Archive for May, 2010

Full/Empty

My friend Emily*, as we were discussing relationships at lunch one day, likened emotional health to a cup of whatever yummy beverage you prefer. If you are emotionally healthy, your cup (your psychological well-being) will be ¾ full, and other people and relationships will be like the whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles on top. If you are emotionally unhealthy, your cup will be ¼ cup full, and you will look to others to fill you, thereby draining those people in the process, and you will end up feeling just as empty as before.

The difficulty in being a perfectionist is that I expect my cup to be 100% full. I expect myself to be completely emotionally healthy, to never feel insecure or anxious or discouraged, to never need others, to never long, want, hunger, need. But of course no one can be completely emotionally healthy, because we live in a broken world, one in which we were not originally designed to live.

We were designed to live in a perfect world, and the reason we long for more is that this world falls far short of our original intention.

I am learning to accept my imperfections, though it is difficult because I am so idealistic.

¾ cup full:
1. Has flexible boundaries
2. Is able to give and accept constructive criticism
3. Sees self as a survivor
4. Lives with structure and balance
5. Promotes self-esteem and sense of worth in self and others
6. Provides safety, warmth, and nurturance
7. Makes others feel valued and important
8. Feels free to express thoughts and emotions
9. Words and actions are congruent.

¼ cup full
1. Has no boundaries or extremely rigid boundaries
2. Is critical, jealous, and possessive of others
3. Sees self as victim
4. Lives on the extremes, life is chaotic
5. Perceives rejection or abandonment, even when it is not there
6. Is insecure, gives off atmosphere of being unsafe and threatening, takes advantage of others
7. Feels empty inside and drains others
8. Out of touch with feelings, numb
9. Words and actions are incongruent and inconsistent

*Names have been changed.

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Before She Wrote

Know Yourself

I spend a lot of time thinking about emotional health: what it is, how to attain it, how to explain it.

In conducting research, it appears that emotional health is not clearly defined. One can recognize emotional healthiness (or lack thereof) by its “symptoms,” the way a person behaves, feels, and reacts to situations, but emotional health itself is an elusive quality.

For instance, emotional health may be characterized by resilience, the ability to laugh, having a sense of meaning and purpose, knowing oneself, feeling comfortable with one’s strengths and weaknesses, having balance between work and play, having meaningful relationships with others, and having high self-confidence.

Emotional unhealth, on the other hand, may be characterized by coping with stress in ways that perpetuate unhealthiness (such as addictions), behaving in ways that break down relationships, rather than build them up, persistent feelings of despair and anxiety, reacting based on the emotions of the moment, and suffering feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

The best description of emotional health that I have discovered is listed in Peter Scazzero’s book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” and is based off of Murray Bowen’s research on differentiation. You can find a copy of Scazzero’s outline here.

I am convinced that one of the best tools for increasing emotional health is to get to know oneself.

There are several methods of getting to know yourself and getting emotionally healthy.

  1. Take a personality test, and try to understand your temperament.
  2. Get counseling or talk to trusted friends. Confide in people who can provide helpful feedback and insight.
  3. Surround yourself with people you admire, who have qualities you want to learn and emulate.
  4. Take good care of your physical self.  The mind-body connection is amazingly interconnected.
  5. Make time for contemplation, which may include spending time with God, meditating, or journaling.

Broken Bones

I am wrestling. A storm is raging inside me.

I sense that God is trying to heal me, that He is trying to teach me something so that I will be more whole, healthier, stronger, more awesome, and more able to empathize with and relate to others. Yet, strength comes from wounds. Scar tissue is thicker and stronger. Broken bones heal back sturdier than before. It is the same with matters of the heart and psyche.

Everything inside me is in upheaval.

I expect so much from myself. I am so idealistic. I always see what *could* be. I see how I *should* be, how I could have done things better. I see this in others, too. I have unrealistic expectations.

This world is fallen and broken and sinful and messy.

I make mistakes because I am human. Because I am self-aware, I always see the impure motives I have behind everything I do. I expect better of myself.

I want to live righteously, but I am completely unable to do so in my own strength.

I feel lonely and I want companionship and I tell myself that makes me weak.

Because I am so analytical and logical, I have difficulty with emotion. When I feel emotion, I feel weak. I struggle to just allow myself to feel.

Deep down, I feel so broken and undeserving of positive things in my life, so I struggle to enjoy things, people, situations, relationships.

I strive to live in the moment, to be fully present. Yet I am such a dreamer, and I am always off in my imaginations and daydreams.

God is doing something big in me. I am a strong woman, and He will continue to make me stronger. The healing process, the growing process hurts and aches. I need, I want, I feel. This is good. It is out of my comfort zone, but it is good.

I know this to be true because I am seeing with increasing clarity that what is healthy is not what has been “normal” and comfortable for me in the past. I am now becoming more comfortable with what is healthy than what was known but unhealthy from my past.

Working Out

I am my own personal experiment. A friend of mine thought that fact was weird and that I should keep it to myself, so of course I am doing the exact opposite and writing it for all to see. But Jean Piaget, the famous developmental psychologist and constructivist philosopher, basically came up with his brilliant ideas by studying and experimenting with his own children. What’s good enough for Piaget is good enough for me, but since I do not have any offspring, I just study myself.

I am constantly making small changes to my workouts and my diet, and it is interesting to see the results. I made some strength gains over the past 3-4 months, and I have noticed some increased muscular definition over the past few weeks. This is very encouraging to me.

I have written previously about how I make myself attractive and about wellness, if you are curious to read more. Here, I want to list what I have been doing recently.

1. The same friend who thought I was weird (admittedly, I am weird, so I don’t hold it against him for his observation) gave me great advice on my abdominal workouts. I have been doing abs 3-4 times a week, and I have started doing a much greater variety of exercises from day to day. I have noticed that my abs are getting more shredded just by constantly confusing my abdominal muscles.  No, those are not my abs in the picture.  I would never post a picture of my abs online. 

2. I have been incorporating more supersets and drop sets in my workouts, which keeps my heart rate up. I am still also hitting heavier sets, as well.

3. I have cut back on cardio. I now do 5 minutes of cardio warm up (down from 10 minutes), about an hour of weight training (mostly free weights), and 30 minutes of cardio (down from 40-45 minutes). Incidentally, I work out 6-7 days a week (I really have to force myself to take a rest day, and it really helps, but it is hard for me to rest, I’ll rest when I die), and I have 6 muscle groups that I rotate throughout the week, one per day: chest, legs, back, shoulders, triceps, and biceps. This part is no different than usual, but if you are curious, there you have it.

4. Since I gained in strength and am lifting heavier weights over the past couple of months, I noticed that I felt much more fatigued and hungry as I started to do cardio. So, I started eating a Power Bar on the way to the gym, and this helps my energy level tremendously. I try to steer clear of pre-workout drinks/powders because of the high level of caffeine they contain.

5. I have been diligently drinking two protein shakes a day, each containing about 35 grams of protein.

6. I take a high quality multivitamin (GNC Women’s Ultra Mega vitamin) and a probiotic daily. One day last week I forgot to take them in the morning, and I was dragging all day.

7. New music makes me feel so energetic during my workouts.

8. If I stay up late, I cannot seem to sleep in. My body simply will not allow it. And it takes me 24-48 hours to recover when I stay up too late. Adequate sleep is a necessity for me.

9. I have been eating a lot of high-fiber cereal (All Bran), and I eat very little other carbohydrate from refined bread/grain sources.  I do consume a lot of carbs, which is necessary to maintain good health and energy.

By the way, TR, if you are reading this, thank you so much for your comments. The things you write are very encouraging and useful.

Affection

“I knew the importance of physical touch. . . I knew its power to bring healing, comfort, and validation. Broken people need to be touched.” Gayle Haggard in Why I Stayed

I watched a movie the other day, and there was a scene depicted where a guy and gal were lying together on the bed, entwined in each others’ arms, listening to mellow tunes by John Mayer and James Blunt. I am aware that the movie was fiction, but it occurred to me: some people get to do that every night. In real life. Some people get to cuddle up next to each other and have all the physical affection they want.

Sure, there are a lot of broken marriages and relationships, and it is not all it’s cracked up to be. I get that. Okay, so you don’t spend every night tangled in the sheets and each others’ bodies and listen to soulful music, whispering in the dark, talking about life, relationships, intimacy, something funny someone did at work, and life purpose. But you *could *do that. If you are married, you could do that every night.

If you are married and you are reading this, you will probably think of a hundred reasons why I am wrong or why the reality of marriage just is not like that. But listen, I’m in my early thirties and I have never been married. If you are married and silently arguing with me, you do not know what you have.

At times, I feel that I am deprived of physical touch. As I’ve written previously, physical touch is the most significant love language for me. When others (particularly in a relationship, but in friendships, as well) hug me, hold my hand, or pat me on the back or shoulder, I feel most loved. I am not a touchy-feely person at all, and I don‘t tend to initiate physical contact, especially in platonic friendships. I am reserved around people, physically and emotionally, and I do not go around hugging my girlfriends often. (And for that matter, I do not hug my male friends at all.)

My parents did not display any physical affection toward me. Physical touch in my family of origin was used rarely and only in anger.

When a friend or acquaintance pats me on the back or gives me a brief hug, sometimes I feel like I might crumble.

I read somewhere that a person needs seven hugs a day to stay healthy. I do not know for sure if this is true. But I know that research has shown that babies who are not touched fail to thrive. And I know that physical touch displayed in a caring way feels healing.

I do not understand why God has chosen to give me the gift of singleness – and I do see it as a gift – when I sometimes deeply need to be held.

Is it so much to ask to want someone to whisper to in the dark about graffiti art, literary minimalism, skateboarding, and ontology, to lie in his arms and listen to Sweet Disposition (The Temper Trap), Jesus (Brand New), Existentialism on Prom Night (Straylight Run), and Sometime Around Midnight (Airborne Toxic Event) together?

Appreciation

I have been reading a novel about a man whose wife left him a week earlier and moved in with his best friend. The man and his wife have a son, so they see each other every day as each spend time with the boy. They still love each other, but their arguments about trivialities had escalated to the point that the wife felt she needed to go.

There are a lot of upsetting aspects to the story, namely reflecting the way people in our society misunderstand love. Love is not a feeling or an emotion, and when you’re bored or tired or annoyed and that magical feeling dissipates, you don’t just quit. Love is a *commitment,* often undergirded by an emotion, but not always, and one does not feel the happy emotion of love every minute of each day in a long-term relationship or marriage. The fact that the wife bailed because she was stressed and/or wanted the affections of another man is disturbingly shallow and offensive to me.

The saddest part of my experience reading this book is the man’s palpable loneliness: his coming home to a house with a big hole where he wants his wife to be, imagining his interactions with her if she had been there, and realizing that she isn’t. I understand that the book is fiction, but the author has adeptly engaged at least this reader’s empathy, and certainly marital separation is all too common.

People just don’t know what they have.

I was recently reading Elisabeth Elliot’s “Let Me Be A Woman,” and she wrote the following:

How often have I sat in a roomful of people and heard a wife criticize, contradict, belittle or sneer at her husband before the rest of the company and I have with difficulty restrained myself from leaping from my chair, going over and shaking that woman by the shoulders and saying, “Do you realize what you’ve got?” She doesn’t. She hasn’t my perspective, of course.

Elisabeth married Jim Elliot, who was murdered while serving as a missionary after just three years of marriage. She then remained single for thirteen years (and her second husband passed away four years after they had wed). So Elliot understands struggle and loneliness. She understands what it is to be alone.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be widowed, but I suspect that there are some shared struggles between Elliot’s experience of a long period of singleness via widowhood and my experience of being in my early thirties and never married.

Elliot writes in the same chapter that when her second husband asked her to marry him, she told him that she could not offer him great beauty or wealth, but that much more than most women, she could and would greatly *appreciate* him. Because she knew deeply what it was to be alone.

So many people who are married just do not appreciate what they have. I know, I know, the grass is always greener on the other side. I know married people long for freedom, while single people long for companionship. I highly value my freedom and independence. I enjoy the benefits of being single. I feel fulfilled and joyful as a single person. I can write that statement completely honestly and at the same time honestly write that I long for companionship and partnership and I have a hard time with people who do not appreciate their marriage.

Like Elliot, if and when I meet the right person, I will so deeply appreciate him.