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How Do I Know When I Have Actually Forgiven?


In my work with clients, it is not unusual for me to bear witness to confusion about forgiveness. One specific area of confusion arises in a client’s uncertainty about whether or not forgiveness has actually taken place. Examples of some of the comments I hear include, “I thought I forgave her for the betrayal years ago, so why does it still hurt?” “I told him I forgave him for mismanaging our finances and I thought I really meant it, but now I’m questioning whether I forgave him at all.” “If I forgive him, why do still feel triggered?” These statements are touching on the delicate, sensitive process that we go through when we bravely enter into the forgiveness process. 

One image I find that is helpful is imagining forgiveness as a mountain with a path circling it like a spiral from top to bottom. The closer and closer you get to the summit, the tighter the spirals. As you move up the mountain, you grow, develop insight, integrate old experiences with new ones, and generally tend to make meaning out of your life as time moves along. Somewhere along the way, someone hurt you. Let’s call that “Spot A” on your mountain. You continue on up your mountain and at some point later decide to forgive that person. Let’s call that “Spot B” on your mountain. Life continues and you move up your mountain along your forgiveness path and are surprised a while later on when you find yourself standing directly above Spot A, and find yourself confused by an onslaught of troubling emotions that might make you question what happened down there at both Spot A and Spot B. These emotions might sound like, “Wait, didn’t I forgive him?” “I thought I took care of this back at Spot B!” “Why does this hurt so much all over again?”

What you are experiencing may be the difference between decisional and emotional forgiveness. According to forgiveness researcher Everett Worthington, these two things are crucial, but separate processes within the larger experience of offering forgiveness to an offender. Deciding to forgive means choosing to offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged you. Emotional forgiveness means replacing the negative feelings you had toward that person or event with positive feelings such as compassion or empathy. Each type of forgiveness has different functions in our lives. Worthington’s research has found that emotional forgiveness is what helps us most to release those negative or painful emotions, while decisional forgiveness may promote repair in relationships[i]. As you progress through your own life experience on your forgiveness journey, let me encourage you to consider both the decision to forgive and the process of replacing the negative emotions with positive ones as parts of your own unique forgiveness process. Each are worthy of your attention and energy as you continue forward. Perhaps as you circle closer and closer to the summit of your own mountain, you will release more and more negative emotions and replace them with neutral or even positive emotions. Regardless of where you stand decisionally or emotionally in your forgiveness journey, perhaps instead of asking, “how do I know I’ve forgiven,” consider asking yourself, “Where am I in my forgiveness process?” 


[i]Worthington, E. (2004). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

Men and Substance Abuse


Addiction has no boundaries. Addiction impacts all groups of people from different socioeconomic status, races, ethnicities, and genders. However, while addiction is not a gender specific disease, it does impact men differently. Statistically men are more likely to be diagnosed with an addiction (Drugabuse.gov, 2016). Men face different health struggles associated with addiction. Along with health struggles relationships can be negatively impacted by addiction. While the factors are unknown as to why men are more likely to be diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder, through treatment, hope is possible.

Men are more likely to use nearly all types of drugs, while women are less likely (Samhsa.gov, 2014). Men tend to engage in risky behavior at younger ages, which in turn could lead to more drug experimentation.  At a young age, drug use increases risk for lifelong dependency. While experimentation is not a certainty for lifelong abuse, it does increase the likelihood for addiction. Perhaps, this latter point leads to men being diagnosed more with substance abuse.

The negative impacts of drug and alcohol abuse in men are many, including the impact on health.  Men are at greater risk for negative health effects due to addiction; cirrhosis, pancreatitis and depression are frequent diagnoses associated with substance abuse.  (Drugabuse.gov. 2016).  To add to this, excessive alcohol consumption decreases testosterone levels, which in turn can cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, decreased strength and libido.  A man’s mental health is also negatively impacted by substance abuse. Men who struggle with depression and anxiety along with other mental health issues often turn to increased substance use which in turn only exacerbates their mental health issues.  Possible factors that impact this cycle are shame, guilt, and a feelings of low self-esteem.

Men can also feel the negative impact of substance abuse on their relationships. In general, those who are abusing substance(s) are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. This sexually risky behavior can include infidelity which can lead to STDs, and unwanted pregnancies.  To add, the role of father can also be negatively impacted by substance abuse. The lack of emotional availability as a father, the impediment of clear understanding and consciousness, and the distribution of resources towards drugs and alcohol, all negatively impact the family.

While there are many negative aspects to substance abuse in men, there is hope. Men do enter treatment more often, unfortunately often times via the criminal justice system. However, once in treatment there is opportunity to change. Through group treatment, men can find a community of people going through similar life experiences; though individual treatment men can find a confidential source of support and insight into their own addiction. The road to recovery is long and arduous, but it is worth it to not live with the negative consequences of addiction.

References

Drugabuse.gov. 2016. Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/substance-use-in-women/sex-gender-differences-in-substance-use. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

Samhsa.gov. 2014. Gender Differences in Primary Substance of Abuse across Age Groups. [ONLINE] Available at:https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/sr077-gender-differences-2014.pdf. [Accessed 30 March 2018].

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Holidays


While the holiday season can be a time of connection and cheer for many, for others it can bring about additional stress and isolation. During the season of giving we often devote so much time to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. Reclaiming and incorporating time for yourself is an essential part of maintaining a healthy and balanced holiday season. Below are a few ways in which you can give to yourself this season:

  • Reflect: Throughout the year reflection is a key aspect of self-care, but moving it to the forefront is especially important during the holidays. Reflection can bring about renewal and change as you enter the new year, and for some can even bring closure. Meditation and journaling are ways in which you can reflect on what it most important during these times. Both provide emotional and physical benefits that aid in the mitigation of undesirable symptoms.
  • Rest: Another important aspect of everyday life, that is especially important during this busy time, is rest. By maintaining a routine, you allow yourself to remain recharged and refreshed during this season of rush.
  • Prioritize: In an effort to match the pace of the season, many people often find themselves playing catch up once the holidays have ended. Allow yourself time to create and stick to realistic goals, which can include scheduling and budgeting. This eliminates the burden of overspending and overexerting yourself.
  • Create: Instead of focusing on the hustle of the season, take advantage of the magic of the season by creating traditions that will last for many seasons to come.
  • Redefine: Many assume that giving requires spending. During the coming days, take time to reflect on the meaning of the holidays by redefining what it means to give. Giving your time to be in service of others is an easy and inexpensive way to lift spirits.

In keeping with the holiday season, it is important to remember that self-care is key to achieving greater health, happiness, and prosperity. As stated by Calving Coolidge, “Holidays are not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of the Holidays.”

Live on the Rest


In 2 Kings 4, there was a woman whose husband died and creditors came to take her sons as slaves to pay her debts. Prophet Elisha told her to gather vessels and pour the little oil she had into them and sell them to pay off her debts. In verse 7, Elisha said, “You and your sons can live on the rest.” She gathered with her son as many as possible and her faith and obedience were rewarded. This miracle of receiving the oil she needs for her bills and family’s wellbeing is an extravagant demonstration of God’s love, goodness, and power. She put into practice the words of the Prophet and was rewarded with Rest.

He commands her to “Live on the REST”. The word rest relays a stopping, quieting, and refreshment, and in this passage, it is also speaking to what she had left after giving what she had, what remained. She gathered, God did a miracle, she sold what was needed, and then could rest. Whatever remains from the Lord will be enough, so be at ease. Whatever he asks you to do, you can obey with confidence that God will care for you just as he did this widow. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Those who have unbelief will not enter his rest. Yet there remains a rest for the people of God and we shall strive to enter that rest (Hebrews 3:7-4:11). The place of rest is wonderful and worthy of being pursued, protected, and maintained! Therefore, when you “live on the rest”, it means you live at rest due to your faith in the God who is more than enough for all you need.

All my single ladies…Caring for the heart of a woman


In the face of ongoing singleness, it seems women get consumed by the “man hunt”, cope unhealthily a bag of potato chips or Oreos, or harden their hearts from discouragement and self-doubt when they are unable to find what they desire. I have worked with many women who have thought, “What is wrong with me? No one likes me!” or “I must not be good enough for the one I want.” I have true compassion for these women. They long for deep, intimate connection that validates the tender greatness inside of them. This longing for relationship or communion exists for many reasons. On one level, it is an attempt to answer a core defining question, “Am I loveable? Am I captivating? Am I worthwhile?” (Eldredge & Eldredge, 2010).

All humanity is wired for connection and relationship, and women seem to embody this deeply. Genesis shares that Eve was made from the rib of Adam (Genesis 2:22). In Genesis 2:18, Eve was called ezer kenegdo, best translated as, “sustainer beside him” (Alter as cited by Eldredge & Eldredge, 2010). Women are to be life-giving: relational, tender, vulnerable, and beautiful. Therefore, the loneliness and insecurity women often feel during singleness can be intensified when our need for intimacy is not satisfied.

In the book, Captivating, the authors describe the essence of women from a scriptural perspective. The authors argue that women are to be the crown of all creation. Our feminine essence is in our tenderness and beauty. Our vulnerability does not make us weak; it makes us beautiful. Our strength is not in our arm or stature; it is in our tenderness and vulnerability. Too often we look to our fathers and lovers to validate or “complete” us in some way, to help us feel less vulnerable or alone.   We look at the dark, mean world and wonder if we can survive; so, we toughen up, act strong like men, and lose our femininity. (Women are also fierce, but you’ll have to read the book to learn more.) Brené Brown (2012) shares that leaning into vulnerability is courageous. When we are at peace with our vulnerability, the life we breathe into others can be seen and received (Eldredge & Eldredge, 2010).

As women, we are wired for romance as we display the longings and sensitivities of God. He calls the church His beautiful bride (Ephesians 5:26-27) and the books Song of Solomon and Hosea, are metaphorical messages of the sensuality of His romance towards us. Hence, singleness can feel unbearable for women. We feel pressured to marry and have children before 35. We wonder if we’re lovely enough to draw the attention of the right man. The authors argue that men can never satisfy this longing, that our longing and need for affirmation need to come from God instead (Eldredge & Eldredge,2010).

“How do I surrender my needs to the Lord? My feelings are so intense!” you claim.

  1. Do not lose heart in well-doing (Galatians 6:9). Find avenues for restoration. Maybe it’s a daily cup of tea and candle or maybe it is a weekly God-led adventure with the Lord.
  2. Focus on your romance with Jesus. We can draw close to him and feel enraptured by His love and affection. We can maintain our sensitive, tender heart through trials, because we trust the Lord that He is good and faithful towards us.
  3. Embody peace wherever you are. Connect with rest and peace in every moment. Let go of desired outcomes.
  4. Consider counseling if stuck. The process of counseling can help validate and free up intense feelings.

References

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Avery.

Eldredge, J. & S. Eldredge, (2010). Captivating: Unveiling the mystery of a woman’s soul. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Holy Bible: New International Version (1984). Zondervan.

Letting Go To Grow


Philippians 4:8

Finally, my sisters – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, what is right, what is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

  1. Position yourself in the future – get a positive view of the future will help you let go of a negative past. This is hard. Negative experiences just don’t fade away. Neuroscience of the brain indicates that we have an area of the brain that is called the episodic area. In this area we house events. We were created to remember so there are three things that will help with letting go of a negative past – (i) intentionally; (ii) create a vision board to assist you; (iii) set some steps. Learn to be present and stay in the present as you note your thoughts and feelings that connect you to what is good, what is lovely and what is of a good report.
  1. Discard the old – look around at your space, what reminds you of the thing, event, thought that you are trying to let go? Whatever it is start small and recreate. Redecorate a room, create piles that are keep, toss or transfer and then move forward with those things.
  1. Repair – acknowledge if what you are letting go of you played a part in the hurt, pain or disappointment. If you can, reach out to that person, have a face to face or write a letter expressing your part and your remorse. If you cannot reach out to that person, write an unmailable letter expressing your part and remorse.
  1. Rewrite your narrative – this allows you to take your power back. It places you in the position of victor and not victim. Therapist call this cognitive re-framing – God has given us the power to write our stories. Look at the loss as a release. An open door to create something new and refreshing.
  1. Forgive – discharge the debt, do what needs to be done to not have offense repeated (redefine the relationship); acknowledge the mess, the cost, the pain as well as the short and long term consequences of the offense, it is a process, not a one-time decision.

What Just Happened?: Making Sense of My Seemingly Random Reactions


Marie was feeling productive at work when she received a phone call from her mother. As soon as she saw the caller ID, she felt irritable and dismissed the call. For the rest of the day, she struggled to return her focus to her work or get anything accomplished.

Brenda was enjoying her time out to dinner at a nice restaurant with her boyfriend, Jude. However, she wanted to run out of the restaurant when Jude took his phone out of his pocket and started doing something on it. For the rest of dinner, she just answered his questions with one-word answers and couldn’t wait to get home so she could go to sleep.

Tiffani was fully engaged in the conversation at her 11:00 business meeting, which she found to be fascinating. When the colleague sitting next to her raised his hand to interrupt the discussion, she flinched and had trouble participating in the remainder of the meeting.

 

What do these women have in common?

Although at first glance, these women may seem to be drastically different from one another, when we take a moment to investigate their histories, we find similarities in their reactions in each situation. Each of these women’s reactions makes sense. Each of these women’s trauma response was triggered by the circumstances of their environments and made it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

Marie grew up in a home where she never knew what she would experience when she walked in the door. Some days, her mother would be waiting to greet her with a smile and interest in what happened at school. Other days, her mother would be drunk on the couch, waiting for Marie to return from school so she could take care of her mother’s every need.

Brenda’s first marriage started off great, but after a year, her husband didn’t seem to even know she existed, that was, until he wanted something from her sexually and he could not be deterred. Brenda felt unwanted and cast-off and wasn’t surprised the day he filed for divorce because he found a “better woman.” It took a long time to feel ready to date again, but finally, she was willing to try again.

Tiffani’s step-father was scary and mean. She would hide in her closet to stay away from him when he was angry, praying that he wouldn’t find her because she was afraid that this time, he would hit her so hard she might die.

 

What is a trauma response and why does it happen?

Our brains automatically respond to dangerous, stressful, and traumatic situations by prioritizing reactions that will keep us safe; this is a very good thing, as it helps us to survive. When a person experiences these dangerous, stressful, or chaotic situations time and again, his/her brain gets really good at quickly prioritizing this survival response. Sometimes, the brain is so good at doing this, the survival response becomes the automatic and occurs even when the person is in a completely safe situation. This triggered reaction is a trauma response and it makes sense. Marie’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes when she talks to her mom, she isn’t safe. Brenda’s trauma reaction was triggered because she felt unwanted by her boyfriend when he started using his phone; she had been here before and it was not safe. Tiffani’s trauma reaction was triggered because her brain knows that sometimes, when someone near you raises his/her arm, it is to hit her. Although each of these women may not understand why she reacted in the way she did, each response makes sense in light of her past experiences and makes it difficult for her to fully engage in the present moment.

 

What can I do if I experience things like this?

First and foremost, seek support from safe and trustworthy people. Talking through your current and past experiences with a family member or friend who has consistently been safe and caring can help you express these things so you don’t have to hold them inside or on your own. Many individuals find it helpful to participate in therapy in order to have a safe place to discuss these reactions and the situations that have caused them and work towards growth and healing.

Secondly, take care of yourself when these reactions occur – maybe you need to take a break to go for a walk, grab a coffee, or take some deep breaths. Do something little and easy to help calm your brain and your body down so that you can re-engage in the present moment. Be kind to yourself by reminding yourself that this reaction was helpful for your survival at one point in time and makes sense in the current situation – there is nothing inherently wrong with your reaction and you can do something to help yourself through it.

If you would like to begin receiving professional services for reactions such as those described above, our office has therapists who have specialized training to provide services to individuals who have experienced trauma. Please click here to request an appointment.

 


*These stories are fictional and were created with the intent to illustrate triggered responses as a result of traumatic experiences in order to increase awareness, offer knowledge, and provide support for those who may be experiencing similar reactions.

Assertiveness: Be All of You in Your Relationship


If you find it hard to say “no” or are rarely speaking your mind, you likely have a passive approach to communication. Maybe even to living. If you are not afraid of how things fly out of your mouth, and are only focused on your needs, you likely fit an aggressive style that can leave others hurting and distancing from you. Both styles can lead to hurting you or someone else.

One thing I have learned is that I used to value keeping the peace more than showing up and being real in relationship. I did not even know I was doing that, but I learned I was serving “peace” rather than genuine relating. Then, I realized I was selling myself short and everyone around me. I valued their needs over mine and at times could not identify my needs because I had lost touch with them long ago. I now believe it is human to have needs and it is spiritual to voice our needs and that this builds deep, authentic, realistic relationships. It is unrealistic to expect others to know what I have need of without asking specifically for it.

In Matthew 20:29-34, Jesus asked the two blind men who called out to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He likely knew their need, but wanted them to be specific with their faith in asking for what they needed from this relationship, so they could connect intimately.

Again, Jesus challenged a man in need, “Do you want to get well?… Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:1-14). He was looking for bold, faith-filled, assertiveness. Someone who was serious about what they needed and willing to speak up about it, even act upon it.

It can feel risky to admit you have needs, ask for what you need, and that you need people or God. In order to be true to yourself, and be close to others, embrace humility in your vulnerability, muster your faith, and speak your mind calmly with courage and kindness.

This phrase may help you take responsibility for your feelings and communicate what you need without blaming someone else as the problem. Counseling can help build assertiveness skills so you feel more authentic and more in charge of your life without appeasing others or pushing others away.

“I” Statement format:            “I feel ________ when you _________ because __________.”

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago