I had the honor of talking with John Sparrow, pastor of Equippers Church – Central Coast, on how to manage our mental health during the pandemic. John shares some of his personal journey, dealing with the stressors of life. I respond to his concerns about dealing with uncertainty, how faith helps us through the struggles of life, and some practical tools to heal from trauma. I hope you enjoy it!
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!
Meichenbaum, D. (2016) TRAUMA, SPIRITUALITY AND RECOVERY: TOWARD A SPIRITUALLY-INTEGRATED PSYCHOTHERAPY :
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.
Join me for the third seminar in the “Healing the Traumatized Child” series November 26, 2018, from 9 am to 12 noon. The seminar will be held at GraceSlo Church on 1350 Osos St., San Luis Obispo, California.
Healing strategies for traumatized children involve helping children help within the spiritual atmosphere of the home. Let’s explore spiritual strategies that create compassion and loving kindness in our children and ourselves. Transform negative atmospheres into hope-filled realities with this practical training by Ron Huxley, LMFT.
Adoptive and foster care children that have suffered trauma have lost their “first love”. This loss creates pain in their hearts that make it difficult to love new people, in particular new mom’s and dad’s. Every time they open up to love or be loved the pain comes up as well. This can create some very interesting reactions in the child, often seen in reactive attachment disordered children (RAD) like lying, stealing, hoarding, urinating in their rooms, hurting self and others, destroying property and a host of other emotional and social dysfunctions. The answer to this problem is to remove the pain…
Come to the free training series “Healing The Hurt Child” sponsored by San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services’ Faith-In-Motion Program, Cuesta College and Grace Slo Church. This is a full day training from 9 am to 4 pm on May 20th. Lunch is on your own but child care is provided and the training is free. Parents and professionals who work with traumatized children are welcome to attend. See the training flyer below for registration details:
Better Beliefs Bring Better Relationships
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
You don’t have to keep praying for better relationships. You can just start having them. Let them start with you today. Don’t expect others to start because you did but once you start they will feel the ripple effects of it and will try to have better relationships with you as well.
The thing that drains you in your relationships isn’t the other person. It is the beliefs you have about that relationship that drains you. Negative emotions make you tired.
Change what you believe about your family. A hopeful thought will bubble up life and love that you didn’t know was still inside. Stop trying to do what you are doing better and do it with better beliefs about what is possible. Don’t wait for better days to come. Start having better attitudes and better days will come.
So much effort goes into changing other family members instead of changing the culture of the family. Shifting the atmosphere of the home and paying attention to examples of hope, love, kindness, celebration, patience, cooperation, respect, power, optimism, fun, playfulness, honesty, sharing, peach and more, will make those values increase. Ignoring what you dislike about your family relationships will strangle those things and they will wither away.
Don’t act on feelings. Feelings deceive you. They come and then they go. Let them. Practice what you believe and act on your hope of what will be and not what is going on in your relationships. Feelings are signals to the temperature level in the home. They are not the thermostat. Your beliefs are set the temperature.
Hurting families protect and hold back parts of themselves to avoid further hurt. Risk involves giving more of ones self to build trust and get more of the other in return and better, safer relationships develop through these small acts of faith.
Breakthrough in the strongholds of fear will change the atmosphere of the home bringing balance in mood and reactivity. Underestimating your influence will disempower your ability to change. Stop thinking about yourself and powerless and start thinking about yourself as powerful. You have 100% power over your own life, reactions, attitude and beliefs. Your outer reality doesn’t determine your inner reality. Your inner reality will transform your outer reality.
It is time for unreasonable optimism about your present and future relationships. This is more than strategies to change things. It is a personal revival to change yourself. The family changes when you change.
The Gentle Path of Parenting
by Ron Huxley, LMFT
“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”
Many spiritual traditions, including Christianity, like to turn our normal way of thinking on its head. The answers we get from our faith often contradicts the truths we hear around us. If we follow this different path, it can lead to confusion and ridicule but it may also open doors to greater peace in our relationships. It might also lead to the end result we were wanting in the first place by way of an alternate path.
The verse quoted above is from Matthew 5:5 where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. It is also called the Beatitudes where Jesus gave his “Blessings” or instructions on how to live life with a different “attitude”. If what you have been trying with your family isn’t working perhaps it is time to try something new.
What if you stop fighting with your child to pick up his toys or get your husband to stop leaving his boots on the new carpet? What other approach might you take, a more gentle one, that would get the results you want? The arguing and nagging wasn’t working anyway. That is what your family expects from you. They don’t suspect a different, upside down tactic.
Meek doesn’t have to mean weak. You will have to have a new attitude to make this upside down thinking work. Actually, you will have to stop trying to make it work. Much of the spiritual principle of parenting referenced here is that you get something (or something new and better) when you stop wanting something or striving so hard. It’s kind of like when you tell you child not to eat his broccoli and then he wants to eat it. Unfortunately, our relationships are triggered negatively. We expect a fight and so it is a fight we get. We expect mom to yell and so we ignore or stay stuck in front of the screen until she does. The earlier warnings she gave done mean anything. Predictable and annoying.
What would this meek approach look like if we tried that? What is the opposite of what you have been doing? What would calm look like if that was your super power? Nothing rattles mom or dad, not even forgotten chores. Ta da!
What if natural consequences took over instead? What if you get a carpet cleaning estimate and gave it to dad and then asked him to schedule it because you and your girlfriends are going out for coffee and a movie? Perhaps it sounds a bit manipulative but why should everyone else have all the fun watching you spin like an angry top. The alternative to keep doing what you have been doing and that hasn’t worked. You could give up instead and pick up dad’s shoes for him or your children’s toys and just be your families slave. No? Well, that’s try my idea of meekness. It isn’t weakness or complacency or wimpish. It is a calm, gentle approach to dealing with life’s problems and owning your own power. It is accepting that you are a powerful person and using that power in a productive, gentle manner that also respects the other powerful people in your family and fosters creativity in them to use that power respectfully toward you.
Take some time to reflect on this and begin to brainstorm some different strategies and tactics other then a tantrum or yelling or giving up?