Monday, November 2, 2009

I'd like to introduce you to your emotions!

Emotional intelligence is used to describe our ability to understand and manage our emotions. Five abilities that comprise our emotional intelligence are:
  • Knowing our emotions
  • Managing our emotions
  • Recognizing emotions in others
  • Managing our relationships with others
  • Motivating ourselves to achieve goals (in spite of emotions)

You can't manage your life until you learn to manage your emotions!

Identifying emotions is the first step in achieving high emotional intelligence. We often stop short of basic emotions such as angry, afraid, happy or sad. However, these emotions are most often secondary to the original emotion. For example, you might say you're angry that someone forgot to pick you up. However, what you're most likely feeling under the anger is forgotten or rejected. The deeper emotions are often hidden by our reaction to them and are therefore quickly masked. The better we can name emotions, the more likely we can address the need that is underlying and often hidden from our consciousness. Bringing the need to our awareness gives us the power to get the need met. However, we've often denied or ignored the need because we perhaps don't know how to get it met or don't feel we're worth getting it fed. Those are beliefs - and our beliefs drive our behavior. They are rooted in emotions. None of this can be addressed without first identifying and becoming acquainted with our true emotions.

Mismanaged emotions affect us and the relationships around us. Mismanaged emotions can cause health problems. It is well documented by physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists that stressful events, emotional distress, or our evaluation of unpleasant events profoundly affect our health. Our body responds to stressors but isn't meant to live within the stressful state for long periods of time. Various body organs have to work harder to manage stress levels and therefore shut down or are impaired over time by strenuous work. Anger and fear, for example, cause substances to be released in our blood which increase the chance of clots forming or high blood pressure.

Mismanaged emotions harm others around us as we reflect emotions with short tempers, irritability, defensive behavior, mind-reading, lack of bonding, etc. We can become exhausting for others to try and maintain a relationship with us. Getting in touch with your emotions will help you develop and sustain healthy relationships and enjoy life more abundantly.

Your self-talk and beliefs mainly determine your feelings and behaviors.

Once you've been able to identify (name) an emotion beyond the basics mentioned above, the next step is to be able to rate the emotion. Being sensitive to an emotion isn't enough - now you have to understand the impact the intensity has upon you.

Everyone experiences emotions differently. You might recognize emotions first in your body. for example, you might feel tense in your neck or feel a knot in your stomach. You might recognize emotions first in your behavior such as suddenly cleaning or speeding up. It's important to pay attention to yourself to best understand how your emotions talk to you. Our culture is one of maintaining a fast-paced lifestyle. This does not allow you to listen to your body and emotions. Quite often the fast-paced lifestyle is actually a way to avoid this very thing.

Take an emotional inventory: Spend a morning, afternoon or even an entire day logging your emotions each hour. Notice what is happening around you and how you are responding. Don't judge the emotion as okay or not okay - simply become aware of how your body communicates emotions to your mind. Be honest with what you feel - no one else needs to read your log.

Experience your emotion - it won't last. You can picture your emotions like the waves of the ocean. They come and go - they are never permanent. I had my first experience with the ocean as a teenager. A friend explained how to 'go with the wave' or 'dive into the wave.' I never quite got the hang of it. All I found was that I was tossed by the waves to where my head hit the floor of the ocean, I was turned in all sorts of directions so that I didn't know which way was up, and when I stood up the wave had dissipated leaving the water around me ankle deep. all of my struggle during the wave seemed odd standing in such shallow water. Our emotions can feel that way. Int he middle of them they throw us in all sorts of directions and we're unable to make rational choices because of our chaos. When the emotion subsides, we look back curious as to how all of those thoughts and feelings could have happened - often feeling a bit foolish. Observe how long your emotion lasts. Notice what things bring on the emotions and what things take them away.

Remember that you are NOT your emotions. This means that you are not an angry person, but rather might behave with anger often. When you start thinking you are your emotions, think of times that you acted differently.

Remember that emotions are not always true. You don't have to judge your emotions, but do validate that you have them. If you immediately judge emotions they will quickly hide - notice I said they hide...not go away. We are quite comfortable in our culture to say I'm feeling angry. But how many of us will tell a friend or co-worker, "I'm feeling sort of jealous today." Accept your emotions in order to better understand what they are trying to communicate to you. there is a big difference between truth and reality. Truth is an unchanging fact and unfortunately we humans seldom know the truth because of our limitations. Our reality, on the other hand, seems to be truth. We believe it to be so and cannot see other options. God, on the other hand, can see all things - and therefore understands truth. We get a glimpse of how this works when we have children. We understand and are able to see much more than they are capable of. But they truly believe they need that toy, should be able to play outside at all hours, have no need for a bath, should be able to eat sugar all day long and never take a nap. It's very real to them (reality) but it isn't truth. Our emotions block often block our ability to see truth.

Pay attention to what is happening during your emotion. Your body chemistry changes. Temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, intensity of senses and focus of mind all become enhanced with highly charged emotions. Use your emotion log as we go through the posts about what emotions are for and how they impact our body on a physical level.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Response - ability regarding our cravings

I love the word responsibility as it was broken down in the book, The Shack. The author shares a very eloquent way of saying we have the 'ability' to 'respond' thus...responsibility. We all have the ability to respond instead of reacting to situations. We all have choices! Making no decision is indeed making a decision.

If all of this chemical stuff we've been sharing in past blogs is happening within our bodies, how are we supposed to have any control over the outcomes and respond in a healthy way? Can't we just blame the fact that there are real chemical issues happening in our bodies? The answer is NO! The solution is not simple yet it is clear. Cravings, thus our response - behavior, are either trying to meet a need or create pleasure. Do you realize that you can crave a particular response? Think about it - the last time you wanted so much to tell that person off. That is a craving - but we have a choice in how we respond.

I was once told by a man that he couldn't control his sexual urges because, afterall, we're all animals. I was amazed at this otherwise very intelligent man who basically chose to excuse his behavior by blaming the animal part of his brain. What he was saying is that in this instance he wouldn't use the reasoning side of his brain - but simply behave in an animalistic manner. However, he didn't depend upon his animalistic brain when it came to business and finances.

Each of us have the responsibility to behave in a manner that allows both parts of our brains to work. We don't get to decide when it's okay to engage our ability to reason in some areas but not in those areas that we simply don't want to be accountable.

When it comes to destructive behavior ranging anywhere from drugs to depression, the first issue that has to be addressed is a genetic pre-disposition to such behaviors. Sometimes the destructive behavior is so engrained in our genes that the first experiment with substances could lead us into a lifetime of destruction. I recommend that you see a medical doctor to assess and treat this real issue. Medications can help tremendously and are sometimes necessary. Although we find that most women entering the Acres of Hope program eventually find they do not need medications - but it's often a good start. It's important that you work closely with your doctor to determine if medical treatment is necessary.

There is a 60/40 rule with medication. Most often, medications can help approximately 40% the problems but we still need to address 60% of the problems by choices we make. Medication will not make everything better - we still have work to do.

With bi-polar conditions, on the other hand, medications may resolve approximately 60% of the problems leaving 40% to be addressed through modifying behavior. So we can see the benefit of medication - but it is never a substitute for the work we must all do to improve ourselves. No pill takes away addictions, no pill resolves depression, no pill fixes our lives...the work is our responsibility - or our ability to respond.

Outside of the scope of medical causes, treatment for destructive behaviors has no systematic approach that works 100% of the time for everyone. However, those who have battled and won do indeed have built-in tactics that are the same across the board. Those include healthy support systems, addressing thought patterns and belief systems, understanding high-risk scenarios and establishing a plan before-hand. Knowing this shows that you have the ability to respond to behaviors (addictive and destructive) – and therefore have a responsibility in your recovery. Let's look at each of these foundational tactics.

Healthy support systems – AA groups around the world are the most successful in treating addictions because of their structure to supporting one another. Similar to bearing one another’s burdens, AA leaders understand that we can’t recover alone. Humans are herders and have a driving need to belong. Did you know that we cannot relapse while maintaining effective and authentic relationships? We must isolate from those who care about us - even if just emotionally. We also can’t change and expect to continue hanging out with the same crowd that hasn’t changed. We will have to drop some old associations. Think about anyone you know that have engaged in destructive behaviors. Do you recognize how they isolated them from others?

At Acres of Hope, one of the first things we share with our moms is that it is impossible for us to change without impacting every relationship in one of three ways. As we begin the journey of becoming healthy, such as setting new boundaries or assessing our world differently, those around us will always be challenged by our behavior.

This is because everything we see around us is compared to our belief systems. Let's say someone who has lived in a domestic violent situation suddenly establishes healthy boundaries. He/she no longer tolerates verbal or physical assaults. How do you suppose the offender would respond? One possibility is that the offender will be inspired by the new behavior, respecting the new boundaries and ultimately changed by the boundaries. However, this is the least likely response for anyone engaged in destructive behaviors. The people around us who will be inspired by our new behaviors are those who already engage in such behaviors.

Another possibility is that the offender will be threatened by the new boundaries and attempt to guilt/shame the victim back into the controlling relationship. He/she might use statements such as, "You think you're so perfect or so much better than me." Such statements happen because when faced with an opposing viewpoint you will either have to comply or resist it. If not ready to comply - resisting will first come as an attack.

If such an attack doesn't work, the offender might move into threat mode with statements that threaten breaking off the relationship. Their hope is to induce fear that has been laid in the controlling relationship that reminds the victim that he/she cannot happily exist without the offender.

What we learn from this is that adopting new behaviors will always be met with one of the above responses to some degree. If you are considering a new behavior to address destructive cycles - take a moment to draw a circle with two larger ones outside. On the inner circle, write the names of those who are the closest to you and have the most influence. On the next circle write the names of those who you care about but who do not influence you in a significant way. On the outer circle write the names of those who do not have an influence on your decisions.

Next consider each name you've written down and determine which of the three responses above each person is most likely to have with your changes. Then write out your response to that - would you be able to stand up to him/her? Could you handle it if he/she threatened that they would no longer be your friend or associate with you?

This is an important step because you cannot adopt new healthy behaviors without the influence of those around you buying into your efforts. Healthy support systems are critical to your success. We will lose some relationships and have to be willing to allow that to happen or our growth will ultimately be stunted. The good news is that we will also gain new relationships.

Thought patterns and belief systems – Thought patterns fill our mind and it’s from those thoughts that our actions are born. When we believe we are unlovable, we will ultimately behave in unloving ways. This creates a pattern whereby we set-up our failure with self-fulfilling prophecies. Each behavior that is over or under emotionally responsive is a signal that something is wrong. For example, if someone died and I go into the throws of a depression while mourning the loss - that could very well be a normal response. However, if someone didn't invite me to a get-together and I go into a depression because I feel rejected, that isn't a normal response. It's our responsibility to recognize where our reaction to circumstances (and even people) is not normal or healthy. One thing to ask is if our response is 'effective.' Does it serve a healthy purpose?

We are the only ones who can slow down the process long enough to take an inventory of what’s happening in our hearts. For example, if I become afraid because my roommate slammed the cabinet door, I should ask myself why I am feeling what I am feeling. Another person might not feel afraid but simply think to themselves that the roommate must be in a bad mood for some reason. If I am honest with myself I might find that I often internalize other people's behaviors as having to do with me with no evidence that this is an accurate assumption. I will not be able to make any significant changes until I can be safe enough to be honest about what I am really thinking.

My initial response to the slamming door may be to walk away and isolate for safety. But if I challenge my belief (and ultimately my actions) I might find a new way to cope with the situation and eventually remove the fear altogether. Reframing is when we take an old thought (in an old picture frame) and re-word it and put it into a new picture frame.

By learning about my thoughts and stating them outloud, perhaps I will then ask the roommate if slamming the door had anything to do with me. If they say it has nothing to do with me I can let it go - and if it has something to do with me I have the opportunity to address it. Either way, I no longer need to carry around the weight of internal criticisms. But without being honest with myself I will always be the victim of other's behaviors. This is certainly not a healthy way to live.

High-risk scenarios – Fighting craving patterns before they happen takes a lot of internal reflection and honesty. Finding patterns that have stimulated cravings in the past is one thing. Letting someone know about those patterns and planning ahead of time is another. A strong desire for change has to be in place. As stated above, strong healthy relationships have to be established in order to feel safe enough to honestly look at ourselves.

Because relapse happens over a period of time (typically two weeks), early signs can be identified and managed. Relapse doesn’t occur as an isolated event; rather it is preceded by relationship problems, worsening of lifestyle imbalances, or other internal or external stressors. We cannot avoid stressors in our lives – but we can set up a plan that can minimize the risk. In his curriculum, The Genesis Process, author Michael Dye has identified the steps that everyone goes through to relapse or giving up goals. Keep in mind that a relapse is breaking any commitment to change destructive behavior. It can be over-eating, not eating, yelling, not spending enough time with family or any behavior we've identified as destructive.

The acronym used by Michael Dye is FASTER. As we move down the faster scale we are more prone to relapse. F = Forgetting priorities, A = Anxiety, S = Speeding up, T = ticked off, E = Exhausted, R = Relapse!

Think about the last time you 'relapsed' back into old behaviors. Walk yourself down the faster scale. I'll use over-eating while you use your own personal experience. You've chosen to eat healthy and are invited to a party at a friends house. You arrive and see the layout of many choice dishes of food and decide to explain away the diet for one night - you've forgotten your priorities.

The next day you realize you got away with it and perhaps tell yourself that you can go through the drive through today - afterall, it's been a very busy day. You start feeling guilty over a few of these choices and you realize that you're falling behind your goals. You start feeling anxiety over your choices. You will either get back on track - out of relapse mode - or you will speed up to avoid such thoughts of failure.

If you continue to choose behaviors that are opposite of your goal you will become irritated, short tempered - or ticked off before becoming exhausted at the goal staring you in the face and can only maintain that for so long - until you give yourself permission to quit - thus relapse. Try going through the accronym FASTER in your situation. Can you find how you went through each step? I can gaurantee that you did go down this predictable scale. You weren't on track one day and then decide to give up without walking down this scale. The behaviors are often subtle - so think hard and be honest with yourself. Be a detective to see how you sabotage your goals.

Problem solving skills include efforts to reduce stressful factors, stress reduction exercises, role-playing high risk scenarios, or purposefully finding joy and positive things to think about. When we learn to recognize the warning signs it's as if we’re carrying our solutions with us wherever we go.

Establishing a plan before-hand – When someone is diagnosed with a disease, they take medications and alter their lifestyle according to the risks of that disease. Patients with heart problems, for example, may need to take medications daily and refrain from certain activities that would cause risk to the heart. In the same way, addicts or anyone struggling with destructive behaviors of any kind must learn that they will always ‘walk with a limp’ in some area of their life, meaning they need a crutch to help them overcome their struggle. This might mean never attending functions where alcohol is served, or it might simply mean that someone who can provide accountability attends with you. But knowing yourself well enough to make a plan and stick to it is a responsibility (ability to respond) that you have to own.

A lingering enemy to responsibility is denial. Denial can be thought of as a conditioned response to raise serotonin (satisfied feelings) around the thoughts, feelings or behavior we want to ignore. It's a way that we lie to our brains by telling the limbic system that 'it doesn't matter.' We become numb to any hope of escaping the situation so we lie to ourselves as an alternative. There is no effective way of escaping denial except through healthy supportive relationships where accountability is strong.

Finally, the situations that we put ourselves in can often set us up for relapses. We have the (ability to respond) to not play with fire. Our goal should be to reduce stress factors. Learning other life skills such as boundary setting, conflict resolution, etc. will be covered later in later blogs. But you have the ability today to begin setting the stage for your success or failure in overcoming destructive behaviors. You OWN your life, no one else does. It’s time today to put away denial, blaming, excuses and other coping behaviors that leave you stuck in your destructive behavior and take full responsibility for your life. Blaming others is actually giving up power or control of your life. Blaming makes you the victim and weakens your ability to respond.

Taking responsibility for cravings: Based upon the cravings you listed in the last blog, identify the belief system or thoughts surrounding the craving. Create a high-risk scenario for each one.

Finally, develop a plan for preventing this scenario. Who will be your support system (cheerleader) and who will be your accountability (the coach?)

Are you reading these blogs? Do you have feedback? I welcome your comments so I know if the information is useful or if you have other viewpoints. Feel free to make comments - better yet...become a follower and you'll receive updates on blog posts. Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cravings

Cravings are an uncomfortable, intrusive, obsessional thought that can initiate an action to obtain the specific object or activity. A craving is an extreme biological response to take away (or numb) pain.

Desire, want and need are normal biological responses without the obsessional features that define craving. We all have cravings. They can range from small pangs of pain that can be ignored up the scale to pain that interferes with our concentration and ability to perform tasks and ultimately ends in a focus that will remove the pain at all costs.

An early bible story tells of two brothers - one who was so hungry that he gave away his birth right for a bowl of stew. His hunger was so powerful that he threw away something of great importance. It was only when the pain was removed, his stomach full, that he realized what he did. Remember, yesterday's post shared how our ability to think logically goes down relative to the stresses in our lives.

Originally, cravings were a response meant to occurr only when survival was at stake. Starvation, for example, would produce intense pain and allow only those thoughts/actions that would remove the pain such as get food at all costs! But the more sin enters our life, wounds make their mark on our hearts - a different type of pain has set in. This new kind of pain is emotional pain and needs to be addressed as well as physical pains.

But what happens to those who have not been allowed to express their emotions or have been subject to emotional abuse? How do they rid themselves of the pain? Like a physical wound, emotional wounds end up in our bodies and if left to fester they will infect us. Treatment of emotional wounds include the ability to express the emotions and have them accepted in a positive way. The problem is that we are relying on other emotionally wounded people who are not perfect to meet our need. They often make the wound worse. So we turn to alternatives.

A recent newsclip shared about a new addiction that is sweeping our culture - the internet! A young student shared about his journey of playing an online video game. It began quite innocent but before he knew it he was playing more than 14 hours a day. In fact, he stopped attending college classes in order to play. Through therapy he found that through playing the game, he entered a world where he wasn't judged by others because they couldn't see him. In fact, he played a character in the game where he possessed extreme power which brought him respect.

He contrasts that to his lonely real-world where he is thought of as a 'geek' and was socially awkward. He escaped his this pain and entered a world where he was not only accepted, but pushed up in the ranks as a master. What power that he could not attain otherwise! Remember that the limbic system does not understand information. For you or I to explain the stupidity of this logic would be a futile effort. He knew it as well - but his limbic system had a need to be accepted. He stumbled across the solution and his brain drove him to repeatedly obtain that same emotion at any cost.

Cravings are a short-cut to getting our needs met. In the example above, if the need of being part of the crowd had been met, most likely he wouldn't have developed this craving to play games in a fantasy world. The body is designed to crave the ‘thing’ that takes away the pain. The ‘thing,’ however, is meant to be something good. Food, relationship, clothing, and shelter are examples of good things that meet our needs. But we've learned to live in a 'drive-through' or 'microwave' world where we want the need met now - and magnified.

We've learned not only can we get our needs met quickly through a substitute, but we can obtain the satisfaction much more stronger and intensly than through natural channels. Let's sumarize a few blog posts together - Our bodies are always seeking to balance themselves (homeostasis), and they are designed to cause us to seek what we need to function at an optimum level. This is all done through chemicals in our bodies that send messages through the pathways in our brain - and thus messages to instruct the body.

Most of us aren't craving the basics such as food, clothing or shelter for our survival. While that is a sad reality for many in the world, most of us take the natural things we need and exploit them to increase our satisfaction or substitute what was meant to bring balance with a much easier alternative. For example, we are designed for relationships. But most often, the emotional damage we incur came from relationships. So the natural response is to avoid the thing that harmed us - the relationship. So we begin walking down an unnatural path. Many substitute food, shopping and many other alternatives rather than close intimate relationships.

Beyond the basic human needs, healthy relationships are our biggest need. They set a chemical reaction in our bodies that give satisfaction. The hormone, oxytocin, for example, plays an important role in bonding and building trust. The July issue of Psychiatry reports a study which shows that oxytocin is associated with the ability to maintain healhty interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people. A relaxation massage can increase levels of oxytocin. Holding a child, hugging someone and patting someone on the back can raise oxytocin. But the recollection of a negative memory causes oxytocin to be reduced. Mothers who have not bonded well with their child have been shown to have low levels of oxytocin. Chemicals make a difference in how we attach, thus how we relate to others. This is only one of many examples of how our mind impact our chemical balance - and ultimately our ability to sustain healthy relationships.

So what happens to those whose chemicals are 'off?' If we engage in the activities of relationships in the way we were meant to, most of us will find the balance our bodies crave. However, if introduced to an alternative such as 'comfort food' or sadly, drugs...our body may very well crave that substitute due to it's ease of attainment. It's much easier to be comforted by a bowl of ice cream than to bond with a new neighbor.

Cravings are created through conditioned responses. A scientist named Pavlov conducted an experiment where he rang a bell to signal dinner for a dog. After repeating the action many times along with food, the dog connected the sound of the bell to food, something pleasurable. Pavlov could eventually ring the bell and the dog would salivate in anticipation of the food it expected.

In the same way, many things in our environment can set off a craving based upon our past experiences. One example is the tinkling of ice cubes in a glass that signals alcohol to one person and a soda pop to another. What is actually driving the craving is the pattern recognition (sound of ice) the limbic brain is responding to. Seeing a junkie’s syringe will not stimulate us to think narcotics if the needle had not previously been associated with the delivery of the drug. Once conditioned, however, the ability of the brain to scan for connections (needle to feeling of drug) allow just the needle to produce a craving response. The chemicals are set into action requesting that a need be met even if the need didn’t exist in the first place – the brain is simply seeking pleasure.

The same idea occurs wtih any other addiction or craving. Say a young girl is rejected by a boy due to her being overweight. She hits the gym to work out and learns that her new body gets the attention of other boys. Her brain associates the thin body that came from working out is good. If not managed, this too can become an addiction for her. Any sign of unwanted weight can kick her into high gear at the gym. It becomes obsessional when her idea of being overweight is not the norm - and she can never be good enough.

The part of the limbic system that is tapped into is the reward center of the brain. Satisfaction and reward. Think about that. I believe the majority of our culture is addicted to 'performance.' We are rewarded for performance - as we should be. But when that need to obtain the reward takes priority over spending time at home with our families - is it still a good thing? It's all misuse of the good things that God intended for us. We were meant to manage these things rather than they manage us.

Cravings are very complex and too extensive to expound upon in one lesson. No simple explanation can be found to solve cravings and answer how they come and go. But consider, for example, that you drink enough to numb pain that you’re feeling. However, you get sick the following morning. Which memory does the limbic system retain? The negative response to alcohol or the numbing effect? In short, it retains both.

It recalls information on separate levels and only the logic brain groups the information together. If you are challenged with the same pain that caused you to drink in the first place, the limbic system will crave the alcohol that solved the problem before without giving thought to the part about being sick. If, on the other hand, the pain has been resolved through a healthy activity and you see a bottle of alcohol that made you sick, the limbic system will most likely be repulsed by the alcohol. It depends upon the underlying need – thus showing the importance of us to be aware of our needs and wants rather than stuffing them.

Cravings that cause me to crash – List 3-5 cravings you are aware of that have caused you problems in the past. Can you identify where this craving began in your life and associate it to any event or patterns of events? Can you then identify the need that is being met through this alternative source? How are you expecting others in your life today to meet those needs? Is there anyone that you can share this with? You can work through some of these things as we walk through upcoming blogs.

Jesus said He came to give us life - and to give it to us abundantly. We weren't meant for the hurt that we experience. What are 3-5 things that bring you joy? Find a way this week to experience at least one of those things. When your needs are met - stress levels stay manageable - and thus cravings also become manageable.

Watch this video - and take note of how many different things people crave. Especially those that have nothing to do with food or traditional cravings. Can you see these cravings in you or the culture around you?
video

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reach for the wise mind!

Simplistically speaking, our brain was designed with two parts, limbic and neo-cortex, meant to compliment each other and speak the same language. Designed with different functions, the ultimate goal of both sides of the brain is to sustain life (limbic) – and to sustain it with quality (neo-cortex).

When we are born, the neo-cortex has not fully developed and therefore we cannot reason as babies. It’s for this reason that you can’t introduce a baby to its mother and father. Instead, the baby learns relationship based upon experience and emotion – not logic. All other relationships are learned in the same way and are built upon these initial learning experiences. The neo-cortex develops significantly during our first five years of life and isn’t finished until our mid 20’s.

The limbic system, on the other hand, is in full swing at birth. Taking in every event and tagging them, the young baby begins to understand the world based upon the feelings it gets from responses to each event. Every event and sight the baby takes in is tagged by an emotional response related to life or death. If it’s good, the limbic brain wants to repeat the experience. If it’s negative, the limbic system tries to avoid it.

As the child grows and the neo-cortex begins to develop, logic is added to the many messages already printed upon the brain. Ideally, these two parts of the brain will speak the same language. A baby learns by experience the warmth and affection of a mother is a good thing. As a child, he/she later learns logically that mothers are our caretakers and can therefore be trusted. Both parts of the brain are speaking the same language. Peace and joy are the resulting factors. Bonding and relationships are the healthy foundation for this child.

However, if the child suffers abuse or abandonment, the emotions within the child are vastly different from the information received. The child emotionally learns that the world is not a safe place and he/she must be hyper-vigilant (always on the lookout) for things that might cause harm or to care for itself. When taught that families are where we are loved and safe, this child’s brain begins speaking two different languages. The logic side doesn’t agree with the emotional side. We call this a limbic lag – meaning the limbic is lagging behind what logic would otherwise tell it. This creates stress with peace and joy being thwarted.

As shown in the diagram to the right, the emotional brain (limbic) and the logical brain (neo-cortex) are separated due to conflicting information. We call the limbic system our emotional brain, and the neo-cortex our logical brain. When decisions have to be made, or responses are necessary, how does the body know which side of the brain to listen to in order to generate a response?

Much of our decision-making skills lies in the stress factor of our life. Stress is obviously expressed through our emotions - so we can intuitively tell that it is the emotional side of the brain that is in high gear during these times.

We make poor choices in times of high stress because the two sides of the brain are working opposite of each other. When stress levels rise, our ability to reason (logic) diminishes. When stress levels are brought down our ability to reason increases. Choices made solely from the logic side of the brain can often appear cold and calculated.

In normal (low stress) states, the neo-cortex can override and shut down the limbic system if necessary by pulling information and analyzing the situation. Thus an emotional response is over-ridden by a logical thought. Yet, in times of high stress, the limbic system will usually bypass the neo-cortex system and shut down our ability to make wise choices. The limbic system could care less what logic the brain might carry with it. Choices made solely from the emotional side of the brain can often appear to lack intelligence, be irrational - or stupid!

However, if we can learn to operate in the area that the two parts of the brain overlap, we can make wise choices by using both our logic and our emotions. We call this the wise mind. We all know of times when our emotional responses have harmed us. It’s our emotional responses that cause us to not follow through on goals, New Year’s resolutions, or maintain our value systems.

We also know of times that we've shut off emotions to our detriment. The use of the logic part of the brain without engaging emotion will cause isolation and independence. It’s the emotion side of the brain that promotes bonding. Like animals that herd, there is safety in flocks and herds. It’s that animal part of our brain that lets us trust others, yet also causes us to doubt others. Without the emotional side of our brain we lack the ability to bond to others for support, safety and comfort.

The further apart these two parts of the brain are in relating, the less ability we have to make wise choices. Our goal is to identify the instances in our lives where the logic and emotion are not in sync in order to avoid quick reactions. We then need to find where the ‘wise mind’ operates – even if it’s minimal - in order to increase those experiences.

The limbic system learns by experience. The neo-cortex learns by information. A person wants to bond and trust others based on the information that tells them that relationships are valuable. But their instincts or gut responses push people away based upon the experiences they've had over time. The limbic system will never be healed by learning more information, attending one more seminar or being told once again by someone. It will only heal when it experiences the opposite of what it's logged as dangerous. In times of low stress, such a person will most often reach out in a healthy way to be in relationship.

However, in times of high stress this person will sabotage relationships with their behavior. So you can see how stress levels greatly impact our ability to be emotionally stable. In addition, we need to move toward the very things we're reacting to out of fear and overcome those faulty belief systems with new behaviors.

This means we have to continually learn information and put it into practice in order to re-wire and heal the limbic responses. Each effort challenges old belief systems and forms new pathways for the brain to think and respond, bringing the two sides closer in communication.

We need each other during this process. It's a give and take process. There are times and situations in our lives where our ‘wise mind’ is larger (plenty of overlap in the two parts of the brain) than other instances. During these times we seem stronger and more able to make wise choices. Less damage has been done to us emotionally in these areas. This is where we help others - we give from our surplus.

On the other hand, the times when our ‘wise mind’ is more narrow (little overlap of the two parts of the brain) are when we make sloppy and quick choices that aren’t effective or beneficial. It’s important to ask for and receive help from others during these times. Obedience to what we know rather than what we feel will reflect our willingness during these times.

We all have areas in our lives where we are strong and able to make wise decisions. Each of us also have areas in our lives where we lack the strength to make wise decisions. Where are you lagging? Identify at least one area where you’ve responded from a limbic lag. Have you ever set a New Year's resolution or goal only to give up? This can be a clue to an area that you are unable to make wise choices and have a limbic lag and in times of stress you give in.

You may have heard that addiction is a disease - that some people are predisposed to falling into addictive behavior. Many people consider addictive behavior to be sin rather than a disease - something bad that someone does. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Addictive behavior is a coping mechanism. It's a learned behavior that is triggered by cravings in the brain. The good news is that the brain can heal itself. But it is a long process and anyone struggling with addictive behavior must have a solid support system around them with strong accountability. This is a mixture of the cheerleader and a coach.

Think about the last time that you were 'really stressed out!' So much so that your emotions were stronger than they should have been and they got the better of you. How easy was it for you to make wise decisions during that time compared to a time when your emotions were relatively low?

Now think back to how you handled the situation. How was your body feeling inside? What urges did you have? What thoughts were going through your mind? How did your stress show itself physically - that is, what would someone else have been able to see with their eyes? Compare your response with other times that you've experienced high levels of stress. Do you see patterns of how you cope?

Some people yell, some throw things, some go silent, some cry...but the ways to cope go on and on...and yes, some turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain. This is a sad but real way of coping. The chemicals in the drugs/alcohol affect the brain in a way that the body finds that it can ignore the stress/pain that the person is experiencing. Remember, the limbic system is constantly seeking to attain to a balanced state that feels normal even if it's in a way that is unhealthy.

We first learn from others how to cope. Then those around us affirm or reject our ways of coping and we modify our behavior to 'fit in.' Someone who learned from a young age to scream obscenities might, for example, have learned that this got the attention of those around him/her. As an adult, however, they probably found that this wasn't an acceptable way of coping with stress and therefore learned to curb his/her behavior.

But the brain has tagged such emotional events with a high level of satisfaction received from being heard. Unless this person learns how to be heard in a healthy way and thus obtain the same satisfaction, the brain will want to resort to the old way in order to obtain this satisfaction. Thus a craving is created. The craving is to achieve the same response that felt good rather than be proper and yet unsatisfied.

Here is something you can try on your own to better understand how the brain searches for the easiest pathway to achieve its goal. Take a pen and piece of paper out. Write your name as many times as you can, as neatly as you can for 30 seconds. Next, turn the paper over and do the same thing only this time use your other hand to write with. How did that feel? You probably would say something like it is uncomfortable, slow and sloppy to write with the other hand.

Now, think about how you'd feel if I told you that you must always write with the other hand for the rest of your life. You can not go back to writing with the hand that you're used to writing with. You would probably feel some anxiety. This is what it feels like - only magnified - to anyone trying to give up an old behavior or addiction.

Now, consider yourself at the grocery store line writing a check. (You have no ATM!) All is well as you slowly complete the check but then you notice that the line behind you is getting longer every second and there are no other checkstands for anyone to go through. How would you want to respond? You would most likely want to throw your pen in the other hand and do what you know how to do best, right? That's the craving that those trying to break an old behavior or addiction feel like when stress levels rise.

We'll talk about cravings in the next post - but this is, very simplistically, how addictions begin. The emotional brain (limbic) doesn't care about how it's supposed to behave - it only wants satisfaction at any cost in order to feel okay and normal again. Many of us are affected by addiction somewhere in our lives - whether it is socially acceptable addictions or not socially acceptable addictions. If you don't identify with this, odds are that you'll know someone at some point who has an addictive personality.

When you do have to deal with this personally or alongside another, I hope that this blog will help you to better understand what is happening in the brain and begin to bring healing rather than judgment. There is hope for the addict - drugs, food, work, sex, shopping, sleeping, drama...you name it - there is hope.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two parts of your brain

All species are created with various gifts to aid in survival. Some have size, some speed, and some strength. Some are given beaks, some teeth, some wings, and some hands. Humans were given a brain with amazing abilities and yet difficult limitations.

Internal organs were given to effect bodily functions that allow us to adapt to our environments. Vessels carry blood and nutrients to organs and muscles pump the blood. Sleep is given to restore the internal systems. All systems were placed under a regulator that manages body temperature, heart-rate and blood flow to name a few. Working together, these systems are designed to keep organisms in a state of homeostasis.

Homeostasis is balance – this is important to remember. Your body is always trying to maintain balance. Still able to respond to the stimuli around us, our bodies strive to find balance to maintain life at an optimum level. This is all driven by the brain. The brain is a marvelous organ. Our bodies are directed by the brain to step it up when we need to address a threat, and to balance us out when the threat is removed. However, our bodies were not meant to stay in a heightened state for long periods of time. This entry will discuss two parts of our brain that work together and often against each other to maintain safety and live in a state of homeostasis. The limbic system and the neo-cortex will be broken down in a simplistic way to explain the activities of our brains.

If you form a fist with your thumb being inside the fingers, this represents the two parts of the brain that we'll be talking about. The fingers represent the front of your head and the back of your hand represents the back of the head with the spinal column going down your wrist. This is what we will refer to as the 'neo-cortex' or thinking part of the brain. The thumb represents the small but powerful 'limbic system' that is tucked deep inside your brain.

The limbic system, known as the reptilian brain, performs functions necessary for survival. It’s responsible for all of our automated responses such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, etc. We have little control in responses to these areas. This is why lie detector tests work. The limbic system is responsible for life and death functions. It therefore processes all information as safe or dangerous. The limbic system doesn't understand time or reason - it processes experience, not information. This is why you can hear music from your youth and be prompted to buy that 9-CD set of oldies music. Your limbic system remembers the experience as happy and prompts you to act on the request. It can recall such a memory as pleasant or painful based on the emotions that were recorded in association to the experience. If it's pleasant, it wants to experience it again. If the memory was painful the limbic system wants to avoid it at all costs.

Fun sidenote...

The Gottman Institute hosts a couple retreat weekend to find out what makes healthy relationships work. They have explored the science of how our bodies function in spite of what we say. We know the old saying, 'Actions speak louder than words.' This is true as our instictive responses say more about what we really believe than our words often do.

At the Gottman Institute, couples are video taped in an apartment laboratory as they discuss how their day went, read, and simply spent time together. Each partner wears halter monitors that measured two channels on an electrocardiogram, urine samples measure stress hormones, blood samples measure their immune systems... all while people in the other room recorded facial expressions to discover more about how their emotions match behaviors. Other than that, it is like an ordinary bed and breakfast experience. :) They learned that the art and science of love and relationships rests within the brain. You can find out more about their findings by visiting the website http://www.gottman.com/.

The limbic portion of the brain directs survival behaviors and initiates the gotta-have-it responses when it senses cravings being initiated by the body. The three primal survival behaviors are eating, avoid being eaten, and reproducing – and are all driven by the limbic system. Without a focus on these three areas, each species would cease to exist – thus life and death are the only concepts understood by the limbic system. Whether foraging for food (ancient activities) or ordering Chinese on the phone (today’s version), or swimming up stream to spawn (animal responses to reproduction) or squeezing into a tight pair of jeans (today’s responses to reproduction), the limbic system is what drives these behaviors.

The limbic system takes in data from our internal and external environments to determine the relative importance of the information as it relates to a threat. It does most of this work unconsciously. It is scanning what we need for survival and then sends messages to the neo-cortex to get the task carried out at a conscious level. While sitting in a meeting, the limbic system is continually scanning the environment. It assesses the temperature in the room, the tension of those involved, the sounds around the room, the smells, and even distance between people. It does all of this at about 100 times faster than the neo-cortex can process and it is all at a subconscious level. When the limbic system believes something to be of importance, that is it threats your comfort, it will send a message to the neo-cortex to get it's imput. All addictive and destructive behaviors are born within the limbic system.

It's important to note something about addictive behaviors here before we move on, lest you think you have no addictive behaviors. At Acres of Hope, our women explore more than 30 areas of addictive behavior. Addiction is considered a chronic and compulsive drive/desire for a substance, behavior or activity that results in a way of coping or 'making it' through. There are socially unacceptable addictions such as drugs, gambling, pornography, or alcohol. However, there are more socially acceptable addictions than unacceptable; many of which we rarely ever classify as addictions. In fact, some are encouarged, such as becoming a work-a-holic. We give pay raises for this addiction. Shopping, busyness, eating, arguing, drama, smoking, sexual promiscuity, and many other addictions can also get the best of us. Back to the lesson.

Let’s follow the need to eat as one example of how the limbic system works. The body begins to run out of nutrients needed to function at optimal levels and the limbic system addresses this by generating hunger pains. The hunger pains tells our neo-cortex to focus our attention and create stressors in the body that motivate us to take action and eliminate the pain – the craving for food. The brain releases dopamine which signals the body to act. The amount of dopamine depends upon the amount of stress – or lack of nutrients needed to keep the body running efficiently. The faster and greater the rise of dopamine, the more powerful the response. Dopamine is at its highest when we are actively seeking the food to eliminate the pain. We have little power over the commands of dopamine. It will begin with small amounts of dopamine that cause us to crave - and we'll search for what we like. However, if the need is not met, larger amounts of dopamine set in to cause the hunt for food to become more focused. At this time, any meal will work - it simply has to relieve the hunger pains.

Serotonin, on the other hand, generally works opposite dopamine and generates the 'got it' message once sufficient food has entered the body. Serotonin tells the body that it’s satisfied and that the hunt for food can end. As serotonin rises, dopamine decreases and the body is in a satisfied state – balanced. At the peak of enjoying the meal, both dopamine and serotonin are high. When the belly feels satisfied and safe, dopamine begins to decline and the body is once again in balance. The craving for food is gone.

Consider any addictive behavior that you might have, including staying busy! Think about how your body is functioning during these times by noting the underlined words above. The key word that kicks off addictive or compulsive behavior is 'pain' then 'take action.' Let's assume you're someone who stays busy 24/7. This is often a compulsive or addictive behavior yet we've believed it's just how we're wired. One way to know the difference is to stop for a significant amount of time and deny yourself the activity of being busy. (Substitute any behavior or substance here.) What thoughts, emotions or feelings come up for you? Really listen to your body and mind and be honest with yourself no matter how silly or absurd it sounds. You may be surprised to find that you are driven by guilt, shame, fear of being rejected, fear of thoughts you want to avoid, and numerous other hidden drivers. We'll talk later about what to do with this new information. For now let's continue with our overview of the limbic and neo-cortex systems.

Due to its purpose for survival, the limbic system does not understand information. This means that you can’t over-ride the limbic system by reciting information (cake isn’t good for me.) The limbic system doesn’t understand timelines. Instead it brings up memory based upon experiences. It’s the neo-cortex part of the brain that connects the experience (sensation) with a time. For example, you can smell an apple pie and have the same emotions you did when grandma made apple pies for you as a child. Your neo-cortex understands that it was many years ago when this happened. However, the limbic system understands the smell as current with all of the emotions that were attached to it back then. Furthermore, the limbic system stores information based upon experience. That means that it can only be over-ridden by (or learn new behaviors) experiences we feed it most often. This means that we have to try the very thing we're afraid of.

The neo-cortex, on the other hand is where information is stored and logic plays a role. We categorize information in this part of the brain for later use. We attend classes, learn information, store what we’ve learned, and retrieve it for later use. If, however, the information is contrary to the experiences that the limbic system has stored – there becomes a battle within the mind over which part of the brain will win out in making choices. This is where our instinct challenges what we 'know' to be true.

To demonstrate why this is important, think about a child who has experienced neglect and abuse over a lifetime. As an adult, what messages might this child have stored in the limbic system based upon his/her experiences. While trying to maintain an adult relationship, he/she knows logically how they are to behave - yet old emotions keep getting in the way. If not dealt with properly, the once hurt child, now grown adult either lives with guilt and shame because he/she cannot behave properly or the emotions are stuffed and a behavior has to keep them at bay.

As shown in the diagram to the right, the limbic system is responsible for our drive to live or our instinct. We share this part of the brain with all animals. The neo-cortex is responsible for our higher life form to make wise choices and live differently than animals.

Let us Reason: Since our limbic system is in charge of impulses that are driven from emotions and a will to live (be safe), it is in constant competition with the neo-cortex that operates solely on information. When the information being sent by the limbic system is in contrast to the information held in the neo-cortex, there is a battle within the mind. One side must win out and override the other in order for a decision to be made. The limbic system will most often win this battle unless we step in logically and challenge the emotions. In what ways do you override the limbic system with reason?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Change the way you see situations

The way we see situations are driven by a ‘spirit-led life’ vs. a ‘flesh-led’ life. A Spirit-led life is when we can recognize how God would have us behave or think. It becomes thoughts and emotions that benefit us and others around us. When led by our emotions, we can be deceived and thus life a flesh-led life, which is often destructive. Consider the following diagram and how a Spirit-led life is similar to ABT and a flesh-led life is similar to DBT.

Spirit-Led.................................................Flesh-Led
(ABT).......................................................(DBT)


<---------live here....... don't live here --------->


Compare situations you’ve recently been involved with. From which side did you respond? If you’re questioning whether or not your actions or thoughts are spirit or flesh led, you’re probably too close to the center and need to re-align yourself further to one side or the other. Where do ‘entitlement’ thoughts appear? Entitlement thoughts are things we think we have the right to - or how others should treat us based on 'us!' They are very subtle. Every thought is either spirit-led (ABT) or flesh-led (DBT). The way we think is a learned behavior. Consider how your thoughts are or are not like your parents. It could be that your parents passed down their way of thinking (positive or negative) and you simply followed suit by doing what you saw. On the other hand, you could have witnessed thinking that you didn't agree with and therefore 'learned' to do the opposite. Either way, our thought patterns are learned behaviors shaped by many people in our lives, not just our parents.

The elephant depicted in this picture grew up with a rope tying him to a small stake. The rope and stake held him in place as a baby elephant. He learned that he could only go so far because he was tied up and so he eventually gave up trying. As an adult elephant we can see that he could easily lift that stake out of the ground – but his belief system lies to him daily – so he stays tied to the stake. People often suffer from the same syndrome of believing we are unable to make progress in areas as an adult because we couldn’t as a child. It’s important that we change our perspective to see the truth of what we can actually accomplish or, like the elephant, we risk limitation for the rest of our life.

What is your stake? Identify something in your life that keeps you limited by false ropes.

The wider the lens…the better the view! Our responses are negative when our focus is narrow. We see more clearly when we can see the big picture. When facing difficult problems, look long, look wide. Look at what’s behind and what’s in front of you. Look to the left. Look to the right. Examine the situation. Determine the problems and see through them. Extract the opportunities. Be relentless in searching every angle. The more you see, the more you have to work with.

God see’s things from a very wide lens. He can see all things while we cannot. This means that only He knows the ‘truth.’ However, our ‘reality’ often feels like the truth but is really own perception of a situation. It isn’t always truth but can feel very real to us. Separating the truth from our reality is very difficult because we have strong emotions attached to the situation. The further we are from these emotions, we will make more logical choices. We teach balance in life because leaning to any one side is dangerous. For example, making solely emotional choices is very destructive because we lack the ability to objectively look at a situation. On the other extreme is when we make solely logical choices without allowing emotions enter the equation. This can be harmful to us and to others. Do you agree with this? Think about practical examples that you can experiment with.

All conflicts have a basic issue to be resolved. Each side has something he/she wants to accomplish. In addition, all conflicts have emotions surrounding them. We can resolve a conflict but have strong emotions left over. the emotions wrap themselves around the problem so that we think that the original problem (usually someone else) is the issue when in fact it's really the emotion attached to the problem. We are responsible for addressing the emotions or they will appear in other situations. We are also responsible for understanding these emotions in order that they don't get the better of us.

Let’s assume that the problem is your roommate, spouse, or child has once again left dishes on the counter. You are irritated because you’ve expressed your frustration with this behavior over and over and it doesn’t appear that you’re being heard. You can have the conversation one more time and the perceived problem gets resolved…that is, the dishes are taken care of.

However, you still have left-over emotions and simply solving the problem doesn’t seem to be enough. What do you do? You’ll need to identify your emotion, the belief behind the emotion, and the need connected to the emotion. We’ll get into these steps more throughout in future blogs. But for now it’s important to understand that they way you see situations include the core problem as well as the surrounding emotions. These surrounding emotions are now a 'new' problem that needs to be resolved. Your emotions have been threatened and kick into high gear seeking resolution.

Think of a situation that is real to you where your emotions were very strong. Can you separate the problem from the situation? What thoughts or emotions are connected to the situation? What would it look like to solve the problem? What thoughts or emotions would be left over for you to address? If you're truly honest with yourself, you might hear various thoughts, beliefs or emotions come up that you instinctively want to reject. But before you reject them, try to sit with them for a while. They are real thoughts, beliefs or emotions that you are having - so try to resolve them rather than ignore or stuff them. Otherwise they'll only come back later - and probably stronger.

Shift from a threat to a challenge. ABT begins in the privacy of your mind. Every thought leads to ABT or DBT. You have internal conversations with yourself before you utter a word to anyone else. Stop and listen to what your body, your emotions, and your thoughts are saying to you. Determine what need is being threatened or not met. Find the challenge of success.

Breathe & Pause – Whenever a problem arises, your first gut reaction may be alarm. Your body’s natural defense mechanism switches on, and all systems are armed and aimed at fighting or fleeing the threat. Every communication breakdown, missed deadline, and costly mistake heightens your focus as you feel a shot of adrenaline restricting your thoughts and speeding your actions. What you may not be aware of is that your breathing changes too. Your breathing becomes shallow (from your chest, not your abdomen) and the intervals between breaths are much shorter.

A simple yet powerful tool you have at your disposal is breath control – the ability to shift your body out of a threat reaction into a challenge response by focusing on your breathing. Slow it down! Take five or six deep breaths. Breathing deeply facilitates ABT. You become more creative and less reactive. It puts you in charge of dealing more effectively with the threat at hand. It triggers the excitement of being challenged and dissolves the fear of being threatened. Try it!

Hindsight + Insight = Foresight

Create a positive G.A.P.

G – Gratitude for those people who hung in there or who help.
A – Appreciation for the bounty and blessings life and living have to offer.
P – Perspective of which priorities are really important.

People are attracted to ABT. It builds support, commitment and dedication of others. Think about it, who would you rather work with, and ABT or a DBT?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Change the way you see others

It’s difficult to stay strong in Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) when others turn away your ideas or don’t follow this kind of thinking. You’ll benefit from positive filters that help you get more traction when others seem to be going against the grain of ABT. You’ll begin to see others as an asset and recognize he/she is a work in progress. You’ll reduce your impact to angry outbursts, accusatory language, difficult behaviors, or the scapegoating of others. You’ll be able to deflect their disturbing behavior, suspend judgment, and investigate interests, needs and motives behind the surface that fuels negative behavior.

Two common traits that broken people share is 1. The need to sit in our pain and 2. The need for others (even those who weren't a part of the cause) to fix it. Let me explain as I was a subscriber to this way of living far too long! Matthew 18:7 says, "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!"

The first thing that I see here is that Jesus is announcing (quite plainly) that things will happen to us - life won't be easy. But secondly He's also announcing that we're not to be the one through whom these troubles come. Yet we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God - so things WILL and DO come through us - unfortunately. Finally, I see that He's saying that there is a consequence when it does come through us.

With that said, let me say that hurting people hurt other people! Repeat that if it didn't sink in. If you read that and think, "Of course, many have hurt me..." then you didn't hear it correctly. Also, if you read that sentance and CAN'T think to yourself, "that's why they hurt me..." then you didn't hear it correctly. It's packed with truth.

Where does sin start? As far as we're concerned sin started wherever it affected me! Now we wouldn't say that out loud because it's crazy thinking. Yet, it's certainly how we instinctively respond in our hearts. Those who sinned against us were sinned against! We need to address our bitterness toward them no matter how disgusting or harmful the sin was and live with grace and forgiveness. That doesn't mean we don't have boundaries nor do we agree with them. It simply means that having judgment and bitterness only serves to harm us - not them. Forgiveness isn't for the offender - it's for the forgiver!

Also, we need to address the probability that we're hurting others. When we recognize our pain, allow God to heal it and move on - that's what healthy is. Jesus came to give us life and give it more abundantly. But when we recognize our pain and find some sick strength in living in it - constantly making it known and never healing - we cannot say that we've found Christ in it! That's not how He does it!

People have hurt us - and we've hurt people. So if you read any of these posts and think to yourself that you know someone who needs to hear this because of how they've treated you - you're reading with the wrong motive. It is always first, and foremost, for you...the reader!

Simply by applying what's in here the world around you will change! You can't change anyone - only yourself! But when that happens it seems that the whole world has changed. Now that doesn't mean to sweep it under the rug and ignore what has happened. We need to deal with the thoughts, emotions and beliefs we have. We need to be accountable to them on a daily basis. Even if they were put there by someone else's actions or words - they are ours now. It's time to take them captive and determine who is in charge - the thoughts/beliefs/emotions or me?

We were all born with instinctive positive filters that allow for ABT. Think of how children assume the best. Unfortunately, the positive filters have been overshadowed and shut down by Deficit-Based Thinking (DBT). You can regain ABT skills by praising and acknowledging people for what they have done. See each individual as an asset and recognize that they, like you, are a work in progress.

Conflict magnifies who you are. It startles you and challenges you to see what makes you uncomfortable. It pushes your boundaries, intellectual thinking, emotional well-being, and physical safety. Conflict, if treated properly, offers the chance to change your mind altogether.

When our emotions are in tact (low and manageable) we have more access to the logic part of our brain. However, when emotions begin to rise, the ability to think logically drops. The stronger emotions are the less cognitive (thinking) ability we have. So how you see others - and whether or not you allow them under your skin - will impact your ability to make wise choices.

When faced with conflict, explore the possibility that opposing forces can both be right (true) simultaneously. Put yourself in the shoes of the other person by asking, "What must he/she believe about the situation in order to behave/believe the way they do?" Also, explore the possibility that though another's opinion may not be 'truth' it IS there opinion nonetheless! Compassion and grace causes us to try to empathize with them enough to understand how they got to that belief.

Taking this perspective – and giving up your instinctual perspective – immediately dissolves animosity and piques curiosity. You find yourself wondering, “What’s their reality? Where is the value on their side?” When you finally give up the belief that yours is the only truth, it changes the game forever! Now you’re in a position to see what new truth you can create together.

Focus + Distance = Clarity

The closer we are to a situation the less we are able to see. We need to step back (emotionally) and have emotional distance to see situations clearly.

Deconstruct – You can diffuse your negative reactions by asking yourself, “What would I be thinking or feeling if I behaved the way they did?” Once you realize that disturbing or irritating behavior is an integral part of everyone’s repertoire, you can choose to be less reactive. You can choose to accept people for who they are and who they aren’t. You facilitate constructive relationships.

Reconstruct – Use ABT to replace the picture you have of the other person’s negative attitudes and behaviors. Choose to remind yourself of his/her strengths and most attractive qualities. Bring a more accurate picture into focus based upon the positive assessment. This new point of view is an asset to moving forward in the relationship.

Everyone is on a continuum of learning. Consider, for example, a skill such as working on a computer. The chart below indicates a continuum of learning in this area. Some people have absolutely no typing or computer skills and would be lost on a computer. Others are masters and can program. Where would you rate yourself?

X-----------------------X--------------------------X------------------------X
No skill-----------Can get by-------------Pretty efficient-------------Master

Think about your patience for those who rate lower than you. Think about how you view those who rate higher than you. How might someone view you in this area? What about other areas? Think about areas that you’re great at and areas that you’re not such a pro. Are you able to allow others to be in a different place on the continuum of learning and ability than you? Are you able to allow yourself to be in a different place than others? This is where Grace comes in!

We are all somewhere on a continuum for any area in our life. Sometimes we’ve mastered a skill or concept and should be available to help those who are struggling in this area. Other times we have little or no skill in an area and should look to others for help. Everyone is good at something and everyone is bad at something. Learning to see others this way can help us ‘forgive’ or have patience.

ABT fosters speedy resolutions – not hasty ones. Take time to get beyond the noise of defenses. Formulate your message and tell the truth fast. State the behavior that bothers you very clearly using “I” statements. State the impact the behavior had upon you and the relationship – remember it’s the relationship you’re trying to save…not yourself! Present a positive solution of how to resolve the conflict. Finally, be willing to accept the other person’s response. Hint: You may resolve a conflict but there may be leftover emotions – these are a clue to a need that you have. However, they aren’t always the reason behind the conflict.

What about situations when the other person(s) is unwilling or unable to reconstruct or repair a relationship? What do we do with the hopelessness in this situation? Consider Lynn.

Lynn met her mother as an adult but never really developed a relationship because of the geographical distance between them. Lynn learned that her mother was dying so she flew to visit her. During her visit the family asked Lynn if she could pay for the funeral expenses for her mother as none of them had the money. Lynn replied by letting the family members know she also lacked the funds to help. The family became bitter with Lynn and loaded her with the guilt of her dying mother not having a proper burial.

The family blamed Lynn for holding grudges against her mother. They couldn't see any other reasons behind Lynn's decision. As a result, the family broke all ties with Lynn. Lynn went home with much sadness and processed this with God. She asked God how she could recover from the pain since the family wouldn’t believe her and she couldn’t make them understand that she would help if she could.

God gave her a glimpse of her mom in heaven. He gave her peace in knowing that her mom would see the truth of situations once she’s left this earth. The same is true for the other family members. What God wanted Lynn to understand is that she didn’t need to prove herself to anyone other than her heavenly Father. Trusting in God to make the situation right meant letting go of the outcome she sought and see it through a heavenly perspective. Lynn would receive no resolution this side of heaven - but still needed to resolve the left-over emotions.

We are so bound by limitations that we often hang onto despair or other thoughts and emotions. This isn’t how God intended it to be for us. We can’t always see the truth the way God see’s it. But we can hope in the fact that there will be a day when all will be revealed. He will make the wrongs right – but we might have to give up our expectation and accept His way.


Find others to imitate! The fastest way to learn something is to imitate a role model. We learned to walk, talk and speak by watching those around us. Imitate what you admire in others who handle their emotions well, and practice the skills you see to acquire for yourself. Become a student rather than a judge. Enjoy the differences of people! Enjoy seeing the world through ABT!