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758px-Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis weekend I got to see empowering love in action. Jim Savage is a therapist in Addison, TX who hosts a monthly meeting at the Dallas Recovery Center called the Artist’s Recovery Meeting. In typical 12 step fashion, the first part of the meeting includes a testimony from a local artist who is in recovery. The stories of metamorphosis from a raging alcoholic or addict to a recovered and contributing member of the arts community is as inspiring and beautiful as the art being displayed and performed.

The second half of the meeting is an open forum for artists of all mediums and levels of ability to express themselves through their work. Music, poetry, painting, photography, and even a standup comedy routine were on the lineup. What struck me the most throughout the evening was the level of support, encouragement, and admiration for the artists, no matter what their stage of development. One member of the group had never done art before, but was so inspired from attending these monthly meetings that she decided to purchase a sketchbook of her own. That night she presented her drawings for the first time. She wanted to be involved. Share herself with us. Become a part of something bigger than herself. We were all impressed by her bravery, her openness, and her creativity. In return for what she shared, the group gave her praise, encouragement, and a challenge to keep drawing, keep sharing, and keep inspiring others through her personal and artist journey.

The experience that night taught me something about therapy and life. Every human being wants three things from their relationships:

  1. To be known: Art is an expression of self. Copying someone else’s painting, singing another person’s song, or mimicking another person’s dance is only art insofar as it allows the performer to infuse some element of themselves into the experience. When clients enter my office, they do so in order to express themselves. Many are nervous about the encounter. They wonder and worry whether or not they will be heard, understood, and related to.  Clients share the good, the bad, and the ugly about their lives, trusting that their therapist will not form quick judgments or opinions, but will take the time to know them fully. The best therapists do so with diligence and care. Common phrases that I hear in therapy are “I don’t know where to begin”, “does that make sense”, “not sure if I’m explaining this correctly”, “I know I’m just scratching the surface here”,  and “I hope you understand where I’m coming from.” It is hard to be vulnerable. There is always a chance of being misunderstood. I tell my clients every day that they may need to tell me their story several times and several ways before I “get it”, but if we keep working at it and don’t give up, the understanding will come. If we want to experience deep, fulfilling relationships we must know ourselves and be known by others as we truly are. Take the risk, keep sharing your story, and don’t forget to hear and understand others too.
  2. To be accepted: Being known is not synonymous with being accepted. Just watch some of the early episodes of American Idol. Some contestants are accepted and advance in the competition and others are rejected and sent home. Rejection is one of the biggest fears associated with transparency. It is a risky business. When someone understands who we truly are and refuses to accept us, the blow to our psyche can be staggering, but when we share our struggles and find understanding and acceptance, it can heal the deepest of wounds. Supportive environments like AA/NA/CR/Al-Anon/CoDA help struggling members find the love and acceptance they need to discover their true selves and decide how they need to change. Therapy is a place where this can occur as well. Many clients fear abandonment. They sit in a therapist’s office because they have been abandoned by people like friends and family who should have loved and accepted them the most. Often, they seek counsel on how to change themselves so they can become more acceptable to others. The goal of therapy is to shift their insight toward loving and accepting themselves. If you cannot do this, you will never be able to accept the love and acceptance that others provide you. This is the value of sponsorship in the recovery community. Individuals seek out members with similar life experiences who can understand their stuggle  and will accept them in whatever stage of recovery they may be. Nothing should surprise a sponsor or a therapist. If something does, it doesn’t mean they or you are bad. It just means you need someone with a different expertise or experience to guide you. Don’t get discouraged if it takes you several tries to find that right fit.
  3. To be empowered: Understanding and acceptance are great, but if we stopped there, no one would ever change, grow, or experience new challenges and opportunities. Ultimately, each of us wants to be empowered to succeed in life. True love empowers. In AA, the motto is “keep coming back. It works if you work it.” Artists are never satisfied with painting one picture, singing one song, or writing one story. We want to continually create, improve, push the limits, grow. The same is true for life. Relationships should empower us to be better, more fulfilled, and complete. Psychologically, we would describe this process as self-actualization. Friendships challenge us. Sometimes there is conflict. Unfortunately, this is the destructive illusion of social media. We surround ourselves with virtual people who like all our posts or simply defriend us if they don’t. As a result, we have become sensitized to the friction that should be a natural part of any relationship. We disagree, we argue, we question, we push, all the while providing love and acceptance in the process. This is the beauty, the dance, the song of relationships. Feedback is important. Those who observe your life, much like those who observe art, have the right to say “I like that” or “I don’t like that.” Don’t dismiss the dislikes. Observe and explore them. It doesn’t mean you have to accept them as the truth, but they can challenge you in ways that simple praise may not.

Artist’s in recovery was a great experience for me. I witnessed something amazing that night: not just the beautiful products of art but the beautiful processes of art. Life is the same. May each of our lives continue to produce beauty. Don’t give up on the process!!

Question: If your life was a piece or product of art, what would it be? How would you describe it? Who have you shown your art to? What was the response? Where have you found a community that understands, accepts, and empowers the beauty of your life?

To be alive is to be motivated. At any given moment in time, you have one of two motivating factors influencing you:

1. The pursuit of a reward: Greek philosophers like Aristotle would tell us that there is no such thing as a completely selfless act. Humans ever and always are motivated by the pursuit of their own good. There is really nothing wrong with this. To ignore “The Self” is to cease to exist. When someone says, “I didn’t want to do X, but I did it anyway,” they are deceiving themselves. The reality is that they did want to do X, but their statement acknowledges the fact that it was not for the direct pleasure but a reward beyond the pain. This is an important concept to understand if you are going to understand what motivates you in life. Many people endure painful experiences in the hope that it will produce something positive in the end. When we do stupid stuff, we are acknowledging ahead of time that the end result will not be good, but we are willing to sacrifice the future for the immediate pleasure of the moment.

 
2. The avoidance of pain: No one likes to hurt. Even people that intentionally cut on themselves or engage in some self-destructive activity are ultimately attempting to avoid pain. The truth is they subject themselves to a lesser pain to avoid something they imagine would be unbearable. For instance, individuals who struggle with eating disorders will often say that their malnutrition and hunger pains allow them to avoid a sense of helplessness or lack of control. It is the lack of control that is unbearable to them, not the sense of starvation!

 
This is the logic behind The Death Drive, a concept articulated by Freud, but named byWilhelm Stekel using the greek word, Thanatos. Thanatos in Greek mythology was the God of Death. In psychological terms, it is the counterintuitive urge within us to destroy. Think about why when you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or on the top of the Empire State Building you are both compelled and repulsed by the possibility of jumping. Imagine a child building a sand castle on an ocean shore. When they have completed it, their next action is often to stomp all over it! As humans, we are fascinated by that moment when all things come to an end.

 

I believe there are two reasons for this destructive urge within us:

 
1. Aggressive Power: The first reason humans do stupid stuff is to foster an innate desire to assert power and control over a situation, even if that means destruction. “Because I can” is a phrase repeated by many an individual who willing engages in a destructive act. In essence, the action becomes an adolescent-like retort to every parent of society: “You can’t tell me what to do!!” Sometimes we speed, steal, lie, cheat, get drunk, curse, or fight simply because someone tells us not to. We want freedom, even if we are restricted to the freedom of self-destruction.

 

2. Immediate Redemption: The second reason people often choose to do stupid stuff is to experience immediate redemption. Everybody enjoys the do-over, the mulligan, the clean slate, or the false start. We all need a second chance, but when things get messy, we find it easier to change plans, locations, relationships, jobs, and all other circumstances to avoid ongoing suffering. Unfortunately, Redemption’s road is often long and arduous and the people who look for the quick fix or escape often find themselves repeating the same struggles over and over again.

The Death drive can be channeled in two directions:

 

1. An Inward Focus:We see this inwardly destructive tendency in those who consciously or unconsciously enter abusive relationships similar to those of their past. They find some sense of power in the familiarity of the situation, even if it is self-destructive in nature. They also hope for a do-over, a chance to fix a problem that has surfaced in a current relationship with the same old solutions they tried in a previous one.

 
2. An Outward Focus: The outwardly focused death-drive becomes a means of asserting power aggressively over others. Abusers often act on this drive. The 90’s rock band, Nickleback, had a song wherein the lead singer describes his love of all the degrading things his girlfriend does during their sexual encounters only to conclude in the chorus that the challenge of “figuring her out” was not as difficult as he thought it would be. Ironically, the last verse of the song twists his love for her into hatred. The implication is that he is now on to the next conquest, thus feeding his inner desire for the do-over, a new opportunity to assert his control and assuage his own helplessness and shame by inflicting it on others.

 
Feodor Dostoyevsky, the brilliant Russian novelist who wrote Crime and Punishment, provides a powerful description, if not explanation, of the death drive in action through his character, Nastasya Filipovna, in his novel, The Idiot. Though loved and proposed to by the purest and most noble character in the story, Prince Myshkin, she chooses instead to debase herself with the vilest individuals in society. Dostoevsky reflects on her behavior through Myshkin’s character:
“She ran away from me. Do you know what for? Simply to show me that she was a degraded creature. But the most awful thing is that perhaps she didn’t even know herself that she only wanted to prove that to me, but ran away because she had an irresistible inner craving to do something shameful, so as to say, to herself at once, ‘There, you’ve done something shameful again, so you’re a degraded creature!’ …Do you know that in that continual consciousness of shame there is perhaps a sort of awful, unnatural enjoyment for her, a sort of revenge on some one.”

So how do we fight against the death drive?

 
1. Confront your rage: People who do stupid things to themselves or to others usually harbor a deep-seated anger. Counseling can help to uproot this anger and begin to address it in a healthy way. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. The only way you will be able to stop punishing yourself or someone else is to acknowledge and be aware of the source of your anger and begin the process of managing it successfully.

 
2. Commit to the long-haul: There is no quick fix. Slow down and accept some of the momentary suffering that you may be experiencing. Some of the stupidest things we do are actions taken to relieve immediate suffering without taking the time to consider what our current pain might be teaching us for the long-term successes waiting for us.

 
Question: What about you? Where does the death drive rear its ugly head in your life? What solutions have you found for overcoming our human tendency to do stupid stuff in the moment? I hope you remember that there is always redemption to be had. It just might be a little farther down the road than you originally thought. I hope you can say that it is worth the wait!

If you missed my interview with Robert Shryoc, Founder and CEO of Stonegate Center, a recovery community for men struggling with addictions, you really should take time to check it out. On the program, we talked about some of the lies we tend to tell ourselves when we are stuck in a negative cycle, habit, or addiction. You do not want to miss it! You can tune in to the program by clicking here.

Tonight on the program, I am revisiting a topic that I posted several weeks ago: the three people that you need in your life to succeed. I got such a good response from people about how helpful they found it that I decided to do a radio show about it. If you happened to miss the post, you can read the original below or tune into the program tonight on KCBI 90.9 at 6:30pm or 10:30pm CDT, or click on the link here after 7 pm to hear it in it’s entirety. Also, be sure to tune in next week as well. I will be talking with Stephanie Coker, a licensed social worker who has both personal and clinical experience working with those who are emotionally fragile. Stay tuned for more great guests and topics in the months ahead!! :

So, there you are…reeling at the news, a look of utter shock undeniably written all over your face. That exciting opportunity for which you had trouble falling asleep the night before is now the shattered hope that will keep you up tonight!

The work you put into the dream – the planning, the time, the networking, the energy – all seems now like a complete waste of time. And what hurts the most? The whole thing would have worked out if not for the interference of other people! Why couldn’t they catch the dream? Why couldn’t they get the vision? Why couldn’t they see in me what I know I have to give?

People will tell you, “Well, it just wasn’t meant to be?” Is that supposed to be comforting? I mean really…if it wasn’t meant to be, then why did I kill myself thinking it was? Why couldn’t somebody have seen that earlier, told me, and saved me a whole lot of trouble? If it wasn’t meant to be, then what is meant to be? Is there any point, any good that I can take away from this defeat?

My response? No doubt…there is!

Now, I’m not going to go into a bunch of platitudes about “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” or “this will build character in your life.” I know these are true, but they usually don’t help much in the face of such a tremendous disappointment. Instead, I want you to focus on the original passion that led you into this seemingly lost endeavor in the first place. I can almost guarantee you that it wasn’t about money, power for power’s sake, popularity, or pure pleasure. It was always about people. You had something that you wanted to give, something to contribute, a need to know and be known, a need to accept and be accepted, a hope to empower and be empowered. You haven’t lost faith in the dream…you’ve lost faith in people!!

So what do you do? How do you keep this disappointment from completely tainting your love, faith, and hope in others and making you a bitter, cynical person?

Let me suggest that you start by envisioning three people in your mind. Keep these people with you through the trial. Give them a face, a name, a legacy, and a future with you. They are as follows:

  1. The person you are striving for: This is the person that more than likely you started your mission to reach. I asked a factory worker installing seatbelts in automobiles who he was striving for. He said, “That little girl, just like my daughter, whose life will be saved because of me.” A teacher recently told me it was “that kid who really can succeed but everyone else in his life keeps telling him that he cannot!” Who are you striving for? He or she will be the one who gets you back up on your feet when you face a roadblock on the way to your dream. If you do not have someone like this in mind, create them. Be as detailed as possible. Give them a name. Envision their face before you when you are feeling discouraged. No venture in life will succeed if you are pursuing it for purely selfish gain. Your work will be so much more satisfying, even in times of failure, if you are striving for another.
  2. The person you are striving with: Somewhere in this world, there is someone who has gone through or is going through exactly what you are. They need you! They need your story! If you hole-up in isolation and coddle your hurt, keep it to yourself and refuse to share it, you will miss out on the connections you could have made with people who want to give and receive strength for the journey. Your heart will overflow when you meet them: a kindred spirit you might never have known otherwise. I interviewed a woman who said, “I thought I was all alone, but a whole world opened up to me when I opened up to it. It was like walking through a fog of loneliness for so long and then suddenly stumbling upon a campfire, burning bright and hot, surrounded by people celebrating a journey not yet finished but sure to end well. They were ready to walk along with me. My heart glowed for the first time!”
  3. The person you are striving toward:This isn’t as simple as a WWJD bracelet with which you snap your wrist each time a problem arises. It is, however, visualizing that one individual that you want to be and asking yourself how your pain can make you more like him or her. I’ve been reading a kids version of Pilgrim’s Progress to my children at night before bed, and so for me right now, I’ve been visualizing the character, Faithful. He’s the one who entered the town of Vanity Fair and was dragged into the courts by the town’s people. Despite all the tempting and laughing and brutality he experienced for being different, he stood strong in his mission, even to death. That’s who I want to be. I know I’m not perfect in that regard. I know I have a long way to go with lots of setbacks, but I keep that story in my mind and it helps. What about you? Who do you want to become? Perhaps he or she is a real person or a fictional character that embodies all the qualities you long for. Tell yourself that this setback is an opportunity to become more like them and determine to be that same person others aspire to be. It will make all the difference.

Questions: How do you keep from getting cynical about life and love when you’ve faced a hurt or setback? Are their ways that you have found helpful to keep you motivated? If you had someone in mind to strive for, with, and toward, who would they be?

 

Be sure to follow my blog but signing up to receive email updates and follow me on facebook at David Livingstone Henderson MD or on Twitter @DaveHendersonMD .

If I Only Had….

This past week, I interviewed Lisa Burkhardt Worley about her take on the secret longings that many women harbor.  You can click on the link above to listen to the full program. I really encourage you to do so. In this interview, we focus on Lisa’s personal testimony of struggling with a mother who suffered from mental illness. We do not often hear these stories from the perspective of the child involved and I think you will find it very encouraging and uplifting…a true story of redemption. For more information about Lisa, keep reading:

Lisa Burkhadt Worley is a former national television sportscaster, Christian non-fiction writer, speaker, retreat leader and Christ follower whose passion is ministering to women. Lisa has worn numerous hats throughout her life. She was both a national and local television sportscaster for nineteen years with HBO Sports, the Madison Square Garden Network, ESPN and the local CBS affiliate in San Antonio. She was also the spokesperson for San Antonio International Airport for five years, part of which was during the events of 9-11.

After she rededicated her life to Christ in 1993, God led Lisa on a path that has included numerous ministry leadership positions. She is currently the lay leader over Women’s Ministry at Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church in Flower Mound where she speaks regularly at a monthly women’s luncheon at Trietsch called First Friday Feast. Lisa also speaks to other church gatherings, retreats and secular groups, both in the Texas area and occasionally in other parts of the country.

She recently completed her first book with co-author Catherine Weiskopf called, If I Only Had…Following God’s Path to Your Security. The book won “Best Non-Fiction Book” at the 2012 North Texas Christian Writer’s Conference and is currently being edited by Catherine and Lisa’s Literary Agent. Catherine, Lisa and former Dallas media personality, Rebecca Carrell, are currently writing a new Bible study, The Un-Crowd: How God Takes us Out of the World to Do the Unpopular. It will be taught in March, 2013 at Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church. Lisa is also publishing a devotional, The Pearls of Promise Devotional, in 2013.Lisa is a strong proponent of small group ministry, having led small groups in both San Antonio and Flower Mound for over fifteen years.

Lisa completed her Masters of Theological Studies Degree at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2008. At Perkins, she was recognized as one of the top students in Division 1 Studies (Biblical Witness.) Lisa is a San Antonio, Texas native but moved to Flower Mound in 2005. She has been married to Jeff Worley for 26 years and has two children, Kyle, 23, and Bret, 16.

Visit Lisa at …

www.pearlsofpromiseministries.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/pearlsofpromise
Facebook: http://facebook.com/pearlsofpromiseministries.com
Books: Pearls of Promise Devotional
Linked in: Lisa Burkhardt Worley

Relationships in the Workplace.

I had a great time interviewing Robert E. Hall, a noted author, consultant, and speaker on relationships. His latest book, This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics, and Faith, gives a clear explanation as to why fostering healthy working relationships should be on our short list of daily activities.

As cofounder and CEO of a two-hundred person relationship management firm with offices in the United States, Canada, Latin America, United Kingdom, South Africa, and Australia, he consulted for twenty-plus years with major corporations on customer and employee relationships. Ernst & Young named him a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year in the Southwest. His first book, The Streetcorner Strategy for Winning Local Markets, is a business bestseller that helped inspire the customer relationship managment movement. For the past decade, Hall has mentored inner-city homeless families and helped pioneer a relationship-centric model for addressing homelessness. He has authored more than one hundred published columns, articles, and research papers on the topic of relationships.

I asked him to stop by the studio to give us some insights into how relationships can make or break a business. Click on the link above to listen to the whole program. Listed below are four actions you can take to strengthen your relationships in the workplace:

1. Understand Unintended Consequences:  We are always trying to streamline our lives. The faster or easier we can accomplish a task, the better. Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences to increased material productivity, usually in the form of declining relationships. Why communicate face-to-face when you can send a text? Why strike up a conversation with someone in an elevator when you can be listening to your favorite podcast on your i-phone? Robert does not advocate for going back to the stone ages. He does, however, believe that if we are aware of this unintended distancing brought on by advance in technology, we can be more intential about fighting against it, maintaining connection and unity with people in the workplace and potentially save a suffering relationship.

 2. Make relationships a strategic priority: Robert notes that relationships have as much value (if not more value) than capital.  Our intentional investment in people can be worth more than a million dollar grant if we can understand the long term ramifications of a healthy working environment. As a consultant, Robert notes that he has seen large companies go under, not for lack of material resources but because of failed communication, bitterness, disloyalty, and hurt feelings. We need to remember that relationships are not just a means to an end, but an end in and of themselves. They are what give our work meaning and purpose. We feel fulfilled in what we do for the very fact that we are investing in people, whether directly or indirectly.

3. Deinstitutionalize our Organizations: Robert recommends breaking organizations down to the small and local. Many churches are adopting the small group model of connecting people with people. As one school principal told him, “We have been in rows and we need to move into circles.” Sometimes we hate business meetings. I know every one of us has thought at some point, “This meeting could have been over 15 minutes ago if someone would just get to the point.” But meetings are not even as much about producing something material as they are about giving people a voice to be heard and a way to connect with one another.  For a great book on this subject, check out Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillian, and Switzler.

4. Relational Leadership: We will not change this problem from the top down through programs or forced interactions. We can only create an environment that fosters these interactions. To do this, leaders must demonstrate the importance of individuals by being individually oriented themselves. You may be the lowest man on your company’s totem pole but you can be a leader in this way by making meaningful connections with people each and everyday.

Question: How do you feel in your place of employment? What are the relational aspects that make or break your work experience? What are the solutions you have found helpful? 

Be sure to sign up for my blog by clicking the link to the left or follow me on facebook or twitter at David Livingstone Henderson, MD or @DaveHendersonMD.

 

How are your fears keeping you chained to the same old destructive patterns in your life? Are you ready for real freedom? Then you will want to tune in to the show tonight on 90.9 KCBI at 6:30pm or 10:30pm CST or listen online after 7:00pm by clicking here.

This evening on For Christ and Culture, my special guest is Michelle Borquez, author of the book, God Crazy, and creator and host of the women’s conference, The God Crazy Freedom Experience. Michelle will be talking to us about what true freedom looks like and how her personal journey of redemption led her to become a powerful advocate and coach for women struggling with the pressures of a superficial culture. When the glitz and the glamour fades, Michelle knows how to find true satisfaction and freedom in relationships, the most important of which is our relationship with a God that loves us completely. If you are interested in signing up for her upcoming conference here in the Metroplex on April 17th, 2014 at 7:00pm, click here. It will be at North Point Church in Fort Worth. Tickets are limited, so be sure to reserve your spot today.

For those of you who don’t know Michelle, God has used her mightily. In 1999, she founded “Shine”, a general interest women’s publication highlighting articles on fashion, travel and health. As Editor-in-Chief she interviewed well known leaders, such as First Lady Laura Bush, Anne Graham Lotz, Michael W. Smith, Kurt Warner, Chuck and Gena Norris, Beth Moore, and many others. Shine published 9 years with over 40,000 subscribers. In 2005 Michelle hosted and co-produced I-Life Television’s “SHINE with Michelle Borquez” on INSP that aired internationally for two years. Michelle is also Creator, Producer, and Host of the recently released, 8 week DVD series for women,” Live Again After Divorce” available at liveagaindvd.com and is host for Beth Moore’s “Loving Well” Television Special and national spokesperson for “GLO” Bible. She has authored numerous books, “Live Laugh Love Again,” “God Crazy” “Overcoming the Seven Deadly Emotions” “Forever God Crazy,” “God Crazy Freedom”, and the “God Crazy Freedom Series”.

Question: What’s your story of redemption? Sign up for my blog and email me your story and I may feature it on a future blog post. Help encourage others who may need your words of hope in their life! “It is always the deepest mine, the darkest cave, or the loneliest desert that holds the richest treasure…”

Twitter: @DaveHendersonMD

Facebook: David Livingstone Henderson, MD

I’m not a diehard fan of zombie movies, but I must admit I found World War Z entertaining. (If your interested, you can listen to a radio show I did recently on the psychology of the undead by clicking here.) In zombie flicks there is always a scene were the protagonist (the living) and the antagonist (the undead) have a chance to observe one another from a place of relative safety, often depicted as a chain link fence. Both have the desire to destroy one another but amid that destructive force lays a hint of curiosity. What’s it like to be on the other side?

There are so many of us today who feel like the “living dead.” We are going through the motions of life, but nothing seems to bring us pleasure or fulfillment. I’m not sure how this feeling developed or whether people of centuries past could relate to it. I do know that years ago, when someone in a community suffered, the people of that community suffered with them. During World War II, you might drive through your neighborhood and see a star in the window, representing a family member who died. People would bring meals to one another and stop by for a comforting word or two. Today we lack that kind of camaraderie because many of our communities are virtual. On social media sites like facebook, twitter, and google+, we don’t have to interact with each others’ suffering if we don’t want to. Recently, I was scrolling through the news feed on facebook and I began reading a post that described a recent disaster in the family. Without even thinking, I skipped past it to a funny youtube video another friend had posted.

That separation, that chain link fence, can also leave us wondering, “Am I the only one that feels dead?” When all you see are vacation pictures, delicious meals, funny videos, the best images of people smiling and living life to the fullest, it is easy to start questioning the fullness of our own reality. Here are some actions I’ve found helpful to fight that feeling:

1. Take a break from social media for a while and reach out to a LIVE person in your REAL community.
2. Stop focusing on the grand and amazing events of life, and stay present in the moment. Learn to find beauty in the ordinary. (A hot cup of coffee on a cold day, your favorite pen when you’re doing paperwork, the giggles of your son or daughter, a wet kiss from your pet.)
3. Remember that what you see in the virtual world is often an illusion. Everyone is human. Everybody hurts. Don’t look to social media to fill a void in you that only another live human being can fill.
4. Stop watching the lives of other people and start doing some living yourself! One moment at a time.

Questions: What activities in life bring you the most joy? How can you infuse more of those activities into your daily routine? What are some of the small things in life that you’ve been ignoring that might actually encourage and lift your spirits? Stay mindful of them through the next week and see how your attitude about life changes.

Have you ever heard the song by REM, “Everybody Hurts”? Well, it’s true! We all go through difficult seasons in our lives, either because of the things others do to us or because of the things we do to ourselves. The people in our lives play a vital role in whether or not we have the strength to get back up on our feet and keep moving through life’s journey. I was considering the types of people that wait for us on the way down. Who are they and how should we respond to them. Here’s my list:

The Vulture: This is the person who is openly antagonistic. They have been waiting for this moment as long as they have known you and they have no qualms about letting you and others know their pleasure in your pain. This is the boss that can’t wait to fire you, the frenemy who posts the embarrassing picture on their Facebook account, the sibling who uses you to get in good with mom and dad, the church member who wants you off the pulpit, the journalist who smears your public image. The list could go on and on. Nine times out of ten, the best option with the vulture is to keep your head high, ignore them, and distance yourself from any further interactions. Let your actions be louder than your words, be the better person, and trust that they will learn their lesson from someone else someday. An old proverb says, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine!!”

The Vampire: The vampire is definitely an antagonist, but in a more subtle way. They pretend to be your friend, invite you to open up to them in the midst of your struggle, and then take advantage of you in your weakness. They are smooth and seductive. Think traveling elixir salesman or corner prostitute! And they may not be selling anything material. They might simply want you to buy into their philosophy about life, feed their psychological need for power, or use you to assuage their own hurts. Your suffering is only a means to accomplishing their own purposes in life. They will suck your blood and keep coming back for more if you let them. The way to protect yourself against a vampire is to hold your cards close to the chest. You might be suffering intensely and they always seem to be right there ready to help, but smile and make them believe you’re doing just fine without them. Tell the salesman politely you’re not interested at this time and then hang up the phone! Don’t wait for the rest of the sales pitch.

The Voyeur: The voyeur doesn’t necessarily have a hidden agenda, but they will milk you for all the juicy details of your struggle. After a while, you get the sense that they really don’t care about you. They just love a good story. And trust me, someone who loves a good story is usually a magnificent story teller. The voyeur loves being in the know and spreading news. They feel better wallowing in other people’s suffering. Here is one way to test whether or not someone in your life is a voyeur: tell them something exciting and positive that has happened in your life and see if they take as much interest. You will know very quickly who your true friends are by who is able to celebrate with you, not just mourn with you.

The Freak: This person does not have a malicious motive. They simply “can’t handle the truth!” (Said in an aggressive, airy, Jack Nicholson voice). Usually, the freak is someone very close to you who suffers when you do. They love you desperately, but freak out when you’re in pain. They are empathetic to a fault. You wish they’d take your shoes off after one lap around the track, let alone a mile. With these people, you may have to share burdens gradually over time. Let the issue sink in so that they have time to process it and come to terms with it. In doing so, you will create less damage in the long term.

The Fixer: The fixer is the opposite of the freak. Lots of solutions. Very little empathy. I knew someone who did informal counseling who said, “Look, I’ll meet with you for one session. You do what I say? Great! You don’t? I’ve got better things to do with my time!” Now, to be sure. Individuals like this might have a lot of helpful wisdom to pass on, but you need tough skin and the ability to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They have a cookie cutter solution to every problem. Some advice might be worth chewing on and some of it, well, in the words of the comedian, Jim Gaffigan, treat it like a Hot Pocket: “Open package and place directly in toilet!!”

The Father:  The sage. The guru. The sensei. An older individual who is not in competition with you, has a deep yearning to mentor and genuinely wants to be a listening ear and an advisor in your life. Draw from them deeply, but realize that they may not be entirely able to relate to your circumstances. Every generation is faced with nuances in the suffering and pain they face. Culture, technology, styles, and relationships change over time, so look for a wise man that is willing to remain teachable and empowers you to tell your story. Remember as people age they naturally become fixers (minus the attitude), in part because they have had a lot of experiences we have not. The good ones remain humble in spite of all their knowledge. Hold onto them like a precious jewel (or your i-phone these days!!)

The Friend:  This person doesn’t have all the answers, but they can relate to your struggle. They care about you, want to see you succeed, and will continue to walk with you every step of the way. There is loyalty here. A history. A brotherhood or sisterhood. You may have disagreements, but if someone butts into your inner circle, they will fall on their sword for you. Cherish these relationships. Be that kind of person to someone else. If you have one or two of these people in your life, you can weather any storm.

Question: What kinds of people wait for you when you fall? What kind of person are you when others fall?

 

When you work out consistently at the same gym for a while, you begin to notice people. For me, there is one guy in particular that has, for better or for worse, left a lasting impression on my mind. Without fail, at 7 am every morning, he comes strutting in, all 275 lbs of him, pointing and shouting at people across the gym, “Go hard or go home, baby!!!” I’ve never been able to figure out if he actually knows the people he is shouting at, but if he’s trying to meet people, he should really take time to read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. If he’s ever directed the challenge to me personally, I could not tell you because when I see him coming, I avert my eyes, turn up the volume on my i-pod and start praying, “Dear God, please don’t let him eat me!”

On one occasion (once my panic attack subsided), I considered his statement: “Go hard or go home.” How many of us have applied this statement to our lives? Here are some examples I thought of:

  1. Dieting – “Oh well, I gave in and had that pizza. I might as well eat the cannoli too.”
  2. Exercise – “I’m so tired this morning. I think I’ll go tomorrow when I am feeling a little more rested.”
  3. Work – “I’m sorry, honey, I am not going to make it home for dinner tonight. This marketing presentation has to be perfect or else I’m going to bomb it tomorrow.”
  4. Parenting – “I am such a failure as a parent. All the other mom’s are working a full time job while homeschooling their seven children and training for the Hawaii Iron-man.”
  5. Ministry – “I’m just one voice. What I say or do doesn’t really matter. Anyway, the minister is the one who has been called to this. He can handle it.”

I could continue the list ad infinitum, but the real point is that anyone who tries to ascribe to the “go hard or go home” mindset, usually ends up going home, crawling into bed, and watching reruns of their favorite 80’s television show. Why? Because no one can go hard all the time and those that do end up burning out. “Go hard or go home” is an example of what professional therapists call “all-or-nothing” thinking.  Some more examples:

  1. “If I can’t be perfect, then I must be a failure.”
  2. “If I can’t be at every meeting, then I’m not going to volunteer at all.”
  3. “If this one girl does not find me attractive, then I must be ugly.”
  4. “If I don’t have 5 million followers on twitter, then what’s the point of tweeting?”

This mindset affects our actions and it affects our view of ourselves. For example, let’s say that you would like to start working out, but you don’t because you’re not in shape. (Consider the logic of that statement first, by the way.) Well, your goal might simply be to get to the gym every day. How intensely you work out doesn’t matter at this point. You just need to get there! Accomplish that step, and then look at hopping on the treadmill the next time. If you are socially isolating yourself because you fear being rejected, consider this: if you reach out to 100 people and 80% of them reject you, that still leaves you 20 people who want to be your friend. Instead of looking at the 80% of rejections, consider that you just went from 0 to 20!

How about your view of yourself? If you are not the star athlete, the top sales associate, the supermom or dad, the greatest [fill in the blank], that does not mean you are stupid, unsuccessful, insignificant, or a failure. Most of us are somewhere in between. Striving for excellence is a process, one that requires pacing and patience. Striving for perfection is insanity and will only make you miserable.

So the next time you hear the statement, “Go hard or go home” consider these alternatives:

  1. Something is better than nothing.
  2. Perfection is not the goal, excellence is.
  3. Excellence is always achievable if you remember that excellence is a process that never ends, requires patience and hard work, and allows for our continual growth, no matter where we are on the journey.
  4. Growth occurs in ebbs and flows. Don’t get discouraged when you get tired, fail to meet preset expectations or disappoint others. Remind yourself of #’s 1, 2, and 3 and keep moving forward.  

Question: What do you think when you hear the expression, “Go hard or go home!”? Does it motivate or discourage you? What helps you to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself?

Some of you may have heard about the recent article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry calling into question the wisdom of the FDA’s 2004 decision to issue a “black box warning” about the purported link between antidepressant use and suicide. I have found it interesting to study the trends associated with antidepressant prescribing and its effects on depression and suicide after the issuing of the black box warning. Ironically, suicide rates in teens actually increased after the issuing of the warning. It is believed that many doctors became fearful and stopped prescribing antidepressants even though many who were suffering needed the help.

I thought about how this mass hysteria created by the news media is a parallel to our own lives. Each of us has a black box that we carry around with us. It may be the fear of an impending job loss, a spouse’s betrayal, a financial crash, an injured child, or a potential life-threatening illness. We carry this black box with us whereever we go, allowing it to rule our thoughts and our behaviors, but never once do we consider opening it to examine the evidence for what we fear. The ultimate fear that all of us carry is the fear of DEATH, or as I like to call it, the fear of “an unlivable life.” In confronting this fear we must do three things:

1. Live Realistically.  Don’t ignore the black box. Unpack it. Examine it’s contents. Consider what it would really mean for you if the dreaded contents came true in your life. I had a client who had a morbid fear of having his personal identity stolen. He never thought beyond this fear to the end result. He just knew that he could never survive it. As we unpacked his black box, he realized that his identity being stolen would mean significant hassle in getting his bank accounts changed, his money refunded from his credit card company, and his credit resecured. As we walked through the steps of doing each of these things, he came to realize that, YES, it would be difficult but it would not destroy him. The mysterious fog that loomed over him lifted and he could come through sucessfully on the other side.

Live Responsibly. We’ve all heard that Tim McGraw song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” I get his point but I disagree with some of the things he would change. If we knew that we were dying, I don’t think we would need to quite our jobs, move to the mountains, sky-dive, or party until we drop. I believe the truly responsible act would be to continue our normal daily activities but with a deeper intentionality and commitment, knowing that we may be doing them for the last time. With this attitude, even the most mundane of activities would be magnificent.

Live Resiliently. Our fear of the unlivable life can stir within us a desire to give up on life completely. Fight against that desire! Even as treasured aspects of life are lost (your health, your job, your loved-ones, your valuables), recognize that you can always draw deeper from the LIVING WATER and discover that the depths of HIS LIFE are unfathomable. How do we do this practically? I was once asked in a Florida Television interview what I would say to the elderly invalid watching the program from the prison of their bed. My answer was this. “Even if you can’t make it from your bedroom to the kitchen. You can still do something more powerful than any human act imaginable. You can commune with an Almighty God and intercede on behalf of those who desperately need God’s presence in their lives.” Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work. Prayer is the greater work.” The older I get in this life, the more I believe this is true.

So what is your black box? How are you dealing with it? Can you say that you are living realistically, responsibly and resiliently in the face of death? I hope your answer is a resounding “YES!”

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I am a board certified psychiatrist, author, speaker in private practice with Southwest Clinical and Forensics in Dallas Tx. I also serve as an adjunct professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have a passion for helping people through painful circumstances, be they physical illnesses of the brain, psychological conditions of the mind, social problems of everyday life, and/or spiritual crises of faith and worldview.

Disclaimer

All information provided is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a professional evaluation or treatment. If you are experiencing emotional distress, please contact a mental health professional. Dr. Henderson cannot respond to inquiries about prescription refills, or medical or psychiatric emergencies over the internet. If you are a patient in need of assistance, please contact Dr. Henderson’s office directly, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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