Pinata

People Are Not Pinatas.

People are NOT pinatas!

I love pinatas! They are a ton of fun and, for the 6 years we lived in San Diego, they were a birthday party staple! Kids, and plenty of adults, would have a blast smacking various effigies. Children would wait excitedly for candy and prizes to fall when the paper finally gave way to all the abuse. Pinatas are great! But people make horrible pinatas. Just terrible.

I have seen too many people verbally, emotionally, psychological, spiritually, existentially, and even physically beat themselves up in order to get “good stuff”. Some people even allow others to harm them in various ways and then promise to “do better”. It’s not healthy, productive, or beneficial. This isn’t about the discomfort or pain that so often accompanies growth or self-denial. That hurts, but it doesn’t harm (I’ve written about that here).

So, I’m asking, please, can we stop beating ourselves up, allowing ourselves to be broken, and then continue to think we’ll give good things? Please?

COVID-19

Repetition is the reality and the seriousness of life. ~Kierekegaard

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COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. There are some practical things we can all do to help! The World Health Organization provides great information here: WHO & COVID-19

  1. Wash your hands! This was a good idea before and it’s a great one now!
  2. Cough into your elbow or a tissue.
  3. Don’t touch your face. This one is easier said than done, but do your best!
  4. Provide 3 to 6 feet of distance between you and other people
  5. STAY HOME! If you don’t need to leave, stay in your home. This will help prevent the spread of the disease.

The good news is that you don’t have to avoid therapy to do all of these! Existential Family Therapy provides telehealth (online therapy) at no additional cost. You can use your cell phone, tablet, or computer to continue your mental health journey. You don’t have to go through this alone. If you have questions regarding coverage, contact your insurance provider. Most insurances have provided a moratorium on any restrictions against services provided through telehealth.

As long as we are able, Existential Family Therapy will continue to provide opportunities to meet in person. However, if you are concerned for your health or believe you may have contracted COVID-19, please let your therapist know you’d like to meet online.

Rolling Resistance

“I conceived it as my task to make difficulties everywhere.”
~Kierkegaard as Climacus
     My tire pressure dash light has been on for about 2 weeks. My gas mileage is awful, my steering is less responsive, and I can’t be sure, but I think I heard my tires crying the other night. All of this is due to the change in temperature here in Kansas: It’s gone from oppressively hot to ridiculously cold. This has caused the air in my tires to huddle together for warmth (kinda), so the tire isn’t as inflated. This has increased the rolling resistance in my tires. In other words, it takes more energy to move my car, because the tires are creating more friction. There’s nothing wrong with my tires, they don’t have a leak or a hole, it’s just a change in weather.

Sometimes, situations in our life change and we begin to notice a decrease in our energy levels. We may have a shorter fuse, get frustrated more easily, or just feel a general sense of malaise. If you start looking for a problem and can’t identify anything, ask someone you trust to help provide additional perspectives/insights. If you still can’t find anything, it may be a psychological form of rolling resistance.

Over time, life tends to shift in different directions. Projects at work start growing, the kids have more extra-curricular activities because they’re older and more involved, pets have to go the vet, the heater goes out in December and the budget was already tight; all kinds of things can happen! One or two of these at a time may not even register as a “difficulty” in our life. Usually, most people can push through 1 or 2 of these. However, if we’re already stretched thin, these relatively easy tasks can begin to create a rolling resistance in our life. It will take more energy than normal to get the laundry done, brush our teeth, or even be with friends. There may not be a clinical depression, but things just seem to take “more”. If you are struggling with the effects of psychological rolling resistance, I have a few recommendations:

  1. Set better boundaries: Cloud and Townsend in their book Boundaries state that if you aren’t free to say “no”, any “yes” you give is contrived. That can mean saying no to really wonderful things, even if we desperately want to do it.
  2. Self-Care: Making sure you have enough in your psychological reserves before you decide to give to someone or something else is crucial.
  3. Be willing to change your mind: Already said yes to something you don’t have time for? Time to swallow your pride, contact someone, and let them know it’s going to take longer than you thought. You may have to tell them it’s not going to happen at all. Apologize for overextending yourself and try to do what you can with what you have.
  4. Accept help: I don’t know why, but this seems to be very difficult for many people. I’ve seen hundreds of people willing to offer their help at a moments notice. Those same people are often reticent to accept help. It could be because they’re worried they’ll “owe” someone. It could be because they believe they’re not worth the help. Truth is, no one is expected to do life alone. Ask for help. If you receive it, be grateful! If you don’t, respect those boundaries, ask someone else, and try something new.
  5. Realize that life is difficult: In the opening quote, Kierkegaard writes about being a difficulty. Many people believe that life is a series of struggles, and all we get to do is pick which struggles we want. Never forget that you are someone else’s struggle…and they’ve picked you on purpose! You are worth the struggle.
Rolling Resistance.
(C) Nathan D. Croy, 2018

Five Forgiveness Myths

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you.”
~Lewis B. Smedes

     Everyone has experienced hurt at some point in their life. These hurts can range from deeply traumatic to minimal, but everyone has experienced being hurt. While not all hurt is harmful (think: the pain after working out), and not all harmful experiences hurt right away (think: unhealthy diets), the awareness of feeling hurt has the same curative factor: Forgiveness. In this post, I’d like to address the top 5 myths that prevent people from being able to forgive.     

Myth 5: I have to tell people when I forgive them.

One of the most common myths I see is the belief we must tell the person we’re forgiving that they’re forgiven. It may be a good idea, when possible, to have a conversation with someone after you forgive them. This is not to shame them or make sure they know they’ve done something wrong. It can be healing for them! At the very least it could be corrective. There have been times when I hurt someone and had no idea; I was glad they told me so I could make it right. However, telling someone you forgive them is not necessary.
     I have worked with individuals who wanted to forgive a parent who had been abusive while they were growing up. Major problem? Their parent was deceased. Having a conversation with someone after they’ve passed away is, at best, difficult. In these instances, we have used empty chair techniques, letter writing, role-playing, or other techniques to facilitate their process of forgiving those who we can’t speak with directly.
     Even if someone is still alive, it may not be beneficial to talk to them directly. If they’re abusive, dangerous, or just not open to talking to us, we can still work on forgiving them without having to tell them. This leads me to the next myth.

Myth 4: I have to be in relationship with someone after I forgive them.

     Let me make one thing very clear before I say anything else: Abuse is not ok. Period. Nothing excuses abuse and abuse should always be addressed in the safest way possible. Kierkegaard wrote about abuse in Works of Love. He suggests the most loving thing we can do for an abuser is to leave them. This was contrary to the religious expectations of the day when the sanctity of marriage took precedence over the sanctity of personal safety and bodily autonomy. Kierkegaard argues that, to stay in an abusive relationship when leaving is possible, actually harms the abuser because it continues to give them access to the object of their abuse. It would be akin to providing an endless supply of alcohol to someone who struggles with addiction. Ultimately, the person with the addiction is responsible for their behavior, but what does it say about the person that encouraged easy access to alcohol?
     All that to say this: Forgiveness does NOT mean you have to be in a relationship with someone who has hurt you. They don’t need to know you forgave them (Myth 1) and to continue to give them access to you may actually harm the abuser! Which leads to Myth 3.

Myth 3: They need to ask for forgiveness.

     There have been times where I have hurt people completely unintentionally. In fact, I didn’t even know what I had said or done hurt anyone! Yet they stewed for days, weeks, and even years on something I had no awareness even existed. I didn’t know I did anything hurtful, so how could I know I should ask forgiveness?
     Other times, and I hope I don’t fit into this category, someone may be fully aware they did something hurtful and they just don’t care. I often see this in people who abuse others: They blame the abused person for the actions of the abuser.
     Both of these circumstances, as different as they are, have the same ultimate result because neither person is going to ask for forgiveness. This means the burden of forgiveness is on the one who has been hurt. The good news? That doesn’t change a thing. Even if I was aware I had hurt someone, intentionally or not, and I asked for forgiveness, the burden would still be on the person who experienced the hurt to forgive! No matter what, those who are hurt have a burden to decide if they want to forgive, hold a grudge (not forgive), or deny anything ever happened! Which is what Myth 2 is all about.

Myth 2: I should forgive and forget.

     “I’m supposed to forgive and forget, right?”. NO! Not sure I can be any more clear on this. Why would it be healthy to forget something hurtful has happened to us? If someone is frequently hurtful to us, and there’s really no valid reason, and we just forgot what they did, we would be subject to repeated pains and hurts!
     Some people are going to hurt us for our own good. Doctors, chiropractors, personal trainers, every dentist I’ve ever met…but it’s for our own good! It’s designed to help us be more healthy in the long-run and the discomfort is worth the overall gain. Therapists certainly fit in this group. A therapist, if they’re doing their job, is going to make you uncomfortable and challenge you on behaviors/beliefs that have kept you company throughout most of your life. If they don’t, they’re enabling the unhealthy decisions that lead you to seek therapy in the first place.
     Remembering these experiences can help us make better choices about who to spend time with, who we can trust, and who is willing to work to help us be better people. Why would you want to forget this? Even more so, how is anyone supposed to forget painful things which have happened to them?
     When this does happen, it’s usually symptomatic of a greater issue. When this type of forgetting occurs, we refer to it as dissociation. Dissociation can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and several other serious diagnoses. Forgetting is not a part of “moving on”. Forgetting what, or who, has hurt us, means we can easily be exposed to being hurt again! But unnecessarily putting ourselves at risk is not wise or healthy. Which leads to Myth number 1.

Myth 1: They’re free to do it again.

     One of the most difficult steps in forgiving others is the first one: Empathy. Opening ourselves to the experience of someone who has hurt us is counterintuitive. However, we must begin to see the person who hurt us as just that: a person. They’re not a demon, the personification of evil, or any other terror. They are simply people.
     There must be a distinct and clear differentiation between empathy and excuse. To say that what someone else has done to us is excused is to say we agree with it and no accountability or punishment is needed. I never want to suggest that any hurtful act, intentional or otherwise, shouldn’t be punished in some way. It’s actually a learning opportunity for those who have hurt us. Empathy does not excuse hurtful behaviors. The truth of the matter is that no one can undo the hurtful thing they’ve done. Short of a time machine, the best we could possibly hope for is a change in behavior.
     The biggest reason this myth should be eliminated has nothing to do with time machines or future harm. Ultimately, a belief in this myth keeps us in bondage to our past hurt. If we believe that forgiving someone is tantamount to allowing them to harm us again, how could we ever be free? Even more concerning, how could we ever accept forgiveness for the hurts we have inflicted on others? How could we forgive ourselves?
     Buechner makes an excellent point about the relational aspect of forgiveness:

“To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, “You have done something unspeakable and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less…”
To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride…
When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience.
When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.
For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins… “

     Forgiveness means we are no longer going to wait for someone else to change before we get to experience happiness. To forgive means we have reconciled our “account” and another person doesn’t owe us anything. It means we no longer expect another person to make us well. It means we are free. So what is stopping you from forgiving?

Forgiveness.
(c) 2018, Nathan D. Croy

When Therapy Begins

“I remember driving to therapy and thinking, ‘Well, this is it. I’m all out of stories’. I didn’t know what I was going to say. And that was when therapy really began.”
-Dr. Ron Wright

     Dr. Wright was one of my undergraduate psychology professors. Through various books, assignments, and tests he introduced me to existentialism. Many of the readings he assigned I still use, but it was the experiences he shared with us that stuck with me more than anything. The paraphrase at the top of this post was one of those experiences I knew was important. I also knew I didn’t fully understand. It wasn’t until after grad school, when I began to deeply focus on existential therapy, the idea of “being out of stories” started to make sense.

    In existential therapy, the past is important, but only insofar as it facilitates the understanding of who we are now and what is preventing our growth? Kierkegaard wrote that life is understood in reverse, but we often forget that it must be lived forwards. The artistry of therapy is not in the archeological excavation of our history. There may be clues there, but they pale in comparison to what happens within the therapy room. The relationship that develops between client and therapist, in the microcosm of the here-and-now, is an incredibly rich source of up-to-date information about life as it occurs!

    Sometimes we tell stories to avoid being present. It’s often easier to talk about the concrete past; even if it was traumatic. At least there’s some distance from what happened “back then”. But it prevents us from being here, now. This keeps us trapped and can perpetuate the idea of being a victim.

    Sometimes we tell stories because we believe our past defines us. If the only way I can know you is by knowing your past, then I’ll never know you. Your past is ever accumulating, tainted by perceptions and unknown biases, and our ability to remember things correctly is notoriously atrocious. This prevents us from planning ahead. It keeps us shackled to what happened “back then”.

    Sometimes we tell stories because we don’t know what to say right now. Sometimes we tell stories because we’re afraid of the future; the unknown. Sometimes we tell stories because we want to be right; and we want someone else to agree with us.

    You want the truth? Your therapy, your growth, your ability to change and be an active participant will forever be restricted until you’re finally out of stories. If you want your therapist, your partner, your family, or your friends to get to know you, be present! Put your phone away, the book down, stop telling stories, and start making new ones. Our history matters. But ultimately, those have meaning in the lessons we learn. When our stories begin to define us, they cease to be our past and begin to limit our future.

    When you’re ready, stop telling stories and start sharing experiences. That is when therapy will begin.

Stories
(C) 2018 Nathan D. Croy