Pain and Suffering: Or how I spent the last four months.

I've been sick for about four months.  I haven't really been shouting it from the rooftops or anything.  I don't like to complain in public, but I've had an ulcer.  Basically, my stomach decided to spring a leak and give my pancreas an acid bath.  I guess I've taken too many ibuprofen in my last few years.  But, I have gained a huge benefit from this experience.

I've heard some of the cliche's that people put out there about sickness causing all sorts of re-arrangements of priorities, and life focus.  For me, not so much.  I've been nauseated for four months, and my body has been leaking acid all over itself.  Not fun.  I've been trying to make it minute by minute.  This is difficult with two jobs, a wife, a three year old and an infant.  Fortunately, I have an awesome wife, who understands that I have been in a lot of pain.  I've also learned to have new understanding and empathy for those who deal with losing their temper.  There's nothing like an internal acid bath to make you fly off the handle a little more quickly than usual.  

Prilosec did seem to get me patched up pretty well, and now I'm going through the appointments to make sure everything still works the way it's supposed to work.  The big thing for me though, is that part of me does not want to really go back to the land of the healthy.  I know that some people pray for healing.  Some people believe that it's God's job to heal you from your illnesses if you have enough faith. This is not really an accurate application of God's word.  I know that God is the great healer.  But, in this instance, I am grateful for the pain instead.  I am grateful for the thoughts that I may not live my life in pristine health.  I've been contaminated, broken, weak, scared and scarred.  As a Christian, maybe I need to spend more time being actually broken, instead of just talking about being broken to actually broken people.  

I've spent most of my life learning how to help people.  Along the way, I've become pretty entitled in my attitude.  It wasn't really intentional.  But my job is to have answers for people...for just about everything.  It had become a little too easy to tell people what they should think about, or how to think about their situations.  But you don't learn about struggling with someone by dispensing knowledge like that.  In my own suffering, I felt hopeless for awhile, because I knew that the situation was due to my overuse of headache medicine.  I knew that I had caused this to happen.  I found myself in a spot where I called out for healing, knowing that it was not going to happen in the way I wanted it to.  I knew that this was part of my own story and relationship with Jesus.  I've never really had to struggle in my health.  In this situation, the Lord is making me more like Him.  Why would I want to pray for Him to make me more of what I already was?  So I began thanking Him for the struggle, and looking forward to the process of growing my way out of this.  I began to confess instead of request.  The more I confessed the things that I was thinking about, the more I knew I was becoming the person He wants me to be.  

So, now I thank Him for the experience that so far, hasn't sealed my fate.  I'm feeling like I'm on the mend.  I feel so much more empathy for those who are actually suffering.  I know many people who struggle with health much more than I do, and I am inspired by their struggle.  I am humbled by people who are dealing with life changing illness, in a way that I did not really have an appreciation for, before being sick.  So maybe I did get a new focus in my priorities and life in general. 
I've also been playing this song on repeat...a lot.

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Photography Is Therapy

     Everyone has a story to tell.  As a counselor I spend a lot of time trying to help people examine their past.  My job is to help people.  One of the tools that I use is the past.  People do the things they do, because of the things they have done.  How we remember the past greatly influences our present thoughts and beliefs.  I believe that photographs are one of the most overlooked tools for counseling and life in general.  People are storytellers by nature.  We want people to know where we have been.  We want them to know how we feel.  Our greatest stories can be written through photographic prints.  You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words right?  Well the digital age has given us the ability to capture photos in ways we never could have hoped to do just a few years ago.  But something changed.  We stopped printing our pictures when we started taking photos with digital cameras.  We no longer have boxes or albums full of prints.  We have old hard drives full of images on old computers.  Our computers have been replaced with our tablets.  Our cameras have been replaced by our phones.  It's really easy to take pictures, but it's a hassle to print them.  So we don't.  We have become a culture that has forgotten how to write our stories.  We capture the story and unknowingly discard it.  We are so busy taking pictures with our phones, that we don't really experience that special or important moment.  Then we move on, and never really archive that photo.  We might go back and look at it again once or twice in the phone or camera, but something will come along that will keep that memory from being transferred to a print.  We are witnessing the story, and then forgetting to write it down.  Maybe your software update will go wrong and the images will get erased.  Maybe your memory card will go bad, or you'll accidentally erase the photos.  Maybe your phone will accidentally go swimming.

     Did you know that film is almost no longer being made?  Photo printing has become so inexpensive, but we only print a small fraction of what we shoot with our cameras.  I believe that printing your pictures is something that can help you write your story.

     I admit, I am guilty of not printing enough of my own photos.  I did professional photography for several years, and I loved to print my own photos.  Eventually it became too much like work to print my own photos.  It was also pretty pricey to print my own with the extremely nice ink jet printer I had.  Today I can get professional prints made for less than twenty cents apiece.  I have made a commitment to my family to print more photos, and I have been doing it.  I have to say, that it's really cool to see more and more prints on our walls.  It makes me remember the great times that we have been having as a family.  Now that we have two children, I am very excited.  I want them to see visual reminders of their stories hanging on our walls.  I want them to see that we choose as a family to visually write our story through photography.

The Scripts: Bully

The Scripts:  Bully or Persecutor

So have you ever found yourself feeling like a friend or a loved one was setting you up? 

Ever felt like you were going to get in trouble no matter what kind of response you gave?

Have you ever heard this line, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

If you say yes, you’re in serious trouble! 
What if you say no?  Maybe you’re being truthful…but maybe you’re being set up for a conflict.  The “non-fat” friend of yours could reply back with something like…well are you saying the other dress makes me look fat?
It’s a no-win for you isn’t it?

How about this one:   “It’s your fault I over drew the checking account! You said I could buy what I want.”

The language that we use is based on our personality.  These are examples of people using the Bully script.  It is also called the persecutor or the perpetrator.  This is one of the three scripts in the Drama Triangle or the Victim Triangle.  The Drama Triangle was a concept put forward by Dr. Stephen Carpman.   He viewed personality conflict through a triangle with three different scripts.  Each script puts the responsibility for behavior on the other person in the relationship.  Not on the one doing the talking. 

I remember being in the group home where I worked for two years as a therapist.  I would constantly watch kids attempting to get out of trouble by blaming other kids or staff members for the unjust treatment that they thought they were about to get.  It usually came about because of something they had done wrong, but they were frantically working on a story that put the responsibility for their behaviors on someone else.  Usually they tried to come up with something they remembered from earlier in the day.  They would try to spin the story so that they were the victim in the situation. The thing that struck me was that fifteen minutes later they would be staring down some other poor kid, and threatening unspeakable things they were going to do to them.  Where did that poor victim go?  It had only been fifteen minutes and they were threatening to beat up on another kid.  They hadn’t learned anything from the consequence that was used or attempts to make them feel like less of a victim.  (Assuming they were convincing enough to the staff member involved with them.)

I was introduced to the Victim Triangle through these episodes.  I used this concept in treatment every day…all day.  Here’s what I would do.

A teenaged child would approach me, usually screaming about what they were going to do to so and so, if they didn’t start getting some respect.   Usually there would be some other poor teenager backed into a corner.  I would ask them, “I didn’t know you were such a perpetrator (Or bully)…Is that what you are telling me you want me to believe, or is there something else you are trying to tell me?  Usually that was enough of a warning about the child’s behavior to get them to stop for a minute from their tirade.  Usually the other kid (or staff member) was even more intrigued, because few people actually talk in this type of language in their daily life.  Think about it.  I’m not saying they are a perpetrator, or a bully.  They approached me and said they were about to do something painful and bullying to someone else.  Their own language already shows their intended choice through a threat of bodily harm to someone else.  I’m just taking them seriously…but I had already spent time with the same child as they were using the victim script.  I had empathized with them when they believed they were the victim.  I didn’t necessarily enable that belief.  I empathized with them. 

Sometimes I reality checked with them about twisted thinking in the victim script too.  But I empathized with them when they were the victim.  I validated their healthy choices, and offered alternative ways to think for future situations.   The other child always safely got out of the corner.  The Bully was also able to save face, because I was actually calling them a bully, which was what they wanted their victim to perceive.  But they made the choice to step away from the bully role in the episode.  It also showed the actual potential victim in the situation how to use de-escalating language in the moment.

By taking the threatening behavior seriously and telling them what it is, I give them the opportunity to be responsible for choosing which role they want to occupy.  They can’t be all three things (Bully, Victim, Rescuer) in the matter of an hour.  They know it’s not consistent.  Over the course of the relationship with the children, I would spend time empathizing with them, regardless of what script they used.  They always needed empathy, because they were working on changing aspects of how they cope with others.  I was challenging how they view the world, and how they believed others perceived them. 

The most important part for me as a therapist was that the children learned that I would be consistent and available.  I would not reject them based on the script that they were using at the time.  For a bully to learn that someone close can call them out on their behavior, and still stick with them, is the part that helps them grow.

The Scripts

Once you have set up the ten rules in your home you will probably face some setbacks and frustrations.  Hopefully you will begin to see some positive results from having a “home base” to parent from.  The more you use them, the more you will notice that your language will start to follow a pattern.  You may find yourself repeating things.   You will develop what is termed a “script.”  We will call it a script from here on out. 

As you notice yourself practicing the rules, you may realize that your script is less about you or your child.  It’s actually about the behavior you are trying to correct.  For example, I might say to my little one, “Do we throw our toys?”  She would say no. 
“What do we do with our toys?” I would ask her.
“We play nicely with our toys.”  She would respond.
We’ve practiced this, so she knows she has misbehaved.  I’m just giving her the opportunity to be responsible for her behavior and to correct it through her own choice.

If she continues to throw her toy we would send her to time out and talk about the behavior again.  But the benefit here is that we did not resort to what would have been my early script without the rules.  It would go something like this.

I see her throwing her toys.
“What are you doing?” 
No response.
“Elizabeth!”   If you don’t stop that right now, you’re going to get a spanking.
No response.
Elizabeth, if you don’t stop doing that right now, daddy’s going to get mad.
She still continues.
Elizabeth don’t make daddy come over there.

Elizabeth continues…etc etc.  Until I follow through and spank her or change to a consequence I am willing to follow through with.
Notice my consequences kept getting less severe.  I’m already changing my strategy from cause/effect to trying to appeal to her.  I’ve told her she won, and I just want her to change her mind so she can preserve the relationship.  I’ve given her the responsibility of parenting because I didn’t do what I said I would do the first time. 

I never told her what she needed to stop doing.  I didn’t follow through with my pledge to spank her until at least the third or fourth warning.  This encourages her to continue to test the limit.

The script is habitual dialogue that I draw upon from the past with my child. Sometimes we take what we hear from our parents and make it snowball in the lives of our children. 

The victim triangle, or the drama triangle:
This is an approach to understanding personality dialogue and what’s called the externalization process.  It is credited to Dr. Steven Karpman MD.  He first devised this model in the 1960’s.  He came up with a dramatic script visual called the “victim triangle,” or the “drama triangle.”  This is a very helpful tool to understand the way people try to avoid responsibility in their daily interactions.

We are not constant victims of the world.  We choose what we do and how we feel.
“You always…”   (Always is an absolute term.  People are not absolute beings.)
“You never…”  (Never is an absolute term.)
“Don’t make me do…”  (People can’t really make you do things unless they violate your boundaries, such as a hostage situation).
“You make me feel…” (People can’t make you feel anything unless they are physically harming you). 

This is an example of the “victim” script.  The example is how our dialogue attempts to make us the victims of the people we are talking with. 

“Don’t make me spank you” would be an example of a parent making himself the victim of a noncompliant child.  The parent is implying that he is the victim of the child’s spanking.  It makes the consequence the problem and not the behavior. This diminishes the cause/effect relationship to the child’s choice to misbehave.  It also encourages a later attachment issue between the two.  We will discuss these issues in more detail later.

We will discuss the three main scripts and put them in a visual format.
The best way to avoid script language is to focus on the problem, not attacking the person.  In our pre-marital counseling, our pastor gave us a communication covenant.  One of the best lines in that document was that we would agree to never verbally attack our spouse.  We would always discuss the problem as being the problem and not the person as being the problem.  This is one of the most important points in counseling all relationship issues.  We will continue with the victim triangle and the concept of scripts in our next few blog articles.  

Why we have the Ten Rules

So for the last week I’ve been trying to narrow my focus for the “Ten Rules For Your Home” material.  I received a few questions from people asking how to get started in coming up with rules.  The main concerns were, “How do you keep the leadership role of the father in the home when the teenager is coming up with the rules?” Another question was, “Why do you do time out when it does not seem like it is working?”
            These are great questions.  When I enter the picture as a counselor, things have usually gotten to the point where the family needs immediate help.  They can’t wait three months to see improved behaviors in their child.  Usually the school is giving ultimatums to the family about their child’s behavior too.  A comforting word from an overly optimistic counselor will not get the school to stop sending home letters about their kid’s bad behavior.  There needs to be some sort of plan to get everyone in the child’s life on the same page.  This is why I needed something adaptable to the most difficult family situations.  Families with less intense issues can always scale back the plan if it is too much.
            Working with teenagers can be very frustrating at times.  Having the ability to manipulate concepts is a new skill for them.  They are sometimes overwhelmed by the new information that they are now capable of understanding, but they do not have all the right places in their mind to store the information from new processing abilities.

I came up with the “Ten Rules” after my two years as a counselor in a Specialized Therapeutic Group Home.  I was responsible for the counseling of foster children who needed an extremely high level of supervision.  We had a 24-hour staff that was accountable to where the children were at all times.  These workers all had differing opinions of how things should be run, but we couldn’t do it a different way for each staff member.  Additionally, I learned that the kids would have been very happy for us to try to run the group home eighteen different ways.  They could exploit that.  That is why we emphasized the concept of “splitting” or divisions. By having a common plan, we were able to keep the children from using the different “parenting” styles of the workers against each other.  Sometimes the kids understood it better than the grown ups though. 
So when I left the group home I began working with children in an outpatient type setting.  They had at least one parent.  I realized that these children also had stability issues that I could address by simplifying the structure of the group home.  I wanted to also make it a Biblical model, because I am confident in the Bible’s relevance for everyone.  I noticed that many of the parents were mad because their kids were “disrespectful.”  I asked them to tell me how they will know their kids are being respectful.  They would say something like, “He’ll say yes ma’am or no ma’am.  He won’t use profanity anymore, or he won’t get into fights at school.” 
I would ask those same parents to write those down as rules, and about half the time, they would not write down those rules.   Since I had so many kids, and about half of the parents would not work on coming up with rules, I began working on the rules myself with the kids.  I would send the kids home with the rules, and many of them would get really excited about their counseling!  In turn, their behaviors at home would improve.  Imagine how a teenager feels when they are getting into trouble, and they begin to take responsibility for their actions.  It is so disappointing when they get home and their parent is not involved in the counseling that they demanded the child receive. The only time I had a hard time with this design was when parents just did not think it was necessary to be involved in participating in the therapy.  They would say things like, “Can’t you just get her to do what I say?” Unfortunately, those were the cases where I was least effective in helping the families.  The “Ten Rules” is a model designed to help the parents and the child communicate about expectations.  This behavior management template also allows the counselor to work on the deeper issues once the clear expectations are set at home.  Many times it even improved marriage conflict, because it gives the parents an opportunity to parent from the same set of expectations.  In time the “Ten Rules” get replaced with the language that the parents learn to use in the moment.  In essence, it teaches the parents how to step outside of the issues they inherited from their own development, and to parent from a Biblical model, instead of an inherited wound of the heart from their own parents.