Category Archives: Self-Injury

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.

The Functionality of Sin


ducttapeTraditional youth ministry training didn’t really prepare me for the acute problems my kids were showing up with at our youth ministry. I got into to youth ministry because the first time I walked into a youth ministry gathering I felt a connection, a calling to speak into their lives. I wanted desperately to impact their lives for the Kindgom. The typical fare in most youth ministry training programs is maybe a psych 110 class or an adolescent development overview but very little in the way of preparing me to minister effectively to them. Take Whitney, a 15 year old high school sophomore who had recently been hospitalized for depression, self-injury and suicidal ideation. When she was brought to our youth group by one of our “professional evangelism daters” we just weren’t sure what to do in order to walk with her and her family through the next couple of years. This started us on a journey of seeking to understand these fringe issues (which really aren’t fringe any longer), to be better equipped to love these kids that God was sending us. We believed we were called to be good stewards of the kids He sent us and that meant pulling our head out of the sand, rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.
Sin is such a complex issue, everything from understanding what it is to what it isn’t, to what are the systemic causes of it, to how we deal with the fallout of sin, to how we put programs in place to create an environment that not only discourages sin but fosters the belief that everyone, EVERYONE, is a child of God and treated accordingly.

Dr. Brene` Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power explains her research on the subject of shame as a study on the power of connection and the dangers of disconnection. When one considers the process to the product that is a sinful individual we must first understand that our primary drive is to be connected. God first existed in community and we are created in Their image, aren’t we? The longing to belong serves many purposes; survival, fulfillment, success, and procreation. Growing up as blank slates our families, environments, and culture shape how we “learn” to connect. We are taught skills and styles of connecting to others. Sometimes these means are healthy and affirming, and God honoring, placing God at the helm and others accordingly. Other times we are not taught healthy ways of connecting. We are taught that violence, aggression, manipulation and other illegitimate means are what are necessary to get what you need and want.

When we are not affirmed as worthy of being connected to others we learn to see ourselves as deficient, broken, not valuable, insignificant, etc., but our need for connection doesn’t leave us, we simply learn other ways to get what we need.

If this is done well, as God first intended, then it significantly increases the likelihood of having generations of people who choose to enter into a relationship with Him, just as He ordained from the beginning of time.
When this doesn’t go as God intended the opposite result is the outcome. Brokenness in God’s creation exists. God’s children all fighting and pining instead of cooperating to satisfy the deepest longings of their heart. Longings placed in them to direct them to God and each other, in that order. We experience sin and its collateral damage when we invert that order, placing me and others before our relationship with God the Father.

This is where sin becomes functional. Sin becomes a means to an end. For a long time we have demonized our sinful youth as just giving in to their hedonic nature. What if there was more going on than just simple pleasure seeking? What is we began to ask the question, “What purpose does sin have?”. Would this change the way we approach our youth and their sinful behaviors? What if we started having conversations about other ways, more God-honoring ways, to meet the deepest longings of their hearts? What if we spoke the language of their heart and longings? What if we told them of a God who can satisfy these longings in real ways, so that it is God’s love that draws them not the fear of Him. What if we created space in our homes and gathering places where youth felt they belonged and mattered? If we could do this, with the help of the Spirit, would they drop their cheap substitute (sin) for the real deal (God)? What do we have to lose?

The Three R’s of Bullying Interventions


The issue of bullying just doesn’t seem to be going away so today let’s talk about strategies to fix what bullying does.  The following would be a great resource to put in the hands of parents of your students.  It is also good kindling for discussion on reconciliation.

Restitution, Resolution, and Reconciliation 

If student was a follower/supporter of the bully: 

  1. Intervene immediately
  2. Provide a system of graceful accountability while allow natural consequences to occur
  3. Create opportunities to “do good”
  4. Nurture empathy
  5. Teach friendship skills – assertive, respectful, and peaceful ways to relate to others
  6. Monitor/Criticize/Converse about TV shows, movies, music, and video games that reinforce violence against others
  7. Engage in more constructive, entertaining, and energizing activities 

If your student hurt others through gossip: 

  1. apologize to the child who was harmed by the rumor
  2. go to everyone she told it to and tell them it wasn’t true
  3. ask them to stop spreading it
  4. ask them to let everyone they told that she was a part of spreading the rumor and that she wants to correct it
  5. to the best of her ability, repair any damage done to the target by the act of spreading the rumor
  6. take the next step of building a new and healthier relationship 

Three principles that foster moral independence: 

  1. Teach your student that he and only he is responsible for the consequences of his actions (kids who accept responsibility for their own actions are more likely to live up to their own moral code) 
  2. Build your student’s confidence in his or her ability to make good decisions (Kids who have confidence in their own judgments are not easily manipulated by others) 
  3. Teach your student how to evaluate reasons on his or her own (Kids who have confidence in their own ability to reason are more questioning and more resistant to passive acceptance of orders.)

reference: Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystanders by Barbara Coloroso

Guiding Your Students Through A Traumatic Event


As a youthworker you may be struggling with how to talk with your students about a shooting rampage. It may be difficult to talk to your students about the devastation of an F4 tornado that wipes out a small town. It is important to remember that children look to the adults in their life to make them feel safe. This is true no matter what age the children are, be they toddlers, adolescents, or even young adults.

Consider the following tips for helping your students manage their distress.

Talk with your students. Talking to your students about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all students need to be able to know you are there listening to them.

  • Find times when they are most likely to talk: such as when riding in the car, while dinner, with peers, or at coffee shop.
  • Start the conversation; let them know you are interested in them and how they are coping with the information they are getting.
  • Listen to their thoughts and point of view; don’t interrupt–allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
  • Express your own opinions and ideas without putting down theirs; acknowledge that it is okay to disagree.
  • Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support. Give them a hug.

Keep your ministry settings a safe place. Youth, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. But sometimes home is the environment in which the crisis lives. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your students may come to youth group seeking the safe feeling they denied at home. Help make it a place where your students find the solitude or comfort they need.

Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for teens (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your student’s behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on school work, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months. Encourage your students and their parents to create space where they can convert feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some youth may find it helpful to express their feelings through art. Make concession for artistic expression during your gatherings. Many student lack a broad emotional vocabulary to accurately reflect what’s going on inside their head.

Take “news breaks”. Your students may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. Also, scheduling some breaks for yourself is important; allow yourself time to engage in activities you enjoy.

Take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your students and their families. Be a model for others on how to manage traumatic events. Keep regular schedules for activities such as family meals and exercise to help restore a sense of security and normalcy.

These tips and strategies can help you guide you’re your students and their families through the current crisis. If you are feeling stuck or overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to someone who could help. A licensed mental health professional or counselor can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.

The Art of Connecting with Kids on the Fringe


After a workshop I facilitated on working with kids who have been abused, an elderly woman approached me to ask me a question.  She shocked me with the simplicity and depth of the question.  Here’s what she said,

“I love the kids in my community but I don’t know how to connect with the.  I want to reach out but don’t know where to start.  How do you do it?”

I can’t really remember what I told her, probably an overly simplified answer.  I never thought about it to be honest.  I just did what felt natural when reaching out to others.  Plus, I have the added benefit of being pretty simple, if I didn’t know someone I would just introduce myself and talk to them.  It wasn’t until I talked to my wife that she opened my eyes to the idea that for some this comes easy.  For others though it is an anxiety inducing event.  Imaging, you long to reach out to this generation, a generation that is slipping through the cracks right before your very eyes, but the words escape you when needed.  You don’t know how to connect beyond a simple “Hello, how are you today?”

My wife and I talked about this for several hours over the next few days.  We explored what is involved in connecting with these kids that seemed so different from us.  Asking me how I connect with fringe kids is like asking a fish to describe water.  I spend so much time out there on the fringe that it has become normal.   I have developed, over the years, skills to navigate those waters.  But many others haven’t and don’t know where to start.  That’s what this series in aimed at doing, equipping willing adults to connect with a generation where the gap is ever increasing.  Our thoughts are not exhaustive and it is my hope that other voices will chime in with their experience, wisdom, and insight.

We will cover the following over the next several weeks:

  • Bridge Building – How to make that initial contact in a meaningful way?
  • Cultivating a spirit of learning – Curiosity is key in connecting with others.  How do we foster a spirit of curiosity?
  • Law of the Lid – We will explore our preconceived expectations of these fringe kids and how they impede our interactions with them.
  • The Culture of an Individual – Each student is a culture unto themselves.  We will discuss how to explore that culture as it relates to effectively ministering to them.
  • Doing away with my Agenda – How my agenda actually breeds a distrust that is nearly impossible to overcome.
  • What is our Purpose of our Interactions – Moving from meaningless to Meaningful interactions.
  • Checking our Personal Bias at the Door – Often our personal biases impact how well we connect with others, especially those different than us.
  • Finding Common Ground – Discovering shared experiences, dreams, fear, and failures.
  • What is being said without Words – What story are they telling with their clothes, hairstyle, and nonverbal communication.

I hope you will contribute to this discussion because at the end of the day it will close the gap between us and the adolescents that reside in the world beneath…

Unhealthy Family System Model (Exploring Family pt. 2)


Most members of unhealthy family models oscillate between extremes of behavior choosing, mostly unconsciously, whichever behavior promises the greatest chance of surviving the moment.  You may see many of the following extremes in youth in your ministries.  It’s important to understand that these behaviors are functional and serve a purpose for these kids.  Understanding that will help you know what they need from us most.

High Intensity vs. Shutdown:  Alternating between feeling overwhelmed with emotional vs. physiological responses and shutting down.

Overfunctioning vs. Underfunctioning:  Alternating between working overtime to fill in what is missing vs. falling apart or barely holding it together.

Enmeshment vs. Disengagement:  Alternating between being overclose or fused in identities vs. avoidance, or cutting off leading to disengagement.

Impulsivity vs. Rigidity:  Alternating between behavior that leads to chaos vs. rigid, controlling behavior.

Grandiosity vs. Low Self-Worth:  Alternating between grandiose ideas and fantasies vs. feelings of low self-worth.

Denial vs. Despair:  Alternating between a state in which reality is denied or rewritten vs. despair, helplessness (or rage at having life as we know it slip away).

Abuser vs. Victim:  Alternating between the role of victim vs. the role of perpetrator.

Caretaking vs. Neglect:  Alternating between over concern leading toward enmeshment vs. underconcern leading toward disengagement.

Living with dysfunction is traumatizing to the body as well as the mind.  And living in this kind of system can lead to the kind of emotional deregulation that makes us want to turn to high-risk behaviors (substance use, unsafe sexual behavior, self-injury or violence towards others) to regain a sense of calm and regulation that dysfunction undermines.  The kids in our ministries are not typically “bad kids” making immoral choices because they lack long-term consequential thought processes.  Often the behaviors we see in our kids is simply their best attempt to manage life and survive in a world where most of the adults have left them to fend for themselves.

What Are We Saying When We Don’t Say Anything?


“When we block our awareness of feelings, they continue to affect us anyway.  Research has shown repeatedly that even without conscious awareness, neural input from the internal world of the body and emotion influences our reasoning and our decision making.  Even facial expressions we’re not aware of, even changes in heart rhythm we may not notice, directly affect how we feel and so how we perceive the world.  In other words, you can run but you can’t hide.”

excerpt from Mindsight by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.

If what Dr. Siegel suggests is true then this holds implications for how we interact with young people in our ministries.  For example, a 14 year old girl in your youth group asks to talk to you privately.  She reveals that she is a victim of sexual abuse and to cope with it she cuts herself.  How we respond to her, including our tone, facial expressions, and body posture will all communicate something to her. 

What are we communicating to our young people beyond our words? 

How does this help or hinder their ability to trust us? 

How can we grow in our own emotional management?