Understanding the Focus of Christian Family Counseling

In many life situations, families may be asked to undergo family therapy or counseling. While many readily agree, others are hesitant, thinking that only the dysfunctional member should be treated for their issues. As far as the others are concerned, everybody is fine except for that one person.

Therapists, however, know that this is incorrect. As an integrated unit, the dynamics within the family affect each member, with some more adversely impacted than others. Research has also shown that family members may be the enablers of the “unwanted behavior” of their struggling loved one.

From a Christian counselor’s perspective, if the marriage is strong and the family boundaries are healthy, then that family should be able to function well. If it is not strong, then that is where the negative issues stem from.

Focusing on the Family Unit

Different therapists use different theories when assisting the family. One model that has been quite helpful for Christian counselors is Structural Family Therapy by Salvador Minuchin (Families and Family Therapy, 1974). His theory focuses on the internal family relationships, authority levels, and family boundaries with the environment. Using this theory together with Scripture, a Christian counselor is able to get to the heart of the family’s problems.

Malachi 2:15 (NIV) reads, “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does this one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and not be unfaithful to the wife or your youth.”

It is very clear from Scripture that faithfulness to the marriage covenant is necessary for a healthy family. “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21, NIV)” is necessary for a Christian marriage to succeed. When done, family roles are complemented, emotional needs are met, and each member is able to grow and mature. When it is not, then much hurt arises.

Is the Union of Husband and Wife Strong?

Most people know that when a couple separates much emotional harm is done to the children. The kids may blame themselves; they may feel ashamed among their peers; they may distrust the marriage process, or they may become hostile to one or both of their parents.

What many do not realize is that kids often suffer more from a family structure that is still physically together yet the parents do not love one another – whether overtly or covertly. Now, this is not to suggest that parents ought to separate.

It is simply to emphasize that staying together for the sake of the kids is still going to hurt the children in the long run. For a family unit to be strong, there must be real love and respect between husband and wife. This union needs to be encouraged and strengthened.

How a Struggling Marriage Affects the Kids

In a troubled marriage, the focus of the spouses becomes the children, which is the only reason why the parents are still together. Since the spouses do not love one another anymore, their love is given to their children, drawing the children into the parents’ conflict.

A common result is seen in families when one of the children misbehaves – one parent punishes the child, while the other “rescues” him or her. The parents then come together to discuss the issue. This is called triangulation, where a third party (the child) acts as the “connection” between the opposing two (the parents).

Kids, however, are smart. They often see this as one way to keep their parents together so they continue their bad behavior in order for both parents to stick around. The problem here is that the parents are still not truly together and the child has picked up bad habits which may become much bigger problems (e.g. failing grades, substance abuse, defiance of authority, truancy, self-harm) later on. Oftentimes in therapy, these “bigger problems” are already occurring which is why family therapy has been recommended for the sake of the child.

Solving the Problem by Fixing the Marriage

When treating a family, the Christian family counselor usually starts with the marriage relationship and its effects on everybody else. The spouses are encouraged to settle their differences and rekindle the love that was once there so that the family unit can become strong once more. They are then taught how to deal with the negative behavior and how to come up with a parental approach for future issues.

For example, in the case of a triangulated child, the spouses are informed of the dynamics playing out in the family, how the child is misbehaving simply for the parents’ sake, and how the child is not able to be a child because of the concern of keeping the family together. The parents are then taught how to help the child overcome their issues, and the parents are encouraged to meet one another’s needs so that they will not destroy the family dynamics again.

Examining the Family Boundaries

The other area that the counselor examines is the family boundaries. The way the family interacts with the world around it greatly affects the family members. Ideally, a family should have permeable boundaries where family’s limits (e.g. family curfew, family’s cultural and religious beliefs) are known and respected, yet are flexible enough to allow the individual members to explore who they are. But if the family’s boundaries are rigid, enmeshed, or diffuse, then problems usually arise.

Rigid Boundaries

Some families have very rigid boundaries. In such a family, parents exercise authoritarian control, requiring members to strictly follow rules and ways of conduct, stifling individualism. Often, kids are not allowed to voice their opinions or do things their way lest they face harsh punishment. Because of the family’s fear of outside influence, members may not be allowed to interact much with others. They often come home directly after school and are not allowed to go out with friends.

This environment is very negative as children either become dependent upon their parents or end up rebelling. Disorders such as anxiety or depression may also develop because of such rigidness.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in training and instruction of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

In counseling, the parents are reminded that their children must learn to think and not be told what to think. If the kids cannot learn to figure things out on their own, they will suffer in school, work and in their future family. The counselor works with the family so that cultural and religious beliefs are still taught but with the proper guidelines within an atmosphere of love, not fear.

Enmeshed Boundaries

Opposite to ridged boundaries are enmeshed ones. In this family type, parents are overprotective and involved, hovering around their kids to ensure that they are always okay. These are the parents who end up completing their children’s homework, arguing with the teacher or coach when their child is not given a chance, ensuring that their kids always have an advantage over others.

While the motives may seem good, as every parent would want their child to be safe and have all possible benefits, this type of parenting does not allow their children to develop the confidence, independence, and emotional flexibility they will need to deal with the real world.

Hence, they end up with maturity and dependence issues, leaning upon their parents as they never learned how to take care of themselves growing up. Some even become disillusioned with the world as things are seemingly tougher than expected when they reach adulthood.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. – Proverbs 22:6

For enmeshed parenting households, the counselor tries to get the parents to realize the negative effects of all their worrying and babying. By robbing their children of opportunities to grow on their own, they rob them of their true potential. Such parents are asked to “let go” so that their children can truly grow. They are encouraged to trust in our good, powerful, and all-knowing God who definitely wants the best for everyone.

Diffuse Boundaries

The third negative family type is the one with diffuse boundaries. These are usually families where the parents were unprepared for parenthood (or never wanted a child in the first place) or the parents are too preoccupied with work. In such families, there are no real rules or expectations, except perhaps not to break the law (or if you do, then don’t get caught). It is basically every person for themselves.

As the parents are not willing to be parents, kids are expected to become independent early. Older siblings take care of the younger ones. Emotional support is barely ever there as the parents are just not interested or are too tired. For affluent parents, kids may be sent off to boarding school or they may just be given a lot of money and told to stay out of trouble. For those with no means, the children often grow up in the streets, learning from the peer system that they encounter there.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace, they will bring you the delights you desire.Proverbs 29:17

For families with diffuse boundaries, the counselor helps the parents get the needed support to do what they need to do, yet balance their time with the kids. They may also be taught parenting skills and the importance of love and care within the family. In the sessions, family engagement is another key so that members may actually begin to communicate with one another in the hope that such communication continues on at home.

Getting Help from Christian Family Counseling

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly on them. – Ecclesiastes 9:12

No family is ever perfect. And even if it started off well, challenges often pop up that require a family to change. Christian family counseling is there to help family units surpass these obstacles with Christ’s help. The Christian counselor will take a look at the big picture to strengthen both the marriage bond and the connection with the children to ensure that everyone can function well.

If your family or a family you know is experiencing family issues, it is important to seek help soon. Addressing the issues early one can prevent a bigger family crisis from occurring.

Photos:
“Shadows on a Wall”, Courtesy of Igor Ovsyannykov, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Field gazing,” courtesy of unsplash.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Family PDA,” courtesy of 1Anna1, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Family Outing,” courtesy of EME, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License

Have You Asked These Premarital Counseling Questions Yet?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably engaged to be married soon. This is such an exciting time, knowing that you’ve committed to spending the rest of your life together. No matter how long you’ve known your future spouse, there are still important issues to discuss before the big day.

Throughout your relationship, you’ve both gotten to know each other, including interests, passions, likes and dislikes, and personality traits (and quirks!). At this stage of your relationship, you’re probably filled with happiness and anticipation about starting your married life.

But it’s also possible that you may have some mixed feelings. Maybe you’re concerned about some things in your relationship and wonder how they’ll affect your future. It’s okay to be nervous or have reservations about making such a huge commitment.

Whether you’re wholeheartedly ready and longing for your wedding day, or you’re feeling happy but a bit hesitant, it’s important to ask some questions before you take the step of getting married.

This is where premarital counseling comes in. It provides the opportunity and guided structure to discuss the major life values and decisions that will affect your relationship. Some couples even choose to get pre-engagement counseling so they can be fully prepared before the public engagement announcement.

Premarital Counseling Questions You Should Ask

One of the best things about pre-engagement or premarital counseling is that it requires an intentional focus on the relationship. This is definitely a recipe for success! So no matter how happy or hesitant you’re feeling right now, these who-what-where-when-why premarital counseling questions can benefit you as you contemplate your future marriage.

Who am I marrying?

This isn’t a surface-level question; it’s an opportunity to make sure you intentionally get to know your partner as well as you can. Do you know what’s most important to them? Can you identify what you most like (and dislike) about them? For the things you dislike, what are they, and are you expecting or hoping those traits will change?

Exploring this question can reveal a lot of layers; most prominently, securities and insecurities. In other words, what things about your partner make you feel secure? What qualities come to mind when someone asks, “Why do you love him/her?”

The things you love about your partner can range from their personality traits to skills or knowledge they have, or maybe their past or the way they were raised. How are the two of you similar in a way that benefits your relationship? And how are you different in ways that create a healthy balance?

It’s also good, although a little scarier, to discuss the insecurities you have related to who your partner is. Are there any red flags (even small ones)? These are the insecurities. What are the issues you desire to discuss but maybe feel uncomfortable bringing up?

Sexual history is one example of this, especially if you haven’t discussed past relationships or have only briefly mentioned them. An imbalance in the number of previous sexual partners can lead to conflict in the future if this isn’t worked through before marriage. This is particularly true if one partner has a sexual history and the other doesn’t.

This area isn’t limited to intercourse; it applies to any intimate actions. Addressing these issues in premarital counseling doesn’t mean you have to describe them in excruciating detail. A healthy approach would be to provide basic information so that there are no surprises in the future, and for each partner to listen to the other’s feelings in this area. It’s important that both of you feel you have a complete picture because things will probably come out someday either way.

Often, couples simply assume that they are on the same page in matters of faith, but fail to have explicit conversations about their beliefs. These assumptions can be misguided, which may lead to big problems in the future.

Once you’ve considered these questions about your partner, reflect them back to yourself. Do you have a healthy self-awareness? Whether you do or not, taking time to consider your values, identity, and how well your partner knows you can really benefit your relationship and your personal growth.

What does marriage mean to me?

After considering questions of identity, ask yourself what the institution of marriage means to you. Sometimes we assume that other people view marriage the same way we do. Do you view marriage as permanent no matter what? If you believe that divorce is justified in some cases, what specifically would warrant divorce in your mind?

Sometimes we sidestep these questions before marriage because they’re not enjoyable to consider. Beyond the big questions, think about the details such as dividing holidays between extended families, or dividing household chores between the two of you. What will those things look like if and when children come into the picture?

Also, think about your mental vision of marriage. What do you picture it being like? How will you balance living together and prioritizing your relationship with daily routines and managing a household?

While you’re considering what marriage means to you, think about the different components including spiritual, physical, emotional, and practical. Are you aware of any obstacles that would prevent your marriage from being what you want it to be? If so, now is the time to discuss those issues.

Talk together about what those obstacles are and how you can work on overcoming them now. Your partner may have a different perspective or be willing to offer solutions for the difficulties you’ve identified.

Where do I see us in 5, 10, 50 years?

Once you’ve thought about your view of marriage, consider your specific future together. Where do you see your life and marriage in 5, 10, 50 years? Do you want to have children? If so, how many?

Will adoption or travel be a part of your future? What are your educational and vocational aspirations? What are your partner’s? Do you want to stay in your current geographical area indefinitely?

Marriage counselors often hear the phrase “we grew apart” from struggling couples. To avoid growing apart, it’s so important to talk about your future before you start it! You’ll grow as people over time and the things you want will change, but at least you’ll both be on the same page at the beginning of your journey. This can help prevent so much misunderstanding and conflict later on.

Some other questions to ask: what are the goals you’d like to achieve as a couple? What activities do you enjoy doing together? How will you prioritize your marriage practically over the long haul, especially when juggling the responsibilities of parenthood and careers?

As you’re thinking about your individual and marriage goals, again consider any obstacles. Is your partner on the same page? Are they willing to help you reach your own goals? What areas will require compromise or sacrifice?

When you know your goals for the future, it helps you make wise decisions in the here and now. This way, you can grow together as a couple rather than growing apart.

When are we getting married?

Of course, before you actually get to the future, there’s the detail of getting married itself! If you’ll be getting pre-engagement counseling, it’s helpful to have a sense of the timeframe for your future. We all think about what season of the year we’d like our wedding to be in, but more importantly, what is the season of life you’re getting married in?

Are there any individual goals either of you would like to accomplish before the big day, like finishing a degree or a specific goal at work? Discuss these issues and decide together what you’d like to accomplish pre-marriage and what the time frame will be.

Maybe financial issues are presenting a barrier to getting married as soon as you’d like. How long will this be an issue? Are there ways you can cut back on wedding or other expenses in order to avoid having an extended engagement, which can lead to tension in your relationship?

Again, make sure you raise these issues with your partner, especially concerning your individual values about the engagement timeline. What is your goal for the engagement period? Do you feel that you still need to get to know each other and build your relationship? Or is it simply a matter of practicality to allow you to plan the wedding?

These questions aren’t meant to discover a right or wrong answer, but simply to foster open communication in your relationship. The goal is to have an agreed-upon timeframe that will not make either partner feel overly rushed but will also not draw out the engagement far beyond what is desired.

Why are we getting married?

Finally, ask yourself this: why are we getting married? Also, why am I getting married? Look at the relationships in your life that you see. You probably have examples of good and bad ones, and you probably are pursuing the former. Take inventory of what is working for them and talk to them about how married life has been.

And finally, although it might seem superfluous, ask yourself why you’re getting married. What are your reasons, both individually and as a couple, for making this lifelong commitment? Think about married couples in your life and ask what has contributed to (or detracted from) the well-being of their relationships.

Ask yourself, “What am I really looking for? What do I want? And will I find it in a marriage to this person?”

There are many possible reasons that people get married. In our culture, we often ask that question to such an extent that we simply decide marriage isn’t worth it. Since you’re considering or planning on getting married, what has made it worth it for you? Why now?

What role does religion play in your desire to be married? What about your family and friends? Are there social or cultural pressures that make you feel that you should get married sooner or later?

Marriage isn’t just merging two lives; it’s merging two extended families. Whatever skeletons you have in your family closet, those will become your partner’s, and the opposite is true as well. Are you prepared to relate to your extended families as a team?

It might seem like these questions are digging for dirt or trying to stir up trouble, but there are no wrong answers. Rather, the goal is to thoroughly explore these topics in order to build security and trust in your relationship and future.

Even if some of these questions make you feel doubtful, that’s okay! If you can ask yourself these questions and work through your doubts now, you’ll feel more confident in the future, and you can learn to love your partner better.

Knowing why you love your partner and what has led you to desire to marry them will help give you a sense of security even in the midst of future conflict. And it’s okay to not have all the answers now, either.

A huge aspect of premarital counseling is turning covert issues into overt ones, making sure things aren’t being left unsaid. This allows you to identify potential problems and deal with them proactively while you’re in a calm and structured setting.

Who, what, where, when, why – now what?

Once you’ve worked through these questions and you still want to marry this person, you’re more than prepared to enter the premarital counseling process with a professional Christian counselor or perhaps a pastor or counselor at your church. This will allow you to fully discuss the answers to these questions as a couple.

Thinking through things on your own allows you to have more helpful discussions as a couple. You can clearly identify your similarities and differences, and then consider how they will benefit each other or possibly cause issues.

Pre-engagement and premarital counseling can be an enjoyable way to grow closer together and prepare for marriage. It will allow you to feel confident in your communication and build healthy habits that can have lifelong benefits for your future marriage.

Photos
“Fingers”, Courtesy of Snapwire, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Sunset Cliffs,” courtesy of Taylor L. Spurgeon, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lover’s Sunset,” courtesy of Alex Rebosa, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stand by Me,” courtesy of Alysa Bajenaru, unsplash.com, Public Domain License

How to Create a Professional Development Plan

“Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.”

You’ve probably heard this saying before; it’s well-known because it carries a kernel of truth. When there’s no plan or no goal in mind, you’re probably not going to accomplish much.

People often approach productivity on either end of a spectrum. On one hand, you might be more spontaneous and neglect planning. On the other hand, you might be controlling and too focused on an outcome.

Diligence and perseverance are rare and valuable character traits. But they shouldn’t be cultivated because you’re focused on a specific result. It’s natural to work towards bettering your life, as long as you’re still thankful and content with what you have now.

It’s normal to hit walls in our work lives when we feel dissatisfied and stuck. Creating a professional development plan can help you move past obstacles like this. (If you’re married, include your spouse in your plan; otherwise, you’re definitely going to have some adjustments to make!)

How to Create a Professional Development Plan

Considering changes in your profession can be a wonderful, energized time of evaluating

possibilities. Before doing anything else, if you believe in a higher power, it is good practice to invite that higher power into your process.

Changing your approach to your career can seem intimidating. But it’s also an opportunity to consider options you might not have thought of in the past.

If you are a Christian, it’s important to start this process with prayer and acknowledging God’s hand in your life:

  • Take time to ask the Lord for wisdom and direction.
  • Remember that this life is temporary. How can you live with eternity in mind, even in your work life?
  • Remember that he works all things together for the good of his children.
  • Remember that he is with you and that you do not have to walk through any change or growth alone.

What Do I Want?

On the surface, this seems obvious, but sometimes our dreams and desires can get lost in the muddle of everyday life as the years pass. So think of an ideal situation. If you could suddenly have your dream job, what would it be? Let the ideas come without immediately dismissing them.

No matter how crazy the idea, it’s helpful in this stage of your plan, because the purpose is to find out what you truly desire. You can also identify which dreams are actually possible and which are probably pipe dreams (such as being rich and famous).

Think specifically about the vocation you really want to have. Maybe you’re already in it and you want to get better at what you’re doing. Maybe you despise your current job and desperately want to make a change but don’t know how. Or you could be anywhere on the spectrum between these two extremes.

This is where a professional development plan is so valuable. It helps you set clear objectives so you can move towards those dreams that may seem out of each but are actually possible.

Setting the Main Objective

Planning is the easy part compared to carrying out the plan. The reason we make plans, or set objectives, is so that our efforts lead to the best possible outcome. This is why we recommend starting with one main objective in your professional development plan.

A single objective doesn’t take the place of having multiple other interests, but it focuses your efforts so you don’t overwork or feel scattered.

What are the most important aspects of your vocation to you? Is it the salary, the work environment, the proximity to your home? Or maybe the benefits, flexibility, or work-life balance? Maybe you feel the need to have a strong sense of purpose in your work, such as helping people.

With this in mind, here are some examples of single main objectives in a professional development plan:

  • Find a career that allows me to work outside frequently
  • Become a lawyer working in private practice
  • Become a mid-level manager at Google
  • Advance in my current workplace
  • Take over my boss’s job when he retires
  • Work for Pixar

There’s no reason why you can’t have more than one objective, but it’s best to focus on one at a time. If you do choose to focus on more than one, you’ll have a more complex timeline. You can create separate plans for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, etc. And of course your plans can and will change over time.

Evaluating Alternatives

Setting a main objective is just the beginning. With an overarching goal like this, the next essential step is to eat the elephant one bite at a time. In other words, we need to break down the goal into smaller tasks that are concrete and achievable.

To start with, think about all the options you have to achieve your objective, especially if it involves a change in career. Exploring your options inevitably involves research, like reading books and articles, talking to people who are already in the field, listing pros and cons, looking into job availability, etc.

Here are some things you might do while you’re in the exploring alternatives stage:

  • Take a class on a particular skill (e.g. coding) or an area of professional growth (e.g. management)
  • Get an entry-level job at the company you want to work for
  • Learn another language
  • Pursue a license you’ll need for your target field
  • Pursue a new degree
  • Talk to HR about advancement opportunities

Depending on your main objective, your alternatives might still be at a high level (pursuing a new degree, for example). If this is the case, you’ll need to break them down into smaller steps you can take.

But don’t worry about that yet. Work on your plan gradually and take the time to thoroughly research your alternatives. You don’t have to do this all at once. If you get stuck, a counselor can be a great help as you work through the process.

Once you feel like your list of alternatives is complete, you can make it into a task list by eliminating any options you’ve decided not to pursue. Some alternatives may be mutually exclusive, so when you decide to pursue one, you can automatically eliminate the other. Or you may simply decide to limit yourself because you know you can’t pursue every path at once.

Count the Cost

So now that you’ve set your objective and created a task list based on your alternatives, the next step is to count the cost! What is involved in carrying out this plan? What investment will it require of your time and finances? Do you have the mental and emotional capacity to carry it out?

What about your family and other relationships? If you decide to pursue a master’s degree, for example, your experience will be very different depending on whether you have a family or not.

If you do plan to pursue further education, you’ll have to consider your finances in detail, including hidden costs such as the sacrifice of your time, the cost of commuting, etc.

If you are married, your spouse is an integral part of your personal development plan. S/he needs to be on board with it in order for you to succeed because you’ll need his or her support. If you are making a significant career change, this will bring stress to your relationship. Both of you need to be prepared for this to happen.

While you’re pursuing your plan, unexpected things will happen. Obstacles will arise, and frustration will likely ensue. A calm response is the most beneficial for everyone. You can always reschedule an event or retake a class, but none of your accomplishments are more important than your marriage. What does it matter if you succeed professionally if you lose your marriage in the process?

Schedule it Out

Of course, your plan will have to become linear so you can decide what to tackle first. Put all of your tasks in chronological order; if you’re not sure how to prioritize them now, you can always rearrange them later, but this way you’ll know where to start. Consider your work-life balance and family commitments when you’re making your list.

Work the List

Finally, make a separate list and put the first ten tasks on it. Start working down the list. You’ll face obstacles but persevere. There’s always a solution, even if it’s to get rid of a task and replace it with another that accomplishes the same goal.

Pacing yourself is absolutely crucial to your success. Productivity is healthy, but not if it’s unbalanced and causes you to become sick, overwhelmed, or out of touch with your family. Make sure you schedule periods of rest and reconnection so you can approach your personal development plan in a healthy and sustainable way.

Review Periodically

It’s important to revisit your task list every so often to make sure you’re on the right track. Is your plan getting you closer to achieving your goals? Are there any steps that you can eliminate? Do you need to add something?

This task list is meant to be fluid and to morph over time as you discover the best way to achieve your professional dreams. The goal is to be efficient with your time and money while also being productive.

Sample Professional Development Plan

In our example scenario, J. Sample works as a clerk for a waste management company. His main objective (after three years with the company) is to move into a mid-level management position.

Here are his alternatives:

  1. This plan could easily take 5-7 years: he continues to work hard in his current position and wait for internal job openings.
  2. Or, he could begin working on his master’s degree in Business Administration while waiting for job openings. His parents might be willing to help with tuition.

J. Sample decides on the second alternative, and this is the task list he comes up with:

Professional Development Plan

Objective: Move into mid-level management at my company

Task List:

  • Pray and seek wisdom
  • Discuss the plan with my wife and seek her agreement
  • Discuss the idea with my current manager
  • Look into MBA programs nearby
    • Quality of program
    • Tuition costs
    • Night classes
    • Commute
  • Decide which class schedule would work for me and my family
  • Select a program
  • Budget for the program
    • Tuition
    • Mileage
    • Books and supplies
  • Discuss tuition costs with parents
  • Apply to the program
  • Set up a payment schedule with parents
  • Buy books and other materials
  • Schedule reading and studying
  • Set up a note-taking system
  • Organize books, notes, and materials
  • Prepare for each course
    • Read syllabus
    • Write down assignments and exams
    • Check for updates
  • Successfully complete classes
  • Graduate
  • Let my boss and HR know
  • Monitor available job openings
  • Apply to available jobs until I get one
  • Celebrate!

A plan like this would only take a couple of hours to formulate. This doesn’t mean it’s fail-proof, of course! Maybe the boss will suggest a different way to move towards management. Maybe the parents won’t want to help pay for tuition. Maybe the classes will be too difficult or overwhelming. Maybe the main objective itself will need to be changed.

Nothing is guaranteed, but the effort is what matters, no matter what obstacles and changes happen along the way. If you don’t try, you’ll never know what might have happened. And you don’t have to do this alone. Pray, talk to your loved ones and friends, and if you get stuck, talk to a career counselor who can help you work on a realistic and hopeful professional development plan.

Photos:
“Girl Writing in a Diary,” courtesy of Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo.com, CC0 License; “Studying,” courtesy of Patrick Denker, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Canal couple,” courtesy of Valerie Everett, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License; “Forest path,” courtesy of dmz, pixabay.com, CC0 License

How to Overcome Job Burnout

For many hardworking people today, it is common to experience job burnout at some time in their career. The increasing workload, complex demands at home (especially as the kids get older), and the monotony of routine cause workers to feel that what they are doing is not worth it.

People experiencing job burnout describe it in different ways. Some feel like they are in a panic or even “lost” as they are no longer sure about what it is they are doing.

This affects their current duties as their panicked feeling causes them to doubt their work routines (even if they have been at it for a long time!). This may also affect their thoughts about the future as they are now unsure about their career path, causing sleepless nights.

For others, burnout results in a lack of motivation. They feel “lost” like the panicky people; however, the response is more of indifference and even disgust about what they do. This creates thoughts of quitting because they just don’t care anymore (many students fed up with their class and teacher can easily relate to this feeling!).

Taking the First Steps to Beat Job Burnout

In today’s world, people applaud the idea of always being busy – at work, at home, and even in the community. When one is busy, it means that one is hardworking; one has initiative; one has ambition.

People, however, were not meant to be working non-stop. In Scripture, God implemented a day of rest for His people to reflect, pray, and rest. It was true for people then and it certainly applies to people now.

Here are the initial steps to take to overcome job burnout:

1. Acknowledge your current situation in life. Know that you do deserve to have a job that you like yet still have quality time with the family. But tell yourself that healing must start now, that life can be better for you and your family with God’s help.

2. Recognize that boundaries are needed to help you manage both your job’s difficulties and ensure family time.

3. Understand that being burned out is not unusual as many people will experience something like this at some point in their life (to varying degrees). And know that God sees your need and is just waiting for you to ask for His help.

4. Take the necessary steps to slow down and live life the way God meant you to.

Don’t Just Dream…Do!

For many people, their idea of goal-setting is to dream of where they want to be in five years’ time or so. While it is good to have dreams, they are still NOT concrete. Without the steps needed to achieve them, they remain as wishful thinking.

When young, it might not feel so bad as there are still many more years to accomplish them. But when you have been working for quite some time, not being able to achieve these dreams is very frustrating and can contribute to burnout.

Aim for More Joyful Living

In order to overcome burnout and prevent future episodes of such, a person should have the following:

Vision

A person needs to consider where they want to be, what they want to create, and who is it all for. Without such, whatever they are doing will eventually seem meaningless. Happy people work with a purpose knowing that the things they do, big or small, are done for a reason.

For example, if someone envisions having their own restaurant one day, they may see their current task of washing the dishes as understanding the small details of the business. In the future, they will know if their future employees are doing the job correctly since they have already experienced it.

Resilience & Mindset

People who have either overcome burnout or learned how to avoid it know what it takes to set firm boundaries for both professional and personal time. This includes developing a strong support group in times of crisis (e.g. friends or mentors one can count on for direct help or emotional support) and the ability to say “no” when there is too much to handle or if it contradicts your goals.

But burnout is not just about too much workload, it also depends on whether what a person is doing is within their strengths and desires in life. If what they do makes them happy and takes them a step towards their purposes in life, then they will be happy and productive in what they do. To do so, they must have the proper mindset.

Having the right mindset means knowing your purpose, your strengths and weaknesses, and being honest about your own effort in achieving your goals. Questions like “Why am I here?”, “What do I love?”, “What do I do best?”, and “Am I really giving my all?” are important to reflect upon to ensure that effort and time are not wasted.

The right mindset also means giving oneself the permission to seek a better life – something that many are not able to do because of low self-esteem, family demands, or socio-cultural expectations.

Intention

Big achievers do things with intention. These intentions are manageable goals that are part of their overall plan which is usually seen through, either by themselves or with the right help. Without them, one’s dreams may be impossible to achieve.

These intentions, however, must include mini-goals for a good work-life balance. This may include setting a time within the day for exercise and rest; blocking out days of the week for family and personal time; and allotting time within the month to see old friends.

Activation

Big achievers then activate their plans – they actually do it. Instead of procrastinating, they may work with others (e.g. personal coach) or do so on their own to set concrete timelines for these intentions and big goals.

Big achievers know that if they do not take that first step then everything is still but a dream. Achievers also realize that there is no one to blame for failure but themselves, so they take that responsibility and do what needs to be done to reach their target.

Transformation

Finally, achievers transform. Life is dynamic. The successes of yesterday do not automatically repeat themselves. A person needs to transform, knowing that this is not a one-time thing. In order to do well, one must be willing to adapt. This may mean intentionally learning new skills; enhancing your network, or choosing to cut back on things that are no longer helpful to you (e.g. bad habits).

Transformation also includes overcoming fear. A big reason why people do not want to change is that they feel comfortable where they are and are simply awaiting their “big break.” This, however, means a person becomes stagnant while the competition around them becomes better. A person must be willing to get out of their comfort zone, and this means conquering their fears.

Always Include God in the Equation

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30, NIV

Sadly, in the midst of busyness, people often forget about God. Plans are made without Him; and in times of stress, people run to one another for comfort but not to Him.

In Luke 10:38-42, Jesus was making his way to visit Mary and Martha:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Though Martha knew the importance of being with the Lord, listening to Him, and taking time to know Him more, she was immersed in the preparations while her sister prioritized Jesus.

It is good to work hard. But at times, Christ wants everyone to sit at His feet and experience the peace that only He can give. Without this, burnout is sure to occur. Hence, it is important that part of one’s intentions is to regularly schedule time for prayer, both personal and corporate, and Scripture meditation. If a person’s spirit and direction are not renewed, then life’s complications will definitely feel overwhelming.

Christian Counseling for Job Burnout

The above-mentioned advice can be done on one’s own. However, some people require a helping hand, a coach to get them back on track.

If you or someone you know needs help in transitioning out of job burnout, contact a Christian counselor soon. With the help of an encouraging voice, Scripture, and prayer, you can refocus your life priorities so that your goals may be achieved.

Photos:
“Young Girl Crossing Hands,” courtesy of Splitshire.com, AMANDR 20160413 SplitShire-6661-2; “Working,” courtesy of Bench Accounting, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Higher Goal”, Courtesy of Joshua Earle, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Serenity,” courtesy of Jojo Nicdao, Flickr Creative Commons, CC0 License

Social Anxiety: How to Manage Well

Social situations tend to make many of us anxious. Some of us find meeting people a challenge. Walking into a place where there are people we don’t know makes us uncomfortable. It is common to try to work around these uncomfortable situations in order to survive in the world.

Anxiety can prevent us from taking part in social activities. It can cause us to have problems at work or keep us from going to gatherings. When we are missing out, it is high time to take a close look at our anxiety and the social phobia it is causing in order to better understand it and to better enable us to get help.

When Social Anxiety Becomes a Disorder

The more you know about a problem, the easier it is to find a solution. The same is true with social anxiety and the disorder behind it. Learning more about the diagnosis of it and what it entails will help you assess your symptoms so you can determine whether seeking mental health assistance is advisable. In the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or, DSM-5), Social Anxiety Disorder is described as:

“Marked anxiety or fear having to do with a social situation, or situations, where the individual is exposed to the possibility of being scrutinized by others. It might be brought on by something like a conversation with another person or persons, meeting new people, being observed when drinking, eating or something similar, and/or performing or speaking in front of others such as giving a speech.”

In children, the anxiety must be brought on in a setting that is pure rather than just when they are interacting with adults.

The individual has anxiety and fear of acting in a certain way or of showing the symptoms of anxiety in a fashion that will be viewed negatively such as being embarrassed or humiliated which will ultimately lead to being rejected by or offending others.

The situations are typically socially oriented and almost always instigated by anxiety or fear. It is common for children to express their anxiety and fear through crying, freezing, clinging, throwing tantrums or not speaking when they are in social situations.

Social situations which provoke negative emotions are either endured with great anxiety and fear or avoided altogether. The degree of anxiety or fear is exaggerated in comparison to the threat that’s posed from the situation or the socio-cultural context. Generally, the individual experiences the anxiety and/or fear for a period of six months or longer.

The negative feelings of anxiety or fear or the action of avoidance bring on significant clinical distress or the inability to function properly in the individual’s occupation, social life or another important area. It’s important to note that the avoidance is not brought about by drugs, illicit or prescription.

If there is a medical condition that exists (like Parkinson’s disease, disfigurement from injury or burns, obesity or such) the problem is only classified as social anxiety if it is not caused by the medical problems or if it is in extreme excess.

Self-diagnosing is not wise when you are concerned if you have a mental disorder just as it is not advisable to self-diagnose when wondering about medical problems. It is imperative to be certain that you are given the correct diagnosis and, if warranted, the right treatment as well. It is recommended that you incorporate time with a therapist to ensure you get the proper diagnosis.

Rekindling Our Bodily Connection

Anxiety is never comfortable. That is why our natural reaction is to get as far as we can away from it. We do whatever we can in order to avoid feeling it. The problem is that this type of reaction is counterproductive to the diagnosing of the problem and to successful treatment. With this in mind, the next time you feel anxiety creeping in, try to turn to it instead of away from it. Acknowledge your feeling. Don’t hide from it.

It is also helpful to approach it with curiosity. Ask yourself where you are feeling it. Perhaps it is in your stomach, or the area around your chest or in your neck. Sometimes, tingling fingers or hands accompany fear and anxiety.

Try to get a grip on it through taking deep, controlled breaths. Breathe in through your nose and then out slowly through your mouth, counting to three. Once you have completed the deep breathing exercise, attempt to figure out what the trigger is.

There are times the trigger will be obvious. You may suddenly recall that you are about to go to a party where there will be a number of people you don’t know. Or, it may seemingly come out of nowhere. It is a good idea to ask yourself where it came from anytime your anxiety or anger rises suddenly. Even if you don’t have the answer, you will be taking a step toward your recovery.

Trigger Complexities

Our mind, body, and emotions are all interconnected which means there can be a myriad of possibilities when it comes to causes for our anxieties, social ones included. It is a defense mechanism that we develop early on to deal with traumatic experiences. We naturally defend ourselves against further harm and protect ourselves from the pain as well.

Imagine you are in a dark room full of furniture. You can’t see the furniture so you continue to bump into it time after time. A therapist helps you to identify and understand the triggers you have, much like illuminating the furniture, one piece at a time.

When you can clearly see the furniture, the less likely you are to run into it as much and when you happen to, you know just what you ran into. Throughout the course of time, you may even decide to move the furniture elsewhere rather than it being in the middle of the room where you easily bump into it.

Understanding Social Anxiety

It is conducive to have a range to work with when we are trying to get a handle on our anxieties in social situations. When you note that it is rising, assign it a suitable number. “I feel my anxiety is at a 7 on a scale where 10 is the highest,” you may tell yourself. If you find your anxiety is in the 7-and-over range much of the time, it would be a wise idea to set up a meeting with a qualified therapist.

If you leave high anxiety unchecked, you can condition your body to be chronically anxious. That is why there are some disorders of anxiety that only get better with medication.

When you have identified the degree of your level of anxiety, the next thing you will want to do is to make an attempt to lower it by using the tools you have at your disposal. When our anxiety is soaring, it is very difficult to think with a clear head and deep breathing can be helpful at times like this. It sends a signal to your sympathetic nervous area (the system that deals with fight or flight) that it is alright to be calm as there is no danger.

While you are doing deep and slow breathing, you can try to think and focus on just one thing. It might be a smooth stone, a waterfall or a word. Since our minds can only handle thinking about one thing at a time, it becomes impossible to dwell on the fear at hand when we are thinking about a stone or waterfall. Initially, it may be difficult to do because we feel as if we are thinking of a million things at once, but in reality, our minds are just racing with many thoughts coming at us, one by one.

Controlling our focus is the key to stopping the circus. It takes some practice but it can be done. When you think of positive things about yourself, you will find that your anxiousness subsides. A good bit of the worry we have is based on things that are not true. You may feel God is going to punish you for something or that you are going to get a disease. Think of fears you had in the past that never came to pass. That is very helpful in recognizing the unwarranted fears.

Putting your thoughts and feelings into perspective is helpful too. Since there are millions of things that have the ability to kill you, you can see how it is a complete wasting of your time to try to figure out which of those things you will die from. Living in the here and now means not being obsessed with the past or the future. Now is all we have anyway so, why not chose to live in it?

It will be easier to think clearly when your anxiety has subsided and is under control. That is the time to think about the root of your social anxiety. Know the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is not typical. If you are at odds with someone and are nervous about running into them, that is normal. But, if you fear to encounter anyone, that is not.

What is it that scares you about the given situation? Do you worry that you will not know what to do or say and will look foolish? Are you afraid you will say something but it won’t be appropriate? Do you fear you will fall or break something and look clumsy?

In each one of the cases mentioned, fear is the underlying factor. You are afraid of looking foolish or like a jerk. You are afraid that you will be rejected or hated. While the fear is not legitimate because it is exaggerated, it certainly feels true. Until you take it by the horns. Realize that one of the greatest fears humans have is abandonment. Do you fear you will be left alone?

The stakes seem incredibly high when social anxiety tells that you will do or say something so bad that you’ll be hated, despised or abandoned. But when you start to understand more about the situation, you can make a plan and have a way out. You can control and manage your situation and fight the lies that you have let yourself believe.

Managing Social Anxiety

There are many experiences when it comes to anxiety and everyone is different. It is not possible to address each possible situation so I will be using a few vignettes with various examples of possibilities for the approaches. These are generalized in order to hopefully paint a picture that many can imagine themselves in.

First Vignette – A twenty-eight-year-old male is employed at a large company where there are no inside walls and the individual desks are grouped. Each person in the area views and contributes to everyone’s work. One day, the man walks into the area and his heart begins to race. He feels like he is getting dizzy and reaches to steady himself. He gets out of the building as quickly as he can and the thought of ever going back paralyzes him with overwhelming anxiety.

Approach Possibilities – When there is a symptom of dizziness or any form of chest pains, it is certainly recommended that a physician is consulted in order to rule out any medical causes. If medical causes are ruled out, then you can look further into the root.

One thing to check into is if anyone he is not comfortable with moving in closer to his proximity. Has the work he has been doing been brought into the spotlight and he has been ignoring it to where it has become an insurmountable anxiety? Perhaps the close quarters in his work setting is finally closing in on him. Is there anything about the area of his workspace that has undergone change or has any of the relationships changed?

If all environmental factors have been ruled out, it could very well boil down to a psychodynamic contributor, like having an overly critical father or mother who continually made him feel belittled. While this issue is one that can take some time to really work through, there are short-term solutions that can temporarily help to boost his self-confidence.

This is where the tools mentioned above could really help to calm anxiousness in the moment. Focusing on one single thing could be very helpful. If the given anxiety has continued for over six months, it might not respond to somatic techniques in which case, a visit with a qualified psychiatrist might be in order to talk about the possibility of an anti-anxiety prescription. Persistence and patience when pursuing a diagnosis is the best route to getting the best care possible.

Second Vignette – A thirty-something-year-old female always has anxiety creep up when she is in public, but one night when she is at a party where she doesn’t know hardly anyone, she gets so anxious that she has to flee the party.

Approach Possibilities – Like the man in the first vignette, the manifestation of chest pains or dizziness is a good indication a doctor should be seen as a first step.

If leaving the party helped to calm her, it might be of help to rule out the environmental factors that could have possibly been present. Asking if there was anything in the room that seemed to be threatening in some familiar way is a good place to start. Smells can initiate triggers too. Was there a smell that could have triggered an old trauma response emotionally?

Perhaps someone vocalized something that triggered the response. Maybe there was a person who appeared to be familiar but who she couldn’t seem to place and that mentally distressed her. And, there might be a person who had a similarity to someone within her past who was threatening.

Environmental factors should be ruled out and psychodynamic roots can be addressed and looked into too. Taking steps of desensitization may well be the most helpful answer so that she doesn’t have to avoid going to parties for months or even years.

The first thing she might attempt is to go to another party in order to see if the problem is a recurring one. Then, she could try meeting a stranger and a friend together. Then she could be around one friend and five or so strangers at once.

As she does this, she should monitor her anxiety level and also watch for triggers. She can then begin to get in touch with the level of her anxiety and can work to develop solutions for workarounds and also to address the specific issues she has.

While there are common factors, everyone’s individual anxiety is different. It is something that is unique to them and only them. It takes courage and it takes determination to face fears and to wonder about them so we can reduce anxiety by developing and using techniques.

If anxiety is disrupting your life, it is time to get help so you can explore your thoughts and feelings. Getting help will help you take steps toward a life of growth and better health. You can be free.

Photos
“Anxious,” courtesy of Sascha Berner, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Thinking,” courtesy of Jacob Botter, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alejandra thinking II,” courtesy of Luis Alejandro Bernal Romeo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)