The Tapestry Blog

  • Suffering and Addiction

    You’re not joyful.  You’re downtrodden.  You wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, try to smile and it quickly distorts into despair.  You can put on the Christian face at work, at church, or with friends that says everything is awesome, but it’s a facade.  Why is this so hard?  Everything you try doesn’t satisfy.  Even the addiction doesn’t satisfy, but you’ve known that for a long time.  You honestly don’t want to suffer, and you’re not even talking about the horrible someone-close-to-me-just-died-and-I’m-crying-out-to-God kind of suffering.  You’re talking about the lame I’m-feeling-kind-of-tired-and-I-don’t-like-feeling-this-way-on-a-day-off sort of suffering!  And in that moment you’ll think of acting out and the number of times you did act out in that very instance is shameful.  

    The suffering we experience on a daily basis is the kind of suffering we will literally kill ourselves to avoid.  The daily thoughts about ourselves, the thoughts alone, are enough to drive us into the arms of our addiction.  And how do those thoughts make us feel?  The bane of many is the “I’m not good enough” thought.  The number of things that can trigger that single thought are many.  What is triggered is a glass menagerie that we curate in our mind; each one a painstakingly crafted derision of ourselves encapsulating a memory; a message about yourself that you alone created.  

    The menagerie transcends time.  It is the dusty collection of curios on display in an old glass cabinet you might find at your grandmother’s house.  You see it every time you visit.  Maybe you were curious and looked at all of them, wondering what they all mean and why your grandmother collected them.  With each visit there they remain, never moving, never changing, the empty expressions painted on their faces;  the same despairing picture of stagnation.  Those are your emotional memories.  Collected over time.  Every event or a memory that reached a certain emotional threshold warrants its inclusion in your emotional menagerie.  An insult, a heartbreak, a failure; real or perceived, it doesn’t matter, it’s curated and there it remains.  Collecting dust.  That curio is a reminder of a moment, stuck in time, like the curio in your grandmother’s display.  That childhood scolding could be in the collection.  The memory forgotten, and yet, in adulthood, the ripples of pain remain.  Your boss scolds you one day, and it hurts.  It’s devastating.  It feels like your soul was crushed.  You feel like that child so long ago.  “Why am I crying?” You wonder to yourself.  You remember the guilt and the shame.  You don’t understand why this always happens.  Why you always feel this way.  The menagerie in your mind is ever present.  It knows exactly which memory that feeling came from.  It whispers something in your ear: You’ll never be good enough.  The memory awakens an emotional torrent.  Time to act out.

    Suffering is choosing to not act out.  Face the torrent, marinate in it, experience those painful emotions yo’ve collected that you’ve spent so long avoiding, and realize that the tears that may be shed, the guilt or shame that might float to the surface, and the wounds that might sting and fester aren’t going to kill you.  They are the versions of yourself frozen in the moment, hurting, wounded, desiring to be released from their torment.  They’re in that dusty glass cabinet, avoided; alone.  Something happens that reminds you they are there, and it is usually bad, and you can’t handle it; it is overwhelming; why? the little child frozen in time is crying out.  The precious, vulnerable little child. If it is too much, seek a professional trained in processing these memories and emotions.  You don’t have to do it alone.  Not being able to handle it on your own doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.  Addiction is our pithy attempt at being independent.  It doesn’t work.

    The last thing you want to do is curate this overwhelming collection of painful memories.  Addiction is the process of maintaining them and keeping them stuck in that glass case.  The memories cannot be released.  The childhood figure in that glass case can’t let go of the hurt unless you are willing to be present with it.  Let it tell its story.  You must sit with it.  You must suffer with it.  You must love that figure, no matter how grotesque or crazy you think it is.  Stop ignoring them and letting them collect dust.  They overwhelm you because you spend most of your time avoiding them or escaping from them.  How else are they going to let you know they are there if they don’t cry out.

  • Suffering and Temptation

    There are some things we will choose to suffer through, if we feel the endeavor is worth it.  Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in this world is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”  Many of us suffered through school and acquired a degree to achieve a career goal.  Many of us played a sport where we suffered through tough practices or games to achieve the victory.  Not many of us choose to run a marathon and endure 26.2 miles of mental and physical anguish.  And how did we feel after achieving these things?  Most of us felt pretty good.  Therefore, not all forms of suffering are avoided, but there are many of us who read that paragraph and cringed at having to face any of those things.  The idea of suffering through one of those things is unthinkable.  26.2 miles?  Really?  That’s dumber than sitting for 5 minutes and doing nothing.

    And yet, the door in which a believer (and any human, for that matter) must pass through from time to time is suffering.  The good news is that this suffering doesn’t have to be meaningless.  Suffering, when there is meaning or purpose behind it, gives hope to those who are in the midst of it.  The second most commonly used greek word for suffering in the New Testament is pashó.  It means to endure extreme emotion or pain.  The description of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert uses this word.   The description of the suffering Jesus endured on the night of his betrayal uses this word.  And pashó is used again describing Jesus’s turmoil on the cross.  It is interesting that temptation and physical pain are described using the same Greek word.  Paul writes that no temptation is uncommon to man.  The fact that Jesus endured temptation and came out sinless should be a hopeful sign that we can have that freedom, too, in Christ.  But we must endure suffering, for that is what temptation is.  To give into temptation, whatever it may be, is not suffering—it is the avoidance of suffering.  As believers we are called to suffer in order to be free.  And we can find purpose and meaning in suffering through temptation because that is the place where, if we choose, we can meet Christ.  He knows our pain.  He knows our struggle.  He seeks relationship with us in that struggle.  He’s the only one who truly gets it because he endured it and was victorious over it.  Jesus gives us this gift.  It’s up to us to accept it.

    But, what are we truly accepting?  The Gospel is called the good news, but what is it really?  When tempted, we get immediate gratification if we act upon it.  And yet Christ is calling us to suffer by denying ourselves that option.  How can we trust someone who is calling us to be in pain and why would we choose that over immediate gratification?  Peter writes it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is the will of God, than for doing evil.   That doesn’t answer the question.  Maybe the life of Paul can answer that question more completely.

    Paul had one goal following his conversion: to know Christ; to be as close to Christ as he could possibly be.  He found that suffering for Christ’s sake brought him closer to his Lord.  And if that suffering led him to death, even better because then he’d be both spiritually and physically with Christ.  The purpose of life, of suffering, of pain, of everything is to bring us, and others closer to Christ.  That is what Paul believed.

    Do we believe that?  Suffering to the point of death is an extremely scary concept.  And yet that is what Christ did for us.  Certainly there can be some self-fulfillment in this life, right?  Do we truly trust that seeking Christ in every aspect of our lives, of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him will provide us all that Christ promises?  Nothing in this world truly fulfills what it promises.  It might deliver initially, and then it fades away.  It always needs replacing or refilling; it never lasts.  Who’s to say that Christ’s promise of an abundant life and living life to the full if we follow him is legitimate?  Why choose to suffer?  Why risk if it’s not worth it?  The world may not fulfill all that it promises, but it can be pretty good.  Most people settle for that.

    It boils down to trust.  We cannot trust unless we allow ourselves to risk being hurt.  We can’t say we trust God and remain in our perceived comfort zone.  Trust requires stepping outside the tyranny of self-preservation.  Remaining inside is rejection of our Creator and everything he promises.  Do we believe that?  Do we believe that rejecting Christ is a big deal?  We certainly live our life this way, and make the world and it’s stuff so important.  We may have the Holy Spirit within us, but we aren’t listening.  We’re avoiding the relationship for many different reasons.  We’re calling God a liar—he cannot fulfill what he promises.  Therefore, I will get what I can when I can, because I’m really good at that.  I am content.  Or am I?

  • Suffering

    One commonality to all men and women in life is that life is difficult—regardless of where you come from or who your parents are.  The factors that play into the difficulty are many, but it is, nevertheless, unavoidable.  

    Jesus said, “In this life you will have tribulation.”  Why, then, are we surprised when it happens to us?  If we read the new testament, suffering in its many contexts and definitions is referenced over 150 times.  Peter talks about it at length in his first epistle.  17 verses reference suffering in that book alone.  Suffering is a major topic and a major component of the Christian faith.  Philippians 1:29 states, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

    But we don’t want to suffer.  We really do not want to suffer.  Suffering is not cool.  And what does suffering for the Christ even look like?  We live in a country where Christianity is common. We don’t feel persecuted on a daily basis.  We can freely practice.  And yet, the world and Christianity are not supposed to be friends.  They aren’t even supposed to look alike.  Christians, like the Israelites before, are called to set themselves a part from the world and represent, through love, what the world is missing in Christ.  That, all too often, is not put into practice.  Therefore, depending on how we’re living our lives, suffering for the sake of Christ may not be a common experience.  How am I possibly suffering for his sake?  How do we suffer?  Below are some examples:

    • Unmet relational needs: acceptance, affirmation, validation.
    • Unmet Physical Needs: finances, job loss, homelessness.
    • Relationship Issues: conflict, distance, taking emotional risks with a spouse.
    • Hurts/Wounds: neglect, abuse, betrayal, loss.
    • Mental Health issues: stress, anxiety, depression, chronic mental disabilities like bipolar disorder
    • Natural Disasters
    • Natural consequences: from poor decisions/actions
    • Spiritual Challenges: conviction, discipline, persecution, temptation, denying one’s self.
    • Physical Stressors: exercise, dieting, illness/disease, injury, addiction.
    • Hard work. 
    • Anything that is difficult or challenging; any sacrifice we make.

    Virtually every aspect of our lives revolves around the avoidance of suffering.  Everything that, by nature, is hard, has been marketed as being easy if you simply buy this thing, or do this thing.  We live in a society that cannot stand being bored.  Only losers are bored.  Believe it or not, boredom is a form of suffering.  It’s one of the major addictive triggers along with hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness.  Addiction is an unhealthy form of avoidance or escape.  We don’t read the news because we want to be informed.  We read the news because we want to be entertained—and there is a news agency that floats the boat of any personality style out there.  Sit still, for 5 minutes, and see how hard it is.  Most people think that’s a stupid idea—sitting still—who does that?  "I got way too much on my plate right now to just sit still.  What a waste of time.”  No, try it.  Sit still for 5 minutes.  Put a timer on the smartphone you have that you can’t stop checking every 2 seconds.  What might you discover in that 5 minutes of sitting still besides the fact that it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds?  If you felt bored in that 5 minutes, or you felt any sense of discomfort, you’ve proven my point: we do not like to suffer, even in the slightest bit.

  • Everything But The Kitchen Sink

    Today, Daniel Peeks and Melissa King join Jeff for a conversation about.. well… everything.  Daniel is going to lead us into a discussion that will help you to think differently - more deeply - about your most disruptive or chronic personal, emotional and relational problems.  While sometimes we as counselors can offer strategies and interventions that bring relief from emotional disruption and relational problems, in other situations there is no relief.  However, in either case what is most important is that you allow your struggle to lead you toward a deeper dependency on - and faith in - Jesus.  


  • A Word For Your Parents (#12 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage

    I’d like to share a word with my generation - the parents of those adult children who may be struggling.  Being the parent of an adult child is far more challenging (and exciting) than I ever thought it would be.  As the parent of an adult child, you have the same emotional bond as you did when they were a newborn, but you have utterly no power or control. Its a wonderful-horrible situation to which it takes time to adjust.  As the counselor who may be trying to help your adult child in their marriage, let me tell you how you can help and hinder your adult children’s growth process.  

    First, I want to be clear that you are no longer responsible for your adult children’s decisions.  More specifically, you are not to blame for their bad behavior and bad decision-making.  You are not responsible for their struggles today.  They’re adults now and only they can be responsible for their choices.  To blame yourself is to take adult power and responsibility from them; to blame yourself is to make them a victim.  Please don’t cry over how you failed them - at least not in front of them; doing so disempowers them, creates insecurity and fosters unhealthy dependency.  If you become aware of mistakes you made, own them, ask for your children’s forgiveness and move forward from it.  It is critical that you release any guilt, shame or indebtedness you feel for those failures and move on; if you can’t, they certainly won’t be able to.  You may have launched them into adult independence with more baggage or less baggage - certain emotional, relational and material deficits or assets - but they are adults now and it is up to them to sort it out.  

    Second, know that the family is God’s medium for transmitting His truth and facilitating development; no one had a more significant impact on your child’s relational and emotional development than you did.  When your child is in my office telling me about you, my assumption is that you loved your child as much I loved - and continue to love - my adult daughter.  I assume that you bonded deeply and gave to your children to the best of your ability.  At the same time, I know that you were - and are - a broken, fallen person marred by the curse; as a result, you failed your children in specific and concrete ways.  You have a heart that deceives even you; there are trap doors, fun-house-mirrors and hidden defenses within your heart and mind to which you are blind.  So, it is very likely that some of your adult children’s relational and personal struggles were created on your watch.  You were a contributor - perhaps the most significant contributor - to those relational/emotional issues with which they now struggle.  They’re not struggling because they are an Enneagram 2 or an INTJ or because they made the wrong friends in college or because they were just a victim of some unfortunate circumstance.  If they are consistently struggling with some thematic relational issue, their vulnerability to this issue was likely formed in your home and, more specifically, in the context of their relationship with you. 

    Third, as you see your adult children struggling, allow it to provoke reflection on who you are now and who you were then.  Be a student of their thematic struggles.  Not so you can advise them, but so that you can be schooled by them.  Let their struggles be like a flashlight shining into the darkened corners of your heart.  Get in counseling with a therapist who understands parent-child dynamics or attachment theory and ask them to help you figure out how you may have contributed to your adult children’s issues and then change/grow yourself.  Don’t try to rescue your adult children, give them unsolicited advice, tell them what they’ve done wrong or buy them something expensive.  Let them deal with their own consequences while you deal with yourself.  It is the kindest thing you can do for them.  While your ability to to directly guide your adult children is minimal, you are still a powerful person in their world and witnessing your growing humility, change and growth will effect them more profoundly than any bit of help or advice you might offer.

    So, if your marriage is difficult, work on it.  If you struggle with anxiety or depression, work on it.  If you drink too much or spend too much or have a secret sexual struggle, work on it.  If you’ve withdrawn from Christ, work on it.  If you have unresolved trauma from your own past, work on it.  Without personal change, your words to your adult children are ineffectual at best, alienating at worst; but your actions - the freshly broken and beautiful way you will learn to interact with them as you grow -  will be disruptive and inviting.   Repent and grow - it will be a far more powerful agent for change than your advice or your money. 

    Previous: #11 How Your Past Informs Your Present


    12 Lessons On Marriage

    Trying to explain how your childhood relational experience informs your current relational functioning is complex.  This blog is an effort to do that, but it is long - too long.  You should really skip it and let a counselor help you sort this stuff out one-on-one on a personal level.  Alternately, you may be better served by more thorough resources:  Daniel Siegel’s writings and audio lectures on “Interpersonal Neurobiology”, Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight or Love Sense and How We Love by the Yerkovich’s are excellent resources.  In the meantime, the following is offered to provide a basic understanding that may be of help to you as you construct that framework for understanding yourself and your marriage.  

    Two Operating Systems

    In short, it may help to think of your mind as a computer than runs on two overlapping “operating systems”.  The first operating system - the one with which you are already aware - utilizes logic to solve problems.  It is conscious and verbal.  This is what you think about when you think about thinking.  The second operating system is emotional or intuitive.  It is informed by experiences; it is nonverbal and preconscious.  You’re not immediately aware of it, but with reflection you can become conscious of it and assign language to it.  It involves feelings and impulses.  

    The logical operating system is more precise and reliable.  The emotional operating system is faster and more powerful at motivating behavior.  The best over-all decision-making and functioning involves both systems. 

    God’s design - His own image - involves both operating systems.  His image is, of course, far more complex than just these two operating systems, but the scriptures allude to Yahweh as a God who both thinks and feels.  The scriptures break this down in several different manners and I would not presume to fully understand exactly where the theology and teaching of the scriptures overlaps with those categories provided by the field of psychology.  However, I think it is safe to say that God created you to be thoughtful and emotional and He expects us to relate to Him and to each other on both levels.  

    If you are reading this, we can assume that your logical operating system is adequate for the job at hand; you are smart enough and educated enough to solve most problems of daily marital life.  Your marital struggles are not likely the result of any lack of education or poor problem-solving.  Much more likely is something wonky below the waterline - quirks in the emotional/intuitive operating system.  And by wonky and quirky, I mean that some past relational experiences resulted in emotional/relational learning that is not helpful or not translating into your current relationship.  That old learning - which was valuable in your childhood home - doesn’t make sense anymore and is probably getting you into trouble.  

    The Less Emotional You Are, The More You’d Better Pay Attention

    If you don’t understand your own emotional/intuitive system and the specific experiences - both relational and non-relational - that informed it, you will be an unwitting slave to its impulses.  You won’t know what you don’t know.  Your decisions will be defined by it and your logical system will simply serve as a post-facto resource for justifying or rationalizing those emotion-based decisions you are making.  

    You may think this is irrelevant to you because you are not an emotionally-oriented person.  You may describe yourself as a logical person who is not very emotional; your spouse and friends may also describe you as an unexpressive, logical fellow.  However, though emotionally unexpressive, over-controlled and/or unaware, you are still an emotional person; even those mechanisms undergirding your emotional constraint are emotionally-based.  A more honest assessment would be to say that powerful emotional triggers constrain you from recognizing your feelings or expressing them; you are blind to your emotional functioning and, thusly, a slave to it.  

    The emotional/intuitive operating system is king/queen in intimate relationships.  To fail to recognize or understand its import is to surrender decision-making to it.

    This Has Nothing To Do With Your Relationship with Christ… Or Does It…

    If you’re wondering whether the emotional/relational learning you experienced in your childhood is relevant to your Christian walk, please read and think further.  Theologically, this emotional learning is inherently part of your “flesh”.  It is a part of the “old man”.  It is your mind striving to get your needs met independent of God.  It is the “understanding” upon which you cannot reliably lean… the learning that becomes “the way that leads to death”.  Disassembling this old learning and then re-learning is a part of sanctification.  Reorienting from your human relationships to Christ as the fulfillment of your longing is, ultimately, the goal.  

    Of course, the more emotionally, relationally and spiritually mature your parents were, the more “Christ-like” they were - the more secure you were in your relationship with them - the more you were given a head start.  However, your parents were inevitably flawed by their own brokenness and, ultimately, it is only within your relationship with Christ that you can experience complete healing and Truth-based learning.  The scriptures tell us that Jesus meets us and relates to us directly through His Spirit and through His Word; but he also meets us indirectly through our daily life experiences, our relational interactions within His community (the church) and in our intimate relationships within the institutions of marriage and family.  Our sanctification - our spiritual growth - occurs within the context of all of these relationships.  All of these relational experiences in this world are, of course, flawed by the humanity of others and distorted by our own broken minds; it is not until we see Christ face-to-face with redeemed minds and bodies that we will experience perfect love, healing and sanctification.  In the meantime, we struggle within those divinely-ordained yet flawed human institutions and relationships, we strive to differentiate the leading and illumination of His Spirit from our own emotions and impulses and we press into His Word with our crippled intellect knowing the limitations of what we can experience and know in this life… and knowing that, someday, we will experience and know all for which we long.  

    I hope that you’ll keep reading.  

    How Emotional/Relational Learning is Developed

    Your emotional/relational operating system was not informed by your parents overt teaching or their modeling.  Those facets of your home had an effect on your relational development, but it was small.  Rather, the strongest learning was organized around your own efforts to get your emotional/relational needs met within the attachment you had to your parents.  Like a rat in a maze who is driven by hunger to solve the maze, you are driven by a hunger for relational security and love to solve the mystery of relationship.  Relational learning is what happens as you solve the puzzle of your parents.  And that learning - for better and for worse - is subsequently applied to your future relationships, including your marriage.  

    You were designed to lovingly bond or attach to others and this is driven by a deep longing within you.  Equal to or greater than your desire to physically survive, is your desire to get your relational needs met - to find the love and security for which you were designed and impassioned from the creation.  As a child and now as an adult, your strongest drive was/is to gain the acceptance and caregiving of others and to avoid or protect from any experience of rejection or abandonment.  As a Christian, it should not surprise you to learn that much of your neurology is organized around this.  After all, it is implicit in what Jesus identified to be the two greatest commandments.  Further, it should not surprise you that your relationship with your parents was the central place in which this happened.  The family - the parent-child relationship - is the primary institution which God uses to transmit His truth - and His Truth is, relational in nature.

    The Neurology of Emotional/Relational Learning

    The part of your brain that facilitates emotional/relational learning is fully developed and functional from birth.  So, from the moment you first opened your eyes to the world around you, your mind was learning from the relational experiences it was having.  Years before your brain’s ability to form an explicit memory was developed, your emotional mind was forming memories - learning - from every interaction you had with your caregivers.  Your mind was busily processing the data implicit in those relational interactions to figure out who you had to be and how you had to act in order to gain your caregivers’ acceptance and caregiving while avoiding any experience of rejection, neglect or abandonment.  It was - and is - big data at its finest.  

    With every favorable relational experience, your mind created a tiny neurological network - an implicit emotional memory - that linked what you were doing, to what others were doing to the circumstance in which the interaction occurred.  This network was then stamped with positive emotion fueling an impulse to repeat the circumstance and/or behaviors associated with that experience of acceptance or care.  In like manner, with every experience of rejection and/or neglect - no matter how small - your brain created a tiny network.  That network - or relational/emotional memory - linked what you were doing at the time to what others were doing at the time to the circumstance in which the event occurred; that memory or network was then stamped with negative emotion (hurt, disappointment, fear, shame, etc.) associated with an impulse to avoid, prevent or protect from a recurrence of this negative experience.  

    Except in the case of trauma, no single experience - or the associated network - is meaningful in terms of this learning.  Rather, its those small relational experiences which happen dozens of times each day that create the strongest networks and the strongest impulses; those interactions which happen along the same relational theme.  

    You get an “A” on a report card and Mom is happy; you get a “B” and Dad grimaces and then walks out of the room.  You color a picture and Dad tells you that you are his sweet little girl as he hugs you.  You write an I love you note to Mom and she points out that you wrote the “e” backwards yet again.  Any one event is not important, it’s those thematically consistent interactions that happen again and again and again that are most important.  

    When those old networks get triggered, it’s all emotion and impulse.  You get an A on a test and find yourself waving the paper in the air as you run into the house.  Your stomach is upset when you see a C on your report card and you stuff it in the bottom of your backpack - maybe Mom won’t find it.  You step to the plate, feel anxious and look up in the stands to see if Dad is there.  There are no words, but if there were they would sound like Perform, Don’t Make Mistakes, Succeed.  

    The neurological development associated with emotional/relational learning occurs within all of your relationships and this learning continues throughout the lifespan.  Your parents were only the most significant players in your development because of their emotional and physical proximity to you and the sheer number of interactions you had with them in comparison to other persons.  In as much as emotional/relational learning happens across time, so, too, changing emotional/relational patterns and impulses is accomplished slowly - across years and decades, not weeks or months.  Old networks are never erased, but new networks are built and across time they eventually compete with and overshadow the old ones.  

    Some research suggests that the impact your parents had on your emotional/relational learning will dominate your adult relational and emotional experience into your 50’s.  What this likely means is that the 18+ years of emotional/relational learning which you experienced with your parents is not over-shadowed by the learning you’ve experienced in your adult relationships until you’ve reached your 50’s.  

    When Old Emotional/Relational Learning Is Triggered

    As with the recall of explicit memories, emotional/relational learning networks get triggered when some current relational interaction or circumstance is similar to one of the original experiences.  However, rather than “remembering” the original events, you only feel the assigned emotion along with the impulse to act accordingly.  When dominant relational/emotional learning networks get triggered, the activity in the emotional center of the brain lights up like a Christmas tree while activity in the frontal lobes goes dark.  In other words, as the emotional intensity associated with these old networks escalates, your ability to access the parts of your brain associated with logical thinking diminishes.  It’s like taking a stupid pill.  Your otherwise very intelligent mind drops 50 IQ points.  Suddenly.  Your frontal lobes turn off, thus rendering logical thinking impossible.  Your ability to hear or consider new information is gone; you’re no longer able to hear what your spouse is saying.  You are dominated by the emotion you are experiencing and a strong inclination to act according to the old learning.  

    When these old networks are activated and you are flooded by the related emotion, there is a strong impulse to act in one particular way.  In these moments this impulse seems like the only viable option for solving the problem at hand.  This is, perhaps, the most apparent “tell” that you are being owned by old emotional/relational learning.  In any other problem-solving situation - whether relational in nature or not - your mind generates a broad array of possible solutions or responses to the situation at hand.  Those solutions may range from conservative to liberal, passive to aggressive; you consider the pros and cons of each solution and move in a direction.  However, when emotional memory gets triggered, it feels as if there is only one viable solution and no alternatives are present.  

    A Couple Examples

    Emotional/Relational learning is complex and attempting to illustrate it in a generalizable manner is difficult.  It is influenced by personality and age, as well as learning from other relationships outside of the home.  This is why it is so important for you to understand your unique relational experience as a child.  However, in the hope that some examples and/or illustrations might be of help, the following are offered.  

    Perhaps your Mom suffered a some loss in your childhood and was mildly depressed for your elementary school years.  Like any child, you would have reached for her attention and care repeatedly throughout an average day.  But because she was tired and emotionally depleted, she was minimally responsive - a weak smile, an occasional hug - but not much.  She may have managed to pack your lunch and make sure you got your homework done, but she had little affection or emotional warmth left to offer you.   So, each time you reached for her - looked to meet her gaze, touched her, snuggled next to her on the couch - you got little or no response.  Each of these interactions, though small and understandable given Mom’s struggle, was nevertheless experienced as a form of rejection or abandonment.  After all, you were designed to receive perfect love.  And in each of those situations, a network was laid and pain was attached to the network.  A self-protective impulse was associated with that pain - maybe you learned not to reach anymore - to repress emotional needs that felt dangerous.  Maybe you learned to cry and protest Mom’s weak response; perhaps that got something from Mom.  Or, perhaps, you learned how to take care of yourself outside of the relationship with Mom.  You went to school with a bundle of need and learned how to please a teacher and get the needs met there.  

    So, now when your spouse seems down or distracted, you experience a prick of pain that you don’t really even notice because you immediately move away from him/her.  You don’t even know you’re doing it.  It’s not even a consideration to engage with him/her.  There’s no impulse to inquire or lean in; in fact, your mind goes blank and you don’t even have words for initiating a conversation.  Perhaps your unmet needs get directed toward pleasing someone else - like they did with your teachers; or, perhaps, you just numb out, turn on the tv, have a drink or eat an extra sandwich.    

    Perhaps your Dad was angry and controlling - maybe he never dealt with criticism he received from his own father as a child.  Every time he pointed out what you were doing wrong and stepped in to take some chore or assignment over, you experienced his control as an implicit rejection of you and your competency.  A network gets laid; shame is attached.  If you were more passive by nature perhaps you learned that if you remained docile and calm, complying with Dad’s bumbling intervention and direction, he was pleased.  There were even a couple of times when he patted you on the head and told you that you were a good kid.  A network gets laid; happiness attached to it.  So, you learn not to assert your own way, to follow the lead of others, to stifle your own creativity and self-expression.  

    So, when there’s a problem in the home now - things get financially tight or the hot water heater starts leaking or one of the kids is struggling - your mind goes blank, you freeze and you wait for your spouse to take the lead.  There’s no consideration of any other alternative.  At some point, your spouse gets frustrated because it feels as if the responsibility for the family is all on their shoulders.  Their frustration just triggers you all the more - you promise to try harder and readily do whatever they ask, but become increasingly passive and dependent on their initiative.  

    The variations in this emotional/relational learning are endless.  The thing is that none of this learning happens within your conscious awareness.  It’s all nonverbal and unconscious.  Further, when that old learning gets triggered - and it happens every day - it is equally nonverbal and unconscious.  Only through observation and reflection are you able to eventually assign words to those experiences, feelings and impulses.  Doing that work - understanding the dominant relational learning that most commonly disrupts you in your marriage, identifying those things from your past that influenced it, assigning words to the feelings impulses and recognizing what it looks like when it gets triggered - allows for change to begin.  By making the unconscious conscious you create opportunity for more intentional relational behavior and decision-making. 

    Next: #12 A Word For Your Parents

    Previous: #10 You Know You're In Trouble If...

  • Fortnite 101: A Tutorial for Parents

    Today, Sarah Collier joins us for a conversation about parenting, the virtual world and the world of video-gaming. And as our resident gaming expert, Sarah’s husband Nathan will be joining us to share some insights about the game of Fortnight in particular.  Together, Sarah and Nathan bring a wealth of information about gaming and parenting.  I know this show is going to be valuable for parents of youth who game and I can’t wait to let you hear the insights offered.  


  • You Know You're In Trouble If... (#10 of 12)

    12 Lessons on Marriage

    If you think that you had a good childhood home and you cannot articulate how your childhood home impacted your style of relating, then you are in denial.  If you claim that you don’t have any issues from your childhood home, then your head is in the sand.  If you’ve not worked through the issues and dysfunction in your own home and/or forgiven your parents for their specific failures, then it’s time to get in counseling and let someone help you figure it out.  Until you wake-up and embrace some awareness of how your past has influenced your present emotional, relational and spiritual functioning, you will remain enslaved to emotional impulses you don’t recognize or understand and fail to embrace a more conscious and intentional level of living. 

    If you do understand the impact your childhood relationships had on you and the challenges in your home, you are off to a great start.  Insight is very important and will take you a long way.  However, if you still struggle with strong emotional consequences from your childhood experience - if you are angry, depressed, ashamed or anxious about the things you experienced as a child - then its time to dig in and do some more work.  It is very likely that you are over-correcting for your childhood experience in your current relationships, particularly with your spouse and children.  Your self-awareness allows you to recognize where you need to do things differently and you are pointed in the right direction, but it is very likely that those unresolved emotions are influencing you more than you’ve thought.  It’s time for another layer of work - perhaps another layer of healing from some of the wounds and/or re-building your ability to trust more vulnerably.  

    Again, what we are really talking about here is sanctification.  The old man is dead, but deconstructing him/her is a never-ending project.  You peel back one layer, do the work, allow the Gospel in deeper, come to experience more of God’s love for you and grow in your own ability to love.  Then another layer is exposed and you start again.  Forgiving your parents and others who let you down is the easy part; healing and learning to relate to others in a genuinely trusting, vulnerable and bold manner as Jesus did is much more challenging.  

    The good news is that you’re not alone in this; you are surrounded by a community of believers; and Jesus, Himself, is directly involved with you in this process.  You can’t do this work alone; you weren’t wired to do it alone.  You probably need to get back into counseling because the emotional work requires some thoughtful help.  Maybe you can do it on the cheap if you’ve got some exceptionally honest and thoughtful friends and/or one of those very uncommon pastors who can counsel.  You were put in community for a reason and you need someone who can help translate the insights you have into heart change - a deeper and more dependent relationship with Christ, your spouse and others.  You can’t do this work alone.  

    Next: #11 How Your Past Informs Your Present

    Previous: #9 Understand Your Childhood...

  • Understand Your Childhood Relational Experience (#9 of 12)

    12 Lessons On Marriage

    It's critical that you understand the impact of your childhood home on your relational style.  Sometimes people fail to consider the impact of their parents influence because they had loving parents and no overt trauma in their childhood.  However, the relational/emotional learning that you experienced in your childhood home is unrelated to the nature of your parents love for you.  Whether your parents loved you - or loved you enough - is a separate question.  Honestly, it’s safe to assume that they loved you deeply.  Few parents don’t.  Further, the current quality of your relationship with your parents is equally irrelevant.  You may get along with them great as an adult, but that does not negate or substantially alter the emotional/relational learning that went on when you were a child.  

    At the very least, you must recognize that your parents personalities, ages and manner of relating formed the context in which you learned how to relate.  But, if you believe the Bible then we can be honest; your parents are sinful, broken, self-serving, self-protective people whose sin runs deep.  They screwed up as people and as parents.  We all did.  Denying the reality of their failure is not “honoring” of them; its dis-honoring of the Gospel that they embrace.  Because of their sin, your parents failed you in specific, concrete ways on a regular basis.  Their fears, weaknesses, wounds and deficits specifically impacted the way they related to you and their manner of relating formed the template from which you, in turn, learned to relate.  This has nothing to do with the strength or quality of their love for you or their spiritual maturity.  It is critical that you take ownership of their failure and forgive them so that you can get about the important business of understanding how their failures specifically informed your emotional/relational development.  

    Next: #10 You Know Your In Trouble If...

    Previous: #8 Its Just a Metaphor

  • It's Just A Metahor (#8 of 12)

    12 Lessons On Marriage

    At the end of the day marriage is only a metaphor.  It’s not the end game.  The end game is your relationship with Christ.  He gave us marriage as a living illustration of His love for us. As such, it is a sacred institution to be honored, nurtured and protected.  However, there is no marriage or family in heaven - family is irrelevant there.  There is no need for a metaphor when you are in the arms of the actual.  Everything that your heart longs for in your marriage - to be known, enjoyed and accepted, the passion to be deeply connected to and cared for by another - will be fulfilled when you see Christ face-to-face.  There is no celestial sex or family in the new heaven and earth.  It’s the community of believers and God in the redeemed world/life He has for us.  So, even though the institution of marriage is of profound value and should be protected and nurtured in this life, it is only a means to an end and not an end in itself.  Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.  You are called to love your spouse more than you love your marriage.

    Next: #9 Understand Your Childhood Relational Experience

    Previous: #7 Love Your Spouse More Than Your Marriage

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