Pat-Pat-Pow

“True friends stab you from the front” — that is was Oscar Wilde said and presumably he had some true friends.

In my work, I might say, “I’ve got your back but watch your front.” By that I mean, I will “pat-pat-pow” and it might cause you to stumble a bit. 

I think that 80% of confrontation is finding the good and pressing it into my client-friend. That is the “pat” and I do it lots because there are lots to affirm in most everyone. And about 20% is the “pow” or the zinger. Watch for the zinger.

I think of pats a lot in my work. This is finding good and commenting on it. Clients say “thanks” and I say, “It’s not a compliment; its an observation.” Not candy-floss sweetness but what is visible to me but unseen by them.

I think of pows a lot in my work. What will provoke the deepest and most lasting change? How do I de-concretize his thinking or believing? How can I help her get unstuck her without harming her? Can I maintain empathy all the while stabbing them from the front like a true friend? And sometimes I think, “WWJD” (as in, “What Would Jesus Do?”).

Normally, I am not too anxious about tension and conflict, but I sure hate harming someone. In fact, I think my job is to create tension and conflict as in, “true friends stab you from the front.” But I will not stab you in the back.

Miracle on Fox Street

David wrote this about 12 years ago on his blog spot. I (Paddy) read it again today and was taken by it. I have updated the content to reflect 2019 but this is how he saw his life when he was 28. And the picture is updated as well.

Everybody has a testimony. A testimony is a story about a test, which a person has encountered, and how they have dealt with that problem. In a court, the testimony of a witness is expressing what they saw take place. The judge then makes a decision based on their testimony whether a defendant is innocent or guilty of a crime.

For a Christian, their testimony is the telling of what God has done in a person’s life. Therefore, you could say, “I caught God doing this thing in a person’s life.” For the next few minutes, I want to tell you my testimony and what I experienced God doing.

My testimony begins at my birth, on November 27, 1978, when I was born with a life-threatening sickness called hydrocephalus, which means water on the brain. This meant that while still in the womb, my brain was severely compressed. After a CAT scan, the doctors determined that I had approximately two percent living brain tissue. They said I would be a person who would be unable to do anything for himself — a vegetable. This news came as a great shock to my parents, who were looking forward to starting their new family in their new home on Fox Street, West Vancouver.

When my Dad held me as a babe, he saw that I had a head the size of a two-year-old, and also as soft as a sponge, due to the amount of water that was in my skull. He sensed God tell him to name me David, (which means ‘beloved of God’), and Joseph, (which means ‘He shall add’). At this, Dad knew, first of all, that God loved me, and he believed that God would add brain cells to my tiny brain.

Mom and Dad then listened to the doctors as they told them why I was this way and how hydrocephalus takes place. “Before a baby is born,” they explained, “water travels up and down its spinal column several times per day. This fluid makes sure that the vital pathways in the body are clear, so the body’s essential organs may continue to work. What happened in David’s case is that somehow, the fluid was unable to make it all the way down his spinal column. Through time, water backed up his spinal column and filled his head, crushing his brain.”

The doctors continued. “In order for any child to live an ordinary life, they must be born with a functional brain. Brain cells do not multiply; the amount of brain tissue a child is born with is the most brain tissue that he/she will ever have.”

I was given no longer than one or two days to live. My parents were told by the doctors that surgery could insert a tube (a shunt) that would drain fluid from my head and take the pressure off of my brain. However, at that time, the procedure was fairly new, plus they could not be certain that it would work effectively. Even if it did work, they were unable to assure my parents that I would live very long.

But, my parents believed that Jesus was able to heal me with the hope that I might be able to live a fulfilled life.

I believe that when Jesus walked this earth two thousand years ago, there was little that impressed him more than faith shown by regular human beings around him. My parents read a story in the Bible from Luke 18 that encouraged them to pray until something happened. “Will not God make the things that are right come to His chosen people who cry day and night to Him? Will He wait a long time to help them? I tell you, He will be quick to help them, but when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:7,8. New Life Version)

As my story spread, people started to pray and have faith that Jesus would work a miracle in my life. They prayed that God would multiply my brain cells so that I would be able to live without machines. They prayed that just as Jesus made the lame walk, made the blind see and gave life to those who were dead, that Jesus would give me brain cells so I could become a normal human being.

After six months of prayer, the doctors were amazed to find that I had 25 percent brain tissue. My parents and many others continued to pray for more. Six months later, doctors again were amazed to find 50 percent brain tissue. By this point, I was a year old and was slowly learning how to do simple things. My parents and those who prayed for me were in awe at what God was doing, full of praise and thanksgiving to Him. As people continued to pray on my behalf, the Lord heard their prayers and continued to answer them. Prior to my second birthday, their prayers were answered yet again when doctors took a final CAT scan and found 98 percent brain tissue.

By this time, I was able to do most things that a two-year-old child could do. The only problem, which has persisted since my early days of life, is a severe visual impairment. Doctors have determined on many occasions that I have only two and a half percent vision in my left eye and three percent vision in my right. However, this was enough vision to get me through my first nine years of grade school.

In grade nine while I was thirteen, I suffered a stroke, which paralyzed the entire right side of my body. Before I came out of the coma, doctors in San Diego, California performed surgery to place a second shunt down the left side of my body. For years, I had had scars on my stomach which my parents termed scars of courage. By the time the surgery was done in 1991, I now had twice as many scars to boast about!

Soon after the surgery, I awoke from my coma and went back to school. Though the Special Education Assistants (S.E.A.) at my school now needed to help me overcome memory issues and balance problems in addition to my blindness, they helped me, and I graduated from high school with my classmates in 1996. That fall, I started a psychology degree at Trinity Western University and graduated with my second academic certificate in 2003. I then completed a certificate in Special Education and worked as a S.E.A. at a private Christian school in North Vancouver. S.E.A.’s had helped me successfully complete each level of grade school. It was my privilege to help others in the same ways that I had been helped many years ago. Not bad for someone who was supposed to die as an infant?

Though my parents originally gave me the credit for the courage I had to go through the many hours of surgery I endured, I give all the credit to Jesus Christ as he was the one who healed me. I hope my story will serve as a reminder both to me and anyone else, that God can and does heal us today. I know that he can work the same miracle in the lives of people anywhere. God is willing and able to make your life a testimony of his ability to transform a life. My life was turned around by prayer offered in simple faith. Your new life can begin the same way. All we must do is ask.

“Nobody did anything wrong,” said Jesus. “But this happened so that the works of God might be shown in this person’s life.” John 9:3

Addendum: David completed a Master’s degree in Spiritual Formation at Carey Theological College (UBC) and is now working on a chaplaincy degree at Vancouver General Hospital through Vancouver School of Theology (UBC). As well as the chaplaincy with seniors and the hospitalized, David provides spiritual direction (a kind of faith-based private practice) and is an active member of Artisan Church in East Vancouver.

 

Do You Need Meds for Your Emotions?

Right from the beginning, I know you don’t want to take meds for your feelings. But who would? I also know you probably don’t believe in them. Haven’t you seen “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”? And you have read the articles on “designer emotions” (which is crap-full, to say it nicely).

You have to be aware of side-effects that may hit you. If you read about side-effects online for these meds (SSRI mostly), it will feel like there is nothing but side effects — and that is simply because they legally are required to list every possible side-effect. It is best to ask your GP for his / her ideas about particular side effects that might impact you.

You may be interested to know that new meds are coming out all the time to reduce the side effects of medications. A new medication called Viibryd (sounds like a raptor to me) is a successful SSRI anti-depressant for men. It helps reduce sexual impotency, a frequent side-effect to anti-depressants for men.

Having said all this, medications for your emotions might just work for you because they work for lots of people. And here are some assessments that might help you think it through whether meds are right for you.

I also suggest my client friends look into the NSAD Stress Questionnaire, the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and the GAD 7 or Generalized Anxiety Disorder Checklist. You can find these 3 assessments on my website under “Tools / Psychology and Emotions.”

So what do you do with this advice? You take it seriously because the quality of your life might depend upon it. You read through the assessments to see if they reflect who you are and what you think. You don’t just believe it and do it. You think. And you make some decisions.

Your doctor will also talk to you about how long you may wish to take the meds; when you should see some decent upturn; and how to discontinue them.

You get meds by asking your Medical Doctor or Psychiatrist. And make sure you take your doctor your completed assessments. She looks at them and helps you come to a conclusion about whether or not a medication is right for you. It is a consultative process. No one will coerce you. At least I hope not.

If you and the doctor decide to progress, he gives you a prescription and you fill them at your pharmacy. The dispensing fees as well as the medications themselves, tend to be cheaper at Costco, but do ask advice. And if you have a pharmacist that you work with now, this is invaluable.

You can also use the assessments to monitor your progress in therapy. If you complete them when you first visit Carole or Paddy, take them again in a month or so. You will probably see a change.

If you wish reliable information beyond what I have written you might wish to consult the Canadian Government website for mental health. There is a lot of info there.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Carole or me for guidance on these things. We are willing and able to help.

See also an additional article on my website on SSRI and depression and anxiety. Helpful, I think.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Books That Read Me

Books are some of my best mentors and dearest friends. They inform my decisions, guide me in how to think about complex issues and entertain me as well. My best books leave me with the experience that I have been read.

I like to “read” books when I am driving, walking the seawall, sitting on the beach, riding the bus… obviously, audio books. These are the more recent ones for me and the ones I recommend to you.

  1. Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Greenberger and Padesky. This manual is mostly for depression, anxiety and mood disorders. I recommend it also in “brain training” or figuring out how to think. I recommend couples get a copy or 2 and use the structure to figure out their communication. Make sure you write in the manual all the way through it.
  2. The Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman is a bit hyperbolic! But Tim Ferris has good things to say about how we live as embodied people. I am sure he has a few diagnoses to make him perform as he does, but his thinking is provocative and informative.
  3. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Jonathan Haidt) is a recent discovery for me and I am on to my second reading. I have also read two others of his tomes which have been equally informative. I recommend this a lot because I like the challenge of his thinking. I often think, “I wish ____ ____ would read this.” And I am glad that I am reading it.

These ones are classics to me and I recommend frequently.

  1. Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward wrote Born to Win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt Experiments a long time ago (1978). It is a spectacular understanding of the multiplicity of personalities and how we interact with ourselves and others.
  2. Ron Richardson is a Bowenian Family Systems therapist and a friend. His book Family Ties that Bind is terrific to understand your current life in the context of your growing up life. He has written lots and it is hard to do poorly with any of his books.
  3. Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue and A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix were both on my reading lists when I taught in grad schools. I have a hard time finding more masterly texts on FOO (family of origin). Wonderfully informative and challenging.

By the way, I am in the process of giving away my books. I have too many and I would like to recycle them to people who wish them. If you visit with me, take a browse through my library and take what looks interesting to you. The only condition is that I don’t want them back.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Emotional Triangles: when elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets crushed.

I think I would lose a bunch of my business if my client-friends figured out emotional triangles. I usually suggest they read Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue by Rabbi Edwin Friedman. A tremendous book that is one of my top 10 resources.

You can also read from a presentation I made in New Orleans some years back. I entitled it “Illusions of Power” and it focuses on the three predictable roles of emotional triangles: Persecutor, Rescuer, and Victim.

The basic principle of triangles is that when any two parts of a system become pained or stressed with one another, they will “triangle in” or focus upon a third person, or issue, as a way of reducing the pain in their own relationship with one another. This is what gossip is; blab about somebody else and their deficiencies to make your dyad seem somehow better.

In families or communities, a person may be said to be “triangled in” if he or she gets caught in the middle as the focus of some unresolved issue. This happens when couples fight and then triangle around finances, or sex, or their kids or some other hot issue.

Triangles typically happen when there is too much closeness, as in parent-child relationships — we call this “fusion.” A teenage client that I have seen for a couple of years gets a lot of criticism unloaded onto her. Now she is no innocent but the crap that gets dumped is beyond reason. Makes one think that the parents have a few issues that they project. Of course, she will act out to the measure of their hostility — and she does.

A Swahili proverb states, “When elephants fight, it’s that grass that gets crushed.” I also like Proverbs 26:17 that says, “Getting involved in an argument that is none of your business is like going down the street and grabbing a dog by the ears.”

De-triangulating in these conflicts is complicated and takes some practice. (I guess I will have my job for a bit longer.) Mostly it is about not getting involved in the triangle in the first place. But do you know how hard it is to not gossip? I remember when I was building up a gossipy story that prejudiced someone I didn’t care much about and the person I was talking to interrupted me with “she is one of my best friends.” Well, I shut up really quickly.

Another way of de-triangulating has to do with writing a fresh narrative. If I think of myself as life’s “Rescuer” (see above), I might want to re-think that. Or if I anticipate most people rejecting my interest in them, I might want to approach people differently. I am probably doing something that causes the rejection I so dislike.

When kids grow up, parents have to de-triangulate, especially when they marry or have kids of their own. Benevolent disinterest is a difficult grace indeed.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Bark, Bitch and Belittle: the bitterness of microaggressions in intimate relationships

A microaggression is a term used for commonplace verbal or behavioural indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any person or group. That’s part of what Wikipedia says, and I believe it because I see it.

But mostly microaggressions are unseen by the aggressor. It is just what happens and no one stops to look at it. There is no interruption or time out. So the bitterness just carries on because it is viewed as ordinary.

Oftentimes, to end the bitterness, one or both will attempt an apology. Apologies are often superficial, social constraints. (I have written about how to apologize in another posting.) Mostly, as I see it, the attempt at an apology maintains the structure of continuing microaggressions.

This is what I see. A husband has been barking (shouting), bitching (criticizing) and belittle-ing (demeaning) his partner of 7 years. And it is unremitting and it has become the background to everything that goes on between them. And then something happens: she has an affair or an emotional breakdown. And she is impugned to be promiscuous, or weak, or her having faulty genetic wiring.

Then the triangle happens. The community (family, church, neighbourhood, etc.) colludes with the barker, rallying against the weaker member. The community offers reprobation and saccharine consolation in about equal measure. Oftentimes, the actions of the community push her back into acquiescing to her bully spouse. If she does not comply, she will be further judged or ostracized or perhaps hospitalized.

I love my job. I get to see what others can’t. I get to see through the eyes of the bully what he or she sees and I get to show him another way of seeing and being. And I get to see through the eyes of the bullied and see hopefully and realistically what can change.

Someone once said, “I see men as trees walking,” as if she sees “through a glass darkly.” It is good to help people look again and, perhaps, see for the first time.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Never-Ending Problems: Like Dandelions in the Grass

I like solving problems – always have. I like to think triangularly, question appreciatively, figure out what has not worked before and suggest something that I think is brilliant, create a plan for real change, and measure the anticipated success. I was taught all this in grad school, some of my female friends tell me that this is such a “man thing,” but I have lived this as far back as I can remember – when I was 8 years old I tried marriage counselling with my folks! I think I did pretty good.

Now John Gottman comes along as a marital researcher and says that about two-thirds of relational problems are perpetual, like dandelions in the grass. Some troubles are unsolvable he says, and lots of arguments never accomplish a thing other than rehearsing for the next squabble. Never-ending — sounds discouraging.

Carole and I have a bunch of unsolvable problems, mostly the same ones we had when we were first married. No matter what I do to “persuade” (coerce) her to do what I want (or she me), the problems keep flowering. The solvable ones delude us into thinking that we are pretty good at conflict solving, and it’s true that we’ve had some dramatic successes. It is the unsolvable ones that really bug me.

Here are some perpetual problems that you are probably familiar with:

Personality or “your way in the world”: Who is the most introverted in the dyad and who is the most extroverted? This probably doesn’t change much. Neither does the tension between the one that is most emotionally intuitive with the one that is perseveringly logical. And some people are emotional stuffers (always have been) while their devoted other is pretty much a feeling gusher (always has been).

History: You can’t change a person’s history. The times in which you were born, and the ways in which you were raised, or dynamics in your family of origin – this is set in history. The goodness of your connection has a lot to do with how winsomely you accept each other’s life before you met.

Sensitivities: How do you react to failure, or criticism, or loneliness, or unpredictability, or being excluded from a group? This is well-wired by the time a child becomes an early teen.

Some things change really slowly. Things like your view of what success or failure means in life, or what a worldview might be. Our relationship to money, emotions, work, conflict are hard to change, but change they do.

Habits change slowly as well. If you are an early-to-bed kind of person and you are married to a late night email addict, this too can change. Savers always seem to marry spenders – at least in my practice. Maybe that is why they come to therapy. Habits change – slowly.

I have discovered that unsolvable problems require different strategies than solvable ones. First off, you need to be willing to distinguish solvable from unsolvable problems. Make two lists of your problems. What can be negotiated (solvable) and what cannot (unsolvable)? What is most important to you (grade this 1-3)? What can you let go?

Secondly, focus 80% of your resources towards the good things that you already do well. Show a little “benevolent disinterest” (differentiation) towards the problem areas. It is not a moral failure to take a break from working on faults while you celebrate the good stuff you do now. Over-focusing on problems (many of which you can’t solve anyway) is a serious waste of good humour and friendly faith.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Lunar Tide Spirituality (Guest Blog)

This blog is written by a client-friend who has endured enormous hardship and abuse and has found clarity and confidence in herself and in God. Amazing really. Here is part of her story.

——————————————–

There are many forms of spirituality that scatter the landscape of Christianity. Having at a young age already experienced severe trauma and witnessed the suffering of my mother due to a terminal illness, I was always perplexed by those with a full solar spirituality. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this type of Church:

“You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith.” 

I have travelled my own dark night, both spiritually and personally, several times. I learned that my relationship with darkness was safer than another person’s solar spirituality. I have encountered darkness and I have survived.

I would describe my faith as a “lunar tide.” God is the moon, ever present, best seen in the dark. I am the tide being pulled out into the deepest parts of self and then pulled back into the landscape of others. I submit to the ebbs and flows of life by the sheer grit and grace of this lunar pull.

There is a deconstruction of certainty when one is pulled into the deep, tossed around and then pulled onto a new shore. When one has waded into the depths, relationships with others are disoriented, never to find a shared sense of common experience. This only adds to the loss of bearing.

Lunar tide spirituality teaches me about God. He is always there in fullness but, depending on where I am, I may only catch a sliver of Him. If I am in the deep, I may not catch a sighting.

I no longer believe in the safety of my spirituality. I’ve buried too many friends, held suffering babies, journeyed with others through chronic illness, and suffered myself with debilitating depression.

I’ve given up trying to be more spiritual than God. Every pull into the deep has brought me to a new level of embracing my own humanity. That may, in the end, be the grace of this lunar pull.

 

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Contact me at life@theducklows. Hear from you soon. Thanks.]

Lalochezia — it’s a thing.

Swearing can be such a release! Profane, pre-adolescent, unintelligent fun.

Sometimes it breaks up the rules in one’s head — the oughts, shoulds, and musts. It makes the superego (the supervisory part of one’s psyche) back off for a minute. It ventilates the emotions of an angry or worried person. It warns someone to get away when emotional avalanches are rolling. It makes one feel human when they are trying so hard to be perfect. It redefines the boundaries with an enmeshed parent. And sometimes it is the only thing that works. And most people do it in their heads a lot. Just have someone cut you off in traffic.

We are not supposed to swear, I have been told. And I tell my grandkids that. And I hate blasphemy. But sometimes it is such a relief. It’s a thing.

If you want to read a sometimes humorous book on swearing about serious things, you could read “The Very Worst Missionary Ever: A Memoir or Whatever” by Jamie Wright.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]

 

Inclusive Books with an Upward Slant

Occasionally people ask us about what we are reading. Those who know us well also notice that our theology has morphed quite a bit. We have moved from Biblical certainty to relational inclusion, from diagnosing from a distance to wondering with an upward slant about most things.

Changing perspectives is hard and sometimes confusing. I think of perspectives as “slants.” Looking down on life and people carries with it an inherent superiority even when you don’t feel it. That’s the downward slant of certainty and correctness. Looking at people, understanding their narrative, hoping for their betterment and, sure enough, one develops an upward and hopeful slant about them and most things they are involved in.

Here are some books that have led the way for us. All have been helpful and some have been life-changing.

Carole is more the reader these days and many of these are books from her Wednesday morning study group. Ask her for her personal comments. She would be glad to offer her thoughts. (carole@theducklows.ca)

❏ A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovlitz (a current favourite)
❏ A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diana Butler Bass
❏ An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor (our son David loves this one)
❏ Finding God in the Waves: How I Lost My Faith and Found it Again Through Science by Mike Hargue
❏ Kingdom, Grace Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus by Robert Farrar Capon (Paddy’s personal all-time best)
❏ Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships by Tim Otto
❏ Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
❏ Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller (interfaith reflections on all things spiritual)
❏ Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
❏ Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott (everything by Lamott is good or great)
❏ Take This Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian by Sara Miles
❏ Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle (this as well as “Barking at the Choir” made me weep buckets)
❏ The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns (thoughtful and sharp)
❏ The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr
❏ The God We Never Knew by Marcus Borg (get over judging him as “liberal” and read him)
❏ We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation by Brian McLaren

By the way, I have been buying books (psychology and theology mostly, but novels too) for a lot of years and now I am giving them away at a rapid pace. Let me know what you are looking for and I will check to see if I have a copy. You never know.

[You are welcome to comment on this blog or anything else you see on my website. Please suggest improvements or ideas, or just dialogue. Thanks.]