By: Sarah Collier, MA, LP
Think back to when you were a kid on a school field trip. All crammed on a bus heading in the direction of something full of hope and potential of something good (anything’s better than the day at school!)
You and your classmates all approached the bus ride differently though, I assume. Some were excited, some were loud and silly, some were sneaky and mischievous, some were bored, some were trying to sleep and kept getting disrupted, some were obediently following all the rules, some were anxious and terrified, some were in awe of the scenery outside, some were singing at the top of their lungs, etc. Probably lots of differing voices, behaviors, viewpoints, attitudes, all probably assuming their limited perspective made the most sense.
Now imagine you’re the driver of the bus. You’re at the head, trying to focus on the direction you’re heading towards. You’re heading towards the good. You’re heading towards the things in life that are aligned with your values and what you aim to be or have. For example, reliability, safety, trust, hope, connection, success, peace, family, etc. They are like your compass, always pulling you into that direction.
Behind you on the bus, however, are all the passengers. Like your classmates on the field trip, they all have their own perspectives and they all think they’re right.
It may sound like a room of very enthusiastic and passionate voices all vying for attention and for their voice to be heard. Perhaps they’re pounding their fists, shouting, standing up and pointing at each other and at you. You’re driving, attempting to be steady and secure and trying your best to listen to everyone in the inconsistency and, at times, chaos.
Perhaps some voices come up behind you and whisper things in your ear in order to be best heard. All of them act as if what they have to say is the most important thing.
How would you feel? It would be very hard not to appease the voices and just respond to them in the way they want which would require you to give up your steadiness and position and bend to their will, allowing them to jump in the driver’s seat and veer you off course and in the direction of their choosing which may be away from the value you have. This may cause you to feel confused, frustrated, lost, disconnected to your values and alone. It may be hard to talk with that new driver and ask them to return to their seat. If we walk up and demand it get off the bus and banish it, they’ll probably respond with why we need them and why they make the most sense. If we comply, it’ll be happy but we’ll feel the tension and loss, but if we push back, it’ll probably get louder and more persuasive which would feel distressing.
The banishment and tug of war won’t work, so we’ll be tempted to feel helpless and out of control. However, another approach would be to walk up to the voice at the head of the bus, ask to hear its perspective, respect where it’s coming from even in its limited viewpoint and then respond by saying something like “Thanks for the information and for trying to help, but I can see what you can’t, so I got this, let me drive. Go rest back in your seat” And then reclaim the driver’s seat even if that voice isn’t satisfied or compliant yet.
Those voices can’t hurt you or force you to do anything, even in their loudest moments. Although it’s not fun to hear them yelling, we do have the ability to respond to them in a new relational way, full of compassion and understanding and validation and still choose to act in the way that’s in line with our values, knowing that voice can only see a tiny fraction of reality and is usually trying to help us out in its limited way.
This all very conceptual. Let’s think of an example. You’re driving the bus in the direction of your value of speaking up more and using your voice instead of letting others take advantage of you. In other words, confidence, clarity and honesty. You’ve set out on your drive and the passengers are fairly calm and quiet. Some of the passengers are even supportive and complementary of your path and dedication to the destination. However, the longer the drive lasts, the more some of the passengers may get agitated or loud or disruptive. They may start shouting out comments like “Let’s not be too confident, you need to stay humble” or “What if we speak up and our boss at work doesn’t like it and we get fired?” or “Every time I try to be honest with my mom she puts me down” “What if the ladies at church start to think I’m pushy or difficult?”
And then those voices start suggesting alternatives. They may say “It’s best to turn here, so we can avoid any conflict” or “Stop the bus! We couldn’t handle the potential rejection!” or “Quick, turn here, let’s just do what the boss says so we’ll appear compliant, even if it means sacrifices”
If you remain in the driver’s seat heading towards confidence, clarity and honesty you’ll be more inclined to do behaviors and make choices that are going to challenge the passengers, but that’s growth!
If we don’t respond or comply to those voices and urges they’ll most likely raise the volume and surge our body up with adrenaline to compel us to act and move in the new, usually much safer, direction. And while safety is a good thing, if it requires us give up our commitment to heading in the direction of our values, it’s a loss of self.
It’s not easy, but we can learn to listen to the voices as they shout out their opinions, note them and respond with validation and understanding, knowing that they’re probably coming from parts of ourselves that are old and bent towards protection, but we can talk back by saying “Thank you but I can see what you can’t see ahead and I’m committed to this direction. You’re allowed to be here but I will drive.” It’s a much more compassionate response than one of war and banishment. The voices won’t disappear completely (they’re convinced they need to be there) but they should take their seats peacefully in time. All the while, you realize more and more their inability to force you to take any other action than the one you’ve chosen.
Going forward, see if you can imagine the bus and its passengers. What do they look like, how do they sound for you, when do they show up, how do you feel when they show up? What are your values you’re always aiming towards and how can you stay committed to those paths even when the other voices show up?
(ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy metaphor, check out the video for more of a visual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z29ptSuoWRc)
By: Chip Carter, MA, LPC
Have you ever had a moment when you know you’re going to relive it, retell it and recite it over and over again? Nowadays, when those moments occur, we bust out our phones to take a picture or video and then post it on all the socials for our world to see.
But back in 2003, the ‘socials’ weren’t around. Unless you count our friend Tom from My Space and now, he’s just a meme himself. So, this retelling has no pictures and no emojis to go along with it. It has just my memories to rely on.
Twenty years ago, I was in my last year of graduate school. I was hopeful and scared about my future as a therapist. At the time, I was convinced I wanted to work in a church setting. I would wear cardigan sweaters and have a wall of books behind me so without saying a word, I would appear smart. I also had a genuine interest in spiritual development, mine, and others, so I helped start an informal chapel service at my school.
One day, I asked one of my fellow students to speak to us. Her name was Donna Davis. I can’t say she was a close friend of mine. She was a little older, a Mom of four, and had recently been diagnosed with late-stage cancer. I remember thinking I wanted us to pray and encourage her, but I also wanted to hear how she was handling her diagnosis and how God was in the mixture of all of this.
Donna was a humble person by nature. I would call her introverted, a devoted Mom who decided in the midst of life to go back to school after her children had reached an age of independence. She was smart, insightful, and strong. And now, she was dealing with the worst diagnosis and outlook. I wanted her to have the floor to say whatever she wanted to say.
That day, when asked by someone her thoughts on God and how she was feeling about Him allowing her to deal with this, she said the following - “God is a God of mystery. We are not supposed to know everything. And I don’t want to worship a God I can figure out.”
She said more than that, but this is what my brain and heart remember. That God, our God, isn’t meant to, nor doesn’t have to explain everything. That we aren’t meant to, nor do we have to, know everything. And we shouldn’t want to worship a holy God that is a paint by numbers deity. Figuring him out would, in itself, lessen His holiness.
This is surrender, and the act of surrendering may be one of the hardest things we humans do.
I have told this story dozens upon dozens of times. In therapy sessions, in one-on-one conversations with friends, in small group settings. I think about it all the time. It has become a bedrock statement for me, and something I rely on often.
Donna lived this faith the rest of her life. Eighteen months later, I attended her funeral, and it was unlike any other service I had experienced. Those four children I mentioned earlier – they led worship during the service. Her husband – he read from his journal entries he made while his wife dealt with such a horrible disease. They all modeled the words Donna spoke that day. They made the choice to worship and honor a God that didn’t provide all the answers here on Earth, and still believed He was good.
Testimonies live on, and Donna’s certainly has. I hope and plan to retell it again and again and again.
A Word For The Parents Of Young Couples
By: Jeff Pipe, PsyD
I’d like to share a word with my generation - the parents of those adult children who may be struggling. Being the parent of an adult child is far more challenging (and exciting) than I ever thought it would be. As the parent of an adult child, you have the same emotional bond as you did when they were a newborn, but you have utterly no power or control. Its a wonderful-horrible situation to which it takes time to adjust. As the counselor who may be trying to help your child in their marriage, let me tell you how you can help and hinder your adult children’s growth process.
First, I want to be clear that you are no longer responsible for your adult children’s decisions. More specifically, you are not to blame for their bad behavior and bad decision-making. You are not responsible for their struggles today. They’re adults now and only they can be responsible for their choices. To blame yourself is to take adult power and responsibility from them; to blame yourself is to make them a victim. Please don’t cry over how you failed them - at least not in front of them; doing so disempowers them, creates insecurity and fosters unhealthy dependency. If you become aware of mistakes you made, own them, ask for your children’s forgiveness and move forward from it. It is critical that you release any guilt, shame or indebtedness you feel for those failures and move on; if you can’t, they certainly won’t be able to. You may have launched them into adult independence with more baggage or less baggage - certain emotional, relational and material deficits or assets - but they are adults now and it is up to them to sort it out.
Second, know that the family is God’s medium for transmitting His truth and facilitating development; no one had a more significant impact on your child’s relational and emotional development than you did. When your child is in my office telling me about you, my assumption is that you loved your child as much I loved - and continue to love - my adult daughter. I assume that you bonded deeply and gave to your children to the best of your ability. At the same time, I know that you were - and are - a broken, fallen person marred by the curse; as a result, you failed your children in specific and concrete ways. You have a heart that deceives even you; there are trap doors, fun-house-mirrors and hidden defenses within your heart and mind to which you are blind. So, it is very likely that some of your adult children’s relational and personal struggles were created on your watch. You were a contributor - perhaps the most significant contributor - to those relational/emotional issues with which they now struggle. They’re not struggling because they are an Enneagram 2 or an INTJ or because they made the wrong friends in college or because they were just a victim of some unfortunate circumstance. If they are consistently struggling with some thematic relational issue, their vulnerability to this issue was likely formed in your home and, more specifically, in the context of their relationship with you.
So, as you see your adult children struggling, allow it to provoke reflection on who you are now and who you were then. Be a student of their thematic struggles. Not so you can advise them, but so that you can be schooled by them. Let their struggles be like a flashlight shining into the darkened corners of your heart. Get in counseling with a therapist who understands parent-child dynamics or attachment theory and ask them to help you figure out how you may have contributed to your adult children’s issues and then change/grow yourself. Don’t try to rescue your adult children, give them unsolicited advice, tell them what they’ve done wrong or buy them something expensive. Let them deal with their own consequences while you deal with yourself. It is the kindest thing you can do for them. While your ability to to directly guide your adult children is minimal, you are still a powerful person in their world and witnessing your growing humility, change and growth will effect them more profoundly than any bit of help or advice you might offer.
So, if your marriage is difficult, work on it. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, work on it. If you drink too much or spend too much or have a secret sexual struggle, work on it. If you’ve withdrawn from Christ, work on it. If you have unresolved trauma from your own past, work on it. Without personal change, your words to your adult children are ineffectual at best, alienating at worst; but your actions - the freshly broken and beautiful way you will learn to interact with them as you grow - will be disruptive and inviting. Repent and grow - it will be a far more powerful agent for change than your advice or your money.
How Your Past Informs Your Present
Legacy Strategy Blog
Legacy Strategy, Inc. is a private counseling practice in Kennesaw, Georgia.