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Depression

Building Bridges (pt. 4 – Sense of Belonging/Community)


In our research, the greater the disconnect, the greater the sense of marginalization among LGBTQ youth, the higher the likelihood of high-risk behaviors. To compensate for the deep depression of being isolated many would turn to drugs or alcohol to numb those feelings. Many contemplate suicide at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ peers. Often they would move towards unhealthy communities seeking acceptance and belonging and engage in unsafe and unhealthy sexual activity just to feel a sense of love and that of being wanted.

There are culturally accepted norms by which we hold all people to. The more they are like the norm, the greater level of acceptance and support we are likely to give them. It’s not pretty but it’s honest. Jesus flipped this upside down with his kingdom. One of his goals for the kingdom was to restore people to community with each other and with the Father. The more an individual is different from the norm (those with power) the higher the risk of marginalization.

Add to this tendency, the variety of intersections an individual might have that increases societal marginalization, such as; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, disability, socio-economic status, location, etc.. The more different one tends to be the higher the likelihood of alienation and separation from mainstream society, thus impacting one’s ability to feel and maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness.

So, if we (humanity) are to work towards the reconciliation of all things, how might we better do this?

Where have our strategies failed? Where have they succeeded? What new strategies do we need? What posture might we take that increases the potential for restoration to occur?

Building Bridges (pt. 3 – LGBTQ-Related Stress)


In the third part of our series on LGBTQ themes, our research/interviews revealed to us that there are extra layers of stress for LGBTQ students compared to their non-LGBTQ peers.

Growing up as a teen in today’s fast paced culture is hard enough as it is. To compound those struggles with stressors related directly to being an individual that identifies as LGBTQ can be overwhelming. So what are “normal stressors” all you are at risk for experiencing? Let’s take a quick look:

  • puberty/physical changes/body image issues
  • peer comparison
  • performance anxiety (school, athletics, roles at home, church, etc.)
  • pressures to engage in high-risk behaviors, such as; drug use, drinking, and sexual activity
  • academic stressors/college prep/career planning
  • family life/expectations (child care of younger siblings, household chores, etc.)
  • challenges related to managing emotions
  • onslaught of negative messages (self/family, peers, media, culture) and filtering them

Now let’s take a look at specific stressors identified by LGBTQ teens related to being LGBTQ:

  • internal/external homophobia
  • bullying/assault/death
  • stigma
  • social isolation/alienation/minority stress
  • academic struggles due to not feeling safe at school
  • higher risk of depression, self harm,, substance abuse, and suicide
  • fear of or actual rejection from family and friends
  • misconceptions by public related to what it means to be LGBTQ
  • pressure (internal or external) to suppress sexual identity/gender identity
  • incongruent identity
  • intersections, such as; disability, race, gender, gender norms, religious background/beliefs

These lists are probably incomplete but it gives you a clearer picture of what the average LGBTQ student is likely to deal with on any given day. High levels of relentless stress contribute to feeling hopeless and helpless, which is a precursor to suicidal ideation. This alone sets apart LGBTQ youth from their non-LGBTQ peers. This also contributes directly to further alienation and isolation. Regardless of your faith tradition and its respective doctrine about the issue of homosexuality, this kind of collateral damage to God’s beloved children cannot be acceptable to anyone calling themselves followers in the way of Jesus.

So, what might be a better way of engagement?

Navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder


Seasonal Affective Disorder often starts in the fall and typically continues through winter and into early spring. The Mayo Clinic reports there are more than 3 million cases of SAD per year. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to fatigue, depression, hopelessness, social withdrawal/isolation, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, eating disturbances, and irritability.

For those of us in the helping/serving/giving professions the holidays represent a busy time of hectic activity, parties, visits, emotions, family and friends. For many, it is a time of celebration and happiness. For others, it is a time of hurt and alienation from those same people.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated and there are things an individual can do to prevent or manage the effects of SAD. The following are some ideas one can use to make the most of their holiday season and to ward off the sense of isolation and hopelessness that comes along with SAD.

Tip #1: Cultivate and nurture supportive relationships

Getting the support and relational connect you need plays a huge role in lifting the fog of SAD. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort needed to manage SAD. The very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. Isolation and loneliness make depression even worse, so remaining engaged in close relationships and social activities are important.

Reaching out to even loved ones and friend can feel overwhelming when in the grips of depression. You may feel ashamed, exhausted, or too embarrassed to talk. Here are some simple ways to remain engaged in supportive relationships:

  1. Help someone by volunteering
  2. Have a set coffee date
  3. Go on a walk with a friend
  4. Ask a loved one to check in on you regularly
  5. Talk to a counselor, or clergy member

Tip #2: Take care of yourself

Self-care in so important when trying to prevent or overcome depression. This includes making time for things you enjoy, asking for help, setting limits, adopting healthier eating habits, and scheduling fun into your day.

Develop a wellness toolbox

Create a list of things you can do for a quick moon boost.  Include anything that has helped you in the past. The more “tools” for coping with depression, the better. Try to implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you’re already feeling good.

  1. Spend time in nature/creation
  2. Read a good book
  3. Watch a funny movie or tv show
  4. Listen to music
  5. Play with a pet
  6. Write in your journal

Push yourself to do things, even when you do want to. You’d be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re out in the world. Even if your depression doesn’t immediately lift, you will likely feel better than if you stayed in your house alone.

Sleep, sunlight, stress management, time management, and relaxation are also important when combating depression. Don’t neglect these areas.  Each of these can be a contributor to a struggle with mood. Being vigilant in these areas will pay off in the fight for freedom from depression.

Tip #3 Get regular exercise

Exercise is the best antidepressant on the market and, it’s free! A 10 minute walk can give you a mood boost for 2 hours. Exercise increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain, raises endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension – all things that can have a tremendous impact on depression. Here are a few easy ways to get moving:

  1. Take the stairs rather than the elevator
  2. Park your car in the farthest parking spot away from the door
  3. Take your dog for a walk
  4. Pair up with an exercise partner
  5. Walk while you talk on the phone

Start slowly and don’t overdo it. More isn’t always better. Too often we get motivated, bite off more than we can chew and then get discouraged and quit. Start with a daily 15 minute walk; no more, no less. Just do that daily for a couple weeks and see how you feel.

Tip #4 Eat a healthy, mood-boosting diet

God gave us everything we need to manage our emotional life. There is a time for professional help but often depression can be addressed by making lifestyle changes; such as what we eat. Aim for a balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.

  1. Don’t neglect breakfast/don’t skip meals. Starbucks doesn’t count as a meal.
  2. Minimize sugars and refined carbs like candy bars, french fries, and other “feel good” food. They won’t last and your mood and energy will crash quickly, sending you back for more.
  3. Focus on complex carbs. Bake potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain breads, and bananas can all boost serotonin levels without a crash. Serotonin is the neurochemical that gives you a sense of wellbeing.
  4. Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins can trigger depression. To get more, eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
  5. Practice mindful eating. Slow down and pay attention to the full experience of eating. Allow your stomach time to send the “I’m full” signal to the brain. Enjoy and taste your food.
  6. Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in stabilizing mood. The main sources are vegetable oils and nuts, flax, soybeans, and fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel.

Tip #5 Challenge negative thinking

Depression puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself, the situations you encounter, and your expectations for the future. Here are some ways to challenge negative thinking:

  1. Get perspective from another source. This could be the scriptures or sacred texts, other people (i.e., significant other, spouse, family, mentor, pastor, friend, etc.).
  2. Think outside yourself. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about yourself to someone else. If not, stop being so hard on yourself.
  3. Keep a “negative thought log” and compare it to scriptures. Review your log when you are in a better place to become familiar with the negative thinking patterns that lead to and fuel depression as well as the cognitive antidotes you’ve discovered in the scriptures.
  4. Socialize with positive people. Hopeful and positive people tend to not sweat the small stuff. This kind of attitude can rub off on you.

The above is not a magic formula as much as it is a list of attitudes and behaviors that simply increase the likelihood of navigating Seasonal Affective Disorder. It increases the likelihood that you might enjoy this Christmas season more than previous years. It increases your resiliency for managing SAD in the future.

Here’s hoping you will have a Merry Christmas in the most literal sense of the word. May you be renewed with hope, peace, and joy during this otherwise dark time.

Building Bridges (part 2 – acceptance/rejection and coming out)


“I was born a female but identify with the male gender. My sexual identity is gay. I am 16 years old and was kicked out of my home recently. Sometimes I think killing myself would save everyone a lot of trouble. I don’t know what else to do or where to go. There is no place that I know of that will accept me as I am. I never wanted this. It’s not like I want to be hated by everyone and all alone. I’m basically on my own now.” – Homeless transgendered teen

In an attempt to better understand the lives of young LGBTQ students I interviewed several teens looking for common themes related to the topics of rejection/acceptance, coming out, LGBTQ-related stress, other intersections of identity, trauma/bullying, mental health/substance use, suicide, community/sense of belonging, and faith and spirituality. What I discovered has changed me and I don’t think I will ever be the same and I’m hoping it will change how the church engages these precious and beloved children of God as well.

During the course of one interview, the student I was talking with used the term “straight privilege”. It stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered, let alone heard of. Those with privilege rarely do consider it. I mean, come on. I get white privilege or male privilege, but straight privilege? How much privilege could one man have? I quickly learned that the world I lived in lent itself to being straight. I have never experienced the stress of coming out or being rejected because I liked the opposite sex. The term “Hetero” has never been used as a derogatory term. Nobody shouts, “Look at that dude, he looks so straight!” or “That shirt is so straight. He must like girls.” I have never had to wonder if me being heterosexual was pleasing to God or if I was damned to hell because I was attracted to the opposite sex. I learned through these interviews that I am biased because of straight privilege and it was preventing me from seeing the world through the eyes of an LGBTQ individual.

Rejection/Acceptance

All of the students interviewed had a sense they were different at a very early age, some reporting as early as 7 or 8 years old. Most had a definitive awareness by 10 – 13 years of age. Most report initially rejecting the notion that they had same-sex attraction and many said they were repulsed by the idea. One teenage boy, who identifies as gender fluid and gay shared that when he was 6 years old he asked his mother if he could like boys.

The most common fear of identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered was the fear of rejection and all correlated this with not coming out at an earlier age. This shouldn’t surprise anyone reading this but it was an overwhelming majority of LGBTQ students that echoed this sentiment. Mallory, a 22-year-old lesbian told a story about being the center of gossip in her small rural town when she came out. She said repeatedly that her fear was that those closest to her would begin to look at her differently, like a pedophile who intended to steal and eat all of the children in town like a monster.

Coming Out

Most of the students interviewed report coming out to the safest people possible at first. This usually consisted of closest friends and siblings. Ironically, most of them report that the individuals they first came out to already had suspicion that they were not heterosexual. The average age of coming out among those interview was 16-18 years old. They all indicate that the time period between accepting they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered and when they came out were the most difficult years. We’ll explore that a little later.

Several indicated that the process of coming out never ends. With each new person they tell the process starts over for them. The fear of rejection and anxiety resets and with each new person they meet for the rest of their lives will likely provoke some measure of anxiety as well.

One young woman shared that she believed there were three layers of coming out; to the first individual, family and friends, and publicly, each with their own unique factors.

Bree, a 20-year-old lesbian reminded me that these are issues I will never have to deal with because I identify as a white, heterosexual, Christian male and since I won’t have to deal with them I am likely biased to expect the rest of the world (including LGBTQ individuals) to experience the world just like I do.

If it’s possible to summarize issues so complex I would say this; the time between when a young person identifies internally that they are gay, lesbian, bi, or trans and when they actually come out to others is the time they are at the greatest risk for substance abuse, depression, self-harm, suicide and other mental health related concerns.

If that is even remotely true it beckons a response. So, then what is the best response(s) from people of faith?

Stages of Sexual Identity Development for LGBTQ Youth


October 11th is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day set aside for LGBTQ youth and adults to draw strength and courage from each other as they come out to family, friends, and the general public. Coming out is a complex experience that occurs not just once but over and over again for LGBTQ individuals. With each new person that is encountered the process starts over.

Coming out to oneself is a different experience and a process that can best be understood through the different stages one goes through until they reach total identity synthesis. The more we understand this process the we can provide a stable and consistent presence in the life of a vulnerable individual. The most common model is the Cass model of sexual identity development.

Most models of identity development do not take into account sociological variables that can impact the process. With that being said, our culture has become more accepting of LGBTQ orientations/gender definitions so the process of formation would naturally be impacted by that. And lastly, when considering developmental processes it is very unlikely that there is a linear path, from one stage directly to the next. Often stages are resolved quicker or slower or jumped altogether. One might also revisit stages more than once.

However this occurs, a coming theme that continues to emerge in our research is that of isolation during this process. Many of the youth interviewed report an increase in unhealthy, maladaptive behaviors as an attempt to cope with stressors related to their emerging identity/gender affiliation and sense of being socially invisible.

From Wikipedia

The six stages of Cass’ model

Identity Confusion

In the first stage, Identity Confusion, the person is amazed to think of themselves as a gay person. “Could I be gay?” This stage begins with the person’s first awareness of gay or lesbian thoughts, feelings, and attractions. The people typically feel confused and experience turmoil.

To the question “Who am I?”, the answers can be acceptance, denial, or rejection.

Possible responses can be: to avoid information about lesbians and gays; inhibited behavior; denial of homosexuality (“experimenting”, “an accident”, “just drunk”, “just looking”). Males may keep emotional involvement separated from sexual contact; females may have deep relationships that are non-sexual, though strongly emotional.

The possible needs can be: the person may explore internal positive and negative judgments. Will be allowed to be uncertain regarding sexual identity. May find support in knowing thatsexual behavior occurs along a spectrum. May receive permission and encouragement to explore sexual identity as a normal experience (like career identity and social identity).

Identity Comparison

The second stage is called Identity Comparison. In this stage, the person accepts the possibility of being gay or lesbian and examines the wider implications of that tentative commitment. “Maybe this does apply to me.” The self-alienation becomes isolation. The task is to deal with the social alienation.

Possible responses can be: the person may begin to grieve for losses and the things they give up by embracing their sexual orientation (marriage, children). They may compartmentalize their own sexuality—accept lesbian/gay definition of behavior but maintain “heterosexual” identity. Tells oneself, “It’s only temporary”; “I’m just in love with this particular woman/man”; etc.

The possible needs can be: will be very important that the person develops own definitions. Will need information about sexual identity, lesbian, gay community resources, encouragement to talk about loss of heterosexual life expectations. May be permitted to keep some “heterosexual” identity (as “not an all or none” issue).

Identity Tolerance

In the third stage, Identity Tolerance: the person comes to the understanding they are “not the only one”.

The person acknowledges they are likely gay or lesbian and seeks out other gay and lesbian people to combat feelings of isolation. Increased commitment to being lesbian or gay. The task is to decrease social alienation by seeking out lesbians and gays.

Possible responses can be: beginning to have language to talk and think about the issue. Recognition that being lesbian or gay does not preclude other options. Accentuate difference between self and heterosexuals. Seek out lesbian and gay culture (positive contact leads to more positive sense of self, negative contact leads to devaluation of the culture, stops growth). The person may try out variety of stereotypical roles.

The possible needs can be: to be supported in exploring own shame feelings derived from heterosexism, as well as internalized homophobia. Receive support in finding positive lesbian, gay community connections. It is particularly important for the person to know community resources.

Identity Acceptance

The Identity Acceptance stage means the person accepts themselves. “I will be okay.” The person attaches a positive connotation to their gay or lesbian identity and accepts rather than tolerates it. There is continuing and increased contact with the gay and lesbian culture. The task is to deal with inner tension of no longer subscribing to society’s norm, attempt to bring congruence between private and public view of self.

Possible responses can be: accepts gay or lesbian self-identification. May compartmentalize “gay life”. Maintain less and less contact with heterosexual community. Attempt to “fit in” and “not make waves” within the gay and lesbian community. Begin some selective disclosures of sexual identity. More social coming out; more comfortable being seen with groups of men or women that are identified as “gay”. More realistic evaluation of situation.

The possible needs can be: continue exploring grief and loss of heterosexual life expectation, continue exploring internalized homophobia (learned shame from heterosexist society). Find support in making decisions about where, when, and to whom to disclose.

Identity Pride

In the identity pride stage, while sometimes the coming out of the closet arrives, and the main thinking is “I’ve got to let people know who I am!”. The person divides the world into heterosexuals and homosexuals, and is immersed in gay and lesbian culture while minimizing contact with heterosexuals. Us-them quality to political/social viewpoint. The task is to deal with the incongruent views of heterosexuals.

Possible responses include: splits world into “gay” (good) and “straight” (bad)—experiences disclosure crises with heterosexuals as they are less willing to “blend in”—identify gay culture as sole source of support, acquiring all gay friends, business connections, social connections.

The possible needs can be: to receive support for exploring anger issues, to find support for exploring issues of heterosexism, to develop skills for coping with reactions and responses to disclosure to sexual identity, and to resist being defensive.

Identity Synthesis

The last stage in Cass’ model is identity synthesis: the person integrates their sexual identity with all other aspects of self, and sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of self rather than the entire identity.

The task is to integrate gay and lesbian identity so that instead of being the identity, it is an aspect of self.

Possible responses can be: continues to be angry at heterosexism, but with decreased intensity, or allows trust of others to increase and build. Gay and lesbian identity is integrated with all aspects of “self”. The person feels “all right” to move out into the community and not simply define space according to sexual orientation.

Building Bridges (overview)


In an attempt to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and faith communities, we are hosting a blog series aimed at helping faith communities grow in their understanding of an often misunderstood people group. The series will consist of 6 posts, many of which are informed by actual conversations with individuals within the LGBTQ community. Here’s what you can expect from this series:

Part 1: Definitions: If you’re anything like me you’re lost in LGBTQ lexicon. Let’s start by clarifying what is meant when certain words are used.

Part 2: Major Themes Among LGBTQ Students: We will hear from LGBTQ students on theme such as Family Rejection/Acceptance, Coming Out, LGBTQ-Related Stress, Intersections with other Identities, Trauma/Bullying, Suicide, Social Invisibility, and Substance Use.

Part 3: Personal Factors Related to Health/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 4: Systemic Factors Related to Heath/Wellness: What factors promote health/wellness and impede health/wellness.

Part 5: Strategic Recommendations: We will begin a dialogue among readers with the intention to problem solve strategic ideas for closing the gap between our LGBTQ brothers/sisters and the local faith communities.

Part 6: A Story of Bridge Building: A first-hand account of the impact of effective bridge building.

Online discourse is encouraged and we want to create space for a variety of perspectives to be communicated here. We will not tolerate hate speech or trolling. Comments are moderated for this reason. We wish this to be a safe place for all to join the conversation.

Youth Ministry and the Glee Effect


Cory MonteithThis past Saturday my wife I and I were anxiously awaiting the verdict of the trail for George Zimmerman, the man accused of shooting 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  While this “trial of the century” was capturing America’s attention another story was unfolding in a Canadian hotel.  Glee superstar and main man Finn, played by Cory Monteith, was found dead in his hotel room.

We won’t know the cause of his death for several days but speculation abounds regarding substance use and suicide, a history of depression, etc.  The horrible irony is that the writers for Glee have attempted to bring light to these and other issues that youth face on a daily basis.

Update: Autopsy reports say the a combination of heroin and alcohol contributed to Cory’s death.

No one can deny the impact Glee has had on youth culture over the last several years.  At the very least it has provided a soundtrack for the lives of countless youth.  More importantly Glee has given our youth a voice in a world where very few believe anyone is listening.  I heard from countless teens who expressed a form of solidarity with the characters from the show.  It had every stereotype one could imagine and they all found common ground singing for the lovable Mr. Schuester in Glee Club.  It was here that they all found meaning and a sense of belonging.  Glee Club became their refuge from a crazy world of bullies, expectations, pressure, stress, and the myriad of difficulties of being a teenager.  They often spoke of Glee Club in transcendent language.

I came to see Glee Club, as portrayed on the show, as a desire for a safer world in which youth can navigate the journey to adulthood, ripe with mentors willing to walk alongside them regardless of the personal cost.  Glee changed the expectations young people had for their schools, homes, and relationships with each other.  I’m wondering if, with Cory’s death, it will leave many of the show’s Gleeks feeling a sense of hopelessness that nothing they had come to believe in will actually make a difference.  This could be soil for fruitful conversations about what is worth putting our hope and trust in.

I have said to my wife during more than one viewing of Glee that I felt like these kids could be the kids from our community or youth group.  Hearing about Cory’s untimely death impacted me emotionally and I wept upon receiving the news.  Finn, Cory’s character, was the arch-type male student, popular, pretty girlfriend, football quarterback, and could rock some Journey like no one else.  I’m concerned about the level of celebrity worship in our culture.  I’m concerned about its impact on our youth, who take their cues for living life from their idols, whether they’re conscious of it or not.  This misplaced investment is fruitless and leads to despair.  When a celebrity of Cory’s stature can’t escape the pull of destructive choices then what are the kids in our communities supposed to do?

Cue the church…

Glee struck a chord with young people like I’ve never seen before.  It spoke of the things that no one else would speak about and they did it creatively and honestly.  Many in the camp of Christianity wrote off Glee as obviously secular with an agenda but many failed to hear the messages of our youth that were reflected in the show’s storytelling.  Weekly, the show masterfully addressed the deepest longing of our kids and one could hear it only they would listen.

What if our youth ministries, what if our churches, what if our faith communities had the magnetic pull that Glee had for so many?  I really believe that kids vote with their presence, meaning, if our ministries even remotely smell like the shallow offerings the world has to offer they will not partake of it.  I believe in my core that youth will choose that which is most compelling.  We love to blame the youth for being apathetic regarding their spiritual growth and commitment to their faith but what if it wasn’t them?  What if it was our ministries?  What if we created deep ministries, like Glee, where students who felt they weren’t wanted anywhere could find a place to belong?  What if they were safe communities where they could let down their guard and be real and honest about the things in their lives that are important and troubling to them, issues like depression, stress, sexuality, self-injury, self-image, or their futures?  What if they felt they mattered because we loved them in spite of what they do and not just because they jump through our hoops and fit our mold of what we think they should be?  What if there were a number of adults who would commit to walking alongside them, regardless of how difficult it became?  What if our ministries were places of real hope that pointed to the Source of all hope? How is it that Glee has been kicking our butts when it comes to influencing and reaching our kids?  And I don’t buy the line, “Because it appeals to their fleshly desires” or what ever version of that sentiment might be.  I think it is because it speaks to the longings that are most important to youth and it does so in a meaningful way.

My heart is broken for Cory Monteith.  It’s broken because in spite of the Glee’s efforts to create the world described above, it still falls short.  Cory’s death is a reminder to us all that this world is broken and God’s children, apart from Him, are broken.  It reminds me that when we seek the satisfaction of those deep longings apart from Christ the world will always come up short.  I pray that our ministries are a place where the deepest longings of our hearts are fully satisfied through our ever growing relationship with Christ and His body.  It is there and only there we might experience the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Don’t stop believing…

Overview of Stress (Soul Care Series)


stress-cartoonUnderstanding Stress 

Stress is our response to thinking or judging that the demand of an event or situation goes beyond our being able to cope with the situation.  Coping is the key word.  Stress is based on our automatic thoughts about inside or outside events.  Our ability to manage stress well depends on many factors, factors such as; Personality Traits, Health Habits, Coping Skills, Social Support, Material Resources, Genetics and Early Family Experiences, Demographic Variables, and Pre-existing Stressors.  We will focus on the four following underlying causes of stress in this post:

  • Expectations: You expect (worry about) something bad will happen to you because of the outside events.
  • Appraisals:  You judge that the demands of the event go beyond your abilities or resources to meet those demands.
  • Attribution: You blame the causes of your stress on the outside events or to on upsetting memories of past events.
  • Decisions:  You decide you cannot handle the demands of the outside world.

The Roots and Sources of Stress

Your inside world:  We call these “internal stressors”: the memory of past experiences/events that are negative of difficult, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or childhood trauma.  These are now “internal” but are “triggered” by on-going life experiences.

  • The stressor event may be inside you if you cannot tie the mental, physical or emotional responses to something outside.
  • Such “internal events” could be a memory of a past trauma or losses, high need to be successful, having failed at something you deemed important.
  • Internal stressors will be based on outside events that have happened sometime in the past.

Your outside world:  There are three major outside root causes of stress.

  • Major negative events such as death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or major illness.
  • Daily negative or difficult life events such as demands of family and work.  Theses are “external”.
  • Major and minor positive happenings such as a new job, getting married, having a baby or a salary raise.

Stages and Effects of Stress on the Body

Long periods of exposure to stress can hurt the body.  It can cause us to become physically ill.  Research has shown that we go through three steps when faced with stress:

  • Alarm:  The body steps up its inside resources to fight the stressor or cause of stress.
  • Revolt:  The body resists and fights the stressors.  Body chemicals are released to help us cope.  For awhile, these chemicals help keep the body in balance.
  • Exhaustion:  The body gets tired.  We might collapse.  We are more likely to get sick or emotionally upset.  Now, because of ongoing stress, the chemicals that once helped us now make us weaker.

Signs of Stress and Efforts to Cope

Stress can throw us out of balance.  We call this homeostasis.  The body and mind work at keeping balance through coping responses.  These are the efforts to control or cope with the stress reactions inside of you.  But they are also signs of stress.

  • Mental:  Mental worry is a major cause of stress.  Worries are thoughts and views of what might happen.  Your thoughts are the key.  When we manage stress this comes first.  If our thoughts fail to give us self-control we lose control over the body, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Physical:  Our body becomes upset.  Our hearts beat fast, we get sweaty, feel weak.  We breathe hard and lose control of our breathing.  We hunger for air or oxygen.  Being in control of breathing helps us to be in control of our stress response.
  • Emotional:  These are your efforts to cope with stress.  They are signs of stress.
    • Anxiety:  We feel uneasy, anxious.  We can’t pin down why.
    • Panic:  A sudden intense fear or anxiety with body symptoms – hard to breathe, tight chest, heart beats fast.
    • Emotional stress syndrome:  Guilty, angry, or depressed.  Managing anger, guilt, and depression helps us manage our stress.
  • Behavioral:  You may drink, go running, distract with a movie, gamble, view pornography, masturbate, smoke, talk with a friend, etc.

Jesus vs. Schemas (pt. 1 of 2)


Schemas — What They Are

A schema is an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individual’s life. We view the world through our schemas.  When one does not learn a healthy theology and understanding of who they are in Christ, these schemas take root where theology should live.

Schemas are important beliefs and feelings about oneself and the environment which the individual accepts without question. They are self-perpetuating, and are very resistant to change. For instance, children who develop a schema that they are incompetent rarely challenge this belief, even as adults. The schema usually does not go away without therapy. Overwhelming success in people’s lives is often still not enough to change the schema. The schema fights for its own survival, and, usually, quite successfully.

It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation. Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood. For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships while seeking maladaptive ways (often sinful but functional) to satisfy his or her longings.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.

There are eighteen specific schemas. Most individuals have at least two or three of these schemas, and often more. A brief description of each of these schemas is provided below.

Emotional Deprivation

This schema refers to the belief that one’s primary emotional needs will never be met by others. These needs can be described in three categories: Nurturance—needs for affection, closeness and love; Empathy—needs to be listened to and understood; Protection—needs for advice, guidance and direction. Generally parents are cold or removed and don’t adequately care for the child in ways that would adequately meet the above needs.

Abandonment/Instability

This schema refers to the expectation that one will soon lose anyone with whom an emotional attachment is formed. The person believes that, one way or another, close relationships will end eminently. As children, these individuals may have experienced the divorce or death of parents. This schema can also arise when parents have been inconsistent in attending to the child’s needs; for instance, there may have been frequent occasions on which the child was left alone or unattended to for extended periods.

Mistrust/Abuse

This schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat, or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards. In childhood, these individuals were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.

Social Isolation/Alienation

This schema refers to the belief that one is isolated from the world, different from other people, and/or not part of any community. This belief is usually caused by early experiences in which children see that either they, or their families, are different from other people.

Defectiveness/Shame

This schema refers to the belief that one is internally flawed, and that, if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship. This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.

Failure

This schema refers to the belief that one is incapable of performing as well as one’s peers in areas such as career, school or sports. These individuals may feel stupid, inept or untalented. People with this schema often do not try to achieve because they believe that they will fail. This schema may develop if children are put down and treated as if they are a failure in school and other spheres of accomplishment. Usually the parents did not give enough support, discipline, and encouragement for the child to persist and succeed in areas of achievement, such as schoolwork or sport.

Dependence/Incompetence

This schema refers to the belief that one is not capable of handling day-to-day responsibilities competently and independently. People with this schema often rely on others excessively for help in areas such as decision-making and initiating new tasks. Generally, parents did not encourage these children to act independently and develop confidence in their ability to take care of themselves.

Vulnerability to Harm and Illness

This schema refers to the belief that one is always on the verge of experiencing a major catastrophe (financial, natural, medical, criminal, etc.). It may lead to taking excessive precautions to protect oneself. Usually there was an extremely fearful parent who passed on the idea that the world is a dangerous place.

Enmeshment/Undeveloped Self

This schema refers to a pattern in which you experience too much emotional involvement with others – usually parents or romantic partners. It may also include the sense that one has too little individual identity or inner direction, causing a feeling of emptiness or of floundering. This schema is often brought on by parents who are so controlling, abusive, or so overprotective that the child is discouraged from developing a separate sense of self.

Subjugation

This schema refers to the belief that one must submit to the control of others in order to avoid negative consequences. Often these individuals fear that, unless they submit, others will get angry or reject them. Individuals who subjugate ignore their own desires and feelings. In childhood there was generally a very controlling parent.

Self-Sacrifice

This schema refers to the excessive sacrifice of one’s own needs in order to help others. When these individuals pay attention to their own needs, they often feel guilty. To avoid this guilt, they put others’ needs ahead of their own. Often individuals who self-sacrifice gain a feeling of increased self-esteem or a sense of meaning from helping others. In childhood the person may have been made to feel overly responsible for the well being of one or both parents.

Emotional Inhibition

This schema refers to the belief that you must suppress spontaneous emotions and impulses, especially anger, because any expression of feelings would harm others or lead to loss of self-esteem, embarrassment, retaliation or abandonment. You may lack spontaneity, or be viewed as uptight. This schema is often brought on by parents who discourage the expression of feelings.

Unrelenting Standards/Hypercriticalness

This schema refers to the belief that whatever you do is not good enough, that you must always strive harder. The motivation for this belief is the desire to meet extremely high internal demands for competence, usually to avoid internal criticism. People with this schema show impairments in important life areas, such as health, pleasure or self-esteem. Usually these individuals’ parents were never satisfied and gave their children love that was conditional on outstanding achievement.

Entitlement/Grandiosity

This schema refers to the belief that you should be able to do, say, or have whatever you want immediately regardless of whether that hurts others or seems reasonable to them. You are not interested in what other people need, nor are you aware of the long-term costs to you of alienating others. Parents who overindulge their children and who do not set limits about what is socially appropriate may foster the development of this schema. Alternatively, some children develop this schema to compensate for feelings of emotional deprivation or defectiveness.

Insufficient Self-Control/Self-Discipline

This schema refers to the inability to tolerate any frustration in reaching one’s goals, as well as an inability to restrain expression of one’s impulses or feelings. When lack of self-control is extreme, criminal or addictive behavior rule your life. Parents who did not model self-control, or who did not adequately discipline their children, may predispose them to have this schema as adults.

Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking

This schema refers to the placing of too much emphasis on gaining the approval and recognition of others at the expense of one’s genuine needs and sense of self. It can also include excessive emphasis on status and appearance as a means of gaining recognition and approval. individuals with this schema are generally extremely sensitive to rejections by others and try hard to fit in. Usually they did not have their needs for unconditional love and acceptance met by their parents in their early years.

Negativity/Pessimism

This schema refers to a pervasive pattern of focusing on the negative aspects of life while minimizing the positive aspects. Individuals with this schema are unable to enjoy things that are going well in their lives because they are so concerned with negative details or potential future problems. They worry about possible failures no matter how well things are going for them. Usually these individuals had a parent who worried excessively.

Punitiveness

This schema refers to the belief that people deserve to be harshly punished for making mistakes. People with this schema are critical and unforgiving of both themselves and others. They tend to be angry about imperfect behaviors much of the time. In childhood these individuals usually had at least one parent who put too much emphasis on performance and had a punitive style of controlling behavior.

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There are two primary schema operations: Schema healing and schema perpetuation. All thoughts, behaviors and feelings may be seen as being part of one of these operations. Either they perpetuate the schema or they heal the schema. We will explore both in part 2.

Being Incarnational in the Midst of Tragedy


i-love-boston-by-wamWhat is trauma and what does it mean to survive and heal from it?  This is a poignant question on the heels of another attack on our country.  The bombings at the Boston Marathon will naturally impact those in attendance differently than those who watched the events through a screen, but we will all be impacted regardless.

 Have you ever been just sailing along smoothly in life and then BAM? Trauma strikes and nothing in your life will ever be the same again…

Maybe it’s because of a talk you had with a student, maybe it was the phone call where you found out that one of your students was killed in a car accident, or worse, they died at their own hands.  Maybe it is a natural disaster that wrecks your community like a flood or tornado.  Maybe it is a senseless school shooting like Newtown.  And in that moment, nothing makes any sense.  What do you do?  Do you run away?  Do you decide you are not cut out for this kind of work?  Do you just withdraw or run to something that will anesthetize you from the hurt?  What do you do?

Before trauma occurs you and your students operate from a belief that the world is orderly, that most people are kind, and that there is meaning to life.  You believe that God is in control of all things but prior to trauma that is a shallow belief because it has never been tested.  Post-trauma you are awakened to the awareness that you are not in control of anything and that you are vulnerable.  You begin to realize that you are no longer safe and secure.  Often, what gave you meaning before the event leave in a smoke cloud and we are left grasping at straws.  Life no longer feels fair or just.

In the PSTD Workbook (2002) Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula inform us that many factors impact how an individual reacts to a traumatic event.  Age, time preparing for the event, amount of damage done to you, (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), the amount of damage witnessed, and the degree of responsibility one feels for causing or not preventing the event (pg. 5).

The authors go on to say that there are three major types of factors that influence the development of PTSD.  They are pre-event factors, event factors, and post-event factors

Pre-Event Factors

  •  Previous exposure to severe adverse life events or trauma or childhood victimization, including neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or witnessing abuse
  • Hx. Of clinical depression
  • Poor coping skills
  • Unstable family system
  • Early substance abuse
  • Family hx. of anti-social / current anti-social behavior
  • Poor social support
  • Multiple early losses of people, places, or things
  • Gender (women 2x as likely to develop PTSD)

Event Factors

  •  Geographic nearness to event
  • Level of exposure to event
  • The event’s meaning to the individual
  • Age: being young at the time of the event
  • Being victim of multiple traumatic events
  • Duration of trauma
  • The existence of an ongoing threat that the trauma will continue (e.g., war)
  • Participation in an atrocity, as a perpetrator or witness

Post-Event Factors

  •  The absence of good social support
  • Not being able to do something about what happened
  • Indulging in self-pity while neglecting oneself
  • Being passive rather than active – letting things happen to you (disempowered)
  • Inability to find meaning in the suffering (Viktor FranklLogotherapy)

The PSTD Workbook by Williams and Poiluja, New Harbor Publications, Inc. 2002

As I read through these lists I can’t help but think that our ministries could play a central role of addressing many of the present factors surrounding traumatic events. 

Spend some time this week talking with your staff or volunteers and discuss the factors on these lists and ask, “How can we be incarnational in the midst of trauma and tragedy?”   I’d love to hear your ideas on this…

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