Skills Building

What is guilt? (Boundary series, part 3)

Posted by on November 13, 2013 in Skills Building | 0 comments

What is guilt? (Boundary series, part 3)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

Being raised in the south, I am well acquainted with guilt. Generations of southern moms have honed its use as a parenting tool. Grandparents, as well, find it motivational. Yet too often what gets called guilt isn’t really guilt at all. Let’s explore this.

In my work with clients, even those well beyond the south, it is common to hear the statement, “I feel so guilty.” “What is guilt?” I ask. And the conversation proceeds something like the following…

 “I feel bad.”

“Okay, so guilt is a feeling that does not feel good. What do you think its purpose is?”

“Well, I’ve done something wrong.”

“So, this feeling calls your attention to something you’ve done wrong. What do you think that is meant to do?”

“It lets me know I don’t want to do that again. And it lets me know I’ve hurt someone.”

“Guilt helps you learn of choices you don’t want to repeat in the future, and it lets you know when you have caused a wound to a relationship.”

“Yeah, and I can say ‘I’m sorry.”

“Guilt also prompts you to make amends. Hmmm. Overall, this sounds fairly positive. While is does not feel good for a time, guilt actually sounds like a helpful emotion. It  helps us to learn from our behavior and nurture our relationships. So why is it that sometimes guilt feels so yucky and won’t seem to go away?”

“Sometimes I have a hard time forgiving myself.”

“Tell me more.”

“I feel bad that I can’t make everyone happy. For example, a friend has invited me to attend a BBQ with her. I’d really like to go, but my son has a birthday party earlier that afternoon, and I know this will wear me out.”

“That’s a helpful example. Let’s apply your definition of guilt to it. You definitely feel bad. So you have that part. What is it you have done wrong?”

“Well, I haven’t done anything wrong. I could go, but I know I’d just feel exhausted and resentful.”

“If you said yes to her invitation when you really mean no – not because you don’t want to go but because you simply would not have the energy – you would end up feeling resentful toward your friend, who had done nothing wrong. This sounds different from the guilt you described earlier. What do you think the purpose of this feeling is?”

“I don’t know. It just feels bad, even though I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“There’s no lesson to be learned or choice to make differently next time.”

“Yeah, but I know she’s disappointed. And I am, too.”

“You both wish it could be different, yet you’ve not harmed your friend. You have nothing to apologize for.”

“I know she won’t be mad at me.”

“Even if she were, would it change the reality?”

“No. I still wouldn’t have the energy to do both.”

“We aren’t able to do all we wish we could. So how do you get past this feeling?”

“I’ve just got to let it go.”

“Admit you’re human.”

“Yeah. I know.”

As you’ve seen through this conversation, we call guilt two very different things. They may feel the same, but they’re not. To help clients start distinguishing between the two, I suggest we call them True Guilt and False Guilt.

True Guilt is actually a helpful emotion. It lets us know when we’ve missed the mark and caused hurt to a relationship, even if the other person does not know it. True Guilt prompts us to make amends and helps us learn of choices we do not wish to repeat.

In contrast, False Guilt is not helpful at all. It makes us feel bad when we have done nothing wrong. The other person may not be happy, yet we have done nothing wrong. False Guilt can, therefore, feel paralyzing – like a straight jacket. Changing our choice is not the path to freedom. Doing so would likely cause other problems, such as resentment or anger, which we would take out on ourselves or others. Admitting we are human – imperfect, with limited resources – and accepting that reality is the only way to get the straight jacket of False Guilt off. You have to put it down.

So next time you are feeling guilty – pause and examine it. Have you done anything wrong? Is it True Guilt or False Guilt? You may be surprised at what you discover.

In both my professional and personal life, I have found we tend to experience False Guilt much more often that True Guilt. So catch it – in the act! Give yourself permission to admit the truth. You are human. Put the straight jacket down.

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Common Boundary Challenges (Boundary Series, part 2)

Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Skills Building | 0 comments

Common Boundary Challenges (Boundary Series, part 2)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

Boundary. What comes to mind when you read that word? A wall? A road block? When first introduced to the concept, people often think of boundaries as barriers, cutting oneself off from relationship, or isolation.  While some boundaries are this rigid and exclusive, most more closely resemble fences with gates. The let in the good and keep out the bad.

A few years ago, the movie Yes Man was released. In it, Jim Carey played a character who said “no” to everything.  In doing so, he missed out on opportunities for fun, companionship, and advancement at work. Later on, he decided to always say “yes.” Doing so put him in unsafe and undesirable situations at times.

The  goal of boundaries is to be able to say “yes” and “no” effectively and with equal ease. “Yes” to the good. “No” to the bad. That’s where each of us has our own challenges. Read below and see which one or two boundary challenge patterns you experience the most.

Compliant: Those who tend toward compliance have poorly defined boundaries. They are like chameleons, always changing, depending on the environment.  They have difficulty saying “no” and thus tend to say “yes” to the bad. They are often motivated by fear and guilt. As a result, they often take on too many responsibilities.

Avoidant: Those who tend to be avoidant have difficulty recognizing their own needs and withdraw in hard times. They have difficulty seeking the help of others and tend to say “no” to the good. They mistake boundaries for walls.

Compliant-Avoidant: Some folks struggle with both of these issues. In essence, they have boundaries where they are not needed and lack boundaries where they are.

Controlling: Those who tend toward a control pattern disrespect the boundaries of others. They can be manipulative and aggressive. They have difficulty hearing “no.” They look for ways to motivate others to take on the responsibility that is theirs.  They lack discipline and impulse control. They often feel unloved.

Non-responsive: Those who tend toward non-responsiveness ignore the needs of others or are too absorbed in their own needs to even notice the needs of others.

While each of us has been known to do all of the above, we tend to experience some more likely than others. In what area do you most struggle? Saying “yes,” or saying “no”? Letting in the good, or keeping out the bad? Being sensitive to the needs of others, or allowing others to help you get your needs met? Which is your area for growth?

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What is a Boundary? (Boundary Series, part 1)

Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Family Wealth, Skills Building | 0 comments

What is a Boundary? (Boundary Series, part 1)

[The following entry was originally posted on Melissa’s Purposeful Living blog at]

If there were only one skill I could teach, it would be boundaries. In both my professional life and personal life, I have observed that there is no more powerful skill than the ability to have, communicate, manage, and maintain healthy boundaries. This applies in our home life, personal life, work life, social life, and spiritual life.

Boundaries are the key to health. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, disappointed, frustrated, afraid, angry, resentful, depressed, anxious, or anything of the like, read on. This series on boundaries can help.

First, what is a boundary? Boundaries can be tangible or intangible. Tangible boundaries include fences, walls, property lines, and even our skin. They tell us where our ownership and responsibility begin and end. They keep in the good, such as pets, children, and organs. They keep out the bad, like thieves, rain, and viruses. Examples of intangible boundaries include words, time, and emotional distance.

Whether tangible or intangible, boundaries serve the same purposes. They help define us, so that others know who we are and aren’t.  They tell us where our responsibility and ownership end and where someone else’s begins.  They help let the good in, such as love, joy, and success, while keeping out the bad, such as pain, abuse, and fear. Boundaries serve to protect our values, feelings, beliefs, talents, and limits. Because they are individualistic, they must be communicated in order to be known.

Boundary challenges are common among families and family businesses. The reason is the multitude of roles each person plays. Dad may be  a boss and a husband. Mom may be a wife and an investor. Uncle may be a vendor, a brother, and also a friend. Cousins may be co-workers, partners, and competition for leadership.

The lines can easily become blurry. How does a father give critical job performance feedback to his son? How does an aunt tell her nephew he is not the best candidate for a job? How does a niece tell her uncle she is being treated unfairly?

My favorite analogy for this situation is the wearing of hats. Each hat defines our present role and thus shapes our behavior. Here’s a story I’ve heard…

A father calls his son into his office and puts his “Boss” hat on. He stands behind his desk and tells his son, his employee, he is not well suited for this line of work and is thus being fired. The father then puts on his “Dad” hat, sits down by his son, and says, “I heard you lost your job. How can I help?”

It’s a beautiful example of boundaries done well. The truth was spoken and handled respectfully. Critical feedback and the need for change was expressed. Relationship was valued.

Nurturing healthy boundaries is a delicate process. One only you can do. One you must do to have healthy relationships, both with others and yourself.

The next entry in the Boundary Series will be “Common Boundary Challenges.”

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Breaking Through

Posted by on July 19, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Breaking Through

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

The past year has been extremely painful. The most painful of my life. I lost a friend, who is family to me, and experienced a grief like I have never known.

As a counselor who has walked through grief of various sorts with innumerable  clients, I know that’s exactly what it takes – walking through it.

I also know it comes in waves. And I spent the last year in the undertow.

A few weeks ago, over lunch with a dear friend, she said “I have a sense you are on the verge of a breakthrough.” The word break echoed in my mind. I responded, “Indeed, I am broken.”

It’s not my nature to be sad. I’m one of those people who could  always imagine the silver lining, without being Pollyanna. The past year has been uncharted territory for me. I’ve been unable to see another side – an end to the suffering.

Yet over the past two weeks, since that lunch with my friend, I’ve begun to realize I am breaking through.  Like a seedling, breaking through the earth, I can see a glimmer of light. I can feel its warmth embrace me, as if welcoming me home.

The love, the loss, the grief, they will always remain. Nevertheless, I am breaking through. I can see a silver lining – that I can be released from the undertow, the grief can occupy a different place in my life, and that this experience can benefit my work with clients for years to come. I can break through. I will break through. I am breaking through.

If you are going through your own version of hell, remember to keep going! You will break through, too.

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Considering Wiring

Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Considering Wiring

I have been considering wiring lately. Not of the electrical sort, but of our personalities. Specifically, I’ve been wondering to what degree are we able to modify the ways in which we’re wired.

We all have a default manner through which we experience the world. Let’s call these thinking, feeling, behaving/body (I know some folks will cringe at my combining those two. I’m doing so here for simplicity.), and observing. The first three are a bent toward noticing what’s going on with you. The last – observing – is a tendency to be more aware of what is going on in one’s environment.  Input from each of these areas provides useful information. In my work with counseling clients, I help them investigate those typically outside of their awareness, in order to gather more information and thus possibly gain a better understanding.

Here’s an example. I have worked with many folks who are keenly aware of what is going on in their surroundings. They can recall in great detail all the “he said’s” and “she said’s” of a conversation. Listening to their account is like being a fly on the wall. And just like fly, I can “see” (imagine) the conversation that took place, but I have no clear idea what’s going on inside my client. All I can do is assume, guess, or ask. So I’ll ask my client such questions as, “What did you think when they said that?” “What (emotion) did you feel?” I’ll admit, I’m not as good about asking what was going on with their body at the time. Was their body relaxed or tense? Were they clenching their jaw, rolling their eyes, or kindly looking directly at the other person?

Again, while we all have a tendency to notice one of these areas more than others, each provides its own unique information. Thus, we can benefit from practicing increasing our awareness in these other areas, even if it’s after the fact.

Another example. I have worked with numerous folks for whom anger is an issue. Some have described it as being “red hot” or “explosive.” They feel like they’re going to burst and at times cannot contain the intensity. The best way to manage anger is to catch it when it’s small. A “cub” instead of a “lion.” We may start by identifying a recent situation in which they experienced intense anger.  I’ll walk them back through the events – very slowly – seeking to identify as many “links” as possible in the “chain” through which the anger developed.  I’ll ask them to identify thoughts, feelings, behaviors, as well as people present, their words and behaviors, and other contributing factors in the environment. Through this process, clients learn about their early, middle, and late warning signs, which they can use as cues that they need to disengage the anger-building process. Again, the sooner the better.

It takes intentional effort over time to develop greater awareness of the information provided through these other perspectives. It will take practice. It’s a worthy endeavor.

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Celebrating Independence

Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Celebrating Independence

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, I’m also reminded of those who are celebrating independence from addictions and destructive behavior patterns. Today, I celebrate and give thanks for their courage to leave abusive relationships, say No, that does not work for me, extend forgiveness and grace to ones who have caused them pain, decide just for today not to drink or get high, no longer procrastinate self-care via dietary changes and physical activity, risk saying “I love you” even when unsure how it will be received.

Just as men and women have and do battle for the freedoms our nation enjoys, making significant, meaningful changes in one’s own life is a battle. To those who take up this fight – I celebrate you today and every day.

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The value of relationship

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

I got a fresh reminder today of the value of relationship. An early morning email informed me that the amazing woman who has taught me horseback riding lessons for the past 5 months is leaving the barn where I ride.

It hit me hard. Tears kept stinging my eyes. As I write this, again they sting.

Riding horses has been a long-coming but only recently developed hobby. Liz has been there since day 1.

From the ground, to the saddle, to the arena, to the pasture, she has taught me so much. Answered soooo many questions! She was there every week. Even in the rain and cold.

She taught me to ride western – walk, trot, and canter. She’s been teaching me to ride English – walk, jog, trot, lots of posting, and two-points. I’ve been eager to canter again and look forward to jumping, but I have never asked “when?” Instead, I simply follow her lead, knowing she’s preparing me and will let me know when I’m ready. She challenges me, but she also ensures I am safe.

She’s passionate, skilled, dedicated, determined, patient, gives just the right amount of positive reinforcement, and knows how to make hard work fun. I am truly going to miss her. She will still be around. I know we’ll stay in touch. But this season is coming to a close.

Today’s experience has given me a fresh reminder of the value of relationship and of the honor of being a counselor and legacy consultant. It is a sacred privilege to be invited, by individuals, couples, and families, into the intimate details of their life. To teach them, challenge them, and help them be safe. Secure relationships give us a platform from which to stretch, heal, and grow. To past, present, and future clients, I say “thank you” for extending this privilege to me.

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Beets and Blueberries

Posted by on June 10, 2010 in Musings, Skills Building | 0 comments

Earlier this week, I had a snack of beets and blueberries. The blueberries came first, and then I enjoyed a few slices of beet. I felt satisfied but decided to cleanse my palate with a few blueberries. Immediately afterward, I noticed that I felt hungry again. How strange! I can’t tell you exactly why this happened, but I can you I won’t be following beets with blueberries again.

I shared this interesting observation with a friend of mine, and she suggested that “beets and blueberries” sounded like the title of one of my blogs, so as I drove home, I considered what the related message would be.

Fairly quickly, I was reminded that just as it’s important to put healthy foods into our bodies, it’s important to put healthy, life-giving thoughts into our minds.

Too often I observe clients and friends and myself entertaining negative thoughts – as if it’s no big deal.

So what, I called myself a dummy. I do it all the time.

We got stuck in traffic … it was a disaster.

Today’s going to be a long day, I can already tell.

While we are not able to stop all negative thoughts from coming into our minds, we do have a choice in how we respond to them. We can embrace them and hang out like old pals, or we can let them float on by.

Did you know that your brain responds to stimuli similarly – regardless of whether it comes through your optic nerve (i.e., from something tangible that you see) or from your imagination (i.e., something you think)???

Thoughts and mental visualizations cause physical changes in our brains. The more these are repeated, the more the experience is etched into our brains. Our brains will then work to resolve the cognitive dissonance – that is, the difference between where we are now and what we imagine or think.

For example:

where we are now = not a dummy       vs.

what we imagine or think = a dummy

Over time, our brains will work to make our thoughts become a reality.

So, our thoughts do matter. In fact, they matter very much.

What thoughts are you going to let feed your mind today?

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Financial Therapy 101: Managing Money Scripts (part 1)

Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Skills Building | 0 comments

By now, I hope you have created a list your money scripts. (If not, please start with the first entries in this series … 1, 2, 3.). Perhaps you are even continuing to add to your list as you discover new ones. Great! Let’s start working on them.

Look over your list. What themes do you notice? Patterns? Repeats? The most frequent? Most annoying? Any of these could be a good place to start.

Pick one script and walk through the same restructuring process I introduced in the Taking out the Mental Trash series. Let’s give one a go together for practice …

Just for fun, we can use one of mine…

1. Give an example of a distressing thought you had during the past few days.

Context: In order to launch Vineyard Counseling, there were a lot of expenses involved. Furniture, lease, business license, insurance, supplies, and the list went on and on.  While building my client base, I worked some from home, so the idea of a laptop was appealing.

My automatic thought was “You have to spend money to make money.” (While this wasn’t necessarily a distressing thought, I did recognize that I needed to examine it, so this process is still useful.)

2. Review the list of thinking error types and identify the errors in your thoughts.

“have to” is a “should” in disguise

3. Is this thought true? What is the evidence that this thought is true?

Some times, but not always. I could not legally start the practice without certain expenses, such as a business license. I could not expect clients to find me without spending money on marketing. I would not function well without a computer, but I had a desktop at home and a desktop at the office, so a laptop was not a necessity. Conclusion: In this case, I did not have to spend money on a laptop in order to make money.

4. To what extent is this thought true (e.g., some times, occasionally, often)? Look out for words like always and never.

There was an unstated or implied “never” (as in “You can never make money without spending money.”)

5. Check for emotionally charged words, such as labels (e.g., stupid, jerk, devastating, horrible). Maintain perspective.

Nothing obvious here.

6. Realistically consider the worst case scenario – briefly. If the thought is true, how will you survive, cope, and overcome the situation?

Obviously, I could function without a laptop, as I did have a desktop.

7. Talk to yourself compassionately. Note the positive.

I can reconsider this decision later.

8. Based on your work above, create a substitute thought that is accurate, realistic, and maintains perspective.

While it would be nice to have a laptop, it is not a necessity at this time. Later, once the practice grows, I will reevaluate and may purchase a laptop at that time. (Side note: I’m happy to share that the laptop soon became a practical option, and I’ve been enjoying the investment ever since!)

Now, try one from your own experiences.

In the next entry, I’ll show you one more tool for managing your Money Scripts.

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Financial Therapy 101: Money Scripts (part 2)

Posted by on April 27, 2010 in Financial Therapy, Skills Building | 0 comments

Step 1: Identify your Money Scripts

Money Scripts are the automatic thoughts we have in regards to money.

Here’s another exercise to help you “stir the pot” and continue to gather evidence as to what your relationship with money is like. (Remember: “Money” refers to all types of financial / material means.)

Exercise 3: Sentence Completion (Remember not to filter or judge; just write down what comes to mind.)

Wealthy people …

The poor are poor because…

Parents owe their children …

Financially, I deserve to …

I believe that giving …

One should never spend money for …

One should always spend money for …

Debt is …

The difference between the rich and the poor is …

Things would have been alright if I had never …

The relationship between God and money is …

The difference between love and money is …

The dumbest thing someone can do with money is …

Because I … I will never …

When I was little, I was told that money …

The wisest thing someone can do with money is …

Financial freedom is …

You can count on money to …

Never trust money to …

Being rich means …

I will always be able to …

Money should be …

It’s likely that this exercise will bring to mind other Money Scripts. Continue to write these down as they come to you. The more you know about your current relationship with money, the better equipped you’ll be to begin reshaping it into something more desirable.

Next week, we’ll begin walking through a process of examining the Scripts you’ve identified. Stay tuned!

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