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Guilt, Criticism, and Projection


Happiness: Guilt, Criticizm, and ProjectionAfter listening to numerous people who feel guilty about things that have happened in their life and hearing them talk about the details of their experience, a common theme that runs through all of the stories is that people who feel guilty are very unhappy and invest a huge amount of energy trying masking the painful experience from being known by others.  Quite often, all of the efforts to hide the experience that is not apparent on the surface has the opposite effect.  Instead of effectively covering up guilt, it is like wearing a badge that says, “I am guilty”.  It does not take a psychologist to figure out that a person who engages in constant criticism of others is a demonstrating a clear behavior cue pointing to unresolved guilt in the accuser.  Often, the person constantly calling attention and implying guilt by suggesting others weaknesses or faults may just be shining a light upon something that obviously is wrong, deeply felt, and unresolved in the accuser.

Good Guilt vs. Bad Guilt

Developmentally, guilt is an emotional warning sign that people learn during normal childhood social development that develops a sense of socially appropriate behavior. Therefore, Guilt’s purpose as a social phenomenon allows humans to know when something wrong, socially unacceptable has been done—to keep life balanced.  On the positive side, good guilt operates to help us develop a better understanding about bad choices and danger in our personal behavior.  As such, healthy expressions of guilt prompt a person examine and to re-examine behavior to prevent making the same mistake twice.  However, neurotic guilt remaining unresolved can reveal a symptom of negative perceptions and mental representations about others behaviors triggering distorted associations with one’s own unrealized internalized guilt, paralyzing emotions, and distorted reactions connected to a distorted sense of self that is like a mirror reflecting past events not viewed by others or even known by the accuser in the moment.  Unfortunately, misunderstood and unresolved guilt leads to depression, anxiety, and frustration projected on someone else rather than becoming a positive force toward change or self- improvement.  Bad Guilt normally is a negative focus coming from a perception of self that moralizes behavior of others and with the internal message, “I am a bad person.  I cannot bear myself.  I am unworthy.”

Internalized Guilt Results in Externalized Behavior

When we are carrying guilt around, what do we do with guilt? Often I have said that “the things that we hate about others are the things that we hate most about ourselves.”  Carl Jung said, Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people” Unfortunately, the guilt ridden accuser does not understand that criticism is a window into their own darkness.  Clearly, behavior is hidden so well beneath misdirected concern shared as a concern with confidants, family, friends that infers perceived wrongdoing.  What may really be happening is that the guilty accuser by inference projects their own deeply felt guilty behaviors on their mirror on the mirror of life.  Unfortunately, many of the things that people feel so passionately and deeply that seem so offensive –we speak so loudly, passionately, so convincingly about, point back to self-perception embedded within neurotic guilt in the mind.  Indeed, the ability of guilt to subconsciously influence how perceptions, beliefs, and meaning about things that are viewed should not be underestimated, nor ignored.  For instance, in a perfect world of a developing infant, doing, something “bad” is equivalent to murdering all that is good.  As the child develops with a lived-experience of shame, performance based acceptance, and guilt ridden feelings, the inability to dispel the gnawing sense of guilt results in the child owning misunderstood feelings about guilt and he/she enters an “adult– normal society. The feeling that one can never be good enough, accepting every responsibility for every wrong, and living with guilt ridden shame will be a way of life to always cause the adult to be a pleaser, a rescuer to try to transfer the childhood shame and guilt and find acceptance.

Psychological Projection Criticism and Conversations with Guilty People

As I listen to people’s conversations, it sounds like there is something not being said, but is implied in the intent of what is being said.  Therefore, I have learned to listen carefully to what people say and give some time and thought to their words and behavior. Quite often it is what is not being said that is more important than what is being said.  One example that you may identify with is the protective friend. This person wants to help someone with a situation and someone else gives the pretense of being helpful by saying, “be careful that you don’t make them feel you are taking advantage of them.” What is the real issue?  It may be a person who is genuinely concerned, but also it may be someone who does take advantage of others and is projecting guilt.  Another person who is also puzzling is concerned that a someone is having secret sexual relation and someone needs to do something to stop this bad behavior.  It causes the question to arise whether the concerned person really feels guilty about their own sexual behavior that no one knows about.   While serving as a pastor I have had those who felt duty bound to inform me about how certain people are living and taking advantage of their leadership positions and using others.  What is common to all of these conversations is that they are people who represent themselves as crusaders of right, justice, and in fact they are all people trying to represent themselves as right and others as wrong and ask me to join them in guilting others into conformity. Therefore, a critical question about this kind of accusation and speculation is motivation.  A question important to ask is what motivates the suspicion and why does this behavior happen?  One conclusion that could provide an answer is that there may be a genuine problem that needs to be investigated.  However, in the absence of compelling evidence. the essential question is why do some people see things that are really not there and act on beliefs that have no substance, evidence, or real desire to help?  One answer may be that some people have a need to rescue others from what they believe is “bad behavior” because there is strongly embedded guilt motivating the person who sees their own failure in the acts of others.  The effort to direct attention to what is occurring is characterized by transference where there is an effort to vicariously fix something that feels very wrong in their own life or neurotic guilt.

Why does one person believe they are doing right by making someone else guilty, warning, judging, evaluating, devaluing, and invalidating the other persons?

Accusations of Guilt and Defense Mechanisms

When a person engages in this kind of destructive inference crusading to gain support from others, what is the core issue in the accusation? According to Sigmund Freud, it may be psychological projection, which is a psychological defense mechanism whereby one “projects” one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.  Projection is one of the defense mechanisms identified by Freud that is used when someone feels threatened or feels afraid of their own impulses– so they attribute these impulses to someone else.  What is apparent among people who make it their life’s mission to constantly criticize without sound reasoning and responsible approaches to relationships with others is that the critic has an unresolved problem.  It is guilt– the feeling– that comes to the surface when something witnessed in others –a trigger activates recognition of a feeling associated with a past behavior —” a been there done that experience.”  It may be important to realize that recurring critical activity is constantly calling attention others faults may be a sign of unresolved feelings of guilt and self-esteem behaviors that are being attributed to someone else.

The Blame Game and What is Really Being Said

Throughout the history of the human race it is well documented that people have been struggling with guilt while denying responsibility.  The Bible contains the story of creation when, Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden; then, made leaves to cover up because they became aware they were naked, while knowing what they had done wrong.  Obviously, the gist of the story indicates that they did not want to take responsibility for what had happened. Therefore, the response of Eve was to pass the blame on, “it is the serpent that caused the evil act.” The response of Adam was that it is the woman that you gave me Lord.  The story illustrates very well how guilt makes people project cover up because they are ashamed and understand that something is wrong and needs fixed.  Guilt makes people accuse others because drawing attention to someone else’s behavior deflects attention away from the guilty party, the fear of being exposed, and projects judgment for guilt upon someone else. Projecting guilt in criticism is a way of verbalizing how deeply perceptions of right and wrong good and bad affects feelings of personal well being and security.  If you have guilt, can you live effectively and experience well-being in the experience of life?  Something to think about is that as long as attention is focused on what is wrong in others, what is hidden in your life; then, energy cannot be focused upon what is possible or what can make life effective, nor can you be happy.

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Investing in Hope to Make a Difference


Ocean-Hope

Theodore Roosevelt said that “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.”  That is a way of  describing a way of thinking about events in life that has a pathway to a solution in mind instead of  the road to failure.

It is Hope That Motivates People to Move Ahead Beyond Circumstances

The ability to convey adaptive thinking when faced with insurmountable or challenging circumstances in life is an essential skill acquired by those who  create success in the endeavors of life.

Expressing hope is the act of building a bridge that beyond the scope of circumstances—opposition and paving a pathway to a desirable outcome for the future. Almost everyone is concerned about effectiveness– how to find success in life that creates the momentum to get where we want to arrive.

Many available psychological studies support the assumption that hope is a key component distinguishing how well an individual navigates through challenges. Therefore, the influence of hope upon life experience measures the qualitative phenomenon relating to physical health, higher academic functioning, interpersonal functioning, athletic performance, psychosocial adjustment, capacity for self-regulation, and superior ability to face and overcome obstacles. On the other hand, a lack of hope characterizes those easily derailed by obstacles avoidant, ineffective, and have the absence of heartiness through make it through life challenges. Considering factors related to why some people succeed and others do not, there may be many reasons contributing to success, but the central mitigating factor for empowering success, even when other deficiencies exist, is the presence of hope as a cognitive pattern of organizing the thought processes among people who continue to rebound no matter what happens.

Conceptual and Practical Definitions of Hope

An effort to define hope provides a conceptual definition and insight about what it is, what it does, and how it expresses certain behaviors in life experience. Some common definitions of hope are to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment, or to have confidence; trust, to look forward to with confidence or expectation. For instance, we hope that our children will be successful, the sun will shine, and that everything will always work out. The theological virtue of hope defines the desire and search for a future good, difficult in human terms, but not impossible to attain with God‘s help. The idea of hope in general terms is an expectation that motivates life in the present by a belief that the future holds possibilities that can be achieved. Hope is a way of expressing life that builds a bridge to the future.

A Christian Approach to Hope

The Christian approach to hope provides a Biblical definition of hope pointing to a “confident expectation”. Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25; Hebrews 11:1,7). Christians believe that hope in the present and in the future is a confident expectation that based upon essential beliefs about God, His oversight, involvement, and control over what happens in life. For Christians who understand the basis of their beliefs, hope is an essential ingredient in a life expressed upward toward God and outward toward goals (Proverbs 23:18) . In times of distress, when faced with despair and loss, there are situations where life loses its essential meaning and zest (Lamentations 3:18, Job 7:6). When faced with death and times when there is no apparent hope (Isaiah 38:18, Job 17:15), Christian hope supplies a way of organizing belief into confident expectation that those who put their hope in God will receive assistance (Psalm 28:7). Therefore, Christians believe, and will not be perplexed, put to shame in their hope (Isaiah 49:23) and will be vindicated as they place hopeful expectation in God. As a result, hope and belief is a general attitude of confidence in God’s protection and help (Jeremiah 29:11). Therefore, hope frees Christians from fear and anxiety (Psalm 46:2-3). Christian hope pivots upon beliefs and assumptions about, God, good and evil, life, eternity and life in the present. Hope provides momentum to live with expectation that God is guiding what is happening to a positive outcome.

Overcoming Objections by Reducing the Power of Obstacles

One issue of interest is the way hope energizes and infuses life with momentum to move ahead. Hope provides a clear way that can reduce the power of obstacles to disable supplying an attitude that enables reaching forward with a belief that success is attainable. As a result, believing success is attainable draws attention the way hope increases and by how an individual mentally approaches life. Is there a road to happiness and a set point that achievable to measure happiness through hope as normative as a maxim? An equally important issue to understand is that a state of happiness is a subjective condition. If someone asked you to describe happiness, what elements would the story contain for you?

Automatic Assumptions People Have about Happiness

Research has shown that automatic assumptions of happiness are often incorrect. Often, feeling good about the present state of affairs define hope and happiness in the minds of some people. In fact, something true is that people who feel good in certain circumstances, like winning the lottery, actually become unhappy, dissatisfied, and loose hope in life when they cannot manage their success. Carl Maslow illustrated how people feel a better sense of well-being when they have basic survival needs met rather than monetary gain. Lifestyle always rises to the level of income and beyond; then, what happens is that possessions or positions in life do not seem to bring happiness and hope. People get on the hedonistic treadmill trying to find happiness and gain hope but, “the abundance of life is not in the things we possess” (Jesus). Often, people assume that happiness and having hope is a result of what happens to people in life. However, it is not what happens to people; it is how they construct and interpret those events, it is how a person mindfully experiences those events.

The Pathway to Emotional Well-Being and Engagement with Life

A key to hope, a road to happiness is emotional well-being. People who have hope in life and experience emotional well-being are people who are virtually engaged in life, grounded in meaning and purpose in life. To be happy, to have hope means being fully involved with every detail of life. A life driven by purpose, calling, a sense of belonging and fitting where you are is critical to feeling positive about what is taking place in existence. When people are fully engaged in life with a sense of fitting, belonging– owning a place in life– engaging in positive relationships, then attention redirects our energy away from negatives, which are destructive, limiting, defeating activity that drain vitality from life. You may have heard the expression, “time flies when you are having fun”. Another way to understand this is a state of grace, a “flow state“. The experience of flow happens when you are completely caught up in the things you are doing and time flies.

Increasing the Flow and Seeing the Possibilities

Meeting the challenges of life with hope increases, the flow of life setting an expectation that sees a life that has possibilities, even when faced with extreme opposition. Something that happens within the hope transaction is alternative routes to reach outcome are discovered, and then implemented through pathways thinking. “Pathways thinking” means that when the first route you try is blocked, you can produce alternative routes to get to a destination by thinking flexibly and are able to change course as needed. A challenge faced when attempting to cultivate an increased hope is to how to cultivate thinking patterns that connect to alternatives rather than boxed in solutions. A principle of hope is that hope is a learned experience, as well as, a motivational feeling experienced, which indicates hope is both a phenomenon experienced and a mindset.

A Calling to Faith and Hope

Hope is embraced as a principle of thinking when hope has agency. “Agency thinking” demonstrates thinking with efficacious belief, a sense, that the desired goal can be reached. Borrowing from a Biblical principle in Hebrews 11:1, “faith” in Christian thinking is stirred by reciting, vividly recalling successful ventures of faith in the past. The “evidence of things hoped for” is in the record of those who have the story of success presented in a history of belief. Individuals who spend their time reciting their failures, or being reminded constantly of failure are not likely to accomplish much. However, when there is a sense of agency and belief is cultivated through celebrating success and failure jointly (on the road to success), then high hope can be instilled that enables accomplishment.

One thing for sure in life is that there are always people who can convincingly tell you why you cannot succeed. However, when you want to succeed, a bridge to the future must be constructed with faith, hope, and belief and it needs to begin today, immediately.

A Call to Hope in a Pagan Culture


Hope

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”(Nehemiah 1:8)

Self Serving Leaders. Mentally Distorted and Spiritually Stagnated

The story of Nehemiah records the history of a consistent area of failure over the history of God’s working with people and their inability to follow God’s direction. One of the reasons contributing to failure results from people who rise to places of influence who have more of an interest in their own personal agenda, who are emotionally and spiritually immature, and have not been called by God to lead, but are usurpers.

The clear instructions to Nehemiah in His prayer of repentance are for the sins of his people and are to remember the instructions of Moses and the penalty for disobedience –scattering and exile. If you remember your Old Testament history Judah is in a period of 70 years of captivity because dividers, false teachers, and unscrupulous leaders with no spiritual integrity who had led the people astray.

The results demonstrate that Jerusalem is in ruin, the people are scattered and exiled, and the people are demoralized because their hope have been dashed on the rocks of judgment by listening to the corrupt, confused, and immature leaders of the past who were communicators of self interest and who led the uncommitted away for their own gain.

This verse from Nehemiah provides a poignant reminder of what happens when the driving forces within culture culture overtake the commands of God for a covenant community. Everything that God told Moses had happened. The people went away from God, the people were scattered, and the city lay in ruins because they listened to the wrong voice and followed the wrong leadership and were apostatized by disobedience.

Consider a biblical example in the first chapter of Nehemiah. Think about the two different perspectives.

First, look at the perspective of the people who reported to him “They said to me, Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). Their lived experience was pain, destruction, and ruin.

They saw the city in ruins; Nehemiah saw a city with potential to be great again, “Then I said to them you see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (Nehemiah 2:17). The application comes like this; Nehemiah’s deeply felt-experience, prayer  and conviction does determine a point of view. It is a  perception that shows not only deeply felt belief, but also a important and powerful lesson about how what we believe shapes our response to life-events.

Nehemiah’s perspective reveals a point of view teaching us that even when there was a negative forecast causing grief, he made the choice to detached himself from the painful emotional consequences of others in order grasp potential for what could be through belief in God in a future beyond the negative forecast, beyond the pain, and beyond the distorted picture painted by negative circumstances. A point well from this story reminds me to that deeply held beliefs born out of conviction and prayer will shape reality beyond things that are visible by the human eye or the discouraging reports of those who have given up hope.

Who is Responsible for My Happiness?


you-are-responsible-for-your-own-happiness

People living with perpetual problems and continually escalating distress in life are often left with empty feelings of hopelessness robbing them of the energy to achieve personal happiness.  Consequently, many people may be wondering,  ”How will I ever find happiness”? 

Understanding what really makes a person unhappy is probably not what people want to talk about when there life is filled with hoplessness and despair. Indeed, for most of us  the underlying factors linked to unhappiness are the matters of  real concern, contributing to the level of dissatisfaction felt about the way life experience appears to be at the moment. Therefore, when  we are unhappy, the focus of our attention is not upon underlying causality, but upon the despair, hopelessness, and feeling of unhappiness that becomes our logical cognitive interpreter of events that we are immersed in at the moment.

Whoever came up with the idea that people should always be happy does a great disservice to people who are having real problems and presents an idealistic, distorted view of life.  For example, at the heart of some versions of the “happiness philosophy” a feeling of entitlement  is promoted, which asserts that persons deserve to always be happy.  Unfortunately when problems come, the immediate response is that “I don’t deserve this”, which leaves persons disillusioned and with an inability to cope effectively with circumstances leading to feelings of unhappiness.  In fact, one of the flawed thinking patterns concluding that a person always deserves to be happy comes from expectations that life satisfaction and a  problem-free life are synonymous. In other words, it is a life where happiness is the supreme goal of existence and resistance is not a component of happiness.  This is not a new idea, in fact, it is the philosophy of hedonism, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hedonism). 

If this is a true conclusion: all persons always deserve happiness and are entitled to happiness as the highest good; then happiness should always be a natural, logical consequence of life.  However when it is not achieved, a person may conclude that they must be the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances where the greatest good is not being achieved for them.  If that is the issue,  the absence of “happiness”, positive effect, as a normal experience of life leaves a person to grapple with being a victim. While others have the greatest good, they are not receiving what they are entitled to in life.  The problem with conclusions like this is that people are left with empty expectations, experience guilt about not being happy, and in many cases never learn to value life and experience happiness in spite of circumstances.  A fundamental problem with a happiness and underlying entitlement is that believing that everything should always take the least path of resistance or have the greatest benefit to me is an adolescent view of life that looks ahead to an unknown experience of life with a fixed deterministic expectation idea that the greatest good comes to me and just happens because I deserve happiness.

Obviously, that view of life sounds ridiculous and the answer answer perplexing at the same time when a person expects to always get what they want and be happy at all times.  Unfortunately, this occurs with some individuals because of a naive view of life of flawed understanding of happiness as a concept simply associates with well-being or lack of resistance in the circumstances of life. It seems at least reasonable to assume that it is an intelligent assumption to arrive at that something more than removal of conditions resistance must be met to create a feeling that some people describe as happiness.  A common explanation that the operations of happiness are described utilizes self- descriptions or language intertwined with how one feels about the circumstances in life.  For instance, some descriptions of happiness are interpreted to mean removing all anxiety or other life disturbances standing in the way of an optimum state of euphoria achieved through a pain-free existence.  Therefore, common views of happiness are built upon an idealism of reducing life expectation to a simple no-pain, resistance, or other difficulty formula holds, which leaves people with the lingering question, “When am I ever going be to be happy”?  Simply put this could be stated as when will life be free of pain, difficulty, and challenges that cause feelings of unhappiness?

So What is Happiness Anyway?

A dictionary definition associates happiness as an emotion of joy, gladness, satisfaction, and well-being.  Since the dictionary defines it in terms of emotion, many people may conclude that when there is the absence of life affirming emotions mentioned; then happiness is not experienced.  Apparently, one assumption presented reveals that happiness as an emotion is a form of logic draws conclusions, influencing cognition about the experiences of life.  This can be affirmed by the process that people go through in the emotions and somehow a meaning is assigned to events and people as the emotion of happiness is interpreted through the absence or presence of pain or difficulty.  As mentioned previously, if you study Philosophy or the field of Ethics, you will quickly identify this definition as consistent with ideas drawn from Hedonism, which describes the pleasure principle as the central motif of making life work in a way to reduce pain, discomfort, and difficulty for the “greatest good” as an outcome rationale for life.  Applying this philosophy of life affirms the idea that when people are happy, life is experienced with the least amount of difficulty, pain, or unpleasantness within life experience. Obviously, this sounds good in principle, but it is a very simplistic way to view a very complex subject that leaves the questions for people with less than positive life experience and who have a lack of hope that happiness can be realized.

We Usually Seek Success in Order to Find Happiness.

One of the fallacies in looking at happiness through circumstances is that it constructs happiness from feelings of success, performance, or positive outcome instead of an internal state or condition.  A problem with this conclusion is  that much of life is lived on a street with noisy neighbors, sick children, grass to mow, snow to shovel, and storms that come and go.  The result is that life is full of experiences that have an outcome that feels like success and many that feel like unhappiness.  A relevant example of the way well-being and satisfaction incorporates into a life filled with experience that evokes negative emotional responses is made by Dr. Marla Gottschalk who states:

How we “digest” our life experiences, both negative and positive, can be instrumental in influencing levels of happiness.  As Achor explains, reported happiness cannot always be fully explained by life events themselves –it is how we view those life events that prove to be pivotal.  Many of us have a tendency to become focused upon negative information and events (possibly an evolutionary necessity).  As a result, we may unrepresent our successes and fail to draw energy from them. On some level, we give up our power to be happy – by resting its fate entirely in the external world – when in fact, our “internal script” can be quite influential. Shorter-lived emotions can contribute to a broader “affect”, or tendency to feel either positive or negative. (What is happiness then?, Positive Psychology and Happiness at Work).

Unfortunately, the missing explanation from the dictionary definition is a comprehensive understanding of common happiness that everyone can have no matter what life brings that includes how we digest life experience.

 Happiness Precedes Success in the Way Thoughts are Constructed in the Mind

Does thinking right about life events precede happiness or do feeling happy come after right thinking about the events of life? If a person embraces Hedonistic Philosophy, the pursuit of pleasure creates a feeling of happiness, so absorbing life in entertainment, pleasure, and recreation are the implicit avenues to happiness.  However, another consideration is that happiness is a result of a way of thinking about life that uses organized, rational thinking processes that digests life experience into meaning that looks for the value of life experience in positive instead of negative ways.  Unfortunately, the notion that experiencing a particular, or positive life outcome will create happiness is conceptually flawed because it relies solely on an emotional state of existence associated with an event not yet realized or experienced.  For instance, placing two individuals in an exact set of circumstances does not indicate that happiness will occur sequentially or is predictable in each person’s life.  In fact, the level of well-being felt will depend more on the way individuals think about events than the events alone.  Obviously, two people can have the same experience and value the experience in different ways; then experience different emotional outcomes.  On the other hand, another way to look at happiness is that happiness is consistent with thinking constructs, which introduces quantitative and qualitative factors of value in the way thoughts are organized and how meaning is attributed into the life that individuals experience.

Think About the Meaning of the Word, “Life”

Some people define having-experiencing life and happiness synonymously, but is it an accurate assumption? A simple definition of life is, “the animate existence or period of animate existence of an individual” (Dictionary.com). 

Therefore, for many people, life is just an existence or a human organic experience of conscious awareness with a sort of organic fatalism that reduces life to what we have in our genes and DNA.  However, life is much more than an organic existence of matter over a set period of time.  Life is an activity which describes a corresponding state, existence, or principle of existence conceived of as belonging to the soul” (Dictionary.com), as both quality of life and quantity of time in existence.  This view is amplified in the words of Jesus that says “I have come to give life; and life more abundant” (John 10:10 K.J.V ).  It is more than an existence, it is a quality and quantity of life that connects mere existence to meaning through spiritual life. 

Textual evidence from grammar interprets life as “zōḗlife (physical and spiritual).  … it always (only) comes from and is sustained by God’s self-existent life”.  In addition, life is modified in the use of an adjective abundant … “perissós (an adjective), properly all-around …  beyond what is anticipated, exceeding expectation”, which describes a life lived with a view of life characterized by (well-being and satisfaction=happiness).  Another related word that adds meaning to the way Christians think about happiness spoken of in the Psalms is, “blessedness”, which describes a state of being in a Christian life that orders the thoughts around a spiritual view of life that is grounded in a reflective spiritual relationship with God.  Also, “blessedness” informs existence with an aptitude, a view toward life, informing the way behavior occurs in life. An important point to make is that in the Beatitudes, (Matthew 5:1, ff.) happiness is not associated with the removal of pain or the absence of challenging experiences, but rather, with a changed perspective.  In fact, the idea is that optimum happiness results from life being viewed through certain definable attitudes understood about life from God’s perspective.

Thinking Patterns Discipline the Mind to Create Happiness and Pathways for Life

Later in the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote about the activity of the mind.  He said, “every thought should be brought into captive obedience to Christ.”  The message of I Corinthians resonates the principle that ineffective ways of thinking must be superseded with organizing the thoughts around a perspective of life dominated by a positive Christian mindset.  The idea is present in the text that suggests that vain ways of thinking result in spiritual captivity to false ideas about life.  So, when life does not experience the well-being that individuals feel entitled to experience through circumstances of life, what response should be given?  Peter said, “Gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13)Strengthen the mental outlook is the central message of Peter to those facing persecution.  Obviously, there is a mental motif prescribed: When life is falling apart and does not give you the measure of success that is expected, quit fighting–resisting the circumstances to find happiness.  The point is to reorganize thinking around hope that will create new pathways to hope and happiness.  The consistent and compelling message about happiness is not the absence of challenging, heart-wrenching events.  In contrast, the application is the message about the way thoughts are organized with a view toward life.  The application is about how inner strengths of character are identified through hope and how happiness develops a pathway to effective living.  As a result, happiness will not be achieved through technological development, possession of things, or vain expectation: it is achieved through inner development of the person.

Common ideas about happiness are found in a belief that if a person takes up a hobby like wood carving, playing golf, or other activities so that the unhappiness can be distracted denied, and delegitimized.  However, while distraction from pain or unhappiness may minimize the symptoms of unhappiness, it will not change a persons point of view about life.  The truth is that you can never remove unhappy events in life by replacing challenges with the innocuous placebo of pleasure.  One craving only leads to another, which leads to another reinforcing a life of pursuing pleasure to numb the pain felt about unhappiness in life circumstances.

What is the Road to Happiness?

The answer rests in altering ineffective thinking by cleaning up the clutter about how we organize thoughts about life.  Happiness does not guarantee that life will never face difficulty.  On the other hand, happiness changes how individuals think about difficulty and what they will do when challenging moments come.  The road to happiness cannot be separated from the inward journey of development, maturity of the mind, spirit, and soul-life. The spiritual life cannot be lived in a vacuum, isolated in a detached metaphysical experience of escape from the body, from pain, from difficulty, or performance of duty.  Happiness is the choices that are made about how we think, how we feel about the experience of life, and the way that we digest and process the events of life into a way of thinking, feeling, and choosing to organize our thoughts.  Choose to be happy…

References

hedonism. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 01, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hedonism

Holidays, Relationships, and Emotional Landmines


Emotions and Empathy
Holidays, typically are a time that provides the opportunity for families to spend time together in positive relationship-affirming activities. Also, holiday events and gatherings heightens potential for dysfunction within relationships to surface because of the stress that is placed upon people who are not accustomed to spending a lot of time together in close proximity. It is like the cold season when a bacterium thrives because the conditions are right and someone sneezes.

Holidays are the petri dish for people to experience hyperactivation of emotions and compulsive behaviors that normally are dormant because of distance and natural boundaries that work along with other responsibilities place upon life. There is a profound reminder about how fragile human beings are during the holidays with the broken things carried within that no one sees. There are things that people often need help with and close contact magnifies personalities, personal problems, and the potential clash of worlds. In the words of one person’s experience with a betrayal:

Pain and treachery from the hand of someone that should
love you is most problematic. I expect it from my enemy.
Hurt from a loved one doesn’t have the benefit of
expectation or barriers giving the hot knife of betrayal
free course. How do I relate to this person? Like Christ
related to Judas. Christ’s love was so uninhibited that
Judas and the disciples couldn’t even identify the evil
one among them. Judas’ hypocrisy was so precise the others
didn’t suspect him. The most effective hate is that which
is hidden in love.

The truth in the words spoken so fitly about betrayal resonates the pain and violation deeply felt from an individual who lives within the confines of a close relationship in life experience emotionally damaged. Observation shows that trust extended to persons over the course of a relationship becomes deceptive in itself and deceit easily conceals its face in the guise of love. Suddenly behavior surfaces in the form of betrayal, a lack of civility and hypocrisy beneath the superficial; it is hard to know how to respond. Indeed, at those moments, we will not rise to the level of Christ who securely knows all men. Surely, it is hard to know the intent of the person and it is difficult to accept the sting of betrayal while trying to find ways to relate when the offender has acted freely causing personal damage without accountability. How difficult it is to transcend human emotion at a table prepared in the presence of unresolved betrayal cloaked in the context of relationship and perceived trust.

Human behavior and emotions are powerful forces and govern the way we experience quality or difficulty in relational engagement with others. One of the important components of holidays hinges upon traditions coupled with memories and associated emotions felt. The important point to remember is that you are the author of your happiness, so make the choices to foster your version of an enjoyable holiday no matter what other people choose to do. What do you think would provide a holiday celebration less chaotic without land mines underneath the turkey and dressing? Here is what I think:

1. Decide on a plan for the ways you will be involved in holiday celebrations or someone else will decide it for you.

2. Decide on the people that you are going to spend time with and the boundaries for the relationships or conversations. Know your limits and keep them.

3. Stay away from toxic conversations and private conversation with people who steal your joy.

4. Spend your time with children and enjoy the simple joys of the day.
5. Don’t stay too long, drink too much, or talk too much.

6. Remember that holidays are short and relationships are for life, so do your best to be kind to yourself and to others.

Transformed Through Darkness


Christmas-NightSomething that not everyone is ready to hear, nor capable of experiencing happens in the darkest moments of life experience and seems to have the harshest reality on the surface. One of the harshest realities that most people have no concept about is the daily experience behind the razor wire inside a level 7 prison where inmates will spend the rest of their life or a large part of life. It is a time for many men and women in life that is the darkest experience of their life because of choices they made to commit crime. During my time on staff as a prison chaplain, I observed people were hardened because of darkness or their lives transformed in the midst of darkness. The differences in their decisions were a response to the darkness they faced and the harsh conditions of life. Darkness comes in many forms and fashions for all people, but how do we as people view God and ourselves in that night of darkness and despair?

Richard Foster describes the dark of the night this way. “The dark of the night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation on the soul”. The point that is of interest recalls the important fact that while we writhe and stumble, resisting the darkness, God has brought us to this dark night for a purpose that He has designed. A great paradox exists within the stillness of the dark night and the inner peace and solitude revealing that the greatest need of life often is not a product of walking in the light. Transformation often comes in the moments of the “dark night of the soul” when we are able to receive God’s transforming love in the place of darkness and solitude.

There are times when it is possible to walk in the light and experience great darkness. What a thought provoking idea that ruptures popular ideals and the hedonistic theology advocating a Christian life without adversity – where there is always an escape from the darkness of life.

Read and listen to the words of Isaiah who says, “Who among you …fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the LORD and rely on your God. But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon lie down in great torment”. (50:10-11 NLT)

There are times when life is engulfed by darkness, we are in the empty void of night, and we did nothing to get there. When life experience fills with darkness, it is a time that it is hard to see past the night and it is not visible to others or us that there is any ray of light on the horizon.  (Foster).

As a prisoner, incarcerated and wearing the visible appearance of darkness it may look like you have committed crimes worthy of this darkness. When you are in the valley of darkness and growing a life of inner peace, others will not understand that you can be very spiritual and out of sorts at the same time –in God’s will and in darkness. A boundary to embrace is silence, solitude, and separation from people and things that distract from the purpose of God. When you come to the place where you let God be your justifier–rest your case with Him, you will avoid the temptation of warming your hands at the enemy’s fire or living in your own light.

The warning that Isaiah gives is to those who live in the glow of their own light and the warmth of their own fire. The dark night of the soul, presents God’s purpose, God’s plan, and our opportunity for redemption from human effort to live in our own radiance to learn to walk by faith in darkness with confidence relying on God who is there to light the way.

Peace on Earth Starts in the Heart


Christmas Tree 1

It is in the quiet moments of life many people struggle with being alone because silence brings the ominous quiet that most are unaccustomed to facing.  To this subject C.S. Lewis says, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” During the Christmas season many people gather in groups hoping to find peace through activity, while there is a lack of inner peace and or any awareness of God’s presence or the experience of His constant care of the soul life. In contrast to the flurry of activity, Richard Foster calls attention to solitude as a reflective tool as a pathway for soul care and to inner peace.

No one else can lead to inner peace and enable the experience solitude on your spiritual journey except God himself. Nevertheless, this  is a time of year when people talk much about “peace on earth and goodwill to men”, but there is little peace on earth and not much more goodwill. Speaking loudly are the words from the spiritual life is that sometimes silence is a necessary discipline to practice on the journey to developing a spiritual identity that brings peace. However, this journey  leads to is a place that sometimes becomes the “Dark night of the soul”Contrary to what it sounds like, the dark night is not a place of punishment, rather, it is a place of spiritual victory and has a purpose of setting freeing people.

A personal insight from life experience is that there are times when God leads us to a place where we have to learn to walk in the dark, so that we will know how to live in the light with natural expressions of faith. When we have a “Dark night of the soul” what do we experience? Our over-dependence upon the emotional life is stripped away and we come to a crisis of faith and belief, which puts us in a posture that we must decide whether we are going to follow our emotional impulses or follow after a life of faith.

Living in a time that has been described as an entitlement culture calls to memory the idea that we may be deceived in thinking that to be spiritual means we are always comforted, joyful, and happy because it is an entitlement. What a vivid distortion of spirituality that leads people to base their lives on how they feel and the phenomenon that accompanies a hedonistic approach to life.

Value to take away from this post is that “The dark of the night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation on the soul” (Foster). A great paradox that exist here is the inner peace and solitude needed by most will not be found by walking in the glittering lights, it may is found in the “dark night of the soul” when there is enough quiet within to find God’s transforming love in the moments of darkness and solitude that bring peace.

Mental Maps, Attitude, and Diligence


200It is Saturday afternoon and after a little time in the pool killing wasps that wanted to share the pool, I had some time to think about the frustrating obstacles we face along the way.  For instance, as much as I tried to avoid the wasps, I thought maybe my attitude and diligence to avoid the wasps would get some mileage at overcoming the flying source of frustration.

However, I soon discovered that, the source of the frustration was not the lack of the right attitude about peaceful co-existence about the wasps, but how I had mapped out the idea that I could share a pool with a swarm of wasps.  I thought, if I leave them alone, they would do the same.  As I soon learned, sometimes the little maps created in our thinking are encoded with the wrong information.  Earlier I was reading in Covey (2004) who indicated that everyone tends to think about obstacles in two ways, “the way things are, or realities, [or] the way things should be, values” (p. 24).  There are times when we give in to circumstances because we cannot see past the obvious. 

As I discovered, one of the problems with looking at things as they appear, or how they should be, is that we usually believe that the way we see things is the way things really are or should be. Unfortunately, a people believe many things passionately that simply are not true.  Consequently, beliefs that people hold about what they see as, “realities or what should be” in life can be misleading.

Therefore, when we face obstacles, our assumptions about life events, like swimming with wasps, generally muster up an attitude to embolden a response to manage frustrating obstacles without ever getting out of the pool because that is our comfort zone.  In addition, if perception impairment sidetracks thinking in effective ways; then, we run the risk of an unpleasant engagement with the wasps we will have to face.

What I discovered is that an anxiety driven response could not change the momentary crisis created by aggravating wasps.  As long as the impending sense of concern about the wasps polarized the moment, the feeling of aggravation only made the experience more frustrating.  As I soon understood, there are times when we just need to change not only what we see about obstacles, we need to change what we think and do about frustrating obstacles.  Then, just get out of the pool and spray them with hornet spray because it did not matter how positive that I was and no matter how much I believed that this should not be, I had to change my thinking and get out of the pool to remove the frustrating obstacles.

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Boundaries: If Your an Enabler, Don’t Cry When You Get Bit


Aesop’s Fables records a story called the, “The Farmer and the Snake” that illustrates why boundaries are important to understand how to live life without rescuing people who may no be capable of rescue.

ONE WINTER a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. “Oh,” cried the Farmer with his last breath, “I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.”

The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful [ self focused individuals].

A lesson to be learned here is that creating boundaries in life to regulate relationships and behaviors is a way to manage how much danger, pain, and dysfunction that you are going to experience in life.  We have boundaries at work, in business, on the highway, and even in the park, but somehow people believe that in relationships  everyone will always make the right decisions without clarifying the terms of relationship.

How Do We Get Into No-Win Situations Becoming an Enabler?

It may be hard to face, but enabling says something about the enabler that needs to be understood. People who are enablers think they are helping someone else when in reality they are creating a disability support system. It is magical thinking — a way of romanticizing life with the idealism that that denies the reality reality of  destructive patterns of behavior, irresponsibility, guilt, pain etc. The enabling parent, husband, wife-believes that somehow through these vicarious acts of rescuing and enabling that it will magically make it better.  It is like when a mother picks up her child and kisses the owee’ and magically all the pain disappears. It is a thinking problem that gets us into no-win situations.  In the core thought processes of the enabler there is a fundamental belief that this kind of thing happens to other people, but not to us– I am not like that–  believe the best about people, my family could not do anything like that. This attitude –thinking pattern– creates naivete’ about relationships that exposes your backside to the sharp teeth of the dog named fate –and when it happens, it is painful.

What Do Dogs Do in an Ideal World?

Like snakes ,when dogs are not kept on a leash and when there is not a understanding of how relationships will occur with individuals to regulate what can occur, it is an opportunity for disaster to happen naturally.  — and they do.  The problem with enablers is that they don’t believe ,snakes bite that dogs bark or pee on the corner of the sofa.  After all, they say, “my dog went to obedience school and knows better, he is a dog of high breeding.”  In an ideal world where people are perfectly balanced and have no dysfunction, family system problems, unresolved conflicts, or emotional baggage, people do not need to be on a leash, but we all know that snakes and dogs will always be true to their nature, no matter how pretty they are –too bad that life does not occur in a ideal world.

Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop’s Fables (p. 19). Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

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Emotional Abuse–Invalidation, Scars Left Behind


I have heard it said that the greatest fear that a child has while growing up is the fear of abandonment and rejection—that they will be left alone.  Abandonment alone is a subject that there is a plethora of research written about and its association with mental health disorders, as well as, social and identity issues.  If it is true that a developing child has an identity crisis occurring already– questioning how he/she fits into a social construct or asking how and where he/she fits into family—the world; then how does emotional, psychological, and physical abuse effect a child developing social identity?

The impact of abandonment, isolation, invalidation, and rejection brings a feeling that surfaces unexplainable and perplexing behaviors and contributes to an attachment pattern that is secure or insecure—reactive or maladaptive.  Quite often, when we see children or adults that demonstrate perplexing behaviors — that we may not understand, there is something not seen. Unseen forces are at work creating a ricocheting pattern of emotional responses– events in life that bring a wave of peculiar behaviors that affect every area of life now and everything happening in the future. While some people may believe that their actions are independent and well thought out, the truth is that what is happening in life is inextricably connected to the experience of attachment and the concurrent developmental process.

Attachment and development are important to understand in how children develop, but when a child is subjected to factors that negatively affect normal progression, such as emotional abuse, healthy and normal development is altered.  The impact of the environment upon a child are well noted in studies, but when there are multiple themes of abandonment, rejection, and invalidation; it is an unnatural occurrence that changes the outcome of development.  A problem that many people are faced with is a lack of understanding about how episodes or solitary events are related to behaviors and events in life.  A simplistic way this can be illustrated is that life is an organic event where everything has an effect in a systemic way upon development.  As a result, the emotional quotient of all of the things that happen throughout life have an unrealized connection to how the lived experience of a child unfolds into adult life.

What happens to children when adults do not take time to think about how their behavior affects children?  One week in the life of a child can have an effect for the rest of life.   I listened to the story about a father who goes out of town and a family friend coming to visit and  taking the unattended mother and the kids for a ride, it seemed innocent enough at the time.  However, what seemed like an innocent event from child’s perspective, quickly turned into adults behaving badly. In addition to children being caught in the middle of an event beyond their capacity to understand clearly.  It seemed an innocent event until the father came back after being away and the child shares the latest news. However, what happened afterward the conversation was not innocent.  What followed was a anger, a mother being abused in an angry and violent dispute over what happened.  Unfortunately, there are many times like this when the bad behavior of adults places children in a situation that they are not capable of understanding.  The result is a child whose innocence is scarred by witnessing abusive behavior and a feeling of responsibility that arrests and inhibits normal development and social identity that can echo down through life experience.  When a child is forced to take responsibility for the bad behavior of adults, the child does not know what to do or how to rationalize the experience, which results in fear.  What adults do not understand is that when children are exposed to experiences like this, they are faced with another adult crisis: the child feels guilt, has to live in secrecy, and is forced to cover up for the parents acting out their problems. Obviously,  events have an effect upon everyone involved, but what message is conveyed to the child and how does this affect relationships and the child’s development of future behaviors?

The answer is very complicated, but what happens throughout life and connects to everything else in life.  Individuals always have a reason for acting as they do, behaving as they do and while it may not be clear to us at the movement, all behaviors are a product of systems at work..  One of the problems with behavioral issues is that a casual examination of what a person does—just seeing behavior– does not provide clear answers to why something is happening.  For most people, unless they are in a crisis or unless it serves a personal need,  time will not be taken to ask why,  the behavior is judged on the merit of what is seen and branded with a label like “good ‘or “bad” behavior.

What seemed like a fun day for a child turned into a lifetime of problems in relationships?  After, telling what happened and  seeing the mother’s pain, the father’s anger, and trying to avoid and manawillge conflict—the interpretation of the child is that somehow this is his fault.  For a child who is not mature enough to make sense of what happened, the result is emotionally damaging be cause the event is internalized with guilt, fear, and a feeling of responsibility for things that adults are doing without considering what effect is being placed upon the child.  The child sees this a a personal failure and interprets the event and interprets this from “if should” reasoning.  If I had done this, it would not have happened—I should have kept this a secret.  Children think in terms of “black and white” concrete operational thinking (Jean Piaget).  In simple terms, it means the child felt responsibility for what happened in the family on that day and accepted ownership for the emotional consequences of what happened.  What a horrible thing for a child to have to own—responsibility, guilt, inferiority, shame, and rejection because adults did not think beyond their immediate needs and chose not to act responsibly.  For a child, events like this are emotionally damaging and leave scars of the developing child which lead to a reflection of self and others that continues throughout life until they are understood.

While adults may not understand the effect of what they do or why act in certain ways, everything that happens in life is related to perception in the lived-experience of a developing child.  Adult issues with depression, self-esteem, identity issues, relationships, perfectionism, as well as numerous other issues are related to attachment, socialization, and development as a child.  A problem is that many people do not figure these things out until life is turned upside down and life falls apart.  The importance of this cannot be understated for the developing child.  A child is faced with enormous pressures upon life and when something goes wrong and development is scarred by emotional abuse, the child gets a life sentence.   Erick Erickson said that developing children faces a social identity crisis in every period of growth that will have an impact upon how a child feels about self, acceptance in social settings, and the ways the child will interact with his world.  Consequently, the developing child needs a clear sense of who they are and how they fit in the world, where they belong, as well as, being equipped to develop the necessary skills to engaged with life in a healthy way.

When children witness traumatic events, how will abnormal events affect development and impact the child’s ability to manage a complex adult issue of sex, marital fidelity, and emotional or physical abuse?  The answer is clear, there is nothing that could prepare a child to understand or r manage these conditions: because it is an unnatural development.  The scars created by intentional or unintentional emotional abuse predicts what will come in the future —a lifetime of guilt, perfectionism, feeling rejected, and emotionally abandoned.

What Can Be Learned From The Aftermath?

This story calls attention to the importance of what happens in childhood development, the cognitive map that is formed, and behavioral cues that indicate that something has happened that needs to be understood.  In addition, when some people look at life diagnostically, they are looking for someone to blame for their pain, behaviors, or life experience.  Blame, unforgiveness, and anger are not an effective approach, they only deepen the effect of abuse and does not bring solutions contribute to an effective life.  For those desiring an healthy life, what will be of importance is not someone to blame, but understanding why behaviors occur as they do.

Obviously, many individuals cannot find the destination to healthy living, i.e., taking the appropriate steps toward changing life without an understanding of the core problems of childhood experiences.  Thinking about the past is painful at times and you may not want to air all of your dirty laundry in public, but the fact remains that connecting events from childhood events, pain rejection, or abandonment, draws a picture that puts events, feelings, and behavior in a context to be understood.

Be Careful About Casting Your Pearls Before The Swine.

One of the problems with adult behavior is that when we share with others, not capable of understanding, a common experience is that invalidation, criticism, and more misunderstanding occurs.  As a result, because we do not like that feeling, then we hide, deny, and cover up what is felt and deepen the pain in the act of denial. Unfortunately, you cannot hide from yourself for long and when you shove your feelings down for so long, they come out in health, relationship, and life problems.  The problem creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that will predict how relationships will occur.  Many times the problems of the past will perpetuate the very thing that is hated the most and we desire to change.  When you are willing to accept responsibility for yourself and understand where the negative programming from abuse originates, change is possible.  When the days of awakening comes the abused can realize that today is good day to start acting instead of reacting to life.  Life will never be perfect, but life will be what you make it today, so enjoy the opportunity that you have in your hand today. “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning” (Albert Einstein).

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