Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day 2 - Wellness awaits each of us. Why is it some people don't choose it?

I am basing this short series on a belief about wellness that I have long held...

Wellness awaits each of us. We choose the time. 

In the previous blog, I shared three insights into Wellness awaits each of us. Why is it that only some people choose it? We learned about Pain, Perspective, and Purpose. In addressing this belief, I am referring to individuals who are capable of choosing psychological, emotional, and relational wellness. In other words, their level of  functioning or severity of diagnosis does not hinder their accessibility to resources or to recovery. So, why is it that countless numbers of capable individuals remain stuck in their unhealthy ways of being? Why do they live from crisis to crisis or from one costly consequence to another? Why are some people existing in a constant flux of drama and dysfunction? What is going on when...

Wellness awaits each of us.
Why is that some people don't choose it?

Walking Away From Wellness

In lieu of discussing some of the more commonly known and valid explanations such as defense mechanisms (denial, repression), brain chemistry, personality disorders, etc., I am sharing three insights which are based on my personal experiences and as a Marriage and Family Therapist. However, they are also well-documented in psychological literature. These three insights are intriguing and interesting, and although many people can relate to them, it can be a bit uncomfortable admitting to them or talking about them. Let's get started with Needs, Norms and A New Normal, and A Network of Enabling.

#1 Needs

In discussions around the topic of therapy and in understanding clients, many clinicians often use the phrase, "Dysfunction fills a void" or "Dysfunction serves a need." In other words, when I work with an individual, couple, or family who has been struggling chronically with the same issues, I ask myself some of these questions: Who or what is sustaining this behavior? And why? What is this person getting from continuing this attitude, belief, or action? How is this person manifesting the behavior or those in relationship to him/her benefiting? And as I begin to help the client and/or loved ones peal away their layers of pain and shame, I discover...

 There are always unmet needs,
fueling a pattern of destructive behaviors. 

Over the years, many of the cases I worked with involved clients where the need being served was
quite obvious as was the resulting dysfunction. Two very common examples include the following:
  • Individuals suffering from alcohol and drug dependency struggle chronically to meet both their psychological and physiological needs of the disease. Family members and loved ones, usually caught up in the cycle of codependency and enabling, also meet their needs through desperate attempts at rescuing, controlling, or managing the dependent individual and/or the ongoing damaging effects. 
  • In the areas of domestic violence and other forms of abuse, I worked with deeply injured victims of traumaWithout minimizing the abusive behaviors of the perpetrators but with an awareness into how the perpetrator's behaviors were driven by an insatiable need for power and control, countless victims were able to assuage responsibility or guilt on their part.Their understanding of  their abuser's unmet needs was often times a turning point in their healing journey.
And still, there were cases where although the need being served was not as overt, the consequences were no less injurious. Let's take a look at an example.

A number of years ago, a vibrant woman in her late forties came for counseling regarding her marriage. I will call her Cheryl. Suspecting that her husband of over 25 years might be having an affair, Cheryl was frantic and fearful. As I began taking her history, I also learned that even though Cheryl professed to have a close, loving family, she had a very strained relationship with her two adult children. As we worked together, I began to understand how Cheryl's rigid, authoritarian, emotionally absent upbringing created an extremely deep need in her to be loved and accepted. Unfortunately, in her efforts to fill her void, Cheryl was quite demanding and controlling of those she loved. With her unrealistic expectations and her constant interference into her adult children's lives, they distanced themselves from her. And without defending her husband's infidelity, he too turned his affections elsewhere to escape Cheryl's domineering nature. Although Cheryl worked hard on acknowledging her past wounds, she was not able to move beyond her need-driven behaviors and her family continued to detach themselves from her.

 Unmet needs propel individuals towards unhealthiness...
 Unhealed needs keep them there.

Dysfunction Serves a Need

#2 Norms and A New Normal

Almost every family has a set of rules (usually unwritten) or norms which are evident in how the family functions. Some families are easy going and very flexible.  Others are more structured and rigid.  Some are a combination of both. Family traditions, customs, and belief systems are a part of a family's norms. Therefore, it is not uncommon when one family member deviates from a family norm to experience resistance from other family members! A silly example of this is when a family member wants to change an ingredient in a long-standing recipe. Wow! That can cause a huge problem. Or someone wants to go away for Thanksgiving instead of following a 15 year custom of staying home! Ouch! That too can cause major upheaval in rigid family systems.  The point is when a family is accustomed to a certain way of functioning and/or following a pattern of behaviors, it is often extremely hard to change it without meeting resistance.

Family Norms
Sadly, not too long ago, some family friends were devastated when they found out their daughter had relapsed again. After almost 20 years of dealing with drug and alcohol issues, rehabs, legal problems, and countless other consequences, our friends felt they were on a better track with their daughter. Observing from the sidelines over the years, I witnessed how the parents never sought out any professional help, guidance, or support. After each and every catastrophe with their daughter, they picked up the pieces, patched her up, and put their lives back together, sort of. A few times over the years, a close relative of the family reached out, offering recovery suggestions, resources, and interventions. And although there were complaints of exhaustion and frustration, once the crisis at hand was averted, the family re-secured their alliances to one another and settled back down into its norms of dysfunction.

Even when the norms include long-standing or chronic unhealthy behaviors...
family members will challenge interference, defend their positions, and re-embrace their rules.

Unfortunately, as the occurrences of relapse or other patterns of behavior become more destructive and without appropriate interventions, any family's level of functioning -  and its norms - become more and more unhealthy. And what was once a completely intolerable and an unacceptable way of living is now a New Normal from which to navigate the chaos and consequences within. 

A New Normal
Norms of a family can create a culture of  wellness or unhealthiness...
Resistance to embracing their challenges and to healing them guarantees the later. 

#3 A Network of Enabling

Although at first glance, a Network of Enabling might appear to be the same or similar to Norms, it is actually quite different and deserves attention. I think that many people remain stuck in their unhealthiness because it feels comfortable there. As I have discussed, their needs are being met and the norms of their family culture support their unhealthiness. And, as with most of us who want to feel accepted and valued for who we are, we gravitate towards people who will affirm us, and we place ourselves in situations and circumstances which will reinforce our behaviors. And so, when asking why some individuals don't choose wellness, it is important to understand...

They choose a network of enabling...
an environment which nurtures their unmet needs and normalizes their unhealthiness.

A Network of Enabling
As I was reflecting about this insight over the past week, I thought about myself as well as so many past clients, friends, and family members who not only have been stuck in unhealthiness but who have struggled with relapse (of some kind) in their own recovering journeys. In almost every case, a Network of Enabling contributed to their decision to abandon a recovery program or healing practice; to fall back into a toxic relationship; to reject a long-held belief system, ritual, or custom; or lastly, to walk away from an important accomplishment or established goal. 

Failure's Front Door
I don't have a lot of regret in my life.  I choose to look at my poor decisions as well as ensuing struggles as valuable life lessons. However, there is one unhealthy decision that I made many years ago which set my life on an extremely painful course for several years. In my junior year in college, I achieved a goal which I had dreamed about for eight years - attending school in France. Studying French since 7th grade, working really hard in high school, getting accepted to the University of California,and then making it into the study abroad program for my junior year was an incredible feat. Why then, almost two-thirds into the year did I leave the program early to return to the U.S? I could give all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line is that I chose it.  And when my healthy friends told me I was making a mistake and when my best friend tried everything possible to convince me to stay, I turned to a crowd of negative, unhealthy, lost individuals to hear what I wanted to hear, not what was best for me. I let go of my healthy circle of support. Instead, I listened to the lies of  a Network of Enablers, including a toxic boyfriend back home.  Before long I was on a plane, leaving my dreams far behind me and landing right smack at failure's front door.

It wasn't until a number of years later when I deliberately chose to embrace a path of wellness regarding all aspects of my life that I realized the cancerous effect of a Network of Enabling.

It surrounds our healthy parts and suffocates them...
it smothers out the voices of truth replacing them with lies.

In closing, I wouldn't be in the recovery field if I didn't believe that knowledge is power. And that many times it takes naming our pain in order to recognize there is a way out of it. I hope these insights - Needs, Norms and A New Normal, and a Network of Enabling -  may have created an understanding into why some of us get stuck. And perhaps for a few, naming them ignited a longing into the workings of wellness. After all...

Wellness awaits each of.  We choose the time. 
Start today. Start now.  It is never too late.

It Is Never Too Late!
In the "2nd Edition Breaking Through Betrayal", a new section has been devoted solely to
Self- Betrayal or Relapse with a compassionate step by step process for recovery!

For more recovering tools and support, please visit Holli Kenley
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Thank you!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Day 1- Wellness awaits each of us. Why is it that only some people choose it?

One of the reasons I entered the field of psychotherapy is because I have long believed...

Wellness awaits each of us. We choose the time.

And although I am well-aware that there are countless individuals who suffer from incurable diseases, chronic disorders, severe mental illness and/or physical disabilities, and there are innocent victims of varying sorts of trauma who are unable to escape their unsafe environments, I am constantly amazed at the resiliency of the human spirit and how individuals overcome insurmountable obstacles. At the same time, I am frequently saddened as I talk with or witness capable individuals who remain stuck in their unhealthy ways of living and who struggle daily with unnecessary hardships. I still believe...

Wellness awaits each of us. 
Why is it that only some people choose it? 

Because there have been countless articles and books written on this very topic, for today's blog I am going to share with you three insights that I have gleaned not only from my professional experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but also in my personal life as well. Let's get started.

 #1 Pain 

You might have heard or experienced the sayings - "Well, she hit her bottom"; "For him, there was
no where else to go but up"; or "They finally figured out that what they were doing wasn't working." These are all sound explanations for motivating individuals towards wellness. However, I believe they camouflage an underlying truth - the pain being experienced is no longer tolerable.

Whether it is an alcoholic who has lost his family, job, and self-respect again, a codependent who has rescued the uncontrollable for the 100th time depleting all her resources, a teen girl who has threatened to break it off with her controlling boyfriend again, or whether it is a narcissistic demanding parent who has alienated his children one more time - each one experiences pain.

And when the pain outweighs the behavior that sustains it,
choosing wellness becomes the only option.

Whenever I think back to choosing my different recovering journeys, each time I credit the pain for propelling me towards wellness. Years ago, I was horribly betrayed by a family member. For a long time, I felt confused, worthless, and powerless over the betrayal. In my pain, I remember feeling so angry...and so resentful. Every time I had contact with this person, I was re-injured. Eventually, I finally reached my breaking point. I'd had enough. I realized the pain of being in the relationship no longer controlled me; instead, the pain empowered me to do the hard work of detaching from it. I grabbed hold of the recovery tools I needed. I began setting boundaries and shoring up old ones. I divested myself in multiple ways from the relationship. And over time, I let go of the bitterness that was holding me hostage. Pain brought me to wellness' door. I chose to open it and walk through.   

#2 Perspective

I think it is so interesting that when we are injured physically or become ill, we don't usually think twice about doing whatever it is that our physician has requested of us. We go through a series of tests or lab work. We have surgeries and we take medications. Some patients spend days, weeks, and even months going through excruciating physical therapy. If we want to lose weight or just embrace a healthier lifestyle, we, again, adopt the mindset of a long-term regime or routine of exercise and/or diet. However, why is it that when it comes to choosing psychological, emotional, and relational wellness,we are often not as willing to apply that same mindset to our recovery work? Why do we expect a quick fix? When I think of individuals who have not only chosen wellness but who have sustained it....

They adopt the perspective that they are willing to do the hard work... for as long as it takes.

A number of years ago, a young couple came in to see me. I will call them James and Jasmine. Although they were in their late twenties (meeting in high school and married right after), they marriage had endured many traumas. Separated by military duty, multiple affairs, a history of past sexual abuse, and chronic stress from toxic in-laws, James and Jasmine were like two broken puppets hanging from a thin piece of thread when they entered therapy. At the end of our hour and pulling my notes together from the intake , I was feeling a little bleak about their future together. Knowing the long road this couple had ahead of them, I didn't mince my words when I explained their treatment plan: individual sessions for both, couple's sessions, written and verbal exercises; homework...lots of homework,  and follow-up sessions with referrals and support groups, etc.

I remember closing with these words, "You didn't get here overnight - and it's going to take a while to get to where you want to be. Are you willing to do the hard work?" 

I will never forget their response, "We will do whatever it takes."

James and Jasmine did exactly that and more. I've never  known a couple who worked any harder than they did.

Their pain brought them into my office.  
Their perspective about their recovery work carried them through it. 

#3 Purpose

In preparation for today's blog, I have spent hours reflecting on friends, family members, and former clients who have chosen wellness. From those with more minor struggles to those who endured the most horrific injuries and injustices, I vividly recall that these brave souls - at some time in sharing their narratives - had a clear purpose in choosing wellness. Yes, it was to live a healthier, happier, and more whole life. But, it was also reflected in comments such as these:

  • I don't want to repeat the same mistakes of my parents.
  • I want to be a better mother for my daughter.
  • I want to set an example for my children...and for others.
  • I want my life to mean something.
  • I want to be able to give back.
  • It is so important for me to make a difference in my family and with others.
Individuals who choose wellness know that they first must take care of themselves. Yes, they must put the focus inward and do their hard work. At the same time, these same individuals are keenly aware of the impact and influence their wellness (or lack of) has on those who love them and care for them. Their purpose is two fold:

Healing themselves leaves a legacy of healing.

I never like to admit that over the years I had a few favorite clients, but to be honest that does happen! I will always remember a successful male client in his late 40's, married three times, and a father of two grown young men and one little girl (from his last marriage). I will call him Richard. Richard came in to see me after his second marriage fell apart and then again after his third marriage didn't last. Richard struggled with depression and was also extremely co-dependent. He was somewhat estranged from his adult sons, and along with working on his presenting issues, he was committed to being a good father to his little girl.  

One day in session, Richard broke down."Holli, I want to do it differently this time. I don't want my daughter to hate me, like my sons. I need to do this right. I want to get healthy for myself, but for her too. I don't want to keep repeating the same patterns of failure. I want to be a good dad."  

Over the next year, Richard faithfully attended our sessions. He worked harder on his recovery than he ever had in the past. And over the next several years, Richard came in for his "10,000 mile check- up", as he called it. Richard was an extraordinary father. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about all the ways he gave to his daughter: father-daughter night, coaching her soccer team, teaching her how to ride a bike, taking her camping, brushing her hair and his frustration in trying to put in a ponytail, teaching her to cook when he struggled with it himself, holding her as they watched movies together, and loving her. Mostly, as he shared with me, he gave her the gift of a healthy father.

Richard entered therapy as a bundle of pain.
His hard work was evidenced in his recovering perspective.
His purpose was reflected in his self-care and in his love for a little girl.

Wellness awaits each of us.  We choose the time.

Next blog - Day 2: Wellness awaits each of us. Why is it that some people don't choose it?

                                               Get ready for three intriguing insights!

Until then, I invite you to "like"...


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Thank You!


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