Baptist Handshake — About Boundaries

I always thought I had a pretty good handshake. A simple forward thrust and vertical pump is what I was taught by my Dad who told me “a good man has a good handshake.”

I met a pastor with a “Baptist handshake” (I know that this is an unfair caricature) where my welcoming hand was twisted sideways and horizontally mowed like a handsaw, all the while the boney back of my surprised pod was pressed by his aggressive thumb.

I reminded myself to wave at him in the future and I avoid pleasantries with him whenever possible. I remember the handshake and the bruising.

Handshaking is about boundaries really – who is in charge of your life and in this case my hand. I don’t like feeling trapped in a coercive handshake but I love to be welcomed by an open hand. I don’t like the dominance factor: “my handshake is more manly than yours.” Handshakes are not for competition but for camaraderie.

Handshakes are also for mutuality, a greeting of equals. It serves as a personal acknowledgement and perhaps as an expression of early affection. Vulnerability is implied in a way in which a “high 5” does not. It allows for eye contact, some greeting or departing conversation, a time to signal a connection that could turn into a friendship.

Boundaries are hard to set and even harder to explain. Try telling your spouse or parent or boss that their intensity is pressuring to you and that sometimes even the bonhomie bruises.

Endogenous Morphine – Internet and Life

Here is the story. He is a bright post-adolescent (but not yet adult) UBC student, top of his class in computer engineering, almost Aspergers in his focus on tasks and his inability to connect person-to-person. His Mac machines drive his life – they connect him with his gaming world, efficient sexual release (so that no time is wasted on relationships), and mostly, an alternate identity, far more thrilling than the blandness he experiences his life to be.

He really likes his Internet compulsion and, unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder, his online world relieves his anxiety rather than exacerbates it. He feels that life is not worth living without the rush of “Internet morphine.”

Hold it! Morphine? Sounds extreme and degrading. The word “endorphin” (the chemical rush that produces excitement and well-being) is an amalgam of “endogenous morphine.” Endogenous means internal, so endorphins produce inner happiness and contentment. People become habituated to experiences that produce the endorphin rush of “endogenous morphine.” It makes them happy.

A couple of thoughts about “addiction” and these endorphin stimulants.

First, any behaviour that has a positive payoff can be habituating. We hear of runner’s highs, retail therapy, day-trading rushes, gambling and sex addictions, kids spending days in front of video games…. When behaviour moves beyond desire to need, and beyond need to harm, it can be considered addictive.

Addiction is more than to chemicals (e.g. alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs) but to whatever produces the inner chemical endorphin rush in the brain. Often, when people cannot find peace within themselves, they attach to behaviours that stimulate an endorphin fix. Then they need increasing repetitions to produce an ever-lessening fix, and the habituation cycle has begun.

Addiction looks like this:

• an unwillingness or seeming inability to stop a behavior in spite of harm to self or others
• a self-defeating thought system to support the compulsive behaviour
• a persistent pursuit of the behavior when it means neglecting valuable aspects of one’s life, or betraying one’s value system
• when “more and more” is needed to obtain an ever diminishing degree of satisfaction

So how is it that the Internet has become our cultural morphine and what’s the problem with that? A couple of ideas:

• the presence of immediate and anonymous gratification system that isolates the addict from family, faith and friendships
• a “mono-focus” that undermines a broader social contribution or participation
• a lack of resiliency in facing demands that are difficult or not pleasurable
• a deepening psychological attachment to an activity that dehumanizes self and others
• a ghost-like anonymity that undermines identity

Cyber-relationships, like cyber-sex, is an intense emotional attachment to para-humanity, not real people.

(I will make some more comments next time – this is getting way too long!)

“Shit! I Think I’m Depressed Again!”

Depression is a word to describe feeling bad or frustrated or sad or fed up or mad and all kinds of other emotions and circumstances. Marriages get depressed and so do churches and businesses. Cities get depressed as when the Canucks lost the final game of the Stanley Cup (June 15, 2011) and hooligans rampage. It is such an encompassing term and confusing experience that any sensible person will misunderstand when someone says “Shit! I think I am depressed” (as a client friend said to me the other day).

So… here is some of what I see when a person says that they or their family are “sick of being sad.” (It’s like when…)

  • Persistent sameness and consistent sadness (like when a couple watch TV most nights to avoid conversation or conflict)
  • Heavy tiredness and sapping of energy (like when a young Mom can’t get out of bed to care for her newborn)
  • Zapped self-confidence (like when a real estate salesman avoids meeting people for fear of rejection)
  • Difficulty concentrating (like when the at-home computer consultant who does everything and never completes a task)
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or affirming (like when couples are too bored to make love)
  • Finding it hard to function at work (like when the restaurant server who keeps getting fired for flipping off guests)
  • Worrying about suicide and death (like when a church teen wonders excessively about heaven and hell)
  • Self-harm (like when a preteen girl is compulsed with avoiding food)
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness (like when the OCD who figures only 100% is ever good enough)
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (like when a grade 4 boy who is scared of school)
  • Avoiding people (like when a friend is afraid of getting hurt or harmed so keeps away from even closest friends)

So what do you do? Find someone (a pastor, a counsellor, a friend) who will listen and care and maybe pray. Or contact us to see if we can provide some direction or a referral.

The Best Kind of Love

Of course it is true that marriage has its seasons. Carole and I have been married for 40 years this September. She still loves me and I cannot imagine my life without her. For both of us, life has been marked with difficulty as well as grace and that means marriage has been hard at times.

Earlier today, I found a few paragraphs that summed up the idea of a marriage that works. Entitled “The Best Kind of Love” it is a portrait of a maturing covenant relationship that has both purpose and friendship. Worth reading I think.

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