“I’m Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry”: manipulation masquerading as humility and repentance
I’ve listened to many stories told by family members, friends and spouses experiencing hurt and exhaustion caused by the actions of a loved one. The hurt inflicted upon these people, in most cases, is intentional in nature and fueled by insecurity. The damage caused by the insecure party results in real, gaping wounds. Yet, because these friends and family members still desire to be in a relationship with the insecure, often volatile, person; they continue to open themselves up to more hurt in their attempt to set boundaries. Inevitably, the hurt family members experience more pain at the hands of the insecure, while the insecure family member spends the majority of their time focused on their behavioral changes. However, in most cases, the insecure entirely overlooks the needed heart change required for true repentance.
Unfortunately, this intense deed-focus inflicts yet more emotional damage on the already battered and bruised family and friends. The disconnect between behavioral modification and true gospel level heart change manifest in the insecure, is tantamount to an alcoholic who goes to inpatient for 90 days, and immediately upon release declares sobriety. Except, in reality, they thought about drinking every day of their treatment. In the field of psychology and addiction we refer to such individuals as a “dry drunk.” A dry drunk is an alcoholic who is unable to access alcohol, but spent every minute it was unavailable thinking about it. They spent their time focused on the taste of alcohol, and they planned for their next drink. So, while a “dry drunk” might legitimately claim they have been sober for 90 days because alcohol hasn’t physically been in their system for three months, they have missed the treatment’s deeper point. Treatment wasn’t intended to simply address their maladaptive behavior and forbid access to alcohol, it’s intended to address the origins of their alcoholism, their desire for drunkenness, and the insecurities that fuel the core issues in their heart.
The “dry drunk” is an example of manipulation masquerading as repentance and humility. Because the alcoholic was without alcohol for a prolonged period of time, they claim to have changed. Further, they require those that have been damaged by their excessive drinking to act as if this fiction is the truth. By behaving this way, the dry drunk is inflicting yet more damage on their loved ones because a core-level heart change has not actually transpired.
True heart change takes more than abstaining from a behavior or substance.
Saying sorry isn’t enough
People who damage their friend and familial relationships often refuse to examine their hearts on a deep, spiritual level. When insecurity is at the core of what drives the hurting of others, it’s almost impossible for sincere reflection, evaluation and introspection to happen. Insecurity tends to cloud the ability to assess one's own actions and blinds them to how their actions are affecting others. Saying, and meaning, “I’m sorry” must come by way of a Holy Spirit conviction. Conviction leads to humble prayer, followed by contrition, then confession, arriving at repentance, which means gospel-level heart change. Simply saying “I’m sorry” for doing relational damage in word and deed, yet remaining bitter and resentful on the heart level, causes more damage than doing no interpersonal work at all. This delays healing for all parties.
True heart change can only come from God and the Holy Spirit residing within us. We must daily come before the face of God (Corum Deo) and pray through Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
This prayer of humility and admission that we cannot know the full depth and depravity of our own hearts, is the first step in submitting to the authority of God over our lives. The psalmist recognized that even on his best day, he will still have a bitter, resentful, and malicious heart. Therefore, it is imperative that we seek God and ask Him to reveal our hearts. We cannot correct something to which we are blind.
God’s understanding leads us to a contrite heart
Contrition is a necessity for gospel-level heart change. Considering the concept of contrition, my 8-year-old daughter comes to mind. Many times she will not do what I have asked of her. In seriously willful episodes of disobedience, when confronted, her immediate response is, “I’m sorry.” Her face is downcast with expectation of the coming negative consequence and a firm conversation. At age 8, my daughter is often more sorry that she got caught in her disobedience, not that she disobeyed her parents.
Contrition is the knowledge that our behavior was sinful and hurtful. God convicts us and provides an understanding of our sin, what we did wrong and how we are hurting others. Therefore, we face the choice to either reject this conviction and continue functioning as god over our own lives, which further defies God’s truth, or we accept the reality of our sin and the pain we are causing others. By accepting the later, we glorify Christ and He continues to change our hearts.
Change requires constant submission to Christ. It requires a continual acknowledgement that only God is capable of changing our hearts. It requires constant prayer and immersion in God’s word. Change without any contrition or repentance is simply behavior modification.
I invite you to change, by thinking about who’s in charge of your change.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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