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Being seen and known

The following quote from a book I'm reading (and really enjoying!), Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture, really highlighted a point I make often with clients I counsel. He says it much better than I can.

There were three people in the rows in front of us who had their cell phones open during the entire movie. They were text messaging and surfing the Internet and otherwise annoying people. As I aw those cell phone screens open during the movie, I observed that the people using them were not fully committed to being anywhere during those two hours. They were physically sitting in the theater, even sitting with others who accompanied them, but their minds and hearts were scattered all over the place. They were not fully present, in terms of their attention, to the visual and auditory experience in front of them, they were not fully present to their friends and family that they were sitting next to, and they were not geographically present to the people they were text messaging. They had a hand and foot in several different places that were disconnected, leaving them as some sort of radical amputees. They were everywhere and they were nowhere. Aside from how piercingly bright a cell phone screen can be in a dark movie theater and how bizarre it is to text message during an intense and complex spy movie, I got to thinking about how handheld technology affects our sense of personal identity. So many people walk through their lives as ghosts, not fully present to anything, gliding through places and around people but not really seeing or experiencing or being seen or experienced.

We discuss the idea of vulnerability, of being known and knowing another deeply. This can be such a scary thing to do, to allow, to pursue, but is so deeply needed and desired. It's what we were made for: deep relationship. Our culture continues to find newer and faster ways of keeping us distracted and occupied and away from real, deep relationship. Do you allow yourself to be seen, experienced, known? Or do you drift through life like "some sort of radical amputee", never really being fully present anywhere? 

Face-time vs. Facebook

Face-time: the act of spending intentional, relational time with another face to face (definition/word-use is mine for the purpose of this post and not to be confused with the Apple product FaceTime). Often when I'm out, I notice how people are together doing something (coffee, lunch, dinner, etc) but aren't really being together; their face-time is minimal. They are typically both on their phones - perhaps texting or checking Facebook or maybe posting something on Twitter. Sometimes I just watch (non-stalker-like) to see how long they go without talking to each other...sometimes it's a long time! As a counselor, a lot of my job focuses on helping clients have stronger, healthier, deeper relationships - with themselves and with others. I wonder what role technology and social media has on decreasing our awareness of ourselves as well as decreasing the quality of our relationships. Many of the teenagers I see for counseling have a lot of difficulty telling their peers things in person; they are much more comfortable sharing via text or Facebook. What does this say about future generations' abilities to form and deepen relationships as our society becomes more dependent on technology? Where has all the face-time gone? People have become so accustomed to spending time with their phones rather than engaging in face-time conversations; when there is a lull in conversation, rather than thinking of something else to ask or share, they grab their phone and start browsing around. Technology and social media seem to have become quite a crutch; Facebook is much less risky and vulnerable than face-time. Rather than journal and increase awareness of personal thoughts and feelings, people turn to their email, Facebook, blogs or Twitter. Rather than dialogue and intentionally get to know someone better or resolve issues in relationship, people distract themselves with their technology or social media; in essence they avoid or delay relationship/face-time. What impact would individuals experience if they took the first 30 minutes of every day to think, pray, journal, read and did it without any technology? I wonder what would happen if friends made a commitment to sit at lunch or coffee and put their phones away completely; turn them on silent and put them away (totally unseen and don't check them)! What would happen if families had a technology-free time each day or each week where they focused on their relationships without any technology distractions? What impact might couples feel on weekly date nights if technology wasn't allowed? Would people talk to each other more, face the discomfort more, or become more aware of their thoughts and feelings? Would we learn more things to share about ourselves or think of more questions to ask others? There are links to helpful conversation-starters on my blog here and here if you want to have these printed out before hanging out! :) Is there a relationship in your life that could use more technology-free time? The benefits from focused relational face-time would likely far surpass any semi-interesting fact you might miss on Facebook!

Healthy Giving & Receiving in Relationships

I meet with many clients for individual counseling, family or couples counseling who have difficulty in their relationships. One thing that often comes up is the role of give and take (I prefer to call it giving and receiving) in relationships. Some clients struggle with giving; selfishness comes easy to us humans and we often want it all and now! In those relationships, clients learn to give more, be more available, create space for the other in their relationship to enter, actively listen to the other and sacrifice their wants at times for the desires of the other in the relationship. However many clients I see give too much; they receive very little from the other in their relationship. They are always sacrificing, giving, listening, yielding to the desires of the other. In those cases, we work on clients becoming more comfortable with being vulnerable, assertive, asking for their desires and sharing about themselves. As with most things, a healthy balance is best. We do need to be giving and sacrificing in our relationships; as Christians we are called to that kind of love and sacrifice. However, a healthy relationship also allows us to receive love from others, receive their sacrifices of love for us in order to have a balanced relationship; to love and be loved, to know and be known, that is a healthy relational goal. This is a delicate dance but one that is rewarding to figure out in your relationships. Dialogue with your friends, family or significant other about the ways you see yourselves giving and receiving in the relationships. We can learn so much from those kind of intentional discussions. Do you like the amount of giving and receiving you are experiencing? Do they? Are their things you think your relationship could benefit from changing? Does one person need to practice giving more and the other receiving more? Changing roles and patterns in relationships is difficult and takes time. Be patient with yourselves and with each other as you attempt small changes! The end result is so worth it!

I feel ______ because __________.

Communication is so important in friendships, family relationships and romantic relationships. It's also important in professional relationships. How we communicate says a lot about us and also contributes greatly to how others view us. Healthy communication contributes so much to positive self worth and healthy conflict resolution. Healthy communication can also assist in decreasing stress, anxiety and depression. You don't have to spend long in counseling with me before you learn this tried and true phrase in healthy communication: "I feel (insert feeling word) because (insert reason, situation, etc)." For example, "I feel disappointed because you told me you would take out the trash and didn't follow through". That sounds a whole lot better than, "You didn't take out the trash and I'm so upset." When we start communication with "you", it puts the other on the defense. It typically results in the other person automatically raising their gloves and getting ready to fight. However, when we start communication with "I feel", we are simply sharing our feelings, our perspective, our opinions with another person. That kind of initiation will more often get a positive response than a negative one. Monitor your communication this week when you are interacting with coworkers, friends, family or significant others, especially when it's about something negative or involves elevated emotions. Notice if you tend to start off saying "you" or "I". The "I" statements will more often elicit positive responses from the other than communication started with "you". Practice starting communication with "I feel (insert feeling word) because (insert reason). Here's a brief article that gives emphasizes this point too!

Couples, there's an app for this!

Couples there's an app for all this deep conversation I have been suggesting for your relationship in blogs here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. An app that is designed to help you emotionally connect beyond surface topics and the daily grind. We were out to dinner with my sister and her husband at Cantina South (a great spot for a Raleigh date night by the way - amazing Guacamole, seriously so good!) and talking about how it can get hard to come up with really good conversation topics at the end of the day (or the week) when you are tired and drained from work, child-rearing or life in general. My savvy sister showed us an app (for iPhone/iPad users) on her iPhone that had amazing conversation starters, great questions to use with your spouse for thought-provoking conversations and questions to get really emotionally connected. I love it! It even has a fun spin-the-bottle feature! So all you wives who deeply desire your husbands to connect with you at an emotional level- here is one great solution: ask your husband to download the app "twoignite" and then schedule a date night. Husbands, wow your wife and download this app and then start asking her some great questions over a nice meal. Once you've settled into your table, pull the smart phone out (if it's even been put away yet), and start connecting. You'll be surprised how easy it can be to connect when you have great questions like these to get the conversation started. There's even a "couples only" section of the app that gets you talking about physical intimacy (husbands, don't start your date with these questions). :) If you are still having trouble connecting after trying several date nights with intentional questions like these, it may be time to consider some counseling together.

He's not a Mind Reader

Despite what you think, your significant other is not a mind reader. I admit that when I was in graduate school sitting in one of my Marriage and Family Therapy classes and heard my professor utter this statement, I was crushed! Then my professor had us take a test to see how strongly we believed our significant others or future spouses should be able to read our minds, to know what we wanted and needed without us telling them. Needless to say I scored off the chart; it impacted me so much I can remember where exactly I was sitting when I learned this truth! I fully believed that my future husband should be able to read my mind! I thought he should know what I wanted and desired and how to give that to me; it seemed easy enough for me. Oh how that belief has been changed after walking through my graduate program (thanks Dr. Coyle and Richmont Graduate University!) and after being married (thanks Ryan!). I was having a beautiful conversation with a friend the other night and this topic came up again. I'm beginning to think it's pretty common! Countless couples and I have this conversation during couples counseling sessions."He's not a mind reader" I say, he can't know what you need, want or desire unless you tell him- and really spell it out for him. Wives wonder how this can be love; how is it love when I have to tell them what to do, they say. It's love because he acts on what you have told him. He can't read your mind but he can follow through and love you with what you have shared with him. Tell him exactly how he can give you what you desire, need, want. I'm using him primarily because I see this mind-reading expectation mostly in women. But alas, I'm not ruling you men out - you may just as well do it too--if so replace all the "him's" with "her's". I have to remind myself of this truth quite often and have to remember to tell my husband specifically what I need and make sure he understands what I'm desiring. I walk with couples as they learn to ask each other specifically for what they want and need and then I have the privilege of watching them thrive when they receive that as love from each other. Try it out, ask your spouse for what you need, tell him how he can give this to you. Then choose to receive it as love when he does the very thing you've shared with him!

On Being a Family

It's hard being a family. Put together different personality styles and temperaments and you are bound to have conflict and clashes.Add to that people who have grown up in the same home and are reaching the teenage years, and things just get downright tough. I work with many teenagers and their families. We work on communication, relationship building and conflict resolution most often. What I hear most from the teens I counsel with is that they desire to be heard; some of them tell me that outright and with others I hear that more indirectly. But they all long to be known and loved at their core - even if they aren't sure who they are quite yet. That can be said for us adults as well; at our core we are desiring to be known and loved. Teens are seeking attention, affection and love - and often they seek this in the wrong places. It can be scary to seek this kind of love from our families. Maybe there has been pain or hurt in the family and they have been wounded in the family. Or maybe there hasn't been any major family trauma or tragedy but it is still hard for them to reach out; likely it's just a product of being a teen, searching for who they are and where they belong, needing connection yet desiring independence as well. I encourage parents to pursue their teens, pursue their kids' hearts. Chase after them even when they continue to run away or put up walls. Deep down teens do desire to be known and loved; they need their parents attention. It's just hard for them to ask for it, so instead they disobey, rebel or talk disrespectfully. It's hard to be a teen; there is so much pressure to perform - to make the grade. There's pressure to fit in, to look certain ways and act certain ways and if you don't you'll be an outcast or made fun of by your peers you so desperately want to love you. It's a tough world to grow up in these days. I admit though, I'm not a parent of a teen so I don't fully know what it's like to have your child rebel, disobey or disrespect. And I know I'm no longer a teen and that they live in a different world than what I experienced during my teens. Yet I think a lot of it comes down to pursuit of relationship- real, deep, consistent relationship. It's not going to always be easy or pretty, but that is life - messy and difficult. So parents...pursue your teens. And open to letting your parents in every now and then, even if it's hard. I encourage you to seek out Family Counseling if times are rough in your family; it can be a great tool to navigate the relational changes and challenges that happen during the teen years.