Facing Sexual Addiction

by Randy Hermann, MA, LLPC, CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist)

Facing sexual issues is one of the more personally challenging things one can undertake. Fear, shame, and denial all play a role in maintaining secret lives that conflict with our own personal and spiritual values. Be it pornography, intrusive fantasies, or emotional affairs, living a life less than our full potential creates physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational problems for ourselves.

Do I have a problem? I once ran across the world’s shortest self-assessment for sexual addiction. Ask yourself two questions: “Have I ever done anything sexual that harmed or had the potential to harm myself or another?” and “Did I do it again?” Answering affirmatively might indicate a problem.

Anyone who has honestly faced their sexual struggles can tell you that changing sexually destructive behavior is hard.

Why is change so hard?  The primary reason for this is that the path to freedom is not a straight line. It is not something that can be grasped directly. There are no quick fixes. In fact, most of us learn that traditional disciplines (try harder, think differently) and even spiritual disciplines (Bible study, fasting, prayer, etc.) do not typically deliver people into sexual health.

What should a person do? The first huge step towards sexual freedom is to clarify your vision for sexual health. Sexual health is much bigger than stopping unwanted or destructive sexual behavior. Healthy sexuality is all about helping you to answer the question, “What kind of man or woman do I want to be?

The second big and important step towards sexual health is to help understand the motivation underneath unwanted sexual behavior. We need to understand how sexualized thoughts and behaviors have become a way to medicate unwanted or painful emotions. In order to understand how this is working, people often find it helpful to revisit the painful and wounding seasons of their lives, especially the times and circumstances that helped to create the unwanted behaviors. People only find freedom after they uncover the implicit decisions they have made to not feel painful or unwanted emotions. This kind of work is often done best with the help of a skilled friend, pastor or therapist.

Long-term recovery often demands that people reconstruct their lives, so that there is
space for them to experience and work through their stress in a new way. This often involves integrating new ways to connect with their bodies through movement and exercise, connecting with their partners and friends through more honest dialogue and connecting with God through new, more honest methods of prayer.

Is there hope? Absolutely! While untangling the complex web of self-deception and self-medication is hard, it is possible. And those who courageously face their sexual dysfunction are able to recreate themselves in a way that transforms their entire life, including their physical, mental, spiritual, and relational health.

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Gracious Grieving During the Holidays

By Gwendolyn L. Pettway, LLPC

Making strong and wise choices to manage your grief during the holidays will set the tone for the rest of the year. The holidays are often painful for grieving folks. Our society puts many demands on us, such as shopping for the perfect gift, decorating our homes and being (or acting) festive at gatherings. These demands are draining, even for those who are not grieving. When grieving people expend that kind of energy, they often end up with a deeper sense of sadness, fatigue and emptiness. Grieving people can discover a sense of peace and fulfillment in the midst of their grief by making the following choices:

  • Choose to create your own holiday festivities. You are free to celebrate and you are free to not celebrate. Take time to think through what the holidays mean to you and what the holidays meant to the person who died. Trust your inner wisdom and strength to create experiences that work for you. For example, inviting a few people over for pie and coffee is much less draining than planning a full course holiday dinner.
  • Choose to be honest about your feelings. Pretending, denying and covering up your feelings just prolongs the grief process. The sooner you can honestly own your hurt, anger, confusion and your fears the sooner you will feel that inner source of strength. Consider writing a letter or a poem to the person who died.  You can also finish the following sentences; this can help you to identify and express some of the burdens you are carrying:

*My happiest memory of last holiday together is…
*This holiday will be difficult because…
*This is his how my family and I will spend this holiday…
*Without ___________________ this holiday will…

  • Choose to help your children embrace their own grieving process. It is helpful to talk to children honestly and in words they understand. Sometimes children will more readily express themselves through artwork, such as drawings. Keep the process honest. Avoid common clichés that suggest that God somehow needed the deceased and so “took” him or her. Also avoid telling children that the deceased loved one is “asleep”. This often prompts children to expect the person to eventually wake up.
  • Choose to express your grief with an appropriate support system. Consider joining a holiday grief support group. Talking with others provides a great source of information and relief. If needed, talk with your physician or pastor to get the extra help you need.
  • Choose to care for your body. Consider these simple ways to care for yourself:

Take a long calming bath instead of a quick shower.
Slow down and take deep breaths to help relax and center your emotions.
Treat yourself to a manicure, a new haircut or new novel.
Get plenty of rest. A 20 minute nap in the middle of all the busyness can refresh you, calm you and promote a sense of feeling grounded. Sleep allows the body to renew itself. It also gives the mind rest from persistent and meddlesome thoughts
.

Seasons of grief are often painful. However, when we make wise and strong choices, they can also be sacred seasons of transformation.

 

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How People Change

by Randy Hermann, LLPC

Quite often it is possible to look back at our lives and readily identify those times when something or someone catapulted us into an emotional or spiritual growth spurt. We typically don’t realize it at the time, and more often than not, we identify with the cataclysmic events that propel us into transformation.

Less often do we regard or even notice the small, commonplace events that make up the “baby steps” of personal growth. We forget to see how all experiences of life, large and small, exciting and dull, tragic and joyful, help to make us who we are. Perhaps one of the best ways to release us from feeling stuck is to simply acknowledge how the small things in our lives often become key change agents.

Just last week I met with a pastor friend of mine to help me sort out some issues of fear regarding potential career opportunities. As I half heartedly shared about the steps I had made with all the lackluster affect I could muster, he said to me, “Congratulations, it sounds like you’ve gone from paralysis to ambivalence”. Yes, it was not without sarcasm,  ut his point was clear: I was doing something meaningful, however small, to stretch and grow and take steps to promote healthy change in my life. Yet, if it wasn’t for an encouraging albeit tongue-in-cheek comment, I might have missed it.

I think it is easy to falsely think that major life transformations happen fast. The truth is that you and I are always, even right at this moment, making small changes that will one day culminate in a major life change.

Are you able to recognize the small steps that have contributed to your own growth, and better yet, are there small steps you can choose to take today to help promote healthy change?

 

 

 

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

by Victoria Coyne, LPC

Who do you see when you look in the mirror each morning?  Do you like the person looking back?

Many of us struggle to see and become our best selves because we look to other people to define us, give us significance or tell us who we are and how we should feel about ourselves.

This is a recipe for instability; human beings are flawed creatures who
have bad days and good days. So, when we give other people the power to define
us we run the risk of feeling like we’re on an emotional roller coaster. One
day we like ourselves because everyone else likes us and the following day we
can be filled with self doubt because we think others are disappointed in us, unhappy
with us or angry with us.

The key to becoming our best selves is to anchor our sense of self in the internal spiritual reality that we are loved, we matter and we have a purpose. From this internal foundation we will find a natural equilibrium and our lives will quickly become more balanced.

I have wasted countless hours worrying about what others thought about me.  I have lost precious sleep concerned about something that I said or I did and how friends responded
to me.  Instead of looking to the One with whom I identify and who defines me, I allowed others to determine how I felt about myself.  Often, I later learned that a friend’s response was mostly about their own issue or bad mood that day. In other words, it’s usually not all about me anyway! You either!

I don’t know if there was a moment everything changed; it was more like a slow process as I realized that there might be another way to navigate through my life, a healthier way and that at the end of the day, what really mattered was “did I stay connected with God?”

Although we all want to be liked, we don’t become our best selves by striving to gain popularity, to be cool or finally getting to run with the “A” crowd. We become our best selves by grounding who we are in the reality that we are loved, we matter and we have a purpose. From there we can learn how to live with others in community in order to grow, stretch and become the men and women that we have been born to be.  Community is to refine us, not define us.

How do we let go of looking to others to define us so that we can become our best, most authentic selves?

  • Spend some time alone and let God tell you who you are.  Prayerfully imagine Jesus’ looking at you with love, calling you by name.  Ask him what he thinks of you.  Journal about this regularly.
  • Pay attention to what others say about you, but then ask yourself, “is there any truth in this?” “Does it match up with who I am and who God says that I am?  If not, let
    it go and replace it with something positive that you know about yourself. Something that God has shown you through time alone with him.  Let these moments serve to challenge you and to take steps towards the “abundant life” that we’re all meant to live.
  • Take some time each weekend to reflect on your week.  How did you interact with
    others?  What did you learn about yourself?  About others? About the character of God?  Lastly, how will next week be different as a result of what you learned?

We have all been created for a reason, a purpose and a calling.  How much more powerful and focused could you be if the amount of the time and energy you spend worrying was used in a more positive way?  Just imagine the impact that you’ll have in your world!

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…” can you see yourself more clearly now?

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Prepare to Grow!

by Dr. Tim Hogan

We Miss Life’s Warning Signals

Sometimes we miss life’s message that it’s time to take action. A close friend of mine got a gorgeous Chevy Camaro for his 16 birthday and he drove it proudly—for about a year. That’s when the engine froze because he never changed the oil. “Didn’t the engine light come on?” I asked him. “Yes, yes it did,” he said, “I just had no idea what it meant.”

Our lives are filled with moments like that.  We are prompted every day with alerts of fear, boredom, anger, emptiness or pain. And we just find a way to keep on going! We miss our body’s warning signals. Our body is telling us that it is time to grow, and we have no idea what it means.

Our Brains Are Wired to Miss Warning Signals

Be gentle with yourself; our brains (and our society) are wired to ignore these important warning signals and do whatever is necessary to feel better, now. Our nervous system strives for equilibrium; it wants things to stay the same. And so when you notice an inner emptiness and sadness it will be easy to miss this wonderful signal that is trying to tell you: “Prepare to Grow!”  Instead, you will reflexively reach for the remote control, the internet, another cup of coffee or some other drug that promises to soothe things back to equilibrium.

It’s Time to Prepare to Grow!

There is another way. Perhaps you can notice the warning lights and accept them as in invitation to learn. Perhaps they are saying to you “prepare to grow”!

Are you bored? Do you spend more than 5 hours per week watching TV or surfing the net? …then your warning light is on: Prepare to Grow!

Have you noticed your marriage or friendship going cold going stale? Then prepare to grow!

Have you lost the vision for how you can make a difference in the world? Then prepare to grow!

Take Action! One Small Step at a Time

If your  “prepare to grow” warning light is on, consider doing one small thing to prepare to grow:

  • Go a week without your TV or computer (or whatever “it” you are using to avoid your life). When you have the urge to reach for “it” go for a walk, pray, journal or call a sensitive and wise friend or pastor and tell them what you are noticing.
  • Describe three times in your life when you felt spiritually connected to God (even if these weren’t in church!). What is one small thing you could do to honor this spiritual core of your being?
  • What are three ways you can love, serve or bless your spouse or close friend today?

So, how’s your emotional dashboard? Any lights on? Maybe it is time to prepare to grow!

Please share what you have learned about noticing the “warning lights” in your life.

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