The New (and Better) Use of “It’s Not You, It’s Me”: Five Reasons Behind Road Rage and Other Out of Proportion Reactions

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

So, I was driving into work today and I took some back roads so to speak. On the way a car in front of me had signaled to turn right and slowed down and then slowed all the way to a stop, without turning, so that they were sitting in the lane in front of me. I did what seemed wise, since no cars were coming and chose to go around them. But, as I went past the driver of this car became very upset at me and laid on his horn. He continued to stay there in the road and fumed at me as I went along up the road.

It got me to wondering, “what the heck was that about?” I reviewed myself and could not think of how I had deeply offended him that would provoke this level of response. I have had my share of irate and rather crazy people on the road. I’ve had a young man get out of his car and threatened to fight me while I was pumping gas at a gas station. I’ve had a water bottle thrown at my car. I’ve had someone spit on my windshield. I’ve had a bike rider bang on my car for getting too close to him I presume. I’ve observed a driver get out of his car and come over to my Dad’s car (he was the driver) and take off his shoe and bang on our car. And I have experienced and observed drivers endanger themselves and others with reckless driving in their rage.

Yes, there was some incident that provoked these folks to rage. But the question is whether the reaction is proportionate to the precipitating cause. Well, you already know the answer to that. There would be nothing to write about if the reaction was in proportion. That is what is so strange to the observer or the recipient of these strange and scary reactions. And so, what I want to try and shed some light on what may be going on inside these folks and then offer some ideas on how to handle it. Because it wasn’t you, it is about them.

  1. Drugs or Alcohol related

It could very well be that this person is not behaving rationally because they are stoned or under the influence of something.

  1. Projection

This is the psychological term for when we project an emotion from one situation onto a different one that follows sometime later. The classic example is the guy who is getting reamed out at work by his boss and he can’t defend himself and just takes it. But he goes home and kicks the dog. So, these folks had something that affected them negatively and they stuffed their emotions. And then you come along and trigger it and boom – out it comes!

  1. They were already raging. (Emotionally high jacked)

Look, you have no idea about this person’s state of mind or prior experience. Maybe they just broke up with their girlfriend, or found out she has been cheating on them? Maybe they just got fired? Maybe they just stole from a store and so they are really nervous? This time, they haven’t stuffed their feelings. They are just already at level 10 on the 1-10 scale of upset and are emotionally flooded and lacking in self control. It’s like a panic attack, but with the emotion of anger instead of anxiety.

  1. Your action is perceived by them as threatening

There are lots of people out there who are quite sensitive to any perceived disrespect, or belittling, or suggestion that they are wrong, isn’t there?! This is likely related to internalized shame and they have developed a coping strategy to protect themselves from the stinging pain of having that shame exposed. Often the protective strategy is designed around attacking and shaming the source of the exposure – to end the threat.

  1. They are crazy.

I know, I’m a mental health counselor, so I’m not supposed to use that pejorative terminology. I’m not judging them, but there are folks who have a psychological illness or condition, and some of them will have symptoms involving irrational reactions and rage.

What Can You Do in These Situations?

Most of the time you won’t be able to distinguish which of the above five you are encountering, meaning you cannot tell whether the person is dangerous or not. And with that in mind, my advice is to not engage them, but to move on. I know it is tempting to defend yourself or to confront them on their behavior. But that would just not be wise. But that would just not be wise. In fact, when encountering someone raging I would encourage you to not make eye contact with them, as this can make it more personal to them.

There is a strong correlation with aggressive driving and getting into more of these road rage type incidents. You may not be driving around raging all the time, but if you have aggressive tendencies you may draw the attention of the raging ones. Some of the behaviors that are known to trigger rage in other drivers include distracted driving while on phones and such, cutting someone off and tailgating.

But what I want you to remember is just what I titled this piece – and that this is about them and not you. Because we can get caught up in someone’s out of proportion reaction and sometimes erroneously think and feel like we caused their upset and end up struggling with guilt or confusion. But even if you did cut them off in traffic, or some other offense, it is very unlikely that you provoked the severe response of rage in the other person. That’s what I want you to get out of this; that reactions of the type we are talking about are not about the current event.

Now, in case as you’ve been reading along, you’ve not only thought about the times that this happened to you but also about the times that you’ve been that super upset individual – I am going to follow up this article with one to address that side of things; on what to do if or when you have out of proportion responses.

Stay tuned!

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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I’ve Got a Secret; Sex Isn’t What the Media Says It Is

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

How many of you have bought into it; that is, what the media represents sex to be? You know, they portray sex to be a wildly exciting and fun activity that you can do with anyone and that the more you do it the more exciting and fun it is. And, after that opening sentence, if you now expect that I am about to lecture you about the evils of sex, then I’ve got you right where I want you! Because remember – I’ve got a secret. And that secret is not that sex is evil or that everyone who is enjoying it needs to Stop Right Now!

Sex isn’t bad or sinful. The problem isn’t that the media and the culture have made sex so prominent. The problem is that the media and the culture don’t know what sex is about and so they misrepresent its essence. And when you don’t understand the essence or purpose of a thing, like say using a fire hydrant to take a shower, then you undermine its value and you lose out on the blessing. You see, what I am saying is not that the culture loves sex too much; it loves sex too little. And when you don’t really understand and love something, then you take it for granted and use it in disparaging ways.

Unfortunately, most of those reading this are folks who have been highly influenced by this very culture. And so I recognize that it will be quite difficult to convince you that sex can be more than what you now think and what you now generally experience. But some secrets aren’t meant to be kept.

I want to help you get back a sense of the essence of sex. Ready?

To begin, we’ll never get down to the essence of sex from simply our own human point of view. From our point of view, sex is pleasurable (for most men and a good number of women at least, generally so), sex is the method of procreation and, well, that’s about it, without getting into moral conceptions concerning the boundaries of sex. But those are not defining the essence or purpose of sex. But the only one who can enlighten us about the purpose and design of something would be the designer. In this case, that would be God.

Oddly, even thought the culture or segments of it, want to represent Christianity and the Bible as being anti-sex, you only have to go a couple chapters in to get your first presentation of sex, starting with Adam and Eve. From the story line you get the notion that they were both naked around each other. And God doesn’t give them skins to cover themselves until after they feel ashamed of their nakedness. Also, take note that the first sin is not related to sex, but about disobeying God, which was also not about sex. It also talks about them walking with God in the garden. By the way, can you imagine taking a leisurely walk with God, while you are naked?

So, God presents the first woman to the first man. And they are designed just as we are (or that is, us like them). And so they had hormones and sexual desire and all that. Yes, they are told to procreate. And that is an element of the essence of sex. It is a process that is meant to result in the blessing of children. This is not a small element either. It is significant. It is the vehicle by which human men and women bond and build a family. By the way, what I just said is really different than producing a child, isn’t it? There are lots of people having sex that results in children, but that does not result in the building of a family. That’s the first way in which we miss out on the essence of sex. Sex that does not bond and build a family is falling short of its essence and is less valuable and less satisfying than it could be. But I’m going to piece that together with what follows, so hang with me.

As much as sex was designed with this process of family making, in terms of procreation, that is not all sex was designed for, as maybe it was viewed in the Victorian Era. God designed sex to be very sensuously exciting and pleasing. But again, if culture then takes that and determines that self gratification is the purpose and design of sex, it will mislead the people and undermine something designed for more. It’s kind of like taking a gold bar and using it as a cutting board. Yeah, you can use it that way, but you aren’t getting out of it what you could.

Let me just point out that for all the prestige that sex gets in the media and in our minds nowadays, that there really are more problems and issues with sex than are represented. If you believed movies and TV, everyone is just having the time of their lives. But, oh my, is reality something that is grossly under-acknowledged. Statistics say 43% of women and 31% of men are suffering from some kind of sexual dysfunction, as reported on WebMD and other sites. But of course these numbers are likely to be low because they are based on people’s reports, meaning only those willing to report it. A Fox news article from last year offered that the number may be closer to 60% (it wasn’t clear if it was referring to one gender or both). My point is that, for all the glamorization of sex in our culture, the reality in a high percentage of people’s lives is a far different story.

And, issues with sexual dysfunction doesn’t even come close to the full impact once you include the relational and emotional elements of sex. Movies and TV represent some aspects of these, in terms of stories of rejection, manipulation, break ups, mocking, cheating on someone, rape, and such, but these often turn out “nice” in the end, because, well, it’s a movie. However, the disastrous effects of the ways that people hurt others with sex are so ubiquitous that likely everyone reading has suffered from it directly or at least has learned of it from someone you know.

The bedroom seems more to be a breaker than a builder of families in our current times. But it doesn’t have to continue to be so. When you understand the essence of sex, you can experience the blessing that God designed.

First of all, God said engaging in sex is designed for a special kind of relationship. This relationship is unique among human relationships. It is not a friendship, nor is it a working relationship or a contract agreement. It is the way that humans will build families with people that are not their family, the making of a new family. This concept was a big deal to God, because it represents to humans that he wants to make a new family from folks that are not a family as well: the family of God. You see, we are born biologically into an earthly family, but we are “born again” into God’s family through Christ. And this is why the Bible talks about Jesus being married to the church, in I Corinthians 5:31-32. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” So, God is in the business of bonding people together in love and in making families. And it is called marriage.

You see, when someone puts their trust in Jesus they come into the family of God. And we are united with Christ as he gives us the Holy Spirit to live in us. “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” I Corinthians 6:17. The amazing reality is that there is something similar that happens between human men and women when they have intercourse with each other. That is why the former passage in I Corinthians refers to a “profound mystery” about marriage; that sexual union is not just a biological act, but also a spiritual one. That is the essence of sex!

Maybe that seems all heady and academic and theoretical to you. I get that. So, let me help to make it practical. First, how do these concepts lead to better sex? I believe that when you understand better the essence of sex you will approach it differently. You will reevaluate the messages from the culture that say, get it anywhere, get it as much as you can, focus on your own satisfaction. You’ll be able to be discerning, and you’ll reject those messages. You will see that that is not how you will find fulfillment or build anything of value with someone else. And you will then consider how God’s spirit lives in you and that God loves to give and bless. And so you’ll come to embrace that you are meant to give of yourself and bless someone else. And you will connect those dots and see that just as sex represents our union with God, that you can make sex about blessing someone else through your bond with them. You’ll be less preoccupied or worried about your own pleasure or performance, and you’ll seek to express your care to this other person. And along with that, guys especially, will find themselves coming to understand their wives better and will see that sex is in many respects the expression of a healthy and whole relationship and so they will work at listening better and being sensitive and patient in the rest of their relationship. And women in particular will come to understand their husbands better, and so they will seek to be more supportive and work to be more understanding of their husband’s insecurities and work through the areas they are judgmental about. In these ways, couples will communicate with more honesty, including their issues and needs concerning sex.

The second way that I can make this practical is to address the whole sex outside of marriage issue. It’s clear, isn’t it, that God designed sex for marriage. But I hope you can see now that God isn’t keeping sex from you because he is a prude. That’s not it at all! Rather, the issue is that God wants you to have sex, but in the way that he designed it. And if you don’t, he knows that it won’t go well for you and for others. God actually wants your best! I realize that putting that out there opens up a whole series of challenges for the single or divorced person. And I’m not insensitive to those. But that will have to be addressed at another time. And, for the ones who have blown it, we’re talking about God here – so yeah, there is forgiveness and restoration available.

The secret is out! I feel relieved. You know, it’s hard to hold secrets in.

 

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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How to Spot an Immature Person

bumper cars

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

“Grow up!” people will say, usually when you are doing something that annoys them. But I wonder how skilled you are at actually identifying immaturity? I wonder this because of the frequency in which I encounter folks who have gotten into a relationship with someone and they can’t understand why the other person does what they do, or why they have the conflicts they do, or why the relationship is so on and off, or why they can’t seem to work some things out. And so I started to wonder if some ‘immaturity-spotting skills’ would be worthwhile. Let me offer a general concept and then flesh it out. Keep in mind, there are many ways to view maturity and this is just one perspective. Generally, we can find immaturity living on the edges of the continuum of some characteristic, meaning either too little or too much of something. Maturity is often developed through learning a balanced perspective. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather intended to get you thinking.

  1. Either too strongly opinionated or lacking an opinion.

The first type are those who may at first seem very confident and self assured, but over time you find out that what they really are is arrogant and controlling. The second type seem to be easy going or accommodating, but you later realize that they are passive and actually are manipulative by what they don’t say and what they avoid.

  1. Emotions are either not managed at all, or there is a lack of emotional connection and expression. Emotions have much to contribute to mature living, but when they are either given over to indiscriminately at all times, or if they are stuffed, then the result is immaturity and dysfunction.
  2. Either overly self centered or others centered. It’s probably obvious how being self centered is immature, but I bet you didn’t expect that you can be too others-centered. There is more to say on this, but for here I’ll point out that you can’t give well to others if you don’t take care of yourself.
  3. Being extremely rigid or overly flexible.
  4. Being too quick to judge or unable to make a judgment. Again, judgmentalness is likely obvious. But there also comes a time when we need to assess a situation and make a decision, or a judgment. When someone can’t or won’t follow through, there are signs of immaturity.
  5. Being overly busy and endlessly driven, or being unmotivated and lacking in drive or purpose.
  6. Being overly critical or overly accepting.
  7. Talking too much or talking too little. I realize these may fall under gender generalizations, but I’m not buying that. Anyone can be a blabber mouth and anyone can withdraw or withhold expression. This one is not so much about volume as it is about timing and situation. There is a time to shut up and a time to speak up. Maturity knows the difference.
  8. Being overly flattering.
  9. Lacking in the strength to delay gratification, or to restrain one’s appetites in the short term for the sake of gaining a long term goal.
  10. Lacking in integrity.
  11. Lacking in self awareness.

Something that I have not done is to spell out what maturity or immaturity looks like in a clear and obvious fashion. That is because the concept of maturity doesn’t work like that. Being able to spot maturity’s absence is really about discernment rather than some cut and dried list. But I think that the more we are attuned to looking for it, the more we hone the ability to identify it.

And I do know this. If you want to build a healthy and satisfying relationship, aim for finding a mature person – as well as work on your own maturity!

I will follow up with – What to Do if You’ve Already Married An Immature Person – so be on the lookout for it.

For lots more counseling resources check our www.lifeworksgroup.org

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About Matt

Matt W Sandford, MA, LMHC

My vision is to see people discover their best selves and see them equipped to make the changes in their lives that will bring freedom, purpose, clarity of mind and heart, and emotionally healthy relationships. I believe that we were designed to be overcomers, but we are relational beings who become free and healthy through safe relationships. Counseling provides that safe relationship, while equipping folks to develop healthy relationships more fully in their lives. Through active listening, empathy, insight and connectedness I walk with people in their pain and gently leans into people’s lives in order to help.

I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida and I’ve been in counseling for eight years.

I work in private practice in Winter Park, FL at The Life Works Group.

www.lifeworksgroup.org

I have four categories of specialties, which are:

Emotional Management or Development:                        Couples/Relationships/Family:

–          Self esteem                                                                                        –     Communication

–          Shame and Guilt                                                                               –     Resentment

–          Anxiety and Stress                                                                          –     Emotional Wounds

–          Depression/Apathy                                                                        –     Unhealthy patterns

–          Healing/ Coping with past abuse                                                  –     Boundary Issues

–          Anger                                                                                                 –     Abusiveness

–          Grief                                                                                                   –     Control

–          Perfectionism

Parenting/Teens:                                                                                            Faith/Spiritual Challenges:

–          Parenting frustration                                                                      –     Integration of emotional and

–          Parenting methods                                                                                spiritual health

–          Parent-Child communication                                                          –     Faith struggles

–          Character development                                                                    –     Life purpose/ direction

–          Teen Issues                                                                                         –     Spiritual abuse

I have invested the past 22 years in ministering to people.

I am also a Qualified supervisor for mental health students and interns in the state of Florida. I was in ministry with Campus Crusade For Christ (Cru) for 14 years.  I have worked in technology, in training and development, and on the field both in the U.S. campus ministry and overseas.

I’ve been married for 21 years and my wife and I are raising twins. We are long-time residents of Florida.

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Are You Freaking Out? A hot mess? Falling apart? Let me offer some help

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

We live in a pretty hectic and demanding culture and so stress is just part of the territory. And in moderate amounts stress is not a bad thing, but is a motivator. But this life can certainly bring either a hugely stressful event or can pile on the stressors in a way that would overload any of us. We start to panic. Maybe some rant and rave? Maybe some shut down? Maybe some can’t stop crying? Maybe some turn to food or alcohol or pornography? Often our bodies are affected with headaches, stomach aches, racing heart beat and high blood pressure, as well as the jitters and sore muscles. Are you there right now? Let me describe what is happening and then give some suggestions to manage it.

You see, external stressors produce all kinds of anxious, negative and fearful thoughts. Your brain interprets these thoughts and says – “Ah, there is an emergency” and so the brain decides to produce stress hormones and chemicals to get the body ready to deal with this emergency. This is called the fight, flight or freeze response, or an amygdala high-jacking. The amygdala is a part of the brain at the base of the brain where it connects to the spine. The amygdala has an amazing feature that serves the animal kingdom very well. When an animal senses danger it is able to react on instinct and escape quickly due to the amygdala. But in thinking humans it is different, because the amygdala cannot tell the difference between the thoughts “I am being attacked by a bear” and “my girlfriend just dumped me”. When you have anxious reactions the brain goes into action. And the amygdala has the ability in humans to actually bypass the pre-frontal cortex (where we do our processing and decision making) and launch our bodies into the flight, fight or freeze mode. And now, we are stressed out and our bodies are all amped up with adrenaline and other chemicals and we are breathing raged and our heart is racing and our muscles are tense. But there is no bear! And oh yeah, my pre-fontal cortex has been passed over and so my ability to think rationally is compromised.

So, let me walk through with you some options when you are high-jacked in this way and also how to work towards preventing these high-jackings, or be able to decrease their intensity. The goal when you are high-jacked is to be able to re-engage your rational self again and to do that you need to address the physiological element and also the mental element.

Time Out: If you are in the presence of the stressor or the trigger, it is going to be extremely difficult to come back to equilibrium while remaining there. So, the first order of business is to excuse yourself from the situation or person.

Breathing: Maybe this sounds too simplistic, but it does help. The goal is to focus on your breathing and practice what is called belly breathing – in which you draw air down into the lower parts of your lungs. It is called belly breathing because you practice it by putting a hand on your belly and making it rise and fall. You can also incorporate a mantra while breathing, such as saying peace when you exhale.

Exercise: Now that you have flooded your body with stress hormones, it can help to work some of them off by some kind of exercise. It doesn’t need to be strenuous; just try taking a walk.

In terms of the physiological approaches, I realize, one of the options seems to be about calming oneself and the other seems to be the opposite, but they are both addressing the stress chemicals that have been pumped into the body. The key is to try each one at different times and see which one works better for you.

Mental: You need to be able to re-engage your rational self, but this is a challenge, since the amygdala has high-jacked you. In this state, we have difficulty concentrating, remembering and thinking clearly. However, to jump start our rational self we don’t need to calm down completely. We just need to back off of being stuck up on level 10 on a 1-10 scale. If we can get ourselves down to maybe 7, then we can begin to re-engage a rational process. This is what the breathing and/or exercise are meant to do. You aren’t attempting to get yourself all the way back to equilibrium by just the physiological approaches on their own. A third approach is through distraction.

Distraction: This method is about re-directing your attention and thought process away from the stressor to something benign. You could try watching TV or reading a book? This approach works better for low to moderate stressors and so may not be effective if you’ve reached level 10. If after 10-15 minutes you have not experienced a reduction in physical symptoms and haven’t gotten your mind off the stressor, then it’s time to try something else.

Mental Processing: If you can’t distract yourself, then it is likely something that you really need to attend to. Get some paper and start writing out your experience of the event and your response and feelings about it. Now, here’s the part where we re-engage our rational self. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the paper. On the left you write out the event and your response. That is your emotional self side. Then you come over to the right side of the paper and begin to write our some probing questions such as, “What is the significance of this for me?”, “When have I experienced or felt similarly?”, “Are there other emotions underneath these responses in me?” “

And then, “What are some alternatives for how to address this issue?” You see, the right side of the paper represents the rational self. This exercise trains you to be able to engage the rational self over time without needing to write it out.

One More thing: You probably would like to improve your ability to prevent yourself from hitting level 10 on the freak out scale. One good way to assist yourself in this is to learn to recognize your physical symptoms that indicate your are getting keyed up, because often our bodies experience it before our mind recognizes it. If you can become aware that you are heading there, you have a chance to cut it off at the pass. If you can apply these approaches at level 7 – getting a time out and then either distracting yourself or utilizing breathing or exercise and some mental processing, you can decrease the intensity of the potential trigger and, with practice, increase your self control.

I know that freaking out isn’t fun. But if you put in this work you should be able to see the severity and frequency decrease.

I am here to help. If you would like to schedule an appointment with me, call our office at 407-647-7005.

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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Teens and Anxiety: Spotting it and Addressing it

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Modern adolescence looks nothing like what it looked for you when you were a teen. Music, hair, catch phrases, technology – those change through each generation I suppose. But we’re talking about differences in values and expectations, as well as significant cultural changes. These days young people are exposed to gender issues, terrorism, violence, pornography and more. If regular life creates stressful situations and can produce anxiety, then these days, just be a teen is to be immersed in an anxiety inducing environment. How can parents understand and help their adolescent to cope and process their anxieties in productive ways?

The National Institute of Health reports that the lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among children ages 13-18 is 25%. Anxiety disorders would include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobia, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That is a very significant portion – 25%. But the other 75% surely go through anxiety provoking experiences as well, and even though they don’t reach the level of a mental illness, they are troubling and can be difficult to navigate. Often times, these stressful situations are more difficult for adolescents due to their age and lack of life experience, their still forming brains, the hormonal changes they are going through, and their developmental stage that involves the formation of their identity.

All teens wrestle with the issue of fitting in, finding their self worth, figuring out what they are good at, concerns about their future, and the whole social dynamic, including relating to the opposite sex. They are also usually wrestling with this evolving relationship with their parents and their parent’s values and expectations. And of course the whole peer pressure thing fits in there somewhere.

Kids can be dramatic, irritable, withdrawal, and downright obstinate and disrespectful. Often when I talk about descriptions of anxiety, parents will say, “that sounds like every teen.” So, how as a parent, can you tell the difference between normal teen behavior and anxiety issues, and then how can you help?

  1. Beware writing off anxiety as “normal teen behavior”. Just because a young person seems to be just like “any other teen” is not enough reason to ignore the issue or make assumptions. This is a big reason why much childhood anxiety goes untreated.
  2. Symptoms such as: increases in irritability, isolation, moodiness, changes in eating or sleeping habits, changes in social groups, an increase in secrecy, and decline in academic performance can indicate anxiety, or other emotional difficulties.
  3. Also be aware of behavioral changes such as: decrease in attention to hygiene or dress (depression or anxiety), increase in difficulty with focus or attention span, forgetfulness, spaciness, jitters, and an increase in somatic complaints i.e. headaches, fatigue, stomach discomfort.
  4. One general consideration on differentiating between depression and anxiety: anxiety is more likely to be observed in terms of increase in agitation and movement and expression – worry, heightened moods, jitters, whereas depression is more likely observed in a retardation of expression and movement. However, both conditions can be present together, so observing one does not rule out their co-existence.

Okay, so let’s say you have observed some changes or behaviors that have you concerned. Let me offer some suggestions.

  1. Don’t panic or hound your child about what is wrong. If you behave in worried and anxious ways and make a big deal out of it, you could be fanning the flames of anxiety and worry and cause them to pull away and not reveal their inner struggles.
  2. Instead, be strategic and try to get into your child’s world even more. Aim to ask questions that portray curiosity rather than intrusion.
  3. If they are bringing specific worries and fears to you, don’t jump to rescue them and fix the problems – even though they are struggling.
  4. Instead, focus more on their thoughts and emotions than on the problem and invite them to process those with you.
  5. Affirm them. Listen to them. Help them to come up with strategies and ideas by asking them questions to direct them in thinking through their options.

In these ways you will be building your relationship with them; they will learn to trust you and learn that they can come to you to help them to process their inner struggles and they will know that you believe in them.

Having a trusted place to work things out is a significant part for any of us to lower our anxiety level.

If you would like to talk with me about a specific challenge, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

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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“Work”ing Out: Is you job a “Fit” or a “Fight”

trapped in box
By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

When we were young people probably asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. And I think for most of us, when we think back on how we answered we chuckle about it. Childrens’ answers to this question can be fanciful, and have nothing to do with the concept of a good “fit”. But what constitutes a good fit? And how can we expect to find satisfaction in life if our job is more a fight than a good fit? What can we do?

I believe that in some ways we are conditioned in our culture to conceive of finding a “good job” in specific ways, such as: it is something I am good at, it is something I like doing, it is something that pays well, and it is something that is respected by others. Our parents and families were likely highly invested in us finding a “good job” and so the expectations were there hovering over us. And with the cultural and family expectations doing their job, many of us pursued what we hoped would be a “fitting” career. We worked hard through studies or apprenticeship and someone hired us and off we went. But after some years, maybe few or maybe twenty, maybe you over time became less and less satisfied and started questioning your career choice. This certainly describes my own journey.

So, for whatever reason you find you aren’t happy in your career and may be feeling like it isn’t really a good fit. But what can you do? You have invested time and money into developing your skill set and you are now pigeon-holed, so it seems. Or maybe you’re making good money and you have a family to support and/or debts to meet, and so you’re stuck in your current job, so it seems. Or maybe you just can’t stomach the process of starting over, or you are conflicted about giving up the position you’ve gained? There’s many perspectives and situations that can create this “un-fitness”.

Let’s explore some of the ways this can manifest itself and then look at a strategy for dealing with it.

  • Has something in your job responsibilities changed? Maybe you got promoted or moved or decided to take on a new role, or the company changed the job description? Maybe at first you were interested in this change, saw it as an opportunity? But it hasn’t turned out like you expected.
  • Sometimes it’s not the work itself, it’s the co-workers or the boss. Maybe you don’t get along, maybe you don’t feel respected, maybe you are micro-managed, or maybe you can’t get the help, support or feedback you need? Maybe you’ve tried to express yourself about the issues and have felt unheard or ignored?
  • Sometimes it can be the pace of the work day, or the amount of time in the office (or out of it), or the amount of time required dealing with customers (or lack of it).
  • Sometimes it can be that your workplace is contradicting, challenging, or eroding your morals, particularly your integrity, requiring you to fudge facts or look the other way. Experiences of this kind can make you want to abandon the whole industry you are in.
  • Sometimes it can be that we conclude we just aren’t very good at the job, and feel that we won’t likely become very good at it. We want to do something that in which we can feel a sense of competence and pride.
  • Sometimes you get into your career and find out that doing the job just doesn’t satisfy your heart and leaves you empty. You don’t care about the job and you want to do something you care about. Or you want to make a difference or help people.

What can you do?

  1. Step Back

This means that making big decisions in life when you are angry, frustrated, confused, scared, anxious or sad is not going to bring you the best conclusions and well made plans. There is such a thing as optimal stress, and it helps us to focus and concentrate. But, when we are emotionally “worked up”, we are flooded beyond this optimal level and we are cognitively compromised, meaning we aren’t able to reason and analyze and process things as effectively as we normally would. So, we need to do something first. We need to step back. This means we need to shift our focus onto something else, distract ourselves if possible, breathe and move on to step 2.

  1. Get to Higher Ground

This means that after stepping back, we need to get a better vantage point from which to view our situation. When we are stuck down in the bog it is hard to determine which way to go. We need to climb to higher ground to be able to see our way out of the wilderness. There are a number of ways to do this. For some it involves getting feedback from objective others, for some it involves reading and for some it means seeking out God and his perspective.

  1. Detective Time

Now, from this broader vantage point I can begin to investigate what are the elements that are provoking to me. When did these feelings begin? What issues are influencing these feelings? How have I tried to manage them so far? Why do we bother doing this step, some may ask. It is very relevant, because you won’t be able to find something satisfying if you don’t understand what is going on in your heart in the present that makes it unsatisfying. It’s probably not so simple as, “I just don’t like it.”, or “the folks I work with are jerks.” I have come to learn that human beings are very complex.

  1. Strategize

When I have gained some perspective, gotten feedback from outside sources, and probed my heart, now I am ready to formulate a plan so that I can experience a better fit and hopefully become more satisfied.

But let me here challenge you. What does satisfaction mean to you? Does it mean to make a lot more money, to gain prestige, or power, or be better than others? If your goals are about your ego, I have to warm you, there is a reason you have been unsatisfied. Your problem is not so much the job fit as it is your goal (although it certainly may be both, my meaning is that one is more dangerous than the other). When a large part of identity is placed in our career, we have doomed ourselves to a life of “chasing the wind”. Even those who find much satisfaction in their career because it feeds their ego will find down the road that it didn’t fill their soul or satisfy them as they hoped it would.

So, when you conduct your evaluation, do not neglect to evaluate your longings and dare to wrestle with the question of what really satisfies. We all get stuck at some time in this life and that means we all need resources and guidance and wisdom along the way.

Hopefully, your struggle with job fit will direct you into a productive heart search that leads to much more growth, meaning and satisfaction in your life!

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Are You Trapped in The Perfectionist’s Cycle ?

doodle-431

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Perfectionists are trapped, but most don’t realize it. Don’t judge them, for most of us have cycles and patterns of our own, just as much. For the perfectionist, the cycle revolves around the question, Can I be good enough? Here’s what The Perfectionist Cycle looks like, and then I’ll describe each phase.

Perfectionist Cycle

 

Phase 1: Striving

The core drive of the perfectionist is to meet some inner standard in order to attain to “good enough-ness”. This drive can take many forms: maybe they are very competitive, maybe they are a workaholic, maybe they try to please everyone, or serve everyone, maybe they try to check everything off their “to do” list. You see, the way it shows up will be as varied as there are perfectionists. This is because the way it manifests depends of what the person has determined will define them as “good enough”.

But as the perfectionist strives away, running like a hamster on a wheel, they will, like all of us, tire out, or inevitably, make a mistake. Both of these conditions is intolerable for the perfectionist, because, you see, to tire or make a mistake, is to reveal that they are not good enough. Just to fall short, or frankly, turn out to be limited, is to miss their standard. And so, when they tire or fail, they enter the next phase of the cycle; defeat.

Phase 2: Defeat

In phase two the perfectionist has discovered or uncovered that they are not able to meet their standard, or someone else has uncovered it. If someone else has uncovered it, there is either moves to protect and cover up the exposure, or there is collapse. If the failure is not public, there is often internal collapse, and sometimes a self deceptive cover up. From here, the person will either move to phase three of shame, or phase three of anger.

Phase 3 of anger

This phase is really an in-between phase, as the perfectionist tries to block or avoid their shame, and so heads to what is perceived to feel safer and stronger, which is anger. Anger at others will keep them disconnected from their shame and halt their movement. If they stay here, the anger often turns to bitterness and hardness of heart. If they turn their anger inward, they will move on to the phase 3 of shame.

Phase 3 of Shame

Now the perfectionist feels how unworthy they are because they are not good enough. Their self talk floods them with negative evaluations and criticisms. As a result of these beliefs being fanned, the person looses most of their motivation and often becomes depressed. Again, some may get caught and stuck here in their depression.

Phase 4: Give Up

Once the perfectionist is exposed to their shame they often will wallow in it. The reasoning now becomes – “Well, as long as I’ve blown it, I may as well go ahead and be the screw up I believe I am to the full.” This phase of belief may produce anything from meanness to others, to binging on food, alcohol, drugs, or pornography, to reverting to old bad habits, or deepening the depression.

Phase 5: Whip it Good

Now the shame has been heightened by the poor choices of phase four and the perfectionist has more fuel to beat themselves up over, loathe themselves and cement in them the notion that they are not “good enough” or that they are deficient in some way. And so, this is where they turn their criticism and shame on themselves in order to motivate themselves to get back to the striving phase. They feel much shame as well about how they are now not being productive and they decide that they REALLY need to prove themselves this time and so they re-double their efforts to meet the standard they had set before. And back up to phase one they return.

The Conundrum

What they often do not grasp is that they do not actually return to the previous standard, but they have actually raised the standard even higher than the last time. And therein lies the curse of the cycle. As one continues through the cycles, each time the standard that was unreasonably high before becomes even more out of reach, dooming the striver to not only fail again, but to stay firmly stuck in the cycle and to deepen their shame. So, here’s what the diagram now looks like. I call this the perfectionist Spiral – as it swirls ever bigger.

Perfectionist Spiral2

The Cure

The perfectionist will not like this part, as much as they have been looking forward to it. The perfectionist will resist the very cure that they long for – because it requires them to accept their limitations and mistakes and weaknesses. Not only do they not want to accept their flawed selves, they do not know how.

The application

What is needed is…grace. The perfectionist need to experience grace from others and from God for it to seep into them and invite them to challenge the faulty core beliefs that they cling to, and over time, to replace them with more objective and realistic perceptions and beliefs of themselves.

The Wrap up

This break down of the perfectionist’s cycle has been brief and generalized. If you can identify with this description, I encourage you to seek out the help of a counselor in order to get free! It likely won’t be easy, but the effort you make this time around will be worth it.

Write me the questions you have.

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Coping With Being a Minority: What’s “the minority experience” and how to manage it well

minorities 1

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

I would think that most people have experienced the struggle to fit in at some point in their lives. Whether it was in one’s peer group at school, or in sports, or when you moved to a new town or situation, we have all likely gone through those awkward situations and all the emotions and thoughts that are stirred up as a result. It’s not fun. But for most folks, there was an adjustment, and you settled in and everything was fine. But what about being a minority? What if it’s not so easy to simply make some adjustments? What if you struggle to figure out how to make those adjustments and find your place?

When I lived in China I was definitely in the minority, and it showed. You can’t really blend into a largely homogenous culture. We in America can’t really grasp what that even means. Our country is made up of many cultures – the “melting pot” right? Oh, there may be sections or pockets in which everyone is from the same culture, but unless you never leave your own neighborhood, you’ve probably experienced being around a rather diverse group, standing in line next to someone with a different skin color, or who is speaking a different language, or is dressed very differently than yourself. If you live in a city or a more diverse area, you may have become accustomed to it even and hardly notice that there are Asians, Latinos, and Middle Easterners around you. However, in China, there are Chinese people and then more Chinese people and still more Chinese people. Oh, there will be some Koreans and Japanese and a smattering of others, but 9 out of 10 are going to be Chinese folks. This means that my white face stuck out – and I mean really stuck out.

When I first arrived in China this was somewhat exciting, but then, everything was exciting then. Everything was interesting and different, and the fact that people starred at me was curious and interesting as well. I wasn’t thinking about fitting in at that time. But, the newness wore off and I began to want to fit in more. (My time in China) shifted from being a vacation or travel experience, and I wanted (Asia) to become my home. You see, it’s not till you shift from visiting to moving in that you’ll struggle with “the minority experience”. And that’s when (things) got challenging for me.

I didn’t go to China just for an exciting experience; I wanted to learn about China, and I wanted in many ways to “become” Chinese. I wanted to become an insider and be accepted by them. It turned out to be much harder than I had expected. For one, my face got in the way. Don’t get me wrong, the language was a huge barrier, but even when I was able to speak adequately, I would receive dumfounded looks that said, “I know the words coming out of your mouth, but I can’t believe they are coming from that white face”. And there are certainly Chinese expectations when they see someone like me – the Waiguo Ren, “the Foreigner”. It was as if they said “ah, a rich person who can benefit me if I befriend them” or immediately thought of me as someone who could be charged more for products in their shop. I don’t mean that to sound as base and selfish as it appears. I think that if you or I were on the other side of the cultural equation, we might approach this similarly.

Becoming a cultural insider and navigating the “minority experience” is challenging, and I can’t say that I flew through it and was a clear success. But I want to share some things that did help me.

  1. Become a learner – not just of the culture but of yourself.

You will need to be an observer of the culture and be careful not to become its judge. When we are wounded or offended by the culture’s norms, we may respond by criticizing back, finding fault and blaming. Taking this position, although the aim is about protecting yourself, will really block you from being able to understand the culture and fit in?. It will instead form a chasm between you and those in the culture. The alternative is to learn to develop your awareness of what is going on in your heart and talk your way through it. The times I didn’t do this went badly for me and were probably odd or quite amusing to the strangers that I would get frustrated with. There will be plenty of things that seem stupid to you about the way the culture does something. You’ll need to tell yourself that it seems stupid to you because you don’t yet understand the perspective from which they shaped their view.

  1. Make some friends

If you want to get through the “minority experience” and fit in better, you will need some folks who are insiders to walk with you through it. You need some folks of whom you can ask direct questions and folks who will be patient with you. I would not have survived at all without the friends I made and leaned on.

I realize that this is a big challenging piece – to make some friends while you are still an outsider. But is it going to be foundational!

  1. Go it with a friend before going it alone.

This presents a pattern for learning how to get around and figuring things out. Whether it’s how to get around town, fill out a form, buy things, or get a haircut, take a friend with you first and enlist their guidance. But when you are ready, you’ll want to then try things on your own as well. I remember taking my friend along the first time I went to get my hair cut. He was shocked at how much they wanted to charge me, and with him there, I got the “insider” price. That day my friend also had a cultural experience and learned what it was like to be me, which helped build our relationship as well.

  1. Be aware of yourself

This is about realizing that how we come across affects how the culture is going to respond to us. You’ve heard of the concept of the “ugly American” right? It’s the perception that some cultures have; that Americans can be loud, obnoxious, and self absorbed. The point is to become conscious of how you conduct yourself in the new culture. Do you expect people to give you their attention? Do you expect an amount of respect or courtesy? Do you like to do things the way you always have and believe that the new culture should welcome you or be considerate of your differences? I suppose, in one form this point is about the question of whether you are willing to humble yourself. (By the way, you’ll never make it if you aren’t!)

  1. Emotional Management

I was not at all prepared for the ways and the degree to which living in another culture would “upset my apple cart” and draw all kinds of negative emotions to the surface. It will help if you are not surprised by this. Being taken out of your comfort zone and thrust into a myriad of new situations will rock your emotional boat. It will produce stress. You will need to be mindful of this and take stock regularly and then take steps to lower your stress level. Prepare ahead to know what kind of activities are helpful for lowering your stress level.

  1. Develop a balance between the new culture and your old culture

You may be tempted to dive in and immerse yourself in the new culture as much as you can, thinking that is the best way to acclimate quickly. However, I would say that that is a set up for the high levels of stress just mentioned. You will need to maintain a connection with the familiar as well, for your sanity and emotional health. For me that might have meant getting a milk shake at McDonald’s or spending some time with other Americans. But, be aware that, as “the minority experience” grows and you get frustrated, there will be a temptation to pull back and separate from the new culture, clinging to anything from home to soothe you. This would be a big mistake. Keep it in balance and you’ll grow in your capacity to understand and adjust to the new culture.

“The minority experience” will stretch you in ways you never expected and bring emotional stuff buried in you to the surface. But that can be extremely valuable if you are open to learning about yourself. Process your thoughts and reactions with a safe person and you will grow a great deal, and if you are patient, you’ll be able to make the adjustments and find yourself fitting in.

 

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What If Your Valentine’s Days Have Become Boring? Here’s 3 Ways to Fight it

bored couples 4

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

We’ve all seen enough movies to have a glamorous view of the heights of romantic love. And many of us have had that experience of falling into the heady swoon of being caught up in love. But then, you get married. I’m kidding, although there is sort of a ring of truth in that as well, isn’t there?

There are all kinds of reasons for this change, some good and some not so good. Some of the reasons are just due to stages of life, like having children for instance, and some are surely due to outside factors and stress level. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes and then review how you can combat then.

  1. Life is really busy, and stressed filled and romance falls by the wayside, or I just don’t have the energy to pursue it.
  2. We have small kids. Duh! We can barely make it through it each day.
  3. There are resentments or disappointments between us.
  4. Circumstances that interfere, like losing a job, dealing with an addiction, needing to help an aging or ill relative, or health issues and lots more.

Fairly often more than one of these factors will be combined. Stress will certainly sap your energy. But if you have some unresolved relational resentment hanging around as well, then your motivation for romance will be shrunk to almost nothing. How about if you feel that your spouse is not meeting your needs, or they don’t understand you, or pay enough attention to you? There are things here that go beyond just stifling romance; they may be undermining your relationship and leading you to drift apart. Let me offer three categories that may be undermining romance and what you can do about it.

  1. Expectations

Some of the causes we’ve looked at involve life change or stages of life. You may need to face that at least temporarily that this is the way life needs to be. If you had to take in a aging family member that prevents the freedom and space you use to have for connection and romance, then accepting this reality will be emotionally healthier for you. If you and your spouse have simply gotten older and your or their libido or physical abilities have changed, then accepting these realities will be emotionally healthier for you. The point is that romance through the life cycle doesn’t look the same as when we were 25 or even 35. And acceptance does not resignation or defeat. Acceptance means to realize our limitations and make adjustments to live within them, rather than fight it and try to hang on. When we make these adjustments in our outlook, we will be able to find and appreciate what is available to us in this new stage of life.

  1. Stress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Frankly, I’m trying right now to think of anyone I know who isn’t stressed in their life. Stress seems like the normal American condition these days. And I think that because of that we’ve simply learned to accept it. But that sets us up to not bother reevaluating things or seeking changes – meaning point two is the flip side to point one. If point one is about acceptance, then point two is about non acceptance. Don’t just accept the level of stress that you are under. I realize there can be times when we are under a deadline or in crisis when there are no other options but to plow ahead. But these really should be temporary.

You know this right – stressors build up. And the stuff you thought you could handle (and were handling at the beginning), are now just one of 8 or more bowling balls in your backpack. You betcha lugging that amount of stress around will affect you. That’s about all the stress hormones that your brain is dumping into your body. It will affect your ability to concentrate, to think clearly, your decision making, and your memory. I call it being cognitively compromised. And when you are compromised like this it will affect your energy and motivation for relationships as well as your state of mind and how you come across.

All that means that you need to make yourself take a step back. This is probably the hardest part, right? To get yourself to stop and collect yourself. You need this slow down period to give your brain a chance to get out of this mode so you will have the ability to think more clearly. Then, use it. Start thinking creatively, strategically, about trimming from your to do list, enlisting some help, delegating where possible, or shifting your expectations.

  1. Resentments, hurts or misunderstandings

The third way we can become bored of romance is due to relational discord between the couple. And it doesn’t have to be over big stuff. We could simply be wounded by the fact that my spouse doesn’t pick up their dirty clothes or forgot to text me when they got held up and were going to home late. The reason for this is because these “little” things are really about how we interpret their meaning. When we perceive them as uncaring or rude or even intentional we are going to feel slighted or mistreated. And we will as a result be less motivated to give – to move towards that person. We may nurture an expectation that they need to shape up before we will feel okay about moving towards them (now we are talking about trust). Or we may end up resigning ourself to a conclusion that they don’t care enough about me or that they won’t change and so I give up.

The other side of all this are the things that either have been bigger offenses, or the situation where your spouse is doing hurtful things with intent. Maybe you’ve gotten into game playing in which you both have stored up resentments and take jabs at each other? Maybe it’s gone on so long that neither of you is aware of this dynamic operating? And so this is going on and yet you don’t get why you guys aren’t more affectionate and romantic towards one another. You see, sometimes we just bury this stuff. Oh, maybe we’re trying to be magnanimous and just move on. When in reality, I haven’t let go of it. Or maybe they keep doing it (whatever it is). And by the way, you are likely doing some “it”s as well.

In this case, what you guys need is some old fashion forgiveness. But that will require you both to dig around inside you first and figure out what you have been bothered about and then to come and express this to one another. But here’s the key. You have to change how you express it. Because you have been expressing, but often not in constructive ways. This time you need to express how you have felt without accusations or requirements for them to change, or threats or whining. Just simply – when this happens I’ve felt this way and thought this way. Here’s how I wish it would go. You get vulnerable. You express your longings. We can’t change other people, but we can invite people to know us and love us.

If you can adjust your expectations, lower your stress build up, and address your resentments, I bet you and your spouse will see an improvement in your connection to one another.

And that may just lead to a non-boring Valentine’s Day next year!

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