Why Do Christians Beat up Their Own?

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

I don’t need to go into details supporting my claim that Christians beat up their own, do I? I don’t nee
d to recall stories of those who have been shamed and cast out, fired, marginalized, verbally attacked, labeled, badgered, scolded, pressured, or rejected more ways that can be counted. Because you know the stories. Many of you have lived the stories yourselves or watched them unfold. And most of the time we are just dumbfounded, aren’t we? How could this happen? That didn’t make sense, or that was just plain wrong. What is going on?

False Teachers

Although this is certainly not an easy question to get to the bottom of, let me propose a few things to consider. The first is a concept that Jesus presented in his parable of the net, in which he said the kingdom of God is like a net that has good fish and bad. The point of the parable, I believe, is to say that the church is not the same as the body of Christ. The church is all inclusive, meaning everyone is invited, the believer, the non-believer and everyone in between. The body of Christ is made up of those who have made Jesus their Savior and committed themselves to him as their Lord. The point is that we don’t know for sure about those we fellowship with if they are in or not. Okay, so put this idea together with Jesus’ and the New Testament’s presentation of false teachers. Jesus said that if anyone would cause those who believe in me to stumble, (in the Amplified Bible it adds – by leading him away from my teaching) it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the sea. Paul has to deal with false teachers a few times in his epistles to the churches he planted. And he writes to his protégé Timothy and warns him about false teachers as well. In 1 Timothy 4 he says that some will abandon the faith and then says “such teachings come through hypocritical liars”. In 2 Timothy3 he says that “evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” In 2 Peter 2, Peter says, “there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…” So, do you believe that these verses don’t apply to today? Or do you believe that they only apply to cults?

Now, I am not trying to cause a panic, and I am not suggesting we go on a witch hunt or look under every rock for false teachers. But I am proposing that they are out there and that I don’t know who is even looking for them? We were warned to look out for them. So, let me apply this before I lose you altogether. I believe one reason why Christians get mistreated is because some Christian entities are being led by false teachers. There, I said it. And I am not just referring to the odd outlier groups. I mean that there are likely false teachers among the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Non-demons, the Charismatics, etc. I doubt that the evil one has not infiltrated them all. So, if we are talking about false teachers, who by the way, may be confused, but honestly, when I read the New Testament passages don’t seem to be merely confused but are specifically bent towards being destructive, then why would we be surprised by the chaos that goes on in our churches and ministries? Why, because we have forgotten the warnings and have stopped looking for the enemy.

It goes well beyond the scope of this article to address this problem. Besides I can’t pretend that I know what to do about it anyways. The point I am addressing is how can so many Christians get beat up by others Christians and by churches and ministries. And one answer is because some of those doing the beating up are not actually our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Being Corporate

Let’s move on. Another huge reason for all the wounding that goes on from Christian leadership in churches and ministries has to do with a corporate perspective. What I mean is that nowadays Churches and ministries often think like a corporation and they are guided just as much if not more so by principles that are about protecting their interests – meaning protecting themselves legally, financially and in the public eye. Now, I am not claiming that there is no need for churches and organizations to protect themselves in these ways. For the evil one surely does want to topple or embarrass or undermine the Gospel and the progress of the Kingdom of God. However, can Christians resort to protecting good things in worldly ways and with worldly fears driving them? Ah, yeah! The result seems to me to be an approach that throws some people under the bus, while the leaders shrug and say, well, it’s what needed to be done.


My third idea is more messy and less clear cut. There are also plenty of times that when someone is wounded by the church or ministry, that there is error and poor conduct on both sides. A lot of times this gets started because someone made a poor choice or violated a policy. And the organization is trying to figure out how to handle it. And even when they are not led by a false teacher and even when they aren’t trying to just protect the interests of the ministry, things may be handled wrongly or poorly. Does this surprise you? Or did you not know that after one becomes a Christian that it doesn’t mean that he or she becomes incapable of being a jerk, or stupid, or lazy, or misguided, or jealous, or fearful or arrogant? Geez I hope it’s not just me! No, I’ve experienced other Christians, so I don’t think it’s just me.


These are of course issues that are not simple to solve. But it seems like there are too many good people getting thrown out with the bath water. Most of the time they have no advocate. And that feels really wrong, because the core of the Gospel is that we all needed an advocate. Maybe churches and ministries need to consider some kind of advocate ministry for situations like these? That a third party be brought in to look at both sides more objectively. Churches and ministries can do this better, if they would acknowledge that they are made up of fallible people who may need outside input, or who may need to step back from a situation. That, by the way, is also something that even the corporate world acknowledges needs to be done at times. If they are aware that people can be biased or petty or have ulterior motives or whatever, then why are we unwilling? That’s my thought on beginning to plan to take care of people better “and not just look to your own interests”.


If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more resources visit our web site at www.LifeWorksGroup.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.


Posted in Emotional Health, The Struggle of Faith, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perfectionism and Christmas: How NOT to Ruin the Holiday – for yourself and others

Panicked girl with Christmas lights

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Perfectionists can really love Christmas. And, perfectionists can really be extra frustrated at Christmas, meaning that those around them may struggle with more stress and frustrations and hurt feelings as well.

“We really need to get the Christmas cards out by this date.”

“No,no,no the lights need to go in sequence and over that way.”

“I just can’t find the right gift for my Mom. And when I finally found just what I wanted on Amazon it was sold out! I can’t stand it!”

Here’s a joke for you; how many perfectionists does it take to have the right Christmas?                   Just one – because everyone else is screwing it up.

That’s a joke, but the point is that perfectionists can be hard to celebrate holidays with – just ask my wife.

What I would like to hash out involves what is driving the perfectionist and then what perfectionists and their friends and family can do to help make the holidays a more enjoyable experience.

Perfectionism at the Holidays

So, what’s a perfectionist to do? There is so much at this time of year that feels like it needs to be just right or mostly right – in order to be satisfied and fulfilled.

Can we take a moment and explore that thought? What would it mean to you if you could not give someone the perfect gift for some reason, or if you were blocked from making your favorite kind of cookie, or that you lost a prized Christmas CD, or had one of your meaningful ornaments broken, or being able to have the best view at your kids’ Christmas event?

Perfectionists have a lot of trouble letting go of expectations and of accepting change. I don’t meant that they are just nostalgic and it isn’t rigidity per se. I think we can all say that we have memories and experiences that have been profound and special to us. But the perfectionist has a strong fear about not being able to achieve that specialness of feeling and experience. And they have interpreted that the specialness is in a particular formula. Why are they oriented that way? I believe it is because they have come to believe that they are responsible for that specialness.

They have placed that responsibility on themselves because they do that about almost everything that matters to them. The idea here is that a whole lot of life is about their ability to perform. “It will be good enough if I figure it out, if I put in the effort, if I do what needs to be done.” This is about where the frustration for others in proximity comes in. Because if others are not on board with helping and complying with the perfectionists’ plan and approach – then they are perceived by the perfectionist as thwarting not only the plan, but the perfectionists’ ability to be satisfied. When others challenge the plan, change the plan, question the plan, ignore the plan, or lag in their efforts to follow through on their part of the plan – then the perfectionist is going to take it quite personally. Because you are messing with their ability to be satisfied in life, to be satisfied with themselves in a core way. If a perfectionists’ identity is wound up in their performance – and it is – then to in some way block their ability to perform is to threaten their identity.

How to Improve the Holidays

  1. Perfectionists need to challenge their perceptions and increase their self awareness

This means that when you begin to get upset, that you need to practice stopping yourself and focus inward first. Ask yourself what you are feeling and perceiving and even believing about a situation. And then challenge those perceptions and beliefs. “Is it really true that such and such needs to be this way? Why must it be that way? Why do I believe that if it were different that that would be terrible?”

  1. Perfectionists need to challenge their beliefs about attacking and shaming others

This means that when you are frustrated or disappointed, that you reflect before you speak. “Is it really true that if someone messes up or fails to meet my expectations in some way that they deserve to be blasted or embarrassed or confronted about it?”

  1. Those dealing with perfectionists can employ empathy

When you understand that the perfectionist isn’t simply being a jerk (even when they behave in jerky ways), but rather, that in their perceptions, their identity is riding on things going a certain way, than one can be helpful by being empathetic. “It seems that being able to have things that way means a lot to you.” Or “I can understand that it is frustrating to have your goals blocked like that.”

  1. Those dealing with perfectionists can help by speaking truth

You can follow up empathy with inviting the perfectionist to a healthier point of view. “But, you know that even if that doesn’t work out the way you had hoped, that it doesn’t mean anything about who you are as a person.” The key here is not to come off as lecturing or speaking platitudes, but to speak into their core identity – letting them know how you see them and what you believe about them and what is true about them.

  1. When there are attacks or criticisms or blow ups, focus on grace and forgiveness.

The point is that even when it goes poorly to still use the above points. If we are the one who has acted out, we still need to reflect on it and learn from it and go and offer apologies and if we were on the receiving end, we still need to be empathetic and supportive and seek to understand. Because,

  1. We often learn and grow more from our mistakes, than if we hadn’t made any. Had for the perfectionist to embrace, but there it is.


Have a great holiday!


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.

For more counseling resources visit our website at: www.lifeworksgroup.org

Come by my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


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Lonely for the Holidays? Try Doing it Different

teddy bear

BY Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

There are a lot of possible reasons why someone would be lonely for the holidays. And I suppose there are a lot of strategies for coping with it. But like in all situations, there are the more healthy strategies and also the less healthy ones. I’d like to outline where I think a couple of common strategies fall in my opinion and make some suggestions on how to make the shift towards healthier ones. I believe that many times in life, walking the healthy road could be called the middle road, that is the road between two extremes. I’m going to give you a picture of ways we can slide off the cliff on either side and then I’ll describe what I think it looks like to walk that middle road, the healthier path.

Less Healthy Strategies

  1. Hooking Up

This one involves finding someone who is likely as lonely as you or struggling emotionally in some manner or, who happens to be rather immature or dysfunctional, and basically using sex as a way to suppress your lonely feelings. Actually, it’s sort of like using drugs. It is incredibly popular in movies and TV and promoted as so acceptable and normal as to be almost odd if you were someone who didn’t use this strategy to avoid your loneliness.

Let’s be frank though. This approach is basically selfish, manipulating someone in order to not have to deal with your own issues. If you have any conscience in you, you will regret it afterwards. And you won’t have done anything to move you in the direction of healthier coping. And that’s not even getting into the using sex inappropriately and how this affects your identity parts.

  1. Using

Since we mentioned it, the next one involves using substances to either numb out or to help you to relax and interact with others, or maybe to be able to score such as what was addressed in point one. Some substances are still culturally considered taboo, like crack, heroine, etc., but there are a number of substances that are either becoming more and more acceptable, ala Pot, or are almost synonymous with holiday celebrations – meaning alcohol. My objective is not to get into the broad issue of substance use here, but rather to address specifically the use of substances to manage holiday loneliness. What is relevant is whether this strategy is a healthy and effective one in terms of addressing loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, however. You’ll find nothing here of me condoning the use of any illegal substances. So, what I am appealing to you to evaluate is whether you are using said substance in order to cope in some way with your feelings of loneliness, or to enable you to manage your anxiety related to your loneliness. I am not expressing here a rule that it is unacceptable to drink socially. I am challenging you to assess your motivations! If you are using any substance in order to cope – then I will categorically state that this is unhealthy for you. You see, we all make unhealthy choices in life and in and of themselves, many of them are often not very damaging in the long term. However, the choices we make that are guided by our coping strategies are usually conditioning us. What I mean is that the choices we make in this area of life will set patterns in our life. The point isn’t to never make a poor choice; the point is to understand that the choices you make affect your future choices and lead you on a healthy or unhealthy path. Okay, let’s move on.

  1. “Scrooging”

Let’s say you’re not much for using sex or substances. Your tendency rather is to shut down. Maybe you turn into Scrooge during the holidays, moping about. Or maybe you just withdraw from people? Maybe you tell yourself that no one would want to be around you, and you don’t want to be a burden to anyone? In this case, you’ve fallen off the other side of the cliff. You aren’t avoiding your lonely feelings, you are wallowing in them and focusing on the severity of your poor state, magnifying it even. We all can be drawn into feeling our negative feelings deeply at times and that’s normal and even healthy. But this where it takes discernment to recognize when you’ve slid past a healthy connection with your sadness and loneliness, and landed in a depressive place that alienates you, increases your stuckness, and prevents personal growth and a movement towards others.

I realize that there is much more to the unhealthy side, but I think that paints the picture of what it looks like to either deny your lonely feelings or magnify them out of proportion. The healthier way, which I am calling the middle road, is actually not the easier way. These approaches are I suppose easy, in that they are modeled all around us, and we gravitate to them because maybe they feed something in us. But they are short sighted. The point is that these are in the end strategies that keep us stuck and keep us immature. And they certainly don’t address your core loneliness!

The Middle Road

Now, let me paint for you a picture of this middle road. I know it has got to be pretty enticing to draw you away from the path you’ve been choosing. I believe that this path offers something that the others do not and that is hope. Hope of getting out of your rut, out of your loneliness and something even more, which I’ll get to.

The middle path is the path of connection. We were all designed for relationships and so it’s no wonder that you are lonely and that you will go to great lengths to numb or kill the longing in you when it goes unmet. But I am inviting you to instead acknowledge this longing in you. The longing is good, even if your attempts to manage it are unhealthy. I don’t know your situation in life. But what I am inviting you to is to find someone whom you have known to be safe person, whom I’ll define as being non-judgmental, and to dare to be vulnerable with them and tell them of your loneliness. The point is Not to get them to fill up your loneliness. This is not another attempt to manipulate someone so you can feel better temporarily. That’s important. Your goal is to allow yourself to be seen by another human being. It may involve you explaining to them that your goal is just to be vulnerable and not that you need anything from them. If they extend caring support and encouragement, then you have succeeded. And from this positive experience, I hope you will be propelled to try it again and begin to build more safe connections. If however, they offer advice or pity or judgment, then of course you will feel hurt. And you will be strongly tempted to return to your old coping, as you curse me for duping you into this. But you did not fail!

And here’s the part that I said I would get to later. I need to give you the foundation for why you would choose this risky route to address your loneliness. For the foundation is not found actually in other people. The reason for this is that – are you ready for it – people are just as booger-headed as you and I! I mean there are certainly good people and not so good people, all along a continuum. And it is invaluable to develop the discernment to be able to tell the difference between safe people and those who aren’t. But – even good people can forget, can let us down, or can move away or even die. And so the foundation needs to go beyond people – to the Creator of me and you and those people. I believe that God has designed us for relationships because he himself is relational. He wants to relate to us and take care of us and he is the only one who can be completely trusted (even when we think he has really messed up, which is for another time). My point is that I build relationships and dare to be vulnerable with safe people not b/c they are completely trustworthy, but b/c I put my trust in God first to take care of me and develop me. Also, b/c he tells us to walk through life in community with others, and that our growth and maturity is integrally connected with others. Then I am able to not just see my loneliness from the perspective of getting my own needs met. But I can consider how God wants to use me in other people’s lives. That God can give me courage and he can provide for my needs and my longings and that maybe he has plans to use me to help others with their loneliness too.

Come and let God expand your perspective on your loneliness and see how God wants to bless you and satisfy your longings – as well as those around you!

Maybe your first step would be to seek out a counselor? If you would like to schedule an appt with me, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more counseling resources visit our website at: www.lifeworksgroup.org

Come by my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters

Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.

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What to Do with Past Promiscuity?

close up

BY Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Sometimes folks come to me and we are working on something and inevitably their past comes up. It could be about some kind of mistreatment or abuse or of some dysfunction in their past environment. And there is of course the “stuff” inside us that relates to our experience of our parents and family. And pretty often we end up landing on a person’s young adult life choices, including sexual promiscuousness. Most feel a sense of shame and guilt about those choices and don’t want to talk about it. So, I thought maybe it would help if I were to write about it and provide some insight into how to approach these past issues.

I was reading recently about the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible. There is a section in which he observes a potter working on making a pot. He forms a pot, but it collapses due to some weakness in the structure. But instead of the potter throwing it away and starting with new clay, he picks up the pieces and mashes them together and begins anew. God then explains to him that this is what he wants to do with his chosen people, Israel. I believe it is a fitting illustration and application for this issue of past sexual misdeeds and how God can and wants to restore us too. Let me start with four of the most common approaches to dealing with past promiscuity and then I’ll offer four healthier ways to deal with it.

  1. Burying It

Some folks deal with their past sexual behaviors and the guilt connected with them by putting the past behind them. This means that they chose to push aside their feelings and angst about it, and decide that if they forget about it and leave it in the past that it will not bother them in the present. This is an unwise and unproductive approach. We cannot learn and grow from a past that we won’t acknowledge. We cannot heal from something we will not grieve. And we cannot be remade if we will not own our brokenness.

  1. Shaming It

On the other hand, some folks get caught in the pit of self pity, never allowing themselves to move from their past sins. They have taken their mistakes and poor choices and concluded that these have defined their identity. Maybe they felt dirty or used? And maybe no one ever told them that our choices are a result of who we are at that time, but they don’t determine who we ultimately are or who we will be?

  1. Embracing It

Unfortunately, there are some who end up getting sucked into the sexual trap. They may discover that they can use sex to manipulate others and feel powerful or gain prestige or financial gain. Some find that indulging in promiscuous sex feeds something in their damaged ego or in a confused way makes them feel desirable. For others, they take the shame they feel and combat it by joining with it. They decide that if being “dirty” is who they are (in their mind), then they will be the best they can be at it.

  1. Rationalize It

Our culture and media these days strongly support this approach. Here the plan is to eradicate the feelings of guilt and shame by redefining morality. We (and the culture) say that promiscuous sex is not sinful or unhealthy, but just the opposite. It is wise and healthy and normal and fun. It is the best way to find a partner, and the best way to satisfy yourself, and on and on. This approach is really not much different than the burying it approach from number one, except for the concept of safety in numbers. Maybe if everyone tries to believe it together it will become true. Good luck with that!

Now how about some ways to grow, heal, and truly be free from your past?

  1. Objectivity

Somewhere between burying it and shaming it lies the healthy approach. We need to stop pretending that our past is irrelevant, or doesn’t affect us. We carry around the past inside us, and often it just won’t stay in the past. On the other hand, the past does not control us or define us. The healthy perspective is in the middle, that is, acknowledging the reality of poor choices and the negative results of those without giving them more power or importance than they actually have in our lives.

  1. Feel It and Grieve It

Looking at it will bring the pain to the surface. Don’t run from that. Let it come. See how your choices have hurt yourself and others. See your foolishness, your neediness, your selfishness. There is much to gain from looking in the mirror – objectively. This is not about self pity or beating up on yourself. There may also be plenty to look at in terms of how you were taken advantage of, manipulated or fooled. The point is to permit yourself to feel all your feelings, without judging yourself for having them. Then grieving can happen. Not processing our pain keeps it around, and we stay stuck in it (even if we aren’t aware of it). Allowing it to come to the surface and then to feel it and process it – means we can then move through it and let go of it.

  1. Understand it

Either within the grieving process or sometime afterwards, we then need to make sense of it. This can be tough work. It is another level of looking at ourselves. This level involves the question of how did I come to make these choices? How was I influenced or conditioned to pursue fulfillment or relationship in this way? What does sex mean to me? Was there a pattern to the type of person I gravitated to, or the type of situation or experience? What did that mean to me? And how can I seek to meet that needs or those needs in healthier ways and have healthier relationships?

  1. Be renewed

Finally, we can move on. And moving on means that we have grieved and we have grown. We have integrated our past and our poor choices and wounds into our psyches, and we are more of a whole person. We can now live differently, making healthier choices. We likely now understand ourselves better and that helps us to have a clearer sense of who we are and what we want and what direction to go in life.

To really go through this process isn’t simple or easy. And sometimes it may be best to go through this journey with a counselor. But I think you can see that it holds the promise of renewal and deeper satisfaction in life.


For more articles visit my blog at www.counselingmatters.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.

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The Five Do’s and Don’ts After a Relationship Ends


BY Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

When a marriage or relationship is over there is of course a lot of heartache, upheaval, and a strong longing for normalcy. The longing to not be in pain and to have stability again can lead anyone towards some poor choices. Let’s look us some of those decisions that can turn out to be detrimental or damaging, and then I’ll offer some suggestions for healthier alternatives.

  1. Using Substances

Putting something in one’s body to alter their mood and enable them to go numb or avoid pain is an approach that has been around for thousands of years. And although it provides absolutely nothing productive in the long term, it continues to be the go-to coping strategy for many. Look, if you have say one or two bad nights in which you cope by getting buzzed, it isn’t the end of the world (as long as you don’t drive or do something stupid, I guess I mean do something else stupid or dangerous). The problem is that when this approach seems to help ward off those sad or painful feelings, and you don’t have a better idea, then you may find yourself using it more than those one or two times. And that’s bad. Coming to rely on substances to cope or get through a day is not the way to live and not the way to overcome or grow or move on or get normalcy back.

  1. Isolation

It is not uncommon to be in an uncomfortable place with one’s friends and family. Maybe they have judged you or been unsupportive through the process? Maybe they have been supportive ‘in their way’, but it feels trite or more about lectures and lots of advice giving? Or maybe it feels like they are now patronizing in their support? Maybe it’s none of those, but it just doesn’t feel like it used to? But whatever it is, you find yourself retreating from social interaction. Again, having a couple of times in which you chose to be alone is not really a big deal. It’s when you’ve gone weeks and you’re state of mind and mood is drawing more inward and more down in the dumps. The issue is that isolation can feed itself and cause you to drift farther and farther away from the support and resources that could help you.

  1. Emotional Flooding
    This is about getting sucked into the heartache and loss and fear and being overwhelmed with negative thoughts. It often piggy-backs on isolation, doesn’t it? So, this is another reason that isolation is unproductive – it often leads to depressing places – and we can get flooded with the pain.


  1. Revenge Seeking

Whether in isolation or with those friends who join us in “hating” on the ex, we can be drawn into our hurt and anger in such a way that it feels satisfying to contemplate the other’s downfall. We relish them hurting the way they have hurt us. It feels right. We may even begin to think of ways to actively make it happen. But even if it goes not farther than cooking up scenarios in our heads, it is unhealthy and won’t help us to move on or heal. This kind of rumination feeds our hurt and anger rather than leading to resolution.

  1. Find Someone New

Another tried and true method is the “rebound relationship”. Maybe the thinking is that I will fill the void, or maybe one believes that they have moved on and they are ready for someone else? Or sometimes, there is a piece in there that wants to send the message to the person who ended things that I am fine without you – and the thought is that the best way to send that message is to be with someone else (along with maybe just a little revenge motivation). Often it is simply motivated by the thought that I deserve to be happy.

But there’s the problem. The notion that jumping into another relationship will fill the void or make me happy is unfortunately misguided. I am not trying to rain on your parade. Just the opposite. I want to prevent you from more heartache. Most of these relationships do not last and do not turn out to be satisfying. One reason for that is because when you have these types of motivations, your ability to choose a partner is skewed. Because you are looking for gratification you are more likely to seek out someone who makes you feel good. And selfishness and being emotionally needy are a lousy basis for relationship building. Besides, the only people who would be willing to be used by someone in this way are probably driven by their own self serving motivations, or they are conditioned for being taken advantage of or rescuing lost puppies.

Now that I have popped your balloon and taken away all your regular coping – let me suggest some alternatives that I believe will be more productive and healthier and help you to truly move on.

  1. Develop Your Self Care

Learn to take care of yourself. You heart has been through the ringer. Tune in to what you need to reestablish equilibrium in your life. Elsewhere I have written about the Four Legs of The Stool of Self Care. Check it out here:


  1. Focus on Building Healthy Relationship

Yes, there is this depressive pull towards isolation and self pity. You’ve got o fight it. One way is through supportive, healthy relationships. Some of this requires you to have some safe people in your life. Some of that means people who won’t judge or lecture or give trite advice. They have decent listening skills and you trust that they won’t gossip. They believe in you and they don’t try to “fix” you.

  1. Grieve

We don’t do grief very well in our culture. But grieving is the healthy way to process through our losses and come out the other side, able to move on. Grieving means to not stuff or deny or avoid our feelings, but to feel them, to acknowledged the hurt and its impact on us, without becoming lost in it. You see, avoiding our pain keeps us trapped in it, but feeling it and processing it (with those safe people) is how we can move through it and come out the other side. This takes time and can be draining. That is another reason we need that support. Grieve work is hard; don’t do it on your own.

  1. Get Involved

Something else we need is to stay connected to the world and to people; the opposite of isolation. Support is vital. But we will also really benefit from engaging in something bigger or beyond ourselves. Find a place to help others, serve, give, encourage, etc. It will keep us grounded and remind us that life is more than our problems, and will keep our pain in perspective.

  1. Grow

At some point, we will greatly benefit from reflecting on the relationship and what I can learn and grow from it. What went well and what went badly? In what ways did I contribute to what went well and what did not go well (without beating yourself up)? We can grow through our hurts and losses. My encouragement on this is that you don’t need to jump to this point in the process too quickly. Get the others going first. Growth often follows a good grieving process (or in conjunction with it). But growth can also be emotionally taxing, so you’ll want these healthy elements in place to be able to hold up under it.

Relationships can be hard, even when they are going pretty well. We are relational beings; made for relationships. But the end of a relationship, although difficult, can lead to a process that is healing and helps us to grow and become better people; better for ourselves and better for all our relationships.

For more resources visit www.LifeWorksGroup.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters

Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.


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The 8 Worst and Best Ways to Handle Irate and Irrational People: Part 2

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella argues with first base umpire Rob Drake after Drake ejected first base coach Matt Sinatro, and called Mark DeRosa out at first during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Saturday, July 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Last time I wrote on the 8 unproductive ways people often respond to irate people, and how these approaches fall short. This time I want to offer my take on the 8 effective ways to respond to irate people.


  1. Walk Away

If you aren’t cornered or physically threatened by the person, just leave. And then process your emotions with someone safe and healthy, to help you to shake it off and return to equilibrium.

  1. Take a Time Out

If this is an individual that you have a relationship with, you could ask for a time out and explain that you would like some time for you both to step away and allow the intensity to wane some before returning to the subject matter.

  1. Change the Subject

When you identify that the person is beyond reasonable discussion, you could suggest that you don’t seem to be getting anywhere and how about you talk about something else. However, many who have “lost it” often become even more incensed by a suggestion of this kind. So, in the best interest of the person and of you, what about just changing the subject without asking them? I know this seems strange and in fact, that is the value of it. By putting the other person into a strange situation, it actually, even briefly, shifts their focus, and has the potential to cause their ire to subside a bit. The distraction has the power to bring them back to rationality – sometimes.

  1. Validate Their Emotions

Often times the irate person has perceived a violation of some kind and they have felt threatened. This is their conditioned way of protecting themselves, even if it is not very effective, it is what they know. So, learn to not get into the details of the issue, but instead focus on the person’s emotions and begin by acknowledging their emotion and validating it, instead of attacking it. Often, angry people get told to tone it down or turn off their anger. Not helpful. What you want to do is something like, “I see that you are rather upset about…” Then, to validate it looks something like this, “I get that you are angry about…”, or “Yes, I agree that what happened was not fair.”, or, “I can see how you would take it the way you did and end up frustrated.”

  1. Ask Them Probing Questions

We probably pretty often don’t want to interact with an angry person. A lot of people are uncomfortable with conflict, and either wish the whole thing would go away, or at least that the person calm down before bringing the issue up. But, what if you are the one to help them to calm down (without telling them to calm down, that is)? You can help yourself by helping them in this matter. You do this by seeking more information and not trying to run away. Ask about what happened and ask them about their perceptions. Ask about what they had expected, as expectations are often behind our anger. If you get them to talk about it and process their perceptions, they may come back to rationality. And you will have strengthened the relationship as well as your confidence and developed yourself in personal maturity.

  1. Find Something to Own

If you are being attacked by someone, of course one strong tendency is to defend ourselves. That makes sense. But a more effective and mature strategy is to be able to look past their angry stance and consider the content of what is being presented. Maybe it’s just an irrational person attacking you (and it’s really about their issue)? But, sometimes people do have reasons for getting mad at us, right?! What if we listened to what is brought to us and were able to own, even partially, the grievance? Do you think that might help the angry person to come down from their level 10 of anger? And from there you can both maybe discuss things more rationally. And maybe they will then be able to own their behavior with you as well.

  1. Confront Them

Part 1 of this short series addressed some of the most ineffective ways to handle someone’s irate behaviors, and a number of them were attempts to confront the person. However, I don’t want you to draw the conclusion that confronting is all bad or wrong or ineffective. Confrontation of someone’s inappropriate or hurtful behaviors absolutely needs to be included in a list of productive strategies to handle these situations. There’s just a really big difference in terms of how you go about it! If you will notice from the list in part 1, the negative approaches that were confronting in nature were motivated by getting the irate person to stop or back down. Irate people are not going to be calmly consider that they should back down or apologize and many will not be quelled by someone’s powering up on them. They are emotionally flooded and will be lacking in their ability to thoughtfully consider anything. The goal of effective confrontation is to get the person to come back to rationality so they can see and take responsibility for their own behaviors. Using some of the approaches outlined here can help you to get the person to a better place emotionally so that can be possible. Then, what you can do is to ask them questions about their behaviors that bring them to see the hurtfulness of their actions. Maybe something like, “What do you think it would have been like to be on the receiving end of your attack?” or “How do you feel about how you expressed yourself?”

  1. Expressing Firm Boundaries

There of course will be times when all approaches falls short with an irate person. I have encouraged you to continue to care and have empathy for the angry person, but you still have to protect yourself, which is what numbers 1 and 2 are about. And in fact, walking away and taking a time out are expressions of personal boundaries. But you can also express your boundaries with the person in a verbal manner.

Personal boundaries are the invisible boundaries lines around our personhood. Everything inside us is ours; our thoughts, our feelings, our ideas and opinions and dreams and hopes and all that goes on in our mind and heart. People step over our boundaries when they try to control or change or undermine or shame what is inside us. Going all irate on us would certainly qualify.

Having a firm boundary with them could look like this: “When you called me names and yelled at me I felt belittled and disrespected and I did not appreciate it. If you need to take a time out I understand, but I would like you to refrain from the yelling and name calling. If you do not I will remove myself.”

There is much more that could be said in the utilization of personal boundaries. And the goal in the application of boundaries is not specifically to get the other to stop. Boundaries are about you protecting yourself and respecting yourself. We can do that at all time even if others will not.

There are endless applications of the approaches outlined here, and you will need to apply yourself to discern what approaches fit the situations you find yourself in. But you will certainly benefit from the practice.

If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more great resources visit www.lifeworksgroup.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.



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The 8 Worst and Best Ways to Handle Irate and Irrational People: Part 1


By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

People can get very upset and angry sometimes, can’t they? And some people, when they get upset, lash out at others. And some of those who attack or lash out, can get pretty irrational and difficult to deal with. It can be rather anxiety provoking and scary to be around such people, and ten times so if their guns are pointed at you. How successful have you been at handling these situations and these people? I’d like to help you out with covering some of the worst and then the best ways to respond – equipping you so that you can reduce your anxiety in such situations, feel more personal confidence, and be able to actually help people who are not doing so well inside.

Let’s begin with the worst ways and see how many you find yourself falling into. Most of the time these are conditioned or learned responses that we developed to protect ourselves.

  1. Tell Them to Turn it Off

Often, when someone encounters an irate person, if they aren’t scared they will let the person know that they need to tone it down or cool off. Bad idea! This will likely incite the attacker even more, like throwing gasoline on the fire.

  1. Power Up or Threaten Them

The idea here is to show them who’s the boss and get them to back off. If you succeed in getting them to back down it seems like you have done well. However, if this is a person you have to work with or relate to regularly, you may have set up an adversarial situation in which the person now feels they need to get you back, and it could get uglier. Or, you could get a reputation for being difficult to work with, even though you didn’t start it. Threatening someone is always a dangerous game, as you may have to put “your money where your mouth is” and follow through on the threat if they call your bluff. Escalating a threatening situation is extremely unwise! That’s not likely to work out well for you. If this approach appeals to you, then I’m thinking YOU are the irate person this article is written to help other people deal with.

  1. Get Defensive

This doesn’t seem like such a bad strategy usually. In the moment you maybe feel that you are simply explaining your reasons or answering the person’s questions. However, the attacker is not often assuaged by your explanations, are they? This is the difference between someone actually asking why you did something and someone just wanting to attack you. If you explain and they are still at the same level of upset, then you’ve discovered that they aren’t seeking information; they are wanting to shame you, or they are just raging because that is how they cope with their own internal stuff.

  1. Respond With Your Own Irrational Anger

How about launching back at them a verbal barrage of your own? It’s different from number 1, as you aren’t specifically powering up, but just ranting, name calling, spewing profanity, or attacking them for a fault or mistake you’ve maybe saved up for just such an opportunity. The idea here is the age old – two wrongs DO make a right. You can just bask in the maturity of it all, can’t you? Do I really need to offer an explanation of how this doesn’t go well?

  1. Mock Them

So, maybe you’re not the blow up or aggressive type. Instead you prefer to use your sharp wit and sarcasm. You laugh at their behavior and let them know how stupid and immature they are. Oh, and it also makes you feel superior. The point of these first five approaches is to protect yourself by attacking back. They may end the attack, but they are short sighted in their value. They don’t help you learn how to deal with irate people effectively, they don’t help you to develop personal maturity, and they don’t help the irate person learn to understand or manage themselves better.

  1. Manipulate Them with Tears

Then there are those who think that they would never even consider any of the above responses. They instead melt in the face of someone’s attack. They usually don’t realize that this also is a protective strategy to get the person to back off. And as far as this is concerned, it does rank higher than the aggressive strategies on the list. But it falls short of being a positive way to handle irate people because of its effect on your own self esteem and on people’s perceptions of you.

  1. Agree with Everything They Say

This is another one of the melt-from-an-attack-approaches. Just cave in. And like the previous one, it wounds one’s own self worth as you become conditioned to believe that you are not capable of dealing with difficult people, or you don’t see yourself as courageous or clever enough. You will probably also create a monster, as the other person will learn to expect that they can get what they want when they treat you this way.

  1. Plot to Get Them Back

Maybe you stand there and take it on the outside. But on the inside, you are fuming and stuffing your anger and plotting your revenge. The energy involved in holding and nursing a grudge and the investment of plotting in this way is just a huge waste of time and energy! It will not bring the satisfaction or the apology you want. It will not likely convict the offender to repent. It will not heal, it will not repair, it will not build anything of value. And it turns you into a negative, hard hearted person – you are becoming like the offender.

From what we have seen there are many ways that we can be conditioned to respond to anger and threats that aren’t effective in terms of our own coping or resolving the situation or helping the irate person or the relationship. But when we take a look at them and understand how they are unproductive, we will be open to developing more useful approaches. Next time I’ll outline some of those for you.

If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more helpful resources visit www.lifeworksgroup.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.



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Want to Be a FOO (family of origin) Fighter? 5 Benefits to Exploring Our Family Background

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Addressing Road Rage and Other Out of Proportion Reactions

road rage woman

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Recently I wrote about the five reasons for road rage, and by the end I acknowledged that some readers may have identified a few descriptions that hit close to home. And so I offered that I would come back and speak to the question of, “what if sometimes that is me?” If you have found yourself during driving or other situations, to find yourself getting pretty reactive and maybe over the top angry, then let me share some thoughts on what may be going on and what to do about it.

What If Sometimes This is Me?

Maybe you can identify with one or more of the five from the last article. What then?

  1. Drugs or Alcohol Related

If this has been you, let me be frank. If you are driving while intoxicated in any way, you are endangering others, besides yourself. And it’s got to stop! Do you know the old Billy Joel song, “You May be right”? In it there’s a line in which he sings, “I made it home alive”, and maybe you have thought that and so it makes it easier to dare to do it the next time. But in that song he also calls himself crazy, okay? I think in your clear mindedness you know better. And that means you must prepare for these situations ahead of time. There’s a lot more at stake that raging at another drive here, as serious as that is in and of itself. And besides simply the wisdom of not driving while intoxicated, if I was sitting with you I would be curious about your usage or misuse of substances and would want to explore that with you, to help you to find healthier methods of coping.

  1. Projection

We all do this sometimes; it is a type of coping with situations in which we don’t feel we can respond or speak up – often due to intimidation or fear of consequences. And so, when we get around someone that feels safer or seems to be someone that we aren’t intimidated by, we bring out the emotion we pushed down. It’s not the healthiest form of coping and isn’t fair to those who end up being on the receiving end. There’s a lot more that needs to be said in terms of how to effectively respond in those moments. But let me suggest that it begins with self awareness. If you can reflect on your thoughts and feelings, you are less likely to be controlled by them and react in ways that haven’t been thought out. And the best way to prevent a reaction you will regret is to be more self aware ahead of time.

  1. Emotionally High-Jacked

It’s not fun to be emotionally flooded. This is another way to refer to the “flight, fight or freeze” response. It means that any of us can put ourselves into an emergency state when we interpret that we are in an emergency situation. Our mind tells our brain we are in an emergency and our brain tells our body to prepare for an emergency – by dumping stress chemicals like adrenaline and others into our body. And then we’ll be keyed up. We’ll experience tensed muscles, ragged breathing, sweating, maybe jitters. And it’s like a friend of mine says, it’s like a really full tea cup, just one more drop and it spills. You may not be able to prevent yourself from getting into such a state. But again, self awareness can help you get out. You need to focus internally and be aware of it, so you can slow yourself down, breath, and talk yourself down from level 10 on the 1-10 scale. And it probably isn’t so good to be driving in this state. Take the time to bring yourself down first, through reflection and deep breathing. And getting some time with a counselor to develop your ability to manage your triggers would be advisable.

  1. Your action by them is perceived as threatening

You’ve been mistreated before, shamed or embarrassed, and it was awful. And you’ve learned that to protect yourself from ever going through that again you need to launch an attack and shut down anyone who might bring that familiar feeling to the surface. You may think of yourself as tough, as taking no flak from anyone. But your stance is driven by your insecurities. There are healthier ways to protect yourself. And consider this; the tough stance very likely puts you into more intense and provoking situations than if you were to take an alternative approach. If this feels like it fits you, I recommend seeing a professional counselor to work through past wounds and make some shifts in your thinking and perceptions.

  1. They are crazy

There are those who fear that this is them, but really they fall somewhere in numbers 1-4. There are some though who do need psychological treatment and with help they can live and function very well.

Everyone reacts out of proportion sometimes. And there are many contributing factors. The goal is to grow in our self understanding and self mastery, so we can be our best selves. We all have challenges in life and sometimes we struggle with how to cope and deal with them effectively. And yet we still have to drive. This means that we are surrounded every day by drivers who are just like us; sometimes doing fine and sometimes having a bad day, or who knows what. When you are doing okay, be compassionate of others who are having their bad day.

And if you find yourself struggling, consider finding someone who can help to therapeutically work that out.

If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more helpful resources come check out www.lifeworksgroup.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters


Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.


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What if You Are In Relationship With an Immature Person, What Then?


By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Not long ago I wrote about how to spot an immature person, in order to help you to hone your abilities of discernment so you could reduce your chances of getting in deep with an immature person. But, I realize that for many of you, you’re already there. (I know, you didn’t have my article back then, I say facetiously.) I don’t believe that means that you are just stuck, so I want to provide some guidelines to help you to navigate this challenge and to hopefully help your significant other to change.

Let’s start with some don’ts.

  1. Don’t go to War.

What I mean is that if you just go after their immaturity directly and fight and argue and lecture and berate them for their behaviors that you just won’t get anywhere. Maybe it will lead to ending things between you, but it won’t bring about positive change.

  1. Don’t Give In.

Another common approach is to wilt. You end up just adjusting to their immaturity and catering to them; doing everything for them and making excuses for them to others and maybe yourself as well. Maybe you even rationalize that you are accepting them as they are? But let’s not kid ourselves. That is not love and it won’t bring satisfaction, and it’s not healthy.

  1. Don’t Give Up.

When someone ends the war and gives up on rescuing them, they usually give up on the relationship entirely, because it seems they are out of options. This can mean severing the relationship and moving on, or sometimes can mean staying in the relationship, but just doing life separately, living like roommates. Ending it may be a viable option at some point, but let me encourage you to not throw in the towel before you have made a strategic effort in the direction that I am going to recommend.

Now it’s time for the Do’s.

  1. Evaluate Your Goals

Okay, you need to adjust your goals and your methods because, well, frankly, the ones you have aren’t being realized and aren’t working. Making some adjustments to your goals will get you on a healthier path and one that has more potential for success. The adjustments I’m referring to have a lot to do with your mindset and expectations. Up to now, you have been expecting that your partner would decide or want to become more mature and responsible. You probably need to let go of that one. Or you may have been thinking that you would be able to bring about the changes you want to see in them – by talking to him/her, appealing to their heart, convincing him/her, or maybe by, you know, kindly manipulating them or coercing them for his own good. What you likely have learned through these attempts is that even when it seems you have made progress that you are worn out, and that you are going to have to keep it up, otherwise it will fade away. Meaning it is all on you and it never did stick. Guess what that means; compliance is not the same as change or growth.

  1. New Goals

So, when you embrace that your goals and methodology are faulty, you are ready for something new. So, here it is… change what you can change. Maybe that doesn’t sound so powerful, so hang with me. Changing what you can change is a big shift and a big deal. First, you won’t get burned out, and second you won’t feel powerless when you focus on changing what is under your influence and control. The only people under our direct control would be our young children (and even that can seem to be gone by the time they are walking, am I right?!) But the one person you always are in charge of and responsible for is you.

  1. Be the Change

See, this shift is all about your ability to discover that you are a part of the dysfunction that you are so frustrated with. I don’t mean that you are immature like your partner. I mean that the ways that you respond and the ways that you have tried to get them to change have not just been faulty methods; they have been perpetuating the problem. Some of the things you do feed resentment in your partner, making them unwilling to take responsibility. Some of the approaches you use undermine their autonomy and self respect and so they don’t learn to feel confident and good about developing their own responsibility. Some of the things you do shame them, which demotivates people. And some of the thing you do rescue them and so teach them that they don’t have to become more responsible. When you understand how the things you do are negatively contributing to your partner’s mindset and preventing their personal growth, you will be motivated to adopt new goals and a new approach.

  1. New Approaches

After identifying some of your approaches that are undermining your own goals to bring about growth in your partner, you need to let go of those approaches and strategies and replace them with alternatives that will fit your goals better. Your goal is to see your partner develop more maturity and responsibility. So, step one to help achieve that goal is to begin to chose to believe that they can be mature and responsible. After being in relationship with them over time, you have likely lost this belief and you will need to get it back. Once you believe that they are capable of being more mature, you now begin to treat them as if maturity and responsibility are the realistic and expected behaviors that they are; that they are a given. And that means that when the behaviors and attitudes that you expect do not happen, you will not do what you used to do. Rather you will either allow natural consequences to occur and not rescue them, or you will impose appropriate consequences of your own. This is not about revenge or punishment. If you go into this with seething anger, it will not be productive. It is instead simply an opportunity for you to express your personal boundaries – meaning that the immature behavior is not acceptable to you.

  1. Be Courageous

I know that making changes can be scary and hard. There is a reason that you do things the same way you always have. But I know you are also tired of things remaining the same and scared of things not changing. So, what this means is that you need to embrace the notion that change in my environment and change in my partner will not occur without changes in me.

As I wrap this up, let me encourage you that the efforts you make really have value – for your sake – even if your partner doesn’t change.

What do you know; this was never just about someone else’s growth – !


If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.

For more articles visit my blog at www.counselingmatters.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters

Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.


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