Grief – The land between…

Grief – The land between…

Do you wish there was an instant switch from insight to doing life differently? 

Have you ever been stuck in the transition between dysfunction and learning how to live in a new way? 

Back in 2015, I heard Jeff Manion speak on his new book, The Land Between.  I purchased the book at that conference and have referred to his thoughts many times since as I have passed through various transitions.  In therapy at Phenix, we walk our clients through a grieving process after we have deconstructed their story.  As I would explain the process to my clients, I caught myself using that phrase, “the land between” to help them understand where they are in the process.  It finally occurred to me to return to Jeff’s material to see if there were any specific concepts that I could adapt specifically to this grieving process.

Jeff uses the bible story of the Israelites leaving Egypt and the time they spent in the wilderness as the metaphor for his book.  Often, clients come to us because they are ready to leave their Egypt.  As we unpack the story of how they got there, they become more and more convinced that they are done with the dysfunctions of their past.  Treatment planning involves painting the picture of their “promised land” where healthy relationships, living in their calling, pursuing a career they love, intimacy with God, healed mental struggles, strong emotion management or physical ease reigns.  Problem is, a vast wilderness exists between Egypt and the Promised Land and the journey is not linear!

Not only do we need to learn the skills required to thrive in the promised land, we first need to release the waste products of our Egypt.  That is grieving.  The wilderness is necessary.  It is the place we shed our identity as slaves to our family of origin and position ourselves to live as our true selves.  Just like the Israelites…if we skip over the process, we may find ourselves languishing in the wilderness far longer than needed.  As much as grief sounds like the root canal we want to avoid, sustainable living in the promised land demands we move through it.  So, buckle up and let’s review some guiding principles for the journey:

  • Our season of grief is fertile soil for meltdown.  It is likely the main reason why most of us avoid it.  The thought of allowing emotions to emerge can feel too intimidating:  What do we do with the emotions we experience?  What will happen if I express them?  What if they consume me and I can’t function?  Those are the concerns we face together and we equip you with the tools you will need to sit with and actually benefit from, your emotions.
  • Grief is also fertile soil for complaint.  Let’s define that term.  It is not lament – which is pouring out our heart’s emotions.  Complaint is judgement against God, it is implying (or flat out stating), that we were/are better off without God.  Thankfully, God is strong enough to handle our complaints and we specifically hold space for that in therapy if desired.  For those who don’t subscribe to a Higher Power, it is judgment against life itself and the order of things – however we make sense of it.  Complaint resists eviction which is why most of us require assistance for moving it out.
  • Opening hands to release the past makes space for provision.  In therapy, provision looks like mental and emotional space for the new story.  It looks like the skills and mindset needed to enter the promised land.  As we release the self criticism, bitterness, fear and guilt of our old story, provision can look like contentment and strength.
  • Our informed consent disclosure details the risks of therapy – that classic dilemma of, “be careful what you ask for”.  One of those risks is the fact that grieving reveals our own shadow selves, inviting discipline in those areas.  This is often a painful process but it is also a rescue mission, a course correction that calibrates our compass toward our true selves…our purpose.
  • The hope of grief work is transformational growth.  It is the soil God uses to grow the things our hearts desire.  Grieving is the soil for learning to trust because trust is required for thriving in the promised land.  Trust of self, trust of healthy others, trust of God.  Trust pushes out complaint.  It evicts the lifestyle of victimhood.

So whether you need to grieve a death or the losses you’ve identified in therapy, don’t skip the process.  Seek out a wilderness guide (counselor) to help you make the most of the journey.  If you live anywhere in FL, reach out to us!

Tending the Garden

Last month we looked at sowing – how to begin the process of creating the life we want to  have.

This month, we are exploring the next step in the process – tending the garden as it begins to grow. Tending has two main parts, pruning and weeding. Both require patience.

Pruning starts as the plants begin to grow. You’ve done the hard work of prepping the garden and sowing the seed, patiently waiting for the little leaves to show. However, as the plant continues to grow, sometimes some leaves, branches, or stems need to be cut off or shaped for it to grow even more full and tall – to reach its potential. 

Have there been times where you realized certain parts of your old life (or people) needed to be cut off so you could continue to grow? Pruning can be painful. However, cutting off those parts that are dying or holding us back can make all the difference.

Weeding, on the other hand, is something else entirely. I view weeding as more of a protective mechanism, rather than something done to push towards growth and transformation. Weeding is figuring out which little seedlings are from the seeds you planted, and which are invader plants that will cause harm or kill off the newly formed growth.

I have to say, I was avoiding this blogpost. See, I can talk about pruning all day. It’s not pleasant but it is a different type of pain than weeding. Pruning comes with choosing that a leaf or branch needs to go. So yes, definitely painful, but there is not a sense of betrayal. When the weeds are first growing, they look a lot like little offshoots of the seeds. Like maybe they will be beneficial to the garden, not harmful. Recently, I realized one of the offshoots I had in my own life was actually a massive weed. It started showing its true nature and for my own safety and sanity, I had to pull it out. Weeding can leave you with the questions of “how did I not notice this sooner?” or “did I do something wrong?”. It left both for me. I thought this weed was a seed I had planted, one that would actually bear much fruit. Instead, it was a weed that was prepared to take out the entire garden.

Has that ever happened to you? It’s difficult to put into words the feelings that come along with it, as well as the sense of betrayal. If you have had to recently pull out some weeds, I encourage you to give yourself some time to rest. The weeds were realistically syphoning a lot of nutrients from the soil, so you may feel depleted or discouraged. Resting will give you time to build back up, to heal, and then to begin growing again. 

Take some time to examine your garden. Are there leaves or branches that need to be pruned? Are there weeds that need to be removed? If so, what is the game plan for protecting the garden you have spent so long preparing and nurturing?

The importance of sowing

I am currently smack dab in the middle of this time in a therapist’s life called Registered Internship. It is a time where grad school has finished (thank You, Jesus) but you are not yet licensed. It is this in-between time, this time of transition. Often, it is viewed as a segment of life that one wants to pass through as quickly as possible, licensure being the ultimate goal. We have all had times like these, whether it be the 9 months before a new baby is born, the training time as you begin a new career, the unknowns of buying and selling your first house, or medical appointments with no clear diagnosis yet.


So what do we do in this time in-between? Between our origin and our so called destination? Besides focusing so much on the destination and what it might look like that our own anxiety runs rampant?

You can sow.

You can ready the soil, sow the seed you wish to plant.

What would that look like for you? What would it look like to be intentional with your day to day activities, including having time to rest? What would it look like to reach the destination one day and NOT be burnt out from the journey?

Most importantly, this time of transition invites us to slow down. Sowing takes time. A harvest does not come up from nothing.

It takes discipline. It takes patience. It takes consistency.

We are taught in America that we can have what we want within moments. What used to take months or years now takes minutes. So it makes sense that this pattern would then be expected to transfer to other areas of our lives. However, our growth, maturity, and change does not happen overnight. It takes time.

I was challenged recently to look at a story from the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem with the intent of rebuilding the city’s walls. Verse 11 says this, “I went to Jerusalem…”. That is the extent that Nehemiah discusses his trip. However, if you look at where Nehemiah began and where Jerusalem was, the man walked close to 1,000 miles. Let’s review that again, shall we? He WALKED a 1,000 MILES. I walk a few and am ready for a nap. Doing the math, if he didn’t stop to sleep, eat, or rest, it still would have taken him around 14 days to get to Jerusalem. I’m assuming he did all of the above to not be burnt out when he got there (and to still be alive).

He took the journey. It would not have been perfectly smooth. It would not have been a piece of cake, and there was no car or airplane to help him get there quicker. He had no idea what Jerusalem would look like since their defensive wall had been destroyed. He had no idea what he was walking in to, yet he took the time to take the journey.

I wonder what that time was like. How did he change and grow? How was he challenged and what did he have to overcome? In what ways did he have to rely on God for more than just food?

Sowing takes time. We can rush through the unknown to reach our supposed destination, but what will we have missed along the way? Will we be burnt out and exhausted upon reaching it? If so, what good does that do us? What are we trying to prove?

The quality of the sowing you do impacts the harvest. If you haphazardly throw the seeds around hoping they stick, or plant as many as possible as quickly as possible, or only plant when it feels convenient to you, your harvest may not be as bountiful. However, if you take the time to learn how to sow the seeds, which ones you want to sow, how they need to be taken care of and watered, and how to ready the field properly, you might be surprised.

Taking the time to sow new seed is also scary. You never know how the harvest will turn out. Here’s what I’ve learned though: I’d rather take the time to slow down. I’d rather take the risk of planting the seed well and choosing new types of seed, than rushing through only thinking about the final result. I learn more. I grow more. I rest more. I also become more disciplined and consistent, kinder, and more loving.

There is a joy that comes when a new little seedling emerges. When a new little leaf begins to bloom. However, if we are so focused on the destination that we miss it, we might end up missing more than just seeing a leaf open. We end up missing the moments that make life beautiful. The little ones that we never forget.

And who knows. Maybe the destination you have been so focused on is actually very different than you think. Maybe the quality of the destination, or the time you get to spend there, is all based upon how you sowed during the moments when no one was watching.

Pandemic Combustion Prevention


Illustrate combustion

Have you about reached your limits after almost 8 months of chaos? Most of us began this season in March with some level of anxiety but a commitment to be careful and a belief that “this too shall pass”. Well. It hasn’t quite gone that way, has it? Not only are we staring down the barrel of a resurgence as winter approaches (something the experts predicted back in April), but add in social unrest, election vitriol and a complete breakdown of societal support and structure across every level. While folks have developed a routine of one foot in front of the other to get through our days, even those of us privileged enough to still have a job with the freedom to work from home, are beginning to realize that our gas tanks are near empty. With no end in sight, what is the plan?

It is time to stop and be strategic. As much as we would love to believe in the magic of a new year, 1/1/2021 will not bring with it any major changes. We are looking at more of the same for many months to come. In the coming weeks, we are supposed to figure out how to celebrate holidays without putting ourselves or others at undue risk. Not to mention – find the energy to do so. As mental health professionals, we’ve been observing all of this and feeling compelled to bring reasonable strategies to the table along with specific action steps that we can focus on as we bring this year to a close.

Treat your brain like your favorite recipe – the ingredients you put in determine the end product. 
What are your priorities in life? Is it a mission you are called to; a role that you value – leader, spouse, parent; a set of spiritual values?  What are the concepts bigger than you which should drive the way you do life?  Once you have clarity on priority – become a diligent curator of everything you consume!  The websites you visit, the people/accounts you follow on social media, the shows you watch, the books/articles you read, the videos you watch, the podcasts you listen to, the music you play…take a militant stance toward each and every ingredient being deposited in your brain.  Does each one align with the priority you identified?  If the ingredients don’t match up, the dish you end up with will not have any resemblance to what you claim to be of importance to you.  Remember quality matters as well.  Marinara made with grocery store tomatoes cannot compare to the sauce made with heirloom tomatoes from grandma’s backyard, right?

Action step: Spend a week making note of everything you take in, then sit down and make decisions about what needs to go and what ingredients are missing in light of what matters most to you.

Protect space in your life to notice, identify and express your emotions.  If you struggle with knowing what emotions you are experiencing, try using this emotion wheel to give you the broader vocabulary which may help you get more specific about what you are feeling.

label emotions

Or…maybe words are not your issue, perhaps it is just not feeling connected to emotion at all.  Relying less on your brain to figure it out and more on listening to your body may help.  Just sitting quietly and scanning your body to find areas of tension, relaxation, pain, discomfort, unease or any other sensation can give you wonderful clues as to what is happening emotionally.  There are very good reasons why we lose connection to our own internal life and this is where therapy may be a great idea to build back that connection.

Action step: Experiment with a daily reminder on your phone for various times of the day: try morning, mealtimes, afternoons or bedtime.  When the alarm sounds, dedicate 10 minutes to tuning in to how you are feeling and express it in some way: draw something, find a song that matches, share it with someone or write it in a journal.  By the end of the year, you will know what techniques work and what time of day is best or you will have clarity on the fact that it is time to reach out for assistance.

Seek quality information and focus on the basics over which you have control.  Choose properly qualified sources for health information. (No, your meme-posting college friend who works in banking is not a good prospect). Look for people who are on the front lines of this pandemic – treating actual COVID patients or doing the research currently – and listen to their reports. COVID-19 was first reported on December 31, 2019 globally. Ten months is a very short period of time in the world of medicine. We have to expect the information to deepen and grow each week, so taking any kind of permanent stance on what works and doesn’t is not wise. Find good sources, listen to the information for yourself so that you can make wise decisions about your health and those with whom you come in contact.  If you have friends working in the microbiology, epidemiology or infectious disease fields, ask them for recommendations.  Here are a few resources to consider as well:

Medscape Resources

Simple model of what we currently understand regarding how the virus is transmitted. Note this is based on computer modeling and assumes a person in their most infectious stage of the virus.  The encouraging news is how effective simple strategies are against this worst-case scenario!

Laurel Bristow, Infectious Disease Researcher

Samantha Yammine, PhD – Neuroscientist/Science Communicator

Kennen Hutchison – PhD Student-Neuroinvasive Virology

Action step:  Find one or two good qualified sources for pandemic research information and do your best to minimize everything else so that you can protect yourself from panic and overwhelm.  Take a look at the basics in your life: gentle nutrition, sleep and joyful movement.  These are the things over which you have the most influence.  Determine the baby steps you can take to gain progress in those areas.

Abandon ‘all or nothing’ approaches to social engagement. We need each other and so we need to be flexible in creating opportunities to connect.  We are called to physically distance – we do not have to socially distance.  It is time to let go of waiting on how it used to be.  Grieve the days that are in the rear view mirror.  The ways in which we interact – both in person and digitally are changed forever.  Change is constant.  We will have some elements of contact back someday AND we will have precautions that will stay with us indefinitely.  Many of us have refused to reckon with this reality, holding out for a return to “normal” while life passes us by in isolation.  Don’t skip the grief: the reckoning, the hurt, the fear, the anger, the sadness, the acceptance…it all must be attended to if we are to avoid the subconscious consequences.   Acceptance is hard won.  It looks like intentional strategies to regain what has been lost, from new sources.

Action step: Commit to the digital tools you may not enjoy as the price to be paid for relationship: video calls, phone calls, apps.  Feel the irritations, the frustrations, whatever difficult emotions you have and move forward anyway.  Put these digital connection appointments in your calendar so that they have a chance to slowly work their way into your normal routine.  Use the information you have gained from the science community to develop reasonable strategies for in-person gatherings.  Talk to your doctor about your unique vulnerabilities.  Discuss your decisions with friends and family and find the ones who are willing to commit to the steps required for minimizing risk to yourself and loved ones.  Make those folks members of your pandemic pod and enjoy your time together!

Would you benefit from a step-by-step walk through in applying these suggestions?  Click here to download our pacing manual!  We provide the questions and worksheets to help you identify your priorities, evaluate your media consumption, manage your emotions, improve your sleep, design your pandemic pod and prioritize your relationships.  We also provide great resources for learning more about helpful phone apps, nutrition and exercise.


Business Success

**This is the second in a two part series.  Click here to read the first post.***

Intelligence and knowledge are so common these days that we can’t trade on just those anymore.  Emotional intelligence, applied to corporate culture design is now the factor that sets you apart and is the key to longevity.  Yesterday, we defined business smarts as the usual trifecta: strategy, marketing and finance.  ‘Smarts’ gets you in the door.  Let us not minimize that.  However, you need emotional intelligence to work the room.  Here’s the cool thing: learning requires clarity and interest so organizations that focus on health automatically get smarter.  Whaat?!  Think about the airline in yesterday’s story.  Their company has the smarts but smarter does not automatically lead to healthier since we are typically relying on expertise rather than creativity and relationships.  It’s like a bank safe full of cash (smarts).  Organizational health is the combination to access the safe.

Organizational health is an integrated and intentional approach to the things we already know matter, but usually attend to in isolation: team building, strategic planning, productive meetings.  Reflect on my airline fiasco story from yesterday.  Can you fathom the losses leaking from the bottom line daily?  (Every member of our group ended up with a $500 flight credit.  A credit I have been loathe to use as I NEVER want to sit on one of their planes ever again).  Organizational health is ridiculously expensive to ignore!  More importantly, the physical, emotional and mental toll on you when you work in an unhealthy culture is far too high a price to pay for short term gains.

As a counselor dedicated to holistic health – this is the factor that drives my passion for helping businesses design a healthy culture.  Combine that with my 15 years in the corporate world in various positions of leadership, several years of higher education leadership plus seven years as a successful business owner and you have a uniquely qualified individual who understands both the business and psychological components of organizational culture.  The fact that healthy organizations are more likely to increase productivity and profit is a nice bonus that pays the bills for all of us 🙂

To learn more about organizational health – check out this great resource:


Let’s talk business

**This is the first of a two part series.  Link to the second post is at the bottom.**

After 30 minutes on the plane, we were all asked to get off as the mechanical problem identified needed further attention.  We were a band of 25 people from Orlando heading to a connecting flight in Newark that would take us to the other side of the world for a study abroad course.  This was not a great way to begin our adventure.  When the plane was still unfixed a couple of hours later, tensions rose.  We began to abandon hope that we would be able to continue on together.  However, as negotiations began to figure out how to get all of our members across the Atlantic, employees insisted that since our tickets had been booked as a group – they could not break up the reservation to split the group onto available flights.  This, despite the very real mathematical problem of ZERO flights heading into Greece with 25 open seats over the next several days.  The story is long and epic so I’ll offer the low-lights:

  • Due to employees’ inability to use common sense and creatively problem-solve, several flight opportunities passed before they finally realized they would have to split the group.  One half was put on a plane to a connecting city.  The other half was placed in a hotel for the night which turned out to have trouble with running water.  The staff at the hotel commented that they are forever housing ‘refugees’ from this airline.
  • When the second group boarded their plane the next morning, they again had to deplane when a mechanical problem was identified.  They eventually left on a different plane.
  • Both groups upon arrival in Frankfurt found that their reservation had not been properly transferred to the partner airline that was rescuing the flights and so they had no seats booked to our destination.  Thankfully, this new airline did have a different organizational culture and a few nail-biting hours later, managed to book seats for every person….except one who ended up having to wait alone in a foreign airport for a later flight.  It just so happened that she was the one student who had expressed a mortal fear of being separated from the group because on a trip she had taken in undergrad, a classmate was separated from the group and found murdered.  We begged and pleaded for someone else to be left behind but already taxed by their efforts to fix the ticketing problem, they explained that because the original airline had not broken up the group booking in their system – they were unable to switch out any individual tickets.

This particular airline has been in the news numerous times over the past few years for GROSS mis-steps resulting in severe consequences.  They are a perfect illustration of poor organizational health manifested in high turnover, low productivity (major fleet issues), politics which prevent employees from having the freedom to problem solve, confusion and low morale.  The employees we encountered were clearly unhappy and we could not blame them.  The public remains puzzled as to how these problems continue.  A closer look at the players reveal experts in all the usual concerns: marketing, finance and strategy.  Clearly, the problem is not smarts.  So what is it?

Organizational health.  I’m not talking bean bag chairs and napping rooms here.  It’s hard to describe; difficult to measure objectively, but you KNOW when it’s good (Southwest) and you KNOW when it’s bad (the airline we were on).  It’s a simple concept but it’s incredibly complex to implement.  Finance, Strategy and Marketing (smarts) are the what.  Organizational health is the how.  The way in which you implement and maintain budgetary management, goal setting, and telling the corporate story – that is organizational health.  That strays into emotional and awkward territory which is why it is typically skirted over in management schools (or spoken of largely in intellectual terms) and avoided by most managers/leaders.  Problem is, as organizational culture expert – Patrick Lencioni asserts: sustainable success is impossible without BOTH smarts AND health.  Business leaders may want to stay in their ‘smart’ comfort zone but guess what?


Intrigued?  Interested in learning what this looks like and how it applies to you?  Stay tuned tomorrow for more…

Part Two



At the GLS event I mentioned a couple of months ago, I heard Juliet Funt speak on the concept of “whitespace“: that business of intentionally creating a space for NOTHING so that creativity can emerge in the workplace.  An excellent reminder and validation of my love for this concept in our personal lives.  Our culture is driven by the need for constant activity and most of us are completely enslaved to the merry go round.  There are two main traps we tend to fall in for this obsession with activity: The trap of achievement – believing that we are only as worthwhile as our productivity…hence there’s never a time we can feel at peace when we are still.  Or, there is the trap of emotional avoidance.  Sitting still becomes a dangerous dynamic to be avoided at all cost because it allows one’s pain and anxiety to emerge!   Often, you’ll hear folks caught in these traps exclaim, “Oh, I have no time for that”, or “Oh my goodness, I would go crazy sitting around doing nothing” when presented with the idea of rest, retreat, white-space.  I chuckle internally when I hear these tell-tale words.

The reality is, we absolutely need quiet time in order to grow.  There’s the irony – so often, we go, go, go because we’re trying to achieve, to progress, to accomplish.  All the while, in the absence of appropriate down-time, we’re actually moving backward.  Often, without realizing it until it’s too late.  The epiphany typically arrives in the form of physical illness because our bodies keep score and when we ignore it’s need to rest and recuperate, it eventually takes its revenge.

My focus today though is the emotional aspect.  This blog is about personal transformation.  With that in mind, where does white-space fit in?  Transformation begins with awareness, continues with learning and is then cemented by action.  In order for new learning to be integrated, it must be consolidated – a process that cannot happen during activity.  It only happens during times of quiet.  Have you ever noticed that you attend an amazing workshop where you learn great concepts but weeks later, you’re struggling to remember what you found so revolutionary?  Or, perhaps you pulled an all-nighter in college, studying for a big test and then drew a complete blank on so much during the exam?  These are examples of what happens to learning without white-space.  If we do not take the time to STOP and reflect on our new awareness, understanding and insight, we don’t retain it.  We don’t act upon concepts we don’t retain and thus, we stay stuck in patterns of dysfunction.

When clients have covered a lot of territory in session, I always warn them to take some downtime within the next 24 hours to let their work consolidate.  Eventually, I teach them to build this space into their regular routine so that there is ongoing room to grow and they don’t have to scramble for it when life brings them new opportunities.  Personally, I try to model this in my own life, regularly spending time in nature.  This week, during a quick trip to GA, I asked my host about the local parks and was guided to a fabulous nature trail.  My friend and I remarked how just one hour on the trail made such a difference in our mental outlooks…not to mention how much better our bodies felt after hours of driving the day before.

You may find yourself resonating with these words, making promises to yourself to find more white-space in your life but if you are caught in one of the two traps I mentioned, it’s easier said than done.  Your source of worthiness must be addressed if you are to ever make peace with stillness.  You must acquire the skills of emotion management if you are to become willing to let frightening feelings emerge.  Likely, you have specific family stories that have left you ill-equipped or believing lies that will forever hold you back.  If you don’t know how to work on cars, don’t you take your vehicle to a mechanic?  If you never learned to work on appliances, don’t you call a repair company for your broken refrigerator?  Yet somehow, when we recognize a gap in our mental or emotional skills, we hesitate to contact a therapist who is trained in the very skills we lack.  Strange, isn’t it?  Consider breaking that trend and give us a call if you realize your struggle to create white-space goes deep into territory you haven’t yet mastered!

“Safe” People

I actually don’t like that term “safe” since it’s definition is: absence of risk. We all know that no part of life meets that definition. I think we’ll go with “safer” people. The concept has been mentioned in previous posts so I thought it time to focus on what I mean by this business of finding and connecting with safer others as we work on our own personal transformations.

You know that cliche phrase, “birds of a feather flock together”? It’s a cliche because it’s true. We attract the sort of people who match our dysfunctions. They either play the complementary role or share similar behaviors. Makes sense that as we address our dysfunctions, we would see increased conflict with our fellow birds, unless they too are willing to transform. As I mentioned in my last post, once we get past the grief of recognizing some birds will be left behind, we face the dilemma of finding new ones. How do we avoid collecting more of the same? How do we identify that which is healthier when we are in the midst of still figuring out our own healthy? There are three components which have emerged over the years in my own life as I am blessed with a tribe of safer people.

Safer people have worked on their own dysfunctions to the point that they are able to focus fully outside of themselves when they are with others. They aren’t perfect but because they’ve taken a long, hard look at their own pain, they don’t retreat into it or project it on to you when your pain surfaces. When we are with these folks, we feel connected and that their attention is focused primarily on us.

This is such an overused word – it has lost specific meaning in our world. In this context, I want to define the word as ‘valuing the other’. When someone values you, they consider the ways in which they speak to and treat you. They make every effort to tangibly demonstrate care and concern; they listen to understand instead of to simply respond. Since they’ve worked on themselves, they’re well aware of their own shadow and so they offer grace for yours. Not that they allow themselves to be taken advantage of, but they don’t shame or condemn.

Keeping it real
Here’s another abused phrase. It has become a way to excuse being a jerk. It’s right up there with, “I’m brutally honest”. That’s not what I’m going for here. What I’m talking about is the person who will be authentic with you. They share their real selves and they tell you honestly, how they are affected by you and how they truly feel. So, once again, safer people don’t avoid confrontation, they don’t allow themselves to be bullied – instead, they find healthy ways to communicate what’s really going on. Because they have established their acceptance of us, we are able to hear these difficult truths and use them in our transformation process.

Hopefully, this begins to ‘flesh out’ the safer people we need to be looking for and gives you a matrix to evaluate the folks already in your life, the new ones you meet and most of all, yourself! For further study – check out Cloud and Townsend’s excellent book on this subject. Books are wonderful but they don’t hold our hands and walk us through so find a wilderness guide to help you if you’re struggling.

Every day I’m hustlin’


See more synonyms on
Adjective 1.
of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way.
Noun 2.
one who is codependent or in a codependent relationship.

“Codependent” is so overused at this point and has come to mean just about any version of an unhealthy relationship.  I want to use a different term – one I’m borrowing from Brene Brown’s vernacular…she calls it hustling for love.

I’m referring to this business of denying or minimizing self in order to be, do or say what another person wants.  We take care of things the other should be handling in order to make ourselves indispensable.  We hustle like this because we want to be loved.  We don’t trust that we will be loved as we truly are and so we put on masks, we become something we are not, we enable, in order to be what we think will be loved.  The problem with all of this though is that when love comes our way, only our false self can receive it.  Underneath, our true self never receives love and so we spend our lives unfulfilled and lonely, even in the presence of loving others.

The issue has been top of mind lately due to many conversations with a friend who has been focusing on this in his life.  What we have taken great notice of is the fact that once awareness is gained, once root issues of self worth are tackled, the ultimate step of healing involves doing: engaging relationships from one’s new position of awareness and worth.  But what if you don’t have any “others” in your life, qualified to take the journey with you?  What if you have only gathered others who need a hustler?  Who don’t know what to do with an authentic self?  This is an issue we don’t often see anyone discussing.  All the books and articles focus on what needs to change within us and how to behave differently, but I haven’t found anyone discussing the others.  So here goes:

  • When we begin the work of examining the way we relate to others and the roots of those relational styles, we must also begin the work of identifying the characteristics of healthy “others”.  Many of us have not been exposed to enough examples.
  • We need to also brainstorm where healthy others can be found and begin to position ourselves accordingly.  This may mean new social activities or increased involvement in groups we previously marginalized.
  • We need to communicate every step of our journey to existing, important others in our lives so that they have the opportunity to come along, to adjust to who we are becoming.  If we don’t communicate, we leave them confused, defensive and possibly hurt by our internal changes.
  • “We are not ourselves by ourselves” says Peterson.  These efforts to transform our social circle will go a long way in our own self knowledge as we bring stories from our interactions into counseling.  It is a key experiential aspect of therapy!
  • When we have achieved enough awareness and worked through some of the core issues of self worth, it is time to identify a couple of healthy others in our sphere with whom we can practice being our newly authentic selves.
  • From this point forward, it is all about relating in likely opposite ways to how we have before.  It is intentional and consistent.  This process needs to be a regular topic of counseling so that there is a constant feedback loop for learning.  It is a terrifying challenge but it is the final step in true transformation.  There is no other way to permanently change the meanings we have made of life experiences.  It is a messy business filled with mis-steps requiring honest communication from which to recover.  We may need to make a few changes in who we include in our tribe which then involves a grieving process for the ones who simply do not have what it takes to enter this new territory with us.  The payoff is a level of connection and relational joy we never thought possible.  Benefits that cannot be achieved with solely internal peace and knowledge.

Now it’s your turn…What aspect of mental/emotional health is on your mind these days?  What are you currently wrestling with?  I want this space to be useful!  I’m also considering doing a weekly Facebook Live which will focus on what YOU want to hear about, so give me your feedback.

The mechanics of change

I am sitting in a hostel in Brussels, Belgium at this moment – taking some down time to rest before heading out for the evening.  I’ve been away from home now for four weeks and I can definitely testify that leaving one’s comfort zone for extended periods of time facilitates much internal transformation.  Next week, I’ll write more specifically about that.

Today, I’m reflecting on a conversation I recently had with my travel companion about the process of change.  When we decide to renovate some major area of our lives, what does that look like from the inside?  Going to a counselor is usually reserved for more significant repairs, so this question would certainly pertain to current or future clients.  I answered from my own personal experience though.  One of the core values of Phenix Counseling is that I cannot take anyone where I have not personally gone (in terms of the process of facing our own shadow selves).

So for me, it begins with awareness.  Recognizing not only the problem, but also (usually with the help of another), how I am contributing to the problem.  What is it about me exactly that is facilitating the pattern and how did I come to be that way?  I need this insight in order to have productive conversations with myself and that is pretty much the meat and potatoes of the change process for me.  Let me break it down:

  • When I figure out the past experiences that led to my current way of approaching things and what meanings I made of those past experiences, I can choose a new perspective that will give me the motivation and logic to take a different path in the here and now.
  • Looking at the question of – how did I come to be this way…why am I behaving dysfunctionally – helps me understand myself enough to figure out what need I’m trying to meet.  I have to brainstorm ways to meet that need in a healthier way if I am to have any hope of success. I turn these ideas into practical plans: what will do instead, when and how will I make that happen?
  • Then….the rubber meets the road.  Real life sets in and change comes down to tiny moments of decision we face in the everyday.  Here’s where that constant conversation with self comes in.  It’s a messy process and it took me a little while to try and explain it.  At first, I catch myself “after the fact”.  I resort to my old ways but at least I realize it soon after.  Then…I start to catch myself during the process.  I remember when I decided to relate to my husband differently, there were times when words from my old perspective would be coming out of my mouth but in my head I would be thinking, “you need to stop talking”.  Yet somehow…the word vomit continued and I was faced with cleaning up the mess afterward.  Then comes the ability to choose my new strategies before I mess it up.  This begins to happen more often than not until I solidify my new way of being.

Of course, it never happens in this linear fashion – I circle around and through these stages in no particular order until I establish some sort of stability.  Oh how I wish it was like the one-way journey of the caterpillar to the butterfly!  All of this has to happen within the context (cocoon) of others who can help me analyze and assess my thoughts and behaviors throughout the process and with folks who have the patience and ego strength to be on the receiving end of my changes.  I am blessed to have that kind of environment and often, I find the greatest work in therapy is helping my clients build such a support system before they can tackle the things they need to change within themselves.

I hope this little window into my world helps those who struggle to become who they are meant to be.  Our journeys are unique – others would describe their process differently but I believe the commonalities are the mess and the time it takes to cross the desert of transformation – it’s always longer than we planned.  Wherever you are in that trip, be encouraged and don’t skimp on the task of ensuring you have solid travel partners!