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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Dear Black Friends: What would you have me do?

I'm aware my choice of title may come across as defensive, but it isn't.

I am increasingly aware and deeply troubled by racism.

I have witnessed, and been infuriated by, institutional racism, and I have seen white privilege at play. One example that I really hit close to home was in my 9 months counseling at the homeless shelter, I saw white men barely sober a few months given opportunity after opportunity, regarded as tragic stories of unfulfilled potential, while black men 10 years sober with proven work ethic were overlooked because they were treated as though their history was a reflection of their choices, and ultimately their character.I do not feel that those experiencing white privilege should lose those privileges, I feel that those privileges are a model for what should be available to everyone. Every person should be seen for the potential they have yet to fulfill.

But as I awaken to the breadth and extent of racism that continues to be present in our culture, I am horrified to realize that the position I am in at this point is that of bystander.

The role I have been playing in this conversation has been too close to those situations where a murder takes place on a street overlooked by dozens of windows, where nobody called the police, and nobody came to help.

I am really sorry.

We all hear stories of that sort of thing happening and think "if I had been there I would have helped!" 

But here so many of us are, watching through the window or drowning out the ruckus, thinking "Well, I'm not the one committing the crime, and I'm not the victim, so what could I possibly do about it? I'm sure someone else better qualified will come along and intervene."

I do not want to be that. I am repulsed by the thought that I have done that. 

I am heartbroken for the harm racism is inflicting on my brothers and sisters, an I am horrified at my own apparent complacence about it. It is not enough for me to love you, and to respect you and your background and recognize that you are in no way less valuable than anyone else because of the color of your skin.

But I realized, too, that I do not know how best to leverage my white voice to help you. I will not be so arrogant as to believe that I could possibly be in a position to offer a solution to a crime that does not threaten me.

The best I can be is a tool or a megaphone in your hands, black friends. I know that some of my role is to speak on your behalf to those too racist to listen to you directly.

But beyond that, and I know that there is a lot beyond that, I do not know what to do.

So I pose the question to you, in a posture of genuine submission:

How best can I back you up?

What would you have me do?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Millennials & the Malignancy of "Maybe"

I've been noticing this growing, hard-to-pin-down frustration in myself and many of my friends over the last decade. We like to blame our phase of life for most of it, I think; being busy and over-committed is just a part of young adulthood, isn't it?

Here's my take on it, though. The bulk of our frustration stems from one little bitty thing:

(The Maybe Button)

I remember when Facebook was new and events were starting to pick up popularity, we all thought this was such a great thing! It was this polite way to RSVP when we weren't sure if we'd be able to make it; rather than turning down something we wanted to do because we couldn't make a solid commitment, or saying "yes" to save our spot but looking like a flake when it didn't work out, we had this awesome way to show our intentions! The invitation, the event, and in turn its sender are important to us, we desire to attend, but we are also not flakes, and wouldn't dare insult you by committing only to stand you up.

In reality, how this option has played out over the last 10+ years is that we're simultaneously incapable of fully committing to ANYTHING and OVERcommitted!

To quote my brilliant husband, "It's weird how our sincere efforts to be as nice as possible result in a lot of frustration and exhaustion"

That's exactly what has happened. And it's not just those of us making these wishy-washy non-committments who are affected. It's exhausting to give or receive "Maybe." 

There are jokes that maybe means no (except about 30% of the time when it really means maybe), and No is the new "Screw You."

So there's this new passive aggressive decibel of communication now where we worry about giving a sincere "no" without leaving a note to explain our reasons, and hoping the reasons we give sound valid enough without coming across as too defensive and therefore insincere, and we worry about giving a solid "yes" because we fear something better, more appealing, more interesting, or with people we like more popping up between the date of RSVP and the actual event. This is called FOMO- Fear Of Missing Out

We didn't have FOMO nearly as much back when things either popped up spontaneously through word of mouth invitations at work or school, or long-in-advance mailed paper invitations with enough time to account for the post office both ways, and RSVP cards with only TWO options!

So because we are all both the initiators and the respondents to invitations in this generation, we find ourselves exhausted. We're overwhelmed with options, events, hundreds and thousands of "friends" at our fingertips, all making us feel like we should feel more connected with all these options, yet feeling just busy and unknown.

Then there's that other, really big part of the frustration. We constantly feel like everyone we are connected with also has FOMO, and we in turn feel as though we are endlessly fighting to win a contest against an unknown number of people and passions for our friends' time and energy.

This can make us wonder if that "maybe" is our friend hoping something better than us could still come along, if perhaps we are the backup plan, the last resort. It can also make us feel like we didn't "make the cut" whenever someone turns that maybe into a no for anything less than a funeral.

Then there's just matters of courtesy. That darn Maybe button has caused us to feel completely at ease to not decide WHAT we're going to do until the last moment, sometimes even after the event has started if it's acceptable to show up late. What a chaotic existence! We've been acculturated to believe that this is a LUXURY! We've learned the delusion that not having to know what we're doing next week, tomorrow, even later tonight is empowering us against our constant feelings of busy-ness and overcommitment.

Well I'm here to tell you that we are NOT empowering ourselves or anyone else when we say Maybe.

We aren't being kind, or polite, softening the blow of a rejection or making someone feel like they matter

We're telling our friends they're on our list, but we haven't decided how high up yet.

We're leaving them in limbo, rejecting or "maybe-ing" their own friends who fall lower on their list than ourselves until we deign to give them a solid answer.

We're forcing them to pester us and risk annoying us to get a clear confirmation so that they don't figure out when half the day is gone that they've been blown off, and we're robbing them of being able to feel hurt or offended because we never actually committed in the first place.

We are reserving seats in our friends' lives over and over and over, and leaving them empty time after time, only to request another reservation to "make up for it".

...and we need to stop.


We are ALL guilty of participating in both sides of this sick, frustrating, flaky dance and it is ruining our relationships, and metastasizing into every other part of our lives.

So how can we fix this?

"But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'No'. For whatever is more than these is from the  evil one."

I suspect Jesus may have anticipated this Millennial generation and our internet maybes when he said this in Matthew 5:37. And regardless of your religious affiliations or lack thereof, you can't deny that this little chunk of advice is WISDOM. 

And as far as I can tell, that really is the answer; think about it- if we stop with the "maybes" and commit to a yes or a no in all things, we can still change our minds, but we will have a better grasp on LIFE!

If we start saying YES or NO, we will realize how many things we try to juggle, how we are becoming over-committed. When we say Maybe, we try to make it to several things just for a bit, and ultimately enjoy none of them- it's like the opening scene of 27 Dresses every dadgum weekend.

And for myself, I would rather receive a 5 solid "No"s in a row and one TRUE "Yes" than 6 "Maybes" and 6 times I can't count on anything.

And once you've conquered the Maybes, you might find this helpful:

Monday, July 11, 2016

How To Make A Difference In An Unjust World (& How Not To)

It seems to me that with the rampant growth of Social Media activity, Slacktivism is also at an all time high. Prior to the upsurge of shared open letters and judgey memes, I think slacktivism was already common in the form of protest. Now stay with me please! I'll explain.

While there's nothing wrong with simply doing these things to make it known which side of a debate you personally identify with (that's why I do it from time to time), I feel like if changing one's profile photo in solidarity or clicking "share" on someone else's well stated opinions is say (generously) 0.5% effective in convincing others to consider alternative perspectives, then showing up for a protest in this decade* is maybe 1% effective, if that. 

In this day and age, it's needlessly dangerous to gather large crowds of people representing a specific, often oppressed demographic into a single public space. The best case scenario is that the participants leave safely and feel like they were a part of something important. They haven't changed ANYTHING. They just got to take their opinions out of their computer chair and feel like they've done something. 

The alternatives to this scenario are that it creates an opportunity for crazies/radicals/people who simply like to make trouble to turn what may have been intended and initially organized as a peaceful statement into a riot. I don't think protests are organized with the intent or expectation of riots, nor do I think the majority of participants intend to be rowdy, but it's like giving an open call to bring gasoline to a certain place and hoping no arsonists show up. The worst case is scenarios like the events in Dallas that inspired this post, that it's like gathering fish into a barrel with targets on their backs. We may not like to admit it, we may disagree on how to label it, but we live in a world where people senselessly take lives en masse, particularly when it will create a media frenzy.

And for what? So people watching will know a cause is important? 

Frankly, we do have internet now. We can make our numbers felt through petitions etc with as much efficacy and none of the risk. 

Even so, I believe that none of these measures will make much real difference to whatever the problem.

So what will?


The only way to fix a corrupt system is to do so from the INSIDE.

Do you believe that the United States Police forces are corrupt &/or full of racist people you don't trust to carry a gun?

Then BECOME A POLICE OFFICER and don't be racist, corrupt, or trigger happy. Too old? Encourage your children, or your grandchildren, or your nieces, nephews, friends' kids, to grow up to work in law enforcement, and not to be racist. Donate funds or organize classes for your city to educate current law enforcement in sociology and racial studies. Organize events that can encourage positive interactions and experiences between members of oppressed people groups and their oppressors, so that officers have an opportunity to genuinely rewrite the script in their minds by way of positive, genuine personal experience.

The only way we can fix a corrupted population of people is to flood it with good people.

Do you believe some of the tragic shooting incidents involving police were exacerbated by people refusing to listen or comply to orders given by an authority?

Then teach your children to respect authority figures. MODEL that respect by respecting them yourself. If you are of a demographic which is categorically socialized not to fear the law but to rely on it to protect you, then you better get out of your house, join a big brother/big sister program, and instill that respect into some kids who haven't had that opportunity. If nothing else, teach your children to comply when the person they're disagreeing with has a gun, and then educate them on how to pursue justice after the fact- there are dash cams and body cams, if you feel your rights are being unlawfully infringed upon, DON'T be mouthy and insolent and scream in their face, don't resist, and no matter how right you are, DON'T FIGHT SOMEONE WHO IS ARMED FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! Get the organizations that would defend you in death to help you defend yourself IN COURT with your heart still beating.

And ALL of you- how about instead of waiting to give money to a fund for the family of someone who dies unjustly, you give money now to a fund for the legal defense team of someone unjustly accused of a crime based on their demographic status?

Are you Pro-Life?

Then put down the picket signs and go prepare your hearts and your homes to adopt kids that are products of rape, or unexpected teen pregnancy, or unwelcome adult pregnancy. Be ready to take in kiddos with birth defects & drug addictions. Make space in your homes or financially support organizations that provide housing for girls who are kicked out of their homes for being pregnant. Organize clinics and meetings where families can be counseled through the challenges of unexpected pregnancy and learn forgiveness, acceptance, and supporting their own. 

The only way we can change our culture is to create a safe, welcoming place for the children of unwanted pregnancies.

Are you Pro-choice in part because you believe the foster system is so corrupt and full of greedy, neglectful people that you think it would be better in the long run to abort a child than to risk subjecting it to such a life?

Then get trained, open your homes, and become good foster parents. You're smart enough and good enough to identify a problem exists, so be smart enough and good enough to do something about it. 

The only way to fix a corrupt system is to flood it with good people.

Are you sick of voting for the lesser of two evils, but you do it anyway because you feel your vote will be wasted if you don't vote for one of the front runners?

Then become a politician and don't be corrupt. Raise your children to have an interest and understanding of politics, and teach them not to be corrupt. Most of all, get involved at the lowest levels- those people running for higher office have been climbing the ladder for a long time. If you pay attention to mayoral and governor elections, local politics and congress, we could, hypothetically, begin to weed out the baddies before they ever start climbing.

The only way to bring about change is to stop doing things as they've always been done. If you think there's any other way than this, you are living the definition of insanity.

I could go on and on with examples such as homelessness, poverty, water poverty, drug addiction, etc- in fact some of these are my own personal pet causes, but you should get the idea by now.

The when a corruption is systemic, it's not just this giant crap factory that you can only either yell at pointlessly, burn down completely, or just accept. 

The difference between that which is corrupt and that which is not is the proportion of non-corrupt individuals to those who are corrupt inside that system. It ultimately comes down to a tip of the scales. And the only way to change which way a scale tips is to add weight to the side you prefer. 

So are you tired of the world as it is? Wishing for change? Discouraged? Then DO. You don't have to stop all the reposts and demonstrations, but back them up. And if you must demonstrate, please be wise, be safe, and don't be afraid to leave if it gets ugly.

*I am not denying the efficacy of protest as a real society changing tool at various times in history- I am saying we have outgrown its efficacy. It's not a good method for this generation.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Getting Rid Of The Meantimes

I got married at age 26.

Most of my readers consider that a pretty reasonable, appropriate age to get married. I admit, though, for several years I would have thought it about 3-4 years too late.

I wasn't exceptionally impatient about finding a husband, or getting married, but I had an expectation that it was inevitable. You see, I have a healthy, strong body, nice, wide hips, and a strong, long-term desire to have lots of kids. So obviously, God made me to be a mother- it only makes sense that He'd give those kids a dad.

This wasn't, of course, the only reason I wanted to get married- not by a long shot- but it was the source of my certainty that I would get married. God wouldn't want to waste such excellent mothering material.

Then about 2 years before I met the man I am now married to, around age 24, I had an epiphany of contentment. I came to this realization through a combination of two things. First, God was speaking to me through the Epistles of Paul. Second, I was getting super annoyed with some of my friends. (read: acquaintances)

See, I had several friends who had the exact same mentality as me. The desire of their heart was to have a husband, or to have children, so obviously that was what God had in mind for them. 

Why would God give us a deep, burning desire for something if He wasn't intending to give it to us?

But I noticed that as we moved away from college graduation age, some of my friends had... slowed their lives to a crawl. They didn't put any serious thought into what they might be doing in 5 or 10 years if they didn't get married, because such a scenario would be unacceptable. A few of them were a bit older than me, and were getting impatient and frustrated because they felt the time when they had to be independently responsible for their lives, without the benefit of partners to share their burdens with, should have passed by now.

I found myself getting annoyed with their attitudes, their sense of entitlement about marriage, and their naive assumption that they were owed husbands because they wanted them. I saw it as irresponsible, unwise to put oneself in a position where focus on something that is not a guarantee blocks out consideration of the alternatives. I also saw it as dangerous, making them vulnerable to settle for someone because the idol of marriage was more important than being alone longer in order to wait for someone right.

And then I realized I was acting the same way. I was just as certain and confident that eventually, probably soon, I would meet someone. After all, if I want to have 5-7 kids and not have minors in my house at retirement age, I had better get started soon! I wasn't being as verbal about it as some of the people in my circle, but I absolutely assumed it was something I was guaranteed. The only difference between myself and those friends was time. The time between when I had expected to meet my husband and this revelation was brief, so I wasn't quite impatient yet. I had only just entered my unexpected "waiting period" until wifehood.

God started speaking to me through 1 Corinthians 7:7-9
"I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

I realized, much to my chagrin, that I actually felt I could control myself. I didn't consider celibacy an impossible thing, and while I was a normal, healthy 24 year old with normal, healthy drives, "passion" was not a major force in my desire to be married. I realized that it might possibly be God's plan for me to remain single.

The implications of this for my life were staggering. I realized how much of my attitude was centered around my assumption that soon enough, everything in my life would change, and I would be able to factor in another person to make decisions about my future, handle money, and glorify God through the raising of a cluster of little Christian Warriors from scratch. 

I had to determine what about my life needed to change if I decided then and there never to marry. What about my behavior and career and goals would be different if I stopped factoring in the possibility of a husband?

That was when I realized I had already begun to mentally settle into the meantime. I stopped. I made my own choices about my career based on what I could actually see myself doing forever to actually support myself. I dared to dream about and get excited about the prospect of being single and having the freedom to change my course at will, enjoy solitude, be undistracted in the pursuit of my faith, and minister to other singles.

I still dated, sure- I wasn't against marriage if God so chose. But it no longer defined my life as a single person as a waiting room for the next stage of life. Single adulthood was a stage of life- possibly my last. A unique, fun, liberating, awesome stage that allowed me to be in a 1 on 1 relationship with my true Beloved.

Fast Forward a few years. I met my husband under incredibly... serendipitous circumstances. It has been evident from the first moment I saw him that God truly brought us together, saved us for each other, prepared us for one another. We got married.

Now if you don't usually like my TMI style you probably won't love the rest of this post, but it's important. I want people to learn from my experiences to spare them their own folly.

My husband and I were on the same page about having a big family from the beginning. I won't get too deep into our specific theology here, but we took a "Catholic" approach to birth control from the beginning of our marriage. We felt if God really wanted to give us a baby, he would- whether we tried to stop him or not.

Additionally I will own that at almost 27 years old, I was already a little impatient to start having kids- if I had married at 23, I could have had like 3 kids by now!

And so began my new meantime. How wasteful was I? To become so wrapped up in the next "promised" (definitely never promised) stage of motherhood that I viewed my time alone with my brand new, AMAZING husband as a consolation prize until I got pregnant?

I was anxious and frustrated, and impatient for several reasons I won't specify here. I was desperate to prove to myself and to the world that everything was healthy here- no problems getting pregnant! After all, the implications of infertility would throw a complete wrench in my only plan for married life. Then I caught myself.

How in the world could I have learned so little from my time as a single adult? Hadn't I learned better than to only plan the future around people who hadn't arrived yet and had no guarantee of ever coming?

Why did I have such a sense of entitlement about pregnancy, anyway? Just because my body is healthy, I'm automatically owed an opportunity to use it? Just because I had the organs for sex didn't mean I was owed an opportunity to use them, either!

The truth is, once I was willing to acknowledge it, that we are not promised anything, I felt free; true contentment.

Jesus was celibate. He didn't have any children of his own. He LOVED kids. But that wasn't what God had in mind for his ministry. Paul, as far as we know, was single, and he additionally had a "thorn in his side". He never indicated that he felt entitled not to feel pain- he never let it get in the way of his ministry. In fact, his pain has since ministered to so many others who read of his faith in the face of that pain when they are coping with their own. And I know Paul had a deep, permeating desire not to be in pain. 

It turns out, sometimes God allows us to have desire so that we may learn from being deprived. 

It turns out, desire and want can serve a different function in God's purpose than telling us what we're entitled to.

I still have a deep, "burning passion" for motherhood. I have a specific desire to experience pregnancy that is difficult to put into words. And I am young- I know this. 20 months is really not long at all for a person to have been "trying" to get pregnant without success. I have not given up hope, but it's about time I give up the meantime.

The stage I am in could be the last stage I am ever in. And what a beautiful stage it is! How utterly, unbelieveably wasteful for me to treat it like it's just a waiting room for me to impatiently focus on what lies beyond. 

My husband and I are open to other options, too- adoption and foster care are on our minds. But even these are not simple or guaranteed. I have learned, and been scolded by my younger, single, content self, that to covet, even that which is good, is to be entitled and ungrateful

So let me ask you, and seriously I encourage you to think about it- write down the answers!

What stage of life are you in right now? 

Do you covet the "next" or a "previous" stage, or even a missed one? 

What blessings of your current situation are you ignoring in your belief that you are "owed" whatever it is you are "missing"?

What opportunities do you have in this stage that you wouldn't or won't have in any other?

Are you taking advantage of them?

Why not?

(BTW Google Image search "Purgatory" and most of the images that pop up are people reaching up toward a heaven full of babies- hilarious)

Monday, June 13, 2016

What I've Learned In Therapy: Just Because It Hurts Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Healthy

This is the final installment of my "What I've Learned In Therapy" series. Honestly, I never expected to have so much to learn, so much change to make in my life. I don't think that's a conceited thing- I think a lot of people wouldn't think they'd have much to gain from attending counseling. Still, I hope this series has showed that even a pretty nice person who appears to have her life together can have a lot to learn about herself.

The final lesson from counseling that I'll share with you is that just because something hurts, doesn't mean it isn't healthy. I learned this in several applications, some of which are quite personal, but the lesson itself I believe is essential for everyone.

It is very difficult to find yourself in a position where you have to inflict pain (emotional or physical) on someone for a greater good. This whole series has touched on a reoccurring theme that I have had trouble with boundaries. To put it simply, I had to learn that just because someone might be hurt by my withdrawing from their life, or setting boundaries, doesn't mean it's not a healthy thing for me to do. 

Think of it this way. Say a couple has a young son with severe autism. One of his consistent behaviors is that he loves to run into the middle of the street. When his mom and dad restrain him from his impulse to run into the street, he kicks and screams and genuinely, truly believes his parents hate him, don't love him, because he does not understand why they're keeping him from doing what he needs to do. Will, at any point, this boy's parents decide perhaps they should let him run into the street every now and then so that for once he'll believe that they love him? (Note: This is an imagined, hypothetical scenario, so I'm taking the liberty to narrow out all other symptoms, scenarios, alternative opportunities for his parents to express their love for their boy.) If his parents really love him, won't they let him do what he really wants? Or if his parents REALLY love him, will they keep him from harm's way, even though he doesn't understand- will NEVER understand- that they do it out of love, and they don't want to hurt his feelings?

I don't care if my kid hates me every day of the rest of my life, and is genuinely, truly convinced I am ruining his life, I am not going to let him run into traffic to convince him otherwise.

If my adult child calls me a traitor, hates me, and believes I don't love them because I won't financially support them by letting them live under my roof with a severe drug addiction, I'm not going to enable her to convince her otherwise.

Sometimes people's perceptions of our feelings towards them are just wrong.

In fact, usually, the more unhealthy a person is, the more incorrect their perceptions of how we treat them, how we feel about them. It doesn't help for us to affirm their delusion by displaying whatever behavior they think expresses love to them. That is not the same thing as speaking someone's love language.

In counseling I realized that many times when I have failed to set a healthy boundary, I have failed to do so because the person I was setting the boundary with pushed back- indicated that my boundary hurt their feelings, or otherwise deprived them of something they had an inalienable right to. I might succeed at setting the boundary only to have them test it, giving me guilt trips, crying, or misinterpreting it to mutual friends if I enforced it.

The really hard thing about it is, much of the time I really felt that the person genuinely didn't understand that I didn't want to hurt them, that I needed the boundary for myself. It isn't as if they were always just whining or manipulating or overreacting to get their way- they truly believed the only reason I was enforcing my boundaries was to hurt their feelings.

But just because they don't understand why it's healthy, or that it's healthy, doesn't mean it's not healthy.

I've learned that just because my boundaries cause someone emotional distress, doesn't mean I am wrong in setting them.

In fact, it isn't just my own emotional health that boundaries like these are promoting.

If a person is deeply, genuinely, truly hurt by my setting a healthy boundary, they have a problem with boundaries. They may have an unreasonable emotional connection or dependence on their friends or family. 

(It is possible, by the way, for family to be codependent on family. You are not exempt from the need to set boundaries with your family, just because you are often emotionally closer to them than friends.)

And it's not my job, even as a counselor in training, to fix or heal or help them with the problems that lead to them being hurt by my boundary.

I hope you've enjoyed this series, I know it's been a blessing to have this opportunity to share the wisdom my amazing counselor helped me discover. I also hope this series has helped one or two people better understand what it is that counseling is good for, what therapy does. I hope some of you have learned that it's about having a little guidance to understand yourself better, not some goober forcing you to lay down in his office and asking you prying questions about your mother or your sex life.

I know I've learned that a lot of littler problems that I thought were just a part of life, not really issues, are actually resolvable. My life is so much better for seeing my counselor.

If you are looking for a counselor yourself, and you live in the Dallas, TX area, check out 

Christian Counseling Associates
(972) 422-8383

It's not a solicited plug, I don't work there- it's where I found my amazing counselor.

If you like what you've read, please share on social media- help me gain a broader audience!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

What I've Learned In Therapy: Sometimes People Are Friendless Because They’re Crappy Friends

Note: This is Part 10 of a series. To start at the beginning, click HERE

If you've read some of the eariler posts in this series, you know by now that I have had some rude, thoughtless, inconsiderate, or selfish friends in my time. You may wonder how I have allowed myself to be in friendships with people like that- isn't it my choice, in my control?

I found myself asking the same questions to my counselor. She had me describe how I had come to be friends with the specific people I was thinking of. The thing about them is that they were often so lonely when I met them, so wounded by the hurt they had incurred from previous friendships and so hungry to be accepted by someone who wouldn't hurt them again.  

It should be no surprise this has been one of my longest running favorite songs

But then my counselor pointed out- they had all hurt me. That's the whole reason I was talking about them in therapy. And, while "hurting people hurt people" is a reason that was easy for me to assign for their hurtful behavior towards me, I was learning that reasons aren't excuses. Then my counselor said something really brilliant and really blunt.

"Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes people are friendless because they're terrible friends?"

Definitely one of those A-HA! moments in therapy that they teach us about in counseling classes. I had been gaining speed in my defenses and explanations and frustration and was stopped cold by this question.

We went on to process what it might mean if this were true. I truly always thought people are only lonely because of the failure of others to connect with them. Surely it is society at large's fault that there are lonely people- we learn from cultural phenomena like bullying and popularity that anyone left out must have been victimized by other people's selfishness, meanness, or judgmentalness. 

As someone who was bullied a lot early in my life, and as someone who has always struggled to fit in and ultimately given up altogether on the idea, this is a hard idea to swallow. My own experiences, and many I have witnessed, are proof to me that it is not ALWAYS the case that someone has earned their feelings of loneliness or alienation

In light of this, it was and continues to be a real struggle to me to grasp that, like everything else in the world, loneliness is not a black and white matter.

There are still people in the world who unfairly experience loneliness at the hand of others, purely because of their meanness, selfishness, judgmentalness. But as it turns out, there are also people who experience loneliness because of their own actions, the way they treat their friends, or people who aren't yet friends and now never will be

There are also people, I suspect the majority of people, who are lonely because of a very messy combination of these two scenarios. They are truly and unjustly alienated because they said or wore something deemed unacceptable, then they decide perhaps they need to call the shots in their next friendships, and become aloof or cynical or critical. Or they are so wounded by their hurts that they begin to cling WAY TOO HARD to those who are kind to them, making the burden of their happiness someone else's responsibility. Then they get rejected for their unfriendly behavior, and are hurt by this rejection, and a cycle begins.

My counselor challenged me to continue being empathetic, but to take a step back and give myself an opportunity to be a little more impartial when I see someone lonely who "just needs someone to be kind to them."

I realized I can have a little bit of a martyr/savior/contrarian attitude trifecta when it comes to the human condition. I want to PROVE every kind of cynicism wrong and singlehandedly spearhead a trend of acceptance and unconditional love, one outcast at a time!

This is, to be honest, still totally my philosophy- though perhaps not the singlehandedly part. But I thought that it was my job as a follower of Jesus Christ to love people into healthier  lives

This friend is used to being abandoned and lashes out and hurts me so I won't hurt him first? I'll love him harder every time he hurts me so he will realize he is loveable and that someone won't abandon him.

That friend is a constant gossip who makes me wonder what she says about me to others? I'll patiently look for positive things to say about the people she gossips about, teach her by example to be loving.

This huge group of mega-churchgoers are overtly leaving someone awkward out of the conversation? I'll invite them in, invite them along, and force that group to act out the love of Christ- that's what'll cure sin!

Oh. Didn't sound so bad until that last bit, did it?

While I strive constantly to be like Christ, I am NOT the Almighty. And what I have really been trying to do is heal people on behalf of Jesus, all by myself.

And shockingly, that hasn't been working out so hot for me- or them.

I need to trust God and lean harder on Him for wisdom and discernment about who to love on and how. 

I also need to back off on my martyr attitude that it's ok if they hurt me as long as they come out of it a fraction better. I lose my efficacy in the relationships God wants to use me in when I spend so much of myself fighting against people who don't know how not to hurt me.

Sometimes people are lonely because they're crappy friends. Those people may never learn their lesson, but I actually provide them a crutch when I insist on sticking around through their crappy behavior.

If a child hits his playmates, but their parents insist that they include him anyway, and circumvent the natural consequences of his actions, how will he ever learn to stop hitting?

One more thing. Surely OUR side of the times when we've been wronged is the most accurate? We came out of it hurt, therefore it must have been they that was the crappy friend? When I feel alienated, I am learning to reflect and really try to impartially consider whether I was in the wrong. If you are lonely, I know it is hard, but consider any feedback you have gotten from those friends you feel abandoned you- could you have been a better friend? Don't sacrifice your muchness, but have you sacrificed social courtesy?

Perhaps so, perhaps not- as I said topic is not black and white. 

My next post will be the last of this series! I hope you've enjoyed it so far, or found something useful for your own life. Please share on social media if you like this blog- it's really the only way new people will learn about it. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What I've Learned in Therapy: When Helping Becomes Stealing

Note: This is Part 9 of a series. To start at the beginning, click HERE

When I started going to counseling, I wanted to work on figuring out what I could do differently about my friendships. I had realized I was feeling stressed out and bogged down with several relationships that were draining, not mutually fulfilling, but I didn’t know what I was doing to attract these friends, or how I could change my behavior within the relationships to prevent their falling into a habit of leaning too hard on me.

Can you relate at all? This post is for you.

My counselor asked me to describe these relationships. I gave a few descriptions in my earlier post, A Reason Is Not An Excuse, but I’ll briefly expand. I had some friends who didn’t have many other friends.

Now, I’ve been raised to believe that a person doesn’t need a lot of friends, they just need a few really good friends. This is true if those relationships are healthy; if each party is, for the most part, putting in what they are taking out. But when a person desires many friends but doesn't have them, &/or expects the attention of several friends to be provided by one friend because that friend happens to be the only one they’ve got, that is not healthy or reasonable, and it will make the one friend feel overwhelmed, drained, even resentful after a while.

*Note* if you are reading this, and you are my friend, and you don’t have many other friends, this is still probably not about you. The whole point of this post is that I’ve been working on keeping my healthy friends, and making my less healthy relationships better. So if you’re still my friend, you’re probably healthy! At least with me. Everyone who reads this could probably benefit from some honest reflection about what kind of friend they are in all their relationships.

The friends I am talking about were incredibly lonely people. Some had been repeatedly abandoned or abused by previous “friends” and were hurt, guarded, jaded. They told stories of bullies and mean girls and jerks, who started as friends and turned like veela into terrible people for no reason. Having had a couple of experiences with people who had behaved like this, I took their stories at face value without much question. Sure, there are two sides to every story, but it wasn’t very helpful to be suspicious of a new potential friend, and it was clear that the story they told was at least totally true to them.

If they were wrong, I could help them by encouraging growth and maturity in my friendship with them, providing patience and honest feedback whenever they made me want to act like their previous friends, rather than abandoning them.

More and more, I noted as I reflected on these friendships that my experiences compounded on each other, because in some exceptional cases, this system worked really well. It is sometimes kind and fair to give people an opportunity to know what they did wrong so that they can understand what they did wrong. A few times in these moments of honest feedback, my friends thanked me for telling them and not just dropping them like so many people had, and they displayed a genuine change in behavior or attitude. This feedback looked something like this:

“You’ve talked in the past about people calling you annoying, and you felt it was unfair because they weren’t specific about how you were annoying, and they didn’t give you a chance to be better. So I want to tell you that I’m not going anywhere, but you calling me twice a day and texting me in between is really making me feel crowded, and I can understand people’s inclination to pull away altogether because it’s really intense. Can you please cut back on calling me to give me a chance to want to call you for a change?”

In several cases they seemed happy for the help, and showed a demonstrable change in behavior. But in as many cases, that person either made no change or made a brief change, only to settle back into old habits as soon as they felt safe that I would stick around.

I also noticed that in most cases, the friend was content to make these changes in my friendship with them and not bother to make any new friends unless I introduced them. Through this system of allowing me to bring them friends on a silver platter, at times it resulted in them overtaking my life. They were included in everything I did, with everyone I liked. A few took liberty to invite themselves along to everything I did because they knew I wouldn’t say no, or because we now had mutual acquaintances involved. I then got feedback from some of the mutual acquaintances that the friend I’d introduced to the group had become annoying, clingy, etc, and that they felt like they couldn’t include me without including that friend, too.

So Helping becomes Stealing in two contexts, one obvious, one not.

First, Helping can steal from you. Helping is good, but only you can know how much is too much to give of yourself. If you give too much to one person, you may become the bitter and jaded one when you feel spent. It may make you feel unwilling to make new friends because you are afraid of them leaving you wrung out like the last one did. In the cases mentioned above, helping began to steal my independence, and my understanding of boundaries- I am not obligated to remain friends with someone even if they are willing to try to change for the better. As I mentioned in my last post, if they change for the better and I do not choose to reconcile with them, the rest of their relationships and the rest of their life will still be better for that change. If they only change for my sake, it wasn’t a true change anyway. But reconciliation is my prerogative, not my obligation.

But what my counselor pointed out to me was that Helping can sometimes steal from the person you’re trying to help. If I help the person standing right outside a conversation looking like they would like to join by pushing apart my friends to create a space, beckoning that person in, and asking them for their take on the conversation, I am stealing that person's opportunity to learn or develop their own social abilities

If I "help" my friend believe that there are people in this world who are truly loyal and will never leave, I am stealing the life lesson that if you treat people terribly, they will not want to be around you

If I help a toddler put on his shoes every day, I am stealing his ability to independently learn how to put his shoes on, and I am stealing his ability to apply that knowledge when I am not there.

If I help a person make friends by taking it upon myself to take them along with me to all my own social events and introduce them to all of my own friends, I am stealing their ability to figure out how to make friends without my help.

And if I help a person by introducing them to my friends and bringing them along to everything, I am also stealing the option from my friends to decide whether they want to spend time with that person

I am stealing the option from my friends to decide for themselves whether they want to have different boundaries than myself. 

I am stealing from myself the option to have an identity separate from the friend I think I am helping.

It is not the case that every time a person helps someone they are actually stealing, not by a long shot. But it is important to understand that sometimes helping steals people's opportunities to grow. And in understanding this, we can all look more carefully at situations where we feel compelled to "help" and decide whether we are actually being helpful. 

My counselor helped me begin to learn to tell the difference by assigning me to read the book "When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert. The book itself is mostly directed toward more global, large scale attempts at helping and the more delicate sociological impacts they can have, but there is some amazing stuff in there that helps on a more personal level if you look for it.

The other half of the challenge of dealing with these friends who suck you dry and never give back will be covered in my next post, Sometimes People Are Friendless Because They're Crappy Friends.