parent. My wife has observed there are many teens that end up getting abortions because they would rather face the pain of that procedure than the pain of their parents knowing they had become pregnant.

This underscores for me the second principle in helping teens work through a crisis: Don’t over-react when you first hear. Take a time-out. Catch your emotional breath. Let a good portion of the emotion out before talking with them. Above all, don’t say anything that will make a division in your relationship with them.

This is important because one of the first goals of helping a teen through a crisis is determining the absolute nature of the crime. There are three possibilities of the source of the problem:

  1. Ignorance: The teen did not see the consequences of their action before it was too late.
  2. Experimentation: They knew there would be consequences, but their curiosity tied to an inborn sinful nature got the better of them.
  3. Willful Rebellion: They knew what would happen and didn’t care.

 

I hope the reader can see that these sources differ greatly from each other. My experience tells me that most teen crises fall into one of the first two categories. As I said earlier, teens are inexperienced adults. They don’t know what they don’t know. But because they are abstract thinkers with strong wills, they like to pretend they know everything. I can tell you as a counselor to teens that they are actually insecure about what they don’t know. They are a basket full of insecurity. But they don’t want anyone else to know it.

In the previous article, I mentioned a young girl who had her first sexual experience and was shamed by her parents when she told them. In my interview with her, I realized it was a date rape. But she didn’t know that because not only had she never had sex before, she had never been told what she should expect in a sexual encounter. She thought her experience was normal.

When I told her why this experience is considered date rape, she had an amazing transformation. She went from being a shamed, confused teen to an angry, offended adult. It didn’t take very long either. Just having enough information to judge her own situation changed her outlook completely. I don’t think it is any coincidence that during the past decade she has worked in women’s shelters in her city. Her teen experience opened her eyes to the way that women are often hurt and exploited.

Her parents reacted quickly and wrongly. Those two results often go together. What should a parent do when they discover a child acted out of ignorance to the consequences? My experience is that the parent should either inform the child about the truth in life or get someone else to do it. And then let the teen learn their own lesson. If the mistake was one borne of ignorance, offer to help with the consequences.

How does a parent react when the child was experimenting? I believe the key here is to dialogue with them, asking if they knew what would happen. Most teens will admit they knew there might be some harsh consequences, but almost all of them will say they didn’t know it would be this bad. One of my kids experimented one night with drinking half a bottle of brandy. I happened to be awake when they got home–I couldn’t sleep because of a leg cramp–and they came in while I was massaging my calf. I could smell the brandy from about 20 feet away.

Brandy burns the gut. It is why most people sip it. This child denied completely that they had been drinking. Then, in the middle of our conversation, they threw up all over the floor. It was all i could do not to laugh. (By the way, I never claimed to be a compassionate parent. Nor have my children ever claimed this either). What bothered me the most is this child drove home with my car. I couldn’t care less that they had experimented with alcohol. But then they drove home in my car.

I did nothing that night. I sent this stomach-heaving teen to their room to sleep it off. The next afternoon, we had a long talk about what they had expected to happen. I realized quickly this was a venial sin–they had some idea of the consequences, but never knew it would be that bad.

But they also were guilty of drinking and driving. I spent 20 minutes telling them all about what might have happened with my car. I told them what would have happened to my insurance rates, to their own driver’s license. Then, my wife regaled this teen with stories of the victims of drunk drivers she had seen in the hospital over the years. By the end of her description, our teen was in tears.

I have never observed that teen drunk again. If they have, I can’t imagine they have ever got drunk and drove a car.

Oh, and that teen never drove that car again. There have to be some obvious consequences with certain misdemeanors. With ignorance, we can help them with consequences. But with experimentation, we must help them to learn the full benefit of trial-by-error. Science teachers us that experimentation is worthless if you don’t learn anything.

But willful disobedience, especially if it involves hurting others, is a different matter altogether. It must be treated with much more stringent reaction.

For several years while living in Canada, I worked for a Sexual Abuse awareness group. We educated the public on the realities of familial child abuse. One of my co-workers contacted me one evening. He was devastated. His son had been babysitting for some neighbors. The neighbor’s youngest daughter revealed to her mom that my friend’s son had sexually assaulted her while babysitting. The neighbor was horrified–as you can imagine–but they also didn’t want to go to the police.

My friend had called me because this didn’t sit right with him. He felt something more needed to be done. His son was 16 and knew the realities and wrongness of sexual abuse. His actions were evil, illegal and immoral. They could not and should not be swept under the rug. And, even though his neighbor did not want to press charges, dad decided to go to the police himself. I accompanied him and I was there when the police arrested the teen. He was put into jail, then mandatory treatment and the sex offender label. Even though he shed that label when he was 18, he had to move from our small town because everyone knew what he had done.

Even though only a small portion of teen delinquency rises to this level of wrongness, when it does, it must be treated very seriously. It is not wrong to contact police when a teen commits a crime against other people or their property. In fact, it would be wrong not to. I would love to tell you that dad’s actions solved his son’s sexual abuse problem, but I have no way of knowing that. A person has to cross so many boundaries emotionally to get to the place where they will be willing to assault another person. If there is an antidote to this, it often resides in the police or a treatment program.

Chronically suicidal teens can only be helped by having them committed under a 5150 (i.e. mandatory 72-hour hold in a treatment facility). Drug addicted teens (not experimenters) should get professional help if they will receive it. If a teen deliberately keeps hurting others through their actions, and shows no remorse, it is time for them to leave home.

But I challenge parents of teens to consider this: If you have maintained a good level of communication with your teen over the years, rarely will you see this kind of behavior. Most mistakes will be borne of ignorance and experimentation. You do not need to add extra punishment for these. Simply make them accountable for cleaning up their own mess. And like the professors who gave us the “stern rebuke”, perhaps telling them occasionally about some of your mistakes might help them see you as an ally, not an adversary.

Other Articles in this Series:

White Paper on Punishing Teens

The Basic Offenses of Teens

Teens and High School Successes (and Failures)

 

 

 

Six Reasons To Get News From Somewhere Other Than Television

Posted on August 13, 2014

I am not exaggerating when I say that I have counseled dozens of people with News Cycle Syndrome. (I made up the term, don’t google it, you’ll be disappointed).

News Cycle Syndrome is the increasing inability to turn off the television when a major disaster (i.e. war, emergency, deaths, disease outbreaks, etc.) is being reported upon. It was first identified during the Gulf War, when people would watch CNN for up to 20 hours a day, frightened that they would miss something critical if they slept.

This is not something humorous or rare. Celebrities, sports stars and even news anchors have all reported suffering from it. Lately though, it is getting worse. Right now we have Ebola virus, warfare in israel/Gaza, Christian persecution in Iraq, Ukrainian instability all bombarding our senses every news cycle.

People have asked me how it affects me and I can honestly say it doesn’t. I still look at the news, but it easy for me to turn away. I don’t lose much sleep at night and I don’t worry about what’s going to happen next. There is one major reason for this.

I don’t watch television news. I haven’t done so since 1987. I have a number of reasons for this and I want to share the most important ones with readers of this blog.

Television Reduces Your Ability to Analyze: Michael Medved, in his landmark book “Hollywood Versus America” reported on a study done at UCSB on the effects of media on the brain. After interviewing thousands of people, they put them through a test where they had to pick out falsehoods in news stories. These falsehoods were very obvious. The people picked out 90% of the newspaper stories with lies. They identified 75% of the radio stories that were wrong. They discovered only 20% of the television stories. They concluded that the brain will believe things that it SEES much more readily than what it reads or hears. We trust our eyes more than our ears and logic. This makes television news a dangerous commodity indeed.

Television Squashes the Distance Between You and an Event: These days, we can be right in the heart of the tornado, we can see children killed on the side of the road, we can look into the classroom where a gunman shot students. The value of emotional distance is that we don’t have to identify with a disaster. The closer we are, the more it affects our emotions.

Television Shows You What to Look at: Of course, all media is slanted and biased. There is no way for it to be otherwise. But our brains are skeptical of what we’re told. But when we only see certain points of view with our eyes, we exclude other possibilities more easily.

News Cycles Never End: With FoxNews and CNN broadcasting 24 hours a day, you can (and do) watch the news continually. The amount of time we watch news has tripled in just the last 20 years. No one is going to read the newspaper or magazines for 6 hours in a row. But we do that with television. The longer we watch, the more chance we will no longer analyze and as a result we devolve into simply digesting.

News Services Lump Together Stories that have Superficial Connections: All media do this. They show three stories in a row about husbands beating their wives and children. This leaves the reader/viewer with an idea that this happens all the time everywhere. At least with print media, we have the opportunity to think about it. News stories come at us so quickly, we do not think about our own reactions to the clumping of stories.

And Speaking About “Quickly”… back in 1965, the average new story lasted six minutes. Today’s television has reduced the story to less than 45 seconds. Once again, this leaves very little time to analyze what is being reported and our brain just stops. When your brain stops, you are susceptible to error and propaganda.

Dealing with Unmet Needs

Posted on May 22, 2014

NeedsJimmy had worked for his company over five years. For the first two years, he had a supervisor who complimented him on his strong work ethic and high production for the department. Then, this supervisor was transferred and Jimmy found his new boss liked to “motivate” through criticism. Jimmy endured the constant nit-picking, figuring that this supervisor would eventually leave as well. For some reason, the supervisor has not left.

After this, Jimmy dreaded going into work. He didn’t just resent the criticisms, but the entire atmosphere of the department. Since his supervisor was critical of everyone, all of the employees were on edge. Few of them wanted to work there and they often took it out on each other by sniping and back-biting.

Let’s analyze this a moment. Jimmy has a need to see his job as important and his role as valuable to the company. But the reality of his situation is much harder. He cannot quit this job; in today’s economic climate, few people can just switch jobs because they don’t like them. He has spoken to his boss’s boss who refuses to correct the critical supervisor. As a result of feeling stuck in this bad job, he has migraine headaches frequently and has trouble concentrating. This has negatively impacted his marriage and many of his friendships.

Let’s leave Jimmy for a second and look at the Scripture we ended the last article with: Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6, 7 NIV)

First, when the Apostle Paul says “do not be anxious”, this is a verb tense in Greek which means “Do not continue to be anxious“. He is forbidding the continuance of anxiety. He is not condemning all anxiousness. That would be unrealistic. We feel what we feel.

Second, Paul really does mean “every” situation. He is counseling us to begin a habit of bringing all of life’s turns in the road before God for His input.

What is the problem Paul is addressing? When we face moments of emotional overload, we often blame the current situation. But Paul doesn’t see that as the main problem. Our anxiety is the obstacle. We realize this when Paul offers the alternative: “Present your requests to God … and the peace of God…will guard your hearts”.

Look at that phrase, “guard your hearts”. This is a military term. It acknowledges that our inner man, the place where we make choices, is the seat of the most potential failure. If, in that place, we allow anxiety to fester, this causes more problems than the outward problem itself.

In Jimmy’s case, he never got over his supervisor’s critical attitude. Twice he ended up in the hospital. After three years of carrying his anxiety home with him, his wife had enough of it all and left him. He blamed his work situation for both results, but his boss didn’t force him to carry his problems home. His boss didn’t tense up his muscles for him. He wanted to blame it all on him, but that just took away Jimmy’s responsibility in the mess.

Our life stresses are caused by the difference between our “Ideal World” and our “Real World”. When our perceived needs are not met to our satisfaction, we compare how life is going with how we want it to go. The difference between the two, when it gets too big, leads to many problems.

Most people assume that it is ridiculous to think we shouldn’t feel stress in a hard life situation. But that is not true. You can put 100 people through the same difficulties and though most will react in ways that make things worse, not everyone does. Read the book Unbroken” by Louis Zamperini, where he endured more war-related hardship than almost any other person and he came out the other side as a dynamic and helpful man. Along the way, however, he almost fell apart through alcoholism and hatred. His inner turmoil hurt him much more than being at sea for 60 days or from 2 years in a brutal concentration camp.

During his drunken binges and angry outbursts, Louis met God and God changed his life. He began to give over his hatred and hurt to God and God replaced it with Joy and Love. This is why Philippians 4 talks about presenting our requests to God. It is not the answer to prayer we need but the relationship we find when we come to God in our hurt.

Jimmy met with Christian friends after his wife left and they showed him how to talk and listen to God. God led him to forgive his boss and have empathy for him. He began to treat other employees the way he wanted to be treated and single-handedly he brought a better attitude into the office. As he did this, his headaches left and he felt peace again. He was becoming the person he wanted his supervisor to be. God helped him to pray for the people who had hurt him and to treat them better than they treated him. After six months of this, he was promoted to a supervisory position in another department.

His wife noticed the difference and agreed to give their marriage another try. They are still together.

Today, Jimmy realizes that his biggest problem was in his own heart. He had allowed the difference between his ideal world and real world to get too far apart. Whenever this happens, go to God and get his insights.

There are two ways to close the gap. First, let go of some of the ideals you have wanted. God can help you do this. Then seek to live in such a way that your real world comes closer to your needs. God helped Jimmy become a different person in the office. That is why he enjoyed it more.

The second critical step is to realize that our answer to prayer often involves us doing something. When Peter came to Jesus with a need to pay taxes (and he didn’t have the money), Jesus didn’t hand him the money. He told him to go fishing and look in the mouth of the first fish he caught. There was a coin worth enough to pay for both their taxes.

Peter was a fisherman; he could do fishing. In my mind, Jesus is telling us to do what we know how to do and then let God work the miracles. We can make our real world different by doing the next thing God shows us and counting on God to do what only God can do.

Are you willing to be the one who closes the gap between the real world and the ideal world? God will show you how to do it if you ask him and wait for his Holy Spirit insight.

20140522-113058-41458553.jpg

Stripping Down the Layers of Communication

Posted on May 14, 2014

layersDr. William Glasser developed the principles of Choice Theory, which in my opinion is the most workable model of modern counseling. He taught that there were five potential motivations for any of our behaviors:

1. Survival (food, clothing, shelter, breathing, personal safety and others)
and four fundamental psychological needs:

2. Belonging/connecting/love

3. Power/significance/competence

4. Freedom/autonomy, and

5. Fun/learning

With so many things motivating us, often we are affected by more than one motivation at a time.

For instance, consider a dating couple. He likes to attend hockey games and invites her to join him. She seems eager and yells loudly with all the fans at the game. What he does not know is that she is only mildly interested in hockey. So why is she getting so excited about the game?

First, he is excited about the game and she enjoys being around him when he’s thrilled about something. Second, she likes that feeling of being part of his inner circle that she gets when he invites her to a hockey game. Third–and she probably is unaware of this one–she feels like she now has the upper hand in the relationship since she has accompanied him to one of his fun exercises. So she has fulfilled three of her basic motivations: Fun, Belonging and Power.

But assume one day that she gets lost in the arena coming back from the snack bar and can’t find her seat. When she calls him on her cell phone, the noise of the crowd prevents him from hearing her call. She panics, and for fifteen minutes she lives in fear and anger. Finally, she goes out to the car and waits for him there.

When the hockey game ends, he goes out to the car, baffled as to why she didn’t return. She immediately gives him some multi-layered communication. Instead of telling him the story, she says this:

I hope you and your friends enjoyed your little game while I waited out here all alone”. Let’s break down what she is trying to say.

First, her need for safety has engendered fear and anger. She blames him for this, even though she is the one who was lost. She wants him to know how she is feeling.

Second, she no longer feels like she is in his favored circle since he didn’t come looking for her. Actually, she doesn’t really know if he did–all she knows is he didn’t find her. She wants to let him know she feels left out.

Third, she wants to regain her sense of control by making him feel demeaned.

Fourth, she needs to know she still matters to him.

The unfortunate thing is that there is no way he can understand all of this from the one thing she said. So instead of asking questions to find out what she’s talking about, he primarily hears her anger and responds to that. He feels defensive–after all, he didn’t really do anything wrong. He wrongly assumes that because she is angry, it is his responsibility to deal with that. It isn’t. People have a right to be angry with us and we are not required to respond in kind.

He asks her “What’s wrong with you?” He says this because he cannot understand why she is so angry at him. He doesn’t know about her fear, loss of control and sense of not belonging. So his question “What’s wrong with you?” makes matters worse. She is so devastated because she now feels the “not belonging” part more acutely. She refuses to speak to him on the way home. He is baffled by all of this because he didn’t understand the many layers involved with this process.

Several weeks later, they came to me for counseling. I normally don’t do counseling with both members of the couple at the same time. But after hearing their story, I decided a little teaching was in order. I explained the five different motivations that we all have. Then I had her tell me what she was trying to accomplish by going to the hockey game. After a few minutes she was able to accurately identify why this was important to her. Then came the crucial part: I had her analyze what was bothering her about getting lost. We all decided together that it was the sense of having failed her boyfriend and looking foolish in front of his friends.

I looked over at him as she came to this realization. As she explained this, I could see compassion on his face. He was concerned for her. This is what she wanted in the first place, but just didn’t know it. So I asked her how she could have expressed what was going on inside of her to make it easier for him to understand.

Like most people, she didn’t know.

So I walked her through it. First, she needed to understand what was bothering her. Most of our negative reactions come from the separation between our Ideal World and the Real World. The Ideal world is where all our motivations/needs are satisfied (Note: When has that ever happened?). The Real World is the place where only some of our needs/motivations are met. This is what engenders our reactions. So she needed to understand what she was feeling. If she wanted him to understand, she needed to express things in single layers. She needed to make sure he understood each layer. She would know she had accomplished this when the inner turmoil began to subside.

Here is what she came up with. She identified three single layered statements she needed to make that night:

“Honey, I was afraid because I was lost.”

“I hate feeling like an idiot, especially in front of your friends. I am afraid that I have slipped in your opinion of me”

“I was angry because I assumed you didn’t come look for me”.

When she expressed these three things to him, he understood. Because she saw his understanding, it ended all the difficulty between them.

When you feel these negative emotions, always ask yourself, “Which of my needs are not getting met?” and then, “Do I need to tell someone about this?”

Often, for God-followers, it is best to talk to God about these things first. After all, the Bible does say in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

More about these verses in the next article.

Dissecting Layered Communication

Posted on April 2, 2014

My friend Charlie and I had to utilize all our geek abilities, but we finally got the turntable to make sounds as we played the LP slowly. It was the Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. We had heard through a reliable source there were hidden messages in some of the songs. We played it for an hour and then we found one. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” there was some funky background music and then a creepy voice made an announcement.

Charlie was sure the voice said “I BURIED PAUL”. I believed the ghastly voice said “CRANBERRY SAUCE”. Stephen King I’m not.

Whatever it was they put on the album (John Lennon claimed it was “Cranberry Sauce”…I feel vindicated…), they masked some of their messages deep in the midst of their music. I know they probably did it to create buzz about the album, but that is ludicrous to me. They were one of the greatest rock bands of their day. They didn’t need the gimmicks. Apparently, someone in their decision-making circle felt they did.

This is the picture I lead with to help you understand Layered Communication. As I said in the previous article, Layered Communication is one reason there are so many misunderstandings in human interaction.

If we committed ourselves to single-layered communication as often as possible, we would eliminate most of our fighting.

Why do we hide so many messages within simple statements? There are probably many reasons for doing this, but I find five categories for these reasons.

1. Fear: We fear saying some things so we hide them among the words of another piece of information. This motivation sits at the heart of most passive-aggressive communication. One person is angry and wants the other person to know it. But they don’t want to be seen as angry. Or maybe there are afraid of retribution. Or perhaps they believe the person will reject them when they express their anger. So instead of letting the other person see their anger clearly, they let it color otherwise simple communication. If you’ve ever had a friend say something innocent to you and it didn’t feel innocent at all, you know this practice. Fear drives more layered communication than any other factor.

2. Revenge: We hide some of our communication so we can get even with other people for recent occasions when they have not communicated properly with us. If you won’t be straight with me, I won’t be straight with you. This game can go on for years.

3. Intimidation: People sometimes cloak the information they want to share so that those close to them will feel less confident. For instance, a husband may want his wife to appreciate him more, so he tells her all about the pretty women at work, hoping she will feel like he is a great catch without him having to say it. Unfortunately, this approach often backfires.

4. Calculation: Often, when one person wants to win an argument with another person, they will say things in order to get certain reactions. Then, they have a plan how they want to respond to those reactions. In this way, the layered communication is calculated to bring a certain result.

5. Ignorance: Many times we layer our communication because we are not aware, or have not acknowledged, that those layers are even there. Nothing surprises us more than someone who asks “What do you mean by that?”when we really thought we were being straightforward.

With those motivations in mind, let’s define each of the 8 possible layers that can be added to simple communication:

Emotions: Even those people who are in touch with their feelings often do not know how to express them. So they combine them with other pieces of information. This can be confusing. A person who says their day was fine, but the voice and body language speak “frustration”, can put the conversation on the wrong footing.

Bitterness or Resentment: I won’t seek to define either of these, and though they are different, they look the same as a sub-layer. If you are bitter or resentful, even simple information comes across as complex. Resentment is very hard to talk about, especially with the person we resent. Resentment is a decision where we have decided we cannot change a situation but we will not let go of the hurt. This hurt often bleeds over into many other things we want to communicate. When resentment has been in residence for a long time, it evolves into bitterness. The Bible tells us that bitterness then becomes ” a root which grows up to harm many people.

Sarcasm: This is often the front layer in a conversation. Sarcasm is masked anger. But it is a more societally acceptable way of expressing anger without having to admit you’re angry. This layer shows up to disguise the anger underneath. In this way, it creates a smoke screen and prevents two people from getting further into the truth of their relationship.

Body Language: Social Scientists have studied this layer for decades and still cannot come up with a definitive way to tell how to read the body language of another person. But when a person says one thing and their body seems to say another, it confuses the issue and negates much of what is being said.

False Beliefs: This layer is numerous and often the person who has these is blind to them until they make it to the top layer. For instance, a wife may be frustrated for months that her husband spends little time with her. But because he seems to be working hard, she feels like she can’t bring it up. In a conversation, she blurts out “You hate spending time with me, don’t you.”Then she feels embarrassed she said it this way.

She may be revealing a false belief. Perhaps she believes that everyone will find her to be boring, or unimportant, or that her significant friends are always going to find something better than her. Any of these “universal” beliefs can form a layer underneath what we’re trying to say.

Distraction: We often say one thing while our mind is on another thing. Or, in this distracted world, we have too many things we want to say to other people and we make the mistake of trying to say them all in one statement. This is overwhelming to both parties.

Hatred: After years of not properly dealing with anger and frustration, a person can decide they hate another person. Every time they try to communicate with this other person, the hatred layer is transmitted. This layer will often poison every piece of communication. With hatred, we hurt other people and do not even feel badly for doing so.

After looking at this list, you may wonder if there is any such thing as a simple single-layered communication. In fact, there are many ways we can communicate in single layers and the next article we will discuss how to talk to other people in this manner.

Understanding Layered Communication

Posted on April 2, 2014

Years ago, a man who had been married many more years than I told me some advice about wives.

He said: “If she says ‘Go ahead’ in response to something you want to do–and you notice she isn’t smiling and her arms are crossed in front of her–it isn’t permission, it’s a dare”.

Funny. Wise. Layered.

I owe much of my understanding of the dynamics of interpersonal communication to one of the greatest psychoanalysts of the 20th Century: Dr. William Glasser. What made Dr. Glasser so helpful to our society is he could take complicated subjects and make them so obvious and simple to understand.

Perhaps he is best known for his definition of communication. He defined all communication between two people as this: “It is only information. If you think it is more than that, you are self-deceived.”

Since marriage represents the most intimate dynamics of communication, they are also the most dangerous. If I misunderstand something a stranger says to me, it doesn’t matter that much. But if I make the same error with my life partner, it can be devastating. And after 30-plus years of doing counseling, I can attest that most marriage problems are communication difficulties.

We need to understand three things in order to make all communication easier.

First, what you are hearing is just information.
Second, if you believe otherwise, it is your problem, not the other person
Third, the main difficulty we have with what we hear other people say is that they have layered their communication and we often do not know it.

Let’s look at a standard marital conflict that illustrates all three parts.

Let’s say Jim has had a hard day at work. He was given an impossible task by his boss and it wasn’t going well. He is tired, frustrated, feeling abused and disrespected, and needing to rest and recuperate.

However, as soon as he comes through the door, his wife tells him all about how bad their two boys behaved at the grocery store after work. She never asks about his day, never notices the look of exasperation on his face.

Jim honestly can see that his wife is frustrated. At the same time, he needs support and rest. So, he tries to communicate all of this to Tonya his wife and says, “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” She is hurt by this and storms off to make dinner, slamming cupboards and huffing.

She assumed something Jim was communicating. She assumed wrongly. He was giving information about his desire to avoid more drama and the need to rest. She assumed he was communicating something about their relationship and his lack of caring for her. He gave her information. The rest of what happened was hers.

Taken at face value, his statement is fairly simple. He doesn’t want to talk about the kids at that moment. He didn’t say he would never talk about it. He didn’t say that he couldn’t care less about her feelings. His communication was a case of simple information. Tonya did not understand this or accept it.

This leads us to the second truth about communication. Her emotional reaction was her problem. Any time we react to information being given to us we are responsible completely for our reaction. The other person is only responsible for the information they gave us. In Tonya’s case, she carried the frustration of being the only care-giver that day in the household. She was angry that Jim seemed to be reticent to help her. She assumed his motivations. All of these assumptions and reactions are her responsibility. If she had been wise–and we will talk about how to use this approach with any other person–she would have asked Jim why he didn’t want to talk about it at that moment. She chose to be hurt and that was her choice. Jim did not make her do that.

Now for the most complicated part of this scenario: Tonya reacted to Jim’s dual layers of information with a multi-layered communication response. I define multi-layered communication as any information which is layered with one or more of the following:

1. Emotions
2. Bitterness or resentment
3. Sarcasm
4. Physical body language instead of words
5. Unspoken assumptions
6. False beliefs
7. Distraction
8. Revenge or hatred

Let’s analyze Jim and Tonya.

Jim had two distinct layers of information:

1. He didn’t want to talk about the current situation at that moment
2. He was angry and tired and did not state this up front.

Jim made the situation a degree harder by not giving the second piece of information before the first one.

Tonya had several layers of communication which she put across using passive-aggressive behavior:

1. Anger at the boys
2. Frustration that she was the primary care-giver and Jim did not seem to be interested
3. A desire to hurt Jim for the perceived hurt Jim had laid on her.
4. Perhaps a deep-seated belief that people would not assist her when she needed it.

Tonya only expressed the first layer and let Jim assume the existence of the other layers. Because neither of them had carefully dissected their own layers before communicating, they could not connect with each other mentally or emotionally. This is the type of fight that can linger for weeks, months or even years if not corrected.

In the next article, we’ll dissect the 8 layers and examine how to attempt to give other people information about each one.

Facebook Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com