Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Mean People Suck" : Bumper Sticker Wisdom & How it Applies to The Holidays

By Laura Hull, LMFT

Coping Coach


I remember driving down the road a few years ago, coming to a stop light behind a car that bore the bumper sticker that read “Mean People Suck.”  I remember thinking “wow, I hope my kids can’t read that…how crude!” My secondary thought was “wow, that’s just so true. Mean people really do suck.” Though I probably would have chosen a less direct, less crude phrasing such as “Mean People Are An Unfortunate, Unpleasant Reality We Must Deal With.” I guess I could never make a living coming up with clever bumper stickers, but I can make a compelling blog argument for why mean people really do suck and you aren’t required to be around them just because it’s the holiday season.


In a perfect world, everyone would get along nicely, and treat each other with respect.  But inevitably, we run across those people in our social circles, sometimes in our own gene pool, who are deeply miserable and seem to lack the capacity to be pleasant, civil or at least neutral.  If they are co-workers, at least we get relief from them by the workday ending.  But if we are related to those people, it can feel like a sentence in purgatory to have to bless a turkey around a table with people whose tongues work like knives carving through your soul (or at least your self-esteem).  Inevitably, the holidays guilt trip many into dealing with relatives they’d just as soon forget they have a genetic relation to. 


Poor family dynamics can create enormous amounts of stress.  It seems like the holidays, in some cases, are the calendar’s ways of insuring that life will not remain peaceful for a solid 12 months.  Even in the best of family relations, the holidays are stressful…. exciting, but stressful.  There’s so much to do, money may be flying out the windows, and expectations for the season are high. There’s the societal expectation that the holidays should be the “most wonderful time of the year.”   If your holiday gatherings go off without a hitch every year like the Cleaver’s, well, God bless you.  If your holidays tend to resemble the chaos of the Griswold’s, well, this blog is for you.


If you are one of those people who are stressed out at the thought of spending the holidays with family and/or friends because of the unpleasant people who will be there, and you are drawing upon past unpleasant interactions at the holidays which seem to solidify the likelihood that the holidays interactions will go poorly, consider this your permission slip to skip.  Mean people do suck, and so do manipulative people and so do conniving people and you are not required to subject yourself to them just because of a date on a calendar. Mean people take pleasure in robbing others of their joy.  They have to tear down other people’s feelings and their self-esteem in order to feel good.  Sometimes these people are just incapable of experiencing real joy and can’t stand to see it in others.  Some people are just so miserable in their own lives that they just don’t realize how unpleasant they are to be around.  Whether their actions are deliberate or not, it doesn’t change how unpleasant they can make things for the people they interact with. Tempted to kill them with kindness in order to change the dynamics?  Sometimes that works.  But often it does nothing to change the course of that sinking ship. Skip the stress.  There’s no Bible verse that requires you to eat turkey twice a year with people who can’t get along. 


I highly advise anyone to not go into any situation where the probability is high that someone will lose his/her temper in an abusive way, someone will end up in tears, voices will be raised in anger, someone’s confidence/self esteem takes a hit and hurtful words will be exchanged.  Family or not, this isn’t good for anyone.  If you are finding yourself anxious or stressed out because of the holidays, ask yourself this question:  “Are the people who will be surrounding me this holiday season making me happy or adding to my stress/unhappiness?”


Here’s a great truth:  We teach people how to treat us.  If we put ourselves into situations that are unhealthy, without ever challenging those dynamics, we are in essence saying it is ok.  We are not required to interact with an unpleasant relative.  It is perfectly ok to tell a relative “it would be nice to include all family members in the celebrations this time of year.  However, the dynamics change when you are present.  Because we want this to be an enjoyable gathering, we will be unable to include you unless you can agree to….” And fill in the blank.  Will that person likely be offended? Oh yeah.  And in protest will likely declare you to be many unpleasant adjectives and nouns.  And you will have a better holiday.  Maybe the next year, after basting alone for a year, the unruly turkey…uh, I mean relative/friend, will humbly return to the fold.  If not, that’s ok too.


Life’s too short to spend with people who are unpleasant and seem intent on spreading their misery to others.  You don’t have to do it. You really don’t.  This really is a wonderful time of year….at least it can be…and should be.  Surround yourself with people who are loving, encouraging, and uplifting.  Surround yourself with people who are Godly people, and not just in name only.  Don’t allow yourself to be guilt tripped into losing the joy of the season.  It’s easier to be thankful on Thanksgiving when you are surrounded by people who remind you through their positive effects on your life, exactly what and who you have to be thankful for this time of year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Elephant That Comes for Thanksgiving: Family Secrets


By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Elephants will be dining at Thanksgiving dinners all over the country, won’t they? Our culture has used this concept of an elephant in the room when it comes to the things that are awkwardly not spoken about. Families are known to control what is spoken about and what are considered acceptable topics and are able to make it known what is off limits without ever putting it into words. And anyone who has experienced this type of thing, particularly in family situations, knows what that awkwardness feels like. If you’re the one whom some kind of wrong has been perpetrated against you feel strangled by the way your hurts have been invalidated and you just can’t acknowledge it. You are wounded again every time you are back with those people, as they continue to invalidate your hurts, communicating insensitivity, rejection, ostracism, betrayal, judgment, callousness and a lack of love. It could have been sexual or physical abuse or emotional abuse, it could have been that you were manipulated or controlled, it could have been that you were scapegoated, meaning blamed as the black sheep or the one with the problems in the family. Maybe your family is pretty dysfunctional? Maybe the heads of the family didn’t allow honest expression of emotion, but instead required only certain emotions to be displayed; only positive emotions, or crying or weakness were censored or punished? Maybe it was a performance based environment, in which love was doled out like a commodity such that you had to achieve to receive?  

So, what have you done with the elephant? Have you passed it the sweet potato casserole and grinned, as you focused on getting through the day and checking it off? Have you in the past stood your ground and chosen not to go if that elephant is going to be there? Have you gotten there and ended up poking the elephant, as you tried to expose it and seek to change the culture in your family and see if there could be ownership of the wounds and restoration? Are you burned out from trying to accept it or ignore it? Are you deeply frustrated with your attempts to address it that have gone flat or badly? Let me give you some fresh ideas.

1.       Get Real

Start with yourself and wrestle with what you have been hoping for. Do you go into it every time hoping it would be different – as if by magic or time? If so, you have been setting yourself up for disappointment. If your family is good at burying things or living by the “just move on” or “it is what it is” philosophy, then it is unlikely that they will suddenly “wake up” and see what you’ve been waiting for. I know this is hard and scary to face. But careful here – I am NOT saying you need to give up hope of there being change or progress. I am saying that the position of believing that change will just happen on its own isn’t very realistic and doesn’t really give you anything concrete to aim for and doesn’t engender hope. Because every time it doesn’t happen your hope is eroded, is it not?

2.       Self First

This does not mean selfishness, so let me clarify. When we put our emotional needs in the hands of someone else, we are in trouble; we’re dependent and we’ve lost the power to address our own needs, meaning we have weakened our self efficacy. Self efficacy is the belief that I can handle what comes into my life. I don’t mean an arrogant believe that I can take on the world by myself. I mean a grounded sense that I am able to get through, find resources, lean on others and learn and grow. But when you find yourself resorting to anger, resentment, blaming, or stuffing and avoiding and numbing you steal your self efficacy, your energy and motivation and block spiritual growth. You see, even if someone has offended or wounded you, and even if they won’t acknowledge it or repent or apologize, dealing with what is in my heart is for my own good. This is about the process of grieving, that enables us to get to a place of forgiveness. I would encourage you to pursue good resources on these two related types of emotional work; that’s taking care of yourself. That’s what you do have control over and responsibility for.

3.       Keep Your Eye on the Ball (meaning – set a goal and focus on that goal)

In baseball the way to get the results that you desire is to keep your eye on the ball. The same is true in relationships. If you have sorted out your desires and clarified that you want to rebuild the relationship, then you are going to need to talk about it with the offender. I guess that would be hitting the ball, if you have in the past avoided talking about it. But, if you want to do more than just hit it, but hit it to achieve your desired result, then you will need to go about it strategically.

·         There are ways to bring something difficult to someone that is more likely to produce a favorable outcome. You will want to consider the time, the manner, and the place in which it is brought up.

·         It would be best to prepare yourself. For emotionally tense situations, it can really help to practice ahead what you want to say, because we all can get drawn into emotional reactions, old patterns, or lose it and clam up or get tongue tied.

·         Consider writing out your thoughts ahead of time.

·         Ask yourself if you’ll need to have someone there for support as well. If you have tried to present the matter before and it did not go well, there is Biblical support for bringing along a second person (Matthew 18:16).

·         Consider how you would want to be approached about some blind spot in your life. How likely are you to respond favorably to someone coming to you in an accusing tone, or dumping on you years of mistakes you’ve made?

·         And with that in mind, try to stay on one issue at a time, and be aware of the tendency to start rolling off a litany of past wounds once you get started.  

·         Keep in mind that the goal is NOT to change another person, but rather to choose to stop living in secrecy, shame and fear. The goal is your emotional health and developing courage.

·         Lastly, focus on presenting how such and such an event produced these feelings in you.

4.       Run Away, Run Away!

There is a time for everything under heaven says Solomon in Ecclesiastes. There are situations in which it is warranted and even wise to put more distance between yourself and someone. If quality attempts have been made with little positive response, and some form of abuse or mistreatment continues, you may need to grieve and focus on protecting yourself. Facing a loss and going through the process of acceptance can open us up to new opportunities – such as building healthy relationships elsewhere. This is why I believe God calls us into his family; so we can all have a descent (and yes, still very flawed) one. We can make our own family!

So, what will you do with your elephant?


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Monday, November 11, 2013

A Day That Changed Everything


By Laura Hull, LMFT


Coping Coach



I remember life before “the diagnosis.” It’s been over 15 years now, but I remember the cold chill that ran down my spine when the doctor told me that I had an autoimmune disease that would challenge my life going forward. Life changed that day. It was day one of a journey in the re-defining of “me.” Priorities changed, perspective changed, and I found out quickly that the volume of stress, much of it self inflicted, that I had allowed in my life up to that point had contributed, as least in part, to the situation I found myself in….it cost me something in terms of my health. I hope what I will share challenge you to consider the risk and potential consequences of unrecognized/unmanaged stress.


I counsel people to consider the consequences of stress on both their physical health and emotional health.  While no one can avoid stress completely, I think most of us, at times, blindly sign on for things that introduce more stress into our lives than is absolutely necessary.  In trying to be “everything to everyone” we allow our time and energy (physical and mental) to be drained.  That’s not to say that as we are experiencing it, that it feels negative.  There are plenty of places we invest our time/efforts that are very enjoyable, yet drain our energies, putting great amounts of stress on us, usually physically. I would challenge everyone reading this to consider his or her own situation.  Are you being pulled in fifty different directions while trying to attend to all your obligations?  Are you feeling run down, physically?  Are you chronically tired? Do you sleep well at night?  Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the volume of the commitments you have or the amount of work required of you? It is wise to consider these things often and honestly.


“But I am young, I have always been healthy.” Those were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I struggled to grasp the reality that my health picture had shifted dramatically in what felt like a matter of moments.  But truthfully, I had been burning the candle at both ends for a very long time.  It all felt like “good stress,” so I never felt the need to pull back. I was (and am) very happy in my marriage.  I loved (love) being a mother. I was involved at my children’s schools. I was involved with church activities. I was (am) blessed with wonderful friends and family, with whom I was very invested in giving my time to.  I was being pulled in many directions, and I loved it. I was oblivious to the fact that I was working harder than was reasonable, trying to be the best at everything.  I didn’t rest as much as I should have. I took care of everyone in my life except me.  I made sure my family had enough sleep.  I made sure my family ate healthy meals. I made sure my family had their check ups.  But I allowed my obligations, my “stress,” to impact me physically. “I can sleep when I’m old and the kids are grown and gone.” That would be a fair representation of where my mindset was at before “the diagnosis.” If I could hop in a time machine and go back to the younger me, I would warn her…“if you don’t slow down and be smarter about how you are managing the stressors in your life, it will cost you…be smarter.”


Of course, that is not possible.  But I can share my experience with others in an effort to challenge people to consider whether or not they are managing stress well and to recognize the potential dangers that lie in not being aware. While I viewed, and still view, my stress as being “good stress” (defined as “I was happy in my life and enjoying the things I was doing”) there was still a price to pay for not choosing to have balance in my life.  Many people, however, experience “negative stress” in life.  They are not happy with the direction of life.  Sometimes their relationships are unfulfilling.  Sometimes they hate their jobs/careers. Some people become flustered when physically/mentally fatigued, but don’t feel they have the right to say no to things and pull back. They are flat-out miserable; yet continue the same stress-filled routine indefinitely. The misery is consuming and inevitably contagious to those around them. Eventually, they become shells of their former selves…running on autopilot, struggling just to get through every day. Friends, that is no way to live. It really isn’t.


The much younger version of me was highly ambitious. I was a committed wife, a “supermother,” world traveler, writer, a wanna-be superhero, and your basic type A nightmare. I had plans, I had dreams, and buddy, you were not going to stop my runaway train. I could do it all, I was going to have it all, and if I ruled the world in the process, that was just fine by me. J  Please understand that last sentence was offered with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But I will concede that I had no off switch at that point in my life.  I have often wondered if God allowed my health issue to come into my life to teach me lessons that I needed, and in turn try to teach to others in an effort to help them avoid similar mistakes.  Did God in essence say “Sit down, Laura. I’m about to teach you a lesson about who is in control and what really matters in life.” If He did, I am more than okay with that.


Stress can have a negative impact on health. This is a fact. Stress is often a contributing factor in the development of heart disease and cancer. Stress on the body can be a factor in the development of autoimmune disease. While stress is certainly not the only factor in these serious health issues and others, it does play a role to some degree in some people.  It is so easy for us to get caught up in the demands of our daily lives that we forget how to manage our stress in healthy ways. We cannot always assume that “because I are young” or “because I have good genes,” that we are immune to the negative impact of stress on our health. People are developing serious health challenges at younger and younger ages. We must start early in our lives to develop good habits, achieving and maintaining balance in our lives in order to preserve both our physical and emotional health. There is always a price to pay when life is out of balance. Don’t fool yourself into believing there isn’t. Some pay in their relationships. Some pay in terms of their happiness levels and their emotional health, sometimes people pay with their physical wellbeing, and some pay in other ways. But make no mistake, there is always a cost associated with a life lived out of balance.


My challenge to you is to consider where your life is at now. Are you managing the stress in your life well? Would others around you say that you manage stress well? Do the stressors in your life change you in ways that are negative? Are you as happy as you could be? Do you feel well most of the time, or are you dragging, physically or mentally?  These are just some of the questions you may need to be asking yourself and answering truthfully. If you need help achieving balance, have the courage to take the steps required to make the changes necessary in order to live the kind of life, and experience the kind of happiness, that God wants for you.  Life is short.  Live it well.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Stress Solutions for Busy Families

By Dwight Bain
Feeling Stressed Out? You are not alone. In fact, families are more stressed, more pressured and more exhausted than ever before. The problem is that stress usually brings out the worst in our lives, making already complex situations overwhelming or worse, shouting matches to prove who is ‘right.’
Is there a better way? I believe there is and it involves moving from focusing on the stress, (or source of the stress), to focus on managing it successfully. Here are some rapid strategies to use to make your home a place of happy memories and peace, instead of a panic filled environment where everyone is ducking for cover.
1.     Speak up instead of Stuff it. 
Often we follow the simplistic advice of Thumper’s father in the Disney film, “Bambi” who has the classic line, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” However, remember this was a young rabbit quoting his cartoon rabbit father. Not the best source of advice. Better is to Speak up when you are stressed, talk to your family, talk to your friends, neighbors or pastor.
2.     Support instead of Solo
Frank Minirth is a Dallas based psychiatrist who often says, “If you have one good friend you can talk to about anything, you will never need a psychiatrist.” I believe he is correct, since the more support you feel during stressful times, the better you will be able to manage the pressure. A burden shared is half a burden as the old saying goes, and it’s true. The more you can find like-minded people to walk through life with you, especially during the tough times, the better you will get through it.
3.     Skills to cope instead of same old way
Rest, relaxation, recreation and releasing pressure through journaling, counseling or exercising is a rapid way to manage the stress and pressure, because you are letting the pressure out faster than it’s coming in. You may be surprised to learn that the most successful people in our country keep a gratitude journal of blessings and add to it every day. Psychologically to focus on your blessings, instead of on your problems will change your mindset and will make you stronger, even during the toughest of times.
4.     Spiritual Strength
Remember you will get through this and you're not alone. There really is a God who is quite fond of you and desires your best. In fact, the Bible is full of encouraging words to build our strength in tough times. Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter, “Cast your cares on God, because God cares for you.” Do you hear the comfort? Spiritual peace is the beginning of real rest and stress relief. Why not find a quiet place to meditate and reflect on blessings today? As you move from counting problems, to counting blessings you may be surprised at how much better you feel… and how much easier it is to manage the day to day stress because you gained an eternal perspective.
firefox  Dwight Bain is a trusted professional with over 30 years of experience in solving complex problems. His purpose is to help you achieve maximum results in your personal and professional life. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Professional Communicator specializing in managing major change to move from stress to success. He is a life-long resident of Orlando, Florida where he lives with his wife Sheila and their two children. His goal is to make a positive difference in our culture for Christ every day by focusing on strategic change to achieve rapid results. Follow him on Twitter @DwightBain or like his page to find new inspiration at

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Has Your Sex Life Changed After Years of Marriage?

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

Has your sex life changed after years of marriage?  Are you struggling with mismatched sex drives?  Sometimes the solution is right in front of you.

Take a moment go over to lamp and unplug the cord from the electrical outlet.  Does the light go off?  Of course it does, now plug it back in.  The energy created between the connection of the outlet and the plug causes the light to go back on.  The outlet by itself cannot cause the light to go on any more than the plug by itself.  Both parts are needed to generate the electrical current.

The plug fills an opening in the outlet just as the outlet receives the plug.  Sex works in the same manner: a husband fills his wife just as the wife receives her husband.  The connection between the two generates powerful energy and excitement.  But this energy and excitement is not just reserved for sex, it can be generated in everyday life as well.  By focusing on your own role of either filling or receiving, you can generate greater sexual desire in your spouse.

Husbands.  Your role of filling your wife with love doesn’t begin and end in the bedroom.  Rather it is an everyday effort.  Know your spouse, study her, ask questions and be observant as to when she gets excited.  Just as you have changed over the course of your marriage, she too has changed and new insights are constantly needed.  Here are a couple of practical suggestions to get you started.

·         Fill her with kind words.  Encourage her daily.  Be gentle in your tone of speech.  Defend her.  Don’t be pushy.  Ask forgiveness for any harsh words or name calling.

·         Fill her with help.  Clean the kitchen without being asked.  Help the kids with homework.  Put in a load of laundry.  Complete whatever project she asked you to do ages ago.

·         Fill her with time.  Spend one-on-one time with her.  Turn off the TV, computer, all electronic devices and devote the time for just her.  Take a walk.  Go to dinner.  Make her a priority.

·         Fill her with gentle touch.  Reach for her hand when you are walking.  Greet her with a kiss.  Be intentional about giving her a quality hug daily.  Never force unwanted touch.

·         Fill her with gestures.  Make her coffee in the morning.  Give her flowers for no reason.  Surprise her with a gift card just for her.  Give out of generosity not manipulation.

Wives.  Your role of receiving your husband with openness doesn’t begin and end in the bedroom either.  It too is an everyday effort.  Receiving with openness is showing respect for your husband, as this is reserved for him and him alone.  Just because you believe you are being respectful, does not mean he agrees.  Pay attention to how he defines respect.  Here are a couple of practical suggestions.

·         Receive him with affirmation.  Acknowledge the role he plays as provider and be intentional about showing gratitude.  Be satisfied with what he brings home.  Affirm his role as a leader.  Don’t belittle.

·         Receive him with assistance.  Find ways to help him that he appreciates.  Don’t decide for him, ask.  Come alongside him and assist without telling him how to do it better. 

·         Receive him with attention.  Reserve some time for just him.  Let him know that he is special to you and deserves some of your time.  Don’t give him the leftovers of your day.

·         Receive him with affection.  Treat him better than your best friend.  Be friendly and warm towards his gestures.  Reach out and grab his hand for a change or give him a kiss for no reason.

·         Receive him with awards.  Honor him in how you speak about him to others.  Reward him with a special meal.  Give him a present out of the blue.  Treat him as “Husband of the Year”.

Of course, there are acceptations to every rule.  If your relationship has become abusive, this advice is not for you.  Get some help and set firm boundaries, your safety is a priority.

Another word of caution:  make sure you are focusing on YOUR part and not what your spouse is and isn’t doing.  You are responsible for your actions, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, not your spouse.  When you focus on filling or receiving and your spouse responds likewise, beautiful energy is created and rejuvenated everyday.