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Angry baby

The presidential election is just around the corner and emotions are running high. Clearly, there is a great deal of outrage and disgust surrounding the two most controversial figures in the running: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Anger is a normal emotion for all human beings to feel and whether you are a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, a pro-lifer or pro-choicer, religious or not, there is nothing like politics to divide us into two kinds of angry people: the actively-aggressive and the passively-aggressive.

Active-aggressors take direct action to fix the problem that stirred their anger. They see an injustice and channel all of their angry energy into making it right. Morally, of course, there are right and wrong ways to take action. Anger that leads to the violation of the rights of others is generally considered wrong in our society. However, in some respects our culture has thrown the baby out with the bath water (in an actively-aggressive way of course!). We’ve been told that any form of active-aggression is wrong, that the healthiest individuals don’t take strong stands on anything, work hard not to offend anyone directly or indirectly, and stuff their beliefs, their feelings, and their actions into channels that look neat and tidy on the surface. In short, we are told to sweep our dirt under the carpet.

The problem is that the pressure of that stuffed anger becomes an explosive time-bomb. For example, I knew a lady who was the sweetest person you could ever meet. No person and no situation ever seemed to rile her…until, that is, she got into her car. I was shocked when I discovered that she had been in a physical altercation at a local grocery store when someone cut into her parking space. When I asked her about it later, she said, “I don’t know. Something just came over me.” I wondered how she could act so aggressively over something so petty and yet never seemed upset by the major conflicts in her personal life. It wasn’t that she was immune to anger, she had just learned to suppress it. Like anyone else, however, she had a breaking point.

Passive-aggressors are those who displace their anger onto something unrelated to the inciting problem or who act in ways that don’t clearly convey their anger to the offender. There are certainly times when passive aggression can be healthy. When we channel our anger into something productive, even if it is unrelated, we at least have something positive to show for it. A long run, an hour hitting the weights, a piece of artwork, an impassioned talk with a friend, or a deeper determination to complete a project at the office are great ways to deal indirectly with the problems in our lives for which there are no solutions. When we feel powerless, we can channel that anger elsewhere.

Passive-aggression becomes a problem when the displacement of our actions ends up producing more problems than good in our lives. When our boss reprimands us at work and we come home and shout at our children, we’ve just made our home life as bad as our work life. When our favorite sports hero gets injured in the big game and we punch the wall, our busted hand does nothing to help him heal faster.

The other problem with passive-aggression is that it can postpone our acceptance of responsibility for our anger until a later time when the stakes are much higher. For example, we might be able to get away with the silent treatment of a friend who has hurt us. In the short term, it allows us to avoid being vulnerable and facing the pain of conflict. However, this response prolonged over time leads to a growing tension in the relationship that may result in either a slow tearing away of the connection we have or an explosive blowup that does irreparable damage to the friendship.

So how do we decide what to do with our rage? First we must understand what generates it. I believe there are three major causes of anger:

  1. A sense of injustice – If we believe that something that has, is, or will happen to us is unjust, we are likely to feel anger.
  2. A sense of meaninglessness – If we believe that the circumstances we’ve had to endure are pointless, we will become angry.
  3. A sense of helplessness – If we believe that there is no way out of our circumstances, that we are destined to endure forever the cards we have been dealt, that we cannot overcome our injustices or bring purpose and meaning to our situation, we will struggle with anger.

So how do we deal with the anger:

  1. Find a way to bring justice to your circumstances. If you have strong beliefs about a moral or ethical issue you have faced, actively look to make it right. Perhaps you cannot make it right for yourself, but you can for others. Join an organization or volunteer where you can help others overcome their injustices and through this, bring some justice to your own experience as well.
  2. Find a way to bring meaning to your circumstances. Viktor Frankl is best known for his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he describes his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. Those who survived emotionally were the ones who found meaning out of an otherwise meaningless situation. A simple example in our lives would be getting caught in stand-still traffic and reminding ourselves that this traffic could have saved us from something more terrible down the road.
  3. Find a way to fight helplessness with courage and serenity. I like the serenity prayer which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” There is something extremely valuable and freeing in knowing you have done everything you can do to fix something and then accepting the ultimate outcome, no matter what happens. It can transform rage into a peaceful contentment like no other.

So the next time you feel angry, ask yourself what is driving it. Ask yourself how you are wanting to deal with it: passively or actively. Then decide that you will bring justice, meaning, courage, and serenity to the situation, whatever it may be.

Question: What have been the most effective ways to deal with anger in your own life?


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?


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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? 

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Tonight, on For Christ and Culture, I interview Kevin Gilliland of Innovation 360, a treatment program designed to help individuals struggling with overcoming addictions and mental illnesses. I encourage you to tune into the program, which aires on 90.9 KCBI, at 6:30pm and 10:30pm CST. You can also listen on your own time any time after 7:30pm CST by clicking here.

On the program, we discuss the struggles that many parents have in successfully launching their teenagers and emerging adults from the home. How do we motivate our kids toward a healthy change of mind and equip them to struggle well?

Based on our discussion during the program, here are my top 3 answers:

1. Find out what currently motivates them.  What are your teenager’s interests, passions, or desires. Open up the conversation with them and work to figure out what makes them tick. You may be thinking, “Well, nothing seems to motivate my kids. All they want to do is sit around and play video games.” This does not mean they are not motivated. It means that their is something about sitting around playing video games that is motivating to them. Find out what that is and you are well on your way to helping them succeed in other areas.

2. Begin to let them struggle. Part of the reason why a teenager sits around playing video games all day is because there is nothing or no one challenging them to do anything else. As parents, because we love our children, we fear the possibility of them facing pain. What can happen is without knowing it, we begin to pick up the slack for their decisions and so they do not have to face the inherent struggles of life. This fosters their complacency and makes them more sensitive to minor challenges. Think about it. If you lie on the couch all day for days on end, your muscles atrophy and lose their functioning. If this behavior (or lack thereof) goes on long enough, you may find yourself lying on the couch not because you want to but because you can do nothing else. If we do not let our kids struggle, they will not have the strength to face greater and greater challenges as time passes.

3. Check your own motivations. If you are unable to step back and let your son or daughter experience the challenges inherent to a life well-lived, you have to confront the reasons why. What struggles would you have to experience in order to launch your son or daughter? Perhaps it is loneliness, fear of failure as a parent, embarrassment, the fear of more work in the future if they come back battered and bruised. Whatever the struggle, you must acknowledge how your fear of facing it may be influencing the decisions you are making with your kids.

Ultimately, we all desire hope. Hope that we will succeed in the struggle. Hope that the pain will be worth the reward. To struggle well, you must have hope that the challenges are worth the risk. Remember, God does not cause pain without allowing something new to be born. Remember this the next time you step back and allow your son or daughter to experience some pain in their lives. Do not feel guilty. Check your motivations and recognize that ultimately, you want what is best for them. If you want them to grow, you’ve got to let them struggle. Struggle well!!

Question: What are the challenges that you have had to overcome and what tips can you give someone who is seeking to struggle well through life?

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Tonight on For Christ and Culture, I interview Dr. Matthew Stanford, neuropsychologist, author and co-founder of the Mental Health Grace Alliance, an organization dedicated to helping those who feel stuck in the “treatment box” discover the true process of recovery. They provide personal assistance to navigate professional care and improve personal life management (mental health recovery). Their Mental Illness Recovery Program (THRIVE) and support groups reinforce professional care, reducing symptoms, building recovery and improving personal faith.

Dr. Stanford was one of the plenary speakers at Rick Warren’s Mental Health and the Church Conference at Saddleback Church in California. On today’s program we discuss some key factors necessary to help people understand the nature of mental illness and how best to approach treatment. Here are a few key points to remember:

  1. Recovery vs. Cure: Many people diagnosed with mental illness ask, “Can I be cured?” Unfortunately, this is a very black and white way of viewing mental illness that sets people up for certain discouragement and failure. If the cause of mental illness was as simple as identifying a bacteria that could be eradicated with an antibiotic, we might used the word cure. However, mental illness usually falls within the spectrum of disorders that require ongoing management of symptoms and signs. Similar disorders would include Diabetes, Parkinson’s syndrome, Heart Disease, and Lupus. When you consider the nature of mental illness, we use the diathesis/stress model. A diathesis is a predisposing factor that makes the acquiring of a disorder more likely. When we use this term, we are usually referring to a person’s genetics or heritability. The stress or stresses are the environmental factors that precipitate and perpetuate a bout of the disorder. These environmental factors include diet, exercise, traumatic life events, upbringing, belief systems, and relationships that generate the “perfect storm” so to speak. It is important to remember that these factors are always in flux and can either exacerbate or improve symptoms depending on the individual’s handling of them. Recovery comes when a person’s symptoms abate and/or the stressors are diminished.
  2. Resiliency vs. Avoidance: No one can completely escape the pain of life. That is why the second goal of treatment is called resiliency. Our goal is to help clients develop strength to overcome day to day challenges that before might have precipitated or exacerbated the symptoms of their mental illness. Just as diet and exercise enable an individual to overcome obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other such disorders, treatments for mental illness can do the same. Medications are one tool out of a host of options that provide this strengthening. They are not cures and they do have side effects. That is why a holistic approach to treatment that includes talk-therapy, group accountability and social support, diet, exercise, spiritual practices, and educational advancement is vital.
  3. Reminders vs. Results: Sometimes clients get focused on results and need reminders of how far they have come in treatment. “I feel worse today” is a common statement I hear. It is natural to have ebbs and flows of emotion. At any given moment, we might feel worse and it seems like we are taking steps backward. The encouraging part of what I do is to point out those subtle changes that I’ve noticed occurring in peoples’ relationships and daily life tasks, being a witness to the strength that clients demonstrate during very challenging times. We all need to be reminded that life is hard and full of surprises, but as our endurance builds, we rise to meet those challenges. We can have confidence in ourselves, looking back at some of the hurtles we’ve already jumped, knowing that the ones to come can be taken in stride using the tools we are continually acquiring.

Question: What has given you endurance to keep pushing forward, even when life gets tough?

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Ever seen that movie, What About Bob? One of the funniest scenes in the movie is also one of the most glaring proofs of how ignorant many people are about mental illness. Bob has been placed in a sanatorium by his analyst, and he sits casually telling a joke to the hospital staff. “Roses are red. Violets are blue. I’m a schizophrenic and so am I.” Many people still believe that schizophrenia is a disorder of split or multiple personalities. It’s actually not that at all. For the DSM V diagnostic criteria of Schizophrenia, click here.

Another misunderstood diagnosis in psychiatry is called Bipolar Disorder. You yourself may have been accused of being Bipolar if you’ve changed your mind on an issue recently, become suddenly sad or angry for no apparent reason, or chosen to do something foolish on a whim. I see many clients who ask to be evaluated for Bipolar Disorder, so I know that it is a real concern for many. If you believe that someone you know may suffer from it, I hope to clear up the most common misconceptions. Please note that this blog post does not substitute for a thorough psychiatric evaluation nor does it provide all of the various diagnostic criteria to make a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. The internet provides basic information about the disorder, but this is no substitute for a medical evaluation by a trained professional.  With that CYB (Cover Your Butt) disclaimer, here are the top five most common misconceptions I’ve heard:

  1.  People with Bipolar don’t sleep well. This is true but only part of the truth. Many people who do not have Bipolar disorder experience insomnia. When daylight savings time rolled around, I was struck by how many people on facebook reported several nights of insomnia as a result. We all have times of poor sleep for a number of reasons. Stress, worry, depression, too much caffeine, exercising too close to bed time, indigestion, a lousy mattress, or a snoring spouse all can interfere with our sleep. What constitutes a positive symptom of Bipolar disorder is a decreased NEED for sleep. If most of us have a few bad night of sleep, we are out of commission for the next day. We feel lethargic, unmotivated, and miserable. Not people with Bipolar Disorder. During a manic episode, a patients will not want to sleep, forget to sleep, or feel they are wasting time by sleeping. Even if patients want to sleep, their bodies say no. They have so much energy and drive; they can do without sleep for several days or weeks at worst.
  2. People with Bipolar are moody. Mood changes, as the old name implies (Manic-depression), constitute part of the criteria for the disorder.  However, these changes in mood are distinctly different from the individual’s normal personality. Some people are prone to moodiness by nature. They may be up one minute and down the next. These shifts of emotion are usually the result of circumstantial stressors. By definition, however, a manic episode must last at least seven days (4 for a Type II diagnosis) or require immediate hospitalization due to the severity of the shift. Depressive episodes must last at least 2 weeks. These changes are drastically different from the affected individual’s normal disposition. So if you’ve ever said to someone, “You’re so Bipolar,” you are probably describing a personality trait rather than a feature of a true mental illness.
  3. People with Bipolar have racing thoughts. Again, this is true only in part. Many people complain of racing thoughts, but what they really mean is “I feel anxious.” A person who feels anxious can have a subjective sense that their mind is racing. Someone with Bipolar disorder, however, actually has an increase in the flow of ideas rushing through their brain as a result of excitement, overstimulation, and excessive energy, not worry or fears. In fact, individuals in the midst of a manic episode tend to feel grandiose or invincible, as if they could conquer the world. They are more likely to be impulsive as a result. Because of the racing thoughts, they are easily distracted. Their speech is pressured and fast. You might have trouble keeping up with their train of thought. Don’t confuse the racing thoughts of an anxious person with the racing thoughts of a manic person.
  4. People with Bipolar Disorder are drug addicts. This is an unfortunate stigmatization of Bipolar patients. Many individuals who have a first break episode of mania or depression have never even tried alcohol, let alone hard drugs like cocaine. Is it possible for drug-use to mimic the symptoms of Bipolar? Absolutely. It is also common for someone with Bipolar Disorder to have a comorbid (co-occurring) addiction. At times it can be difficult to distinguish the two from each other. The key difference is that people with Bipolar Disorder experiment with drugs because of the grandiosity, invisibility, and pleasure-seeking desires they feel during a manic episode. The egg comes before the chicken in this case. In many instances, proper treatment of the disease reduces the addictive behaviors.
  5. People with Bipolar Disorder are dangerous. Though it is true that in the midst of a manic or depressive episode, people can be a danger to themselves or to others, they are not evil, scary, criminal, or crazy as pop-culture might like to portray them. With the proper education, treatment, and follow-up, most people with Bipolar Disorder live very normal lives. Indeed, some of the most powerful, creative, and influential people in society have had Bipolar Disorder. I would encourage anyone who would like a first-hand report of life with Bipolar Disorder to read Kay Jamison’s book, An Unquiet Mind.

If you or someone you love suffers from Bipolar Disorder, check out The Bipolar Survival Guide for more helpful information and tips on how to control it.

Question: What are some of the other common misconceptions about Bipolar Disorder that you have heard? What is our role as a society to help those with mental illness? How can we better equip people to understand and relate to people with a mental illness?

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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 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

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The Center for Disease control reports that insufficient sleep contributes to:

1. Depression
2. Unattractiveness
3. Skin aging
4. Weight gain
5. Less sex
6. More arguments
7. Marital dissatisfaction

As a physician and psychiatrist, poor sleep quality is one of the most common complaints I hear. Insomnia can include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, and early morning awakenings. There are a number of factors that contribute to a poor night’s sleep. Many people think that medication is the only option, but with a few simple tricks, the majority of people with insomnia can see drastic improvements. Here are some that my clients have found helpful:

1. Only use the bed for sleep and for sex. The body learns by association. If you use the bed for anything other than what it was designed for, the body begins to associate it with that activity. So if you study in bed, watch T.V. in bed, or handle marital problems in bed, your body will not associate the bed with sleep but with stimulation and frustration and will prepare accordingly. The only exception is sex. Researchers recommend sexual intercourse right before bed because in the postcoital state (after orgasm), the body releases a hormone called oxytocin which helps you relax.

2. Get up at the same time every morning…EVERY morning. Yes, that means even on the weekends. Studies have shown that it doesn’t matter as much what time you go to bed, but what time you get up that helps to regulate the sleep cycle. Even if you have a crummy night’s sleep, you are better off cutting your losses, lowering your expectations for the coming day, and catching up the following night. And as much as you love a lazy morning on the weekend, if you are sleeping in late, it probably means you are not allowing yourself enough time to sleep on the weekdays and your body has learned to exclude the weeknights as a restful time.

3. Only sleep when you are tired. A lot of people get into bed at 9, 10, or 11 because it’s the expected thing to do. The problem is, if you are not tired (because of poor sleep hygiene, perhaps), getting into bed begins a ritual of tossing and turning before you can sleep. You are better off getting 5 hours of continuous sleep rather than 8 hours of fitful sleep. So, pick the time that you need/want to get up each morning and subtract the total number of hours you actually spend asleep. That is the time you should go to bed. For example, if you need to be up by 7am and you are only getting about 5 hours of actual sleep time a night, then start out going to bed at 2 am. Eventually, as your body resets itself, you might start getting tired at 1:30am or 1 am or 12:30am. Gradually add a ½ hour onto the total time and watch your sleep return. This step also means that if it takes you more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, you should get back out of bed, proceed to step 4 and return only when you start dosing off again.

4. Create a ritual before bed. You would think this is the easiest part. For many, it is actually the hardest. We live in an over-stimulated culture. Winding down after a long day of work has become difficult. Gone are the days of sitting on the front porch in a rocker sipping a mint julep (never had one, myself, but an old southern gentleman at my church in South Carolina used to talk about it and it sounded so delicious!). Nowadays, most people watch T.V., work on the computer, or check apps on their smartphone right up until the time of sleep. These kinds of activities are so over-stimulating, that the brain takes longer to shut down. People who engage in these activities report a subjective sense of “racing” thoughts. Some ritual behaviors to incorporate include:

a. Reading a pleasant book (No studying – I usually recommend James Herriot books like All Creatures Great and Small.)
b. A warm bath/shower.
c. Application of a fragrant cream/lotion to help you relax.
d. A light snack.
e. Go to the bathroom!! (I thought my kids were the only ones I needed to remind on this one, but no, adults forget too!)
f. Journaling the events of the day.
g. Quiet music.

5. Avoid stimulants and alcohol before bed. We all like our Starbucks coffee! (Actually, I can’t stand their Pike, which is all they brew after noon, but I still buy it for some reason! That is a subject for another post!) Using a stimulant like caffeine actually interferes with the chemical fluxes that help to regulate our sleep. Adenosine is a chemical that builds in our system the longer we stay awake. It is a byproduct of energy molecules in the body. The longer we stay awake, the more adenosine we have flowing through our system and the sleepier we get. Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, which means it blocks adenosine’s ability to induce sleep. Alcohol, on the other hand, binds to GABA receptors in the brain, which do sedate us, but prevent us from experiencing the deeper, more restful stages of sleep. For this reason, it is important to avoid both.

If you have done all of these things consistently and still can’t seem to sleep or if you sleep through the night and still don’t feel rested during the day, talk to your physician about an underlying medical or psychiatric condition that may be contributing.

Question: What tips or tools have you found helpful in getting a good night’s rest?
Thanks to for some of the statics in this post.

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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.


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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