Be Aware of Life’s Challenges

As you work towards becoming stronger and more resilient in areas of your life, it’s important that you remember O’Toole’s Law.  Simply states, O’Toole’s Law says that Murphy was an optimist.  If something can go wrong with Murphy’s Law, it will go ballistic with O’Toole’s!  With that inescapable truth in mind, here are four areas where you will need to be particularly vigilant in the days ahead to ward off emotional exhaustion and stay strong.

Be alert to ordinary, expected life events.  None of us can escape these.  They are the stuff life is made of: high school, trade school, and college graduations, moving across the street or across the world, retiring, getting a promotion, making new friends, or trying to fit into a new neighborhood.  Anticipate these events as best you can. If you do not have a plan to accept them in the normal course of living, any one of them could throw you for a loop.

Be alert to the probability of unexpected life events.  These are the shocks and sorrows of life.  The death of a spouse or a child; the tragedy of an automobile accident; getting a call in the middle of the night informing you your best friend has suffered a massive heart attack.  These are really tough times. To be strong is to prepare yourself for these sudden events by building a strong foundation faith in God and in his ability to see you through. With God-based courage, you can face the ups and downs of life and remain strong.  The hard times will not destroy you or drive you into prolonged depression and despair.

Be alert to ongoing events that can drive you crazy.  These can be the everyday emotional killers — like the dog next store that barks endlessly, the ongoing skirmishes with a spouse, the quarrels with our kids.  You may be caring for an aged parent who lingers on in poor health, sapping you financially and emotionally. It could be the sheer boredom with a career that’s going nowhere, pressures at work, or unresolved issues with an ex-spouse.  

Events such as these tend to have a cumulative effect. If we do not recognize them and deal with them as emotionally health persons, they won’t be easily resolved.  As they weigh us down, we may feel as if we’ve been ground down to almost nothing. Yet to accept the unacceptable with courage and good humor is one of the ways you can regain control of your life.  In God’s strength you can be strong in even these most difficult daily situations.

Be alert to stress born of your own personality traits.  Much of your stress is actually related to how you are wired.  If you are a perfectionist, life is going to be stressful. In fact, it may border paralysis, with that feeling that you’re never quite up to par and continually comparing yourself to others.  If you feel insecure, lack self-worth, and have an overwhelming sense that people are out to get you, you will often allow stress to get the better of you, and it invariably will steer you toward emotional exhaustion.  

When, however, you learn to roll with the punches, laugh at our world, and not take yourself too seriously, then what are stressors to others will become little more than annoyances to you.  Can you make huge changes in your personality? Probably not. That’s why your best solution is to know yourself, be aware of your challenges, and let life be your wise teacher as you anticipate future events.  

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, emotional exhaustion, anxiety or disordered eating, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.

 

Emotional Abuse Can Lead to a State of Depression

The negative effects of emotional abuse can be overwhelming and debilitating.  This can lead to a state of depression when the effects of the abuse compromise your ability to hope, cope, envision a future, and to find the strength to carry on each day.  Without optimism, it is difficult to drown out many of the negative messages you heard growing up that damaged your emerging sense of self.  When these negative messages become too loud and strident to overcome, physical depression can be the result.

In my counseling experience, people are baffled as to why they are feeling depressed. They are unsure how to get over it.  They want answers to “fix” the problem; they want drugs to “fix” the problem.  At the heart of so much of the depression I have treated is emotional abuse as children.  Because they are now adults, they can’t see how what happened to them twenty, thirty, even forty years ago could make such a difference.  Often they have spent their adult lives “moving on” and attempting to put the past behind them.  What I help them learn is that it is only possible to move on from the past once you have acknowledged and dealt with it.

I also help them to see that the ways they have chosen to put the past behind them end up pushing patterns of the past to the forefront.  Ignoring the past doesn’t make it go away.  Accepting the past does.

Depression has been described as a deep, black hole you find yourself falling into.  The sides are steep and slick.  There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop your descent.  It happens in slow motion — flailing of the arms, twists and turns of the body, agonizing movements that produce no results.  Eventually you stop fighting and just slide down into the pit.  No light, desires, energy.  No hope.

But also no pain.  No anger.  No emotion to deal with at all.  Just a numbing grayness hanging over your life.  When pain is too great, anger too consuming, and emotions too conflicting, the blurry haze of depression has an allure.

Emotional abuse leads to intense feelings of anger, rage, resentment, and bitterness.  Submerged feelings of guilt and fear of your abuser can lead you to choose a safer target for your anger than your abuser.  All too often that target is you.  Unspent anger continually works inside the body, using up energy, causing feelings of fatigue and apathy.  Unable to see any hope in your life, you slowly begin to isolate yourself from others, from getting out and socializing, from exercising or taking care of your body.  So often in your abuse nothing has seemed to work.  Every time you thought it was going to get better, it got worse.  So what’s the use? you wonder.

This world we live in can be a difficult place.  Pressures and stresses that come from everyday living are enough to temporarily sideline even the healthiest of us.  When emotional abuse has battered your defenses, maintaining a successful stand against those forces can be almost impossible.  That is why it is so important to gain support from others:  from healthy relationships, from friends who love you, even from caring professionals who can assist you in rediscovering your strength to face each day successfully.  You may also need a professional to assist you in rebalancing your body’s natural chemistry when necessary.[1]

The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in the treatment of fear, anxiety and depression, and uses a whole-person approach that allows you to discover what is truly going on in mind, body and spirit. Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.

[1] For a thorough discussion of the effects of depression, see Gregory L Jantz with Ann McMurray, Moving Beyond Depression:  A Whole-Person Approach to Healing (Colorado Springs:  Shaw, 2003)

 

Unclothing the Lie that Words Can Never Hurt

“My God! You are so clumsy! What is wrong with you?” Once again, Angie had spilled her milk. Her siblings popped up out of their seats, as much to get away from their mother as away from the milk, which was now spreading across the table and threatening to drip on the floor.

“Get out of my way!” their mother yelled as she grabbed a kitchen towel and headed for the spill. “Don’t just stand there! Pick up those plates so I can make sure it doesn’t get on the carpet! Angie was afraid to move, afraid to do anything else wrong. No one looked at her—not her mother, not her brother, not her sister— until the spill was mopped up and the table put back together.

“Oh, no you don’t,” her mother said as Angie started to sit down at the table. “You cannot be trusted.” After picking up Angie’s plate, her mother went into the kitchen and placed it on the floor, next to the dog bowl. “You can just eat with the dog until you can eat like a person.” With that, her mother marched back into the other room, leaving Angie thinking about a meal she no longer had any interest in.

Emotional abuse happens when an adult humiliates a child for actions consistent with being a child.

Children require correction from adults to learn the right thing to do. Emotional abuse happens when correction meant to help the child is turned into humiliation meant to punish the child. The definition of humiliation is to cause a painful loss of dignity, pride, or self-respect. Children have not yet gained the maturity to withstand the damage of humiliation, which can be difficult even for adults to endure. Humiliating a child is taking advantage of someone younger and more vulnerable out of a distorted desire for control and power.

More than twenty years ago, I wrote a book on emotional abuse because I wasn’t finding much acknowledgment regarding the damage I was seeing in my clients from emotional or psychological abuse. One question I asked in that book was why emotional abuse was so common. I concluded that emotional abuse was so prevalent because some people categorized emotional abuse as normal. How could something normal be considered abusive? So what if you were yelled at growing up, wasn’t everyone? Who cared if you were regularly dismissed as worthless? You just needed to try harder. If you didn’t grow up feeling loved, that was just a generational thing you were supposed to get over. If you weren’t beaten within an inch of your life, you had nothing to complain about. So people didn’t complain; they moved on with their lives. Yet some of those people kept having difficulties, difficulties that eventually led them to my office.

People are slow to admit the obvious in cases of emotional abuse for various reasons. When I was growing up, years of groupthink said that adults, especially parents, had the right to deal with children however they saw fit. You weren’t supposed to involve yourself in another family’s “business.” If adults spoke harshly to children, well, they must have had a reason. It wasn’t your “place” to object—and certainly not in public.

My generation also grew up learning that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I remember repeating that rhyme to myself when other kids were mean to me. I learned the lesson well and determined I wasn’t going to let other kids get to me. That rhyme wasn’t as successful when it came to hurtful words from adults, and certainly not my parents.

When I started my practice over thirty years ago, I committed to unclothe the lie that “words can never hurt.” They can and they do, in stunning and devastating ways. When society collectively comes to that conclusion, the emotional abuse of children will become less common.

If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing and treatment for emotional abuse to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

The Emotional Cost of Childhood Abuse

An abused child is an abandoned child in so many ways, as the child has been denied the love, care, and concern they have every right to expect from their caregivers. In situations of abuse, not only are love, care, and concern denied, but they are also often replaced by a true house of horrors, with no safety, no peace, and no trust. Such a dysfunctional formative environment creates a wave of damage that crashes into the processes of maturation and healthy development. In the presence of childhood abuse, whole-person health is compromised — emotional, intellectual, physical, relational, and spiritual health.

I have found children to be both fragile and resilient. Their resiliency is shown through their ability to hope, trust, and endure. Their fragility is shown through an incomplete understanding of adult motives, reasons, and objectives. Children so often find a way to navigate through life in the short term. To avoid a danger, they will skew off on a different path, without realizing the problematic trajectory of that temporary way out.

Sadly, when abuse is present, a child’s healthy path through life is hijacked. The paths they should have traveled—the roads of trust, security, love, attention, appreciation, care, and concern—are cordoned off by the abuse. Instead, they are forced to travel down roads of fear, insecurity, hardship, frustration, anger, distrust, and chaos.

I am not surprised by the emotional damage of childhood abuse; I expect it. What continually surprises me is how those who have been abused as children—through creativity, ingenuity, and sheer force-of-will—still find their way to hope, love, forgiveness, and faith. But traveling through the negativity of abuse as children takes its toll; a toll that can become due and payable in adulthood.

Anxiety

Abused children live in a world of dread. They also live in a world where they’ve learned they are responsible for their safety. In such a world, there is no standing down. They live on high alert—all the time. When these children find themselves responsible for other children, the sense of hyper-watchfulness is compounded. These children become tightly wound, emotionally stretched as they attempt to monitor their worlds for anticipated dangers. As such, they are highly reactive, twitching at the slightest movement or smallest sound. They default to a world of imminent disaster. Red alert becomes their familiar state, a known place of warped safety.

Did you grow up always wondering when the next shoe would drop, whether it was a harsh word, a taunt, a slap, or a touch? Where and when did you feel safe? Did you ever feel safe? High anxiety can be a way of coping with such a world. In a world where you are a target, you learn never to let your guard down; you keep it up, all the time, just in case.

Depression

Abused children are resilient. They are inventive and creative about finding ways to overcome and survive their abuse. Yet chronic abuse can take a significant toll on what I call “emotional buoyancy,” that ability to spring back and recover from psychological trauma. A child may find that recovering a sense of emotional balance increasingly becomes more challenging with frequent and damaging psychological shocks. With child- hood abuse, hope takes a beating. Bearing the weight of belief in a positive future can become a very heavy burden.

Did you grow up wishing for things that you knew, deep down, weren’t possible? How did you feel when they didn’t happen? Disappointed? Foolish for even thinking you could have them? Did you decide, at some point, it was just easier to expect the worst? And did expecting the worst make living life harder or easier? Were there times when you just wanted to run away, hide, and feel nothing at all? Did you grow up learning not to hope for things so you wouldn’t be hurt? At least, that’s what you told yourself.

If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues, and bringing healing to the whole family. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

Finding Truth in Your Anger

Every time you are treated unfairly, it hurts.  A part of you knows that isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  The pain can be deep and lasting.  The anger and resentment at this unfair treatment is real.

Each new instance of unfair treatment is compounds the one before it, until the weight of injustice in your life threatens to weigh you down. The only way to get out from under that burden is to take a look at each one, examine it honestly, and put it in its proper context.

First, I’d like you to think back over your life and pinpoint those times when the pain and unfair treatment was most intense.  I want you to identify specific instances.

I Was Treated Unfairly When…

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.
Next, I want you to go back over your list.  (You may have more or less than five, given your life experiences.  If you find you have trouble identifying specific instances, start as far back as you can remember and work forward.)  Whenever appropriate, I’d like you to identify specific people who are associated with your unfair treatment.

Often, you can feel that life in general treats you unfairly, but often this unfair treatment is associated with a specific person.  Whenever there is a person or people involved, write this down.

For each experiences you’ve written down, I would like you to answer the following question:

  • As I think back at what happened to me, was there anything I could have done to avoid or prevent it?

For those of you who were traumatized or abused, this is not an easy question.  Don’t necessarily accept the first answer that comes to mind.  This could be defensiveness or denial talking.  Be still for a while.  Set your anger aside.  Allow yourself to delve deeper and the truth to emerge out of your silence.  The truth is there; it often just gets drowned out.  If you say no, it means you must face the truth that you were truly powerless over what happened to you.  This sense of powerlessness is frightening.  If you say yes, you indict yourself for some of your own pain.

Whether you say yes or no, you must allow yourself to grieve for the pain you suffered.  Now ask yourself the next question:

  • Knowing what I know now, how will this knowledge affect my life and choices today?

Each circumstance can be redeemed through insight and wisdom gained.  Holding on to anger does not allow you to move into the processing stage, where what you’ve experienced becomes integrated into your life as a lesson learned and a source of growth.

Then, answer this third question:  

  • How has holding on to anger about this experience helped or harmed me?

It is possible for you to answer both “helped” and “harmed” from the same experience.  Anger is often an initial shield and protector in severe situations.  Its efficacy, however, fades with time, the more removed you are from the event.

In a search for honesty, don’t downplay either the “help” or “harm” aspect of your anger.  You can acknowledge the help while appreciating the harm, making it easier for you to ultimately release the anger.

Finish up with this question:

  • Based on what I’ve learned about myself through this experience, how will I use this knowledge positively going forward?

As I said before, what you’ve experienced in your life can be integrated as a lesson learned and source of growth.  What is past is past, but what you do with it today and tomorrow has yet to be written.

Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and others.

The Effects of Emotional Abuse

Andrea couldn’t stand to be alone; she just didn’t know it.  At home by herself, usually at night, she would panic — heart racing, hyperventilating, sure she was having a heart attack.  The attacks would come upon her suddenly, in the middle of watching television or after cleaning up the kitchen.  Terrified, she tried to calm herself, but when that proved futile, the fear would accelerate as she convinced herself something was physically wrong.

After her third visit to the emergency room in as many weeks, a hospital caseworker suggested that her health difficulties might better be addressed by a therapist than a physician.  Andrea had never considered counseling before — it seemed to intrusive and personal — but she was desperate, unable to hold her debilitating fear at bay.

Even though desperate, Andrea arrived at The Center • A Place of HOPE guarded, wary, and on edge.  She just wanted something, anything, to stop the panic attacks.  She insisted that the only reason she had come in was because the hospital suggested it.  What she wanted was medication.  What she got was the truth about herself.

Andrea came to realize that because of emotional abuse she had endured as a child, she never felt truly comfortable with herself.  Instead, she derived her sense of self from other people.  Andrea strove to please those around her and to do the best job possible.  She was a perfectionist when it came to her job.  She was at her best in the midst of a busy, bustling office with a high level of demands.  When Andrea had something to do, she knew who she was.

Growing up, being busy meant being away from home, and that meant she was out of range of an unhappy, bitter mother and a demanding, capricious father.  If you weren’t busy, you were noticed.  If things were quiet, there was no place to hide.

Living in a household where an emotional attack was always a real possibility, Andrea grew up never feeling safe or being totally able to relax.  As long as people were surrounding her and things were going on, Andrea was able to divert her growing anxiety and panic into tasks and activity.  It was at home, in the quiet, that panic took the upper hand.  In order to heal, Andrea needed to learn to relax and be herself — something she had never had the luxury of doing while growing up and something she had never given herself permission to do as an adult.  Andrea needed to learn to like who she was, even with nobody else in the room.

Any kind of abuse, emotional abuse included, is an attack on a person’s sense of self.  It demeans and controls that person through words or actions, devaluing that person and ultimately elevating the abuser.  If you have suffered abuse in your past or are suffering in the present, it is not something to be ignored, denied, accepted, or perpetuated.  The damage it does to your sense of self is pervasive and destructive.

Over the course of my years of working with the abused and abusers, I have found several distinct negative effects to the sense of self associated with emotional abuse:

  • low self-esteem
  • lack of self-confidence
  • transfer of needs
  • acting out sexually
  • loneliness
  • failure syndrome
  • perfectionism
  • unrealistic guilt
  • crisis oriented
  • unresolved anger and resentments

Depending on your situation, you may find that one or more of these effects is true in your own life.  You may have been aware of these effects without understanding why they exist in your life.

If you are struggling with emotional abuse, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.