Let’s Talk

Relationship Busters

Q. What are some more relationship busters besides doormat living (your last column)?

A. Let’s Talk! Last post we talked about needing to say “no” when appropriate so you are not walked on, which is about maintaining too few boundaries. Another topic along this line is when one has TOO MANY boundaries. Let’s take a look at that now.

We talked last time about the underlying story of why one has too few boundaries (doormat living): often it’s about being a people pleaser.

When someone has too many boundaries, he or she exhibits an unspoken message to others to not come close. With this emotional distancing, the person appears too fragile, too busy, too angry, or as though they have put up another “wall” of some description. The reasons underneath that wall vary, of course, but usually there is a deep hurt or injury that has not been processed and healed.

Do you see a common denominator? Yes, people. There’s a cost when we injure others, and a cost when we let others injure us. Having too few boundaries or too many boundaries are not emotionally healthy places. If you find yourself in either category, I do encourage you to get professional help to unravel the places of injury to your heart and relationships.

Yes, you know the next thing I am going to say. God also longs to complete the healing needed for your boundary issues. Not as a mask or as a stick-on answer, but for the deeper healing needed.

For Deeper Reflection

Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [emphasis mine]

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.
You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com 

Doormat Living

Q. What are the characteristics of being a “doormat?”

A. Let’s Talk! Being a doormat involves feelings of being walked on. Moreover, this form of codependency means a person fails to set boundaries and has difficulty saying “no.

In many cultures and families, saying “no” seems impolite and not kind. But when saying “yes” most of the time – when you really want to say “no” — gives way to dysfunctional living.

I never thought I would be teaching small children to say “no” to family members, friends, classmates, etc., but as an elementary counselor, I did teach them to refuse when they were asked to do something wrong or unsafe. This message is just as important for adults. We live in such a not-safe world.

When you say “yes” and don’t say “no” — and you wish you hadn’t agreed — that’s a clue you are doormat-ing. There’s also a sinking feeling, an uh-oh feeling in the pit of your stomach.

I love finding Scriptures that speak into my life and can you believe there are even some verses in Isaiah 51 and 52 that urge us not to let others walk on us? Let us know your thoughts on doormat living.

For Deeper Reflection

Isaiah 51: 7b, 22, 23; Isaiah 52:2

Do not fear the reproach of man,
Nor be dismayed at their revilings.

Thus says your Lord, the Lord, even your God
Who contends for His people,
“Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling,
The chalice of My anger;
You will never drink it again.
“I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
Who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you.’
You have even made your back like the ground
And like the street for those who walk over it.”

Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
Loose yourself from the chains around your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion.

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.
You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com 

What About Group Anger?

Q. What are the dynamics of group anger or riots that are growing in the United States?

A. Let’s Talk! Clearly, an angry mob is one angry person finding another angry person and another! In my last post, I gave as a definition of anger, “the result of things not going the way we had hoped. Loss of hope. Things are just not right.” Somehow, when one angry person is with another angry person there is comfort and a dark sense of excitement. That fuels the fire!

Many have said our world is upside down and not at all the way it “should be” with answers seeming outside of our grasp. If we can find others who feel the same way, this strangely legitimizes our dark sense of being right in our anger.

There are several remedies. One internal piece that we talked about last time was reframing: changing one’s thinking, coping with the difference between how things should be and how they really are. Part of this is letting go of the expectation you had of how life should be. Ouch.

Then there is forgiveness. But, another action and external piece we can take is to go to the one or ones involved and try to talk about the problem and come to an agreement on some level. Talking is better than STUFFING our anger. The ramifications of stuffing are enormous. Taking up an offense is devastating too. Let’s talk about both of those next time.

One more thing to throw in the stew is the idea of processing the grief of things not being the way they should be. Grief and anger are cousins, so we hurt and we are angry all at the same time. Sometimes they are so tangled we can’t separate the two. Ask God to untangle the tangles and give you His wonderful wisdom and view of the situation. He will.

For Deeper Reflection

James 1:4-5 “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.
You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com


Keeping You Strong

KFourteen years ago, June 7, 2002, Gracia Burnham was forced to leave her dead husband lying in the rain on a soggy hillside in a Philippine jungle. As captives of the Filipino terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf, American aviation missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham endured a year on the run across densely vegetated outlying islands.

Their Muslim kidnappers engaged in sixteen gun battles with the Philippines military up to that fateful June afternoon when the military surprised the rebels’ jungle camp, killing Martin and a Filipino hostage. A bullet ripped clear through Gracia’s left thigh and the government forces immediately evacuated Gracia from the tragic scene.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Gracia via phone about her year of captivity and her life now as a speaker, author, and grandmother living in rural Kansas. Surviving as a jungle hostage only to have your soul mate killed upon your rescue might send many a person into a horrific tailspin. What has kept Gracia from giving up under such duress?

Gracia carries a 3 x 5 card in her Bible that Martin carried in his. Martin wrote these words from 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 on the card: “He will keep you strong to the end . . . . God, who has called you . . . is faithful.” Gracia explains that this Bible truth assures her that “I can make it after all. I can survive.”

Gracia talks frequently to audiences from cancer patients to school children about being brave and resilient beyond one’s own strength. “We can all look at our lives and see how we’ve gone through a terrible trial that we never would have chosen,” Gracia says, “but God does show up. He is still loving and good.” And as Gracia can attest, God gives fresh strength in the uttermost parts of the planet.

How has God shown up and given you strength when you need it most?

Brave and Resilient Tip #138: You can gain strength and make it after all.

Let’s Talk

Feel Angry?

Q. What are feelings of anger about?

A. Let’s Talk! Anger is everywhere! Just drive anywhere for five minutes and you’ll see all levels of road rage. Go to the grocery store and you will see families out of control. You’ve seen anger many places in your day, haven’t you? Anger even seems to be on the increase. A working definition of anger is: Anger is the result of things not going the way we had hoped. It’s a loss of hope and feeling that things are just not right.

Our world today is so full of loss of control, things not going the way they “should,” and despair that our new normal will ever feel really normal. At times, so much feels different!

Sounds like I’m a glass-half-empty melancholic, doesn’t it? But, I’m a sanguine! I too have been reflecting on the anger I see each day large and small. I see both friends’ and strangers’ anger because “things are just not like they are supposed to be.”

Is this why we are drawn to entertainment and countless diversions? Is this why we like connecting in texts and social media? Are we driven to find a so-called happy place?

What do we do? For starters, God knew the damage we’d carry if we held on to anger too long. He says not to let the sun go down on anger. It’s normal to get angry and experience disappointment that things are not as they should be. We are just not to hold onto anger a long time. A day is as long as we need to be angry before this emotion needs to go. When things don’t go as you expected, can you think through your expectation(s) of what went south and let this unmet expectation go? Can you “die” to the expectation of how things SHOULD have gone?

Now, would you ask God to renew your mind? Ask Him to hit the Refresh button for you and cast your hope on Him instead of how things should be. Are you willing to switch your thinking around? Will you try it this week?

For Deeper Reflection

[google Bible verses on anger and you will find some treasure!]

Ephesians 4:27 “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

Psalm 37:8 “Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing.
Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.
You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com

Let’s Talk

Feel Inadequate?

Q. You last wrote about rebellion leading to poor self-esteem. What about feelings of inadequacy?

A. Let’s Talk! Many people have had a sense of inadequacy – feeling that they are not enough or that they don’t have what it takes. Living in our culture plays into that, but we can recover from that with God’s help. HE becomes our adequacy.

Poor self-esteem is more about reaping the effects of poor choices like toxic, irrational, and untrue thinking and resisting authorities and instruction.What these effects have in common are identity issues. Poor self-esteem is the result of failing in some areas and struggling to “be OK.” The sense of inadequacy is a more vague cloud over us when we are not sure we are OK.

Both poor self-esteem and a sense of inadequacy demonstrate our failure to comprehend God’s love and plan for our lives. Failures and inadequacies on this earth are common. But God doesn’t want us to base our worth or value on things from this earth.

I heard someone say the other day, “I entrust myself to Your loving reception, for everything I am and everything I am not. . . .” What a healthy balance! What acceptance of some things we are and the things we are lacking.

For Deeper Reflection
Matthew 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.
You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com

The In Between

IMG_5743Springtime in the Rockies is, well, winter shaking out its coat of snow and ice. I snapped this photo recently of my backyard apple tree stuck in the seasonal in between. Brrrrr and beauty all rolled into one. You know what? You and I find ourselves in these seasonal in betweens too.
Our children are graduating to the next level of school or birthing a career and we are in a bit of a holding pattern. We applaud their life milestones while placing a bit of a check on our emotions. We want them to launch . . . we want them to stay. The in between.

The present job is just draining us or the company is taking another direction and we are left behind. We want a better work fit . . . we want the familiarity of our coworkers and paycheck. The in between.

The medication and treatment are winding down, but we still are not back to our normal energy and activities. We want to be well   . . . we want our “other” body back. The in between.

Like snow-covered apple blossoms, we are to hold steady through the in between seasons. On-ice circumstances do eventually thaw. Resolve and patience will usher in the new, the good. What about the awkwardness of wanting to be done and through and beyond our in between? I’m finding these words from Psalm 37:7 of help: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him . . . .”

Stillness. Waiting. Shhhh . . . can you hear the plop-plunk, plop-plunk of your in between melting into the new and the good?

What’s your in between right now? What helps you be still and wait?

Brave and Resilient Tip #137: In between times do usher in the new and the good.

Let’s Talk

Rebellion and Poor Self-Esteem

Q. What are some pitfalls of rebellious adults?

A. Let’s Talk! There is a stunning truth in Scripture, “He who resists instruction despises his own soul” (Proverbs 15:32). We are seeing this combination in our culture of rebellion and poor self-esteem. Let’s talk more . . . .

When we resist instruction, we invite poor decisions and then shame. Self-esteem improves when good choices are made.

Even small children know that when we make poor decisions, we feel bad about who we are; and conversely, when we make good decisions, we feel better!

The truth is, we are to feel good about who are simply because we are created by God. But, our culture has other messages out there about what matters. Performance and achievement are just two. Certainly it is a good thing to do well, but that doesn’t mean we are to measure our worth or value by that measure alone. Counseling offices are full of clients with fear of failure issues, sense of inadequacy issues, and a sense of no value.

But it is God’s wisdom and instruction that can help us navigate the system. That is, if we don’t resist instruction and choose rebellion. We choose rebellion to feel free, to feel better, but this choice only brings the opposite. I bet we each have personal stories of prodigals who went on a search for pleasure and found that resisting instruction brought pain.

For Deeper Reflection

Proverbs 8:33 “Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it.”

Proverbs 15:5A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

Proverbs 15:31–32He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com

The Untold Truth of Chernobyl

Radioactivity sign on a shelter door closeupYury flopped open a mini date log, pointing to the black marks he scrawled to count his helicopter trips over the still-smoldering Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Early morning April 26, 1986, the facility’s reactor number 4 exploded, heaving tons of uranium, cesium, plutonium and other radioactive poisons three miles into the atmosphere.

In the weeks following the disaster, the Soviet powers ordered Yury, a Russian video journalist, to film aerial scenes of the crippled Ukrainian facility. Yury and his copter pilots hovered eerily over the molten mess again and again. Odin, dva, tri, chetire, pyat’ . . . the numbers in Yury’s flight manifesto seemed inconceivable.

“After those flights, my hair started to fall out,” Yury explained in solid English. “At first I thought it was from a lack of eating vegetables.” As the driver of my U.S. humanitarian team to Chernobyl’s 18-mile radius Exclusion Zone, Yury seemed anxious to dialogue on that brisk day in January 1991. Our Jeep lurched and pounded on the outlying ruts, kicking up choking dust billows. Compared to the sickening cloud of radionuclides from the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe, the grimy travel debris seemed trivial.

A quarter-century after I became one of the first Western journalists into the Zone, it is time that I disclose the truth. Not about humongous-eyed aliens, but the truth behind a hush-hush secret that grieves me to think that I schlepped along in silence myself for decades. People tend to confess things to me. Addictions. Affairs. Crimes. Like them, Yury’s private mystery long wadded into the core of his nightmares needed space to thud to the surface. After showing us his Chernobyl flight record, Yury stared at the Jeep’s steering wheel before continuing his memories.

That April Saturday in 1986, Yury captured video of his family throwing an outdoor party not far from the doomed power plant. The media cameraman filmed the springtime flowers and squealing laughter of the kids. He recorded the fresh gaiety of the afternoon, oblivious that all around invisible chemicals wafted in the breeze and swirled into streams. Deadly atoms gripped trees, grass and shoes. Ionizing particles floated inside nostrils and lungs.

While Yury kept the camera rolling on fun, firefighters and first responders at the Chernobyl facility raced to dampen the roaring reactor. No one could stop the radioactive fury. And no one told the public of the out-of-control monster fanning a lethal plume northward across Belarus and countries beyond.

Soviet Union leader Gorbachev and other members of the Politburo learned of the tragedy around 3 a.m. Saturday—about 1 ½ hours after the steam blast rocked a 1,000-ton lid from above the reactor’s fuel elements. Seeds of a global cover-up rooted overnight. What Soviet commanders knew and when is still debated. Some 36 hours after the explosion, residents of Pripyat, the power plant’s surrounding “atom town” received first official details of the meltdown: “Attention comrades, an unsatisfactory radioactive situation has occurred at the Chernobyl power station. As a temporary precaution, it has been decided to evacuate citizens of Pripyat.” Three hours later, with the aid of 1,200 buses from Kiev, the community of roughly 45,000 turned eerily empty.

Somewhere in the panic and precaution, Soviet authorities learned of Yury’s idyllic spring day video. Moscow aired clips of his film on state television. The communist powers distorted Yury’s truth of the clear landscape and jovial people into a half-truth for the world to see. Da, April 26 was a bright, sunny day. See the local children giggling and romping, the adults toasting and feasting. Yury’s video footage proved all was well for USSR citizens. Or, was it?

In control of our Jeep ride to the Zone almost five years later, this seen-too-much news professional could no longer control his dam of secrecy. Yury stammered with the sobering reality. “The government used my video to say that “Nyet, nyet, nyet, the Chernobyl plant is fine. Everything is fine. That video, it . . . it. . . how you say? It is a black spot on my heart. A black spot on my whole life.”

The civil authorities turned an innocent party into international propaganda. If Sweden hadn’t sounded the alarm, three days after the initial devastation, how long would have the Soviets remained tight-lipped? Authorities held back on the full effects of the radiation contamination for years. Children splashed in streams. Women gathered mushrooms in the forests. Men tilled their farmland.

The Republic’s calculated downplay of the Chernobyl melee cracked open in October 1990 when Byelorussia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pyotr Kravchanka addressed the United Nations General Assembly. “I want to be completely frank with the Assembly,” Mr. Kravchanka said in issuing an appeal for international aid. “The bitter truth is that it is only now, four and a half years later, that we are finally and with tremendous difficulty making a breach in the wall of indifference, silence and lack of sympathy, and for this we ourselves are largely to blame.”

A few weeks later I was invited as a reporter to join a New York-based group delivering three ton of medicine and relief supplies to Belarus hospitals and orphanages. Our host, the Byelorussian Children’s Fund, escorted us throughout this troubled country where more than half of the unseen Chernobyl toxins showered unsuspecting citizens with a blanket of potential disease and death. I grasped the hand of a dying teen and cradled babies no body wanted. Seeing dozens of bald, chemo-sick boys and girls is still tough to form into words.

I sensed the country’s suffocating uneasiness as Yury drove us to the Zone’s checkpoint and armed communist guards herded us into an outdated bus to tour a number of desolate evacuated villages. At one point we ventured within four miles of the mangled energy plant and our cell phone-sized dosimeter soared to indicate dangerous radiation levels—10 times higher than what is considered safe.

I can still hear the haunting creak of dilapidated playground swings. Picture dirt-swept toys and dolls long abandoned in schoolrooms. Drawing close to Chernobyl’s Ground Zero, we met an elderly couple outside their farmhouse. “Why are you still here in this contamination?” I posed. The wife pointed to the sky and scolded me through our interpreter, “Neyt! Neyt! Neyt! We see nothing in the air!”

Denial can work for any of us, until reality snags our heels and hauls us down. An accurate tally of the ill and dead from Chernobyl may never be known—estimates still range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands. As celebrated author Mitch Albom notes, “One day can bend your life.” April 26, 1986, was that day for Yury and countless innocents like him.

Today the United Nations reports, “No established legitimate authority was able to immediately address the situation and provide answers for questions such as: Is it safe to leave the house? Is it safe to drink water? Is it safe to eat local produce?”
Thirty years ago in a Cold War culture, Yury did not know Moscow would manipulate his family-time video. Today we live in a world where employees (politicians, NFL players and more) refuse to submit evidence—delete the files, shred evidence or wipe the data—or become infamous whistle blowers. Was Yury an unknowing pawn on a convoluted global chessboard or merely a dedicated family man just doing his job? Yes. Both.

I imagine feeling radiation betray his own body and watching the same in others only added to Yury’s internal agony. Perhaps he wondered, Am I partially to blame for these hurting kids? Could I have spoken out against the mishandling of my video or alerted the outside world to the truth?

Brave and Resilient Tip #136: Always hold to the unarmed truth.

I cringe as I type. Sitting in that chilly Jeep in early 1991, was Yury attempting to alert the outside world through me?
In his UN plea, representative Kravchanka added this perspective. “The verdict of history has yet to be passed on those in our Republic who . . . hid the truth about the effects of the accident from our people,” the foreign affairs leaders said. “It is difficult to say why they did this, and to disentangle cause from effect: was the deception caused by secrecy, or was the secrecy the result of the deception? Either way, it was inhuman.”

Deception always hurts someone. In the case of the Chernobyl disaster, someone swelled to hundreds of thousands. Countless men, women and children lost homes. Lost hair. Lost lives.

I respect national security issues, but is there ever an appropriate time for governments to sequester the reality of a mistake, a manmade disaster, a tragic oops that injures and kills? Its no wonder distrust festers in the psyche of citizens on every continent.
I have no time for regrets. Neither does Yury, if he is still alive. I’m unclear how anyone can fly numerous times over a fuming nuclear reactor and live years later to tell about it. Of the first-on-the-scene photographers who snapped photos or recorded video on the ground and in the air that fateful Saturday, two are dead from radiation-related disease and one was constantly ill from the Chernobyl exposure for years before dying in a 2015 car accident.

Maybe my silence has propagated Yury’s guilt, widened that dark spot on his heart. I’m truly sorry, Yury. I was so wrapped up in telling the rest of the Chernobyl story that I forgot to tell yours. To your homeland and mine, I say stop the sludge-flinging and blaming and cramming fault under calculated layers of classified deception.

A man who believed that the truth will set you free, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, espoused, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The Soviet government hid the truth from its unsuspecting citizens and the entire planet, while we sometimes hide the truth from even ourselves. I challenge us all to hold to the unarmed truth and inspire others to do that same.

This one is for you, Yury. May your mind and heart live free. Da. Da. Da.

On April 26, 2016, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, national foxnews.com published a condensed version of this article by Beth.

Let’s Talk

Rebellious Children – Part 2

Q. What are some more ideas for parents of rebellious children?

A. Let’s Talk! We left off the last post talking about the atmosphere in the home and the goal of better relationships and consensus to dial down rebellion. Let’s go right to one of the hardest discussions in a family: the rules, chores, routines, and—oops—what happens when these are not followed. Remember, though, that the outcome is not more important than the relationships and the messages you are giving in the process.

So, you ask for a family meeting and ask if all would be willing to help create the family goals, rules (I prefer the term agreements), chores, and how to handle agreements not followed. Future weekly family meetings are more about how the week is going, et cetera.

The family goals, rules, and chores are a consensus of core beliefs. You will want to linger the longest there as your family creates them at your first family meeting, which sets the environment. Examples are: we choose to respect others, and we purpose to take responsibility for our actions and decisions and not make excuses. Help make it a pleasant activity! Write down all suggestions so all feel heard and keep asking for feedback as you facilitate a final version. This is an important step because everything else hinges on it.

The next discussion in the meeting is to decide on the consequences when family members choose not to follow the agreements just created. [This is most often called punishment, but I’m asking you to consider a different term!] Ask all family members what they think certain consequences should be for choosing to not follow the various agreements. You will be shocked! Invariably, the children choose stiffer consequences than you would choose. Now negotiate in love until you reach a great agreement.

Once you’ve established an agreement, you can simply reference as your family moves forward and make adjustments as needed. A wise statement is to communicate to all in the family that if someone has a better idea to share it during the family meetings. You as parent get the final say, of course, but do you hear the love and openness and flexibility? There is less rebellion when a child of any age feels heard.

For Deeper Reflection

Philippians 4: 8 “[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Helen B. McIntosh has a doctorate in counseling psychology and is a national board certified professional counselor and certified in reality therapy. An educator for 19 years, Dr. McIntosh is an author, a highly demanded national speaker and inventor of the Peace Rug®, an international curriculum for conflict resolution.

You can contact me confidentially at DrHelen@braveandresilient.com