Category Archives: anxiety

Control – Do You Really Have Any?


I hate being out of control. I might go so far as to say I don’t know what to do when I am out of control The feeling is there must be something I can control. Oh, maybe I can control Nan. That should help. (Stop laughing)

At least that is one aspect of control. The other is a desperate fear of being controlled.

“Nobody is going to tell me what to do. No way, no how. I got enough of that growing up.”

I don’t know which side of the equation you might fall on – maybe both depending on the situation. I know at times I have flip-flopped between the two. I do know for sure that neither responses work very well. Both will isolate me from people, often when I need them the most.

What fuels both is clear to me: fear. And it’s fear which leads to sin. It separates me from God as well as others. I really don’t like admitting how vulnerable I feel sometimes. Whenever I operate in this way I am really trying to protect the self that I cling to so frantically. The result can not only be withdrawing to protect, but also pushing away others with anger, manipulating, playing the victim, etc. All of those are control mechanisms.

There are reasons why we might operate out of fear. Prior experiences where we have been controlled, particularly traumatic events, may trigger intense fear. Or living in very chaotic circumstances may also generate feelings of needing to maintain control and order over our current environment. Whenever sexual, emotional or physical abuse has occurred, control becomes a survival strategy.

But what do we DO?

Growing up I lived in an environment that had both a controlling parent and a chaotic parent. Of course they were always at odds with each other and I felt controlled by their conflicts. Maybe you have experienced this kind of confusion as well. I learned to hide from my feelings by practicing piano for hours a day. It was something I could control and was seen as a positive pursuit. I could redirect the anger I felt and turn it into a joyful and productive skill.

My conclusion here is that when we are feeling out of control it is possible to focus on something that we can control: ourselves. Sometimes I can’t control a particular situation, and I shouldn’t try to control another person. But I can find a positive way to express my frustration and relieve the anxiety to a certain extent. I did it with music. Others take up a sport or woodworking or reading or another hobby or anything to take the mind away from the restless place it wants to go.

On the other hand if I am feeling controlled I can set reasonable boundaries with the controller. I detach and distance from them as kindly as I can if necessary. I do not let myself be the prey of a bully. That will only lead me to resentment and anger and more fear.

In either case we turn to God and cry out for mercy. We study his word and his promises. We turn away from that constant pull towards sinful thoughts and actions. We pray, we grieve, we surrender and we trust. And we do it over and over again until it becomes a habit.

Put The Glass Down


A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

Remember to put the glass down.

I was just reading this old anecdote again this morning and realized how much truth was being conveyed. You also may have heard it before.  The meaning is clear, but i had some additional thoughts.

It reminded me of the importance of friends and community. Some “glasses” can’t be set down that easily. They have been thrust into our hands without our consent. But we don’t always have to hold them alone.

For others, it seems like they are always picking up glasses that they don’t need to. Every worry is their worry. Every problem is potentially their problem. I feel for these people. For whatever reason life is scary and unpredictable. For them living joyfully in the present is very difficult because they feel as if any moment something unpleasant might occur.

So what do you do if you are one of these “over-thinkers”? How do you “put the glass down”?

  • Do some journaling. Sometimes getting the worries down on paper transfers it from your brain onto a medium where you can look at it from a different perspective. As you read what your have written try to wring the absolute truth from the fear. Is it really as big a concern as you feel?
  • Do something physical. I like to go out and work in the yard and accomplish something. Some people like to do a craft or even get some housework done. Add some uplifting music.
  • Distract yourself. This is my favorite. We call it thought shifting. We intentionally focus on something else. It could be reading a book, listening to joyful music, calling a friend or praying.
  • Read the Bible. What does God say about your worries? What has He promised? Can you take comfort in the fact that He knows all your needs? Are there favorite verses in the Bible that calm your fears? Have you memorized them?
  • Share your worries. Pick safe, positive friends to talk to, and accept any honest reassurances from them that you can. Isolation only makes things worse. Someone else’s perspective may yield some strategies that you may not have considered.
  • Seek professional help. Sometimes it takes the expertise of a pastor, counselor or doctor to shepherd you through the process. There is no shame in that choice, only wisdom.

Mean People

Watching a video series this weekend I was reminded of a tragic condition that pops up every once in a while. Most of the time Nan & I are faced with good willed people that really do want to find peace in their relationship. These sessions are not necessarily easy, but usually they are redemptive in nature. But when we experience meanness from a client, our hope fades a bit, especially when the meanness is seen as normative or acceptable.
Then we do not have a simple behavioral issue, but rather a heart issue – or more specifically a deep brokenness or sin issue.
I would define meanness as the act of exacting revenge or punishing another person. It is often intentional, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it flows from disordered thinking that cannot be brought under control. The person can’t imagine an alternative way to react to circumstances. Unrestrained blaming and anger and withholding are common tactics.   
Mean people are often lonely people. Others will eventually steer clear of them and they become isolated and feel abandoned. Their attempts to connect will be met with resistance and it isn’t long before deep resentment sets in. It is truly a sad scenario.
What is it like to be in a relationship with a mean person? Hurtful. Wounding. Frustrating. Does this person really love me? Are they my friend? Do they like me? They seem so disappointed with me. How long should I put up with this?
Sometimes the root cause is depression or anxiety that has become an unwelcome companion – perhaps for years. For others the core issue is plain selfishness and sin. I want what I want and nobody is going to get in the way of my goals. I refuse to be spiritually surrendered to God, even when I know it is the right thing to do. Either you bend to my will and wants or there will be hell to pay.    
What can you do if you are in a relationship with a mean person?
The Bible says to speak the truth in love. If it is safe to do so, lovingly, but firmly confronting the behavior is the first thing that needs to be done. With some people this works wonders. However, often this is not enough. It might take talk and drug therapy to draw the person from the destructive pattern. You may need to pull back from the relationship until the person becomes more self-controlled. 
The good news is that God is in the heart changing business. He is also in the forgiveness business as well. When we are able to recognize and repent of the damage we have been inflicting on those around us, He is right there to catch us and restore us. And when we have been on the receiving end of mean people, He is also there to comfort us in our distress.