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.

A Happy Synchronicity

Two great thrusts and one great convergence!

I have been listening to Bruno Mars and his “Doo-Wops and Hooligans.” All the while, I am writing a manual for couples in conflict. That’s not the synergy though. I also came across Susan Heitler’s “The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong and Loving Marriage” and realized that she has already created what I was striving to do. And she does a way better job than I could do. And she says more than I had thought to say. And I have freed up a few days to work on something else!

So here is my recommendation: buy Heitler’s book – on Amazon it is $15.85 – and the parallel workbook if you are especially keen or if your marriage would be helped by it. [See: The Power of Two].

And now that you are reading it, read it together, chapter by chapter. Turn off the TV, read to each other, take time to talk. Talk through what you have learned and how you can apply it to your marriage.

But don’t forget to put on Bruno Mars. You can find it on iTunes for $12.99. This is the happy synchronicity. It is happy music for marriages.

10 Focus Questions for Your Summer

Most of us aren’t really very focused. We do what comes next without much reflection. So, for those interested, here are a few questions that you might want to ponder while you prepare for your summer.

1. What do you figure to be your single greatest strength or talent?
2. In what new ways do you want to learn to rest?
3. What are three decisions that typically cause you the most stress?
4. If you were to “sabbath” (meaning “quit it!”) for 60 minutes every day, what would you do?
5. If you could only do three things in your lifetime, what would be the most important?
6. What do you think you should resign from, step down from or let go?
7. In what ways are learning to wonder and wander rather than work and worry?
8. What things on your to-do list can someone else do at least 70% as well?
9. What are the three things you could do in the next three months that would make a 50% difference in your life?
10. Imagine September and someone asks you, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

I Like this Book for…

Learning to lead when you feel like a follower: “Watership Down” by Richard Adams (2000, 480 pages).

Making marriage better: “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversation for a Lifetime of Love” by Sue Johnson (2008, 277 pages).

What it is to be male: “The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think” by Louann Brizendine (2010, 177 pages).

Figuring out feelings: “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David Burns (1999, 136 pages).

A marriage break up: “Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends” by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti (2006, 290 pages).

Ruminating: “Rituals of Surgery: Taking the World In for Repairs” by Richard Selzer (1974, 193 pages).

What Jesus meant: “The Parables of Grace” by Robert Farrar Capon (1988, 184 pages).

Learning to parent your kids: “Kids are Worth It: Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline” by Barbara Coloroso (1995, 243 pages).

People who are afraid to confront: “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time” by Susan Scott (2004, 286 pages).

Of course, there are lots more. Let me know what you like.

Falling Upward

For those who know me, know that I think of perfectionism as an insidious disease infecting families, the work place and the church place, as well as political life, and anywhere people congregate. I think that “failing in the right direction” is the only sure way for people to grow and to become who they long to be.

Yes, you read that right. I believe in failing, planfully, playfully and purposefully. (Can you see the intended error in the last sentence?) The question about failure is more “what direction will you fail?” It is not about not failing. It is about choosing how you will fail in anticipation of a greater success, a better thing.

Trying to be perfect is doomed before the work has been initiated. And it is the least likely motivation to reach excellence (“You do know that excellence and perfection are quite different things, don’t you?”). And perfectionism is ethically questionable as well — like “cheating in the pursuit of excellence.”

Have I confused you sufficiently? Read from Richard Rohr who says much more and much more clearly than I can.

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it….

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.

It becomes sort of obvious once you say it out loud. In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept, goodness is a beautiful human concept that includes us all.

To read more of Richard Rohr, see the “Center for Action and Contemplation.”

Building a Home Where Kids Can Live

No childhood is perfect but some are sure better than others. In my conversations with people who are hurt and harmed by parents and other adults (often by ignorance and neglect, but unhelpful just the same), I have figured out a few things that I would want every young parent to know.

1. In the movie “Avitar,” when the Na’vi meet, they greet each other with, “I see you.” This is validation that the person “is.” A child needs to be seen, validated, heard, respected. Then (s)he can see others too.

2. LOL means “laugh out loud” (as I am sure you know, though I just found this out a few months back). Homes need to be LOL places for both parents and kids. It helps make the family a “safe place.”

3. I think that “rules that relate” is an important idea. Not rules that are arbitrary or made up as life goes on, but connected to family held values and beliefs. Rules that make sense; this make sense to me.

4. I like families where adults and kids are free to dream. When my son was young he would dream about playing hockey with the Canucks. Tucking him into bed with this dream ensured sound sleeps and dreams of success.

5. Kids need respect like anyone else. So doing everything for a child reduces self-respect. Allowing a child to succeed at an age-appropriate task helps the child respect herself and the home to function like a team.

6. Atmosphere is important. An atmosphere where a child can fail and not feel the fool – I like that. This “creeping perfectionism thing” that so many parents hold over their kids hurts way more than it helps.

7. Families that celebrate a child’s success is great place for a child to grow up in. And a great place for a parent to re-parent himself / herself.

8. Families need other healthy adults (warm, understanding and non-possessive people) other than parents (like grandparents, church friends, neighbours), whom the child watches, enjoys and trusts.

How Talk to Your Counsellor about Sexual Brokenness (Guest Blog)

One of my client-friends read my last blog about “How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex” and she commented, “There is lots of information about this topic in books and on the web. The harder one is “how to talk to your counsellor about sexual brokenness.”

My comment? “You’re on!” Here is what she wrote.

Like much else, sexual healing can begin with the decision to become well, based on the belief we are intended to be so.  Once the decision is made we have a foundation. Healing can be built. Progress can be measured.

The next step can be a hard one to take — speaking.

Why is this hard? Our culture’s obsession with all things sexual creates the illusion that we are all experts. We are not. Understanding our own sexuality remains challenging. For some, the effort to speak of the sexual pain woven into personal history is daunting, even near impossible.

We may  feel that as adults we should know how to speak the language of sexual confidence and identity. But when that confidence and identity is exactly what has been so deeply hurt, we find ourselves without words.

Conversations that build a language rich in affirmation of our decision to become well are initially more important than conversations disclosing the details of “what happened.”  Speaking too soon about “what happened” can potentially repeat, or even increase, the hurt we carry. Having words to describe our goal of wellness for all parts of our life and being gives us hope, and hope protects us.

Once this language of sexual wellness is learned, there can be greater confidence of being seen in the light of the sexual identity we are aiming for. If I can say what I want, perhaps I can be what I want. This new language can ease the grip that sexual pain from the past has on self image. It seems a slow process, but our hunger for affirmation quickly renders words of hope familiar and we find ourselves becoming comfortable in the foreign land of healthy sexual identity long before we arrive.