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.

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.]

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.]