Taking Relationships from Stressed to Supportive

18035056_1301826716532502_1564248780_nRelationships are meant to be sources of support and love, yet sometimes in the craziness of life, some relationships end up causing more stress or become “one more thing we have to attend to.” This feeling may be a sign that it’s time examine and possibly readjust the way we approach these relationships.

Theology of the Body tells us that God created us for relationships; that building the kingdom of God really means creating a life-giving “community of love” with the people who share our life.  It is ultimately the strength of our relationships with one another that bear witness to the glory of God and call others into communion with him.  As St Paul puts it, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong….”  Unfortunately, as much as our relationships are supposed to be a source of grace, strength, and support, in our fallen world,  they can often be sources of stress, frustration and conflict. The challenge is not to run from these struggles, but to cooperate with God’s grace to respond in love and responsibility to work through these difficulties and create communion in spite of the things that tend to divide us.

Here are three More2Life hacks on how to take your relationships from a source of stress to a source of support:

1. Pull the Relationship Weeds–Healthy relationships allow you to be real and not hide important parts of yourself. Relationships are often a source of stress because we feel like we have to hide important aspects of who we are for the sake of “keeping peace.” That’s backwards. Relationships aren’t an end in themselves, TOB reminds us that God intends for our relationships to serve the mutual good of the people in those relationships–to help each person in those relationships be more of what God created them to be, not less. To build the kingdom of God in your relationships, be who you are. The people God wants you to create communion with will stick around, support you, and ask for your support. The people that can’t handle the “you” God created you to be will drift away.  Let them go. Pulling the weeds in your relationship garden will allow all your relationships to flourish and bear more fruit as you spend time with the people who are really capable of building you up!

2. Speak Up Sooner Rather Than Later–When people act in ways we find hurtful or offensive, we often let it go, telling ourselves it isn’t worth the trouble to address these issues and create potential conflict. While there is something to be said for choosing our battles, if you find that an offense continues to gnaw at you, speaking up sooner rather than later is always best. In the words of Pope St Gregory the Great, “Thoughts seethe all the more when corralled by the violent guard of an indiscreet silence.” The best way to address an offense? Don’t assume they intended to offend you and instead ask a clarifying question. Something simple like, “Hey, when you did thus-and-such, I wasn’t sure what to make of that (or it kind of hurt) what did you mean by that?” Once the other person explains their intention, you can either decide that it was all just a misunderstanding and let it go, or suggest other, more palatable ways the other person can express themselves in the future. Anyone who is interested in a healthy relationship will not be put off by this at all and, in fact, will be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy smoother sailing in the future!

3. Good Fences…Good Neighbors–Each person we know is good at offering a different kind of support. The key to less stressful relationships is not trying to make a person give you a kind of support they just aren’t capable of.  Some people are great at being kindred spirits.  Others are good sources of support or companionship around particular topics or areas of interest.  Others still, are fine to hang out with occasionally, but aren’t really capable of offering anything more personal support.  Enjoy each relationship for what it is, not for what you think it should be.  Base the level of trust and intimacy you expect from a relationship on a person’s behavior, not their title or role in our lives.  Sure, we “should” be able to be closer to, and have greater trust in, a parent or sibling or than a friend or a cousin, but in reality people are only capable of giving what they can. Having good relationship fences means knowing what each person in your life is capable of giving–and receiving–from you, and refusing to try to force more than this from them.  Focus on enjoying the ways each person can be there for you and you’ll feel less frustrated by the ways they aren’t.

For more information on how to cultivate strong, healthy, and supportive relationships, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts! and make sure to tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio/Sirius XM 139.

Almost Two-Thirds of Children Worry “All The Time”

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We tend to assume that kids have it better than ever, but in reality, parents may have reasons to be concerned. New research shows that two-thirds of children worry “all the time.”

The mental-health charity Place2Be surveyed 700 children, all ten or eleven years old, across twenty schools throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. The results of the study showed that children deal with a wide variety of anxiety inducing concerns every day, the most prominent topics being family, friends, and fear of failing at school. Additionally, 40% of the children “felt that their worries got in the way of their school work,” nearly 30% stated that “once they started worrying they couldn’t stop,” and 21% said they “did not know what to do when they are worried.”

Similarly, the study revealed several gender differences. Girls tend to worry more about their looks and being bullied, while boys were more likely to worry about being angry. However, these concerns were prevalent in both boys and girls.

While children utilize coping strategies such as talking to their family and friends, or playing video games, more than 80% of the children reported that “the best way for adults to help was to listen sympathetically.” The children also stated that many of them have learned from their own experiences, so they recognize the importance of “being kind to anxious classmate.”

Often children are characterized as always being happy and primary school is viewed as an innocent and happy atmosphere, however, Place2Be charity’s chief executive, Catherine Roche, says, “in reality we know that young children can worry about a lot of things, whether it’s something going on at home, with their friends, or even about bad things happening in the world.”

Worry and anxiety are natural and normal occurrences, but it is extremely important that children know how and where to receive help. “Schools and families play a crucial role in ensuring that children learn to look out for each other and know how to get help if they need it.”

For more information on how to support your child and cultivate healthy coping strategies, check out Parenting with Grace! A Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids. https://www.catholiccounselors.com/product/parenting-grace-catholic-parents-guide-raising-almost-perfect-kids-2nd-ed/

 

Holiday Survival Guide: 5 Great Ideas for Coping with Your Crazy Family

Ah, Christmas. A solemn, joyful time of year for Christians, where silent and holy nights are de rigueur and Norman Rockwell springs eternal in the collective unconscious of the American mind.  And then it happens…. You try–contrary to what conventional wisdom says about the subject–to go home again.

Now, let me state right up front that this article is not for those of you who can’t wait to fly home and reenact your own Currier and Ives Christmas in all your old haunts with all your cherished friends and relations. If this is you, then I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy New Year, tons of figgy pudding in your stocking, and with that, I bid you a fond, holiday farewell until next year. No, this article is for the rest of you (you know who you are), who right about now are thinking that going to the local ice rink and lying down in front of the Zamboni machine may be preferable to putting up with one more Christmas of mom making “helpful” comments about your weight, dad getting more than his share of nog in the egg, your corporate attorney sister (aka “Little Miss Perfect”) telling you how she is glad that you are happy in your “little life,” your brother-in-law (the one that hit you up for $2,000 last Christmas for the Ostrich farm) asking you for money, or for that matter, Great Uncle Harold, who never tires of telling your twelve-year-old son the latest dirty jokes.

What can you do when going home for the holidays feels just a little too much like starring in your own, personal horror story, the kind where the hero/heroine (that would be you) barely escapes with his or her life, but not before suffering unspeakable, holiday-inspired trauma from the great beyond? How can you survive, or even (dare I hope?) enjoy your holiday in spite of the old wounds and present slights? Let the following five tips be your holiday survival guide.

1. Don’t Try to Solve the Unsolvable.

“Every year its the same thing.” Marylin complained to me in session, “My parents never see how awful my sister is to me. She is so petty and hurtful. I’ve tried to talk directly with her about it, but she always tells me I’m just too sensitive. When I ask my folks to give me some support, they just tell me they wish I could be more like her. They have always treated her better than me as long as I can remember. What can I do to make them see how much they’ve hurt me?”

There is a prayer that asks God to give us the courage to change what can be changed, the serenity to accept what cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. Now might be a good time to dust that prayer off. Generally speaking, when someone is acting in an offensive way toward you, the direct approach is the best approach. But if that person has been treating you the same obnoxious way since you were five, chances are you are not going to solve the problem this year, or any year for that matter, regardless of how direct or indirect you are about it. And the sooner you accept this hard fact, the happier you are going to be.

When it comes to longstanding problems with family members you only have two healthy choices available to you. If the ongoing offense is too terrible an affront to either your personal dignity (e.g., abusive language or physical violence) or to your sense of moral well-being (e.g., open and unrestrained hostility toward your faith and beliefs), then your best bet may be to simply skip the family shindig this year and concentrate on starting your own traditions. On the other hand, if the ongoing offense is not quite so serious, I would recommend that you do your best to grin and bear it. Remind yourself that you are a grown-up, and that while these people are an important part of your past, they can only play the part in your present and future that you see fit to allow. True, you may feel like a three-year-old in their presence, but the fact is, you are in charge now. If you can remember this, you will be able to find the maturity to practice the spiritual work of mercy known as “bearing wrongs patiently” and perhaps even find some wisdom in the age-old Catholic practice of “offering it up.”

2. You Don’t Have to Save Your Family from Themselves.

I recently read a case study of a man who was dreading going home for the holidays because of his mother’s excessive drinking. His therapist asked him to imagine getting the following note in his mailbox. “Dear Charles, I wanted you to know that for the rest of her life, your mother is going to be an alcoholic and remain completely oblivious to anyone’s efforts to help her. Love, God.”

Charles reported that even though the therapist’s words shocked him at first, he realized that barring some major miracle–a miracle that was beyond his ability to produce–his mother was indeed going to have a problem for the rest of her life. While this saddened him, he also realized that for the first time he could go home with some peace, because it wasn’t his job to save her.

People often tell me that they dread going home again because they feel it is their job to save their family, to be the witness that lead them all to Christ, or at least witnesses that stop the family from killing each other. If this is you, I want you to repeat after me, “I am not the family Messiah. I am not the family Messiah, I am not….”

Yes, when you are around your family you must conduct yourself in a manner that makes you proud of your own behavior, but stop trying to play the prophet or putting yourself, your mate, or your kids on display so that the rest of the family will see your light and follow you to Midnight Mass. That is simply more pressure than anyone can stand, and it will make everyone around you (especially your mate and children) despise you. No one likes a self-righteous prig, even at Christmas. The best way to be a light is not by being perfect, but by being peaceful. Do whatever it takes to maintain your calm and take excellent care of your own mate’s and children’s emotional well-being. Leave your family to their own devices. If you can manage this, maybe, just maybe, someone in the family will one day come to you and ask, “What’s your secret for staying so calm in the middle of all this insanity?” But before this can happen (perhaps a hundred years from now) you will have to practice becoming a credible witness to your family by being a peaceful, sane person whose faith–as St Francis de Sales says faith must be–is attractive.

3. Don’t Play the Game.

Certain people like to play a party game therapists call, “Let’s you and him fight.” That’s where somebody puts two people with violently divergent opinions in the same room, raises a hot topic, and then stands back at a safe distance to watch the fireworks.

 

There are political, religious, and personal versions of this game. Your job is to avoid this game at all costs, because there are no winners, only losers. If you play, you will end up looking like one of the reject guests for a holiday episode of Jerry Springer. Remind yourself that these arguments are really not going to convince anyone about anything and that, in fact, you are being set up, merely for the amusement of another person(s). Resist the temptation to fight.  Instead, if you know you are going to a place where you openly disagree with everything that is being said, focus all your energies on making polite conversation, or alternatively, heading to the buffet table and stuffing your mouth full of the driest cookies you can find so that you couldn’t say something inflammatory even if you wanted to.

Of course this does not mean that you cannot answer sincere questions asked by the more honest members of your family. Just remember that people asking sincere questions about spiritual, emotional, or political issues do not often do so with a smirk on their face and twenty other people looking on. If the situation is the latter, you are being set up.

4. Know When to Say When

Know when to call it a night (or morning, or early afternoon) and make sure you have a nice safe hotel to run to when things start getting to you. There is nothing wrong with beating a hasty retreat when you feel that you can’t take it anymore. Find an excuse to bug out whenever you need a break (something like, “I’m sorry, I suddenly began experiencing stabbing pains through my entire body” usually does the trick.) You can always come back later, after you have cooled down. And if anyone is offended by you keeping a separate domicile, just tell them you were trying to inflict yourself on them as little as possible. They probably won’t admit it to your face, but chances are, they will be as relieved as you are.

5. Pray.

This is the most obvious, but also the most important. But if you pray, please ask God to give you the grace to be a sane credible witness, BEFORE you pray for the conversion and sanity of the rest of your family. Remember, as St, Francis said, it is much more important to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved, to consol than to be consoled. The paradox is, the more you practice these virtues, the more respect you will be afforded by those around you. Pray that God would change you first.

These five tips probably won’t be the source of any great holiday miracle, but they just may stop you from impaling yourself on a sprig of holly at the thought of seeing “those people” for yet another holiday.

And sometimes, that is miracle enough.

For more information on handling those delicate situations in your extended family, check out God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People.

Effective Coping for Emotional Distress

Earlier today I offered some reflections on what people-of-faith need to know about depression.  I promised that I’d offer some additional thoughts on effective coping for emotional distress.shutterstock_203291770

Effective coping strategies enable a person to gather their psychological, emotional, spiritual, and relational resources so that they can respond to the problems they are facing.  By contrast, ineffective coping strategies simply allow a person to escape, withdraw, or numb themselves for a time, but when the “break” is over the person using these strategies finds him or herself no better positioned to address the problem-at-hand.  Examples of common, but largely useless and ineffective “coping strategies” include things like isolating, watching TV, drinking/drugging, withdrawing from spiritual support, excessive sleeping or eating, blaming, and other behaviors that attempt to give you distance from the problem but don’t give you any new directions, resources, insights or supports.

Here are some examples of effective coping strategies for dealing with emotional difficulties…

 -Drawing Closer to Others:   It is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18).  In times of trial, drawing closer to the people who share our life, asking for help, going out with friends (even when we don’t feel like it–especially then) is critically important.  Satan is a “roaring lion” (1 Ptr 5:8) waiting to devour you.  Be like the smart antelope.   When you are dealing with emotional distress, don’t let yourself get separated from the herd.  Instead, ask yourself, “When I feel better, what do I usually do/enjoy doing with others?”  Then do those things whether or not you feel like it right now.  I know you don’t want to be a burden, but talk about your struggles with others.  Give people the gift of letting them use their gifts to bless you.  In the long term, you’ll be glad you did.

-Draw Closer to God:  Ask yourself, “When I feel good, how do I pray? How do I experience God the most?”   Cling to those things now.  No, you may not get the same thing out of it you do when you’re in a better place, but his grace will still flow freely and you will begin gathering important spiritual resources.    People who actively engage in personally meaningful spiritual practices are more resilient than those who do not have or take advantage of spiritual supports.

-Participate in Healing Rituals:  People who are depressed or anxious or dealing with other emotional problems should definitely take advantage of Anointing of the Sick.  It is an important healing sacrament. Confession can also be helpful for banishing both obstacles to grace and the guilt that separates you from God’s love.  Don’t hesitate to ask your pastor to bless you or to ask others to pray over you and for you.  Sacraments have the power to effect the healing the signify, but all spiritual rituals have real power to propel healing.

-Make Meaning:  Research shows that “meaning making” or asking what value you can draw from a difficult time in life is a very powerful coping strategy.  One of the most depressing aspects of emotional distress is the apparent meaningless of it all.  In my book, The Life God Wants You to Have, I discuss many ways we can make meaning out of pain.  When we ask questions like, “How can I respond to this in a way that will make me a better person, glorify God, or, for that matter, make Satan sorry that he ever decided to pick on me?”  we begin to see the significance hidden with the moment.  We discover how to use everything life throws at us as an opportunity for growth.

-Recall Your Past Victories Over Struggle:  Write out a brief description of the last half-dozen or so times you thought you were doomed but things ended up working out somehow.  Focus on how, specifically, God delivered you from these trials.  Is there a pattern?  Do you see that pattern at work now?  How did you respond to those struggles when they were at their worst?  Was all the drama worth it?  Are you creating the same drama now?  Is the drama any more worthwhile this time?

-Gratitude Journaling:  Superficially, this sounds trite, but a large body of research supports the assertion that the simple act of writing down 3-5 things you are sincerely grateful for every day can increase your baseline experience of happiness by about 25%.  One’s happiness set point is very difficult to change.  The fact that this exercise can have this powerful an impact on one’s basic experience of happiness is near miraculous and it should not be overlooked by anyone looking for better ways to cope with emotional distress.

-Exercise:  A very large body of research shows the effectiveness of exercise as a coping strategy.  Exercise changes your body and brain chemistry.  It helps wake you up, focus your mind, engage your creativity, and tolerate pain (both physical and emotional) more effectively.

-Seeking Professional Help:  As I shared earlier, psychotherapy is a very effective means of learning new coping strategies.  Psychotherapy can be best thought of as physical therapy for the brain.  It has been shown to change brain chemistry and function and strengthen under-performing parts of the brain.    By beefing up brain function through cognitive and behavioral exercises as well as therapeutic conversations that support clients in thinking about old problems in new ways, clients learn to handle stress more effectively.

This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list of coping strategies, but its a great start.  Do you have other ideas?  Share them in the comments box!  And if you would like to learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-counseling practice can help you experience a more abundant marriage, family and personal life, visit us online or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment.

 

Wed on More2Life Radio: The Challenges that Choose You.

The Challenges that Choose You — In Lent, we like to choose our sacrifices, but everyone experiences little daily sacrifices that choose them.  Irritating people, frustrating situations, unexpected setbacks challenge us every day.

Today on M2L, we’ll explore how to use those frustrations as moments of grace and growth.  Call in from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825 with your questions about how to rise to the challenges that choose you!

And don’t forget to respond to our Facebook Question of the Day:   Every day, we have challenges that choose us.   In the course of your week, what people or situations tend to consistently cause you to feel drained, frustrated, or fed-up?

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