Category Archives: abuse

Xtreme Feelings

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One of the things I like working as a counselor is the ongoing learning that I experience. Not just from books and seminars, but from the process itself, discovering things together with clients as the sessions unfold. Anyone who knows me knows how much I like and rely on my whiteboard. The above whiteboard illustration came during one of these sessions.

We were talking about how extreme feelings produce extreme reactions and usually extremely bad results.  

And often those feelings produce an intense sense of urgency – as if something must be done RIGHT NOW. But urgency causes us to overreact instead of proceeding in a more appropriate and godly manner.

When extreme feelings tempt us we must immediately back away. We are in a relational danger zone and only distance will protect us from potential destruction. In the above mentioned session, I suggested the client should look for alternate explanations when the intense feelings hit rather than accept the first and most feared one. A light came on for the client. He said that in the field of systems analysis and critical thinking, it is called looking for a rival hypothesis. And the solution, he said, is to search for confirming or disconfirming evidence before making a decision or taking action. Wow.

What it requires is slowing down the response and knowing that truth will come in time.

When our emotions get hijacked and the feeling of urgency presses on us, we must assess whether there really is an imminent threat or danger that must be dealt with quickly. In most relationships the answer to that question is almost always “No!” Usually it is a miscommunication or a misinterpretation. I never have bad intentions toward Nan and she never has bad intentions towards me.

So what do Nan and I do when we hit one of those intense rough spots? We get away and calm ourselves down first. We never bring heated anger to the table – never. Then, stripped of blame, we spend time clarifying the issue and if needed, we both own and apologize for our part of the conflict. Clarifying means being willing to listen more than talk. If both people will do that the crisis will pass quickly. Most of our conflicts these days last five minutes or so once we come to the table.

I know some of you are saying “But that seems so hard in the moment.”

Yes, it really is difficult. Much of what is worthwhile in life comes with a price. There is no way to sugar coat it. You must act differently than you feel, because of the benefit that will follow. The rewards are relational harmony and spiritual righteousness.

Ephesians 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’m Just Being Optimistic


I was in a checkout line at a department store behind a woman who had a basket full of clothes and other items. After the clerk rang up the purchases, the woman presented a credit card. Denied! She pulled out a second and then a third card. Both denied. Then she asked the clerk to try the first card again. Was this woman being optimistic?

No, she was in denial of reality and didn’t want to accept it.

I wonder how many times a day this same scenario is repeated? Maybe you have even been there. Or perhaps the issue isn’t financial, but some other refusal to accept the truth that is right before your eyes.

For an addict, breaking denial is the first step towards recovery. This is not news – we all know this. But there are other perhaps more subtle ways in which we deceive ourselves.

  • We keep applying for jobs we are not qualified for hoping someone will hire us anyway.
  • We abuse our automobiles or our bodies and hope they will last forever.
  • We stay in an abusive or violent relationship hoping that this will be the time his sincere apology will really mean a change. (Good luck with that one!)
  • We ignore deadlines and trust that somehow there is a way around the penalties.
  • We hide bills from our spouse and believe everything will turn out OK in the end.

I love optimism. It is a predictor of success in many areas of life. Optimists tend to draw people towards themselves that want to help them reach their goals. (People tend to shy away from perpetual pessimists.) But optimists do not operate outside of reality.

Optimists will:

  • Keep applying for jobs that they are qualified for knowing that one will come through eventually. Or they train for the job they really want.
  • Maintain their health and possessions knowing that it will make a difference in the long run.
  • Leave a bad relationship knowing that a better one is bound to come along.
  • Embrace deadlines as a challenge to get things done and feel satisfied.
  • Share the hard things with their spouse, like bills, and believe that together they will make necessary changes and work things out.

A true optimist sees life with a hopeful perspective. But they do not live with unrealistic expectations. Denial is not their friend, but an obstacle to avoid.

Being in denial of our own mortality is the easiest and most dangerous position of all. However, the reality of the hope we have in Christ Jesus gives us the ultimate reason to be optimistic. If you want to know more about this hope, check out the messages at

Hard and Soft Boundaries

I heard a true story of a rural elementary school that was built on a large piece of real estate. When it was built there was no need to fence it in because there were no safety dangers. The teachers on yard duty just had to keep an eye on the group as they played during recess. As time went on, the adjacent area grew busier and the rural streets were paved and car traffic came closer to the school. The teachers had to set an imaginary boundary for the kids quite a distance from the street for safety. But now the kids’ play area was greatly curtailed. The balls would often roll into the “forbidden zone”, but the kids couldn’t fetch them without adult assistance.
Eventually a high fence was constructed around the play area close to the street that included the formerly off-limits part. The kids could once again use the entire playground because it was safe. Where the imaginary line had been mostly adequate, it had still carried some limitations and risk.
This is a great example of soft vs. hard boundaries.
Whether hard or soft, they are both designed to protect. In relationships they either protect us or others, or both. In abusive relationships, hard boundaries are usually set (“Do that one more time and I leave.”) A soft boundary I might set is to avoid talking about a particular subject (like politics) with certain people. I do not want to cut off the relationship, but I do want to avoid the danger zone.
Another soft boundary might be with time issues. With someone who is constantly late, I might be flexible to a certain degree – but when they are excessively late I may confront them or cancel an appointment or date. In this case I extend some grace but protect them from my anger or resentment when they push my limit.
When interventions are done with addicts, the family and friends always set a “bottom line”. This is a classic hard boundary – and it is absolutely necessary. It is usually very difficult for the family, but love for the addict compels them to suffer the pain of setting and following through no matter what. But if they waffle on the hard boundary in any way the intervention will be a failure. Softer boundaries can be set when the addict completes treatment.
I hate to set boundaries. I don’t like conflict. I hate for people to be displeased with me. But when we set boundaries, people will be angry or disappointed with us. It is unavoidable. I have had family members voice this to me directly. But I am willing to endure the discomfort in favor of emotional health.
Sometimes we set hard boundaries because we are unwilling to navigate the uncertain waters of softer ones. This is a mistake because it often wrecks or ends relationships. We have to be very careful not to set limits with anger or hostility. The goal is not to punish, but protect.
How about you? Do you struggle with this issue? Do you have a hard time settings limits, perhaps because of codependency? Are you harsh in the way you handle disappointments with people? Are you in denial about the need for certain limits in your life? Are you suffering because you are afraid to make a healthy choice, even when you know it must be done?
Those who are in abusive relationships often struggle the most with this issue. If this is you, get some help. Strengthen yourself by enlisting a support team and experiencing the kind of freedom that God would want for you. You might start by reading the book “Boundaries” by Cloud & Townsend.