Tele-Psych with Paddy and Carole (Video-Counselling with Doxy.me)

[Updated August 2020]

For the Fall of 2020, Paddy and Carole will be counselling, cajoling and comforting over Doxy.me, a hyper-secure teleconferencing system. (Did you see the pun? “Doc-see-me.”) As of September 1, Paddy will visit with some of his clients in-person and continue with others online.

Using Doxy, you don’t need to download anything — you just get an email from me on the time you have booked. Click that and you are in.

To go directly to Carole’s Doxy waiting room, click here.

To go directly to Paddy’s Doxy waiting, click here.

We are moving from Skype and FaceTime to something that is simpler and more secure. You can look up Doxy.me here. It will take you a couple of minutes to orient, but it is pretty basic and easy to use.

Having said this, if you wish to visit Paddy at our office, this is again being offered on his Monday and Thursday appointments and not on his Tuesday and Wednesday off-time mornings (“What the heck are those?”). In this case, please read my blog “Current Covid-19 Concerns.” This will explain our approach to minimizing contact and thwarting this disease should you visit our home office.

Prior to starting video-counselling, I want to go over a few things with you. Here is my list.

  • There are obvious benefits to video-counselling. If you are out of the Vancouver area or if you have some sickness. Some busy business folk who are trapped in meetings video-call me from their offices and cars!
  • There are some risks too. We are using technology (and wires and stuff, that I don’t know much about) to make this work. This is why we are switching to Doxy.me. It is just more secure.
  • Confidentiality still applies to all telepsychology services.
  • We will not record our sessions and I can’t see why we would wish a recording – so we won’t record. We hope that you won’t either.
  • Note that you need to use a webcam or smartphone during the session. Otherwise, it is much more difficult with simply voice.
  • It is important to be in a quiet, private space that is free of distractions (including a cell phone or other devices) during the session. Kids can be a problem too.
  • It is important to use a secure internet connection rather than public/free Wi-Fi (eg Starbucks).
  • It is important to be on time. If you need to cancel or change your tele-appointment, you must notify us in advance by phone or email. Can you give us a day or so? Sure helps us.
  • We need a back-up plan (e.g., a phone number where you can be reached) to restart the session or to reschedule it, in the event of technical problems. Make sure we have your phone number.
  • You should confirm with your insurance company that the video sessions will be reimbursed; if they are not reimbursed, you are responsible for the payment.
  • As your psychologist, I may determine that due to certain circumstances, telepsychology is no longer appropriate and that we should resume our sessions in-person.
  • Get your coffee or pour your tea and let’s get going. Connect with Doxy.me.

Best to you all and stay healthy.

Paddy and Carole

Current COVID-19 Concerns (Updated Aug. 2020)

[Updated August 30, 2020]

To our clients and friends,

With concerns around COVID-19, Carole and I will continue to meet online and Paddy will offer some sessions in-person as well. We have been using Doxy.me but we will also use Zoom Professional or another format. Doxy is much more secure than Skype or FaceTime and does not require a download on your side. We take care of all the admin.

Here are our current thoughts about visiting with you in our home office:

If you are unwell, please stay at home! We will not charge you for appointments cancelled due to sickness – but still, give us a day or two if you can. We can connect on Doxy.me if you wish. Just let us know.

Please do not bring your infant and toddler children to appointments. I (Paddy) will miss your little people, but I shall overcome!

We will sanitize throughout the day and between appointments. The bathroom has disposable paper towels and single-use cloth towels. Between appointments (usually 15 minutes), we will sanitize surfaces where germs may collect. We have hand sanitizer available for your use as well. Please bring your own masks if you wish them.

Sorry but no hugs or handshakes for a while. We can bump elbows, bow reverently or kick boots! And you can bring your own slippers if you would like.

More information about in-person therapy can be found on my website in the blog entitled “Opening the Office Door.”

That’s it! If you have any questions, please email us at life@theducklows.ca and we will respond ASAP.

  • Carole’s Doxy waiting room is called Carole’s place (“carolesplace”) and you can find it here.
  • Paddy’s Doxy waiting room is called Paddy’s place (“paddysplace”) and you can find it here.
  • For more information on telepsychology with Paddy and Carole, click here.

Be well,

Paddy and Carole Ducklow

 

Opening the Office Door: The Ducks Online and In-Person

[Updated August 30, 2020]

Paddy has now opened the office doors to in-person counselling. (Carole will continue visiting with people online.) Good news for those tired of staring at computer monitors (like me)! And for those who like the convenience and lack of commute, we are still offering counselling via Doxy and Zoom. Two more open doors!

If you decide at any time that you would feel safer or prefer to meet online, then we shall do that. Paddy will continue offering online counselling for those who prefer and his off-time appointments (Tuesday and Wednesday mornings) are online only.

Here is some info already published on our website that will orient you to our care for you during the pandemic. There are a few other blogs published on the topic as well.

If you wish to meet in-person, there are a few cautions to understand and ideas to respond to.

• You will only keep your in-person appointment if you are symptom-free. If you are feeling unwell, please cancel as quickly as you are able. No fee will be assessed for cancelled fees related to sickness. Still, give us 48 hours if you can.

• If you have any symptoms of the coronavirus (self-check), I trust that we can meet online — rebooking can be difficult for you and for me.

• Please wait in your car or outside the office door (enjoy the bench) until you are called/texted/emailed to come inside for our appointment. You may park in the carport or on the parking pad at the top of the driveway.

• We will provide hand sanitizer when you enter the office. Please leave your coats and other belongings in the waiting room.

• Bring your own coffee mug if you wish our Nespresso. Mmm.

• Please bring your own mask if you wish, or if you feel therapy in any way compromises social distancing.

• Please keep a distance of 6 feet or so — no need to bring a noodle; we can approximate. And, sorry to say, no hugs, handshakes or high-5s. Waves and bows work too.

• Please do not bring children or infants to therapy at this time.

• Please take whatever steps you can between appointments to minimize your exposure to covid.

• If you have work that exposes you to other people who may be infected, please reschedule your appointment or replace it with online therapy. Again, give us as much time as you can.

• If a resident of your home tests positive for the infection, let me know and we will continue with online appointments.

All this goes both ways. If Carole or I or anyone in our home or family bubble has covid symptoms, we will contact you as quickly as we can. Then we will discuss other possibilities including using online and screens. If there should be a resurgence of the virus, we will notify you and return to online therapy.

As you can see, we are taking your health seriously. And we are doing it for us too. We want to be able to visit with our grandchildren on our non-workdays and we sure don’t want them infected.

We look forward to accomplishing good work with each one of you.

Paddy and Carole

Couple Therapy with Individual Partners

Couple therapy is usually both persons in the same sessions working towards a common goal.

At times, it can be helpful for the therapist to visit with the individual partners and couples often request this. They have their own reasons, as do the therapists. And some of the reasons to meet individually have merit. For example, it might be helpful for one partner to talk through their “family of origin” without the other being there. Though, I have found it is helpful to have the less active partner to listen to the narrative again, even though they think they know it all.

But there are problems with the therapist visiting with individual partners and it is important to understand this prior to going one-on-one.

Triangles are a problem. “He said, she said” is what it usually sounds like. It can come back this way: “Did you really suggest that my husband leave me? Or were you working to have him finally make a decision about being with me?” “Hmm,” I muse. “Now how do I handle this?”

Spousal secrets are a big deal. “Please don’t tell Jack about what I am about to say…” I usually say something like, “I have a terrible memory of what I am supposed to forget. Are you sure you want to tell me?” They usually do tell me anyway and then we figure out how to disclose or the marriage-saving reasons to keep it a secret.

There are occasions when the partner uses the individual appointment to appraise the therapist of the spouse’s presumed faults. EG, “Did you know that Bob was diagnosed as ADD by our previous therapist? I think that is why he doesn’t help in the kitchen.”

Therapy is powerful. Deep listening results in feeling deeply understood and sometimes this results in a kind of fusion making for confusion. When the focus is on the individual, the person can experience herself differently than as a part of a couple. And say different things.

A few other thoughts when this situation arises: sometimes (seldom?), I will recommend the person wishing individual contact to visit with another counsellor while I continue with the couple work. This is helpful sometimes but it does result in another kind of triangle and a great deal of costly overlap. 

I also recommend that my clients understand the power of triangles. I have some articles on my website that I think are helpful and there is lots more on the web. When both parties figure out how doing individual work with their couple’s therapist can be a problem, they can often move forward with information and understanding. And that helps.

I think I have opened up a conversation without many conclusions in this blog. But I do want you, my client-friends, to be aware of some of this. Let’s talk about it during our next sessions.

My best to you.  

Booking “A-Head,” Cancellation-Watching, Headaches and Other Painful Stuff

If you have tried to make appointments with me (Paddy), you will see a busy online calendar. Most of the folk I visit with book several weeks or a couple of months in advance. And, they book 3-5 sequential appointments to make sure that they get the times they wish.

I recommend that couples, families and individuals work to obtain appointments every 2nd week for several months. Booking ahead is the only way this works. This takes planning. It is head-work. Since I only work Mondays and Thursdays (and some other mornings as it suits me), my limited schedule makes it difficult for some to get the time they wish. If you use your head, it should work out okay.

I know that not getting hoped-for appointments is frustrating. I have had a few headaches over this as well. I respect your time and the effort it takes to create these visits. And you do create the visits – I don’t.

Some kindly folk ask, “Why don’t you add a day or so?” I go on and on about my grandchildren and how they need me (etc.), or how old I am and how I like my folding e-bikes. So don’t ask. You will get a sermon.

Did you notice that I don’t have a lovely admin person answering your calls? But the good news is that my online booking pro never sleeps or takes lunch breaks and works on stat holidays. You can book into my schedule at any time of the day or evening that you want. My booking system will never get mad at you. You can also cancel appointments without guilt (but give me 48 hours or time to replace the hour) and reschedule around your exercise class.

Here is some stuff you need to know to make working with me a bit easier, therefore, fewer headaches for both of us.

#1 Book online for the first appointment you can get, and then book a bunch later (say 3 or 4) when time works on my calendar and your schedule. By the way, it is a lot easier to cancel or reschedule than it is to book – you do this through the emails you receive from my booking machine.

#2 Book “a-head.” If you need crisis counselling (urgent care within a couple of days) you will need to contact a crisis care line or Family Services. I used to supervise at a crisis line in Coquitlam and was a therapist with Family Services in West and North Van, and they are great. But for me, plan ahead. (Now read #3.)

#3 Now that I have said all this about crises and urgencies, you can ask if I can make an exception for you (you ask by email rather than phoning). For these urgent times, I prioritize families I am already seeing, not newbies. But whatever your circumstance, email me and I will do my best to refer or guide your next steps.

#4 Watch for cancellations once a day and especially on weekends when most people reschedule. Today is a Monday and I have had 3 cancellations for the coming week and 2 have been filled. So I had an extra hour that was visible on my calendar. Go ahead and grab it.

#5 If you cancel without giving me 48 hours notice, or if I cannot fill the time, 2 things will happen. You will get charged for the missed time (sorry), and somebody else misses their chance for the spot. This is where headaches happen. I ponder and ruminate and then send an invoice. Shoot! I hate to do this. But I do. Then you get pissed off and start dissing me. I hate that too.

Finally, my “book a-head” photo tells you that I am on holiday — you can tell by what I am reading including “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire”.

Back to vacating. See you soon.

[This was first written in 2017 and has been updated.]

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Fighting Fairly / Fighting Foolishly

Conflict is normal, but fighting, arguing, swearing, shutting down (and the like) are optional. Conflict makes for change. Barking, bitching and belittling result in no-change and no improvement. Using accepted rules for fighting can reduce the disdain to simple conflict and this might make life more palatable and problems more solvable.

Here are some ideas to consider when you fight. These principles have been around the psychology world (and all over the web) for a long time and they have many sources. So the ideas are not mine alone, though I have fine-tuned some of the ideas. Here we go.

First off, before you do anything, ask yourself why you feel upset.

This is important. It energizes a non-reactive part of the brain. Even for a moment, thinking will help you move to the discussion rather than destruction. Are you angry because your partner left the mustard on the counter? Or are you upset because you feel like you’re doing an uneven share of the housework, and this is just one more piece of evidence that they hate you? Take time to think about your feelings before starting an argument.

Discuss one issue at a time.

This is hard if you are focused to defeat the person you say you like. “You shouldn’t be spending so much money without talking to me” can quickly turn into “You don’t care about our family”. Now you need to resolve two problems instead of one. Plus, when an argument starts to get off-topic, it can easily become about everything a person has ever done wrong, from your point of view. We’ve all done a lot wrong, so this can be especially cumbersome.

Give up on degrading language — it makes you look weak and ill-informed.

Discuss the issue, not the person. No put-downs, swearing, or name-calling. Degrading language is an attempt to dominate your partner through coercion and to make them an “other.” It is bigotry and weak. Degradation will just lead to more character attacks while the original issue is ignored until the next quarrel.

Don’t bring up the past unless it is the “good past.”

Typically we bring up the worst of our partners and shared history when we fight. But what would happen if someone brought out the best in the other or the relationship? What if someone said, “Do you remember the first time we went to Hawaii and we sat on the beach until 2 in the morning?” Or if one said, “I remember how we solved a problem like this before. Talking really worked for us.”

Express your feelings with words and take responsibility for them.

“I feel angry.” “I feel hurt when you ignore my phone calls.” “I feel scared when you yell.” These are good ways to express how you feel. Starting with “I” is a good technique to help you take responsibility for your feelings (no, you can’t say whatever you want as long as it starts with “I”). (Somewhere on my website you fill find a “conversation crutch” where you say “I feel _______ because _______” in under 20 words. Shoot this is a good technique.)

Take turns talking.

This can be tough but be careful not to interrupt, give advice or even express support — just listen. If this rule is difficult to follow, try setting a timer allowing 2 or 3 minutes for each person to speak without interruption. And don’t spend your partner’s minutes thinking about what you want to say next. Listen!

No stonewalling.

Sometimes some people get passive-aggressive towards their partner by hiding behind fury and refusing to speak. This is called stonewalling. You might feel better temporarily, but the original issue will remain unresolved and your partner will feel more aggrieved — and that can produce another problem.

Yelling doesn’t work, so don’t do it.

Sometimes arguments are “won” by being the loudest, but the problem only gets worse and each will feel belittled. Men and women do this in about equal proportions. It is not just a female or a male trait. Bullying is not gender-specific. And don’t yell at your kids or your dog — it doesn’t work.

Take a time-out if things get too heated.

If you become flooded by your emotions, tell your partner you need to take a time-out for 15 or 20 minutes. Agree to resume the discussion later. And go off and write your feelings on a 3×5 card and stick it in your jeans. Don’t waste the rest time figuring out new missile strikes against your friend.

Attempt to come to an understanding.

You won’t find a “1-2-3 now you are free” kind of solution. They don’t really exist. People and their problems are just too messy for that. But you can come to an appreciation or respect for the other person’s point of view. If you can’t come to a compromise, merely understanding each other can help soothe negative feelings.

Be careful about quick draw forgiveness.

Some couples avoid conflict with quick apologies and quick forgiveness. What they lose from this is the chance to understand. Reconciliation (balancing the emotional books) requires conciliation (saying what is important to say).

And get some counselling!

If you are in a cycle of conflict (“It seems to never end.”) then find someone who understands and has some skills. We are pretty good! Also, check out my Referral List in the Tools section for others that are equally decent. And if you live in Smithers or Lacombe or Blaine or somewhere where there are few counsellors, these therapists do online therapy through Doxy or Zoom, etc.

[You are invited to make any comment you wish on this post or anything else you see on our website by emailing me at life@theducklows.ca.]

10/10 — A Sanity Prescription

Ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the evening. This is a sanity prescription. 10 minutes talking to yourself, journaling your thoughts, praying or pondering before you get on with the busyness of your day.

Works well in your marriage too. 10 minutes of face-to-face conversation at (say) 7 am and 10 pm. In the morning, sharing your emotional geography as you anticipate your day. And in the evening, catching up your partner on your thoughts and experiences for the hours in between. Researchers tell us that “great couples” have at least 20 minutes of conversational intimacy every day. And in a month, you have enjoyed 4200 minutes (7 hours) of intimacy. More than many couples have in 5 years.

By the way, doing 20/20 is usually way too much. Keep it brief and important.

Here is what you can do in your 10/10. Try an ancient Ignatian discernment practice: consolations and desolations.  If you want to dump the Catholic part, call it roses and thorns. Either way, look at the events that are opportunities (consolations) for growth and wisdom and those interruptions (desolations) that make your worry and ruminate.

This is sanity. It is about thinking rather than ruminating; planning rather than obsessing; creating intimacy rather than avoiding and hiding.

Counselling / Consulting Services: Times and Costs

We do not have a “flat” rate for our counselling / consulting services. Mine (Paddy) is more complicated, so I will outline my times and costs first.

  1. My basic rate is $180 per 60-minute hour. This is the cost on my regular counselling days, Mondays and Thursdays. The recommended College of Psychologist’s rate is $225 per hour and this is usually a 50-minute hour. (My rate has not increased in 8 years.)
  2. My off-time rate is $225 per 60-minute hour or the recommended rate of the College. I allow a few sessions on my non-regular-counselling-days where appropriate or necessary. This is at my discretion.
  3. I offer a 9-11 am (2 hour) appointment on some Friday mornings due to urgency or crisis. This time is often taken by out-of-towners who are visiting the Vancouver area (during non-Covid-19 weeks). The rate for this block is $450 (or 2 x $225).
  4. My group consultation rate is higher than the above. It works out to $750-1000 per block (a 2-4-hour block of time). This is offered to organizations but sometimes extended families as well. Again, non-Covid-19 weeks though I have done this on Zoom as well.

When you book an appointment, the times and costs are specified on vCita.

Carole’s rate is $165 per 60-minute hour, on her workdays (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) or other times as agreed. She works this out with you as she does not use vCita. Contact Carole at carole@theducklows.ca.

We offer subsidized fees for those who do not have insurance coverage and have financial need. We call it Thirds because we reduce our fee a third, ask the client to pay for a third and invite an organization (e.g. church or social service agency, as examples) to pay a third. You can read about this here. Note: we do not subsidize fees where an insurance company is involved. And, we do not offer Thirds for group consultation or off-time rates.

During Covid-19 we are promoting our Thirds program for those with less income and reduced employment. We are also sensitive to the anxiety of families during this pandemic time and we are responsive to requests for an adjustment of times and costs.

Regarding fees generally, please see “Counselling Can Be Expensive.”

We do not have a “flat” rate for our work because we are attempting to charge proportionately to your needs and financial ability.

If you have any questions at all, please let me know — paddy@theducklows.ca. Thanks.

Pandemic

Pandemic

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.
 
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
 
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
 
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Please Change (David Ducklow)

As I was waiting for the 240 bus at Georgia and Granville in downtown Vancouver this evening, a street person walked in front of each transit traveller in our line. As he walked along the edge of the curb, like a gymnast on a balance beam, he looked at us in the eye and asked: “Please change.” Because we were at a central travel hub in Vancouver, and his bare hands were cupped open, we all understood his question as “Please give me some change” though he did not utter the three words in the middle.

But after a few minutes, I thought of his plea as a different request. “You, don’t act in your normal way, please change.” “You, well-dressed business-woman, please change. Don’t just be concerned about your busy-ness, be concerned about mine too.” “You, cool, self-focussed teenager, who is on his way home after a night of partying, please change. Can you contribute to my party?” “You, well-dressed chaplain, please change. Don’t simply be a bringer of religious gobbledygook – as you were a few hours ago. Please bring true good news, and you can start with me.”

About a minute after he asked me this simple but penetrating question, I regretted how I thought, “I don’t need to change as much as you do.” Thankfully, my mouth is not as fast at expressing what my mind is thinking.

But as I sat on the bus, now many miles away from the man who changed the thought pattern of my evening, I realized “I am the one who needs to change.” I need to change to become more caring, I need to change to become poorer in spirit, I need to change to become more like the beggar who asks for small things.

Now, these questions linger: How do I need to change? What do I need to change into? Who may be able to help me change? Do I want to become more like the one who asks me to change? Or maybe more importantly, can I watch the change around me and join in it?

(This post is by David Ducklow, spiritual director, chaplain and a bringer of religious gobbledygook. You can read his other blogs at https://davidducklow.blogspot.com. If you wish to question or correct this post or anything on this website, please contact Paddy at life@theducklows.ca.)

A+B=C (The Upward Slope)

Please read the earlier blog first. It is entitled, A+B=C (The Downward Slope).

I think you have the idea. Our belief systems orient us to outcome or consequence. We can have a positive effect on our circumstances and experiences if our belief systems are working more consistently with reality. if we keep blaming the activating event or trigger, we will not grow. We will repeatedly suffer the consequences of our faulty beliefs. This, in large measure, is why people keep repeating the same mistakes.

A young woman visited me bi-weekly for several months. The sessions were intense and she worked hard to confront her belief system. Growing up she saw herself as pudgy, not particularly confident and remembers being coerced sexually by her brothers and their friends. She believed that she was not deserving of anyone and her only hope was to find a man who would take care of her. She complained that her mother smothered her with unhelpful advice and told her that when she got married to a good man, he would think for her as she couldn’t think for herself.

A+B=C

The activating event for “Shauna” was the continuous judgment from her growing up family. There were many diminishments throughout her childhood and adolescence. She felt empty, cheap and dumb, and acted in a way that invited the sexual exploits of others.

Shauna had to decide if her beliefs concerning herself were true-to-life. She could see the activating events (A) but she avoided thinking about them because they caused her such pain. It was much harder for her to see the beliefs (B) that produced such a chaotic and depressing life (C).

Here are a few of her beliefs: “I am dumb,” “I am worth nothing,” “I am depressed all the time,” “I can’t talk to my parents or my family without crying,” “I have fu_ked so many men that no decent man would want me,” “I can’t get a job that pays more than minimum wage,” “I can’t be happy on my own.” She was hospitalized for major depressive disorder.

It is laborious to examine and interrupt the cascade of harmful events and beliefs that precedes depression. Shauna studied the A’s of her life — her dysfunctional family of origin, the fears she enfolded into her soul, the triangles of emotions in her chaotic family. She measured the B’s she had incorporated. She challenged the beliefs that were untrue and harmful and she unearthed some hidden beliefs that were hopeful and clever.

I think of therapeutic change as being a 5% shift. She created an upward slope to a better life. Shauna made a 5% shift and her consequences improved. And she observes her A+B=C as a morning and evening ritual. It is the content of her journal and the structure of her thinking.

Recently she met a man she quite liked. Rather than becoming inebriated and travelling a downward slope, she asked him questions and interacted with his answers. She decided that she was a pretty good thinker and that she could figure out her next steps.

A+B=C (The Downward Slope)

This is an old psychology formula that makes good sense. “A” is the Activating event or the trigger that gets stuff rolling. “B” is the Belief system or judgment(s) that makes things worse (or possibly better, depending on your beliefs). “C” is the Consequence or outcomes.

This is how the formula works. Mostly the A or activating event (the thing that triggers you) just happens. You can’t control most circumstances and you are not immune to being hurt or upset. It is the B or belief system that produces the C or consequence.

Here is an example from a couple I saw a couple of weeks ago. The male partner was enraged for what he experienced the weekend just prior. This is the A – what he thought his wife did to him. He accused her of shaming him in front of his friends at a really fun party. This is the B – that he felt judged and that he should not be. The C was his rage and hurt and his spiteful behaviour for days following.

This is what went on: she asked him not to drink any more beer that night. He was getting pretty loud and acting “drunk-ish,” she said. She was worried by his disinhibition: flirting, bragging, over-laughing. She asked him quietly to stop the beer, she said. He thinks she publicly shamed him.

A bit later in the session, I asked about his thought processes and what triggered him. “I don’t need her to control me. She is not so perfect. I like to loosen up with my friends. She is so uptight.” That is the B or the belief systems that fueled his fire.

The B (or belief system) produced the C (or consequence) of several days of his swearing and anger, and spitefully threatening a divorce. Her C was to disappear from his sight, visit with her friends in the evenings, make him a Nespresso in the morning.

Here is what I said: “Your problem might be beer – I don’t know that – but it certainly is your belief system. You think that your partner is ruining your life. Where did you get that idea from?”

It still surprises me how hard we hold on to our unhelpful convictions. He needed to be right. He needed her to be wrong. He needed me to validate his narrative.

And then he saw it, reluctantly and thoroughly. He said, “I guess if I didn’t feel ‘small’ with her, I could have handled this differently. Maybe not right away but certainly within a couple of hours.” He apologized to her. She gladly accepted.

Now the therapy begins. He has to sort through his bloated belief system and find out something truer about himself and his partner. (More to come.)

[You are invited to make any comment you wish on this post or anything else on my site by emailing me at life@theducklows.ca. Thanks.]

My Counselling Sessions with Paddy

You can think of this blog as self-promotion and I am not-so-secretly delighted that this client thinks so well of Carole and me. And… there are some great ideas about how to approach counselling in his ideas. It was written in his blog space in 2014 and, 5 years later, he continues to see me on occasion. He offered his approval for posting his letter on my site.

 

I have come to appreciate what a privilege it is to be able to meet with a psychologist on a regular basis. The insights that I receive help to balance my own attempts to figure out what parts of my life require concerted attention, and to receive tools to master life-skills essential for personal success — however you want to define that.

In 2009, I made the life-long awaited choice to begin seeing a counsellor. Beginning to recognize some anomalies in my social interactions, I wanted a chance to speak with a professional one on one about my specific personal concerns. On a recommendation from a trusted friend, I first contacted Carole Ducklow, a Registered Clinical Counsellor. In my first meeting, she read me like a familiar book and identified immediately the issues I was wrestling with the most, unbeknownst to me. Since then it has been a long battle to attend to that personal issue.

My father was diagnosed with cancer two weeks after I first met with Carole. It was as if my decision to start seeing a counsellor was meant to be. Eventually, I turned to Paddy Ducklow, Carole’s husband, essentially to get the appointments covered by my insurance company by meeting with a Registered Psychologist. I knew Paddy as a faculty member in grad school and heard him speak once at church. But I never knew him in person.

On my first meeting, the chemistry clicked for me. He, like Carole, was an attentive listener, allowing me to speak freely without passing any judgments or interrupting me with his diagnosis. He is also a graduate university professor — and that’s what came home for me.

For me, counselling is all about being a student, and the role of student fits me like a glove. I am eager to learn, delve deep with my inquisitions, and I keep in mind the goal for what it is I want to learn. In grad school, it was to master Koine Greek or to understand the technique of orchestration (music school). In this counselling context, it wasn’t “what” I wanted to learn, but “who” — indeed, I, myself, would be the object of my study. The severe depressive episodes, particularly since my father’s passing in March 2010, my relationship with my family and friends, the absence of coping mechanisms for stress — they are all both experienced and analyzed in my daily life. And Paddy has become my personal tutor in the academic study of myself.

I never went to Carole or Paddy to have them tell me how to live my life. I always knew that was my decision to make. Sometimes he would make an observation, and the accuracy would feel slightly off. And so he would try something else. You see, what I have discovered in Paddy these last two years is a trusted guide who brings experience and education to help me form accurate thoughts that allow me to implement change with hope. But in the end, they are formed with me, not for me. I want to change. And that’s why counselling works for me. In fact, there are times when Paddy spends so much time just listening, that I wonder if he is just there so I can talk out the discoveries that I have made and come to my own conclusions. But when I look back, he’s definitely guiding my thinking, even if it is just to confirm that I am thinking along the right track. It’s like seeing a friend on a regular basis, who I willingly pay for the services he provides as I would do any friend that I respect.

There still exists in today’s society such a stigma attached to “seeing a Psychologist” that makes me rather sad to see. It is almost as if you need to be suffering major trauma, or severely mentally sick enough to see a qualified expert. But the truth is, my decision to seek counselling didn’t start with trauma. It started because I was ready to make changes in my life and to understand the background that led me to who I am today. And when a major life change came around, like the death of my Dad, I already had a support system in place to speak plainly about my grief to someone who knows my history and disposition.

Counselling doesn’t have to be expensive. Even in this area where I live, there are several sources that assist those who may not be able to financially afford regular appointments. Honestly, all you need to do is decide that you want to change. Once you make the decision, you will be motivated to find sources of help. Ask trusted friends for references, and do your research into the backgrounds of different counsellors or psychologists. Find one that seems to fit who you are and just give them a call. Then when you go, go prepared. Think about the questions you want to ask about yourself. And bring examples of behaviour that you want to change. Be truthful. These are confidential meetings. There’s no need to impress them. Just relax, even cry if you have to (I do!), and let it all hang out there.

One last word of advice — and this is important. I have been in counselling for 3 years now, and I am convinced that if you decide to start seeking professional counselling, go the distance. Don’t decide to get counselling for a few sessions just to try it out or just get a perspective. Go for a minimum of 12 sessions and really go for it. Try to go weekly for the first month, just so you can establish a working relationship with your counsellor, or figure out if this is the counsellor you want to see. Different counsellors specialize in different areas, and you will want to work with your counsellor to figure out if what you are dealing with could be best tackled by someone else with expertise in that field.

My doctor once asked me why I thought that Paddy was helping me. I simply said, “Because Paddy doesn’t tell me things I already know. He seems to recognize what I need to hear, and what I can figure out for myself.”

 

[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.]

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 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.]

 

Ever Been Stuck?

Of course, you have been.

Charlie Brown got totally stuck when the little red-headed girl walked by. I don’t think he ever got unstuck!

Family Systems Theory considers three indicators of “stuckness.” The first indicator is like tire-spinning, the trying experience when you (or a committee) keep trying harder and predictably producing banal results. Trying to stand up is a lot more difficult than standing up.

A second stuckness is when one thinks in either/or categories, like “I win, you lose.” Binary belief systems produce teeter-totter relationships where if someone is “in” then the other is “out.” Reminds me of couples in conflict. Religions do binary thinking a lot, as do political parties. Makes quitters of even the most faithful. In marriage its called divorce.

The third stuckness is cramping answers into predictable questions, rather than recasting questions in fresh contexts and perspectives. “Business as usual” is all about this — thinking we know the questions, so our task, we figure, is to find answers that fit, rather than “appreciatively inquire.” (Appreciative Inquiry is a great way to focus on new questions.) Of course, its usually more about the question than the answer.

For more Family Systems Theory wisdom see, Edwin Friedman in “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix” (pp. 40-46).

———————————————-

I wrote this post in 2011 and I am updating it now because so many of my clients describe being unable to decide. How do you decide to marry, let alone who to marry? Stuckness in marital conflict is a recurring theme. New clients are signing up to do vocational assessment. What job works best for him or her? How does personality relate to occupation? What about call?

It is easy to get stuck and harder to get unstuck.

[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.]

Our Online Office for People “Out There”

I am apparently slow to the online therapy world. Life coaches, eye doctors, dieticians use online resources to bring their skills to people “out there.” However, my client-friends are educating me as they ask for psychological therapy on Skype or FaceTime or Google Duo.
Here are some reasons why lots of people would rather Skype than meet face to face:
  • Some live out of town or are on vacation. I have clients from Seattle, Hong Kong, New Hampshire, Calgary, Vancouver Island, and San Francisco. Long commutes to say the least.
  • Some folk need to save time travelling to our wonderful Horseshoe Bay office. They may work in Vancouver or Whistler or New Westminster but would prefer to consult from their computer.
  • Some people view counselling online as an adjunct to seeing us “live.” A pretty good combination for many.
But there are some things to consider in this online world:
  • One is whether you have an interruption-free location. I have a private space where confidentiality is assured. You will need to find something that allows you a quiet space to think and speak.
  • Couple counselling and family counselling are a bit problematic, though I once had 2 parts of dispersed family video connect for our session. Worked pretty well.
  • The intimacy and ethos are different. I can’t offer you a cup of coffee, but I can still empathize and challenge. It just feels different.
This way of connecting is different and for some, it is preferred. You can book online sessions as easily as you would in-office times. The payment transaction is done online through our booking system or with an e-transfer.
If you would like to learn more about online therapy or coaching online session with Paddy or Carole, please email us at life@theducklows.ca.
By the way, did you know that Skype was invented in Estonia, for which they are greatly proud?

[If you would like to comment on this blog or anything else on our website, you are invited to do so. Send a message via life@theducklows.ca]

Masks of Melancholy

“Masks of Melancholy” is the name of a book on depression written by a friend, Dr. John White, who was a psychiatrist and a church leader (he died several years ago). This phrase has always struck me as a great description of depression. John was bipolar and he knew a lot about “The Masks People Wear” (see an article on my web site about such masks).

Depression puts on a mask. The mask can look needy or agitated or “pissed off” or apathetic and all kinds of other miserable things. The mask depends pretty much on our genetic wiring and what was emotionally practiced in our family of origin.

I have been depressed lately. I visit this state periodically like I am checking in with how bad life can really be. My mask is “agitated anger.” People I love bug me. I long to be left alone but I am lonely when no one is around. I ask for help in a way that keeps anyone from really caring. I isolate when I want to connect. Even coffee and chocolate (both vital food groups) fail to inspire me. “Pissed off” pretty much summarizes how I feel it. “Stay away” is what my mask reads to others.

So now that I have told you more than you want to hear, let me refer you to some resources that might be helpful to you.

So now that I have told you more than you want to hear, let me refer you to some resources that might be helpful to you. Visit Wing of Madness – this is a great sight. As well, this is where I would start with consuming anxiety. This is a blog spot so you get lots of interaction with real people.

The assessments will give you a pretty accurate reading of where your emotions are right now. Print off the results and take it to your doctor or counsellor if you wish. (If you are visiting with Carole or me, do bring the results with you.)

As for me and my treatment, I think I am going to take off my mask (it doesn’t fit very well, anyway), visit Crema Café a few blocks from my office in West Vancouver, eat a piece of their wheat-free chocolate cake, and drink a grande latte. It won’t cure my depression but it does put a smile on my face.

[Updated in March, 2019.]

[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.]

1 Out of Every 2 Couples Divorce? (Happy Valentine’s Day)

I have people tell me that “1 out of every 2 couples divorce.” The tabloids say it often so you think it must be so. But it is not my experience — and I am a marital therapist who sees people who might have lots of reason to divorce (and, of course, some do).

My bet is that over 80% of couples who seek marital therapy revive and even thrive. So happy Valentine’s day.

Statistics Canada (2005) tell us that by the 30th wedding anniversary 38% of couple divorce. About 16% of the divorces include people who had already been divorced at least once. The probability of divorcing for a first marriage is lower because remarriages have a higher divorce risk than first ones.

Concerned couples starting out in marriage are sometimes worried about the reported divorce numbers and it surely does not help that we are inundated with “media divorces” who break up on a seeming whim, perhaps to obtain more glitz and blitz.

The Vanier Institute reports that the divorce rate for first marriages is about 30% throughout 30 years of marriage. In other words, first marriages have a 70% chance of surviving and even thriving for 30 years!

I have seen in my practice several variables that affect marriage stability. Let me give you a few:

  • How well the couple was brought together. Was a decision really made or was the couple in a romance trance (limerence) where they felt they could not interrupt the process?
  • Will the couple participate in premarital counselling or mentoring? My experience is that this process allows couples to differentiate, that is, to thoughtfully and even prayerfully decide if marrying this person and at this time is what they wish to do.
  • Location of where the couple lives has an impact. Urban and suburban life can have a negative impact on the survivability of the marriage. However, this is ameliorated by participating in an intentional community (e.g. a church, community network).
  • The willingness to obtain early marriage counselling when conflicts become wearing and unsolvable.
  • And another key factor has to do with the couple redefining the relationship with their respective families of origin. For the parents, this involves a kind of relinquishment and for the marrying couple, it requires a new definition of themselves with their parents.

Get the word out — marriage still works and the numbers are getting better! And your marriage can work well even if you come from a divorced family or had a previous marriage.

[You may respond to this blog or anything else on this website by contacting us at life@theducklows.ca. Paddy wrote this blog in 2010 and updated it for 2019.]

My “To Do” List (and Not)

Wash my hands in warm water always, no matter how long it takes. Be a Canuck fan early in the season. Say to Carole “I love you” while holding her for 2 minutes. Ignore the “call” of Amazon.ca bargains. Get home on time and not crash into a bicyclist. Find 2+ minutes every day to mindfully wonder. Respond more — react less. Tell my grandchildren stories when I tuck them into bed. “Meet and greet the human condition” (I borrowed this from a poem by Kathi Wolfe.). Taste my breakfast. Remember what clothes I wore yesterday. Smile surreptitiously. Laugh with my heart-held convictions. Pray thankfully more often. Ride me Volt eBike in the rain. Appreciatively wait at red lights. Move impulses from my limbic brain to my cerebral cortex. Wear orange or paisley. Go to bed with a smile on my face, even if I don’t feel like it. Chew. Collect rocks with Tessa.

Updated February 2019

[You can respond to this or anything else on my website through email: paddy@theducklows.ca. I look forward to the chat.]

Go Easy, Go Gently, Go in Peace (a prayer for my clients)

Most of us pray sometimes and some of us pray a lot. I know that we have different hopes and expectations of how we journey in our lives, and I also know that most people appreciate the prayers of others when we face crises and challenges.

I found this prayer somewhere (I can’t remember) and it has been meaningful to me. It is like a benediction (meaning “a good word”). It is called “Go Easy, Go Gently, Go In Peace.”

 

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

You may have to push forward, but you don’t have to push so hard.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Do not be in so much of a hurry. At no day, no hour, no time are you required to do much so frantically. Move, but move faithfully, decisively, and deliberately in the plan of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Be urgent about the things that are urgent. Be easy about the things that are not essential. Pursuing the wrong urgencies may cause you to overrun the essential… and the important.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

In tragedy look for God when you can’t find meaning. In hopelessness find meaning when you can’t see God. Either way, you will move ahead.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

The frantic and stressed actions of uncontrolled urgency are not the foundation for the wholesome walk. Nor does such anxiousness reflect the gracious intention of the Creator. The frantic cause you to fall further away from the calming confidence of God’s calling.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Know God’s identity for you and in you. You are His creation and His people. Allow your soul to be immersed in the many joys of God.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Go generously and walk thankfully into your work, your relationships, your leading, your family. Meet God in your hours, in your days. Let the pace of your life flow naturally toward its unforgettable completion.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Beginning or ending, planning or reflecting, hurting or healing, cherish each moment. Savor God’s guidance. Seek what’s really important. Surrender your soul to the simple peace of God’s leading and urging, to His beginning and ending.

Go easy. Go gently. Go in peace.

Now go, with easiness towards yourself, with gentleness towards others and with peace in God.

Amen

 

[You may respond to this or any of my blogs, ideas or writings at life@theducklows.ca. Thanks for reading.]

MailChimp — I quite like monkeys

Hello friends,

I am switching from WordPress to MailChimp. What does this mean to you? If you wish to continue receiving my occasional blogs, you will need (#1) to delete your current email address by clicking on “Unfollow” at the top of the feed from Blogtrottr or Specific Feeds and (#2) to re-subscribe to my stuff, here. Enter your data and you will receive my posts as I get around to it, about once per month. And you can unsubscribe easily.

If you don’t want my blogs anymore, just do #1 above and “Unfollow.” No hard feelings. I won’t even know that I have been dumped.

I am changing to a different feed because I was bugged by all the advertising you were getting on WordPress. MailChimp eliminates all that. The new design is simple and straightforward. And I quite like monkeys.

So if you are still with me and have signed up for MailChimp, you will get a couple of posts in the next month or so. I am just working out the final computer bits.

I said that I was working out the computer bits, but mostly it is Kenton MacDonald-Lin who helps me stay up to date on my communications and site needs.  I highly recommend him if you wish someone to help in your digital media storytelling, design, stock photography, video, website development and the like. Find Kenton here. And you will usually find him at JJBean on Lonsdale, meeting someone, editing or rewriting a movie script (Yes, he has done a movie!).

And as you know — at least many of you will know — I have given up my Park Royal office and I am now working out of my home office. You can find maps and descriptions here.

Happy New Year to you all.

 

 

Q — What do you want to work on today?

What do you want to work on today?

This is a frustrating question for many of my client friends, though they hear it most every appointment with me. Some deflect the question and talk on about the events they have experienced since they have seen me last. Some ask me outright, “don’t you know me well enough by now?” Others look at me with a placid glaze hoping that I will answer my own question, which I sometimes do, especially later in the day.

My clients are smart. They are intuitive. And manipulative.

Some want me to set the agenda — many people find it easier to follow than to lead, or maybe they are worried about making a mistake. Some of my client friends think that I am the omni-competent professional and that I should be able to tell them what it is that they should work on. Some people must simply think that I can’t think of a better opening gambit.

Here is what the question means to me and why I have used it for 40 years.

  • The question is addressed to you, the one sitting in front of me. It is not about what someone else wants you to work on, or why someone else want you to visit with me. The session is entirely about you.
  • It is about want, not the oughts – shoulds – musts you carry around in your head. It is not so much about what you need to do or what someone else thinks you need to do. The responsibility is yours to figure out what you want.
  • It is not about sharing or chatting or being a sounding board. It is about mutual work towards a particular goal decided by you.
  • It is about today. It is not about tomorrow or yesterday or sometime far, far away. It is not about your genogram history, though that is relevant. It is about right now and how that fits into the continuity of your life.
  • Also, it is an important question to me when I go for help. It assumes that I am responsible for myself. I like that. Maybe it’s a compliment.

So that is why I ask this quite predictable question. And while I am asking it, I am watching you and thinking. I want to see what efforts you will make to manage me. I want to see if you will avoid work by talking about the past or projecting to the future. I listen for your subjunctive tense [“well I would’ve done that if…”]. I wonder if you will start in blaming your partner, or your trauma, or your family of origin.

I listen to what you want to work on and what you want from me, so that we can work together in the complicated narrative of your life.

See you next time.

Discernment: Consolations and Desolations

People come to therapists for discernment at the very least. They want to understand and to be understood. They want wisdom or insight and perhaps a plan for change. Some therapists will talk to them about “consolations and desolations,” a skill that Carole is familiar with. Most evenings before going to bed, she asks me my consolations and desolations of the day.

I find it easy to find the desolations, the things that have gone wrong or where I have failed. I can isolate my criticisms without much effort and I can deeply feel the criticisms of others.

But consolations? What do you mean? Something went right?

Consolations and desolations are about our orientation to our lives and the direction our life is going — upward and outward toward God [consolation] or downward and inward away from all things divine [desolation].

Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation. (See LINK HERE)

 

Desolations are downward and inward slopes

  • turns us in on ourselves
  • drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
  • cuts us off from community
  • makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
  • takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
  • covers up all our landmarks
  • drains us of energy

Consolations are upward and outward slopes.

  • directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
  • lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
  • bonds us more closely to our human community
  • generates new inspiration and ideas
  • restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
  • shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
  • releases new energy in us

 

What to do…

In Desolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and ask for help.
  2. Seek out companionship.
  3. Don’t go back on decisions you made in consolation.
  4. Stand still and remember your inner map.
  5. Recall a time of consolation and go back to it imagination.
  6. Look for someone who needs your help and turn your attention toward them.
  7. Go back to 1.

In Consolation:

  1. Tell God how you feel and offer thanks.
  2. Store this moment in your memory to return to when things get tough.
  3. Add this experience to the narrative of your life.
  4. Use the energy you feel to further your deepest desires.
  5. Let the surplus energy fuel the things you don’t like doing and do them.
  6. Go back to 1.

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Sex Therapy on Skype

I just got off a Skype call with a lovely couple who can’t make their sex life work. Married for just a few years and with a couple of kids, their intimacy is interrupted by occasional porn, premature ejaculation, and anxiety by self-judgement.

So I troop out lots of stuff that I know and some that they know, too. Though on Skype they look a bit aghast by the objectivity of the ideas.

  • The brain is the sex organ and that the genitals are just the conduits.
  • Everybody has fantasies, its just that they are so often different.
  • Porn breaks trust but this has as much to do with the self-critical spouse as the partner.
  • Shared masturbation is a great idea when intercourse is a bit complicated.

I recommended that the couple talk about their fantasies and good memories. I suggested that the woman stimulate herself for several minutes each night before falling asleep. I helped them create a shared fantasy that was about their dating prior to marriage. I told them about the best positions for sex during pregnancy and how oral sex is often better for the wife than penile penetration. I advised them to give up the “ideal” of simultaneous orgasms for something more realistic. I told them that the woman should probably climax first to avoid premature ejaculation for the husband.

And then I remembered a great Harvard Medical article on “Tips to Improve Your Sex Life” and, sure enough, it says a lot better what I was thinking.

Still I was amazed what you could get accomplished on a cross-Canada Skype call. I hope the lines were secure.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Goodbye Clyde, it’s been nice to know you.

On December 31, 2018, I will be vacating my Clyde Avenue office to inhabit the warmer sanctuary of my home study in Gleneagles / Horseshoe Bay. This has been Carole’s therapy space for several years, so we will have to balance our days so that we are not stepping on each other’s schedules.

This will make some difference for some of you. It will mean a larger trek if you are coming from lands East, but closer if you are coming off the ferries or from Squamish / Whistler. People can still come on transit.

It will also mean better tea in fancier cups, mugs of fine coffee, and even carbonated water in wine glasses. It will mean that you will no longer see the torrents of the Capilano River while the eagles fish, but you will be sitting in front of the good feelings of a warming hearth.

So goodbye to Clyde and hello to Fox in 2019. (Throughout 2018, I will continue to visit with you on Clyde.)

Once you have visited in our home space, you will find it a step up in hospitality and a friendlier drive. Just down the hill in Horseshoe Bay you can have lunch or tea at the Butter Lane Café (our favourite), or the Olive and Anchor for dinner. There is still Trolls, Starbucks and other standards, but the local spots are best.

The extra time is about 10 minutes from my Clyde office. Our home is close to Whytecliffe Park, BC Ferries, Gleneagles golf course, and a half hour sprint to the Chief at Squamish.

So, if you are coming to visit with me anyway, plan on making a day of it. Walk on the beach, take some photos, drive the Marine Drive curves on the way home and stop off in Dundarave to shop.

Goodbye Clyde, its been nice to know you.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

IWLA — “I Will Love Again”

A woman approached me after I was speaking at a conference. She was wearing a bright yellow pin that proclaimed “IWLA.” She told me a story about her husband leaving her for her best friend. That was bad but that wasn’t the biggest problem for her — they were next door neighbours! Her husband moved his stuff over the fence and into a new woman’s bedroom and kitchen and bathroom.

She bumped into this new couple at Safeway and on Facebook and she found herself examining every car that drove into their shared cul-de-sac. Hate was being nourished.

There is a lot to the story, much of it tough and some of it inspiring; but to be brief, she made the decision that she would love people again, especially people difficult to love. She would even love men. She would even love best friends. And that takes trust in oneself and every other self she might meet.

We all know that once love has been betrayed, people will be less trusting the next time and some will never get over the betrayal. The degree of mistrust that is engendered varies between individuals and with the enormity of a particular betrayal. However, trust can be rebuilt with repeated positive experiences.

Note this: trust and distrust are experiences and not feelings. To cry, “I just don’t trust anymore!” is to more truthfully say, “I am still royally pissed off and I have not recovered!” The experience of broken trust produce fear – hurt – anger (this amalgam is “bitterness”). But trust is the practice of getting over through these emotions without overwhelming residue. If you have been abused by betrayal, you have to do something for the feelings to change.

Here is what I tell people who are trying to figure out trust and re-trust.

The first step of re-trusting is to do anything with your bitterness. This is the process phase. Talk it out, pray it out, forgive it out, run it out, write it out, garden it out — just get it out. Just don’t nurse it or hook others into saying, “Oh poor you.” Nourishing distrust and un-love builds a narrative that will never set you free.

Step two: do something you have not done before that is better than what you have done since you were betrayed. This is the initiation phase. It is the beginning of loving again. Take up bowling (5 pin is fun); drink lattes in designer coffee shops three times a week and write an online journal with pics about the best and worst; join a cult (that is not really a good idea); do stranger interviews (see another post). The thing is, if you think of yourself as a Victim in life, then you will surely become one. Change your narrative. Get a tattoo that says IWLA and tell yourself that you can overcome rejection and stupidity — yours and the others.

Step three is the toughest step: forgive the rat. (You can tell by that description that I am undifferentiated and totally on your side.) This is the new beginnings phase. Forgiveness is hard. It is not a transaction (“I forgive you, you rat!”) but a thought-out behaviour change. You decide to experience your pain, own it as yours, and do something with it (see step two). Forgiving is bearing pain, deciding to face it and determining to change. Bearing-deciding-determining — verbs of re-trusting.

So you get into an intimate relationship and you are afraid, or you avoid intimacy because you are afraid. What do you do? You initiate. This is what loving and trusting is. You start something rather than wait for the world to change. You make decisions based on character and consistency. You re-trust in increments over time. You let yourself feel love and you wonder about the future.

I think you can re-trust. I see it in my practice and sometimes in my own life. Take ownership and step-by-step face life. You can trust again.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Simplicity Can Cause Confusion

We have had 4 phones (2 home lines and 2 cell phones) and a bunch of answering machines for a bunch of years. Like lots of people, we are trying to simplify and reduce unnecessary costs. So we have cut the cord! No more landlines and no more cable. I don’t know how I will handle life without the NFL and NHL, but the Seahawks and Canucks haven’t been doing too well anyway.

So here is how to reach us. Our telephone is now Carole’s cell to talk or text — 604-209-4210  — and you can leave a message if she misses the call. But the best way to connect is through email at Carole@TheDucklows.ca  or Paddy@TheDucklows.caIn fact, I (Paddy) hardly ever answer the phone so email is the best.

Now Shaw has billed us $450 when we have a credit of 30 bucks. Simplicity does cause confusion.

Anybody want some serviceable telephones and answering machines for free? Give us a call at 604-209-4210. Or email. (Update: they are gone to a lovely reader of our blogs.)

Peace.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

A Relationship App — Gottman Card Decks

Here is something I really like for couples. And it is free!

The Gottman Institute’s research-based approach to couples and relationships has developed a series of questions based on their theory of marriage and pairage. Inspired by the popular card decks from The Art and Science of Love weekend workshop for couples, this app offers helpful questions, statements, and ideas for improving your relationship.

Gottman Card Decks

[If you wish to comment on this blog or anything else on our web site, please email me at life@theducklows.ca]

Good Ideas on Marriage Therapy (I wish I thought of them.)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading. In fact, I do not recommend it particularly.

There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, when we want the problem solved immediately. Sometimes it takes a couple 10 to 15 years to create an “unsolvable” problem and then the expectation is that through a few short conversations that all will be resolved.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to find it humorous – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that you are paying for concrete advice and not just consolation, so get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. No matter how well trained the therapist is, he or she will have opinions and judgments and it is very important that the couple understand that they are there for them only. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. As the author says “put some serious energy into it. I admit to being lethargic or overly daft in the therapist’s office.” Often times the couple will say, we are paying you, make it work! The couple is really the experts on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable. The therapist collates this information and provides direction and support in the progress.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. Apologies and forgiveness can be very difficult for most people and it is especially complicated in the intimacy of couple conflict. In my experience as a marriage therapist, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. One counsellor may be able to do both but your therapist cannot read your mind – say what it is you want. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents. There are many ways to get out of the woods.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. We also do not want to bear the pain of the loss of ideals and covenant. But flailing about looking for relief will only make therapy more difficult and less helpful. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal. (Tell me if I am doing this!)

Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. Even in the concert with all of our best intentions, therapy could not rescue our marriage. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.”

“Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Gays (LGBTQs) are Welcome Here

This probably doesn’t need to be said. It is 2017 after all. But maybe I need to say it for me more than you need to hear it.

All our psychology and therapy work is gay valuing. We accept, affirm and advocate for all genders and make no discrimination. (Actually, I discriminate on smoking.)

Not only do we understand and accept gay people and their relationships, we advocate for men, women and children to be who they are, not what others think they should be.

No big deal in this culture and this generation. But it is a big deal for others, especially from other societies (e.g. African and Asian) and prominently religious communities.

Churchly people (Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others) are slow to accept newer forms of gender understanding and resist inclusion for lots of reasons. Mostly I think that religious folk are trying to please God and obey Scriptures as a priority, and misreading ancient, biblical documents is easy to do. Some read that the bible seems to argue for exclusion rather than welcome on gender matters, though that is not my opinion and is not the opinion of many world class scholars and ethicists. This makes faith groups more “homeostatic” (resisting change) than “morphogenic” (wanting change) to use Family Systems Theory words.

I think another reason is that the church has been a hospice for “ego dystonic” (this was a diagnostic category in the DSM) gays and lesbians. These people know they are gay but prefer to remain closeted and single, meeting their intimacy needs mostly within the church fold.

Clergy-led marriage is a big thing for church people (and many are persuaded that it is a pivotal dimension of the nature of faith) and they would argue that this is a privilege for men with women and women with men. I am not sure that church people oppose “pairage” (a term to distinguish gay marriage) as much as they are confused or uninformed. And the clergy don’t do much to clarify.

Speaking of uninformed, I have some decent references for those who want to follow up. The connection between psychology and theology is an interest of mine, so the resources below engage that fruitful tension.

So that is where I am. Out of date as I may be, and slow to understand as I am, I accept, affirm and advocate for the LGBTQ people who wish to accept our therapy and care.

[Later note: some of my clients as well as some friends of my clients have found my statement on inclusion to be offensive to their beliefs. I accept differing opinions on matters of concern, and I am open to dialogue and good coffee at any time. You invite and you buy. November 2018.]

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Notes:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/13/living/gender-fluid-feat/index.html

Richard Mouw and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott — Gay Marriage: Broken or Blessed? Two Evangelical Views

 

 

 

 

I Am Especially Fond of You

Carole and I speak of our love for each other often. Sometimes too much for me, but still appreciated. She also speaks of what she likes of me – that I am attentive to her, that I think outside the box, that I am freer than I used to be. And, of course, I tell her that I am especially fond of her and those particular ways of which I am especially fond of. It always evokes a smile in us both. I feel secure and I think that she does too.

We have been married a long time and I am glad for it. I expect her to love me – what choice does she have after all these years? – but to be fond of me, that is something more.

I loved “The Shack” when I first read it. It made me question, wonder and weep. I love the idea of a black, matronly woman as God! Paul Young wrote this book for his kids as a Christmas gift and in a short period of time many thousands wanted to know what he was telling his children: that God was especially fond of them. I think that is what I want in my life – to know that God is especially fond of me. I know that this is what I want from my wife and my children. And I want them to know that I am especially fond of them too.

I know that I am not especially fond of me. Perhaps that is why to have God and others orient toward me in this way is a wonder.

Many people I see in my counselling practice don’t have anyone that they think is especially fond of them; spouse or child or friend or God. So they try to be perfect, hope to cause no offence, work to be right most of the time, hide from any conflict, all in the hope that someone might read through these adaptations and, perhaps, that the someone will discover something to be fond of.

Sound like you? Maybe sometimes.

Like the beautiful woman I met who had all the augmentations done to her face and body but could not find a man who was fond of her – the inside her. Or the painfully narcissistic young man who entranced everyone but could not make a relationship that would last. Or the grandfather who criticized his children and grandchildren and could not give up “correction” (as he called it) for fear that his loved ones would turn out as empty as him. How un-fond of a man to himself and his progeny.

But to be found as a person who is fond of others and to have others be fond of them. That is amazing.

The Shack movie is coming out shortly and I expect to be disappointed. Unless I discover again that God is especially fond of me and of you. I hope so. I believe so.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Who Are You Going to Please?

Most of us are people-pleasers. We will please almost anyone if it keeps us from pain or adds some “bling” to our lives. Ministers can be terrible people-pleasers; but they don’t seem to know who to please, so they try to please everybody or ignore anybody.

One pastor I know would lie in a fetal position behind his office desk on bad Sundays after his sermon, crying and hiding, hoping that no one would find him. Not only was he not found, he almost lost himself and his family.

Today we speak of “boundaries” – that is, to think and reason who you will let “get in” your soul and in your face; who you will trust and who you might wish to please.

Here is something about Jesus that reflects on this: “All [in the synagogue] spoke well of him [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” [and then, a little later] “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this [what he said]. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill … in order to throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:22,29 NIV).

Interesting isn’t it? We may try to please people and then they inevitably turn on us. At least they did for Jesus and they probably will for you if you stand for something worthwhile.

Psychologists say that people are motivated by the appreciation of others, especially significant others, like parents or bosses or God. But not everyone will be pleased by how you live your life and so you have to choose who matters. Who will you please?

When I was hired as the team-leading pastor of CapChurch in North Vancouver, I boldly said that I would do all I could to please God, and satisfy my elders but I wouldn’t overly labour to please the pew-people generally. I figured that I would dissociate running after all these people’s whims, worries and wants. 16 years later I think that was a good decision. And I have learned that pleasing your spouse is a good idea and in so doing you are often pleasing God in the bargain.

This is not to say that we (those who decide who they will please) need to be rabble-rousers or demagogues. But it’s not like the English bishop who once remarked, “Everywhere Jesus or Paul went, there was either a revival or a revolution. Everywhere I go, they serve tea!” (An old preacher’s story. Who knows if it’s true.)

I don’t want to be like that. At the end of the day, I want my life to count for something and for a long time. This will mean I am going to run into opposition somewhere along the way. And, knowing me, probably a lot of it.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

What Star Are You Following? (David Ducklow)

I received this Christmas blessing from my son, David Ducklow. David is a chaplain in training at Vancouver General Hospital and completed a Masters degree in Spiritual Formation. Here is his blessing to me and now to you.

Isn’t it amazing how, because of our work and efforts in preparing for Christmas, we ‘crash’ soon after the meal is finished, the presents have been opened and the relatives have left? I don’t imagine the wise men doing the same thing. The joys of seeing a newborn King probably made sleeping the last idea on their minds.

The gospel of Matthew follows them on their marathon mission, and though they had good reason to be tired, remarkably they show no hint of it. Matthew says they spent two years following the star, hunting Jesus down. I have never followed a star before, let alone for two years, but I can imagine that it may be like trying to find the hypothetical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Next to impossible. So I would probably talk myself out of this on the first day.

However, the wise men had enough energy and motivation, not just to walk for one day, but for seven hundred and thirty days! Their reason? “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!” (Matthew 2:10)

How would you react if you saw a star that moved? Would you refuse to follow it? “Not today. Maybe tomorrow. I had a bad night sleep and I have a crick in my neck.” The wise men most definitely had this option during their two-year pilgrimage. Or would you be so excited that nothing could keep you from getting to that pot of gold?

What star are you following? Where do you think it will lead you? How long have you been following it? Are you willing to follow it to its end or are you about to crash? I am sure these are questions the wise men asked themselves. They certainly had enough time to discuss their reasons for doing such a crazy thing.

But, what was their motivation? Who had told them to do this crazy thing? What would they receive in exchange for their gold, frankincense and myrrh?

(David also is a Spiritual Director and an “Intentional Tutor” especially for kids with disabilities. You can reach him on our web site.)

Just Thinking with Jasper

Jasper, my first grandchild, had a stunning insight recently. We were driving from a movie (Kungfu Panda) at a downtown cinema in Vancouver. We saw some obviously poor people on the sidewalk and I said to him that the church tries to help poor people. He asked me, “How does all the singing we do at church help the poor people?”

Interesting.

I was thinking of trying to answer Jasper’s question and then I remembered what I have taught for years; that an unanswered question can open a relationship for a lifetime. Answers often close down conversations. They certainly close down thinking.

Jasper surprises me how intelligent he is. He is 6 years old and has superpowers like his dad, who is really smart. Brent is not from our side of the family. We are more attachers-emoters than thinkers. (Christine, if you read this, you are really smart and have superpowers too.)

I have come to think that the church is great for attachers-emoters that need to believe something or lots of things, to keep their attachments in check. Otherwise, they would jump on their high horses and ride in all directions at once.

But thinkers are in trouble at church. Most preachers work to have you believe stuff, not think stuff through. This has resulted (humble opinion only) in a paucity of thinkers and a plethora of believers.

Seminaries train their seminarians in how to believe and to convince others on what to believe. Sermons might take 5 hours a week or 20 hours a week to prepare, depending on whether we are more OCD or less. Sermon prep is a thinking process. But then sermonaters preach it like like listeners are to believe it. Not think it.

I have a yearning to preach a sermon or many sermons first saying, “I don’t think I believe what I am about to say, but I am thinking it. Will you think with me?”

I would like to call my churchly friends “thinkers,” rather than “believers” as in “I love being at church with fellow thinkers.” Jasper Patrick McLaren would probably like this kind of church more. So would his dad.

And I don’t think there is a connection between singing and helping.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Called to Move (David Ducklow)

As we look around at the world, we are encouraged to “do this,” “love that,” “be more” and “expect all our dreams to come true.” But once we have them, we no longer appreciate them as much as we did when they were simply desires.

Life can look greener on the other side of the fence, and our current realities never match up to them. How do we get out of this cycle? How can we take our desires captive, before they do this to us, and we experience an unexpected and inevitable calamity? The answer is: move.

This does not mean that we change vocations, associations or relations. But, as priest, professor, Henri Nouwen writes, we must listen to our call. “You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid [them], you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses” when we desire what we see, just beyond the fence.

The idea of living from a new place, while physically living in our present place is a challenge that is avoided by many. But those who attempt to make this move realize that heeding its call is exactly what is needed. Then we realize that moving was the best decision we could have ever made.

What does it mean to you to live out of a new place?

(David Ducklow, Spiritual Director / Chaplain)

Standing for the Relationship

I am used to conflict both in myself and with those that mean the most to me. I read somewhere (a Family Systems Theory book) that conflict is most likely a result of too much closeness (as in smothering) or too much distance (as in cutoff). Either way, people then often blame, attack or hide and get all emotionally flooded. We stop thinking. Emotional ruminating is not thinking.

Even when we hide from the other who we feel has hurt us, we probably fight with them in our heads. We imagine beating them into powerlessness with our wonderfully practiced attacks. Our opponent is probably doing the same thing right when we are.

It seems to me that when we attack and defend, we ignore our relationship. How we are covenanted suffer-ers in the elusive benefit of defeating the other.

Who stands for the relationship?

I visited with a couple in noisy conflict yesterday. Like pugilists whacking and hacking, they listened only to their “inner dialogue” not to each other and thus projected rage and hurt to their partner.

I asked them “how is your hatred working for you?“ The husband complained that he didn’t hate his wife, but she agreed with the word “hatred.” I said, “how is your hatred towards your marriage working for you.“

Hmmm.

When couples bicker they bleed the goodness of what is between them. The couple may harangue each other thinking that it is just about them. But it is the marriage — a distinct entity — that loses most.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Grief: Part 2 – Grief is Another Way of Remembering

“Grief is another way of remembering,” said my pastor friend who died too young (see previous blog). She said this at my father’s memorial. He died from drinking. For many years all I could remember was the slovenliness of drunkenness. Grieving, like remembering, takes time. It is a process, never fully accomplished.

But slowly I remembered finer memories. Looking at photos helped me to discover what was also there. I see sober Christmases and I can hear telephone conversations when I worked in a mining camp and I had something to say that impressed him. He would call me “son.” I remembered him putting together my green CCM bike with ribbons falling from the handgrips.

I was afraid of my father and I felt hurt and anger much of my life. That was the core of my grief. Grief is often a mush of fear and hurt and anger – all primitive emotions. When I experienced some of this over time, I discovered the tenderness just below. Sorrow needs to be wept out or sobbed out – it can hardly be thought out. Tears help us drain the pain.

If my unconscious carries an unexpressed wound from my past, I will always be black and blue inside. I will not be able to approach life with my eyes looking forward for fear they will trigger the repressed pain. Have you met people who cannot look into your eyes for fear that you will look into theirs?

People have said to me, “It was the way you looked at me. You didn’t take your eyes from mine.” I have learned to see grief and the emotional mush that is behind it.

The grief that I carry stowed away has great power over me. More than ruminating, I become a rumination. Until I feel my grief and allow myself to know it, I will not be free of its grip.

You may know the song, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton as he grieved the accidental death of his young son. He sings, “I must be strong and carry on, ‘Cuz I know I don’t belong, here in heaven.” This grief connects him to the child he loves.

Until I know how to grieve with my heart and my soul, with my voice and my time, I will never know how to love with all my heart either. Jesus gives us a model to follow. And his words are true: “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Grief: Part 1 — Lying to Ourselves

I have led three memorial services in the past couple of months.

One was a young and once vibrant woman who had a near-fatal car accident that left her with a serious brain injury and personality change. She spent her insurance money on “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” eventually killing herself.

The second was a municipal councilor who invested his life in making his community better, advocating for the ordinary, and insisting on budgetary prudence. He was a champion of autism and died far too young with brain cancer.

The third was a woman who was a covenant friend of mine. She was a pastor, a counsellor, a teacher and a loving mother, wife and grandmother and she was funny too. Her middle name could have been integrity or compassion.

They left people behind.

Jesus said an odd thing to those that these people left: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4). How weird is that?

I led my mother’s memorial service years back. It was over a year before I could visualize her or smell her perfume. Sure I cried, in fact I wailed – but I couldn’t connect. She was dead to me.

When Jesus’ best friend Lazarus died, Jesus wailed too. And when we experience loss and are anxious and grieved, we do the same – loud and often in public. But when we say we are “just fine, thanks,” we lie to ourselves and the friends that ask.

Someone said, “Every unshed tear is a prism through which all of life’s hurts are distorted.”

Distorted emotions make us do distorted things. We don’t feel, we don’t think, we don’t talk. That’s distorted. And we ruminate. Our brooding circles our brain, repeating untruths, causing more distortion, aching our stomachs, taking away our energy and delight.

In a strange way, like the person who has died, we stop living. Not feeling, not thinking, and not talking sounds like death to me.

(More when I get to it.)

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Questions for Living

Many of you know that I like questions more than answers. And when I come across a good question, I almost always write it down. Imagine my delight in finding a bunch of questions written by Ellie Harris entitled “Questions for Living.” We learn by asking questions when we have the patience to grow into our answers. So here they are from the beautiful magazine “Bella Grace” (Spring, 2016). (I’ve italicised the ones I love.)

  • What do you want to be and who are you now?
  • What do you unequivocally believe in?
  • What was the last time you were your own best friend?
  • Have you found that something you are looking for? Do you even know what it is?
  • Do you welcome things you don’t understand and give room for clarity to grow?
  • Who or what do you wake up for?
  • What makes you feel like a child?
  • When are you in your past self? When are you in your best self?
  • Can you truly forgive others? Can you forgive yourself?
  • Whose voice brings you peace?
  • Have you decided what to be when you grow up?
  • Do you like what you’ve become?
  • What are you holding onto? Is it time to let it go?
  • What memory do you hold the tightest?
  • When is enough truly enough?
  • Why do you fear what you fear?
  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • What makes you feel important?
  • What are you sorry for?
  • What is your most secret wish?
  • When is the last time you have a real conversation with God?
  • Do you wish you had a do-over?
  • How can you make this day not ordinary?
  • What you love about yourself?
  • What is the dictionary definition of you?
  • Are you living out of desire or circumstance?
  • Do you wake up thankful?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Who do you love? Do they know?
  • If you could have a conversation with anyone, who would you want to talk to?
  • What is the last time you took yourself out for a date?

Here is something interesting – people with social anxiety can often “solve” it by digging a bit deeper and getting out of the superficiality of superficial conversation. I ask my anxious clients to pick 3 questions to ask a friend or a stranger and watch what happens.

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

The Body Song (Guest: Eryn-Faye Frans)

This past week, I had the privilege of introducing my family to Paddy and Carole Ducklow.  Back in the 60’s, when my parents left Texas to move up to Canada, Dad met Paddy in graduate school and they began a life-long friendship. My father wrote his first book in the basement of their home. He logged countless hours sitting out on their deck drinking beer and debating life, the universe and everything. Paddy flew to Texas to attend his funeral.

As a child, I have many memories of the Ducklow’s being a part of our lives. Even when the two men were living in different parts of the Lower Mainland, they always stayed connected. And then, several years before our family returned to Texas, they worked together at Burnaby Christian Fellowship. Dad was senior pastor, and Paddy was on staff as the church psychologist who ran a practice in the church.

One of the programs that they collaborated on during this time was a seminar to teach kids and their parents about the concept of “appropriate touch”. The kids and parents were split into different rooms and taught about issues surrounding personal boundaries, safety and communication. I was one of those kids, and my favourite part of the whole seminar was learning the song, My Body by Peter Alsop (which was thereinafter referred to by us simply as “the body song”).

Fast-forward 20+ years. My family is driving to the Ducklow’s house for the first time and I am explaining to my daughter about the importance of this family in my life. Having a vague memory of the body song, I decided that it would be spectacularly impressive if I could teach it to my daughter to sing for Paddy over dinner. Riley was very much into this idea (life is, after all, a musical for her) and enthusiastically embraced the task. The more we sang it, the more furrowed my husband’s brow became. He finally cleared his throat and said, “Uh, honey? I think you are not remembering that song right. I am pretty sure that’s not how it goes.” I pooh-poohed his concerns and, undaunted, Riley and I sang the song a few more times – to ensure that she really knew it.

When we arrived at Ducklow’s, the conversation inevitably turned to the body song. Actually, Eric brought it up because he was so smug in his assumption that I had the words wrong and thought it would be hilarious to see Paddy’s reaction. I was hesitant because I had an ever-growing suspicion that Eric was, unfortunately, right. Eventually, he coaxed Riley and me into singing it together.  So, in a vain attempt to prove that I was correct (or more that he was wrong) I belted out with great gusto:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You touch your own body,

Let me touch mine.

There was an eerie silence that fell over the room for what was only a moment but felt like eternity.  Then the room erupted!  I thought Paddy was going to fall off the couch laughing. He fell to the side and buried his face in a pillow as he howled in laughter.  It was suddenly inherently obvious to me that I had turned a song on appropriate touch into one on mutual masturbation.

***Epic FAIL***

Later in the evening, Paddy and Riley went to the computer and drudged up the words to this 1980’s song. Thank goodness for Google!

The true version of the body song can be found here and goes like this:

My body’s nobody’s body but mine.

You run your own body,

Let me run mine.

I will admit that the correct one is a much better version for Riley to be singing out in public.  But as I am not one to be easily dismayed, I will brazenly confess that personally prefer my version…even if you’ll never hear me sing it aloud ever again.

So inn the midst of all of this personal humiliation, I figured that I should try to redeem myself by unabashedly sharing the story with everyone and using it as a teaching tool to help parents talk with their children.

Eric, however, is still laughing.

(And so is Paddy!)

My Life Now: An Alliteration of “P”s

Thinking About My Semi-retirement

My name is Paddy. I have been a psychologist, pastor and professor, an alliteration of “P”s. These days I am mostly a fellow pilgrim in the practice of personhood, a new set of “P”s. And I am a Poppa to my 3 grandkids.

To change primary letters for a moment, I would like to learn how to be a friend. This does not come easily to me. I think that I want to be a good friend but I am not naturally wired for it. I am used to influencing more than anything else. It seems to me that women do things together (“Let’s go shopping for shoes”) but men don’t go shopping for a new pair of pants. Men compete with and dismiss each other, often humorously. We men find our social lives through occupations (what occupies us like computers and fishing trips).

Unlike many friendships that seldom appeal, I deeply enjoy and am challenged by the people I visit with in counselling. I think of therapy as confronting, sometimes confusing, frequently funny and always pressing into change. And counselling is also a safe place to tell the truth and to grow. I think it is here that I have the privilege of being most honest and of being me. I think of these people as “client-friends.”

Carole laughs at me when I say I don’t have many friends. But with these good folk I mostly do not practice personhood. I settle for superficial catch-ups and positive gossip. I don’t think that I am so good at being a friend.

 

Time-IN, Not Out (Guest: Kristin Vandegriend)

Time-IN, Not Out (Guest Kristin Vandegriend)

I love “time-in.” When Carole is cross with me, she doesn’t usually send me to my room, but sometimes she freezes me out with her pointy glares and chilly words. (She won’t like me saying this.) But usually she does a time-in – she lets me work things out for a bit and then we talk and plan for a next time. There is always a next time.

Kristin Vandegriend is a friend who is doing time-ins masterfully with her little girl. I guess this is best used in parenting. You can read about it right here:

Back in the summer, we came across a parenting concept called “time in.”  The basic concept is that when a child is struggling, what they really need is connection, not isolation and distance. Instead of punishing with a “time out” which is isolating, we respond with choosing to stay in proximity to our child until they can calm down and find a better way to cope. We had tried “time out” before, but with disastrous results.

Several weeks ago, our 4-year-old daughter was having a hard time at the dinner table.  She was crying, screaming and hitting, behavior that is not acceptable in our home. Both my partner and I tag-teamed in trying to lay down boundaries with her and set expectations for behavior. It was really frustrating to see her behavior escalate and I could feel that I was starting to get angry as well.  But in the moment, I thought about how she must feel when it becomes a 2-against-1 battle.  It made me wonder if what she was simply asking for was to be heard and to feel a sense of connection (plus it was entirely possible that she was just really hungry as well.) I took her onto my lap and simply helped her eat her supper.  She calmed down almost immediately and once the intensity was over, we were able to dialogue about what had happened and our expectations for her behavior in the future.

In other situations, I have taken her into her room, set a timer and simply been with her while she calmed down.  On rare occasions, we make several trips back and forth to her room as she tries to regulate her behavior.  We practice some breathing and we talk about ways that we can help calm ourselves down when we get overwhelmed with emotion.  We address the inappropriate behaviors and outline expectations for more positive behaviors.

I don’t know if this strategy has worked for us because of who my daughter is or who I am.  But when I think about when I am upset, what I really want is deep empathy, to be loved despite my failings and to know that I am not alone.  So it makes me think that perhaps that this might actually be a deeper human desire and that children, in particular, need to know that they are not alone despite the ways that they may act.

Here is a further article from Positive Parenting Connection.

Thanks Kristin.

A Call for Restraint in the Age of the Opinion (Guest Blog)

The following blog comes from a client-friend who finds listening lost in the world of unconstrained opinions. This has been helpful to me.

 

Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.[1]

I admit it; these days I’m as prone to get my news from my Facebook feed as I am from the New York Times. My hope is that trusted friends of mine will post legitimate links, and as I survey the field of opinions I may be able to wade through the myriad of information to arrive at some sense of an informed outlook.

Although social media is a helpful tool in this regard, I also cringe at the way many of us use and abuse our posting privileges. We are navigating new ground in this information age and many of us are making gut-wrenching mistakes along the way.

It seems to me that we need to recover the art of being slow to speak (or in this case post) about complex issues. Reading a few blog posts does not entitle us to expert-level truth claims. Though we are entitled to our opinions, too many of us project our minimally informed opinions as fact, unwilling to accept or engage with those who have researched the subject thoroughly.

What I fear is that, for all of our newfound ability to share information, we are losing the ability to communicate with one another. We don’t allow each other the space to sit with complexity, or the respect to disagree without breaking connection. With our quick-fire opinion bombs, we blow up our relationships for the sake of our truth. We unfriend our opponents, never having really taken the time to consider their perspective.

We amateurs ought to watch our words more carefully and hold our perspectives a bit more loosely. We do not know the extent of the harm our words may cause, or the relational cost we may incur in our unbending expression of personal opinion. Perhaps, in some cases, it is better to hold our tongue and keep our friends for the time being.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t speak up about injustice, or that we shouldn’t stand for equality or other important issues. What I am saying is that we need to acknowledge our own limited perspective and grant others leeway to do the same.

This age, with all its technological wonders, offers unprecedented opportunity to dialogue and inform one another. May we be those who foster grace and humility, rather than antagonism. In other words, may we be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry;” (James 1:19, NIV). Amen.

[1] This quote has been variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and Maurice Switzer. It’s more positively stated alternative is found in Proverbs 17:28: “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (NIV).

Is Depression Treatable with a Mobile Phone App?

Now this is interesting to me. Can you do therapy without a therapist? Will I be out of work soon? (Smile.)

Thousands of new mobile phone apps have popped up to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety. Though many claim to employ clinically sound methods, critics say that human interaction is key to mental health care.

Is it safe or effective to use apps to treat anxiety or depression? What do you think?

“ACTing”: A Model for Community Change

I don’t write much about my consultation work on these pages, but I think that “ACTing” is relevant for all of us that are going through some transition. E.G., I am of the age to begin retiring and I have just left the graduate school where I taught for 7 years.

This is a simple paradigm I use in my work with business leaders, community workers and church leaders. I think it for my own changes as well.

A stands for adjustment. The lowest level of change is to tweak what is not going well and hope that this is sufficient. Organizations might create a new logo, or a college might write a document intended to educate about sexual harassment. Even the most modest adjustments are potentially harmful; they lead leaders into the illusion that they and their organizations have changed. Adjustments don’t make change – they stop change.

C stands for change. Every system has a culture that resists change. We love the misbelief that we got it right the first time. Changes in organization are costly, impactful, hopeful and troubling. In changes we discard what does not work and design what does. We might change leadership in an organization; for example change is to design a work-from-home policy for the purpose of valuing parenting and child care costs or the time wasted in commuting.

T stands for transformation. The location of macro change is when we fresh-think purpose, mission and “way in the world.” A church I was consulting with decided to move from a central structure (e.g. Sunday morning at 11 am) to a simpler model where the people were disbursed into multiple “simple churches” of 20-30 people that met at various times of the week in various homes, coffee shops and other public facilities. This transformational change produced radical results and most of them positive.

Here are some ACTing questions for you.

  1. In the changes you are making in your life, are you adjusting, changing or transforming? Think of your partnerships at work, your marriage, how you interact in your neighbourhood.
  2. Most people are intentionally working their bodies. They may hope to gain muscle mass (not me) or lose weight (that’s more like me), or develop new hobbies like mountain biking, etc. How are you approaching your changes?
  3. Imagine a conflict you have that has been eating you up for a while. What changes are you making? How is it working out?

ACTing is a made-up verb. You change when you are in the verb tense.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Read More

44 Years — Still Surprised

In about a week, Carole and I will have been married for 44 years. We made a covenant back then in which we promised to love and obey. We’ve been fighting over that ever since and mostly in good humour.
September is a time for promising. Much less glamourized than January, September is a time for covenant making and renewing promises. Kids begin schools in sparkling clothes and lunch buckets, workers return from holidays with renewed vigour (one hopes), church initiates newness remembering its traditions and stretching for hope.
I am glad for this September. 44 years is a wondrous marker for someone who was surprised that he was still married after 20.

Welcome to David Ducklow

Carole and I have two children who have been adults for years but we think of them as our “kids.” Christine is a mom of 3 of the best small people ever and a forgiving wife of a compulsive mountain biker — they both do other stuff too. And one day Christine might join us in our shared work in journeying with people.

David who has been a spiritual director and intentional tutor for many years has recently graduated with an MA in Spiritual Formation from Carey Theological College. He is also Special Education Coach and tutor with kids with “dif-abilites” (his word). He also has a degree as a Special Education Assistant from CapU plus a BA degree in psychology and theology.

We welcome David to our shared practice. You can reach him at http://www.davidducklow.com. He works out of his home office and local libraries in North and West Vancouver.

I encourage you to read his blogs to get a sense of his deep life (http://davidducklow.blogspot.ca). And, by the way, he has “dif-abilites” too.

Counselling Can Be Expensive

Now that is a truism. Sometimes I tell my clients that I can’t even afford me! (I am never sure how they take that.)

But how you feel about the expense of counselling depends a lot on what you get out of it.

My fee is $180 per hour. Carole’s fee is $160 per hour and David’s fee is about $50-75 per hour. I usually see someone for about 10, 1-hour sessions, so the total is about $1800 over several months. That is a lot of money, perhaps what you pay on car insurance. And then you take that car in for a tune-up (actually they don’t tune up anymore – they download computer upgrades) or sign up for a course at Capilano U.

Here is what I do about fees:
• I charge $45 per hour less than the suggested rate for Psychologists ($225 as of January, 2019). I want to give back to you.
• Many of you can have your fees covered under an employee assistance plan or an insurance program. Make sure that you check your coverage for “Psychologists” before you visit with me. By the way, Carole’s fees as a Registered Clinical Counsellor may be covered under your plan as well.
• Here is something interesting: if both you and your partner are both covered under your EAP or insurance program it may mean that you have twice the number of appointments for couple counselling. Imagine how many family appointments you can have if you have 10 kids!
• Keep your receipts for your income tax – some of it may be reimbursable. Ask an accountant.
• I also create my own assistance plan with your church or community group. You pay a portion (about a third) of the fee and they pay about a third, and I will reduce my fee to correspond. And this for a maximum of 10 sessions.

I am happy to say that most of my client-friends consider therapy to be good value and many recommend their family and friends. Counselling can be a valuable investment and worth much more than it costs.

(Updated in January, 2019)

 

[You can respond to this blog or anything else you see on my web site by emailing life@theducklows.ca.]

Fighting: We See Things as We Are

Anais Nin commented that “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Acknowledging this – that our life and especially our pain, skews our seeing and our thinking – is the first step in mediation and conflict resolution.

If the psychologist observes this when two parties are deeply stuck and viciously divided, she challenges her client-friend’s way of being in the world, his world view.

The second step is to appreciate the other’s point of view – to see that it has merit.

The third step in mediation is to find an agreed upon goal that both parties can strive towards. This is popularly known as a ‘win-win’ solution and puts the combatants on the same side.

These 3 steps result in a ‘success’ that is seldom better than 70%; in other words, neither party gets the perfection they think they are due.

Acknowledging, then appreciating and finally agreeing. And that seems right to me.

Is My Marriage Worth It?

Conflict and relationships go together. A conflict-free marriage is an oxymoron.

Why? People mature at different rates; they have different values (some they don’t even know they have); and people see and experience the world differently. And all of this leads to tension that can result in conflict. And sometimes we wonder if marriage is worth it.

These are the kinds of issues my clients bring to couple therapy. Think about these questions for you and your marriage.

• If you had to create a short list of people you could spend the day with, would your spouse be on that list? Do you genuinely enjoy each other’s company? Do you laugh when you’re together?
• Do you have the same or similar values, goals and interests? Do you and your spouse enjoy doing some or lots of things together? Do the two of you want the same things out of life?
• Do you express a lot of affection and appreciation for each other? Or is there mostly indifference, negativity and hostility in your relationship?
• Do you feel understood when you are talking with your partner? Does your spouse try to see your point of view? When discussing things, does your husband or wife listen to what you have to say?
• Is your relationship usually based on fairness? Does your spouse see you as an equal? Do you feel you are treated with respect? Or do you feel used, exploited, or taken for granted?
Do you feel that your spouse will be there for you in a time of need? Can you count on your spouse for help when the going gets tough?
• Do you feel comfortable sharing your private thoughts with your spouse? How easy is it for you to talk to your spouse about sensitive issues?
• When you disagree with each other, do the two of you work together and try to resolve your differences? Or is there a lot of hostility, disregard and contempt when disagreements arise?
• Does your spouse care for you sexually? Do you make love pretty regularly? Or are you disappointed or frustrated with your affection?

The pain can be huge. This happens when conflict spikes and shared pleasures plummet. And even at these times, working on your marriage is always worth it.

The Wisdom of Tenderness

In October 2007, Krista Tippett interviewed Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Tippett is the host of “Speaking of Faith” on American Public Media, one of my favourite blog sites and a source of great spiritual-theological gain for me.

Of all of Tippett’s interviews, this interview with Jean Vanier is spectacular — I would say life transforming!

The 90 minute video is a much better investment than watching another edition of “House” (also a favourite of mine!) and you can also download an abbreviated version for your iPod so you can listen to Vanier’s “wisdom of tenderness” while walking or working out at the gym.

Find the interview at http://vimeo.com/462130.

What Motivates You? (Our Triple-A “Drivers”)

We are driven by needs. Many think that we are motivated by values and many of us are some of the time. But all of us are motivated by pressing needs or “drivers.” Consider these drivers in your marriage or family, or in your business or church.

Acceptance (to be counted in). Who gets to be “in?” This is the issue here. Some attend a church for years without essentially being counted in. They feel like “strangers in a strange land.” And acceptance is pretty easy; just treat people like people you don’t know and would like to, and say “hello and welcome.”

Acknowledgement (to be known). Once you are accepted (or at least feel accepted) you will want someone to know your name and remember it when you return. The simple saying of your name and perhaps attaching some affection to it is the motivator called “acknowledgement.”

Affirmation (to succeed). We all want to feel that we have succeeded in who we are and what we do. When we are affirmed we feel that we “fit” – like a key for a lock. We know our strengths and gifts and work out of them. Success is easy then; it is who we are.

These triple-A drivers are motivators for all of us. Of the three, what motivates you the most?

Would You Like to Super-Size That?

Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.

“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.

I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.

I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.

I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.

Parents and Teens: A Few More Comments (Part 2)

I think a big part of parenting teenagers is self-control as in controlling oneself, not trying to control one’s near adult. If I can be more resilient as a parent then maybe I can parent more effectively. Psychologists call this “differentiation” and it is the ability to separate emotions from thoughts. When  thinking becomes clouded by emotional responses, we become undifferentiated. Families with lots of emotionally reactive reasoning used to be called “undifferentiated ego mass.” Lovely description of a family isn’t it?

Back to some comments about parenting teens with an understanding that no one does this perfectly. So first,

— Give up on being a perfect parent or having a perfect kid. Reality is more helpful than perfectionism.

— Don’t push your power, your age or your wisdom. Just because you own the mortgage on the home does not mean that you have the right to coerce or pummel your teens into compliance.

— Believe in your teen’s hyperbole. Exaggeration and overstatement is a favourite in adolescent communication. You don’t need to correct her. Anyway, she might just be the best Math student on the planet.

— You don’t have to be your kids’ friend. Accept yourself as a parent and learn to be good at it.

— Value what he or she has to say even when you disagree or have a different opinion.

— Speak quietly especially when the tension is rising. Tension goes up, voices go quieter and everybody listens more intently.

— Be careful of quick decisions. Quick conclusions are soon problems.

— Admit when you don’t know something. This is easier to do than you think. And your kid will appreciate your incompetence and see it as common ground.

So you might ask, “Did you do all these things?” Uh, no. I just did my best like you. But I wish that someone told me some of this while I was an undifferentiated ego mass.

Parents and Teens — Some Comments (Part 1)

For 5 years when I first started my work as a Psychologist, I worked for Family Services in West Vancouver where I focused on dysfunctional families referred through the public school system, police and probation.

I thought of these kids as “BC’s best” and mostly they were hopeful, resilient, and crafty and making the best out of some tough and tense circumstances at home and at school. They were also hard to handle – it was easy for me to talk with them as they got to skip school to “go see the shrink.” I remember one parent who asked if I knew of a monastery in Africa where he could send his 16-year old son. (Didn’t know of one.)

Some of the parents were excellent in loving and guiding their kids and some were clearly working out their own difficulties in marriage and life through their offspring. Some of these kids became the “Identified Problems” of the greater family tension.

Along the way, I worked up some principles for parents living with teens. These days I am having a resurgence of parents seeking help with their kids and I thought this list might make some sense to some. If nothing else, it might help parents remember what they hoped for when they were teens.

So for parents, in random order as it occurs to me…

— Be careful about criticism of anything. Even when you think you are only making a comment, it may well be experienced as another of a long list of judgments.

— Focus on your teen’s emotions. Kids “naturally” emotionally reason and this can seem illogical to you as a parent.

— Think about what depression looks like in a teen. Sometimes it is in withdrawal and sometimes it is in acting out aggressively. When your child is acting hurt and harmed, wonder about how his inner life is going.

— Say as little as possible and especially about your own experience, unless asked. When kids talk they want to talk and not listen to your thoughts.

— Don’t believe in “teachable” moments. Let your kid talk without your interruption.

— Ask questions that can be answered. Questions like, “Do you want to suggest with me 3 or 4 ideas from which you can choose?”

— Experiment in thinking in non-absolutes. If you have a 70% good relationship with your kids, then celebrate that. Don’t overly prod and provoke the 30% that is not the best.

Okay, that’s enough for today. In fact, that’s probably enough for a few days. I will post a few other ideas in a bit.

It is Where I Belong

Someone asked me the other day why church is important to me. For me, it is sort of like asking why my family is important to me. It is where I belong.

I know lots of people and many I know well. Some of these people I may tell my story to and I listen to their experience too. But in church, like in my family, there is so much I don’t have to say to be known and know that my belonging is not questioned.

This is probably obvious but psychological research finds that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life. We feel our lives are meaningful when we feel we belong. I think that this is one of the reasons why people marry (rather than “live together”) and why they marry when they discover they are pregnant. “I want my child to know she belongs” is what is often said.

Here is an idea: close your eyes for a minute and think of two people or groups to which you really belong. Now consider how much meaning you feel in your life. (I just did this with the thought of my two grandsons – our granddaughter is due any day now – and “out of the blue” I feel my life has meaning.)

Note: this is not about what others give me (recognition say) or provide for me (a place to be known); it is what I am when I am with them. Now I can clearly see this with Jasper and Lucas – I am Poppa. I know who I am, where I belong, and in the mystery of our shared “us,” I have meaning.

Some people don’t know they belong. I had 2 clients yesterday who basically said that to me. One was married (and she with 2 kids) and one was single, 37 years old and into weekend hooking up when what he really wants is to be married with kids and to belong.

I want them to have family, I want them to have church.

“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)

My New Anxiety Mantra

Anxiety manifests physically before your brain can figure out what’s going on. You might feel it in your gut or in your breathing. But watch yourself to see what happens with you.

Today I was doing supervision with a fellow psychologist and she asks 3 questions of herself when she is anxious. I think that I will try it with myself and I recommend it to you as well.

First question: “What am I anxious about?” and give yourself some time to figure it out. It might surprise you that it is not what you first think it is. If you think a bit deeper, you might find a thread of anxiety that runs throughout your emotional life. And it might not be the current circumstance or tension you are dealing with.

Second, “Whose problem is it?” Most anxious people take on the upset feelings of others in their emotional world (e.g. mothers, teachers, neighbourhood children…) and think it is theirs to worry about. Again, think it through and get to the truth.

And #3: “Is there anything I can do about it right now?” If not, let it go. At least until you figure you need to pick it up again.

Now I have a weird disclosure to make. I use the “Reminders” app on my MacBook to tell me when I should start to worry about something! When I put a time clock beside the thing I am anxious about, my iPhone gives me a ding to remind me to be anxious. I laugh when I see that I have reminded myself to worry. Weird isn’t it? Reduces my anxiety though.

Empathy — When Something Good Is Done

When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?

Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.

Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.

I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.

Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.

A Stranger Interview (or “Free Coffee for Free Thinking”)

Most of us keep to ourselves and the one’s that don’t are often referred to as “extroverts.” Introverts, those that gain energy in smaller groupings, however, are often the best at intimacy and are usually great in 1-on-1 conversations.

In some of my teaching, I ask my students to do “stranger interviews” with people outside their social / religious / age / race / gender constituency. 10 interviews with 10 strangers about the most important things in life.

My favourite series of interviews was by a student who interviewed 10 beggars on the Granville Mall. His criteria? They had to be beggars and they were willing to give him 10 minutes of their time to talk about intrusive matters for $10. That’s right, he paid them 10 bucks. (Other students have put up signs in coffee shops that say something like “free coffee for free thinking.”)

And I ask people in my counselling practice to do the same. “Talk to 10 people this week who are outside of your particular world and ask them 5 or 10 things.” Here are some example questions (any question can be asked but these are illustrative):

  1. Do you believe that you have a “call” for your life and if so, do you think you are living it?
  2. What is the essence of your “you”; that is, how are you unique, gifted, valuable to your personal world?
  3. What will “they” write on your tombstone (assuming you will have one)?
  4. If you were to design a T-shirt, what would it say / show on the front and back?
  5. Do you have a code of ethics – either formal or informal – that provides a structure for your life?

There are three parts to an interview. The first is “the ask” where you simply ask, “May I talk to you for a few minutes about things that are important to me?” This is pretty anxious for both parties but it is hard to turn down. The second stage is “the Q+R” as in question and response. Not so much answers to fill-in-the-blank, census-type questions, as responses to thoughtful considerations. And the last stage is “the wrap” where thank yous are offered and spontaneous emotions are experienced. Some people say things like, “this is the best interruption I have had all month.”

So here is “the ask” – “Will you take an hour out of your email-checking life to engage a stranger with some of the most important things of your life?”

Planful and Mediated Separation

First off, I know that “planful” is not a word, but it should be, so I have invented it.

This blog is about mediated separation when one’s partnership goes all wrong, when person one is a distancer (emotional cutoff) and person two is a pursuer (“do this, do this”) or when nothing changes and nothing gets done.

It is about how to separate the relationship in a way that allows the couple to talk some sense rather than rant, and to make some changes rather than just quit.

Some couples get back together through this process and some don’t — but it has to do with a person’s choice, rather than just guilt and coercion or storing up and blowing up.

You can read about it on my web site under “Tools — Planful and Mediated Separation.”

Waking Up Tired

John Blase, poet of “The Beautiful Due,” calls this poem “True Autumn” and it seems to my mind to be well understood as “generativity,” that stage in life beyond just being old (see Erik Erikson’s seventh stage of psychosocial development: generativity or stagnation). I have borrowed Blase’s first line, “Waking Up Tired” as the title, perhaps because I understand that so.

John, By the way, is becoming a best friend of mine, not that he knows me at all, but that I am knowing him. You will see his writing posted on my office door at Carey and I often read his poetry in lectures. His rich words resonate with my life and the work that I do, and I often find myself grateful to his sensitivity to all things human and spiritual. I was grateful that he happily allowed me to repost his words. Here they are:

He woke up tired of life. Not life in general but life specific, as in the way he was living it. Yes, that’s much closer to the truth: He woke up tired of his life. He’d reinvented himself about fifteen years ago, surprised everyone including God. It was a bloom for the better, he called it his late spring liberation.

But now he was in his Indian summer, true autumn would set in soon. He sensed this next season would not be one of putting on but falling away, like the leaves. Not a manufactured stripping a la flagellation, but natural, prompted only by the wind’s ways. The feeling was impossible to shake, that his absolute survival depended on this change. He simply could not continue on with the way things were. If he did he might uncle to despair, and that would be more than he could bear. That would be to admit a great defeat. That would be to give up on life, to trample underfoot the gift.

How to Find a Counsellor

Carole and I often have people asking about who to see for counselling or where to find a psychiatrist or psychologist, sometimes in towns I have never heard of. I (Paddy) have put together a few thoughts that might move you along to your destination. Here you are:

1.         What kind of counsellor do you want? You may not know that a marriage counsellor might not be as helpful as you hope in working with your anxiety or assessing autism in your child. Make sure you ask for what you really want. It is okay to ask a prospective therapist what they love doing.

2.         Think about coverage or third party payment. In our part of the world (BC), medical doctors or psychiatrists are paid for your visits, so you don’t pay, your insurance does. Registered psychologists (Paddy is a psychologist) are covered by most insurance programs but you must make sure how much coverage you have – each insurance program is different. Carole is Registered Clinical Counsellor and it is increasingly common to have these folk covered as well. By the way, it is okay to ask for a reduction in fee if you are financially stretched. The counsellor can always say “No.”

3.         Consider the “match.” Do you want someone who understands and identifies with your faith commitment or family status? If you are LGBT, do you hope for someone who shares your hopes and experiences? Match is one of the most important criteria in choosing. If you have a poor match, you can waste time and money. The therapist’s web site should give you most of the information you need.

4.         It is okay to interview a prospective counsellor or therapist. Figure out what questions you have and if you can’t reach the person on the phone, send your email questions.

5.         You can look for referral lists. The BC Psychological Association has a list as does the Registered Clinical Counsellor Association. I recommend that those who want a church-referenced counsellor contact the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada — they have a listing across the country.

I hope that this helps you a bit. I have a longer article on my web site that you can visit, as well as some recommended counsellors that Carole and I work with personally. This latter group is mostly in the Vancouver area.

My best to you on your search and contact us if you want to talk this through a bit.

Contentment: A Simmering (Guest Blog)

The following is a blog by a client-friend who is deeply grappling with what it means to be human in relationships and what it means to be faithful to herself. She is easy to admire as she has gone through losses and discovered meaning. I hope you enjoy her thoughts.

Being 27 is something I have always wanted.  It seemed like the perfect age to me because I obviously would be engaged to a very successful man, have a very successful career, and be at the peak of my climb in my own social ladder.  I would attend my 10 year reunion and everyone would be envious of me.  Isn’t it funny how life always seems to stick out its tongue at you and yell, “GOTCHA!”?

Earlier this year I experienced the most intense heart break, and I was not sure I was going to going to get through it, let alone ever recover.  Instead of living one day at a time, I was literally existing one second at a time.  Slowly the seconds turned to minutes, and the minutes to hours, and now I’ve found the hours have definitely turned to days.  But if you told me presently I would still be living one day at a time, relinquishing the last minute I had to keep my eyes open before I could retire to sleep, I would not have believed you.  Not me!  I thought I was far too smart and strong to ever live a 24 hour emotional day.  At times I find myself staring at my ceiling, picturing the heavens, and shouting silently, “When is my big break coming?”  It makes me so angry sometimes to think of how hard I have struggled, to get to this measly place in my life, that I often break down in tears just out of sheer frustration and emotional exhaustion.

In the past couple months, I have experienced a slow realization.  It has not been an epiphany, nor an “AHA!” moment, but a simmering feeling that either my outlook needed to change, or I would constantly be striving for the “something more”.  I currently have a job in finance, at one of the most successful new accessory companies in the world.  My boss is, for the most part, great, and my coworkers could be considered some of my closest friends.  I have a lot of responsibility at work, and although I do not get paid a lot right now, the experience I am gaining will be extremely valuable, should I ever decided to move on.  I have an amazing apartment in the heart of the city, and 2 absolutely lovely roommates who accompany it with me.  I even have a dog, who loves me so much, and gives me a reason to always get out of bed in the morning, even if I am having a dark day.  I have some of the best girlfriends in the city who have been there for me in my toughest times, and would never leave me.  My heart is healing slowly, and I am learning a lot about being datable.  I have enough money to keep me fed and go to the gym, which means I am healthy, and I can even contribute to my retirement savings plan!

While I don’t have the top of the line career, or a big ring on my finger symbolizing the amazing eternal love I’ve found, I do have a lot of things.  Once I started letting go of all the things I want to have, and focusing on what I do have, bits of light started floating into my life again.  I wouldn’t call the light happiness, but I would call it contentment.  I get a smirk on my face and peace sits on my heart when I think of all the things I do have.  This peace has led me to little things I need to work on in my life such as: being a better employee; not being so moody when things don’t go my way; trying to be less flakey and continue to commit to plans when I say I will; stop comparing every nice man in my life to my past relationship.  Contentment has led me to see the things in my life that are definitely attainable, and while a bigger salary will not make me a better person, this contentment will.

The Depression Dog

When others seem to be enjoying life, the black dog stands in the way for a lot of people. If you’re wondering WTF I’m talking about, watch the video. And if you recognize any of this, maybe it’s time to think about taking some steps to look after yourself.

The “Depression Dog” video is from the World Health Organization and well defines the experience of depression.

Apps for Health

I have an apps fetish. I think it is because I love to get things free or at least cheap. And some I continue to use, like “Moves.” It tells me where I have gone in a day (by car, train, walking, biking or whatever else) and how many calories I have burned and steps taken. When I get close to 10,000 steps in a day (takes me 2, 1/2 hour walks) I feel especially virtuous and youngish. I double my virtue by taking our 15 year old cocker spaniel.

So this listing of great apps is for “Counsellor Self-Care,” a title I particularly dislike but the article and apps are worth discovering.

Take a look and let me know if they are interesting to you.

 

The Slipperiest Emotion

Anxiety is a slippery emotion. It is the WD-40 of experience, making other emotions slither into all aspects of your life. Anger gets bigger and sadness can skid into depression. It also affects your smell — bet you didn’t know that. And it also makes you feel like you might fall over, so balance is affected too.

But that’s not all: anxiety has the effect of making you think others’ are looking at you or at least avoidant of you, and you wonder why you don’t really want to go to that party when you are anxious. And sometimes anxiety results in you feeling like people are violating your space, as in “Give me back the remote!” or “Stop asking me so many questions!” Anxious people seem to expand their need for personal space and they talk about boundaries a lot.

We all know that anxiety is an important emotion – it makes us aware of danger and so our biology has adjusted to winter weather (“get on those snow tires”), increasing density of housing or school size, the intrusion of not-so-smart phones. Many anxiety triggers can be crippling to normal social interaction and simple peace. A friend of mine says, “Don’t forget to breathe.” I always forget that

Here are some ideas about anxiety and how to handle the skiddy thing.

Exercise reduces anxiety. You probably know this if you see me for counselling. Most people who get a little exercise feel less anxiety and less depression too. As little as 20 minutes can make you feel calmer right now. I ask my clients to walk “in a straight line” (helps in the anxiety of circular thinking) for about an hour and not in a sweaty, comparative and competitive gym. 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening and, if you can do it, with meditative music (not Eric Clapton) works wonders.

Parents make us worry. Now before you think I am blaming your parents, like many things, high anxiety is partly in the genes, but part of the reason anxious people are anxious is because of their parents’ criticism, coldness and worried doubt.

Injunctions (these are anxious projections from parents or parent-like systems, to children) like “He’s not very bright, is he?” or “He can’t do it” becomes to the child, “I’m stupid” and “I’m a failure.” This tells us something about how we should parent our kids; that is, bring them up with affirmations like, “I love watching you enjoy basketball,” or “You got exactly the mark on that test you thought you would get” as opposed to “How many Cs was that?” or “How are you going to get into UBC with those grades?”

Think some new thoughts. It is probably pretty obvious that our thinking inculcates anxiety into our emotional system. Anxiety ideas are tremendously predictable, in fact, they are even boring they are so predictable.

One of the best ways of reducing anxiety is to think about situations differently than what causes you to be anxious. For example, before an exam, one could say, “I am a very successful person however I do on this paper.” Perhaps when we do our first oral presentation at Toastmasters, one might repeat a few times, “I am going to speak to these people as if they were my best friends on  my birthday.” In fact, that is great advice to preachers and teachers who are worn out after a talk or a sermon or who wear out their hearers. Suppressing anxiety is a bit like squeezing water. It’s much better to reframe the emotion with greater truth than, “If I don’t do perfectly, I am a royal screw-up.” Make sense?

Anxious people mind-read and jump to conclusions. Watching facial expressions causes lots of problems when you are anxious. Assuming the worst, you might well see the worst – this is called “perceptual sensitivity” and mostly it means mind-reading what others are thinking. “I know you think my dress is ugly,” might be an example. How to handle that? Appreciative Inquiry works well here. Ask an affirming question.

Meditation, reflection and prayer reduces anxiety. When I say this I hope that you don’t start ruminating. Rumination is circular obsession and this reduces thinking and calmness while increasing anxiety and worry. Worriers often say that they can’t mediate so they don’t try much, or they think they are meditating and decides that it causes them more anxiety. This is obsessive rumination not meditation.

One study found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety for most people by up to 39%. Not bad.

Anxiety expands personal space. I think we all have an invisible field around us that we dislike other people invading. In front of the face it’s generally about 20-40cm; if others get closer without our permission, it feels interruptive. But some researchers have found that anxious people assume a larger personal and expect people to keep up to double that space away, perhaps about 3 feet.

So now what? You already knew you had anxiety and maybe now you might obsess on these things. I have a brief  manual on my web site called “MAD” and it is mostly about depression but it has a lot to say about anxiety too. Take a look if you like.

Vocation is Listening to a Voice

I am preparing for a seminar this week on “Mixed Emotions” focusing on the emotions of leadership, especially in the church. While preparing I remembered this quote from Frederick Buechner that I often read in one of my “Character and Call” classes. It moves me every time I read it.

Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Source: Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner

Feelings Are Meant to Be Felt

We are at my in-laws summer home in Pender Harbor. It is a beautiful place and it is a beautiful day. Christine (my daughter) is busy looking after our lives and Carole is helping out, as they chat happily. Brent (my son in law) is reading beside me and Jasper (my grandson) is wanting my attention. There are books spread out and games to trip over and a general feeling of urgency between him and me. I want to sit and do nothing and Jasper wants my playfulness, loud noises and funny faces.

At a particular point of exasperation with my non-involvement, Jasper hits my arm with all the strength he could muster, trying to get my attention I suppose, and I speak sharply to him. He’s not used to sharpness from me – he gets mostly big affirmations and funny voices and silly ways to walk. This is the kind of Papa that I want to be, not the sharp and defensive kind.

My scolding scared him and the urgency of the moment provoked a gasp of tears and a startled cry. He doesn’t want me to be close to him or touch him and he moves to the protection of his father’s arms while looking at me with strange horror. A few moments pass and his hurt falls away.

He stands in front of me looking sorrowful and I say to him, “Did I hurt your feelings Jasper?” “Yes Papa, you did.” I say, “I am very sorry for hurting your feelings Jasper.” And then everything changes as he says to me, “I’m not sad anymore Papa. I happy now. Are you happy Papa?”

I know that feelings are meant to be felt. But sometimes my hurt feelings stay with me too long. Jasper seems to have the capacity or the grace to let his hurt feelings go. Paul writes in Ephesians, “live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord” [Ephesians 5:8 – 10]. Seems like good advice to me.

Mourning for Maaloula (Guest Blog)

This paragraph is a blog from my “other ” work at Carey Theological College where Axel Schoeber is a colleague and professor. I have read about Maaloula and but the need and tragedy went by me too quickly. Axel’s comments have stirred that memory and caused me to think and pray. Perhaps it will you as well.

Aramaic was the language Jesus would commonly have spoken and was the trade language of the nations around Judea in his time. The use of the language has almost died out. One community that is making big efforts to revive Aramaic is the Syrian Christian town of Maaloula. A world heritage site, Maaloula has become the scene of repeated battles in the Syrian Civil War in the past week. Many Christians have fled, though some nuns are staying in order to care for some 20 orphans. There are reports that some of the rebels have killed Christians and attempted forced conversion to Islam. Apparently, control of the city has changed hands several times. Yet it is hard to imagine that this community will be able to return to normal functioning in any case. This historic Christian community is at risk. John Donne wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Similarly I am grieving with our brothers and sisters from Maaloula. (Axel Schoeber)

The Heaviest Emotion (David Ducklow)

This blog is from my son, David Ducklow who is now part of our counselling team. These words are from his blogspot, entitled “Grace & Peace To You.” You might want to sign up to get them regularly. Here are David’s thoughts on the heaviest emotion.

When I was at university, I would hear well-intentioned, married staff members talk about how singleness is a gift. But at the same time, you could hear a tinge of ‘poor you’ in their voices as they empathically looked at us, hoping that we would not remain this way for much longer. I was not impressed.

“Sure,” I thought, “maybe singleness is a gift. But if this is true, then loneliness must be a gift as well.”

At around this time I concluded that I was satisfied with the single life…  360 days a year. Except for days like February 14, December 24 and 25 and 31 and my birthday, I was alright with my non-marital status.

This is not a blog to solve the problems of single men and women, because we have no more or less problems than you or anyone else. We just need encouragement, someone to change the subject now and then, and a helping hand because loneliness is the heaviest emotion. And at one point or another, everyone needs to carry it.

Updated September, 2015.

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

Is Your Spouse Your “Best Friend”? (Carole Ducklow)

Good friendships are built on trust and trust takes time to mature and develop. What better context for this kind of friendship to grow than in the covenant of your marriage? Friendship involves intimate sharing, a shared place where you can talk about your feelings and hopes with honesty, transparency and ease.

How do you work with your partner to be each other’s best friend? Paddy and I have been married for 43 years. There have been great times of intimacy and some character-building tragedy. And through it all we have remained the best of friends. Here is what we have learned.

Assign top priority to your friendship. Nothing gets in the way of our doing what is most important to us. If you really want to be friends with your spouse, make time for it. It will be time well spent. One of the hindrances to spending time with your spouse may be the demand of raising your kids. They require lots of creative time, but it is important to remember that you were lovers and friends before you were parents,

Cultivate openness in your relationship. Honesty with your self and each other makes you a better friend. Discover the freedom that comes with being who you are. Find times to talk about your ambitions and dreams. Make sure that you know each other’s hopes and needs, especially sexual needs.

Dare to risk talking about your affection. Make, and use, a batch of little cards that say, “I love you because….” Fill in the blank and put them in lunch boxes for your kids, in jacket pockets for your spouse, in letters to your best friends. Use text messages in the same way. Your spouse, especially, wants to know he or she is loved.

Learn your particular languages of love. Each person needs to learn how to say, “I love you,” not only in those three little words but also through actions of respect. Do you show your spouse that you love him or her with their favorite meal, a bouquet of flowers, a small gift, remembering to do an errand, doing a chore without being asked? Keep your eyes open for common, everyday events that give you the chance to express your love.

Give your spouse freedom. Don’t let your unforgiveness or possessiveness control your spouse. Give him or her room to explore their potential, learn from their mistakes, and have some personal private time that is totally their own. Accept your partner – unconditionally – and encourage him or her to be the person they were created to be. And, as the seasons of your lives change, notice and make adjustment for the variations in your friendship.

A friendship that is tended and nurtured will do much more than endure; it will thrive. And being your spouse’s best friend will also enable your marriage to thrive as well.

Carole Ducklow, M.A., Registered Clinical Counsellor

Done (or “Disposable Art” as a friend once said)

July 1, 2013 and it is the hottest Canada Day on record and I have spent the day dumping old sermons into yellow plastic recycling bags.

Now please take this blog in the spirit with which it is written – total self-pity. I think that sometimes a little public pouting is good for the soul, in spite of what psychology claims, especially when one feels that “life as I have known it is over” (I have been muttering this a lot lately as I approach my 65th).

So, as I have said, it is a sweltering day, 30 degrees upstairs in our house, and Carole decides to go for a swim in the ocean but I mope downstairs where it is 10 degrees cooler and shuffle through 40 years of my paper life. For those who don’t know, preachers used to write sermons on 8.5×11 inch paper and drew outlines on acetate sheets for projection, way before PowerPoint and laptops but way after flannel graph.

Into the yellow recycling bag went all my Biblical brilliance. Sermon series entitled “Questions God Asks of Ordinary People,” “LAF, It’s Only the Church” and “Some Things I Learned Since I Knew it All,” were interspersed with less colorful topics such as “Romans in a Week,” or “When God Comes Down,” which sounds a bit frightening if I didn’t have a decent theology about who God is. He probably won’t incarnate again just to rebuke me for pouting.

In dumping my theological history, my occasional rants and revelations, my hope for a truth that can be walked in, my compulsions to see the church be what it can be, as well as some wisdom along the way, I feel relieved, finished finally. Done.

Seeing my soiled and written-on outlines, I can also see my anxious delusions as well as worthy hopes and good intentions and I am content that both get dumped together, slumming side-by-side in my yellow recycling bag. This seems fitting and the yellow tinge makes them look more antiquated, more special than they are.

It occurs to me that the best preaching that I could muster is to be recycled into Starbucks cups. So if you see the word “grace” or “hope” or “heaven” prisoned inside your paper latte cup, it might have been written by me.

You’re welcome.

Depression — This is Really What It’s Like

I have written about depression on this blog. It is my familiar experience like a noisy and nosey relative, and the recurring onslaught of many of my client friends.

In my practice I hand out questionnaires, teaching outlines and recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy books. I listen as deeply as I can as well.

But sometimes I discover something that just says it all while making blog everything else redundant and does so without all the clever and self-important diagnostics that psychologists seem to need. I love this blog and I hope you do too. Congratulations to Allie Brosh for making it through and leading others in her wake.

My Virginity Mistake (Eryn-Faye Frans)

What do you think about a kind of faith that promises to remain a virgin prior to marriage? Here is the hard part: what if you are 21 years of old, madly in love with someone, believe you have a covenant future and deeply involved in your faith community?

Does sexual and emotional attachment (as in, what do I do with my surging feelings?) before marriage interrupt or harm one’s attachment towards God and faith? Does virginity before marriage make it more likely that you will have a joyful sexual life once married? Perhaps you think that you have made a “virginity mistake.”

Eryn-Faye Frans is a friend of mine and has been for many years. She is a Toronto lawyer and is also “Canada’s Passion Coach” who confronts sexual issues that may be uncomfortable for some and deeply welcomed by many others. And she has a special interest in the church and its mission in the world.

In her blog, Eryn-Faye responds to a Salon.com article (also very interesting) on the debate around faith and virginity. I found the discussion very thoughtful and I hope that you do as well. Also, check out my friend’s web site at ErynFaye.com.

She has published “The Essential Elements of Sex” and I use this book in my marital practice.

Been Thinking About Change (Laura Sportack)

Laura Sportack, a friend as well as the chaplain at GF Strong (Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver), has been thinking about change. Here are her thoughts and you could add your own.

  • — Moving from where one is to where one wants to be.
  • — A decision made out of necessity.
  • — Deciding to do something good with painful memories.
  • — The undoing of a habitual action, response, thought, emotion.
  • — Behaviours that assume a different sequencing or timing.
  • — A choice to act on thinking rather than, or at least more than, feeling.
  • — Using different language to describe an emotion or an action.
  • — An achievable hope.
  • — Listening instead of speaking.
  • — For the better or for the worse, and sometimes it is hard to tell which it is.
  • — Not always noticed by others.
  • — Identifiable.
  • — Simultaneously intrapersonal and interpersonal.
  • — A measured response, not a spontaneous or intuitive reaction.
  • — Specific to a need.
  • — When you are afraid and decide to go ahead with it anyhow.
  • — Forgiving yourself and others before you understand how you failed.
  • — God’s way of saving me.

If Laura sounds like a therapist, she is also that. Thanks Laura for your list. (And you might wish to click on the “change” tag below to read some other thoughts on changing.)

Join the Movement

After reading Half the Sky, a women’s book group wanted to make a difference – a real difference. They dreamt, created, argued, consulted, prayed and decided to showcase charitable organizations that actively rescue and work with women and girls. Note: this group decided not to form another NGO and compete with all the other excellent organizations. Last May (Mother’s Day weekend) they launched their first Half the Sky (Canada) event focusing on awareness, advocacy and action.

In just a few short weeks (on Mother’s Day, Saturday, May 11, 10 am – 5 pm), these women advocates will hold their second annual awareness and fund raiser at Park Royal Shopping Centre (south mall) in West Vancouver, BC. They will host 18 charitable organizations that are actively supporting women and girls locally and internationally.

There will be a craft table to make a gift for mum, an outstanding raffle (draw will be at 4pm) and family portrait opportunities. Two BC Lions will join us at the EVA table. Join the movement!

So, having written this because my wife Carole is one of the leaders in this movement and because I deeply believe in advocacy by women for women (of course, men also need to advocate for women and children), a friend forwarded me this wonderful article by former President Jimmy Carter entitled “Losing My Religion for Equality.” Please read it and cheer.

“How’s Your Day?” and Other Great Questions

“How are you doing?” “What’s going on?” “Can I help you?” “Where are you going?” “How’re you feeling?” Questions are important. They make you think.

Two of my favourite parent-to-child questions are:
“What are you doing?” (this helps the child think about her behaviour); and
“What should you be doing?” (this helps the child think about what ought to be).

The first question requires the child to think and reflect. If asked with affection and gentle touch, the child will probably not defend or deny but ponder and remember. The second question invokes the conscience and requires a value or judgment call. This helps a child decide on what is right and true. Two key questions for growing up well or living well when you are older – one for the mind and one for the conscience.

Here are some questions that I ask my client-friends. If you have been visiting with me, you may be familiar with them.
 What are you doing that is working well?
 What are you doing that is taking you nowhere? (Or, “What are you doing to create your own hell?”)
 What assets do you and your colleagues bring to your shared task? (This is a good question for marriage and family as well. Just change the words a bit.)
 How are you most resourceful when life (or work) is threatening or stressful?
 How do you adapt to pain?
 What are you holding on to that you need to relinquish? (Good question for parents of teenagers or those grieving a loss.)
 What positive changes are you causing (e.g. to your work, your family) by being yourself?
 What are the best things about your relationships within your family or work?
 Describe a circumstance in your marriage, family or work in which you felt loved.

For lots more questions pertaining to marriage and pre-marriage look for Couple Intimacy Questionnaire under “Tools For Change.” And if you hope to grow from where you are to where you want to be, see the paper entitled “Contract for Change.” Great questions.

Attractive Opposites (Guest Blog)

Rory and Lisa Holland are friends with Carole and me. Carole and Lisa regularly meet around “Half the Sky” (advocacy for trafficked women and girls) and I travelled with Rory to Central Africa some years ago. I regularly read Rory’s blog entitled “An Examined Life” where he ponders the issues of his life, where he confronts reality and often with a wonderment about faith. This Valentine’s blog is especially winsome and truthful. And, I too, recommend the Schnarch book that Rory recommends.

Here is the blog.

Lisa and I are not in the same place today. I’m on the East Coast, while she is on the West.. Lisa is among trees, me, buildings. It’s kind of fitting, really.

I remember years ago complaining to a therapist that our relationship felt like two railway tracks that never met stretching into the distance. She thought that was a good thing. What? We never went back. I figured we should have been on the same rail – alike in thought and deed. I mean that’s what all that ‘one flesh’ stuff is about isn’t it?

However, as we worked to make each other in our own image, we lost the best of who we were, what had caused the attraction in the first place. Doubt and frustration eroded our connection to the thinnest of threads. The pursuit of sameness sucked.

After plenty of years thrashing around, the salvation of our marriage finally came in one word from a book Lisa read*: differentiation. What that means is, basically, two railway tracks, side by side, running parallel. Yah, I know.

We replaced the guilt and disappointment with the freedom of not caring about any of that shit. In greater and greater degrees, Lisa is Lisa, I am me, and possibly the twain shall meet. Which we do, frequently, but because we want to, not because we’re supposed to.

I don’t know why it took me so long to clue in to this, but the less Lisa is like me, the more attractive she is. Happy Valentine’s.

*Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch


A Client Question: “Who don’t you counsel?”

Mostly I ask questions to my clients. But I receive lots of questions as well. Here is one: “Are there some people you don’t counsel because you don’t think you will be successful?”

That’s a good question and with some people I am less capable than others.

I think that I work best with couples and families, though I do see lots of individuals. As a therapist I watch 3 factors – I call them 3M: motivation, match and method.

Motivation is what the client(s) bring to the sessions. Some come to change. Others come for support to stay the same (this is by far the minority). My job is to assess motivation and this is the best indicator of therapy success.

Match is the connection between the therapist and the client. This has a lot to do with shared values and hopes. Mostly I experience empathy for my clients and this is a huge factor in success.

Method is about the particular strategy. Marriage counselling skills are not very helpful with someone experiencing a major depression or recovering from rape trauma. Where I don’t know the method, I ask for training or supervision. Or I may well refer.

So there are some people I don’t counsel because I won’t be the best for them. It is based on the 3Ms. And if I say “not now” to the request, I work to find a best referral for the person asking for help.

Do This in Remembrance – Emotions and Change

Anyone in therapy knows that remembering provokes change. It causes emotional upheaval and it provokes the necessity of some sort of decision.

Sometimes I ask my client friends, who remember few memories of childhood, to bring in pictures, report cards, childhood drawings, stuffed animals they have saved, anything left over and stored from their childhood. I ask them how they feel about these primitive objects knowing they open some primitive memories and feelings. And their remembering opens up long laid-aside emotions. Sometimes sadness, or joy, or grief, or resentment – emotions bubble up from the emotional underground.

I ask couples to bring in wedding pictures, books they treasured over the years, a favourite sweater from years past, and the action of this stirs up feelings and causes memories to revisit and, sometimes, rekindles embers of forgotten affection.

We store emotions and memories in recesses long forgotten. And it is these emotions and memories that cause us to change. We can’t control the long-layered emotions from our unconscious, but we can decide what we will do with them once we visit with them again.

This is one aspect of wisdom I think – to decide to do something good with painful memories. Perhaps a memory of failing in school or being scorned in athletics or feeling ashamed for simply being. It takes courage to live with hard memories. I admire people who make the decision to do well when they remember.

It seems to me that the “this” in “do this in remembrance” is to decide to do something worthwhile with memories.

Do This in Remembrance — What Matters Most

My son David, when he was 12, had a horrendous stroke that stole his memory and, for a time, his mind. He was in a coma struggling for life and when he “came to” I asked him, “What number is Pavel Bure” (“The Russian Rocket” and the greatest Vancouver Canuck of all time and David’s then idol). David couldn’t speak, his hands were tied to his bed frame, a frozen plastic soother was duct-taped into his mouth, but he knew the number “10.” His hand slowly opened twice. Five fingers, two times. That I won’t forget.

David was there. His memory still worked. His affection was intact. His mind functioned. He knew Pavel Bure’s number.

This is called “emotional memory.” David remembers what emotionally matters to him. He remembers hockey statistics, Bible verses, his friends’ birthdays, his family’s emotions, his Dad’s love for shoulder massages when he is stressed. He doesn’t remember Math 12 or the fundamentalism of his Sunday School days. He remembers emotionally — the things that matter.

And so do you.

I don’t remember friends’ phone numbers now that smart phones have made me dumb. I don’t remember my work address because it is on the footer of my emails. But I do remember Carole’s voice on a phone call when she is just checking in – I remember it with the fragrance, beauty and lilt of our dating years. I remember my teenage daughter coming home late at night on dates with Brent (now her husband and the dad of their two boys) and how we talked about her joy and what most mattered to her. And when David massages my shoulders, I remember when we almost lost him and how I am touched by him.

Schools emphasize “cognitive memory” and this is what we, teachers and professors, often assess. But we don’t normally enter into what our students love and what motivates them to hope and dream. We don’t understand affection, and faith and what is essentially moral, but we evaluate on data accuracy, cognitive carefulness and redundant repetition.

It seems to me that if there is a ribbon in our memory from past to present and present to past (see the last post) it is an emotional ribbon. And it is coloured in Robin Hood green and pumpkin orange and priestly purple and slimming black and smells like fresh baked sourdough with plumping butter poured all over. With a glass of cab sav. Now that I can remember.

Emotional memory tastes as great as it looks and feels even better. Immeasurable really.

Do This in Remembrance — Memory is Odd

I write most things down.

In counselling with couples I draw relational maps so I can remember emotions and how they work back and forth. When I am at home, I make lists of what needs to be done and sometimes I remember to check the list. I am really helped by my iPhone so I can photograph the price of some TV I want to purchase at Costco. Carole and I complete each other’s sentences while we have entirely different memories of the same event. I wish I could remember what I did with the last 10 years and then the 10 years before that. I am glad I write things down.

Memory is odd. We think it is linear like a ribbon, connecting us back to our histories. More likely it is startling and episodic like Instagram photos, highlighting the vivid, often over-coloring the image. You may know the 70s and 80s debate about “recovered memories” vs “false memories.” It turns out that so many of those recovered memories of childhood abuse were false. They never happened. But they were deeply felt to have happened.

Parents, teachers and preachers will tell stories and remember the telling of the story more than the event, and then the hyperbole is believed to be true. It is actually the exaggeration that is remembered. The history is lost.

Families do this a lot. “I remember Candace as being coy even from when she was little.” “Frankie is such a chip of the old block, always in trouble like his dad.” Then it becomes “true” because memory remembers it. History is again reconstructed.

The other day a client-friend asked me, “What do you write down when I am talking?” “Take a look,” I said. He looked at his genogram with all the crisscrossed lines, and my numbered point form of what he said. “Why do you write down exactly what I say?” he asked. “I do this to remember and so that I can understand.” He seemed appreciative: “I don’t think I have ever had anyone listen to me so that they can remember what I said.”

Next post: emotional and social memory. (If I can remember to write it.)

DSM 5 in Distress

The long-awaited DSM 5 has just been approved by the American Psychiatric Association. This has a significant effect on Canadian doctors and health practitioners, including your family physician and psychologist.

A long-time psychiatrist and a member of the DSM 4 task force has some grave concerns as reported in Psychology Today. You might wish to be informed on this and this may be a good place to start. Read DSM 5 in Distress.

Two Boxes

Some of you know that I am a professor at Carey Theological College at UBC and that I have a private practice in psychology in West Vancouver. In both places I am aware that I work with my head and my heart, sometimes more of one than the other. When I meet people for the first time, I often make quick judgments of them as primarily heart-people or head-people. I guess I put them into boxes.

Box 1 is the empathy-compassion box. These are the pastoral, giving folk I meet. They emote integrity and doing right is most important to them. They might give you their last dollar, as did the New York policeman who gave a street person his warm socks and winter boots (this was reported in the news last week). Heart people are friendly, trustworthy, sociable and want to be helpful. These folk are the “heart” of churches, families, community centres and everywhere people are considered more important that programs. They have high social and emotional intelligence. They think with their hearts.

Box 2 is the competency box – this is the head box and it includes thinking intelligence, the ability to solve problems quickly, express creative ideas and fluent thoughts. These people are often motivated by success. They are typically problem solvers and talkers more than listeners, though they often do both. (At this point, some of you are liable to say something like, “This is exactly like my husband!” but in my meeting of people, women are as often to be thinkers-solvers as men.) The competency people are my go-to friends when I have a computer problem or when I need to consult on a difficulty in my life or in my work. They don’t hold my hand and emit sympathy – they get to the problem and figure out how to fix it.

I have found that Box 1 people (the warm-hearted ones) admire Box 2 people (the competency folk) and that Box 2 people wish they were more Box 1-ish, especially with intimates. Someone said that the difference between thinking with your head and thinking with your heart is only about a foot! However, the distance between head and heart is immense when one is stressed or in conflict. Then we tend to polarize around the value of thinking (“What you are saying is illogical. Can’t you hear yourself?”) and feeling (“You don’t understand what I am saying! Just listen to me.”).

When we first meet people most of us have intuition about whether he or she is more of a heart-person or more of a head-person. And we may warm to one over the other depending on the context. Recently I went to a social gathering that I was not interested in attending and I found myself cornered by a hyper-competent, business guy who wanted to tell me the evils of religion. I told him, “I know something about that” and he carried on without pause. I hoped for a little understanding from him, but his speech was well-practiced and thorough. Actually, I quite enjoyed the discussion once I figured out he was a Box 2 guy and that he was exercising his competency muscles. I flexed some of my Box 2 stuff as well.

It seems to me that intellectual competency and heart ability make for a healthy and soulful dyad in relationships and within ourselves. It also seems to me that this is the best competency in teaching and counselling, the best in conciliating and problem solving (though not the best in argument-winning), the best in movie-watching and in Christmas-present buying. And in novel reading, and friendship-making, and…

Finding Optimism: an App

This note is not my normal reflection about your life and mine. It is about an app for your smartphone and for your computer as well. If you experience depression, anxiety, bipolar and the like, I think that you ought to consider this. And the good news — its free!

At the core, the Optimism applications are mood charts, designed to help with managing mental and emotional health. They are used as self-help or self-improvement tools for depression, bipolar disorder, and other real life health concerns.

The core of the apps is to help you discover what sets up mood swings, depressions, fears or other experiences, to find the warning signs of a decline in your well being, and learn strategies, often specific to you, that help you to remain well.

The Optimism apps help you to be more in charge and less dependent on your biology and your emotions. A continual feedback loop, in the form of charts and reports, improves your understanding of who you are, what you are going through and the things that are helping or hindering you.

You can find this at Finding Optimism.

Now a small warning: this app is going to take you 10 minutes or so to figure out and if you are not super “techie” you might get frustrated and quit. I hope that you will persevere with it, learn the program and use it as a resource for your growth. There is a neat “notes for the day” section that can function as an emotional journal.

Also check out the CBTPad (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). If you are working with me on your emotions, you will be familiar with the concepts and this app takes the understanding even further. Very helpful indeed!

Advice to My Grandson about Friendships

I am the proud grandfather of a boy who is great with people as long as they love Thomas the Train and banana bread and don’t mind the repetitive “Jasper do it!” He loves to charm servers at the Cactus Club and he randomly says “Hi” to strangers and most things that move. When he sees that dumping everything on the floor makes me upset, he will say “Poppa sad?” and of course I melt.

So I thought I would write my grandson some things about friendships and relationships and if you want to listen in, you are welcome to. And as Jasper and I say when we are about to read a book, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin!”

1) The first bit of advice is that your friendships are not really about you.

Friendships are about the unanticipated and serendipitous mix of people, timing and events. They are not about your need for “me” and “my” or your noisy tantrums that interrupt the adulation of your Mom and Dad. Today you are the centre stage of everybody’s life (especially mine) but – sorry to say this – this won’t last. You will discover that friendships are what you add to someone else’s life and how you treasure what people add to yours.

2) You can be right or you can be happy but you cannot be both.

Most of us are right some of the time but mostly we are wrong much of the time. The real problem is the drive to be right all the time. This is a “righteous obsessive compulsive disorder” (I just made this up) where the obsession (thought) is to be smarter than the person you are talking with and the compulsion (behaviour) is to make sure he knows it. Doesn’t sound like a fun friendship, does it?

3) You are responsible for creating your friendships.

I don’t think I was ever taught this as a kid, or at least I learned it late. Let’s say your Mom, or your Uncle David, or maybe me, does some horrid thing that makes you venomous. Here is what I think — this rage has a lot to do with you and not as much to do with your friendship. And, I think it is your responsibility to figure out your feelings (anger in this case), settle your emotions so that something good comes from them, and work things out with the friend who tripped into your reactivity. And you have to do it most every time if you are going to be friendly with friends. And it isn’t just anger. It also has to do with your prickly hurts, the too often recurring lusts, various bits of guilt that swim out from your unconscious, and ever-present self-pity that makes you reach for another bit of chocolate. From this mix you create a friendship and for this you are responsible.

4) Your friend is worth accepting…

When your Gamma and I first met, I thought it was my job to make her into the person I wanted to be married to. More than stupid, this cost me a lot of angst and caused Carole a lot of heartache. I thought that she could be my Xerox copy but what is that really worth? I want you to know that accepting yourself and accepting others as they are without correction or complaint is a choice and a virtue. I have discovered that is how God accepts me and, by the way, how you have accepted me, too.

5) …and so are you (worth accepting).

Jasper, there is oh so much wonderful about you. I want to tell you that accepting your person and your personality is good and right. I love to hear your funny sentences, the words for your newly discovered feelings, how you surprised yourself the other day that I have an elbow like you. Shortly after you were born I read a novel (“The Help”) and in the story a marvelous mentor / hero speaks to a depressed and acquiescent little girl, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You too are kindness, intelligence and strength — I see this in you and more.

I may never really tell you these things but I think them.

I Just Want to Be Heard

This is a common complaint in marriage and other partnerships including business and family – “Just listen to me. Don’t try to solve my problems. Just be quiet and listen.”

Seems simple enough until you parse the verb a bit. What does listening mean? Different things to different people so it turns out.

Parents, especially moms, talk about active listening and passive listening with their children. Active listening is when you engage the speaker with your verbal summaries, concluding thoughts, various attempts at empathy, nods and affirmative grunts. Passive listening is when you pay attention but say not much, just vector in, eye-to-eye. I like the latter kind of listening a lot more. But there are other definitions of listening as well.

The other day in my office someone said, “I just want to be heard.” Here is what she seemed to mean:

  1. First, listen deeply and thoroughly to my point of view.
  2. Second, accept my point of view as true or at least more true than yours.
  3. Third, change your thinking and behaviour in accordance with my point of view.
  4. Fourth, advocate for my point of view that you now thoroughly endorse.

Otherwise, I will not feel heard, she seemed to be saying. In fact, she did not feel heard or understood in her family of origin (that is, her growing up family), in her marriage and also felt that her pastor minimized her thoughtfulness. She felt alone, misunderstood and antagonized by various other non-hearers.

Sometimes we can ask to be listened to when what we want is to be agreed with. Different.

“The Female Brain”

I am reading “The Female Brain” (2007) by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco and founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic. I had read “The Male Brain” (same author) and felt understood – now that is a compliment. But as well, a bit boxed in without the freedoms and capacities I think that men have. However, it is probably timely to understand my wife and so I have launched into her older book on “The Female Brain.”

Here are some of the things I have read, enjoyed and wrestled with:

(1) “Men use about seven thousand words per day. Women use about twenty-thousand words per day.” I know that Carole often asks me, “What are you thinking” when I don’t really have any words for my thoughts. In fact, I am not sure I am thinking at all. More cognitively muttering.

(2) “Girls arrive already wired as girls and boys arrive already wired as boys.” This is certainly the case for my 2.5-year old grandson. Loves trucks, shouting his “outside voice” around the dinner table, playing pirates with a hooked finger and a mean sounding “grrr” (taught to him by his aunt) – if this is part of what it is to be a boy toddler then he seems to have been born this way.

(3) “Men are on average twenty times more aggressive than women.” Makes no sense to me at all. I have talked with lots of female client-friends who are the clear aggressors in their parenting and marriage. And their husbands / partners / kids agree. Seems more personality-driven than gender-caused.

(4) “Girls are motivated — on a molecular and neurological level — to ease and prevent social conflict.” Interesting. I am aware that men are often domesticated by women, especially in marriage and so become less competitive over time. But many men are “rescuers” in relationships equipped with a dominant fear of harming the significant other.

(5) “85% of twenty to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day – up to three or four times on fertile days.” No wonder math scores are plummeting. Actually, I have heard this so often I think it must be a suburban myth. What I do know is that men can control their thoughts and lusts however frequent and that this self-control reduces the obsessional, minute-by-minute interruptions. I don’t think that most men are victims to their sexual impulses.

(6) “Men pick up the subtle signs of sadness in a female face only 40 percent of the time, whereas women can pick up these signs 90 percent of the time.” Maybe for some men but it is not true for me. And I am aware that men can learn to discern faces and the differences between sadness and tiredness, or hurt and anger.

(7) “65 percent of divorces after the age of fifty are initiated by women.” A divorce initiation, by a man or a woman, is a response to something else, usually a hurt or a harm. Subjectively I think that men typically break covenant for another relationship, probably sexualized, while women break covenant for peace and quiet or differentiation (“find out who I am again”).

The thesis of this book is that the female brain sees the world differently and reacts differently than the male brain in every stage of life from newborn to old age. Sweeping in its generalizations, I feel like I know women less by Brizendine’s research or at least I have to think more about what I think about men and women.

(1) I think that men and women are not “opposites” but “equal others.” Opposite-thinking looks for differences, creates misunderstanding and minimizes similarities.

(2) I think that men and women have strengths and abilities based on context, culture, circumstance and that both or either can lead or submit (the latter I see as a great strength), create or appreciate, initiate or complement.

(3) I think that emotional-sexual resourcefulness is distributed to the species in a higgledy-piggledy way with men typically being the sexual initiators (80%?) and women typically being the emotional initators (80%?). This is more of a clinical guess than research. And we can learn and practice and benefit from the other’s strengths.

There is a wonderful King James description in the Bible about men and women in relationship. “Helpmate” is the ancient word. It means help appropriate to another or resourcefulness sufficient for another. I think that man is sufficient for a woman and woman is sufficient for a man and they can be more than sufficient by empowering each other. More than hormonal or biological differences.

A Husband’s Hope

When I saw you cry
today
at the psychologist’s
— you were so vulnerable and sad —
I wanted to catch each tear with my tongue
but also to stop the pain
or at least help you feel your way
through
and beyond it
to us
again
(Anonymous to you but known to us)

Hurt, Harm and Help (“One RingyDingy”)

Hurt is inevitable, predictable and measureable. It is part of what it is to be human. Some hurts are trifling (like being middle-fingered by a fellow highway traveler who dislikes one’s lane-changing creativity is a level 1 hurt) and some are terrible (I think of my friend’s recurring cancer – this is a level 10 hurt).

The other day a mean-spirited and wicked driver (the words are in italics because that is not exactly what I shouted at the time) cut me off, gave me the finger, stamped on his brakes and shocked me and my cute Mini Cooper into less than “British racing green” subservience. This experience hurt my normally sweet nature, but no harm was to be found on my soul.

Until I considered this intentional insult a little bit further and then much harm was discovered just below the surface. I pondered, “Why do people pick on me when I am such a saint?” (I actually don’t think this in my more knowing moments) and “He could have killed me; must have been drunk!” etc.

And then I felt justified sufficiently to be wounded, harmed even.

Of course, talking to my friends didn’t help. “Paddy you are such a great driver,” some said and then I was reassured that the hurt I experienced was definitely intentional and, almost, “spiritual warfare” (this said by my biblical friends who find a devil under every muffler and bumper).

An old lesson I have re-discovered: I judge others by their behaviours (especially the evil ones, e.g. middle fingers) and I judge myself on the basis of my good intent (e.g. being a “saint,” which I don’t really believe as I have said above).

Hurts don’t necessarily lead to harms unless you give them a big, fat promotion. Harms have to do with how you inflate the hurts. Magnify your hurts, treasure them as horribly special and, sure enough, you will have florid harms. Plenty of them in fact.

So what is the help here? It comes from the world-renowned philosopher, Lily Tomlin, (you can see her on this classic You Tube, “One RingyDingy”) who said, “forgiveness is giving up the hope of having a better past.” Even a better driving-the-highway past.

Okay. Healing to me.

WWJD? and Ego-Centric Bias

I am in the advice-giving business. At least I am when I am worn down from 8 hours of listening and I want to have a five-minute private audience for my thoughts and opinions.

I have discovered that most people are pretty bad at taking advice from me and probably from others as well. My client-friends don’t mind listening to my stories, smile at my jokes, engage some of my ideas, but they mostly glaze over when I get into my advice-giving mode. And I don’t really think that they will do much with the pearls once I have tossed them in their general direction.

Psychologists call this “egocentric bias,” that is, people generally figure that they can operate their lives best with their own hard-learned advice. I get this. I have people offering me advice all the time and mostly I ignore it. (Carole has been advising me for 40 years what vitamins and medicines I should take when I have a cold.) Still I carry on dispensing my treasured wisdom, knowing it will probably not be invested with the kind of thoroughness I think it should.

This egocentric bias happens everywhere: doctor’s offices, weight loss centres, guidance classes in high schools, used car dealerships, Starbucks (“you ought to try the …”). So, when someone turns to you and says, “What do you think I should do?” or “Do you think I should marry Jeff?” they actually don’t care much about your advice. They are probably just structuring the passing of time or looking for confirmation of what they already want to do.

I think I am okay with people, including my client-friends, ignoring my advice (“So, what did you get out of that homework I recommended from our last meeting?”). But sometimes my ideas are really great. So then why don’t I take my own advice more often?

One question works for me in advice-taking. WWJD: “What would _______ (Jesus) do?” (Fill in the blank with whomever you like?)

That question makes me receptive to advice and puts me in a mind space to not quickly resist the wisdom of others. It shifts my reactivity. Sometimes I say in my mind, “What would Mom do?” since I would really love to know (she died much too young). I sometimes put in the names of others that I admire or are mentors to me. Sometimes I put in the names of my kids, as in “What would David do?” or “What would Christine do?” If it has anything to do with computers or technology I ask, “What would Brent do?” He’s my son-in-law and is brilliant in ways I am ignorant. Somehow this “identifying question” makes advice palatable and makes me think outside of my egocentric bias.

This kind of identifying with someone helps me make decisions. I become part of a community of thorough opinions and applicable wisdom. I get to share in collected brilliance rather than thoughtlessly “dis” it. Amazing what an identifying question can do.

The idea of identifying questions is that if we can make a personal connection with someone we admire, then we can take the advice and apply the wisdom. If we are told what is right and good without having that personal identification, then we are more likely to reject it, forget it and not benefit from it.

Fiddling with the State of Being

I grew up in a home where alcohol ingestion was done compulsively. I discovered as a child that the drinking compulsion is an equal opportunity phenomenon – both my Mom and Dad were serious imbibers. I also learned that my parents and their friends formed an alcohol-conscious community where successful parties were granted the status of “great” by the quantity imbibed and the consequent sexualization of intimacies.

My parents were trained in drinking by the Canadian Forces during WW2 when service men and women had their pleasures subsidized by the government. I am reminded of this each and every November 11th and sometimes I stop to tell the “poppy people” why I am not buying their red and black lapel flowers while I stride righteously into the liquor store.

Over the years I have had lots of addicts of various sorts in my practice. I prefer to call them “obsessive fiddlers with states of being” – it sounds less prejudicial than “addicts” though that is what some of them are. These fine folk and friends have been compulsed by all sorts of obsessions: being happy, being right, being perfect, being taken care of, being in love, being admired, and the list goes on. (Perhaps making lists is a compulsion too?) And then they act these ideas out with predictable behaviours: drinking and drugging are common but so is arguing and defending and mean-spirited criticism. I especially dislike it when addicts pretend the moral high ground (e.g. “You are a bad person and I am busy being good or right,” or “I wouldn’t drink if you didn’t criticize me so much.”).

I often hear of sexual addictions as well. These are usually requests for affirmation and attention where the behaviours involve a moving computer image and a few square inches of genital flesh. What these folk want most often is some ordinary passion and some affection directed in their way. At least that is what heals them (mostly men) more than “Just Say No” mouse pads.

Now… I think that there are factors that may increase risk of some kind of addiction. Here are a few for you to consider and I am thinking especially of online compulsions:

♦  Fear of relationships can lead to online compulsions. I mean real relationships not surface social contacts. And a consequential lack of other interests and social isolation – this can lead to compulsive behaviour.
♦  Pre-existing abuse or addiction can easily transfer: for example, online gambling or gaming, cybersex, or online shopping.
♦  Social anxiety or nervousness can make online interactions a very attractive alternative to face-to-face interaction and thus much more compelling.
♦  Low self-esteem, poor body image, or untreated sexual dysfunction can add to obsessions and compulsions.

What fixes this more than anything else is a little reality and a little thoughtfulness. Person-to-person honesty and care, also called empathy, works well. I have found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is really good in breaking the power of addictions and compulsions. I recommend people buy “Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky. It is best to work this through with a therapist and I have a copy in my office so that if you choose we can work through the harder parts together.

You Better Start Kissing Me

This poem is by Hafez, a 14th C Persian poet (also called Hafiz, meaning someone who has memorized the Quran), well summarizes the spirit of Valentine’s merriment, perhaps from God’s viewpoint. Enjoy.
————————————–
Throw away
All your begging bowls at God’s door,
For I have heard the Beloved
Prefers sweet threatening shouts,
Something in the order of:
“Hey, Beloved,
My heart is a raging volcano
Of love for you!
You better start kissing me—
Or Else!”

The Excellence of Eric Bibb

I am not a big fan of perfectionism though I am in awe of excellence. Watching the Sedins pass the puck, or my grandson laugh eating a mouthful of banana bread, or driving a Porsche 911 as fast as it should go — this is  the experience of excellence.

But perfectionism robs the delight from a lovely object or a job well done. Perfectionism removes the joy from success and squashes creativity, courage and simple relationships while doing it.

You cannot find perfectionism and happiness in the soul of the same person — they are antithetical. Once a perfectionist succeeds, all he feels is relief, having dodged the bullet of failure one more time.

Perfectionism is the fear of failure. Whereas, excellence is the one who risks failure to succeed. There are excellent mothers and fathers, pastors  and churches, kids and teens, students and professors (I am in the middle of marking academic papers from my teaching in Kenya last December), but none that are perfect.

Last week David (my son) and I went to hear Eric Bibb sing and play at Capilano University. An amazing concert with gorgeous sounds, and tearfully touching when Eric introduced 90 year old Leon Bibb, his mentor and beloved father. Father Bibb’s voice is not what it was perhaps but there was an even more excellent thing. Hearing the Bibbs sing with arms wrapped around each other, weeping with the friendship of many years, the music was transported. And here I was with my son. Excellent it was.

And more… I read a Psychology Today article on”Perfectionism” for a parenting class I am teaching this Saturday. It is worth reading.

The Guest House (Rumi)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Rumi was a 13th C Muslim poet. This reflection sounds like wisdom to many who experience depression, loss and heartache. Change happens only when acceptance precedes it. Ignoring one’s life — or worse, rejecting one’s life — is the surest way to non-change.)

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.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

My advice is “earlier than you think you should” and “more often than you think you ought.” Thankfully there are better informed people than me.

Eryn-Faye Frans is a sex educator and a long-standing friend (I have known her since she was born!). Formerly from Vancouver, Texas, Scotland, back to Texas and then Vancouver and now in Toronto — its been hard to keep up with her — Eryn-Faye is a great parent, a loyal church-type (though not at all “religious” in the stuffy meaning of that) and provides thoughtful and thorough advice and hope to couples who are finding their sex life less than lovely. (I actually don’t know how a sex educator could possibly be stuffy.)

And she knows about parenting. Her recent blog reports some recent research that advises:

* Spread out the conversations
* Use anatomically correct terms
* Don’t lie
* Don’t assume
* Don’t judge
* Pass it on

I found this advice helpful. I hope you do as well. And sign up for Eryn-Faye’s  blog — you will learn lots of interesting stuff.

The Ways of a Listener

“I can’t speak with you right now. I am in the middle of a sentence.”

“You know, you don’t have to say everything you know.”

I learn great things from my client friends. The first comment came from a couple interchange that was lively, funny, heated, pointed – good conflict, in other words. The second comment was reported by a man who discovered that he didn’t have to win every argument, position himself in every discussion or make a comment on the wary ways of his teenagers.

There are thought to be three basic styles of listening, one better than the other two.

1) The first is “listening to be right.” Competitive listening happens when we are more interested in winning a verbal war or promoting your own point of view, than in understanding somebody else or their thoughts. It is the communication style of the arrogant (“Knowing it all, why would I waste time understanding someone else?”).

2) In “hearing” (“I heard what you said!”) the listener is passive, meandering in and out of the verbal stream, not engaged enough to make a comment, not passionate enough to disagree, and not thoughtful enough to carry the conversation further. Weak and wimpy or, at best, distracted and dismissive, less a communication style than a communication impairment.

3) Participative listening creates a partnership, a team activity with all the cooperation and friction this implies. Engagement is high because you are interested, expressing interest and inviting interest. It is interesting conversation and it goes somewhere and with some panache (a word my Dad used which still sounds wonderfully soul-ish to me).

It might be helpful to know the ways of a listener. I feel myself irritated with me when I listen to prove my rightness; and I feel even more miserable when I sense someone is waiting to find my logical fault. But I love talking when there is an interchange of meaning and (e)motion. It feels to me like being a member of a motorcycle gang (the friendly kind), all of us moving in the same direction, creating lots of lovely Harley noise, and with élan (another word my Dad used to use).

Suck the Marrow Out of Life

You may remember this quote from Thoreau read by Robin Williams as the professor in “Dead Poet’s Society.” If there ever was a definition of “self-differentiation” or just vectoring your life, this would be it.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (from “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau and popularized in “Dead Poet’s Society”)

Strikes me as fresh and real as I grade graduate essays and theses, look forward to seawall walking with my grandson later today, reflect on the revolutions in Egypt (Mubarak just resigned) and Thailand (just beginning their Facebook / Twitter inspired insurrection), that I had better get to doing with my life what I want to do with it.

Creating Space — Loneliness

“When we feel lonely we keep looking for a person or persons who can take our loneliness away. Our lonely hearts cry out, ‘Please hold me, touch me, speak to me, pay attention to me.’ But soon we discover that the person we expect to take our loneliness away cannot give us what we ask for. Often that person feels oppressed by our demands and runs away, leaving us in despair. As long as we approach another person from our loneliness, no mature human relationship can develop. Clinging to one another in loneliness is suffocating and eventually becomes destructive. For love to be possible we need the courage to create space between us and to trust that this space allows us to dance together.” (Henri Nouwen)

Different and Differentiated

Leaders are odd in lots of ways. They usually think about what you and I think about but they do so in different ways. They handle feelings peculiarly to most others too — somehow they seem less interrupted by them. They self-define more, that is, they seem to operate out of some kind of inner value system. And that is why they are leaders and we follow them.

Leadership is not so much about books read, the charisma of your presence, your vast and varied resume. Leadership is more about how you handle “the buzz,” that angst that operates between people that makes some people merge or fuse (e.g. gossip), or run or retreat.

Lots of us lead and we lead best when we observe what is going on between people rather than trying to be smarter, have the last word, support the growing consensus, etc. Focusing less on issues or presenting problems and more on observing the emotional process, helps leaders lead.

Murray Bowen (the originator of Family Systems Theory) and Edwin Friedman (author of “Failure of Nerve“) believe that the key to leadership success is emotional self-differentiation. So what the heck is that?

The following You Tube is a simple and delightful definition about this concept. It is called The Differentiated Leader — Key to the Kingdom. Enjoy.

Basic “To-Dos” of Marriage

I like this marriage list a lot. It summarizes many of the basic “to-dos” of marriage. It was written by Michelle Weiner-Davis of “Divorce Busting” fame. [See “10 Marriage New Year’s Resolutions for 2011” though this is good advice for anytime.]

1)  Make relationship goal-setting a priority- before weight loss or cutting back on drinking or smoking.

Since close to one out of every two first marriages end in divorce- and generally within 4 to 7 years- with extraordinarily detrimental effects to our health, we should switch our focus from personal to relationship improvement. The health benefits of marital fitness are monumental! [Note: the 1/2 first marriage divorce stat is not a Canadian reality. Canadian stats are about 38%.]

2. Have several date nights a month.

Don’t justify a lack of regular quality couples time for any reason, including the kids. The best thing you can do for your children is put your marriage first. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or do something extravagant. You just have to plan alone time that is uninterrupted.

3. Spend at least ten minutes every day checking in with each other.

Don’t let a day pass without finding out how your spouse is doing. It’s like putting blood in the blood bank. When the going gets tough, you will be able to draw on your savings! And when you ask how your partner is doing, truly listen to his or her response. Be present. Don’t multitask or it won’t count!

4. Tell your spouse three things you appreciate about him or her EVERY DAY.

Focus on what works in your relationship and what your spouse does well. What you focus on expands. And don’t just notice the positive things, tell your spouse about your gratitude!

5. Don’t go to sleep angry.

Although this is not always easy, especially when you think you’re right, declaring a moratorium before you start sawing zzzz’s will make for a fresh start in the morning. And by the way, you can still be somewhat angry and follow this advice anyway. It will begin to melt the ice.

6. Touch, flirt and have sex regularly.

Remember what your relationship was like in the beginning? If more couples pressed the reset button and pretended they just met, their marriage would continue to sizzle.

7. Brag about your spouse to others in his or her presence.

There’s a saying, “Let me see what I (you) say, so I know what I (you) think.” Speaking in glowing terms about your spouse in front of others feels like a public endorsement and that feels good.

8. Speak from the heart frequently.

Although one partner is usually more verbal than the other, regular discussions about personal/emotional issues makes people feel closer and more connected.

9. Learn how to fight fairly.

In all marriages, conflict in inevitable. However, how you fight can be the difference between lifelong relationship growth and divorce. Learn how to have constructive conversations about heated issues. Take a marriage seminar that focuses on fair fighting skills.

10. Don’t take yourselves too seriously. Don’t forget to laugh.

Remember how you used to laugh at each other’s jokes and life seemed to be more light-hearted? Don’t lose your sense of humor, even when it comes to problem-solving. Laughter is life’s and love’s best medicine.

11 Old Ideas for a New 2011

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. But I do make decisions (whatever the month) that lead me in an intentional life and principled walk. Here are some that I am working on currently. It helps me when I am overly introspective or worried.

1. Take a 10-30 minute walk every day. And while you walk, smile at people, the trees and your inner thoughts. Walking is the ultimate anti-depressant and if you are depressed, increase the walk to 60 minutes a day. (Not working out in the gym.)

2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes daily. Do more wondering than intercession, struggle and worry. It is okay to use music to help you. (I love the cello.)

3. Write a gratitude list weekly. (Use your computer “Notes” section if you wish.) Check to see if the gratitude vector is going up.

4. Waking up in the morning, complete the following statement, “My purpose is to __________ (fill in the blank) today.”

5. Live life with the 3 E’s – energy, excellence and empathy. By the way, excellence isn’t perfectionism. It is just doing an excellent thing.

6. Greet people with the 3 I’s – innocence, inclusion and importance.

7. Spend time with and learn the names of people over the age of 70 and under the age of 10.

8. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants, and eat less food that is manufactured in buildings.

9. Smile and laugh more. If it helps, watch “Modern Family” or “The Office.” Good places to begin.

10. Say to yourself, “Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.” Add your insights to 3 above.

11. When conflicting, help the other person “win,” or at least get their point across. Way more fun than winning yourself and probably more truthful too.

Why Do You Do the Things You Do?

That is what I ask myself when I screw up. (“Why the heck did I do that?”) And it is what I ask of you, my client friends, when you ruin your best chance to live an effective and gracious life. (“Tell me why you did that again?”) When I ask why you did something, I am probably thinking about a “trinity” of A’s.

A1 – My first “A” is “attention.” All of us need it, our souls would shrivel without it, and we are designed to give attention to others and absorb it for ourselves. Saying, “She just wants attention” is, of course, true. Take the dismissive tone away and you understand one of the great human motivators.

A2 is “affection”, that someone (hopefully, many “someones”) would want us, worry about our well being, look forward to our coming home for the evening, initiate a really great gladness, that kind of thing. It is why we marry and, when it is missing, the reason that many have their spirits broken and consequently break their relationships.

And A3 is “approval.” This is when someone catches you doing something right and commenting on it. It is the basis of self-esteem in children and surely adults as well. It is related to “thankfulness,” that spirited quality that finds the good in someone and notices it out loud. Shouting approval is good and whispering criticism is a good idea, too.

These 3 A’s are motivators for life and some of the reasons for being. It is why we do the things we do.

Imagine your life where you grew up being noticed and wanted and thanked. If you can imagine this, you can imagine health and wellbeing.

Imagine your life where you feel misplaced, where love has to be earned with good grades or perfection of another sort, and where your triumphs get lost in the busyness of stuff. If you can imagine this, you can imagine fatigue, depression, loneliness and giving up.

Incarnation in a Food Court

When life is interrupted by something unexpectedly wonderful, one worships. Songs are sung, hands are raised, normality stops even if just for 5 minutes.

Today my son sent me this well-watched YouTube (over 6 millions viewings – Carole and I were 4 of those!) — Incarnation in a Food Court.

It is one of the best reminders of incarnation I have seen. That Jesus was born in an ordinary place (food court), amongst all sorts of people (see the restaurant nationalities), doing everyday kind of things (shopping, eating, coping) and for a few minutes one worships.

John 1:14 (The Message) reads “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.”

Moving into the neighbourhood. I like that.

Conflicted Couples: Interrupting Yourself

I am a big believer in apologies. This is what happens after the conflict. “I am sorry. Please forgive me. It’s my fault. Can we talk about it?” is the apology that seems to make most sense to me. But apologies don’t interrupt the conflict – they follow it. And by then a lot of damage may have been done.

Here are some interruptions that I use in my counselling practice (and that I have learned from John Gottman and others). See if they make sense to you.

#1 – Start the conflict softly. Bring up the conflict tactfully, caringly and working towards a positive solution. Do it sitting down. Playing a full orchestra of emotions and doing an all-out attack means that both partners are likely to feel like losers.

#2 – Sooth yourself before, during and following the conflict. Turn your soul temperature down. Imagine yourself with your hand on the rheostat and be in charge of your inner heat.

#3 – Build bridges – lots of them (maybe 3!). Accept the point of view or intended goodness of your partner. Say something like, “That’s a good point you make.” This builds a pretty good bridge. And smiling warmly helps, too. Try building 3 bridges in a row and see what happens!

#4 – Direct your energy vector “up” once every 3 minutes. Say something warm, welcoming and winsome often. Something funny too, and occasionally concede a point. Touch kindly.

#5 – Time-outs for 15 or 20 minutes help. And during the time-out write down something truthful and thoughtful about you (not a time to make a case against your partner or be defensive). And when you re-engage say, “Thanks for the time out. I would like to tell you about me.” Then read your notes.

There is a lot more. You might want to check out some of my articles on conflict and especially an article entitled “Communication Covenant for Couples in Conflict.”

Conflicted Couples: Go Be Angry if You Want


“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, The Message)


Do you know what? There is no need to mess with your partner. Bark, bitch and belittle if you think that works – but you don’t need to. In the flash of a trigger moment, in the blister of anger, it is a choice whether to go for a run or run over your partner.

I am confident that most anyone can interrupt their “fight or flight” reaction to what triggers them. Let me explain a bit. Anger is a second stage emotional response to the internal experience of hurt and fear. Anger doesn’t normally exist by itself – something has startled you or hurt you. Then you get mad and you stop thinking. Mix your rapidly accelerating anger with a flash memory of harm and you have a conflict concoction common to chronically conflicted couples. Here is the formula:

Hurt + Fear + History = Anger [→ Chronic Conflict]

The hurt or anticipated hurt is the trigger. Fear is the emotional lubricant, a kind of psychological WD-40. Add in a history of harm (in this or other intimate relationship) and the result is anger, explosive or malingering, vented or suppressed.

Note the bracket and arrow in the formula above – this is where it all changes. This emotional concoction is now pushing for a body response, a behaviour. This is usually thought of as fight or flight where the fear either accelerates the conflict or, possibly, accelerates the retreat. (We are not talking about the problems of a conflict-avoidant marriage in this blog.) If fighting is the everyday response to these troubling emotions, then it has become a pattern. It’s called revenge and it is fueled by anger. Sort of like the devil having a foothold in your life, and sort of like not interrupting yourself.

Next time some thoughts on interrupting yourself.

Conflicted Couples: “I’m a Dirty Fighter”

I am the dirty fighter in our marriage. Carole grew up with the idea that to go to bed angry was about as sinful as it gets, whereas I figured that going to sleep in the midst of shared madness was one way to solve it – pretend it never happened. Carole would then wake me up to talk it through and I would be more peeved than the hours before, but eventually she would lead me through it.

By the way, the problem we were gnarling about was never the problem. More often it had to do with who was going to control this relationship we were living. Like on the dance floor, Carole loves to lead and the problem with that is that I like to lead as well. We often lead in different directions, we usually have different rhythms and we both think we are right most of the time. And sometimes we are both right, and right at the same time.

I have learned from Carole over these 39 years. I am less of a dirty fighter now. And I have discovered that there are lots of reasons to “not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26) — here are some.

1. Fighting wrecks intimacy. Not much chance for closeness, no spooning, no whatever… and forget about love-making.

2. Un-conciliated conflict disturbs your dreaming and your resting. You wake up often more tired than when you closed your eyes. Rather than 8 hours of rest you get 8 hours of wrestlessness (I know how to spell restlessness).

3. You reduce your next day resiliency. Last night’s conflict becomes tomorrow’s frustration and bitterness. Watch your angst and how on-edge you are with others.

4. Nourishing your wrath takes huge withdrawals from your emotional bank account, that accumulation of goodness and freshness that you should be adding to your marital friendship.

5. You become habituated to thinking you are “right” while being aggressively resistant to your partner. It becomes your new norm. It’s called being “passive aggressive” in psych circles.

I seem to have lots of “high conflict couples” these days in my practice. Maybe you are one of them. So I am going to create a few blogs written for you. I hope that these “Comments from the Couch” give you occasion to think, laugh, maybe get confused and perhaps make some different decisions.

Thanks for reading.

“Good Grief” [A Guest Blog]

Our guest blog is from a client-friend who has endured intense loss over the last year. This is her testimony as she learns to trust and re-experience faith.

My thesaurus indicates that the word grief can be replaced with sorrow, heartache, and misery, to name an unhappy few. In the last year any one of these words could have been used to describe me. It all started with the death of my loveable but dysfunctional brother. In turn this contributed to the rupture of my marriage. For the first six months I was in a state of shock and disbelief. I cried just driving on to my yard. I couldn’t sleep. Despite having been in Christian ministry for years I started to doubt God’s existence. At the nadir point I found myself sitting on my living room floor sobbing and saying, “God I don’t even know if you are real but you are all I have.”

Foolishly, people sometimes think we need to have faith to have our prayers answered. I am happy to report that even when we are faithless, God is faithful. Slowly, gently, God is restoring my soul. He has used nature, the love of family and friends, His word, and occasionally an overwhelming sense of His presence. At times it has almost felt miraculous.

Despite my renewed hope I still have moments of intense sorrow. Just the other morning I awoke alone at 5:00 a.m. and instantly my body was racked with pain and I felt as though my grief would crush me. My mind was screaming out, “How can this be!”

Thankfully I have learned that the intense emotion does dissipate. Instead of resisting it, I acknowledge the loss and let my body release the suffering through tears. Once the emotion is spent my spirit reminds me, “I am not alone, God is real and He is enough.”

Thinking About Making a Life Change?

The last couple of days I have been working with mature students in graduate education at Carey Theological College on the UBC campus. This is my “day job” where I am the professor of marital and family studies. One of my several tasks at the beginning of an academic year is to interpret the psychosocial assessments of first year divinity students. These tremendously capable people are in the midst of making personal and vocational life changes, many of them in midlife having succeeded at other professions. One is a chaplain with the Canadian forces, one is a building contractor, some are in education and health sciences, one is a police officer, and all these folk are looking for work success in something new.

I gave them three psychosocial assessments. The first is the Strong Inventory for assessing vocational interests. A classic test, this is outstanding for figuring out your personal preferences in the myriad of alluring opportunities. The second is the California Psychological Inventory, a personality assessment that measures the test-taker on more than 25 personality variables. This one can feel a bit intrusive – it may tell you more than you might want to know about yourself. The third assessment is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Inventory and this assesses (surprise!) how you handle interpersonal stress and conflict.

And I have a deal for you: since I have done a bunch of these and I have already paid for several more sets, I am willing to reduce my costs so that you, my client friends, can get the benefit. Normally these tests cost out at more than $200 and I will offer them to you for $150. And that’s a deal.

For more information on my work in psychosocial assessment, please see a previous blog entitled “Life/ID: Identifying Your Life.”

Un-Naming [A Guest Blog]

A client friend talked to me about the power of labels, diagnoses and names. I asked her to write a brief blog as I wanted you to hear the thoughtfulness of her words. I think that this follows up well with my last blog on “Someone Else’s Opinion of Me is None of My Business.” The subject is “differentiation.”

“When we give something a name it acquires a weight of importance that may become too heavy. So, if I cannot sleep at 3 AM, I resist the inclination to say, or even think, “I have insomnia” and instead say, “How curious, it is 3 AM and I am wide awake.” Somehow, being “an awake person” is far less worrisome than being an “insomniac.” This inclination to deny some of life’s realities the right to a title can become a little comical. Announcing one is not going to have a “A Mid-Life Crisis” is a good way to get a laugh from your counsellor.

“Un-naming something is not ignoring it, but rather a deliberate effort to retain a personal identity that is larger than any label or diagnosis. One can seek help without saying, “I am depressed” or “I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” or whatever. The initiative to seek help can be found in naming the result I hope for as much as it is found in naming what I wish to change. If others want to give names to what they see in me, that’s alright as names can help with understanding. However, I am under no obligation to add this name to myself and carry the weight of it.”

Someone Else’s Opinion of Me is None of My Business

This oft-repeated phrase in AA and Alanon is profound in its simplicity. The capacity to define oneself in spite of the approval or judgment of another is a sign of emotional maturity and a quality that makes life work better. “Someone else’s opinion of me is none of my business.” Say it to yourself.

Differentiation is about knowing who you are, about your purpose. It is about distinguishing between the business that is yours and the business that is others. It is about self-definition and the management of opinions.

Trying to live up (or down) to others opinions of you is undifferentiation. Needing others to have your opinion is also undifferentiation. These are patterns of immaturity. Lots of conflict comes from this.

A client friend said to me this week, “I have spent my life working for my father’s approval that I have never received. I am unhappy, overworked, compulsive about everything and I no longer know who I am or what I enjoy.” He is a doctor, newly married, often angry, lost in compulsivity – what used to give him pleasure is now bland. Undifferentiation is a trap that can take years to close.

A few questions for you:

• When do you most feel yourself? When are you most in control of yourself?

• What relationships most allow you to be you? What relationships trap?

• Does your faith mostly freeze you with others, or free you for God?

This Most Terrible Poverty — Loneliness

Most of us feel lonely sometimes and sometimes often.

The other evening I went to see the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” with my son David. He is outside of a relationship at the moment and sometimes feels lonely, though his life is full and vibrant in lots of other ways. Still, to have a “primary other” in his life would be wonderful for him and, I think, spectacular for whoever the “her” is. And if you have seen the movie, it is all about exiting relationships and entering them.

Watching the movie David felt lonely. In response to his experience he sent me this wonderful YouTube video. It is lovely, focused and meaningful to a depth we don’t often plumb. It is called “How to Be Alone”.

Thinking about loneliness, I remembered what Mother Teresa said: “When Christ said: ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ he didn’t mean only the hunger for bread and for food; he also meant the hunger to be loved. Jesus himself experienced this loneliness. He came amongst his own and his own received him not, and it hurt him then and it has kept on hurting him. The same hunger, the same loneliness, the same having no one to be accepted by and to be loved and wanted by. Every human being in that case resembles Christ in his loneliness; and that is the hardest part, that’s real hunger.

In another writing she said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

“I’m So Glad You’re Not a Nice Person”

To be nice is to avoid risking, to feel more than think, to neglect passions, to act as if “commitment” is endurance rather than delight, to swap unique self-ness for the sort of peace that can’t be kept, to try to believe what others believe when you don’t want to and can’t anyways, to apologize for being whatever (e.g. successful, attractive, capable), to sustain relationships that should be shaken, to listen loudly to hollow fears, to not engage while all the while seeming to, to not see the humour or the art or the childlikeness in lots of everyday things, to make vital what’s redundant, to not know and express personal needs, to not be grateful from the heart, to not recognize when the situation is hopeless but not serious.

I learned this from a client friend today. She received this “not nice”  compliment – it was not mine to give or to receive. I just heard about it.

1950s Marriage Boing

I have been writing a book entitled “Couple’s Journey of a Lifetime: Mentoring for Pre-marriage, Re-marriage and Early Marriage” and I came across this funny YouTube clip on 1950s premarriage counselling. Watch it and you will discover the “Cupid’s Checklist,” a “Marriage Development Board” and advice on how to keep the “boing” in your marriage. (I might get one of those boards.) Enjoy.

Counselling Can Be Expensive (An Update)

Now that is a truism. Sometimes I tell my clients that I can’t even afford me! (I am never sure how they take that.) But how you feel about the expense of counselling depends a lot on what you get out of it.

My fee is $180 per hour (Carole’s fee is $160 per hour). I usually see someone for about 10, 1-hour sessions, so the total is about $1650 over several months. That is a lot of money. And then you take your car in for a tune-up (actually they don’t tune up anymore – they download computer upgrades) or sign up for a course at Capilano U.

Here is what I do about fees:
• I charge $20 per hour less than the going rate for Psychologists ($200 as of January, 2015). I charge less because I want to give back to you.
• Many of you will have your fees covered under an employee assistance plan or an insurance program. Make sure that you check your coverage for “Psychologists” before you visit with me.
• By the way, both you and your spouse may both be covered under your EAP or insurance program. This means that you can have twice the number of appointments for couple counselling. Imagine how many family appointments you can have!
• Keep your receipts for your income tax – some of it may be reimbursable. Ask an accountant.
• I also create my own assistance plan with your church or community group. You pay half the fee and they pay the other half for a maximum of 10 sessions. You would be surprised how many caring people want to provide financial assistance.
• I also reduce my rates for those who demonstrate a pressing need. Please let me know.

I am happy to say that most of my client-friends consider therapy to be good value and many recommend their family, friends and work associates. Counselling can be a valuable investment and worth much more than it costs.

(This blog is an update from one in January entitled “Counselling Can Be Expensive.”)

When Life Happens: A + B = C

“Julie” had a lot of anxiety about most things. Relationships seemed to paralyze her. Her husband complained about the embarrassment of leaving parties before everyone else, or having to make excuses for declining business events that he wanted to attend. Sometimes Julie would even avoid contact with her own adult children if it involved meeting in a public place, like a coffee shop. Her behaviours at church were routinized so that incidental contacts were almost eliminated. Coming to church late and leaving a bit early allowed her to cope with her anxieties. She needed to sit on the aisle to lessen personal contact.

As she talked, I listened and doodled a simple psych formula: A + B = C, where A is the activating event (the “trigger”), B is the belief or beliefs (often unconscious) about that trigger, and C is the inevitable consequence or predictable outcome.

I made three columns for Julie on the whiteboard and listed the As (activators), the Bs (beliefs) and the Cs (consequences). The As were obvious: involvement with people where she might feel looked at or measured against others. Her beliefs (Bs) spilled out. “I am never good enough.” “I am too tall and boney looking.” “I am afraid of being seen as foolish when I talk.” The consequence was that she avoided people and shut down most relationships. She felt friendless and lonely, and saw her life getting ever worse.

Initially Julie was reluctant to talk about the Bs (her “beliefs” about life) – she “knew” that the problem was that she was an “introvert” in an extroverted world (see blog: Renewing Our Energies) and she really felt that she could not fit in her husband’s social and business milieu where “everyone is more competent than me.” As Julie examined her unexamined misbeliefs she discovered that “nothing but perfect is ever good enough,” that “failure is never an option,” and that “anything but exceptional is mediocre.” This was the harsh and compulsive environment of her growing-up years.

Examining prayerfully, thoroughly, and in scribbling her thoughts in the 3 columns, she adjusted her Bs – just a bit. Her inner urgencies softened. She became less abusive toward herself. Therapy was now testing her new self-evaluations. She saw how unimaginative and thoughtless she had been in incorporating outdated belief structures into her ever-emerging life. Her re-written beliefs were truer to life and more representative of who she was and who she wanted to become. And just bringing her beliefs into the daylight of conversation reduced their hurt and harm enormously.

Social events are hard for Julie still. She has to do hard thinking in most every encounter – not just run. Our goal was simple: reduce 70% of the curse caused by irrational beliefs and then see what happens. Life happens.

An Anger Parable

There once was a little boy who had a temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the backyard fence. The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to handle his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it. His father suggested that the boy pull out one nail for each day that he was able to handle his temper. The days passed. Eventually the young boy was able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand. He led him to the fence and said, “You have done very well. Now look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things or do things in anger, they leave a scar just like those holes. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there.”

An interesting parable for me. Anger and wounding is a big part of the therapy world, especially in working with couples and families. The wounds that have been collected fuel future anger. And the anger ventilated becomes a rehearsal for future anger dumping. The question is, “What do you do with the anger and hurt that are inevitable in any intimate relationship?”

Vocation – The Work a Person is Called To

Frederick Buechner writes: “It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b), on the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner, from his book, “Wishful Thinking”)

Counselling with Paddy — a Client Rave

Sometimes I receive raves. Here is one that I received not too long ago. [If passing this on to you seems too self-promoting, see the previous blogs on depression. You will be happy then!]

I walked into my first appointment with Paddy reluctantly to say the least, but I quickly learned that I was there for a purpose. I wanted him to know how “right” I was and how I had been so “wronged.” Paddy called me on it quite quickly.

What I received from him was far greater than I could have asked for. In those sessions where I was at my weakest, it was there that I felt safe to be “known.” Paddy would not judge me. Instead, I felt accepted and valued.

Paddy has an amazing calming ability. His compassion, counselling skills and use of humour were invaluable to me. He has the ability to reframe things causing me to look at life from a different perspective – frequently changing the intensity of my emotions. No two sessions were alike but Paddy remained constant, which was an anchor for me.

Anyone looking for a counsellor would be hard–pressed to find a more compassionate listener. But don’t go see Paddy if you aren’t willing to be challenged. And be sure to bring your sense of humour! Thanks Paddy.

Pain Causes Change

Issac Newton’s first law of motion is that “everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it.” Psychologists know that pain causes change.

People and organizations change painfully. Recently, two organizations have contacted me to work with them as a change agent in their stuck organizational system. It is clear that shifting priorities, revamping goals and objectives, clarifying values, transitioning staff, getting leaders to listen to more than their own convictions, building a productive relationship ethos – all of this and more – is painful.

Sometimes in therapy it is important to provoke the pain of change rather than placate or remove immediate discomfort. In working with church-place and workplace organizations, I propose 7 steps of systems change.

Step 1: Valuing the experience of pain and the gains that dissatisfaction can produce. This is human reality.

Step 2: The discovery of attainable goals that are honestly believed, often articulated and creatively lived. This is the mission.

Step 3: The presence of a change agent (this is the leader) who can shift the organization from homeostasis (no change) to morphogenesis (more change). This is the leadership factor.

Step 4: A logical, planned and scaled process that is responsive to adjustment as needed. This is the change contract.

Step 5: The informed participation of the respected community as an active partner in the desired goal. This is the empowered followership.

Step 6: The active presence of a courageous and challenging leadership team (alone, a leader is helpless) with vision of the mission, balanced with a sense of humour, and a focus on the everydayness of ordinary life. This is the missional team.

Step 7: A commitment to celebration and continual renewal while appreciating that our attainments are always partial.

[Someone shout “Amen!”]

What Not to Say to Your Depressed Friend

Job had his counsellors and they were pretty good until they started to talk. At that point, they spiraled down — and quickly. Here are the kind of things people say to depressed people when they should probably just go home.

• Just think of those people who are worse off than you are.
• Life’s not fair.
• Feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t help.
• Make a decision not to be so depressed.
• Snap out of it!
• Just get active and you will be fine tomorrow.
• It’s probably grief, or anger, or loss, or poor self-esteem, or something like that.
• Have you tried chamomile tea (or whatever)?
• I know how you feel. I was depressed for several days a couple of months ago.
• Haven’t you grown tired of all this “me, me, me” stuff?

It doesn’t take a professional counsellor to listen deeply and respond slowly. You can do it.

What Do You Say to Your Depressed Friend?

Mostly we say stuff that doesn’t help our depressed friend but relieves our urgency to impact helpfully and avoids our anxiety in sitting numbly. Then who are we helping? Probably ourselves.

Sitting patiently, looking caringly, wondering quietly — this helps, but eventually it is probably necessary to say something. So here are a few statements that, if said truthfully, have a better chance of helping than harming. Notice that the statements are non persuasive or argumentative, that they are not trying to be artificially “up,” and that they do not pose to identify (“I felt sad for a couple of days last week.”).

• You’re not alone in this.
• You are important to me.
• You are not going crazy.
• When all of this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.
• I can’t really understand what you are feeling, but I can listen.
• I’m with you. I’m not going to give up on you.

Today a friend came into my office and asked in the most friendly way, “How are you doing?” And I told him of my dysphoric mood and he listened. And when I thought I was finished telling and talking, he still listened, looking affectionately, so I said some more. I found some good stuff to tell him that was hiding in my subconscious just below the melancholia. And then he asked to pray for me, offered me his hand to stand up and held me quietly for 15 seconds or so and then simply announced “Amen.”

[Next blog on “What Not to Say to Your Depressed Friend.”]

This blog is adapted from an article on Depression Alliance.

Take 2 Aspirin and Keep Away from Children

After creating heaven and earth, God created Adam and Eve. The first thing He said was, “Don’t.” “Don’t what?” Adam replied. “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit” God said.”Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve. . . we have forbidden fruit!” “No way!” “Yes, way!” “Do NOT eat the fruit!” said God. “Why?” “Because I am your Father and I said so!” God replied.

A few minutes later, God saw His children having an apple break and was He ticked! “Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” “Uh, huh,” Adam replied. “Then why did you?” said the Father. “I don’t know,” said Eve. “She started it!” Adam said. “Did not!” “Did too!” “DID NOT!”

Having had it with the two of them, God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own. Thus, the pattern was set and it has never changed. But there is reassurance in this story. If you have persistently and lovingly tried to give children wisdom and they haven’t taken it, don’t be hard on yourself. If God had trouble raising children, what makes you think it would be a piece of cake for you?

Advice for the day: If you have a lot of tension and you get a headache, do what it says on the aspirin bottle: “Take two aspirin” and “Keep away from children.”

[Found this years ago — don’t remember where.]

Renewing Our Energies: Introversion — Extroversion Continuum

Some of us are natural introverts in an extroverted world. Pastors are often like this. Sometimes extroverts find themselves trapped in an introverted family. The tensions they both experience are palpable.

Introverts get energy from spending time alone, especially if tired, stressed or upset. Socializing is not for renewing their emotional selves. In fact, being with people, especially having to be “social,” tends to drain their energy. “People = pain” for many introverts, especially if they cannot control the social world. They look forward to the enjoyment of the company of a few people, usually not more than 6 or 12, or a newcomer who is intriguing, or people of a like mind. Introverts are people who need to know the rules of engagement in social settings and are anxious without visible structure. Large gatherings, like weddings or receptions, feel awkward and anxious, especially with lots of strangers. In these events, introverts find a company of a few who are like them, where they can connect and coalesce. They are often anxious when they are made the focus of attention. They tend to have depth in their relationships rather than breadth. They usually prefer to work by themselves. Extroverts may see them as antisocial, withdrawn, inhibited, elitist and uninterested.

Extroverts are vibrant people who enjoy the company of lots of others, so they generally shine at parties and rediscover themselves in crowds where there is a bit of chaos. They may be afraid of aloneness and silence – at least that is what their more introverted spouse or friend might say. A silent spiritual retreat can be torture for an extrovert. They thrive on meeting new people and they tend to develop their ideas mainly by talking it out with others. Some extroverts require an audience to have their thoughts make sense. They are inclusive and welcoming and are great at eliminating barriers and boundaries. They tend to have lots of connections (not so many “relationships”) – more breadth than depth. They can feel anxious when they are not with other people and they often find it draining when having to be on their own. While enthusiastic and winsome, to an introvert they can seem overwhelming, intrusive or “a bit much.” Extroverts can become self-pitying, agitated and withdrawn when not engaged in activities and action. Extroverts are stimulus hungry, needing activity and change as well as interaction. They look for events to be experienced and can become stimulus junkies, unsettling their family and friends.

No one is a “pure” introvert or extrovert; think of it as a continuum. Jack, as an example, is a sales associate with a VW dealership where he consistently wins the plaudits and awards of management. He knows how to make friends with shoppers who intuitively trust that he is not trying to sell them a vehicle that they don’t want. As a sales leader, he is less technique-focused than he is people-responsive. In fact, he resists sales courses with lots of hoopla, where he has to be “bigger than he really is.” His boss thinks he must be an extrovert but he is most energized at home playing board games with his teenaged kids and walking with his wife on the seawall, coffee in hand. He has learned to apply his natural introversion in an extroversion market.

John Gottman, the marital researcher, argues that 69% of relational / marriage difficulties are essentially unsolvable, conflicts that we learn to live with and, perhaps, prosper because of. The tension around introversion-extroversion is one of these unsolvables, binaries that are not readily reconciled but can be appreciatively accepted.

Can I Trust You? (Trust Rebuilding Questions)

One of the privileges of listening is that you get to learn. And I get to learn lots.

The other day a client told me about 4 levels of trust rebuilding when trauma has undermined a love relationship. Here are 4 questions that she uses to figure out if trust in her relationship can be rebuilt.

Do I trust that you are growing for you? Some people change just to appease the other and not because they have any interest in growing. You can only trust the change that is motivated by inner desire.

Do I trust that you are capable of the change that you want? Lots of people have good intent but this might not be enough to restore confidence in the relationship.

Do I trust that you are honest in what you say? Of course, there are levels of deceit and we all lie to ourselves. But do I see an honest attempt to be truthful in words and ways?

Do I trust that you will do what you say? Follow through is the big thing. Unless the person’s behaviour changes, it is hard to trust again.

I find these helpful questions when a friendship is violated by gossip, or when a partner promises to be clean and sober, or when a teenager needs to be bailed out from jail. Can I trust you?

My 3 Lives

I think of myself as having 3 lives.

There is my “family life;” marriage to Carole, organizing and participating in the household, that kind of thing. Plus, I am a new grandfather, which totally delights me. I anticipate weekly stroller-walks with Jasper Patrick McLaren on the West Van seawall, coffee cup in hand (my hand).

There is my “professional life” or how I earn money. I work as a psychologist in private practice – that is how many of the subscribers to my blog know me. This is where I listen more than I talk. Plus, I am a professor at Carey Theological College in marriage and family studies where I talk more than I listen. I don’t think my students know that I listen (see previous blog entitled “Intentional Listening is Indistinguishable from Love”) but they do know that I like to be listened to.

And there is my “life life.” This is where I usually find myself — in my head and in my heart. I think of this introversion as my “rumblings,” my unsaid ideas, angsts and hopes. Not many know my “life life” and perhaps not many know yours. (I think of my university extroversion as “ramblings.”)

My “life life” is where my faith sits. It used to be that faith was propositional to me – do this and God will do that. My faith is more organic now. It morphs. Today’s faith is different than tomorrow’s faith.

It also sits. My faith doesn’t run after things as much anymore. Sometimes it walks but often it just sits around.

My faith wobbles at times, too. This seems to me the risk of anything organic. Sometimes something is dying and something else is coming along. I don’t try to convince myself of faith anymore, and I have no need of convincing you of it either. I do less ritualistic reassurances: less study, more wondering; less being a cleric, more being a citizen; less exclusion, more welcome; less leadership, more looking.

I still maintain my coffee and chocolate sacraments. And I do church (CapChurch) where you can find me most Sundays morphing, wondering, sitting and drinking coffee.

Update (December 2018): I now have 3 grandchildren, I no longer teach at the university / seminary, and I don’t usually go to church on a Sunday morning. But I did buy a small electric chainsaw and I cut branches into small pieces. And my faith is strong and more funny.

Pre-Judging Others

I think of prejudice as social, spiritual, intellectual laziness. It is also uninformed, undifferentiated, a cheap laugh at the expense of someone with feelings and aspirations.

Prejudice comes in lots of flavours. I remember in the 60s (those were my undergraduate years at SFU and the time of the Beatles) that we were told that Vietnamese peasants don’t feel feelings like “we” do. If I remember correctly, this was an argument for escalating the bombing.

Chinese drivers, homosexual degeneracy, women’s emotionality, native drunkenness, “if you can’t do it, teach it” (this was laughingly said to a teacher friend of mine the other day), Jewish political insidiousness, why women can’t preach in the church – there are lots of ways of pre-judging people.

Prejudice serves the relational task of keeping a grouping of people at a distance, whether they are men (“we all know what they want”), or teenagers (“indulged and lazy”), the poor (“they are probably drunks”). Prejudice conserves time and energy – those prejudged become depersonalized “others” not worth the time and energy to find out what they think and believe and feel.

This is becoming a rant and perhaps this is the reason why. I was assumed to be a “religious fundamentalist” in a psychology journal I was reading a while back. It wasn’t only me the author was writing about, but people like me. But it wasn’t the me that my friends and clients know — it was a stylized “stick me,” without depth or texture. And if I was like the “stick me” that was so efficiently dismissed, I would have done the same.

To judge people who love God, devote their lives to worship, and offer their time and finances in service to others, as “fundamentalists” is, it seems to me, religious profiling. I say this about Christians, or Jews, or Muslims, or Sikhs and all others who endeavor to discern God.

The term “fundamentalist” has been used so casually in describing anyone who holds some sort of faith belief – be they a TV preacher, a Hasidic rabbi, a Mormon housewife, or a soldier of the Islamic Jihad – that the word has become hopelessly prejudicial. To call a worshipper a fundamentalist is the racial and social equivalent of calling a black Canadian a “nigger.”

Makes me sad to think about how often God-worshippers like me have pre-judged others.

Intent Listening is Indistinguishable from Love

A friend told me this – “intent listening is indistinguishable from love.” He meant this as a comment on my listening work, not on my need to be deeply and patiently heard.

I think that I am a listening purist. I don’t want listening to be cluttered with rephrasing, or questions that are supposed to expand my point of view, or “advanced accurate empathy,” or summary statements that are designed to show me that you hear what I am saying.

I just want you to listen intently, without glazing over. And I don’t even need to know your point of view on what I am saying.

My life is cluttered, as is probably yours. When I am listened to, my life becomes somehow less cluttered.

The other day I asked Carole to “just listen to me” without prejudice (my thoughts on “prejudice” in a future blog) and without comment. Being heard by Carole was an amazing experience. I realized that I am more used to listening to others than being listened to, and I really liked being heard! I realized that while the tensions didn’t lessen, nor were the problems solved, my icy grip on them relaxed and I was more at peace.

You might want to try “just listening” with people you care about. You might also ask someone to “just listen” to you.

[You are invited to share your ideas, challenges or anything else on this blog or on my website by emailing me at life@theducklows.ca. I will be sure to respond.]

“Who Knows What Is Good and What Is Bad?”

Today we are in Tallinn, Estonia unable to return home due to the volcanic ash from Iceland that has throttled European air traffic causing loss and hardship to many. Our losses are minimal but we experience them nonetheless.

In response to our circumstance, Laura North a friend and well-known Vancouver life coach sent me the following story.

Laura says, “Most of us divide our life experiences into those we like and those we don’t. But good things come from bad experiences and bad things follow from good experiences. It is better to accept the wholeness of life.”

Here is the story.

When a farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a county show, his neighbour calls round to congratulate him, but the old farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The next day some thieves come and steal his valuable animal. His neighbour comes to commiserate with him, but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” A few days later the spirited stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” The following day while trying to break in one of the wild mares, the farmer’s son is thrown and fractures his leg. The neighbour calls to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man’s attitude remains the same as before. The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers for war, but they do not take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk. The neighbour thinks to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” and realizes that the old farmer must be a Taoist sage.

Love, Sex and the Male Brain

Why do men “look”?

Wives almost universally hate the glance. Feeling insulted, diminished, measured according to the “vital statistics” of another seemingly more attractive woman, she worries that her spouse is unsatisfied and unfaithful. “Can’t he just want me?” she complains.

The blameworthy husband responds, “What’d I do? This is how I’m wired and I didn’t wire me. Blame God if you want — just don’t blame me.” And then he turns on the Canucks pay-per-view, not wanting to suffer more because of it, but feeling judged and aware that he has done something wrong that he didn’t intend.

And she fumes.

Sound familiar? If so, you might wish to read a recent CNN article written by Dr. Louann Brizendine entitled “Love, Sex and the Male Brain.” She is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also the founder and director of the Women’s Mood and Hormone Clinic and a longtime feminist. She wrote “The Female Brain” and just released “The Male Brain.”

Her bottom line: “The best advice I have for women is make peace with the male brain. Let men be men.”

Their Kiss Still Works

There are lots of definitions of marriage. Few better than this one from Richard Selzer:

“I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. ‘Will my mouth always be like this?’ she asks. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it will. It is because the nerve was cut.’ She nods, and is silent. But the young man smiles. ‘I like it,’ he says. ‘It is kind of cute.’ All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.” (Richard Selzer, “Mortal Lessons”)

Life ID: Identifying Your Life

The most influential thinker in the fifth century BC was Socrates whose dedication to careful reasoning is expressed in the aphorism that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a).

So how does one identify a life worth living?

Conversation, information, friendship, challenge, care – these are some of the elements that enable a life examination.

Also, unbiased psychological and vocational assessments and interviews – what we call Life ID – are helpful components in the process of identity discovery for adults in personal, relational and vocational work or transition. These kind of life changes call out for an examination of our lives so that we don’t make the same mistakes again and so that we can add wisdom to our experience.

We all have an identity – the person we know we are and the person that is lived out in our relational world. We can identify ourselves … mostly.

But there are hidden parts of our lives, aspects of our personalities that others can see but that we are blind to. Our “blindness” is carried into our family, business and team worlds and it is this area that limits our leadership and personal success.

For more about a psychological audit for your vocational and personal life, see “Life ID: Assessments for Life.”

Hungers: 4 Steps of Sexual Intimacy

Couple therapy is always about sex therapy eventually. It may not be the first thing mentioned but it comes up long before the 3rd thing, whatever that might be.

I think of 4 levels of sexual hunger for wives and husbands.

Won’t or Would (but) — Couples avoid sexual intimacy for lots of reasons (e.g. broken trust, lack of practice, fears, medical difficulties, etc.). When couples “won’t,” or “I would if you weren’t such a ______,” anger builds and the relationship becomes cold and parallel, only joined by non-intimate things.

Waiting or Watching — Some couples are watching for the other to prove their desire, rather than initiate themselves. They are “waiters,” hoping for more and usually blaming the other for the lack of sexual friendship they experience. Sometimes people are waiting for the right context or response, like a Jamaican holiday.

Willing or Welcoming — The willing spouse (usually the woman) will satisfy the sexual desires of the other (usually the husband) but not be satisfied themselves. This is like being a missionary to the sexual needs of the spouse.

Wanting or Wishing – This is sexual hunger, a loving lust and longing that produces a marvelous merging. That is, if both partners are on the same step.

Sometimes one partner is on one step (e.g. a sad waiting) and the other is on another (e.g. a needy wanting). Frustration and fractious conflict is usually the result of this misstep.

At other times the couple are together on step 1 (e.g. exhausted from work and caring for a sick infant) and at other times they luxuriate at level 4.

I tell you this to give you a vocabulary for your sexual hunger. It helps to know where your spouse “is” rather than guess. It helps to know where you are as well.

Bombing Afghanistan Doesn’t Work

Imagine that you count your personal resources — things like time, money, spirit, hope, skills, those kind of things. Consider these resources as 100%. Not that you have more or less resources than others, but what you have is your own 100%.

Now imagine that you have problems – this part is not very difficult!

So your problem could be a roof rat that is eating your birdseed (this is actually one of my current problems that I am figuring out how to solve).

Some problems are more complicated: you have been married for 18 years and you have two pretty good kids and a pretty good life, but you are bored. You want more. “Good enough” isn’t good enough any longer. What do you do? Quitting comes to mind. So does bombing the heck out of your spouse with insults, innuendoes and bitterness.

Try this first.

First, measure your problem: add up the good and pretty good in one column; and add up the boring and the frustrating in another column. (By the way, most boredom is actually anger or frustration.) See what percent or amount is problematic.

Now let’s say you have 20% problems compared to 80% that is pretty good. That is, when you write it all down and count it all up, you see that your problems are less than you thought. But you want to solve them nonetheless.

Here is where you might go wrong. With your 100% personal resources and 20% problems, how much of these resources will you invest into solving the problem?

Think about it.

If you invest all of your personal resources into solving the 20% problem, the problem inflates! It becomes cumbersome, awkward, and then eventually the unsolvable “elephant in the room.” The investment of the totality of your personal resources exacerbates the problem.

But if you invested 20% of your resources into your 20% problem, what would happen? Probably the problem would get solved without a whole lot of hoopla. And this leaves you with 80% of your resources left to celebrate and strengthen the good and the pretty good.

This is one of the hardest things to figure out in problem solving and conflict management. Bombing Afghanistan just doesn’t work.

“I’m Sorry” – The Steps of an Apology

Sometimes I feel like I am in the apology business. Helping kids make apologies to their parents (or the other way around), husbands to wives (it seems to go this way most often), organizations to individuals (e.g. when a church leadership apologizes for insensitivity to a neighbour who complains about a building project or a late night rock group) – this is some of what my work is.

“I’m sorry if I did something wrong” is not an apology. It is non-specific and the ‘if’ avoids personal responsibility. It is more of an inquiry than anything.

“I know that I hurt you by (e.g.) coming home late for dinner. It certainly was not my intent.” This is not an apology either – it is an acknowledgment. And it is a helpful acknowledgment to offer.

“The reason I was driving so fast was because you were late again — that’s why I’m so frustrated” is an explanation intended to spread out the responsibility and pain. Not an apology.

Here is an apology: “(1) I am sorry. (2) It is my fault. (3) Please forgive me.”

Imagine that the problem is about a woman’s insensitivity to her husband at a family get-together. Here is the apology: “I am sorry I left you out of the conversation with my family on Saturday. I know this isolates you and you feel lonely. And I know we talked about how I could include you. It is my fault. Will you forgive me for this?”

Every apology has (1) an honest expression of regret, (2) authentic accepting of responsibility and (3) a request for forgiveness. Without these three steps, what we think of as an apology is something else.

 

[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.]

“So, A Guy Walks Into a Bar…” (Sex and Laughter)

There are lots of reasons to laugh. First, laughter is fun – and fun is reason enough for all of us to laugh lots. Secondly, because non-laughers are usually boring and uptight people. The kind of people we don’t want to laugh with anyways. Thirdly, because laughter cleans out the psycho-social pipes when things are bad.

Now you need to know that there are two kinds of laughter: “laughter, the funny kind” (LFK) and “laughter, the mean kind” (LMK). LFK brings people closer and LMK breaks, butchers and belittles that which is important.

I am talking about LFK or “laughter, the funny kind.”

Cleaning out the pipes: You saw it in “The Bucket List” when Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson laughed until they cried. Well, they needed to laugh. They were both dying and they were leaving those who wanted them to live. (Go rent the film. You will laugh and cry and get your pipes cleaned all at once.)

The laughing contagion: Do you remember in high school when you couldn’t stop laughing and when your teacher threatened you with “whatever” (you were laughing too hard to remember) and that she began snickering too? Laughter is contagious and that is a good thing. You avoided a detention or writing lines or visiting the principal. The laughter contagion brings people together when they are opposites.

“No laughing matter”: You have heard that truism; that the severity of the situation requires solemnity or reverence or some other form of sadness. A best-selling Norman Cousins book and a popular Robin Williams film, “Patch Adams,” teaches us that laughter might even heal people. Still, even if you die, laughter is the best way to go. It’s called “dying well.” It’s a funny way to go.

Getting unstuck: Unsolvable problems are usually better solved through laughter than “serious, urgent, important” strategies (“SUI” sounds like a pig call doesn’t it?). If your life has 20% problems and you invest 80% of your resources in strategies like problem solving, worrying about things, and “daring to discipline,” well, you are likely to add to the unsolvability of it all. Makes you want to laugh. Or cry.

“So what’s this all got to do with sex?” you asked.

Good question. Of course if you have looked at yourself naked recently, laughing is way better than crying! And if you think about orgasms, erections, the “missionary” position, all that wetness, well, it is pretty funny isn’t it?

And of course, all orgasms don’t call for the “Hallelujah Chorus!” (That’s a joke.)

“So, a guy walks into a bar…”

70 is My New 100

Like many other rabid Canadian hockey fans, I watched the Canada — United States final in men’s junior hockey where the US won 6 to 5 in overtime. The Canadians played as brilliantly as the US team and, as needs to happen in competitive sport, one team won. The US team put in more hockey pucks in the net than did the Canadians.

The defeat on the Canadian players’ faces made it clear that they could not appreciate the excellence of their game and the entertainment that they brought to millions of people. Their lack of ability to celebrate their success and even to smile, let alone be delighted in their silver medals, robbed them as it did us.

They couldn’t be grateful. They couldn’t be appreciative of the quality of their opponents. They couldn’t see further than their own losses. They wouldn’t celebrate the other’s victory. They couldn’t enjoy the excellence of being in the company of excellence. They couldn’t reflect on the reality that they have the privilege of doing what the rest of Canada only dreams of.

Being satisfied with only winning destroys much of life and everyday relationships. I see it in myself and I see it in my clients. Couples tell me about it. Teenagers complain about it.

Good is never good enough.

I tell my clients [and almost anyone else who will listen] that “70 is my new 100.” I also tell them that perfectionism does not help them do the job better, it only ensures that they will enjoy the success less.

Celebrating more, being grateful more, enjoying more, laughing more – these are the kind of “mores” that lead to success.

The Myth of the Perfect Parent

Christianity Today magazine has an informed and persuasive article on perfection and parenting. Find it at — http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/12.22.html

The subtitle reads, “why the best parenting techniques don’t produce Christian children.”

Needless to say, I loved the article and wished that I had written it! Leslie Leyland Fields is witty and wise, digging deeply into Biblical theology.

This is important stuff for the perfectionists and obsessives among us. It also has a very funny photo of an angelic redhead trying to be perfect!

“I WANT” — Entitlement Monsters and the Rolling Stones (Jan Bryant)

Recently, on a BC Ferry, I came around a corner to hear a tiny mite of three-year-old fury, screaming “I WANT __________” to her parents, who were doing their best to ignore both the child and the stares of the other passengers.

I can’t tell you what she wanted. When my children were young I told them: “If you start a sentence with the words “I want”, I stop listening.” I guess I still do.

I have seen far too many children get whatever they want from their parents by whining or screaming “I want” loudly and often enough until the parent gives in. These children are “entitlement monsters” who have been rewarded for this behaviour by parents who can’t or won’t say no. Unfortunately, their wants become larger and more expensive the older they get. We all know adults who still operate on this entitlement mentality and they make poor employees, bosses, friends, spouses and parents.

In my home, “I want ….” got no response. Ever.

So where do the Rolling Stones fit into this?

When my children were out in the world, in a store or park or rec. centre and said “I want …” I immediately and enthusiastically sang:

“You can’t always get what you want,

You can’t always get what you want.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes,

You just might find, you get what you need.”

Embarrassing? Not for me, but my children grew tired of the attention it drew.

My children had their needs met: love, my interest and encouragement, food, shelter, clothing, education, play, music, a sense of security and well being. If they needed new shoes, I let them know how much money we had to spend on the shoes and helped them discern the best shoe available for them.

They might “want” a $200 status shoe but they soon learned how to make the extra money if it was that important to them, and it rarely was. They also learned that if a whining or pleading “I want …” was heard, we went straight home and would try again another day.

Uttering “I want …” was never rewarded and so it disappeared from their language.

What else did they learn?

♦ The distinction between a want and a need – essential to achieving self-control and living a debt-free and satisfied life.Delayed gratification – a useful skill when you have to work to achieve something or when pressured to be sexually active.
♦ Not to determine their self-worth on the acquisition of material goods.
♦ Compassion and perspective – they weren’t the centre of the universe. The world and everyone in it did not exist to satisfy their wants.
♦ Sometimes you can get what you want but you usually have to work for it.
♦ To ask politely and co-operate. Your child will have better success in grade 1 by asking “does anyone have a blue crayon I can use?” than by shouting “I want a blue crayon.

Do try this at home.

Our guest blogger is Jan Bryant. She is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) in private practice. You can reach her at jfbryant@shaw.ca and her website at www.janbryant.ca Just don’t shout “I want.”

More Than a “Sounding Board”

On her intake form “Janice” (not her real name) requested some understanding about her underlying anxiety and her periodic depressions. She felt “at odds with herself” and immobilized with her boyfriend. She asked if I would act as her “sounding board” as she explored her family of origin and emotional history.

Hmm. I’ve never been much good at being mute and inanimate (except sometimes in family dinners) and I am seldom “bored” (I know that is not what she meant) when people tell me the intricacies of their lives. And I certainly don’t want to repeat back what she is saying and already knows.

Therapy is sometimes like a highly caffeinated life – provocative, frequently funny, intensely social, unexpected, almost always tearful, complex, sometimes argumentative. I think that my job as a therapist is to increase tension – rather than “saving,” more like stressing – so that my client-friend can be challenged into change, provoked into a less stuck life.

More “morphogenesis” than “homeostasis.”

Some weeks later, Janice commented – “This is not what I thought counselling was going to be like. I never know what is going to happen when I come here… and I am glad I don’t.”

More than a sounding board.

Simply Giving

Our family have been active supporters of Food for the Hungry, Canada for some years.

We are also involved with FH in doing community development work in a small town in the Mbale region of Uganda. All of our family members have visited and we have sponsored a number of children from the town of Bufukhula.

This Christmas you might wish to support this work. It is easy to do. Go to their web site (http://www.fhcanada.org/gift-guide/Africa-Mbale-Uganda) and contribute what you can. A small gift from you goes a long way.

Merry Christmas to you all!

The Duck is Dead

Welcome to some changes at www.TheDucklows.ca. We have made a few changes to let you know about our work and how we can work with you more effectively. Here are some of the transformations.

First, we have rid ourselves of our “champagne sipping duck-on-a-couch” logo! He has been with us for 18 years and while at first we found his “quacks” endearing, they have worn on us a bit over the past few years.

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