Monday, March 28, 2005

What's on Your Kid's Mind Today?

by Jessica Gilstrap, LMHC
Recently I was asked to speak at one of our local high schools here in Orlando and spent time with a group of 9th – 12th graders (14-17). The topic of our discussion was centered on family systems and family dynamics. During our time together, they posed many interesting questions relating to families and family relationships. I wanted to take some time and share some of these questions with you and discuss what was on the minds of these particular adolescents that day.

1. Should parents and kids be real close friends/best friends?
Surprisingly, the answer is No. Parents are not called to be their child’s best friend; they are to be their parents. I often talk with parents who think that it is better to just be their child’s friend or pal; this is just not the case. Children yearn for rules and boundaries; they want to know what they can and cannot do. It brings children to a level of security when they know that they are operating within a framework of expectations. When parents become their child’s friend, they later have difficulty establishing guidelines for expectations, thus relinquishing their parental responsibilities.

2. What problems are most prevalent in our families today?
In my counseling practice, we see many different types of family issues. Ordinarily these issues stem from some form of abuse which can manifest itself in many different ways. The most frequent types of abuse are: physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, and verbal. Following abuse, teenagers act out through rebellion, truancy, forms of addiction and adjustment. As you might have surmised, each of these issues tends to relate back to the parent’s ability to set appropriate boundaries and expectations. The fact is, when one family member is struggling or rebelling, unfortunately it affects the rest of the family system. Single parents tend to face the most difficulty, because they must fill all of the roles: breadwinner, rule setter, and enforcer. It is hard enough to raise children when both parents are in the home and active, when you have a single parent that is forced to wear both of the “parental hats”, it is definitely challenging.

3. What is the impact of family activities?
A family operates as a unit and when the family does activities together, whether it is going to a child’s sporting event, going to the park, or attending church together, they learn to communicate with one another. Communication is key when thinking about relationships. So often I see families that do not know how to communicate with each well and this poses a myriad of issues. Also, the value of the other family members becomes increasingly more real, because you spend time with one another. Family interaction is very important; families that spend leisure time together and hang out together have a greater tendency to get along. The challenge becomes greater as the teenager gets older and begins to make their own plans and follow their own schedule; this is where planning and setting expectations is critical. A parent’s goal here should be to get the child to make an investment in time to be with the family. When we invest, we recognize value. A word here for parents, pick activities that your teenager will enjoy, even if it is not your number one choice. Whether camping, biking, hiking, or just having a set dinner time, your goal is to spend time and communicate. We find that watching TV, or going to the movies does little to open lines of communication.

4. How do we improve family relationships?
A broken family relationship is not something that gets “broken” in a day or a week and therefore will most likely not be “fixed” in a day or a week. Parents, kids tell me overwhelmingly that it is their parents’ fault! Maybe, maybe not, but we have learned that parents make as many mistakes as kids do. When you do, and you will, take responsibility for your actions. When you model this behavior, your children will do the same. Healing in a family is something that takes both a willingness to recognize the issues and a motivation to make the necessary adjustments to facilitate healing.

We have discussed the importance to time together, and of communicating with one another. Make planning and communicating a priority in your family. Set the stage by planning time and events so you can be together. Take responsibility for setting this in motion.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Iceberg Personality Principle

by Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Life Coach
90% of an iceberg is under the water, leaving only a tiny amount exposed above the surface. Like an iceberg, a large portion of our personality is hidden from view. Most of who we really are is typically covered up and tightly protected from ever being seen by others. The Bible teaches this principle as “Man looks on the outside appearance, but God looks on the heart.” While it is normal to want to look good in front of others, it is not always healthy, because there are many deeper issues in life that need consideration if we are to grow strong in our own maturity and personal character development.

Hidden issues and character flaws under the surface that lead to a habitual pattern of conflict and chaos cause many relationships to stay in a constant state of turmoil. There is a reason for every human behavior. Take into consideration your daily life choices and those of the people around you, a better understanding of why people do the things that they do can be achieved by using the Iceberg Personality Principle. As you come to better understand of why things are happening in you and the people closest to you; it will become easier to know what to do and how to respond to break the pattern of hidden personality issues that lead to hurtful relationship problems.

To find deeper meaning and experience healthier results in your personal life, begin by studying the two key factors in this area of personality development: Image and Identity.

Image Management

The part of the iceberg that is above the surface of the water represents the image that we project out to others. It’s how we look, what we wear, how we talk, who we associate with and how we live out our daily life in words and actions. Everyone can see our image however, to some who feel insecure or afraid of what others think, image becomes a mask to hide behind. This process is called ‘image management’ because an insecure person will go to considerable lengths to avoid dealing with the deeper issues under the surface in their soul. It could be through spending considerable sums of money to buy clothes, jewelry, houses or cars that create the image that a person has it ‘all together’ or it could come out through over-work, over-religious activity or over-compensating in an area of life that clearly is out of balance. Any way is unhealthy except to get the secrets out and get honest about the real issues of fear, doubt, confusion, insecurity or selfishness. Moving more of the iceberg out of the water for all to see is the opposite of trying to act cool through creating a perfect image that really isn’t.

When someone is trying to pretend to be something that they are not, or acting like a poser to impress others; they are spending most of their energy protecting their image instead of growing and maturing into a healthier person. It takes a lot of energy to cover up the reality of who we really are and after a while it does not work because eventually the lies are exposed as lies. A clever or manipulative person who is living a life of deception may get away with it for a brief period, yet they short-change themselves since the truth will always be revealed for what it is. Better to live a life of integrity by being real, than to live a life of secrets and lies that will eventually unravel to show selfishness, stubbornness or a prideful arrogance.

Identity is the key issue

When you catch a glimpse below the surface of another person’s life it can be shocking and disappointing. We’ve all had experiences of getting close to someone who turned out to be much less ethical or honest than we ever expected them to be. While it is disappointing to find out who is real and who is not - it can also be freeing, because it can remind us that we all have character flaws and personality issues that need to change.

Sometimes seeing the flaws in others can be a way to hold up a mirror to see some important things about ourselves. Some people use these types of experiences to get honest about their own issues; they see the irresponsibility or self absorbed behavior in others and use it as a catalyst to make positive changes in themselves. Others spend their time comparing their areas of strength to the weaknesses and character flaws they spot in others as a way to self-justify or avoid the areas that need to change in their own life. Remember that it’s easier to see the flaws and problems in others than it is to see them in your self, and we need both. The Bible teaches that healthy relationships are like “iron sharpening iron,” there is a give and take exchange of information on how to help one another improve and change.

Learning to look below the surface in ourselves to see the larger part of our personality is a huge step in our own character development and personal maturity. This process of studying our own identity can be difficult. We all have made mistakes and have huge flaws, which is why most people want to avoid ever dealing with it. Christ came to this earth because of our flaws and failures, so that He could save us from the penalty of our sins. As you begin to address the deeper issues of the soul, you will see that identity issues are a huge part of making peace with your past so that you can find enjoyment in the present.

Integrity is the richest benefit

When you follow the philosophy ‘what you see is what you get,’ it is as if the surface of the iceberg matches the deepest part that is still under the surface. Put into a 1:1:1 correlation, it would look like this:
Image = Identity = Integrity
The Bible teaches that “a good name is to be more desired than great riches,” because of the importance of having personal integrity over any other factor. Expressed another way, “trust is everything,” and as you make the choice to move forward in the relationship to build integrity you will also have to make the choice to move forward in other areas of life. That will either feel overwhelming or freeing; depending on how well you understand the spiritual applications of sorting through emotions to find the character issues underneath. No matter how you feel, let the experiences around you challenge the process of personal growth through a life of honesty and openness.

When you stop spending your energy trying to change the people in your life who don’t want to change, you discover a hidden source of power for personal change in your own life. ~ Dwight Bain
There are no shortcuts to this type of character development and personal maturity; however there are several ways to move faster through the process.

The first is spiritual and based on the cry of King David who said, “Search me O’ God and know me.” He was praying to God for a deeper level of Insight into the agenda and real motivations of the heart. This is a prayer that God will always answer since He wants you to deal with the underlying factors that have needed attention for a long time.

The second way to experience growth and change is through the cognitive process of gathering Information and seeking the truth about our issues, building new strategies used to bring about positive change. This data could come from books, tapes, CD’s, seminars, radio or television programs focused on growth and accountability. A good source is our bookclub and resources section where you will find many good resources to help you gather this data. No matter where you find it, get started now on taking positive action to change.

The third approach is built on Intimacy, but not the kind you might be thinking of when you hear that word. Rather, it is the intimacy of being very close to people who care about you and you care about them. God designed us to be in close personal relationship so that we could help one another change and grow. Lonely people miss out on the benefit and value of knowing that they are growing closer to others and that by them helping others to spot and work through their character issues they will some day receive that help in return when the time is right.

To experience a better life, move from the surface issues in your life to go deep into the issues of the soul. The more you take positive action to focus on the deeper areas of the iceberg, the more God will show you. When you are serious about change, so is He, however remember the old saying. “There is no testimony without a test.” The process follows the pattern of:

1) God Revels
2) God Heals, so that
3) God Restores

Begin with you and where you assess your life to be today. As you move forward, taking the insights you discovered in reading these pages and apply them to the other areas of life as well, I challenge you to make every effort to get real in building a life of personal integrity and personal insight. As you change you, it will be significantly easier to find the energy to do the right thing in parenting, partnering or being the leader that you were designed to become. No longer wearing a mask, trying to cover up the deeper issues in life, you have become completely free to move beyond the iceberg to live out your true identity in the peace and contentment that only those who are real ever get to experience.
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