Mental Health View of Touch
It’s almost impossible to find someone today that hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic and current lockdowns. People are dying, financially struggling, religiously and politically divided. Some would say these hardships are necessary for progress and advancement, while others would disagree.
What does seem to be universally felt and agreed upon is the need to be in physical community and be touched. I’m not talking about being touched in a figurative way, like when a friend you haven’t talked to in years reaches out and wants to take you out for lunch; but physical touch like hugs, kisses and being close to one another.
While technology has afforded us some form of safety by allowing us to stay in touch with loved ones, it is no substitute for actual physical contact. The truth is that while we may be engaging in protecting ourselves from physical death, we may be ensuring mental and relational death....which one could argue would still result, down the road, in physical death.
This is not a position piece on politics, but it is a piece on the importance of touch and how we’re made and function. Whether you believe in creationism or Darwinism, there is no denying that human beings thrive in community. Human beings function better mentally and emotionally in community.
As a mental health counselor, I meet with countless people struggling with depression. One of the more notable symptoms of depression is isolation. One of the treatments for depression is developing a support group of people who can be there when depression is heavy.
Why does the DSM 5 continue to focus on social and community supports as evidence based treatment?
Every Continuing Ed course for mental health therapists I’ve attended have always stressed the importance of having social supports and being in a positive community that can help hold you up when you’re in the midst of a mental health struggle.
Every medical doctor I have worked in collaboration with regarding mental health treatment planning for a client has always emphasized, to the client, being in therapy as well as being supported by friends and family. All of these medical authorities and resources all seem to agree that community and being in positive relationship with other people is significantly important to an individual’s mental health.
Physical touch, kisses, hugs, warm embraces allow us to feel accepted and acknowledged. When we lack that, there is an increased absence of acceptance and acknowledgement. Physical touch increases our confidence. When we lack touch, we see increases in low self-esteem. Physical touch helps us communicate and when we lack that opportunity we see increases in frustration because we can’t communicate affectively (I.e a child who can’t form sentences and is trying to communicate something important to his/her parents).
Physical touch is an important part of existing that can’t be dismissed or diminished. A child who is physically neglected can grow up with a proclivity to live on the fringe; simply because they do not know how to be in community. They often suffer from chronic depression and anxiety and in some severe cases suffer from a personality disorder.
Physical touch is hardwired into our brains and necessary for surviving and thriving.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
It’s been quite some time since I sat down and wrote something for this blog. Pretty much the entire first half of 2018 has been very busy. That being said, I felt compelled to write a piece on men, emotions and counseling.
This could be a generalization, but from my professional experience as a therapist, men don’t like talking about their emotions and they certainly do not like going to counseling to pay a third party to help them do that. All too often, what I have heard from men is that counseling is pointless and a waste of time and money. The other unfortunate comment I have heard is that counseling is for women and weak men.
I believe these comments come from a couple of places; a man’s upbringing and man’s understanding of emotions. Before a man is a man, he is a boy. Boys are taught what is socially acceptable and responsible forms of behavior. Boys are often taught to be competitive, to win, to protect, to feel no pain, to always be grounded, to not cry.
I don’t have any issue with competition, winning or protecting. What I do have an issue with is the absence of the messages of when its ok to cry, when its ok to be anxious and sad. A boy learns from the messages he hears, as well as the messages he doesn’t hear. A boy will often look to his father as the model of how to respond and react to life. Unfortunately, many fathers are left not knowing how to raise their son with a healthy emotional quotient; that’s likely due to generations of fathering that didn’t include emotional development.
A boy who doesn’t learn to walk through the whole emotional spectrum, have it modeled for him by his father is at a disadvantage. I work a lot with adolescent and teen boys and the most common issue I see plaguing boys of this age group is anger and depression. This anger and depression comes from having a wider array of emotions that are complex, but because they weren’t taught or know how to “process/talk-about them” they resort to what they know, anger and trying to control who ever is in their immediate environment.
The harsh reality is that many boys who only know how to compete and be angry, grow up to be men that only know how to compete and be angry. This is where men lack understanding of what emotions are. Emotions are not weakness and they are not something that is meant to be ignored.
As a man, if you ignore your emotions and feelings and you do so for years you risk anxiety, depression, maybe relationship issues, divorce, addiction, sexual issues, physical illness, etc. There is a fine line between being led by your emotions and being able to process them. Counseling can help a man figure out how to do actually process his emotions and learn how to be healthy in his responses.
If you are a man don’t look the other way on emotional and feelings work. Don’t simply try and tough it out. You can’t always stuff your issues as it usually leads to extreme blowups. You can’t only show anger, because that leads to being isolated.
If you are a husband and or father and have son/s, start modeling for them the full emotional spectrum. Start showing them that its ok to be multi-dimensional in their emotions and make sure to talk with them about it. Being focused on your emotional development is just as important as being focused on gaining muscle and being in shape. Being strong and healthy emotionally, leads to many benefits in other facets of your life.
If you got questions, feel free to reach out to me on the Burien Counseling website
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
When to Report Child Abuse
Reporting child abuse of any kind is certainly a difficult topic. Identifying what passes for abuse can be an even harder one. I have heard stories in the past where a care giver was unsure if what they were seeing constituted “abuse”, so the abuse went unreported. Another reason why abuse may go unreported, is because a family may be trying to protect the perpetrator who happens to be another family member.
Understanding why its important to advocate for children, especially in abuse situations will be helpful in reframing your views on reporting child abuse and child advocacy. Children often lack the ability to advocate for themselves due to emotional and psychological development. When abuse happens in a child’s life it interrupts their emotional and cognitive development. Children are often placed in situations and scenarios they don’t understand, because a parent or caregiver forced them there and by forced, I mean did not factor in their opinion on the matter. Abuse in a child’s life leads to a higher probability that they will have anxiety, depression and possibly other psychiatric symptoms. So understanding that children are unable to advocate for themselves in ways that adults are, should help in changing your perspective on early reporting.
Secondly, understand that when you report you are being protective and preemptive. You are saying, “No” I will not allow this child to be abused anymore” and you then are stepping between the child and perpetrator and helping to prevent future abuse. I understand that many think and believe that if you report abuse to CPS, they will come and take the children away. CPS looks at every case individually. They examine the severity of the abuse, the duration, the type of abuse, the age of those involved, how long people knew the abuse was occurring, etc. CPS wants to make sure that the child is being protected from those who seek to use and abuse them to meet their needs. That is why they exist.
Third, it’s important to understand the different types of abuse that are looked at. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services there are 6 major areas of child abuse and neglect:
You and your kid may not have experienced the above situations, but there are situations that cause parents to ask, “Is this abuse?” and “Should I report it?” I understand your hesitation, especially when the behavior that may be considered abuse is not black and white and doesn’t fit the above definitions. Ask a mental health professional. Take a course in understanding abuse and the signs of abuse. Call CPS and report what you know or suspect. By reporting early, you are ensuring that the child will no longer undergo further abuse, you are advocating for the child’s development emotionally and cognitively and you are helping to potentially decrease the possibility of the child having severe mental health issues later in life.
The bottom line is child abuse is destructive. Children can’t advocate for themselves. Reporting is important. Do not be the person that protects the abuser at the cost of the child.
Early reporting helps the abused and it helps the abuser.
If you would like to read further, check out the link:
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
What can I say about rest?
Well it's something I've never been great at. Even after ten years I'm still learning to rest. Probably even more of a lesson that I'm learning is being content. Somehow those two are inextricably linked. Rest and contentment.
Over the course of the last ten years there has been lots of accomplishment, lots of pain and growth. All of which were and still are blessings by the grace of God. Probably the hardest thing to do is sit be quiet and be content. My mind is constantly moving thinking about the next step or five. But nevertheless this is where God has called me. Being content means I get to actually enjoy what I've accomplished. I get to enjoy what I've bought. I get to enjoy what I've been given.
This concept of contentment has been tremendously helpful for my anxiety and depression. By taking an inventory of my life on what's positive and what God has given me, I'm able to slow down and enjoy the day. This has become an invaluable lesson. My wife has commented that I'm a better husband when I practice contentment. My daughters benefit more from their dad when he is focused on them and not accomplishing or acquiring something all the time.
Rest has been another critical component to my mental health, really overall health. This has been a hard fought lesson. Rest has not been something I do very easily. I've always thought if I wasn't doing something, I was being lazy. This thinking has led to me being more tired, getting sick more often, being angry, having no energy to do anything.
So, here I sit writing this piece while celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I can officially say that I rest better and practice contentment more often, but certainly have more to learn. Rest and contentment is a choice and not something to be approached from an obligatory place. You get to rest, not you have to rest. You get to be content, not you have to be content.
Is it possible that when you shift your thinking to choose to rest and be content you impact your anxiety and depression in a positive way? Possibly? Maybe there's not a one-size-fits all answer to this, but should be an on-going dialogue.
Well, that's all for now. Till next time
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The Poison of Comparison
Maybe it's worth noting that all of us are guilty of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe you've convinced yourself that you don't care what others think of you or that you are individualistic.
For many of us we spend an inordinate amount of our thought life comparing ourselves to others. We measure ourselves in terms of money, accomplishments and wealth. We delude ourselves into thinking we are Type A personalities and we are just being "goal oriented"
But that's not really what's going on. We are slowly poisoning ourselves through comparison. We must have what is popular and in. We must be liked. We must accomplish. We must be powerful. We must be loved and admired.
How many of us are responsible for creating anxiety because we are trying to create an image that we believe others will like? How insane is that thought?! We create the very cognitive audience to which we bow down and say, "yes masters", I will change my actions, behaviors and even physical image to make you happy.
Who among us is left with depression because the cognitive distortions of what others expect of us are relentless. They are never satiated, because they are often fragments and insecurities that have been given too much power in our lives....by us.
It is not advantageous for you to compare!your life to someone else's. To look upon someone else's existence and believe they have it better simply because they seem to have a more favorable outward appearance. Solomon, credited as the wisest man in history was famous for saying in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. Comparison is nothing new. Yet we are surprised at when it causes clinical anxiety, depression or a variety of mental health issues.
Our desire to please is a core issue that simply isn't being addressed. Be real with yourself and ask tough questions. Am I poisoning myself my constantly comparing myself to others? Am I creating the perfect environment for anxiety and depression to grow?
Not being a people pleaser and being content with what you have and who Christ made you to be is a life long journey. But at some point you have to make the first step and begin that journey.
Stop drinking poison. Look to Christ
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Do you remember every little interaction and words people say? Do you often give friends family and co-workers the "cold shoulder? Do you often explode without much notice? Do others describe you as a bitter angry person? Do you lack community in your life, because you've burned all of your relational bridges?
Do you think you are often right and others are wrong? Can others call you out on your BS?
If you identified with any of these questions you might be an emotionally aggressive person. People in your life don't know what to do with you. They won't be honest with you because they fear you will have a hostile response. They are tired of being the target of your passive aggressive emotional tirades.
Now I understand that you may feel that there is legitimacy in your anger. You may even feel victimized, because your friends and family don't understand you or for some other reason, that you likely don't even remember.
But is that reality, is that what is really going on? Step back and take an objective evaluation of your behavior and responses. If people in your life cannot be truthful with you, ask "why". If your friends and family keep interactions brief with you and the conversation topics light, there is a good possibility that you've abused them with your emotional immaturity.
Now some bad stuff may have happened in your life and you got dealt a terrible hand, but does that give you license to victimize the people that care about you with your emotions?
That's a rhetorical question, the answer is unequivocally No. You have a responsibility to treat others fairly and lovingly.
You likely have emotional baggage and need professional support to sort it out. You cannot expect the people you're abusing with your emotions to be your counselors. That is ridiculous and inappropriate. They are there to support you, love you and listen. They are not meant to psychiatrically and therapeutically treat you.
You owe it to yourself and those around you to find a good therapist and start working on your issues. You don't want or need to spend the rest of your life being bitter, believing you're a victim and holding others emotionally hostage.
Take responsibility, seek help today so you can have better relationships. Being angry is no way to live.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
One of the hardest things about depression is being able to step outside of yourself.
All too often depression creates a cycle of morbid self-introspection that causes……more depression. As the depressed person, is the answer to learn more cognitive tools to combat the depression? Is the answer to take medication in hopes that it’ll change the way you think? Maybe the answer is to go back to a time when you were most happy and replicate that…maybe?
Depression treatment requires a willingness. It demands an ability to fight. I often tell people to get angry at their depression. Get angry that certain moments in time, specific interactions with people, trauma or medical conditions would seek to dictate how they live out their present. Depression would like nothing more than to see you defeated. It would very much like to be that wet blanket on the campfire. Depression wants you to be completely ineffective.
As a Christian, getting angry and fighting back against depression looks like having faith and trust in Christ and a humility that says you’re your circumstances are outside of your control.
Seems counter-intuitive addressing depression treatment this way. But as a Christian it is imperative to understand where true power comes from, that it doesn’t come from within you, but that it comes from the one who saved you. There is no amount of power, in your depression, that you can muster up and pull yourself out of the gloomy depths. I have seen people try and try again, only to find that they never really climbed out.
The bible speaks extensively on the topic of humility. The old testament talks of humility well over 900 times and the new testament speaks of it over 300 times. What can we say if the bible brings up this issue so much….it might be worth paying attention to.
The question then becomes, “Is it loving and merciful to speak of humility to someone wrestling with chronic depression?”
This is tough to answer. It is tempting when walking with someone dealing with depression to excuse them from the responsibility to respond to Christ in their suffering. Our suffering, internal and external does not make us exempt from humbly responding to God. This may be a harsh outlook, but one I believe to be true.
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This verse is plain and simple, but hard to execute. This verse isn’t saying, once you’ve got your life under control and your circumstances are less chaotic, then humble yourself before the Lord.
Humility in your present circumstances.
The reality for many Christians is a life of depression and inner turmoil and assault. Learning the value in humility for treating depression is priceless. Understanding the character of God is necessary for moving forward in your depression. Knowing the promises of Christ anchors you on solid ground, when depression seeks to blow you away like a leaf in a violent storm.
Be honest with yourself, how much do you know about the character of God? Do you understand the promises of him? How transparent are you with those around you about your depression? do you let others in to walk with you? Do you isolate yourself because the people around you, who love you don’t simply let you sit in your misery?
These are questions that I feel important for you as the individual with depression to be asking yourself. Forcing yourself outside the bounds of depression is uncomfortable and uncertain, but you can begin to see a bigger world. Finally, please don’t give up. Seek to understand how you can be humble in your circumstances. Fight hard. Always remember that you have a choice in your depression.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Some days are better than others and some days are terrible. This is not something I share lightly or even share with pride. It is debilitating and very real. On a day-to-day basis, it interrupts my life. I lose time. I lose sleep. I can perseverate on specific fears. It can result in depression and loss of relationships. It is not easily described, understood or tolerated.
I have fears and anxieties that compel me to act compulsively. These compulsions, I know do not fix any of my anxieties, nor do they take away my fear. On the contrary, they create a more vicious cycle. An internal cycle of obsession fed by compulsion. How would I begin to share this with anyone? How do I describe the symptoms of OCD with not being laughed at or worse yet, believed?
Let me tell you what OCD is and what it isn’t
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder. OCD is a disorder that it is clinically diagnosed when specific criteria is met; when anxiety reaches levels that causes significant deficits in a persons’ life. Usually at the root of OCD is a fear/s that may be connected to real life trauma. The person obsesses on the fear to the point that it causes anxiety and in severe cases panic attacks. From this point, the person creates ways to decrease their anxiety from the fear by creating a ritual/habit/compulsion. Initially, this compulsion seems to bring relief from the anxiety, but it is temporary. The anxiety usually returns, but much stronger and the person needs to engage in the compulsive ritualistic behavior at a much higher frequency. There are some similarities here with drug addiction. The first time someone gets high, they don’t need that much. The longer they do it, the body gets accustomed to the substances, the more they will inevitably need to do to get that same first high.
What OCD is not.
OCD is not something to be proud of. I have heard people talk about how they like cleanliness and things to be organized and they say things like, “I’m pretty sure I have OCD.” And they will say that with a smile on their face, as if living with this disorder is some kind of secret virtue. OCD is not stubbornness and it is not simply wanting things to be a certain way, due to selfishness.
That being said, I frequently am meditating on Romans 12:2, 1 Thess 5:18, 1 Peter 5:7 and 1 Corinthians 10:13
Questions that constantly flow through my head each and every day are:
Rom 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. How do I not be transformed by this world?
1 Thess 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. How do I give thanks in all my circumstances?
1 Peter 5:7 cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. How do I cast all my anxieties on the Lord and what does that look like?
1 Corinth 10:13 No temptation[a] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. How do I trust God to lead me through temptation?
I share this with the hopes that it may be helpful for those with OCD and for those who do not suffer from this disorder. There is still a responsibility from everyone that is in the midst of suffering to respond in a worshipful way Jesus. For me that looks like regular reading of the Bible so I can understand who God is, what He promises and who he has called me to be. It means going to church to worship Christ. For at least one day a week, I get to take the focus off myself and place it on the one who gave me hope. Finally, I must be in community. In community, there is hope for life, change and love. In my isolation, there is only loneliness and misery and no freedom from OCD.
If you feel this piece would be helpful for others, please pass it on.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
My goal is to always write from the heart and to incorporate professional knowledge and personal conviction. I have been very passionate and determined to write as much as I can on anxiety when it comes to the Christian faith. This picture of someone having a theology like a vending machine has been something that I have been thinking on for sometime. It hasn't been until now that I have been able to make a connection with that illustration and the very real issue of anxiety.
What do we know of vending machines? They're big metal boxes located in convenient places with a variety of snacks that are a quick fix and will temporarily fill you up. Provided you have the money, you usually have at least 10 different options to choose from. The commitment and price is low enough for many people to not think twice about purchasing a candy bar or bag of chips. After all, it's like what....a $1.25-$1.50 for chips. Nothing that's going to break the bank or cost you lots of time.
What do we know about anxiety? Anxiety can happen for many reasons which include divorce, drug use, abuse, chemical imbalances, improper body functioning, death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc. Anxiety can create feelings of despair, worry, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide. Anxiety can push people into isolation and loneliness. Often times good professional counseling and medication are required for stabilization.
So how does a vending machine and anxiety connect? Helping someone with anxiety, chronic anxiety is tough and there are no easy answers. It takes commitment and sacrifice. Unfortunately, many Christians adopt a "vending machine" approach to helping the person with anxiety. It is easy to give a verse out, pat yourself on the back and say,
"I did my Christian duty. If they don't change it's because they don't want to and aren't trusting Jesus enough."
Vending machine theology doesn't require heavy commitment. It requires minimal understanding of who Christ is, doesn't cost a lot in time and won't be all that sacrificial. This theological approach is not dissimilar from believing in magic tricks. Just say the magic words and you'll get the desired outcome and if no change happens, blame it on the individual you are carelessly throwing verses at. This approach is lazy, unkind, lacks grace and any understanding of what anxiety is and what the person with anxiety is going through.
As a believer in Christ, our duty is to love those who suffer all afflictions and walk with them for as long as we can. Don't just throw verses at someone with anxiety, be in their life, walk with them through their emotions, show them Christ in your actions and words. Be a student of God's word. Understand his character and promises. by doing this you'll be an incredible testament to God's power and grace and a blessing to those with anxiety.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Anxiety is a disorder that seeks to control us, as I've said in previous posts. When emotional pain is present we would like nothing more than for it to go away. Many of us Christians may even pray, "Lord take this from me" or something like that. Its hard to imagine in a moment of great emotional turmoil that God is allowing it so that we may learn to trust in His good character and promises.
Sometimes our circumstances are caused by variables that we could not control and sometimes they are self-inflicted, which ever the case may be, it does not remove our responsibility and opportunity to draw close to Jesus. In the midst of difficult circumstances. The Bible is filled with examples and testimonies of lives that went through incredible pressure and stress. One of those lives was Joseph in the Old Testament. Let me ask the question, "What can we learn from the life of Joseph in the Old Testament"?
We know that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. We know that he was accused of trying to seduce his master's wife. We know that he spent an unknown amount of years in an Egyptian prison without any knowledge of when he would be freed or if he would be executed.
Jospeh endured and suffered much at the hands of his family and almost anyone else he came into contact with.
What the Bible doesn't elaborate on is Joseph's thought process through all of his hardships. It doesn't detail how he was feeling after just being sold, by family into slavery. It doesn't talk about the hurt he may have experienced being wrongly accused of seducing Potiphar's wife. And the Bible doesn't talk about what Joseph's thoughts were while sitting in prison, awaiting his fate.
Joseph faithfully trusted in God in his circumstances for his life. This task must've been difficult, because there was no immediate relief. If I was in Joseph's situation I would be scared, anxious, nervous, fearful and distrusting of God...if I'm being honest.
Joseph's life serves as an example of how we can respond to anxiety with faith in Christ. Jesus may not deliver us from emotional pain, like we'd like but He won't leave us and will faithfully provide for all of our needs.
My hope is that anxiety will not be slavery, but allow you to respond to Christ's calling as an invitation to surrender and trust.
1 Thess 5:18
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
What Does the Bible Have to say about Anxiety?
Christians are not immune to anxiety. Simply asking Jesus to be your savior does not miraculously free you from stress and worry. This is why it's important to know and understand what God says regarding anxiety and what he promises.
First, I feel inclined to say that anxiety is a real psychiatric/medical disorder that affects millions of people every year, christian and non-christian. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Anxiety exists, because we live in a fallen world that is sinful. Our world does not work as it should. It is completely possible for a Christian to have anxiety and not be because of choices they have made. It is important as a body of believers we understand this, that we have compassion on our brothers and sisters that suffer in silence. Anxiety does not carry the same consequences as a terminal illness; yet we should be just as sensitive.
For the rest of this piece I'm going to camp out in Matthew 6:25-34
“"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,” “yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'” “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” “"Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Over the years I heard the last portion of this scripture thrown at the brother or sister who is experiencing anxiety, as if saying don't be anxious about anything, relieves the anxiety. It's important as Christians that we not proof text and toss a piece of scripture at someone in pain and call it good.
First things first, Jesus says don't be anxious. In as much as that's a command, it's also an acknowledgement. Jesus knew you would be anxious and here He is acknowledging the pain you are feeling. Second, Jesus backs up his commands with promises by saying He will provide for all of our needs. I believe those needs encompass relational and emotional components. Third, Jesus uses birds and flowers to illustrate how He provides for us. I don't know about you, but I don't worry about how birds are going to take care themselves or how flowers will survive. They make very little impact on my day, yet God uses these pieces of his creation to illustrate his provision. If God can and does provide for birds and flowers, how much more will he provide for those that are made in his image? Kind of a rhetorical question:)
Fourth, Jesus gives you a focal point and that's him. Anxiety wants you to focus on what you can't control, thus creating more anxiety. Jesus wants you to focus on Him and how He is in total control. As a Christian, all of life should be centered around Christ anyway. Stress is going to happen because life is broken. Anxiety doesn't always have to be a bad or crippling thing, but a glorifying thing where you work out your faith in Jesus, grow in how you trust him and ultimately experience his strength and sovereignty more fully.
You can have anxiety for a myriad of reasons, but it shouldn't stop you from worshipping Christ.
The Bible teaches that anxiety is real, we will experience it; but we can trust in the promises of God that He will take care of our needs like he takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.
Next time you experience anxiety, I would encourage you to view it as an invitation to draw closer to Jesus.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Why Does Anxiety Happen?
Why does anxiety happen? There can be any number of answers to this question. Certainly the way the body functions can play a significant part in anxiety being present and possibly chronic. An irregular neurotransmitter production can cause imbalances that may increase the likelihood of anxiety.
For many of us anxiety can be present for numerous other reasons. Some of which can be relational dynamics, transitions big and small in our lives, career choices, parental challenges, academic pressures, etc.
What I have found in my years of working as a mental health professional is that a persons' anxiety is often present because they are trying to control something in their life that wasn't meant to be controlled. Many times the root problem of anxiety goes unidentified for years with treatment only addressing symptoms.
If you've been in counseling for any length of time you may have heard the terms, "positive and negative coping strategies". We all engage in trying to reduce emotional pain in our lives through application of said strategies. Some do it positively and some do it negatively. The problem I have with simply focusing on identifying the negative coping strategies and replacing with positive ones is that, at the surface it is only dealing with the behavior.
From a biblical counselor's perspective in addressing anxiety, a persons' identity has to be a foundational piece. The Bible teaches that as a Christian you are made new in Christ and given a new identity. This is not to say that as a believer you will somehow be spared anxiety or depression, but it should give hope as to where you can put your faith and anchor your identity.
Anxiety is tough enough and you certainly don't need to be defined by it or someone who is just getting by. Make an effort to answer the questions, "Who Am I" and "What is my identity ?"
I’ve had the privilege of sitting and sharing in the lives of many married couples. These couples come to counseling for many reasons, but the most common one is bad communication. Not because the they somehow lack the ability to talk at one another, but rather they don’t understand how the other is defining words like honesty, trust, love, respect, sexual intimacy. I find that many couples will work hard on their communication issues and see progress, but still be stuck. They are often stuck because they refuse to acknowledge a major core issue and that is sexual intimacy.
Sex is a significant part of marriage where each spouse gets to connect in one of the most vulnerable and sacrificial ways possible. This however, is an area that many husbands and wives find themselves stuck and deeply hurt in. Sexual intimacy is something that is cultivated over a long period of time. It requires patience, sacrifice, prayer and being teachable.
Unfortunately, many spouses have been hurt through sex with one another and do not want to pursue reconciliation either because they don’t want to or know how to. Because this is a pattern for many husbands and wives, it can leave them in very dangerous territory. When there is a lack of intentional sexual intimacy and pursuit on the husband’s end, the wife will feel empty and desire an emotional connection. This is often where emotional affairs begin with another man. A husband should always be considering, “how do I pursue my wife in a way that serves her and provides for her emotionally.”
When a husband lacks healthy sexual intimacy from his wife it opens the door for cognitive distortions. A husband may believe that he is physically unattractive, a bad sexual partner or has some other deficits. Due to this perceived rejection a husband will often turn to porn to satisfy him. Unfortunately, many wives are OK with this.
The difficulty in a wife being ok with her husband looking at porn, is that it only serves to create an unrealistic expectation for how sexual intimacy should happen. Secondly, the husband will little by little not find his wife attractive unless she is doing what he sees on the computer screen. What used to excite the husband sexually has become more and more twisted. This is not unlike a drug or alcohol addiction. The first time you get high or drunk, it doesn’t take that much, but to achieve that same feeling each time after, it requires more and more.
I want to give some practical suggestions for husbands and wives as well as anyone who is walking with a married couple through this situation.
1. Husbands, it is intensely sacrificial and vulnerable for a wife to give herself in sexual intimacy. Value this, acknowledge this and listen to her.
2. Wives, just because your husband wants sex all the time, doesn’t mean they are an animal. Do not encourage your husband to look at porn because you are mad at him for not anticipating your needs.
3. Frequency doesn’t equal quality. More sex doesn’t always mean a closer marriage and better foundation. If you are walking with someone who is having marriage problems in this area, be mindful that your advice is not, “just have more sex”. You need to be aware that for some married couples there may be present medical conditions making it hard to have sex. Additionally, be aware that there may be sexual trauma in the marriage that is causing a barrier.
4. Husbands and wives teach each other how to be sexually intimate. As you get older you can’t rely on how you viewed sex and sexual intimacy like you did in your 20s. When you’ve been married for some time you have to show humility and be willing to accept that you don’t know everything.
Finally be gracious with one another, be slow and intentional. Don’t give up and rest on your assumptions that your husband or wife is rejecting you. Share your needs and wants and be in prayer together. Husbands and wives, pursue each other and by doing so you increase the possibility of having a healthy marriage and fun together.
It’s that time of year again when kids groan and parents rejoice. The summer has been long, parents have done everything they can to keep their kids occupied and out of trouble. Summers are often filled with lots of vacations, staying up late and kids getting much more freedom than during the school year. By August, most parents are tired and ready for their kid to be back in school and get a “normal” routine underway. This however, can be quite challenging and if you’re a parent reading this you know what I mean. Most mental health professionals and agencies see a spike in the need for services right around the start of the new school year. Often the type of service that is needed is behavioral.
Why is this?
Kids have a hard time transitioning, especially if it’s from doing something they love (i.e. staying up late, playing with friends, vacation, etc) to something they don’t love (i.e. school). The beginning of the school year can really be shock to their system. They have to be up early, eat a full meal, learn new rules, meet new people, understand their academic responsibilities, be disciplined in doing their homework, accommodate to afterschool activities, participate in family time, go to bed on time so they can get a good night’s sleep just to do it all over again. For us parents, this seems like no big deal, because we have had to be responsible for a great many things for a lot longer. We’re used to carrying that weight. But for the average kid, this is A LOT and can be overwhelming.
There will always be outliers and exceptions to the rule. There will always be kids who are more responsible than their age and are able to handle more than their peers; but they can’t be the standard of measurement. Being overwhelmed, stressed and anxious can look different for every kid. Sometimes their stress comes out in verbal and physical aggression. Sometimes they will become more isolated and not open up, giving off the perception that they are depressed or overly sensitive. Certainly these are not the only ways kids will seek to deal with their stress, these are just examples I have seen in my practice.
Kids with behavioral challenges don’t necessarily have a psychiatric issue, they may be just dealing with an overloaded plate.
Things to look for as a parent of a kid going back to school:
1. Are home expectations reasonable?
2. Have you overloaded your kids schedule because you want them to achieve and have lots of memories?
3. Are their academic expectations reasonable? (Talk with their teacher, develop a rapport, communicate what your kid can and can’t handle)
4. What’s your communication style like with your kid? Are you staying consistent with your messages? Are your messages always negative? Are you trying to be more of friend? Are you too strict?
5. Does your kid feel like they can be a kid in your home?
6. Is there a lack of structure in your house? This can be a significant reason why behavior challenges occur. When a school environment has more structure and the home environment doesn’t behavior challenges will happen because there is a sharp contrast between the two environments.
Really the goal here is to be intentional with your kid and better understand what they can handle, what they are good at and what they can grow in.
So you’ve decided to go to counseling...
I want to encourage you that this a good thing. Something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of. Think of it as going to the gym to improve your cardio and overall physical health. Counseling is that thing that allows you to address aspects of your life in an objective environment without the speculation and judgement from subjective relationships. Using the gym analogy again, is it wrong to improve your cardio health? Is it wrong to increase your strength from weight lifting?
Maybe you’ve had a doctor or someone you know in your life express concern for your physical health and tell you to get in the gym. Well going to a therapist should be no different, you get to address distortions, lies and various other mental health issues you may be living with.
Everyone likes being able to be someone that fixes themselves. The reality is you can’t “fix” yourself without help.
Now to answer a question that you may have had, “Am I crazy because I need counseling?”
We all need maintenance in our lives physically and mentally. You don’t need to be ashamed of seeking counseling.
You may have questions as to what to expect in counseling and if you don’t, you should. Questions are good to have for your therapist, because not every therapist will connect with you.
Know what type of issue you have that is prompting you to seek counseling (i.e. depression, anxiety, trauma, grief/loss, marriage, communication, etc.).
Know what type of therapist you work well with and why. Do you work better with a male or female therapist? Do you need a therapist who will listen more or do you need a therapist who will help provide direction?
Know what per-conceived ideas you have coming to counseling with. Often your ideas about counseling will be influenced heavily by friends and family who have been to therapy. If these therapeutic experiences have been negative for your friends or family that will influence how you look at therapy.
Therapy is about working with you and where you’re at, not about fitting you into a prescribed therapeutic box. For this reason, therapy can feel not always linear and may require several session to determine how a therapist will work with you.
Know that not all therapists approach the same issue of depression from the same angle. Therapists like to use a wide array of therapeutic focuses (i.e. Cognitive Behavior Theory, Psycho-dynamic Theory, Family Systems, DBT, etc.) These approaches are not meant to confuse you, but rather frame how the therapist will work with you. That is why it is good for you to ask what the therapist’s approach is. Is it singular or is it eclectic?
I want you to know I support you in seeking therapy for yourself. What you are doing is a courageous and humble thing to do. I say courage, because there is darkness in everyone’s life that can be scary to face and I say humble because coming to therapy is you saying “I can’t do this on my own and I would like some help.”
Keep moving forward, you are doing a good job
ADHD is a diagnosis that has become more prevalent in children, adolescents and teens over the last several years. As of 2011, 11% of 4-17 year olds have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Use of medication to treat ADHD in 4-17 year olds has risen from 4.8% in 2007 to 6.1% in 2011(website, CDC, 2016).
According to the American Psychiatric Association, behavior therapy is considered "first line treatment" for 4-5 year olds with the diagnosis of ADHD.
While some of these statistics may be alarming, helpful or somewhere in between knowing your child in light of a diagnosis of ADHD is important. As a parent you can only focus on your child.
Parents, you would do well to:
Remember, ADHD is a psychiatric diagnosis, it is not meant to be a label for your child. Create a plan with your support network and mental health professionals and implement with as much consistency as you can. Get your child in some form of behavior therapy. If they are in school, they may benefit from a 504 and or an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Talk with a child psychiatrist about the benefits and side effects of medication to treat ADHD.
Finally, you can do this. Set realistic goals for yourself, child and take each day one at a time.
We all have dealt with someone in our lives that needs professional help, but won't accept it or go get it. By professional help, I mean psychotherapy. These people are usually friends, co-workers or family. Often times family members are the hardest to handle, because there are all kinds of blurred lines on how to care for them.
For most of this blog post, I will be focusing on family members who need professional help and the family members who to try to help them.
Family is a wonderfully complex messy thing. Some of our most memorable moments (positive and negative) are with family.
Unfortunately there is more often than not one family member that requires help beyond what a family can offer/give.
We all have family and should attempt to be involved in their lives. That being said there are individuals that simply don't want professional help for one reason or another. Maybe they don't think that they're that bad. Maybe they don't want to be viewed as crazy or maybe they are relying on other family members to handle their instability. Whichever the case may be, it is exhausting trying to help a family member who doesn't want to be helped.
I want to suggest several ways to help in this type of situation:
I understand that these may be harsh words for some to hear and they will struggle with thought that they may be standing in the way of their family member or friend getting the help they. But good intentions are no substitute for good competent professional help.
We are not meant to be able to help absolutely everyone and know how to function within a crisis. Some of us know how to do this better than others.
It is humility to recognize that you cannot always help and it is healthy to create boundaries so you don't experience burnout and can't take care of yourself.
What is healthy and normal when it comes to communication in marriage?
This is a question that I frequently find myself asking. This is a question that spouses often ask and rationalize that the way they communicate is normal and "all" married people communicate the same way.
I want to suggest several communication habits that are not healthy nor are they normal:
It is paramount that marital communication have grace, forgiveness and humility. Marriage is not a formula, where if you follow a specific equation you will end up with the same outcome each time. People come from all kinds of upbringings and can have complex baggage. What you've been through is different than what you're spouse has been through and the same is true for other married couples. There may be similarities in your stories, but there are still unique differences.
You cannot control your spouse, but you can show grace. You can forgive and you can be humble, over and over and over again. This has all the possibilities of producing friendship, genuine love, authentic companionship and a strong marriage.
I have felt compelled to write a blog post in response to Kim K’s most recent internet posting. For those of you who don’t know, Kim posted a naked photo of herself to Instagram. The response to this photo, while not surprising, has ranged from disgust to praise. Some of her ardent critics have attempted to shame her for a racy photo while others’ have praised her calling it, “female empowerment”.
Wherever you land on this topic, there is a deeper issue at hand that is not being addressed. How are young girls and boys receiving this photo? How are their hearts being protected? We live in an age where mostly anything goes and passing judgement on someone for what they choose to engage in, is not cool.
After all we’re just islands of oasis, right? What we do and say doesn’t positively or negatively impact someone else, right?
Kim K’s choice to express herself in this manner teaches young girls that to gain attention you must take your clothes off, teaches women to be beautiful they must attain a body like Kim. These rules are unspoken but create devastating anxiety and depression within young girls and women every day. They believe they are not worth anything or valued and those beliefs are reinforced all the time with stunts like the one Mrs. K pulled.
What about young boys? What will they think? How will they respond to Mrs. K’s nude photo?
Are we, as parents asking these questions?
Boys’ hearts and minds need to be protected and guided just as much as girls. I have counseled too many 9-12yo boys that have very poor views of women. Boys need to be taught that women, girls are not objects. Boys need to learn that females are not simply to be used for sex. Boys need to learn that sex is something of value and not something you buy out of a vending machine. The danger in Kim K’s actions, are that they will create a generation of men that will expect women to look a certain way, act a certain way and value sex over intimacy.
What can parents do when a celebrity such as Kim K, does what she does?
Parents have 100% responsibility in what their children view just as celebrities have a responsibility to curate an image that is respectable, admirable, an image that children can look up to.The truth is that even if parents took away all social media from their children, there would still be ads, commercials, movies, TV, video games, the internet, books magazines, etc.
That is why I believe it imperative that we protect our children’s hearts and minds. As parents we should be in no rush to grow them up or give them more independence than what’s developmentally appropriate. We need to set realistic standards of beauty, relationships and community, which will only come through modeling.
Parents we must shepherd their boys’ and girls’ hearts for they will turn into men and women that are either respectable and understand the influence of their actions on others’ or that they will always be seeking validation, never be satisfied and willing to do anything just to feel good about themselves.
Children are valuable, protect their hearts.
This post is written from some of my work with married couples. Many spouses will have different reasons for why they got married. One common reason I hear is that they were lonely and didn't want to be alone anymore or they fell in love. Couples will also have reasons for why they got divorced. One reason I hear quite often is that they don’t feel the love in the relationship anymore.
These reasons, while on opposite ends of the marital spectrum, have at least one thing in common, they are based on a feeling. Is it wrong to say, “I feel in love”.
Or to say, “I don’t feel in love anymore”
There is all kinds of research that tells us of the biological effects of being in love. That being said, does it make sense to base your marriage off of a feeling? Feelings are fleeting and can often be misleading.
Love is a choice and should not be simply be reduced to a feeling. Many marital vows include the saying of loving each other in sickness and health till death do us part. That is choice language. Can you imagine if your husband or wife's concept of love was based on a feeling and you had terminal cancer with very few days to live? Dare I say your spouse may not be at your bedside if their "love" was primarily rooted in feeling.
A husband who has a terminally ill wife makes the choice to love her, even if her youth has been taken. He makes the choice to love the intangible, her mind, her personality, her soul, her imperfections In this scenario, the husband has to base his love on choice, not feeling.
How does this topic connect to your marriage?
Being married for any length of time, you are going to have disagreements, arguments, maybe even hate each other. There will be significant temptation to harbor bitterness towards your spouse and get to a place where you don’t feel in love anymore. Your husband or wife is not perfect, nor are you. However, you get to choose to love them despite their short comings. This is every married person’s responsibility, this is not something that can be abdicated or displaced on to the other spouse. A spouse’s decision to love should not be contingent on the other spouse’s actions. You love, because you choose to love, not because you’ll get something in return.
Choose to love, it’ll make all the difference in your marriage.
Most of us know what an art museum is and why people go there, they contain art that inspires and allows an individual to dream. We will stand around a painting and discuss the history of the piece, maybe the life of the artist, discuss painting techniques and eventually move on to another work of art. For an art museum to be successful, there needs to be a constant flow of new content. Paintings will be up for a limited time, before they are taken down and replaced by a new piece. Art Museum curators will carefully select with thought and intention what their next exhibit will communicate.
What do art museums have to do with mental health?
Many of us have experienced a negative event, a hurt in our lives. For some they can work through it and move on. For others they hold on to that hurt as if it were an art painting of high value. These types of paintings are hung in their mind, a sort of museum of hurts. This museum is frequented regularly, sometimes 3-4 times a day, sometimes 3-4 times an hour. These museums are not open to the public, they are very private. The owner does not want anyone to see the ugliness that hangs on the walls. Sometimes the owner will attempt to take down these paintings, but will be unsuccessful for one reason or another, possibly because they believe these paintings now define them.
Why would someone hold on to their hurts?
Sometimes the hurts that are hard to let go of can also provide a sense of power and identity. For some revisiting these works of hurt is met with hope that maybe this time there will be a new understanding, maybe some form of restoration, reconciliation, something. But they are left with the same thing they leave with after every visit. Hurt, confusion, bitterness, anxiety and depression.
Can Depression and Anxiety be the Outcome of Holding on to Past Hurts?
I have found in my professional work that 90% of those I have worked with have reported some negative event, situation or moment in their life when they were vulnerable, through which the rest of their life gets filtered through.
Tackling depression is an everyday commitment, much like exercise. Using the museum analogy again, you get to choose what is hung in your museum. You get to choose how much power and influence a certain piece in your museum has over you. You get to choose who visits your museum. Invite others in, commit, and stop giving power to negative points in your life.
Seems like an odd title, but one that I thought appropriate. After being married for some time and working with couples I wondered why I wasn't asking this question. I know as a married person, there can be a lot of emphasis on not arguing or having disagreement. That seems burdensome. Couples fight, disagree and get frustrated with one another. If you've been married for any amount of time this is not a new concept. I believe there are healthy and unhealthy ways to argue.
Let me give you some questions to think about and use to evaluate how you argue with your husband or wife:
Unhealthy ways of arguing
Healthy ways of Arguing
Take time to consider these questions. A married couple's goal is not to avoid arguing or fighting, but to listen to one another, acknowledge feelings, look to understand and reconcile as much as possible.
This is for the Christian who suffers from anxiety and depression and feels the need to hide as well as for the Christian who has never experienced such an affliction.
Anxiety affects 18% of Americans ages 18 or older (NIMH, 2014) and depression affects 6.7% of Americans ages 18 or older (NIMH, 2014).
What does anxiety and depression have to do with Christianity? Christians get anxious and depressed. Whether your views are that anxiety and depression are a sin, a result of sin, a medical condition, spiritual oppression, stubbornness, chemical imbalance or manipulation, these disorders are very real and can significantly impair how a life is lived.
Christians will often suffer with anxiety or depression in silence because they fear what they will be thought of by the same people they go to church with. They fear that they will be broken down, analyzed, put under a microscope and told they are the cause for their struggles. They begin to think and believe that because they are not seeing any progress, that God is angry with them, they don’t have enough faith, or they are stubborn to their “sin”. I believe we live in a fallen sinful world, that everything around us is infected and affected by sin. Anxiety and Depression can be the result of just that, living in a broken world.
As Christians we go to church to worship God, to be in fellowship with one another.
Church is the place where you get to hear about a good and great God, about his grace and mercy through the cross. Unfortunately for some, that grace is not felt from their brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to their mental health. As a body of believers we must consider how we help those, love those who suffer with invisible afflictions.
Mental Health and psychology are complex loaded topics, but ignoring them, casting them aside, dismissing them will not produce growth, will cause division and worse yet marginalize those who are already on the brink of hopelessness.
Every Christian person is unique and at a different place in their faith with Christ. Struggling with anxiety, and depression are all difficult to treat, require understanding, lots of patience, grace and love.
I am thankful that there are individuals that understand the human mind and know how to treat it. I view this as God’s grace.
Christians, Pastors, Leaders, Churches love your brothers and sisters and know that there is a strong possibility that they are fighting a dark battle that has raged on for years and they are not winning. Have understanding, grace and compassion for their suffering. Get education on anxiety and depression, use that with the love of Christ to love those that are hurting.
Over the last three years I have had the opportunity to sit with married couples, listen to their concerns and provide counsel. Issues have ranged from mistrust to problems with sexual intimacy. Each person in the relationship comes to counseling for different reasons, but the outcome is always the same, they are hurt and want to be heard.
As a therapist, my goal is to assess the severity of the relational problem/s and prescribe a specific course of treatment, much like a doctor would for a physical illness. Keep in mind what I am writing here is more experiential, rather than a data driven researched-based piece. Many of the couples I see face a vast chasm of separation that has slowly occurred over the many years they have been together. Whatever relational equity they had at the beginning has been spent and they find themselves fighting to not find reasons for divorce. In my experience, I have found that it is not common for couples to one day wake up and say they want a divorce. The decision to divorce is usually a long and arduous one that causes lots of anxiety and depression. Couples have to consider their children, social relationships, finances, etc., when looking at dissolution. By the time a couple makes the decision to go to counseling it is often too late, the damage has been done. In fact I will hear from these same couples that they had been thinking about counseling for months, but other things got in the way.
Marriage therapy is hard and often times messy. Each marriage is different and the individuals in it come with unique baggage. I want to offer, what I feel are three components to a successful marriage. I’m sure there are equally important components out there, but based on my experience here are three.
1. Sacrifice (time)-I chose the word sacrifice because I believe it embodies a selfless perspective. Webster’s dictionary defines sacrifice as “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.” Marriages are symbiotic, they need two spouses to survive, but more importantly they need two spouses that are looking to meet each other’s emotional, mental and physical needs. A question to assess your level of participation in your marriage is, what gets your time (devotion) or how much time do you give to your spouse? Does your spouse get 100%, 75%, 40%, 5% of you? This is an important area of evaluation, in that many spouses will feel rejected by the other based on how much of them they get.
2. Communication-There is lot that is said on communication and what is considered healthy. If you want a scientifically data driven approach to marriages consider reading John M. Gottman’s “The Marriage Clinic”. What I can say definitively, is that each person in the marriage has feelings and wants those feelings acknowledged. Acknowledgement of your spouse’s feelings is often where they begin to respect you. Humility is another important communication tool. Ask yourself the question, “Can I admit when I am wrong and my spouse brings that to me?” If you and your spouse were to begin looking at how to rebuild communication in the marriage consider starting with acknowledgement of each other’s feelings and showing humility.
3. Physical touch (sexual intimacy) - Sexual intimacy is a vital part of a marriage ecosystem. If the ecosystem is not functioning like it should the marriage dies. Sex is a sacrifice, that both spouses need to be in agreement on. Likewise there are reasons a married couple would take a break from sex, but they are often agreed upon as well. Sexual intimacy requires trust, honesty, vulnerability and commitment. In my experience, I have seen a lot of damage come from a spouse who refuses to have sex with the other. Ask yourself the question, “How do I approach sexual intimacy with my spouse? Is it about meeting my needs or their needs?”
My hope in writing this piece is to provide practical help that can have a positive impact on your marriage. Consider the three components I mentioned above along with their questions as I believe them to be critical to the health and success of a couple’s marriage.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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