Finding comfort and joy, moment by moment.

During this season we hear a lot about comfort and joy but many people feel only pain and loss. Comfort and joy are the perfect antidotes to this suffering. It is what a broken world needs most. It may be that we can’t find comfort and joy because we believe that when we do we will stop feeling hurt. This is not always true. Our heart is to create more space not to eliminate hurt. That would be a nice result but isn’t reality. We strive to allow comfort and joy to coexist with our pain and loss. This inner act expands our heart of compassion. We now have a greater capacity for feeling both comfort and pain, joy and loss. It is a spiritual paradox but it is a direction for our own healing. 

Science confirms this idea. Our hearts literally do expand when we entertain compassion and allow more space for comfort and joy. Choosing compassion releases neurotransmitters in the brain and hormones in the body and calm down the hyperaroused nervous system, reducing fear, anger, anxiety, and depression. 

Studies on the practice of compassion reveal improved autoimmune functioning, decreased inflammation, improved digestion, increase mental focus, motivation, and even sleep. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a noted cognitive neuroscientist, and researcher on the mind-body connection report that compassion increases the grey matter in the brain, allowing improved thinking and sensory processing. 

So how does compassion start? How do we allow comfort and joy into our lives when we feel stuck emotionally? The answer is where we put our focus. 

Right now, at this moment, you have a choice. Whoops, there it went but don’t worry, here comes another. Missed that one. Just wait…

We have thousands of opportunities to choose comfort and joy. Every moment is a chance to change the directions of our lives. It will not remove pain and suffering but it will allow us to build a mindset that allows comfort and joy too. Take a deep breath and make one statement of comfort and joy. Maybe it is gratitude for that cup of coffee or tea in front of you. Is it warm and comforting however brief? Maybe you heard someone laugh and it made you smile? Perhaps, someone opened the door for you when your hands were full? Life is constantly presenting micro-moments of comfort and joy. You just have to notice them. 

The problem is that we allow suffering to be our filter for living. We get angry expecting things to be different than they are. We resent people for not treating us the way we deserve. Just allow those challenges to exist alongside the next moment of gratitude and pleasure. Build those moments up, one after the other, and live a day full of tiny, joyful experiences. Tip the emotional scale in your direction. 

The brain likes to automate our life. It will take any repeated experience, good or bad, and make it a habit. This is how we can do so many tasks and face so many diverse problems. It makes us efficient and skilled. It can also make us miserable if we stop being aware of what is going on around us. A lack of moment to moment awareness makes us a machine, driven to self-protect and insulate from anything that smells dangerous or out of the norm. We don’t want the norm. The norm is hurt. We want the new which is comfort and joy. This will cost you some mental energy until the new norm becomes a happy habit. 

Test these ideas out today. Stop three times today to recognize a moment of comfort or joy. Write them down on a post-it note. Remember, in as much detail as you can muster, throughout the day, what it felt like. Do this for a week and see if your pain, your suffering, starts to lessen and a life of greater compassion takes over. 

Let Ron Huxley, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, assist you in finding more comfort and joy. Schedule a session today – Click here!

Trauma + Faith = Resilience

According to the National Opinion Research Center’s General, Social Survey over 90% of Americans believes in God or a higher power. Sixty percent belong to a local religious group. Another 60% think that religious matter is important or very important in how they conduct their lives, and 80% are interested in “growing spiritually”.

Even when people do not belong to a specific religious group or identity with a particular spiritual orientation, 30% of adults state they pray daily and 80% pray when faced with a serious problem or crisis.

Trauma is defined as any event, small or large, that overwhelms the mind and bodies ability to cope. Some people appear more resilient or able to “bounce back” in the face of trauma. Studies proof that faith is one-way children and adults can cope with traumatic events and suffering.

The question remains “how does faith make us more resilient?” It may be that faith reduces the negative, victimized thinking that results from trauma. For example, victimized people understandable “feel” as if they are damaged, dirty, worthless, stupid, vulnerable, ashamed, or unlovable. The type of trauma might be small or large but this is a common emotional reaction to the hurt someone suffers.

This reaction results in a lower ability to mentally plan and adaptively cope with situations create more possibility that fear, hurt, and worthlessness will result. You can see the vicious cycle that trauma can create…

Our minds are meaning-seeking devices. We like to find things to validate our thoughts and experiences so we can better navigate future circumstances. The upside of this is that we can be more efficient problem-solvers and survive. The downside is we can unrealistic or simply untrue beliefs.

Faith counters this downward cycle of believing, acting, and reacting by shifting the story from the negative plot lines to the bigger themes that “I am loved, valued, and cared for…even when things are bad!” Faith can override negative views of oneself with the belief that you are loved just as you are, normalize the internal spiritual struggles, encourage opening up and being vulnerable again, renewing a sense of control or mastery in life, and fostering social connections.

Being part of a larger group of people contributes to our collective connectedness that detours isolation and loneliness and encourages greater personal healing. Research demonstrates that socially connected people are more likely to meet the demands of everyday loss and stress.

Spirituality and religious affiliation can also benefit traumatized people from the toxic memories of the trauma event. This occurs with the individual feels they can share their grief with a greater community. Traumatic memories cannot be forgotten but they can be contained and/or unburdened when shared with fellow sufferers and with God or your higher power. This is a move toward memory instead of moving beyond memory. As one author described it: “One must have the courage of memory, because through it, one can seek God.”

Finally, religious groups have the best inspirational self-help scripts available in the form of the Bible, Torah, Koran, other holy scriptures, liturgy, and worship. They offers a framework for dealing with trauma and copes with stress.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his popular book on “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” writes:

“In the final analysis, the question of why bad things happen to good people translates itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it has happened.” (p. 147) .

Faith provides us with the HOW of living resiliently!

REFERENCES:

Meichenbaum, D. (2016) TRAUMA, SPIRITUALITY AND RECOVERY: TOWARD A SPIRITUALLY-INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY :

https://www.melissainstitute.org/documents/SPIRITUALITY_PSYCHOTHERAPY.pdf

SAMHA Website on Faith-based Communities : http://www.samhsa.gov/fbci/fbci_pubs.aspx

Pargament, K. I., Kennell, J. et al. (1988). Religion and the problem-solving process: Three styles of coping. Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion, 29, 90-104.

Microsoft Word – MeichSPIRITUALITY INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY1 final edits.doc

Jay, J. (1994). Walls of wailing. Common Boundary, May/June, 30-35.

Harold S. Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen To Good People” New York: Schocken Books, 1981.

Are you taking care of yourself?

Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support or a self-care plan. Parents can seem like tireless caregivers who sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others. They can be highly efficient people with incredible levels of compassion and mercy for others. This mercy can have limits!

They often continue their work to the point of exhaustion, leaving them emotionally bankrupt. You can give away what you don’t have. Like the airlines instruct us before a flight: “in the event of an emergency, a life mask will drop. Be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to put it on your child.” The point is that you can’t save someone one else if you are passed out and parents of traumatized children can’t help them if they are burnt out. 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” Our soul refers to our entire being: body, mind, and spirit. Each area requires specific attention. You can’t focus on one and ignore the others. If we are empty in one area, it affects our entire soul. 

The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mindset that places hope at the heart of our care of traumatized children and looks at our beliefs about what we are doing more than the activity itself. If you have two people doing the same activity and one has a hope-filled, positive attitude about it and the other is weighed down with bitterness and negativity about it, who will be more exhausted by the task at the end? Of course, the one holding bitterness and negativity. 

When I was a young man I used to work for the father’s landscaping company. At the end of the day I was physically exhausted but mentally I was pleased by what I accomplished that day. I enjoyed seeing the results of my labors in the beautiful landscapes we would create. After going into “trauma work” there have been many days that I come home mentally exhausted and this showed in my physical body as well. My wife would often comment about the dark circles under my eyes and I would have to go to bed early to get enough rest to do it all over again the next day. 

This is how it feels for the parent or caregiver of the traumatized child. You are mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, and physically worn out and tomorrow you know you have to do all again. How will this be possible? 

Renewing our minds. 

Renewing our minds is the answer. In Romans 12:2, the bible says that were are to renew our minds. This means that we have to think the thoughts that Jesus thinks about ourselves and our situations. We have to let go of the negative, condemning thoughts (Romans 12:1) and start agreeing with heavens way of thinking. 

Parents might ignore this instruction believing they have “good reasons” for their poor attitudes. 

  1. There aren’t enough skilled people who can take over for me or provide consistent respite.
  2. My children are too difficult for other providers to manage. 
  3. They don’t have the time or money.
  4. God will sustain me.  
  5. It’s easier if I just do it myself then try and get someone else to do or if I don’t do it, no one else will.

The list could go on and on, right? While they all have a bit of truth to them and they are “good reasons” they are “bad excuses” for not living a life of rest. God will sustain parents but they must use the wisdom He gives them by setting boundaries and take proper care of themselves as well. 

Caregivers can adopt an orphan mentality or victim mindset that patterns the thought process of their individuals they are taking care of…In psychological terms, we call this parallel process. In trauma-informed care, we call this secondary trauma. 

Overcoming your orphan mentality and REST.

I have said elsewhere that we are double agents. We take care of people who have been traumatized and we have experienced trauma in our lives as well. This might have been our motivations for becoming a therapist, social worker, foster parent, adoptive parent, etc. It isn’t a wrong motivation but you will be triggered and you may have limiting beliefs that prevent you from finding rest IN work. It may exhaust you more! 

You have to be a “son or daughter” before you can be a fully functioning father or mother.  You can physically seek spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children. You may not have natural-born families that are near or healthy enough to rely on mentally and spiritually. You can review scriptures that explore being adopted by God and how you are a brother to Christ and sons/daughter’s to God (John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, John 3:16, Mark 10:13-16, Romans 8:16, 1 John 3:1-10, Romans 8:4-17)

Renewing your mind and life for REST. 

Ask yourself, what am I believing about my situation that is causing me to be drained and overwhelmed. 

Am I starting this work off with an attitude of resentment or with hope-filled promises?

Do I believe that nothing I do will matter or no one will appreciate me for the things I do or will I focus on doing this for God and seek only his approval? 

Are we inviting God into our circumstances to partner with us and bring us divine appointments and be able to find moments of grace and joy in our day.

Do we love ourselves before we attempt to love others? That is a hole in a bucket that will leave you empty sooner than later for sure!  

Are all the burdens you are carrying really yours to carry or are there a few bags of troubles that belong to other people?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28  

REST in the little things.

When we think about rest we think spa days, two-week vacations in Hawaii, snuggling up in a cabin with a nice book and plenty of warm tea for a weekend. These are excellent ways to find rest but they require a lot of time, money and effort to pull off. If you can’t do these things then look for ways to find rest in the little things. 

Little activities are available at all times, are on-demand, and brief in duration. They don’t cost much or anything at all. They can fit into your busiest days and don’t require a lot of planning or sit up. 

Examples of little ways to rest include, but are not limited to: having morning devotions, watching a movie, pausing for a cup of tea or coffee, buying yourself a treat, taking the dog for a walk, playing a puzzle game on your phone or paper, taking 10 deep breaths several times a day, going to a yoga class or gym, cleaning up a closet or drawer, getting a massage, burning a scented candle, reading or telling a joke, taking a bubble bath, working on a hobby, listen to music, eat a healthy meal, drinking more water, talking to a friend, crying when needed, holding hands, going to church. You get the idea…

List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.