Archive for the ‘ emotional health ’ Category


Margin is defined in the dictionary as, “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary.”  Margin is space in our lives.  The white space that borders the text in your notebook, textbook, or Bible can be used to add extra thoughts and notes, unless you are prone to neuroses about actually (gasp) marking in a book.  Margin is your extra space to use in times of necessity or desire.  In the same way, margin is the space in our lives that holds a reserve of extra energy, time, or resources.

As I remarked to someone last week that I felt exhausted and overwhelmed, she replied, “it’s really not that bad.”  While her statement was invalidating, in many ways, there is truth in that statement.  I could easily name dozens of maladies or circumstances that would seem much worse.

The challenge is not that our hectic schedule is “bad,” per se, but it is more so that we have no margin in our lives.  Because of our current circumstances, namely that my husband does not have a drivers’ license and works an hour away from where we live, my husband and I daily use all our time and energy primarily just getting to and from our respective full-time jobs.  We are away from home 15 hours a day on weekdays, and weekends are only slightly less hectic.   Because of our work schedules and other necessary obligations, our lives do not currently allow for a Sabbath day of rest.

When nothing unexpected arises, we can manage to get through each day.  We both feel constantly depleted and exhausted, yet life goes on; we get to work, we do our jobs, we come home, we eat, we sleep.  However, when circumstances require us to give extra time, energy, or attention to something out of the ordinary, everything suddenly seems completely overwhelming.  When I do not get a good night’s sleep, when I feel sick, when there is a traffic accident, when we must travel somewhere out of the way, it feels like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I remember learning in a stress management course in graduate school that crisis occurs at the point when the external stressors and life demands exceed our internal coping resources (e.g. time, energy, financial resources).


A friend encouraged me today and said that she senses God’s presence the most when she has just passed that manageable state.  As I teeter on the edge of barely coping and complete meltdown, I sense God’s presence upholding me and sustaining me.  What feels like a crisis is opportunity for God to take over and uphold me with his grace.  I realize again that I cannot do this in my own strength.  Every day I am reminded that it is by His grace that we have jobs, transportation, and provision.

I am thankful that the Lord sustains me, and I am so blessed by my husband and our time together.


Healing Through Relationships



I grew up Catholic, so I was exposed to religion for most of my life, but I first heard the gospel and came into a personal relationship with God not quite six years ago. To clarify, the gospel I speak of maintains that I am a sinner deserving eternal punishment, but because Christ lived a life free of sin, died on the cross, and suffered the agony of hell, my sins have been paid for and I am declared clean before God. My righteousness (cleanliness) is not based on anything I did or could do, but solely on the work of Jesus.

 Prior to my introduction to the gospel, I was finishing a graduate degree in counseling. In many ways, I use my formal education in virtually every relationship, no matter how superficial or deep. In other ways, as I have grown in my understanding of God and as He has worked to change me (to die to myself and become more Christ-like, though I am still very far from that, and can never achieve it in this lifetime), I have come to refute some of the truths I learned in school.

 For instance, my undergraduate education in psychology was strongly rooted in behaviorism. Behavior is the product of conditioning (association, reinforcement, etc.). I was under the impression that children’s behavior – or misbehavior, as it were – was a product of reinforcement. The reinforcements in the child’s life are likely very complex, as no one lives in a controlled laboratory. I could take this tangent much deeper, but for the sake of the point, I will leave my curious readers to learn more about behaviorism on their own, and say simply that children’s behavior is shaped by the reinforcements in their environment.

 However, after talking to my friends who are astute, insightful Christian moms, and observing young children interact with the world, and after coming into a deeper understanding of humanity from a spiritual perspective, I realize that children’s misbehavior is a product of their sinful nature, with which all of us are born. Don’t get me wrong, reinforcement works, but it is far from the whole story.

 It seems as though my thinking is expanding in the spiritual realm in such a way that the formal psychology and counseling education I endured only occupies a small part of the puzzle of life, and that in many ways, those lectures I absorbed are very far from the big picture. At times, I feel almost discouraged by this, though I don’t completely understand why. Do I feel that my education was a waste of time? (Not really. But something in that direction.)

 Today I had an insight that helped encourage me in connecting the psychological and spiritual. In graduate school, my professors always said that it is the relationship that matters. Your specific technique as a therapist is important on some level, but change occurs in the context of the relationship itself. You as the whole being are the crucial piece of therapy. This is where the counseling educators and therapists are right on target.

 I had a discussion with a friend who has a huge blind spot in her life as a result of long-standing family dysfunction. I was thinking to myself hours later that the only way she will grow and change and be able to eventually see the blind spot and heal is if she has healthy relationships with others, in part so that healthy communication is modeled to her, which will help reveal the unhealthiness in the family relationships. The other part is that God can work through these relationships in ways that are difficult to articulate, and part of what we call the mystery of God, as our finite minds can never fully comprehend His ways. My friend (and all of us) needs a healthy relationship with Christ, and also healthy female friendships that can model Christ’s love to her. It occurred to me, also, that this is exactly the aim of formal therapy. While many therapists are not Christian, the overall goal is to model a healthy relationship where growth can take place for the client.

 As I pondered all of this, I was immediately reminded of a passage I read recently from one of my new favorite books entitled, “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.” The author, Paul David Tripp, writes that “God’s redemptive activity always takes place in relationships,” both with God and with others. I did not think of relationships as being as crucial, really the only thing, as Tripp stated it, but the more I think about it, the more I see his point. He goes on to write that “our relationships do not belong to us, but they belong to the Lord and are holy.”

 I am thankful for my relationship with God and the healing that has taken place in my own life. I am thankful for my female friends who model Christ’s love for me daily. I am extremely thankful for my relationship with my mom, which after years of hurt and dysfunction, God was able to redeem it, and I can now call my mom my friend. I love her dearly.

That’s Not Cool

As I was flipping through radio stations this morning on my way to work, I stopped on a station where the deejays were discussing women who continuously go back to their “anti-Christ” (presumably emotionally abusive, narcissistic) boyfriends.

The male deejay on the show proclaimed, “The best boyfriend is the one that is always trying to get you back.”

One of the female deejays said wryly, “Yeah, because he’s on his good behavior.”

I know exactly what they mean. A woman’s heart’s desire is to be pursued by a man. There is something deceptively alluring about a man who is constantly working to win a woman’s heart, telling her that he knows they are meant to be together, he loves her, he needs her. Even when his actions towards her are not loving or cause her to second-guess herself, a woman is drawn in by a man’s pursuit and words. When a man’s words and actions are incongruous, it is very difficult for a woman to be discerning, particularly if she sees him or talks to him every day, because she is constantly hearing him say those magical and persuasive words. It is very difficult for many women to break away from these types of men, especially because they will continue to pursue.

A few days ago, I saw a commercial that impacted me more strongly than most. In the commercial, shown below, a boy is harassing a girl via text message (“textual harassment”), constantly asking what she is doing (“have you told your family about us?”, “are you with your friends?”, “what did you dream about? me.”) and subtly manipulating her emotions, trying to get her to respond or react.

The commercial ends when the narrator says, “When does caring become controlling?” and directs the viewer to the website,

This commercial affected me because I can identify with the young woman who is portrayed. I dated someone who constantly called and texted me to let me know how much he “cared” about me, but he was really trying to control me. Because of emotional vulnerabilities I had at that time in my life, it was very appealing to me to be pursued so relentlessly. I always knew where I stood with him, and I always knew he would be there for me (or so he convinced me to believe).

Never mind that he was a pathological liar, he pretended to get counseling to help our relationship and used things that the counselor supposedly said to manipulate my emotions, he was jealous and possessive, he faked medical issues to arouse my sympathies, he used spiritual language and shame to manipulate me, he needed to know where I was at all times, he had people check up on me and report back to him regarding my whereabouts, he played mind games, his stories were never consistent, he threatened to go back to using drugs and possibly kill himself if I broke up with him, he constantly stirred up conflict, he used silence to block communication, and he destroyed items I gave him.

Despite all of that emotional abuse, he was able to get me to believe that he really loved me, and he pursued me so heavily. He would not let me leave him. Until finally I did.

This issue concerns me for young women who may have less awareness about abuse, a smaller support network, and fewer resources for getting help. I am thankful for the Family Violence Prevention Fund and other organizations who have sponsored the “That’s Not Cool” commercial, website, and awareness of issues like controlling behavior and constant texting.

Enneagram of Personality

A facebook friend of mine sent me a link to the Enneagram Personality Test. I know very little about this measure of personality, but I took a free version of it online here.

I came out as a 1, and the results stated that my behavior motivation is, “I must be perfect and good to be happy.” The results also indicate that “Ones are idealistic and strive for perfection. Morals and ethics drive them. They live with an overbearing internal critic that never rests. They are always comparing themselves to others and are overly concerned with external criticism.”

The Enneagram Institute gives the following summary for my personality:

Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.
Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced

I was intrigued by the results, especially in light of my post yesterday about my struggles with perfectionism.

It is often easy for me to feel like I am alone in the way I think or feel. I appreciate being validated when I read over the results of personality tests. The summaries help me to realize that I am the way I am because of my temperament, that there are other people like me, and because that is the way God made me. He did not make a mistake when He created me.

The Paradox of Perfectionism

I struggle with perfectionism, and I give myself no room to not be perfect. If I am not perfect, then I am a failure. Clearly, this black-and-white thinking does not work to my benefit when I am inevitably not perfect. At times like that, I can be so hard on myself.

I expect myself to be perfect, yet at times I do not have a clear definition of what that is, or the definition is clear but impossible to attain. I have a lot of unconscious rules for myself, things I tell myself that I “should” do or be. When I break those rules, I feel like a failure. I have noticed two such rules that are impossible to live up to, given the constraints of human nature. Yet it is very difficult for me to have grace for myself when these issues arise.

Rule #1: I do not allow myself to feel insecure.

When insecurities arise, and of course they naturally will come up, I judge myself. I tell myself that I should never feel insecure, that insecurities are a sign of weakness, and that there is something wrong with me for feeling insecure. Of course, the truth is that everyone feels insecure at times, and many times there are legitimate reasons for feeling insecure.

Rule #2: I do not allow myself to feel emotions.

When I feel emotional, I immediately block my feelings by telling myself I should not be emotional, and/or I intellectualize my feelings and try to cognitively understand them. I do not see my own emotions as being valid, but it gives me a little relief to have a logical explanation for any emotion I feel. The truth is that emotions are normal and healthy.

The irony is that I would never judge someone else for feeling insecure or feeling emotion. These are normal human reactions, and paradoxically, I often admire people who can open up about their insecurities and emotions.

Yet I have a very difficult time giving myself permission to be or express insecurity and emotion. Doing so makes me feel weak. A lot of times in past dating relationships, I have been unable to express my feelings to the person I am with. I would rather be someone’s fantasy (in other words, the “perfect,” idealized version of me that I feel I need to be) than his reality (the messy, sometimes “weak” and emotional version of myself).

I have noticed that in my relationship with Smith, though it is challenging to do so, I always express everything I am thinking and feeling to him. This is very difficult for me because of my internal rules; I fear that he will judge me as harshly as I judge myself. Yet, Smith has been such a safe person to me. He listens patiently. He validates what I say, he can relate to my perfectionism, and no matter what insecurities and emotions I have expressed to him, he still loves me.

Yesterday, I was talking to Smith, and I was looking for some reassurance. I said, with some irony but some seriousness, “Are you sure you want to spend the rest of your life with me? That means I won’t be a distant but idealized “perfect” person. Do you really want to get to know me, get close to me, and see all my messiness?” Smith easily reassured me that he does want to see my imperfections and weaknesses.

I do know that I have a lot to offer, that the perceived “bad” comes with a lot of positive characteristics. But at times, my perfectionism limits me to seeing only my inadequacies.


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.

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.