Category Archives: counseling

Emotional Ransomware

Ransomware

I recently got attacked by an Internet virus in the category called “ransomware”. It installs itself on your computer and encrypts all your files of certain types so they cannot be read. In my case it encrypted all my pictures, word processor, spreadsheet and pdf files. And yes, I went through the stages of grief. It is very insidious because it comes with a promise to restore files that were stolen from you – for a price. The rub, of course, is that you have to trust a criminal to follow through with what they promise. And eventually you will have to arrive at the conclusion: “Not likely.”

I wonder if there are also emotional equivalents in relationships. In the computer version, you believe you are allowing a legitimate program to install on your hard drive, usually in the form of a software or program update. In the emotional version you allow someone to install a program on your heart. And if that “program” has bad intentions or is damaged, it  steals your confidence, your dignity, your choices, or some other quality of life.

What ransom is being asked for by the thief? Perhaps it’s sex. Or it might be complete obedience or exclusivity. Maybe it’s a demand to accept bad behavior unconditionally like anger or criticism or manipulative crying or selfishness.

Breaking it down. What did I do wrong?

First, I was too fast to respond. I didn’t take my time and really pay attention and think through my actions. I ignored a little voice inside of me that asked “Are you sure?” Instead, I wanted to move ahead with the current task and so accepted what was interrupting my screen. Impatience can really get me in trouble sometimes.

Secondly, I was too trusting. I should not have accepted the request on face value without investigating further. I can be naïve. “No one would really try to harm me.” Really? So what are all those security programs for? Just because someone copied and pasted a logo doesn’t mean it’s authentic.

So when it comes to relationships are you impatient? Do you move ahead too quickly out of desire to move from “me” to “us”? As you got older did you feel the time was running out and so now you are not as cautious as you once were? Or maybe you have always been this way and need to reassess.

Are you too trusting and transparent and tend to open up completely when you should be observing and testing. Trust is not just supposed to be given unconditionally. It must be earned over time. Are you swayed by the company a person keeps assuming they are just as reliable? That’s the equivalent of a cut-and-pasted logo. Authenticity is not guaranteed.

A well known verse in the Bible says:

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

I think that’s the best advice of all!

Closing The Reality Gap

Reality Gap

For the last two weeks I have been sharing an inspiration I got from one of our pastors. As is typical for me, I had to mess with things in order to personalize it, but also to solidify it in my memory banks. It seems as I get older it takes more effort to mentally hold on to ideas, thoughts and concepts (OK, also names, dates, places, etc.)

The Problem

If you follow the whiteboard illustration above, you will see a gap between the expectations bubble and the reality bubble. I call it the stress gap because when our expectations don’t line up with reality it will potentially cause all kinds of feelings. Feelings like disappointment and anger and frustration and disillusionment.

Maybe not fully readable in the picture is the word ‘unrealistic’ in the expectations bubble. By definition, when our expectations don’t reflect reality, they are unrealistic. Have you held on to unrealistic expectations that have caused you pain? I know I have.

The Solution

When we discover that we are holding onto expectations that fall outside of reality we must first fully acknowledge them. This means recognizing that we have had a blindspot in our perception. I have found that as I deal with my blindspots I mature.

Next we must choose to surrender these unrealistic expectations. I have to let them go, but often they are powerfully rooted in my desires. Taking then to God in prayer is one way to approach this act of humility. This will lead to the next step, which is grief.

I have often spoken of grief in these posts. Grief is the result of loss, even when the object of the loss never had substance to begin with. It doesn’t matter, it still hurts. As a child I wanted a grand piano, the bigger the better. Given my family’s finances it was impossible. But it was a deep desire. When I was old enough to realize that this was something I could never expect from them, it was a loss.

The next step is the final stage of the grief process: acceptance. When I can accept reality it will lead me back to readjust my expectations. Every time I repeat this process it will narrow the gap between expectations and reality until they are fully overlapping. My belief is this alignment will eventually produce contentment because we are no longer chasing the impossible.

How have you experienced this in your life?

Where do you need to engage in this process with the goal of finding peace, joy and contentment?

 

4 Steps to Avoiding Relationship Trouble

For years Nan & I have given the instruction to clients to ask themselves

“What do I feel and what do I need?”

It’s good advice, but it’s not complete enough. Then we came across an expanded four step version from therapist and professor Terry Hargrave, who attends our church.

It is as follows:

  1. What do you feel?
  2. What do you believe?
  3. What is the truth (reality)
  4. What is the right action? (This is where “What do I need?” might be a good question.)

We like to tell a story about early in our marriage when Nan & I went camping in Upper Chileo Flats in the Angeles Crest Forest here in California. It was late at night and Nan needed to make a bathroom visit. So she took the flashlight and headed for the outhouse. I was tucked snugly in our 1960 Ford Vanette hippie van camper named “Big Pink”. All of a sudden Nan came bounding in to the camper and jumped in bed behind me and started pushing me toward the open door with her feet.

“There’s a mountain lion out there. Go do something!”

I remember that what I wanted to do was to put my pants on. But like a dutiful new husband I grabbed the flashlight and went to investigate. Instead of the roar of a mountain lion, I was met by the meow of someone’s kitty-cat.

Nan’s 4 steps:
  1. What did she feel? Fear
  2. What did she believe? There was a lion after her and she was in danger.
  3. What was the truth? It was a harmless house cat.
  4. What was the right action? Well, maybe to pet the cat if it was friendly.

She also had one more belief. The Bible said a husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the church and be willing to lay down his life for her. (Eph. 5:25). Maybe this was a test of faith for a new husband?

When these four steps are applied prior to emotional interactions with others, the outcome may be very different from our initial assessment. You can easily see that if we have inaccurate beliefs or assumptions we are going to react incorrectly no matter what we may feel. This is why slowing down our reactivity in any type of relationship will probably yield better results. It is so easy to believe that someone is against you when they really aren’t. Maybe they are just for themselves. Or perhaps they are actually for you, but it’s hard to receive because of past experiences or family of origin issues.

When I get a hold of my inner dialog and bring it under Christ’s authority I am a different person. As our pastor says, before a person opens their mouth to ANYONE, they should ask themselves these three questions:

Is it kind?        Is it true?      Is it necessary?

If they can’t say yes to all three conditions then they should not say it. Going through the four steps will help determine the answers to those questions and change your interactions for the better with everyone.