Emotionally Transmitted Disease: Chronic Self-Criticism

Modern American culture is defined largely by individuals’ tastes and preferences.  When our tastes and preferences are not met, in all areas of life, we expect to be able to make a complaint to customer service. It is our right “to speak to your manager.”

Those who lead in the church and parachurch are no strangers to the suggestions, complaints and critiques of those in their care. This is because the people that are to be cared for in ministry are cultural consumers.

Consumers certainly need to be cared for, but an identity of consumption is hollow and destined for emptiness apart from the saving and redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. Today your sheep include modern American sheep. Unfortunately, these sheep have a lot to say about your latest sermon, fellowship event, child care initiative, counseling session, theologian you quoted, movie you referenced, etc. You, ministry leader, are the manager, and the customer would like to speak with you.

We introduced the idea of Emotionally Transmitted Disease recently in a blog post that you can find here.

EMOTIONALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE IS BASED ON THE IDEA THAT PEOPLE - WHILE BEING EMPATHETIC CREATURES - ARE OPEN TO “INFECTION” BY THE VERY FEELINGS AND STATES OF THOSE WHO WE CARE FOR.

There are actual structures in the human brain called “mirror neurons” that act as antennae to sense how others are feeling. These antenna even register the intent behind others’ actions and emotions. As image-bearers of God, human beings are fearfully and wonderfully wired to feel what others are feeling.

Dr. Marco Iacobani, a neuroscientist at UCLA who studies mirror neurons, states that:

“Without [mirror neurons], we would likely be blind to the actions, intentions and emotions of other people. The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to ‘simulate’ the intentions and emotions associated with those actions.”

One of the Emotionally Transmitted Diseases church and parachurch leaders encounter is Chronic Self-Criticism. Chronic Self-Criticism is defined as:

“CONSISTENT ANXIOUS THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS SURROUNDING PERFORMANCE. OUTWARD EXPRESSIONS INCLUDE: DEFENSIVENESS, ANGER, ISOLATION, DECREASED ASSERTIVENESS, LOSS OF MOTIVATION TO WORK, ENMITY TOWARDS THOSE WHO YOU ARE CALLED TO CARE FOR, EXPERIENCE OF IMAGINED ARGUMENTS, AND LOSS OF PLEASURE IN WORK THAT USED TO BE PLEASURABLE.”

The reason why Chronic Self-Criticism is considered an Emotionally Transmitted Disease is because the “pathogen” of criticism is potently delivered by the consistent critique of those around us. Like sitting with someone who has the flu and who keeps coughing on you, a constant stream of criticism will infect and sour the soul. Like an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune response attacks systems it is meant to protect, Chronic Self-Criticism automatically goes on the offensive against the actions of the performer.

Complainers and “loving” critics are likely to be in the makeup of any congregation.  Ministry workers, then, must develop a coping plan. In our next volume of The Monday After Sunday, we will break down in depth a series of tried and true strategies that will help you heal from Chronic Self-Criticism and bolster your emotional immune system.

Self-criticism is an extremely painful affliction to have to suffer through. Second-guessing the very actions that are meant to care for the sheep that Jesus has called you to feed can lead a person to the edge. Take heart. You are not without hope, and you are not destined to continue like this forever. If you would like to talk to someone about this battle, reach out to us at Aspen Christian Counseling. We would find it an honor to battle with you.

Diagnosis: Burnout

THE WORK OF SOUL CARE IS DANGEROUS.

Human beings are created in the image of God and capable of empathy, but this heavenly capacity also opens the door to vulnerability. For those of us who work in soul care, listening to the hurts of others, we are gradually chipped-away by the pain of those we are helping. Even though we are image-bearers of God, we do not share in His ability to infinitely absorb the cursed daggers of human suffering. Care opens the caregiver up to vicarious pain. This is a guarantee. And if you're not careful, this vicarious pain can lead to burnout.

A helpful clinical definition of burnout is:

“feelings of hopelessness and difficulty in dealing with work, or difficulty in doing your job. These feelings usually have a gradual onset and reflect the idea that work efforts are not making any difference. They also are associated with high work load and non-supportive work environment.”

A few weeks ago, we posted a quiz to help you identify if you were close to or in the process of experiencing burnout. You can still check out that quiz here.

Whether you are burnt out or getting close to burn out, there is hope.

FEELING STRESSED AND TIRED ARE ONE THING. BURNOUT IS ANOTHER MATTER.

Being able to speak precisely what you are feeling may be the difference between stopping the gradual descent into burnout and detonating. Do you have an arsenal of descriptive emotional vocabulary to identify the difference between stress, fatigue, hopelessness and depression? Use the emotional word wheel below to hone your feelings identification.

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Who is the person in your life who you can speak these words to regularly? Having friends and family who listen to you can provide vital support in your work with hurting people.

Are you feeling trapped in a work environment that is unsupportive? Experiencing consistent dread at being stuck in a non-supportive work environment will inevitably lead to burnout. If you add the weight of being a soul care professional to poor work environment you are headed for burnout. Helping hopeless people while being hopeless yourself can only lead to burnout. Take a look at your work environment and how it's contributing or preventing your burn out.

Putting a hammer to a nail can be extremely satisfying. Unfortunately, soul care is nothing like putting a hammer to a nail. There is no finish line when working with people.  Do you have hobbies outside of work that can give you the satisfied feeling of a job completed from start to finish?

Seasons of high workload are part of any job, not just those involved with soul care. It is normal to experience times when it feels like everyone you are caring for is melting down and in need of special attention. What is not normal is an inability to say “no” to those who need help when it crosses a personal, professional or ethical boundary. Do you know what your boundaries are? If you do not know what your boundaries are, you will burnout.

IF YOU CARE FOR PEOPLE PROFESSIONALLY, YOU ARE IN THE CROSSHAIRS.

The thrill of helping someone find healing and meaning in life is paralleled by the real threat of being destroyed by the work. Those who find particular skill in helping people are often more sensitive and empathetic than the majority of the population. The inherent thoughtfulness and capacity of soul care workers to feel for those who are in pain comes with this dreadful promise, “If you are not vigilant, you will be crushed.”

It is pure pride to think that you are any different than the army of wrecked caregivers that have gone before you. Who do you have who you can talk to when you are feeling hopeless? What are the things - outside of work - in your life that fill you with the satisfaction of a job complete? Would you be able to clearly state what your personal, professional and ethical boundaries are, if asked?

It is okay if you do not have the answers to any or all of these questions. It is okay if you feel you need help answering hem. We are here to help with exactly these things. Please reach out to us today so that we may stand with you - shoulder to shoulder - in the beautiful work of soul care.

"Yes" is Killing You

Today, in the church, niceness is the coin of the realm and customer service is the rule of the realm.

We would all probably say that we’d rather live in a majority nice world than a majority mean world. And we’d all probably enjoy attending and serving in a church that has more nice people than mean people. But have we, as a Christian culture, somewhere along the way distorted the meanings of “nice” and “mean”?

The last fifty years in America the commodification and consumption of church/pastoral services has paralleled the exponential commodification and consumption levels of secular culture. We have come to expect our pastors and church staff to be less like shepherds of souls and more like spiritual concierge.

The sheep and the shepherds are both to blame in the paradigm shift of church culture. But the shepherds are the ones who feel the painful effects of the shift most acutely. Pastors and church staff just cannot take, for long, the erosion of any dividing line between their work life and their personal lives. The healthy border of work/life that many attendees get to enjoy in their own personal lives is not a luxury normally afforded to pastors, church staff and para-church workers.

The construction of a healthy boundary requires us to look at a person and tell them “no.” To someone who is nice, the very thought saying no to another person may feel tantamount to slapping a person in the face. But, a person who implements a healthy boundary may find, like Brené Brown, “I’m not as sweet as I used to be, but I am far more loving.”

The conflation of “meanness” with proper boundaries is one of the greatest threats to the modern ministry worker today. The desire to seem kind by extending oneself past what is healthy is neither loving nor safe.

A wonderful definition of boundaries is: “What is okay and what is not okay?”

  • IS IT OKAY THAT FOR THE 3RD WEEK IN A ROW CHURCH WORK HAS GOTTEN IN THE WAY OF DATE NIGHT WITH MY WIFE?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I ONLY GET 4 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I EAT AND FEEL SO POORLY ALL THE TIME?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT THIS ONE COUPLE AT CHURCH REQUIRES UNDIVIDED ATTENTION SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I HAVE ONLY BEEN TO A FEW OF MY DAUGHTER’S SOCCER GAMES THIS FALL?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I JUST “TURN THE CHEEK” TO THE CONSISTENT INSULTS OF MY CHURCH MEMBERS?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I REALLY HATE MY CHURCH MEMBERS?

A challenge to putting boundaries in our lives is that people react poorly to them. Here is the good news: the way you can tell if a boundary was needed is if someone reacts negatively to that boundary. The litmus test for how needed a boundary is: how loud a person screams when they butt up against that newly placed boundary.

Another challenge to placing healthy boundaries in our life is identifying where we need them. It becomes apparent where we need boundaries when our life detonates around us. But how do we spot warning signs before things explode? A trusted, objective, third party like a counselor or an older more experienced mentor, can be a massive help in spotting areas that may need the implementation of a boundary.

WHAT IS ONE AREA OF YOUR LIFE OR WHO IS ONE PERSON IN YOUR LIFE THAT NEEDS A BOUNDARY THIS WEEK?

Quiz: Are You a Burnout Threat?

While achievement and working hard can be a very good thing, we can have certain hairline cracks forming under the surface of our mind and heart due to unmanaged stress, workplace and familial tension and exhaustion.

Read More

Is Doing Nothing Restful?

After a long week of meetings, deadlines, relational gymnastics, improvisational managerial parkour, and other assorted to-do’s it just feels right to want to completely unplug and shut down.

Read More

Porn Affects Your Brain

I speak with men daily about how nothing seems to work to help them stop looking at porn. They fear they are not strong enough, or spiritual enough, to conquer their addiction or habit. But, many of them have never considered that their brain may be conditioned to look at porn. In fact, habitual porn use changes the brain. Many men and women carry around unnecessary guilt and shame, and will even give up on the fight before they even understand how to treat their addiction.

“When an one looks at porn, dopamine (the “gotta have it” molecule) is released into the system. The more intense the experience, the more dopamine is released.”

The sheer intensity of internet porn creates a level of stimulation your brain was never intended to experience. As a result, the brain pathways involving the connection between dopamine and porn change neural pathways, and can resemble pathways of an alcoholic or drug addict. Internet porn provides unnatural novelty, as there is no limit on the amount we can consume, and is always on demand. When these elements are combined, it’s no wonder there are so many addicted men and women to porn.

“Your brain can adapt to being over-stimulated, and will continue to crave more and more dopamine because that is how it has been conditioned.”

The more porn you consume, the more dopamine you will get. When a human’s system is overloaded with that desire, the signaling in your brain that is trying to stop it gets desensitized, and leads to the helplessness that so many individuals feel in their fight against porn.

While porn can and does rewire your brain, it can always be rebooted. Our brains are constantly changing, and can be re-wired to the point where the brain no longer has the same kind of reaction to the thought of porn as it used to. To find out more on how to do this, contact me for a free consultation with our Neurofeedback center @AspenNeuroLab.

Also, check out the book, Surfing for God by @michaeljcusick. That is the reference for this blog post, and I use it with my client’s daily. It is possible to overcome your porn addiction, and that can start with re-wiring your brain.

Contact me at michael@aspencg.com to schedule a free consultation, individual sessions and to learn more about the addiction groups we are offering along the front range.

 

Additional Resource for you:

The neuroscience of pornography addiction

Pornography addiction is not sex addiction

3 ways pornography rewires the brain

Negativity Bias: 5 Questions That Unlock Our Brain's Response to Global Trauma by Betsy Carr

The Global Trauma epidemic that we are experiencing is arguably stronger than at any other point in human history. Global trauma is the experience that all individuals have in response to crisis like terrorist attacks and other acts of violence, even if they weren’t physically present (for more on how and why Global Trauma is experienced, read our blog post here*link).  Most experience these events through vivid and horrifying news reports or personal reactions in  own communities, YouTube, Facebook, and internet blogs. Global PTSD isn’t growing because the number of horrific events are increasing. Instead, fear and anxiety are growing because our access to information about these events is at an all time high.

Why is this a problem?

Information can be powerful. As humans, we have a preference to look for negative information. Negative information is any information about pain, disruption, fear, complaints, and slander, among others. We look for this information because it helped our ancestors see and avoid danger. However, our brains also make stronger connections about information with a negative tone. This is called negativity bias.

What is negativity bias?

The official definition: Negativity Bias refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one's psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things (source).

In other words: Our brains respond more, make more brain cell connections, and process negative information to a greater extent than something equally as positive. We place greater meaning on the importance of negative information.

Why is this important?

Negativity bias creates a dynamic that fuels our global trauma epidemic. We are bombarded with horror stories, vivid pictures, and hateful commentary from the news, Facebook, and other media sources. Because of negativity bias, this information means more to us than positive information. This creates the strong stereotypes and a fear driven mindset that can be called global PTSD.

Why does negativity bias exist?

Negativity bias is pre-programmed into our brains, as it was a means to detect and avoid survival in our earliest ancestral times. Negativity bias is so much a part of our survival that it happens without thinking. This takes place in our Autonomic Nervous System, which you can read about *here link.

Can we control this pre-programmed learning reaction in our brain?

Yes! We can control and even change our degree of negativity bias through practice. In turn, this will allow us to view disastrous events in a new light, decreasing their personal impact on our brains,  and opening our minds up to new and better ways to create global change.

·       Awareness is key in our negativity bias response. As mentioned above, our responses are inherently subconscious. Awareness allows us to see how negative information impacts our lives. Ask yourselves: “How much negative information have I ingested today? What was my “gut response”?”.

·       Educate yourself around global issues.  Seek information that isn’t slanted towards any particular viewpoint, and try to understand both sides of an argument. This gives the brain a better way to interpret violent news stories.

After you increase awareness of your negativity bias, battle it! For every one piece of negative information you ingest, seek 5 positive events relating to the same topic. Research has shown that the 5:1 ratio is the amount of positive experience that will combat each negative experience (source).

·       Seek more positive experiences through the little things. Practicing gratefulness is one way to seek out the appreciation for positive circumstances in life, which takes away time from dwelling on the negative. Mindfulness, another little thing, allows you to truly savor each moment of positive experience. To practice mindfulness, simply take a few moments during many parts of your day to bring awareness to all 5 senses.

·       Turn off the negativity. Simply decrease your exposure to negative news shows and avoid negativity spurred by family or friends who have the tendency to complain and worry. Disengaging from the negativity, while engaging the positivity, will help shift your negativity bias to be less impactful on your own emotional state.

Global trauma is experienced by all who live on this planet, due to the readily available information and consumption of radical beliefs. Battling the negativity bias is an approach that will help to counteract this experience. However, the targeted victims of traumatic attacks will need highly managed care and recovery. Our next blog post will answer the question of what loved ones and aid workers can do to help victims cope with and manage PTSD.

We can help. Call us today (720) 541-880