Meet Them Where They Are

Three times each year, our parish runs Alpha, an eleven week program for people who are open to exploring the basics of Christianity, starting with elemental questions such as, Is there more to life than this?, or Why should I believe in God? The chair of the committee running this, and our other evangelization programs, was accosted by a fellow parishioner after Mass one morning. The parishioner had a list of grievances, particularly that the program wasn’t “Catholic,” citing various deficits, in the complainant’s mind, such as a lack of Marian theology. Besides her apparently unchristian behavior, she had missed the point of meeting people where they are. Many people are skeptical about the existence of God because they have been sold a bill of goods about faith and science being incompatible; it is hardly useful to wrestle them into a dialogue about the Blessed Mother and the Virgin Birth, or Transubstantiation. We must meet them where they are. They are wondering if there is a reason to believe in anything or any One, and rushing somewhere else won’t help; it simply truncates the conversation before it begins.
Just so, in our daily lives, we must meet people where they are…
It may well be that the child you permitted to walk all over you is now grown, or nearly so, and the rudeness and demanding behaviors that you thought were funny at age 2, and tolerable at age 4, are grinding you down now that the child is 18 or 21 or 30. It does little good to beat yourself up because you were not willing to foresee this problem; you need to deal with the situation as it exists, or choose not to (and continue to be ground down by caustic, toxic offspring). Attempting to have what you think is a perfectly reasonable conversation about your expectations and anticipating you will receive thoughtful, considerate responses is, well, sad and silly. You will have to meet them where they are: as a very large toddler who needs clear rules and near-immediate consequences. You will also have to have a plan as to how you will cope with an adult having a temper tantrum. There will be displeasure about any limits you set:
“We are no longer going to pay for your cell phone. You can come with me to [provider’s storefront] after work on [specify date] to switch the number to a new account in your name, or I will simply close that number.” You will hear how unfair this is, how unreasonable – you know how much their student loan payments are, right? – and how ridiculous and selfish it is for you to bring up their prodigious spending on entertainment and other technology.
“You are an adult, and this is our home. No more overnight guests.” Well, this is unfair, too; how are they supposed to, well, whatever? Other people’s parents are reasonable. Besides, it’s the 21st century; what’s next, bundling?
…and so it goes. You will get pushback and you will either stay firm – something apparently quite difficult, because if it came naturally, you would have put a stop to this behavior, oh, say, 20 or 25 years ago.
Many people are unhappy about the state of their marriages, and there, too, is a problem that is best met where it is. The typical couple puts their relationship almost entirely aside when children come along, neglecting it sorely, and then are surprised, dismayed and resentful at the state of things. They barely speak; they have nothing in common; each wonders, how could I have chosen such a miserable person? The relationship is anemic, neglected, and easily startled; like a once-beloved pet banished to the back yard pen for months or years, it hardly knows how to behave in the house. Treat it with gentleness, patience, and consistency. The friendship must be rebuilt; meet that process with good will rather than sarcasm and cynicism. Use Gottman’s research and books; use Chapman’s 5 Love Languages; use a good therapist: do something, be consistent, and begin at the beginning, with careful nurturing of the abandoned friendship. Perpetual complaints about what it “should” be like are worse than useless; just meet the marriage where it is.
You may need to meet yourself where you are, too.
You might like the idea of being physically fit, self-disciplined: the sort who enjoys vegetables and exercise. That’s all very nice…and, if it is not true, you will have to meet yourself where you are and begin teaching the actual you – not the imaginary, idealized version of you in your head – how to be self-disciplined, how to gradually become physically fit, and how to appreciate the subtle flavors of vegetables after assaulting your senses with however many years of packaged and fast foods.
Perhaps your vision for yourself is more spiritual. You might like the idea of yourself as a truly good person, the kind of person who enjoys engaging in loving service, doing without for others, and understands what it is people are talking about when they discuss having a “prayer life.” Meanwhile, you are stuck with a few rote prayers and still think Job and Jonah are supposed to be historical reports. Well, you must meet yourself where you are. If your spiritual training ended at 7, or after your Confirmation, Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah, your stunted spiritual age is where you begin.
Meeting ourselves, and others, where they are doesn’t mean “settling” unless you are content to stay there. It can mean having a real conversation, and a real chance for positive change. Flashes of insight are not change; they are the precedent of change. Change happens only where we are.

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Go and Do, for Me and You

Verbs, like “go” and “do”
In a recent on-air segment, Jamie and I (he’s the afternoon radio talent for Spirit FM, the local Catholic radio station/Christian pop music station where I’ve been volunteering since 2009) were discussing various social protests. He had asked me how to handle the flood of social media, with people posting/re-posting/re-re-posting, and the pressure to have some sort of opinion/assert some stand on perpetually protesting celebrity.
I try, but don’t always succeed, in preferring action verbs. Like, “go” and “do.” I don’t much care for meetings. I don’t like sitting around talking about how we can help the homeless and severely mentally ill. I went and did (full time work, almost 5 years). Jesus didn’t say, sit around and have lots of committee meetings. He said, pretty much, Go… (He also had something to say about babbling on and on, so I will move along.) I would rather teach than talk about teaching, do art than sit around talking about art…you get the idea.
So my thoughts are, go and do. It would be far more helpful – if, for example, we are talking about the real and obvious pain in poor neighborhoods – to go and do. Mentor a kid. Be a Big Brother/Big Sister. Organize a community watch organization. Do pro bono work in your field. Provide free tutoring. Be a Guardian ad Litem. Etc., etc. Go and do. Standing around getting attention for taking a public position that costs nothing seems a little self-serving.
It reminds me of the time a woman I knew criticized me for failing to wear red on some arbitrary date publicly announced to be the day to wear red to support women’s heart health. The only woman whose heart I have much influence over is my own. I had already exercised, gone to church, had good conversation with my husband, eaten a healthy breakfast – in other words, it was 8 AM and I had done all I could for THIS woman’s heart health. Nothing I was going to do, besides pray and try to set a half-decent example, would help anyone else.
It also brings to mind the big test for reports of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Such a report requires much evidence, but a primary benchmark requires that Mary points towards Jesus. There is no credibility if the reported vision does not direct people towards Jesus. Such an experience is not something from the Good side. It might be a well-intentioned, innocent delusion, but it is not Mary. Mary doesn’t showboat.
So…if terrible injustice moves you, go and do something concrete, specific and clearly helpful for one particular person. Keep the meme to yourself.
…and more on “Go” and “Do”
Teen and young adult mental health took a drastic, terrifying turn for the worse beginning in 2007 – and the stats keep worsening, especially since 2012. This, according to a lot of research, can be traced back to the smart phone, according to San Diego State University professor, researcher and author Jean Twenge. Her recent book, “iGen: Why Today’s Super-connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What that Means for the Rest of Us,” provides the results of not just her original research but meta-analysis of generations of data on the pattern of mental health and activity for youth.
It seems like constant connectivity has led to less “go” and “do” and more detachment and isolation. It’s a double-dose of negative: the ineluctable distance created by screen-based communication and a deficit of direct experiences. We were not designed to sit and click; we are made to go and do.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

Posts are for entertainment and not meant to be construed as treatment or professional recommendations. If you need mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Muscovy ducks are ugly.

There’s simply no getting around it. Perhaps some find them in the category of, “So ugly, they’re cute,” the befuddling phrase used to describe certain regrettable-looking breeds of dog with what seems to be a permanent, long drip of slime on their maws. I don’t see it, in either the dog or the duck.

Muscovy are also an invasive species here in west-central Florida, driving out our adorable and good-natured native ducks. Thus, they are unwelcome both in, and by, appearance.

During an Emmaus retreat at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, I was able to observe a female Muscovy along the river last weekend. She was waddling along, looking into the river on her right and then to the ground on her left, seeking food. She was followed closely by one, then two, then four, large, ugly and showy Muscovy males. She seemed oblivious. They were posturing: just short of chest-bumping one another, fluffing up their feathers, strutting in circles and then, realizing she had waddled on further ahead, scuttling up closer to the object of their desire before devolving into posturing observed only by one another, and me.

Ms. Muscovy did not feel obliged to wear shorter feathers in her nether region or walk on her webbed toes to gain their attention, and indeed, it was apparently unnecessary. She had the power of her femininity, and that was sufficient. God knows how large the flock of males out-strutting each other got before she made her selection; the bells rang and I hurried off to join my fellow retreatants for Morning Prayer.

Flash back to the 1980s, when wearing brassieres over one’s clothing, instead of under, was all the rage for a few unfortunate years. During a lunch conversation, a male colleague (middle-aged, recently divorced and apparently adjusting with difficulty) mentioned his amazement at seeing this while out in a nightclub. A few of the females opined we would never do such a thing. If we weren’t married, he said, and had to be out there, competing for male attention…whoa, whoa, WHOA. A man, I said, for whom I was to “compete” by wearing my underwear over my clothes would not be the man for me. My female cohorts agreed. Divorced-dude was amazed.

Alas, times have, apparently, changed. Somehow the power to vote, own property, and be paid the same for the same work (let’s not go to where we compare part-time clerical staff with chemical engineers and whine about salary differences, okay?) seems cast aside for the “power” to wear vagina-hats in public, insist that tights are business trousers, and gain fame by posting indecent pictures of oneself to (anti)social media.

In our little yard, I cannot, from a respectful distance, tell Mrs. Bunny from Mr. Bunny, but apparently they can, and so things work just fine. Mrs. Cardinal is subtle compared to her (to human eyes) flashy husband, but trust me, when the six or seven species of birds – almost all larger – are sharing the seeds I have flung onto the front yard, it’s little, softly hued Mrs. Cardinal who commands attention and sets the rules. Mr. Cardinal does not seem to have any objections about being partnered up with his gently-toned, energetic little mate. Likewise the pair of black snakes, the ever-expanding clan of blue jays, or our resident crows, Poe and Annabelle Lee, and their hapless but fun-to-watch adolescent offspring: all seem content without the females doing strange and torturous things in a craven attempt for male attention.

Why are humans so singularly dysfunctional when it comes to male-female relationships? Can we blame it simply on the Fall and the impact of a long history of bad choices that have turned us slowly away from what we could have, and might still be, towards this strange situation in which much of our culture finds itself?

For almost three decades now, mental health professionals have dealt with body-image and sexuality issues created by a pornographic culture so pervasive that too many young women believe they should engage in sexual activity whether they feel like it or not, and many young males have incurred physical damage on themselves due to excessive masturbation with porn as the stimulant. Conditioned to images on electronic devices, a normal, living female is just not as attractive and too much trouble. We’ve all, no doubt, heard of the teen magazine that explained sodomy in how-to terms. In my work, this isn’t some abstract issue; I listen to young women wrestle with their discomfort and shame over what they feel obliged to do and the fear that their hesitancy to engage in impersonal sexual acts means there is something “wrong” with them. I help couples whose relationship has been torn apart by the husband’s pornography addiction and disengagement from his wife.

I used to pity my male college students, assuming the heterosexuals had their ability to focus on psychology (endlessly interesting to me but, I realize, not to all) cruelly challenged because, for a healthy straight young male, the proximity of female peers would normally be distracting. Now the female peers are often dressed in revealing clothing. I assumed (naively) that this placed an unfair, even uncharitable, if you will, burden on the males. Now I wonder. I wonder if, drowned since childhood in a flood of hypersexualized images, the presence in the next seat of a young woman with her breasts pushed up to her collar bone is…nothing. Now I feel sad about that; they are both missing something about the joy of being human: they have lost the capacity to appreciate one another.

He may be sentenced, until he works to change it, to a life of seeking ever-more extreme forms of sexual stimulation, and she will be reduced to claiming that her power comes from the right to have sex indiscriminately and wear unflattering pink hats in parades.

Meanwhile, Ms. Muscovy is enjoying the riverbank and may eventually pick some posturing, squawking, ugly drake from among her admirers.

The ducks have it figured out. Guess who gets to be the silly, sad goose?

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Practical Psychology

My second book, 31 Ways/31 Days: Practical Psychology for the Frazzled Faithful, has just been published and is available via Amazon and other retailers, in both softcover and eBook. In it, I present information from the field of psychology as clear, simple action items for normal, busy people who want to make positive changes.

I love to turn psychological research into something a non-therapist can use, right now, to make relationships and life better.

Sometimes, research sounds ridiculous by the time it hits your news feed. Gleaning the nuggets that can change your life – today – is challenging. Consider, for example, that a cluttered environment contributes to parental stress to the point where it interferes with consistent parenting styles. Of course work, chores and piles of stuff to do covering every flat surface are stressful…but who knew that the clutter added enough stress to interfere with parenting? It’s easier to reduce stress by cutting a little clutter than figuring out what other source of stress to eliminate (hmmm…change jobs? quit working? send the kids to boarding school in Antarctica?) Implementing a manageable, meaningful change makes psychology, with its seemingly arcane tidbits of scientific research, useful to you. It’s not magic or a complete overhaul, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Another useful application of psychological research: even looking at pictures of nature helps reduce stress for everyone, and can improve cognitive skills in people with dementia. Whether it’s you at work, or your beloved elderly family member at home, some photos of nature to fill the eyes from time to time can help. It’s not going to make a miserable job a happy job, or reverse dementia, but it can ease the burden a bit.

If psychology doesn’t make life better and improve our understanding and relationships, it’s not very practical…and if it’s not practical, what good is it?

 

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Cut Them Some Slack

Doing unto others as we would have done for ourselves…well, there is one thing that most people tend to do for themselves that they are often slow, reluctant and resistant to do for others: cut them some slack. Consider the historical narrative on this:

Jesus of Nazareth: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” (Luke, 6:41, NAB)

Soren Kierkegaard: “Most people are subjective towards themselves and objective towards others, frightfully objective sometimes – but the task is precisely to be objective towards oneself and subjective towards all others.” (Works of Love)

CS Lewis: “…It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as, ‘of course, I know I have my faults.’ It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about…” (Essay: The Trouble with “X”, from God in the Dock)

Psychologically, of course, it makes sense: we, after all, know what we intend to do/say; we have deep awareness of all the people and events that obstruct our good intentions. Meanwhile, we have no clue – or concertedly avoid taking notice of clues we trip over – about whatever obstacles and heartaches might underlie others’ disappointing and often frustrating behaviors. We cannot know what it is like to have the particular limitations that someone else has –anymore than they can understand the particular limitations we tote around with us.

Sometimes someone will say to me in the context of therapy how badly they feel that they are struggling with some particular issue – anxiety, or depression, for example – when (from their perspective) other people all seem to be going around, carefree and without this sort of anguish. In a country in which 20% of women and 10% of men are prescribed antidepressant medications each year, and who knows how many various prescriptions for anxiety, it hardly seems fair, to oneself or others, to assume that everyone is skipping along as carefree as they often very deliberately attempt to appear. Then there are physical pains and illnesses; the sufferings of loved ones; the anxiety for a loved one in a danger zone; grief; loneliness. These are so often invisible except for the side effects of passing crankiness or thoughtlessness or scatterbrained-ness that annoy other people who are, to quote Kierkegaard, being “objective” about others.

For the person who is suffering and, unable to see evidence of suffering in others, believes s/he is alone, it is disheartening. To be so alone in suffering…! But no one is alone in their suffering.

Not all the objective/subjective dichotomy concerns suffering. Sometimes it is about unseen limitations or differences. No doubt you have something you are not naturally good at doing. Perhaps it’s spelling, or “being handy,” or math. If you are a grownup who is doing well in life, you may have turned this into a kind of joke, or perhaps you use this as exhibit A, the evidence that you know you’re not perfect: “Oh, I know I’m far from perfect…you should see the disaster my checkbook is,” but in fact you have a certain secret pride that you do not have to bother with this, or that your flaw is so small and even borders on not being a real defect at all…and, after all, at least you are not “stupid/lazy/arrogant/whatever you perceive in someone else.” Yet unless you are in that experience, you cannot understand the frustration of someone with a brain injury who on the one hand knows that a certain skill set used to come naturally but is now a fuzzy memory and source of perpetual struggle. You cannot know what it is really like for someone with an IQ thirty points below yours to struggle through a complex and fast-paced world, when their processing speeds are so much slower, and you likewise cannot know what it might be like for someone with an IQ thirty points higher than yours to bear patiently with you.

Part of good psychotherapy, like good spiritual growth, is becoming aware of one’s flaws – not for the purpose of self-recrimination and useless shame, but as opportunities for growth of oneself as well as a growth in compassion for other people. The process, once begun, is the work of a lifetime.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Thoughts on Lent…

It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian 40-day period of spiritual boot camp. For a few weeks, the normal, daily practices of various forms of prayer, fasting/self-denial and almsgiving are supposed to be kicked up a notch. The point of such actions, as Thomas Merton wrote, is not to become a “spiritual athlete” but to push aside trivial things and focus on Who, and what, ultimately matters.

For Christians, the increased on focus on prayer highlights our need to grow in faith. Fasting and other forms of self-denial teach us to trust God – to have hope, rather than an inflated notion of self-reliance. Almsgiving pushes us to love others without conditions or recognition.

All pretty hard stuff, actually.

What if you’re not Christian, or a Christian from a denomination that isn’t particularly engaged in the Lenten season? What about you? Is it still useful to have some sort of extended period of intensive work on bettering yourself in whatever areas you could use a little boost? No doubt a loved one, or perhaps your coworkers, physician, or dental hygienist have suggestions for your improvement. Odds are, the answer for most of us is, yes – sometimes ramping things up for a set period of time is enough to break a bad habit, start a good habit, and have a target date in mind for a shift in perspective to take hold.

Have a Lent that is a season of growth or, if not Lent – have a personal boot camp.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Way 27/Day 27: Make it a great year: Realize that sometimes it really is “you” and not “them”

This is a trait to which we’re all susceptible. It’s someone else’s fault.

Eve blamed the serpent.

Adam blamed Eve and God (That woman that YOU put here…)

So, apparently, it’s human nature to have difficulties and look outside for the fault.

That’s often the case. We do indeed all live surrounded by difficult people. We each just happen to be one of them for everyone else.

If you have a pattern – or two, or three – of difficulties that crop up across places and people, yup, maybe that has more than a little something to do with you. Have a look at those and discern where you have a habit of behavior that is contributing to those problems. No doubt someone (or several someones) have tried, often unsuccessfully and perhaps at risk of being counter-attacked, to point these out to you.

Take some time to simmer on this and see if what emerges helps you make it a great year for you (and the people around you).

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.