A few years ago I was sitting in my office and began mulling over a personal financial issue. The more I mulled, the more upset I became. This turned into deep frustration, which quickly graduated to desperation laced with self-loathing. In the hysteria of the moment, I decided I had to quit my job right away, and get another job that paid a lot more money. It was the only way I could see out of what seemed like a financial sinkhole.
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Everybody has times when they feel blue, glum, sad, down-in-the-dumps, or bummed out. Many people refer to this as being “depressed,” but it’s not the same thing. Some depressed people, many of whom do not know they are depressed, may not feel sad at all, but rather angry, irritable, anxious, frustrated, numb, or other emotions. (If this is news to you, please take a minute right now, before you finish reading this article, and read up quickly on what depression actually is.) But just because it is common to feel sad once in a while, that doesn’t mean it’s fun. We still need to learn how to manage sadness properly, or it often grows into something worse.
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It is easy to believe one thing passionately, to fight and die for that one thing, even. History is littered with the corpses of nameless people who believed one thing passionately enough to die for it. But it takes another breed of person entirely to passionately believe opposite things at the same time.That wishy washy person in your life might just be deep.
Is all sin the same?
You know when you’re really getting at the truth, because it often takes you in two completely opposite directions at the same time. Take, for example, the perennial Christian question, “Is all sin the same?” The answer to this is very clear. Yes, all sin is definitely the same. And no, it absolutely is not. It depends on how you think about sin, and — despite what many people will tell you — becoming the kind of person who can passionately believe both of these opposites at the same time is far harder than simply believing deeply in either of them. Sometimes people we call “flip-floppers” or “wishy washy” are just those who have learned to embrace mystery and paradox, which allow us to see the truth in completely opposite beliefs about the same thing.
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Intimacy and self-protection are mutually exclusive
It has occurred to me recently how often my clients and parishioners are living in a defensive mode, trying to protect themselves from perceived attack/abuse by a loved one. This is a natural instinct, of course, but ironic, since self-protection kills intimacy. Intimacy comes from vulnerability, willingness to open one’s self up and share one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In defensive mode, one person is intentionally keeping themselves from being vulnerable to the other. Oftentimes both partners are doing it.
Empower your partner to ruin you!
I tell clients that if you’re not sharing enough with your partner that they could completely screw you over and ruin your life if they chose to, you’re not being vulnerable enough. It’s a paradox. We often argue because we are not connected. As we argue we hurt each other and as we hurt each other we take defensive and isolated postures against one another. This may effectively keep the other partner’s grenades from landing and doing further damage, but it also prevents each partner from the very behaviors, attitudes, and emotions that create the intimacy they lack, which may be leading to arguments to begin with.
Why therapy is hard
That is why therapy is so often difficult and painful. A person who is hurting in a relationship and wants to not hurt anymore will often be dismayed to find that they may have to let down their guard in order to have any hope at all of moving towards intimacy. No doubt there are situations where this is not advisable (all cases of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and most cases of addiction), but anytime it is not contraindicated (strongly advised against), it will have to be done. Laying down one’s shield is difficult when one knows the other is still flinging arrows one’s direction. But a person of good will will not continue fighting for long once their partner lays down their shield.
Self-protection kills intimacy. If you’re hurting so bad in your relationship that you cannot imagine that you could stop protecting yourself, get help as soon as possible. As long as you keep fighting, your probably will too.
I know I haven’t posted in a while, and I am posting this just so you know I know. Sometimes when I have just a short observation I struggle with whether to post to this blog or to my Facebook page or to Twitter. I hope you’re following me on both of those as well! I have been using Twitter and Facebook quite a bit, as I haven’t had time to develop a full blog post in several weeks. I’m knee-deep in a huge initiative at the church I pastor, and seeing clients more often than usual. If you are a subscriber, I hope you’ll hang with me. Going against all the conventional wisdom for growing a blog, I post in spurts, sometimes several times a week and then going without posting for a month or two at a time. I have reconciled that this is simply how I roll, and those of you willing to roll with me will hopefully benefit when new posts finally come out. I do try to post thoughtful work that helps you see with a new perspective and/or challenges your current ways of understanding your life. That will continue, and I won’t just post for the sake of posting.
If you are subscribed to this blog, thanks especially to you. Your readership, comments, and support means more than I can say. Meantime, I have an idea for a quickie I’ll put up right now!