My older daughter was less than a week old when the
Sandy Hook school shooting happened. I remember clutching her body to my chest
and watching cable news, horrified by the world I had brought her into. For
days after, I worried about taking her outside our home and into crowded
places. I had a pungent, spiky fear that felt very real in the moment. If
someone could gun down a bunch of 6-year-olds, I thought at the time, the
notion of safety was ephemeral.
Parenting is an ongoing process of learning to
tolerate the idea “that you cannot entirely keep your children safe,” said Dr.
Alexandra Sacks, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist based in New York City, who
called this struggle the “existential paradox” of parenthood.
I spoke to two psychiatrists and two pediatricians about
how parents — and their children — can deal with increased anxiety and fear in
the aftermath of these shootings.
Understand that a few days of
increased anxiety is normal. “It’s an appropriate response
to a really traumatic event,” said Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., a clinical
assistant professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of
Medicine. If you need more downtime at home in the few days after such
upsetting violence, you should feel empowered to take that space, Dr. Lakshmin
said. And acknowledging your feelings is key — avoiding or pushing them down
won’t make them go away.
Reach out to parent friends. Connecting with your community to talk through fears can help, Dr.
Lakshmin said. That’s particularly true for parents of color or those from
religious minorities, who may feel especially acute anxiety in this moment
because of the white extremist ideology of
many recent mass shooters.
Try to stick to your routine. “Every time a shooting happens, our sense of reality falls apart,”
Dr. Lakshmin said. “The world you thought you were living in is not the world
you’re actually in.” So trying to maintain your routine keeps you tethered to
your day-to-day life. Overcoming your fears by taking your kids to the park, to
the store or to camp as planned can help to keep the anxiety from overwhelming
Channel anxiety into action. Finding a way to contribute in the aftermath of a tragedy, whether
by volunteering with organizations that work to prevent mass shootings or by
helping a community affected, can help redirect your fears, Dr. Sacks
said. The El Paso Times published
recommendations for its community, as did the Dayton Daily News.
Step away from the news. If you find that reading or viewing the details of violent events
is triggering your anxiety, try to edit your media diet, Dr. Sacks said. “I do
hear from parents that they can be drawn to catastrophic things that happen
with children in the news,” she said. “It’s incredibly painful to them, but
they feel a pull toward these stories in their empathy and identification.”
It’s helpful to minimize kids’ exposure to news as well,
said Dr. Jackie Douge, M.D., a pediatrician based in Maryland and a fellow at
the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Don’t dodge the hard
conversations. If you suspect your kids know about
an incidence of mass violence, you should ask them what they have heard, said
Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H.
Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “You don’t want to give so much
information that you’re introducing trauma yourself,” Dr. Heard-Garris said.
But “you also want them to trust you,” that you’re not hiding difficult things
from them. If you start with what they know, you “can try to address any
misconceptions, or rumors, any anxieties right then and there,” she said.
While “it’s affecting all children” negatively to hear about particular communities singled out for violence, Dr. Heard-Garris said, parents of kids who hear about their religious or racial communities being targeted can send them the following message: “I know there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, but it’s my job as a parent to try to keep you safe.”
Know when to get help. If you find that you’re anxious for more than a week, or if your
sleep, eating or other routines are disrupted, it may be time to talk to a
therapist. “If you’re finding these intrusive thoughts are not controllable and
they become so loud that you’re taking a circuitous route to get to work, or
not letting your kids go to soccer practice, that’s when I would say it’s time
to see a therapist and have a more structured space to unpack these fears,” Dr.
The same goes for your kids — a little additional fear
or anxiety is normal after traumatic events, but if their anxiety is affecting
their relationships, sleep or their behavior at school, talk to your primary
care provider, Dr. Douge said.
Your child’s fears may be triggered again by school
lockdown drills, which millions of children
experience each year, and which may leave kids traumatized. All
you can do with the recurrence of fear is to reassure kids that these tragic
events are still rare, overall, and that their home is a safe place for them to
unpack their worries. Tell them: “Your teachers, your doctor, your pastor or
rabbi, we love and care about you,” Dr. Heard-Garris said, and that home is
“where they have this refuge from this crazy world.”
Can we really achieve world peace? Using findings from studies on love and diplomacy, Julie Schwartz Gottman explores how to create peace in the world by dissecting human communication in her TEDx Talk, World Peace Starts at Home.
She explains that no matter the argument, both diplomats and couples are most successful when they postpone persuasion until they understand each other’s position.
As she creates more peace in the home through the work of The Gottman Institute, Julie hopes to also create more peace in the world.
This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.
JOHN GOTTMAN AND BRENÉ BROWN ON RUNNING HEADLONG INTO HEARTBREAK
To a seasoned couples
therapist, the telltale signs of a relationship in crisis are universal. While
every marriage is unique, with distinct memories and stories that capture its
essence, how it looks at its core, the anatomy so-to-speak, adheres to certain
truths. The bones of love, what builds trust (and breaks it), what fosters
connection (and disconnection) we have widely come to understand through the
work of Dr. John Gottman.
Gottman, renowned for
his research on marital stability and demise,
and recognized as one of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the past
quarter-century, has at this stage of his career amassed over 40 years of
research with 3,000 participants. The quality and breadth of his studies are
recognized as some of the finest and most exemplary data we have to date, and
serve as an underpinning for how we understand what makes love work.
Enter Brené Brown, a
self-described researcher, storyteller, and Texan. She’s gritty and funny, and
like Gottman, a formidable researcher. Over the past two decades, Brown has
studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. She’s published five New
York Times #1 bestsellers, and over 40 million people have viewed
her TED Talk on vulnerability. Her passion
for living a wholehearted life is contagious and convincing. Her research has
confirmed a core human need to belong and connect, and at a time when many of
us are feeling the absence of such, she’s tapping a deep well—inspiring a tribe
of the wholehearted, people committed to practicing shame-resilience, Daring Greatly, and embracing vulnerability.
Gottman coined the term
“Masters of marriage” to describe the couples in his research whose
relationships not only endure, but thrive. These are people who cultivate
trust, commitment, responsiveness, and an ability to cherish their partner’s
feelings throughout a lifetime. Brown speaks of the “wholehearted” individuals
who engage their lives from a place of worthiness. They cultivate courage,
compassion, and connection. Both groups, the masters of marriage and the
wholehearted, display a host of traits that we now know are associated with
health and thriving.
Having had the good
fortune to train in both the Gottman Method and The Daring Way® (an
experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown), I cannot help
but wonder, what life would be like if we could take our cues from the masters
of marriage and the wholehearted? How might this shape who we
are as individuals in a partnership? What might the ripple effects be to our
children and society at large if we aspire to love as Gottman and Brown are
The implications of
following in the footsteps of the masters and the wholehearted are huge. The
Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most extensive study of its
kind, has taught us three things. First, that loneliness can kill as surely as
smoking or alcoholism, and that when we are connected, we live longer and
healthier lives. Second, the quality of our relationships matter. It’s not the
number of friends we have, or whether or not we are in a committed relationship
that predicts thriving. Being in a high-conflict marriage is bad for one’s
health. It is worse than divorce. Third, good relationships don’t just protect
our health. They protect our mind. Memory loss and cognitive decline are more
prevalent in lives permeated by conflict and disconnection.
And if that is not
compelling enough, Brown’s research on the implications of shame paints a
similarly grim picture, depicting shame as correlated with loneliness,
depression, suicidality, abuse, trauma, bullying, addiction, and anxiety.
So while love may not
heal all wounds, it is undoubtedly a panacea for preventing them.
Gottman and Brown give us
a map—a macro perspective of the wilderness of our hearts, and the wildness of
love. It’s a rocky path, fraught with challenges and risk. But vulnerability is
inherent in any stance that places courage above comfort. And should we decide
to follow it, the destination it promises to take us to is nothing short of
paradox of trust
Gottman, in his
book The Science of
Trust, astutely asserts that loneliness is (in part) the
inability to trust. And sadly, the failure to trust tends to perpetuate itself.
For when we don’t trust, over time, we become less able to read other people
and deficient in empathy. He states, “Lonely people are caught in a spiral that
keeps them away from others, partly because they withdraw to avoid the
potential hurt that could occur from trusting the wrong person. So they trust
nobody, even the trustworthy.”
According to both
researchers, it’s the small interactions rather than grand gestures that build
trust and break it. “Sliding door moments,” as Gottman calls them, are the
seemingly inconsequential day-to-day interactions we have over breakfast, while
riding in the car, or standing in the kitchen at 9 p.m. Within each act of
communication, there is an opportunity to build a connection. And when we don’t
seize it, an insidious erosion of trust ensues, slowly overtime.
Our relationships do not
die from one swift blow. They die from the thousand tiny cuts that precede it.
But choosing to trust is
all about tolerance for risk, and our histories (both in childhood and with our
partners) can inform how much we are willing to gamble. Brown speaks to the
paradox of trust: we must risk vulnerability in order to build trust, and
simultaneously, it is the building of trust that inspires vulnerability. And
she recommends cultivating a delicate balance, one where we are generous in our
assumptions of others and simultaneously able to set firm boundaries as a means
to afford such generosity—being soft and tough at the same time, no small
our stories write us
According to Gottman, the
final harbinger of a relationship ending is in how couples recall memories and
the stories they tell. Memories, it turns out, are not static. They evolve,
change, and are a living work-in-progress. When a relationship is nearing its
end, at least one person is likely to carry a story inside themselves that no
longer recollects the warm feelings they once had for their partner.
Instead, a new narrative
evolves, maximizing their partner’s negative traits, and quite likely,
minimizing their own. “Self-righteous indignation” as Gottman aptly refers to
it is a subtle form of contempt and is sulfuric acid for love. This story,
laced with blame and bad memories, is the strongest indicator of an impending
breakup or divorce.
But, as Brown cautions,
“We are meaning-making machines wired for survival. Anytime something bad
happens, we scramble to make up a story, and our brain does not care if the
story is right or wrong, and most likely, it is wrong.” She points out that in
research when a story has limited data points, it is a conspiracy, and a lie
told honestly is a confabulation.
In social psychology,
this pre-wired bias is referred to as the fundamental attribution error (FAE).
The FAE speaks to our tendency to believe that others do bad things because
they are bad people, and to ignore evidence to the contrary while
simultaneously having a blind spot that allows us to minimize or overlook what
our behaviors say about our character. In short, we are partial to giving
ourselves a pass while not extending the same generosity to others.
When our minds trick us
into believing we know what our partner’s intentions, feelings, and motives are
we enter a very dark wood—one where we truly can no longer see the forest for
the trees. The ramifications of this are significant because the stories we
tell ourselves dictate how we treat people.
In portraying ourselves
as a hero or victim, we no longer ally with the relationship, but rather, armor
up and see our partner as the enemy. And if memory is malleable, and we’re
prone to spinning conspiracies and confabulations, there is a strong likelihood
that we run the risk of hurting ourselves and those we love in assuming this
tendencies towards mishaps and misperceptions is not easy. It requires a
certain humility, grace, and intentionality. But as Stan Tatkin points out in
his TED talk, Relationships are Hard, “We are mostly
misunderstanding each other much of the time, and if we assume our
communication, memory, and perception is the real truth, that is hubris.”
The wholehearted and
masters of marriage bypass such hubris and navigate the terrain of
relationships differently than those who get lost in the wood. If we want our
relationships and quality of life to thrive, it’s essential we take our cues
from them and cultivate new habits.
emotions (and the suck)
To do so, we must first
expand our emotional repertoire to include a wide range of feelings, not just
our go-to ones. “Emotion-embracing,” as Gottman calls it, is a central building
block for healthy relationships. We are aiming for what Pixar’s Inside Out so
brilliantly depicts: inviting sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and fear all to the
Put simply, Brown
suggests we “embrace the suck,” stating that the wholehearted demonstrate a
capacity to recognize when they’re emotionally ensnared and get curious about
their feelings and perceptions.
Both Gottman and Brown
draw on the Stone Center’s Strategies of Disconnection, which
propose that people respond in one of three ways when hurt: by moving away,
moving toward, or moving against that which feels painful. And what I find
interesting is that while Gottman advocates for turning toward your partner
when injured, and Brown speaks more to leaning into (and getting curious about)
our own uncomfortable emotions, both are emotion-embracing and courageous
stances that emphasize mutuality over individualism.
Unfortunately, most of us
are not taught as children to embrace painful feelings. It’s counterintuitive
and goes against our neurobiological wiring. If we have a traumatic history,
all the more so. And our society by-and-large is an emotion-dismissing culture.
But as Brown cautions, there’s a price to pay when we selectively numb
emotions: when we numb our painful feelings, we also numb our positive ones.
So, if we want the good things in life (and I think most of us want the good
things), then it’s a package deal.
If the most significant
indicator that a relationship has reached a tipping point is a rewritten story
devoid of fond memories, then it stands to reason that a narrative free from
blame, interwoven with curiosity and even goodwill is indicative of love that
will last. Therefore, one of the central tasks of any healthy relationship is
to co-create stories from a lens of “we” versus “me.”
It involves little (and
big) reckonings as Brown calls them, sliding door moments where we pause long
enough to reflect and ask ourselves (and each other), “What is going on right
now?” Together, we cultivate a broader understanding of a disagreement or hurt
feelings, one not possible when left alone in our heads to spin narratives that
defend our most vulnerable parts and simultaneously ensure that we will go to
our grave more swiftly, lonely, and armored.
When I reflect on the
lessons of Gottman and Brown, one concept stands out: we must run headlong into
heartbreak because there are things far worse than having our hearts broken.
Such as the harm we inflict on our loved ones when we disown pain and transmit
it onto them. And the legacy of trauma that ripples into our children’s hearts
and the generations to come—veiling us in a seemingly impermeable barrier to
vulnerability and all the fruits that go with it.
And let us not forget the
Harvard Study of Adult Development and the toll that a conflict-laden life
combined with emotion-dismissing has on our health.
Yes, running headlong
into heartbreak is running directly into vulnerability. It involves
uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But, as Brown reminds us,
vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and
Should we choose this
path, there will be moments (likely many) where we find ourselves facedown in
the dirt because the road to wholeheartedness guarantees we will get our hearts
broken—again and again. But, in choosing to embrace heartbreak, we empower
ourselves to experience the myriad of ways love manifests itself and the beauty
life affords us. In the end, it’s not a question of if we will experience
heartbreak but of how.
Emotional abuse is real. In my line of work, I’ve watched women of all different backgrounds live through the pain it can cause, and I’ve seen it haunt them. I’ve seen them suffer the trauma of someone dominating, berating, criticizing, and chastising them.
It brings unanswered questions. Questions like whether the very act of breathing is allowed. I’ve witnessed their agony of hoping that someone, anyone, will finally notice their torment.
Although emotional abuse has many forms, it’s still wildly taboo and often considered something people should just get over or simply live through. It can leave victims completely unaware that they’re even being oppressed.
They feel that it’s not as nearly as “bad” as physical violence or that they aren’t in the same situation. And in some cases, they feel they simply aren’t worthy enough to call themselves violated.
Whether pain from abuse stems psychologically, verbally, physically, emotionally, or sexually—abuse is abuse. And it needs to be stopped before another person has to suffer in silence.
I’m reminded of the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But in all truth, words do hurt.
How emotional abuse feels
I stop short of the door and hold my hand against the frame. I just want to leave so bad. I know somewhere inside that I don’t have to take this. I am free to simply walk out of the door. But I am frozen. Transfixed by the threshold, unsure of how to cross while keenly aware of how many steps there are toward freedom. Gripped by courage, I take a step forward.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I freeze again, feeling the hairs stand up on my neck.
Hearing his voice so close, I want to scream. Subliminally I bolt, not physically but emotionally, running freely. I watch my imaginary self run away, stationary. I stare ahead, watching, oh how I envy her.
Psychologically, I can feel my overwhelming desire to just get away—to run and find a way to completely disappear. He speaks again and the echo of his hate hangs in the air, unsettled, like a rancid stench. I feel smothered by the scent and I grapple with the meaning of words that he speaks at me. The ruthless force of his weapon of words, aimed at my jugular, he wields indifferently. It is dehumanizing.
I wonder how many times I would let the effects of such an attack be a part of my life. How long would I stay put and continue to just endure? How long would I allow the steady stream of vulgarities and disparities to fill space in the vulnerable recesses of my self-esteem, or what was left of it? I can’t explain away why this hurts so badly, why the memories stay etched in the fibers of my muscles as if I were being physically struck every single time he opens his mouth.
I bruise in the form of a blush as my cheeks fill with heat from the harassment and embarrassment of the steady barrage of animosity that spews from his mouth when he directs his anger at me. I flinch and attempt to speak up. Raising my voice, I pretend to find courage.
Every time he is triggered, I fleetingly try to defend myself. I imagine standing my ground while weakly defending my principles as I am annihilated by the sheer brute force of his words. He speaks and his power shuts off my reasoning and takes seize of my oration. In stunned silence, his assault leaves me inundated with fear and has literally forced my words to recoil back into my throat, extinguishing the very air from my chest.
Defenseless and silent, I again attempt to summon my deserted courage, finding none. So many times, tears spill from once dry places, saturating my hot cheeks. And I take it. All of it. The full force of his revulsion, saying nothing in return.
How often I just take every verbal blow, every strike against the temple of my ego. I find myself listening hungrily, gobbling up every detail of what is wrong with my person. My sullied thoughts can no longer comprehend my ability to try and defend myself. I recognize that I don’t have any of the ammunition needed for this battle.
I wait, pitiful and exhausted, as his abusive tirade doesn’t show signs of ending. My attacker screams poison and I’m paralyzed as his vitriol intensifies, relentlessly pointing out fallacy after fallacy. I find that I cannot stand, so I finally sit down.
This only seems to reinforce my vulnerability and inferiority. Now he is standing over me, conquering me. His spittle flies from the hate-filled spaces in his mouth as he covers me in his blatant and unforgiving verbal attack. His speech never falters. He’s dramatic and animated, as if giving an audition to an unseen crowd. Forced to listen to his words, as he calls me a “slut and a whore,” I try to drive the unyielding impressions from my mind. Nevertheless, I can feel myself recording him, pervasively, into the deep and unprotected crevices of my hearing, defining me.
He waits only for silent applause from his own spirit. Enjoying his speech, he smiles at my deprivation as he goes for the kill. “Your stupidity knows no bounds,” he yells, “your incompetence is at an all-time high.” He screams more hate, “You’re fat, ugly, and useless. No one wants you, you’re unlovable, undeserving, undesirable,” and he ends with the booming, “You’re nothing.”
Again, I take it all in, memorizing every detail from the jarring baritone of his voice to the sadistic way he crafts his words. Every time I survive this experience, I still die, just a little, on the inside. I can’t help but seek the sweet and silent solace of death, feeling like this has to be the only way out.
Emotional abuse is just as damaging
This is just one example of how emotional abuse is experienced. It makes the recipient think there’s no way out, and no way to overcome all that they have gone through. The unhealthy tethers to their abuser are simply a coping mechanism and make it so much easier to believe the lies—like verbal abuse isn’t “real” abuse.
Most people don’t recognize that emotional abuse is just as damaging and traumatizing as physical abuse, sometimes even more so. While physical bruises will fade over time, emotional bruising leaves an invisible disfigurement that materializes as soon as the wound is reopened.
So many people suffer in an unacceptable silence, dealing with the emotional scars as if they were never there. No amount of makeup can cover the unseen evidence and as a result, many women try to pretend it never happened.
The heartless onslaught of pain that is created by verbal manipulation and abuse takes the battered to a place of hopelessness and introduces them to a type of emotional suicide. They never know how to accept what they are surviving. People around them tend to admonish them or minimalize their trauma.
“All he does is yell at you. You got it easy.”
These statements make abused women feel like they shouldn’t even try to escape. That they should be accepting and even appreciative that their abuser doesn’t physically assault them. No one sees the patterns of self-defeat and destruction that come from these types of assault.
I want women, and men, to recognize their worthiness. Everyone is worthy of being treated with respect. Your opinions and your desire to have autonomy over your life does not give someone the right to hurt you or your feelings. You deserve to find someone who truly loves you for who you are. Someone who understands what you need and doesn’t feel threatened by you offering your opinion.
Real freedom means “free at heart and free in mind.” You have to begin to realize that you are worthy and to remind yourself of this every day. You have to rebuild the positive levels of self-preservation that your self-esteem needs to heal.
You can do this. You deserve this and you have to see it first for yourself. You have to un-believe the lies and trust that there is hope for you.
It’s this way of thinking that will lead you towards the path of healing, and in the process, you’ll recognize that you don’t have to pretend not to hurt, you can recognize that your pain is real and that your voice deserves to be heard.
When you look at pornography, what you end up
seeing is a long line of naked bodies. When you look at pornography for years,
you end up seeing years and years’ worth of long lines of naked bodies.
I do a lot of work with guys who, in their
past, looked at porn for years. They don’t look at porn anymore, but they have
a very hard time controlling where their eyes go when real-life women approach
them. While it seems natural that we should be able to control the physical
movements of our eyes, the connection between exposure to pornography and how
it conditions us should not be such a surprise. It is, in fact, one of the
greatest tragedies caused by porn.
Porn teaches men that women are bodies. I’m
using a broad definition of the word “porn” here. I’m referring to any
seductive display of a woman’s naked body, whether that’s a pornographic video,
a Playboy image, or a scene from Game of Thrones. I’d
even throw in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the
gateway to porn for scores of men, as its seductive photos have created the
same conditioned response: women are bodies.
We know this message
isn’t true, and we’ve seen its tragic consequences in our culture, yet it
continues every time a pornographic image is consumed.
A Hyperbolic Example
Let’s look at a hyperbolic example. A baby boy
is born on an island separated from the human population. All he sees his
entire life are videos and images of nude women either having sex, desiring
sex, or posing seductively.
Then, at age 25, he is placed into the general
human population. How is he going to view the women that he meets and interacts
with every day?
That’s a scary thought, but it shouldn’t be
surprising. He’s going to see women as two-dimensional sets of body parts whose
only purpose for existing is his own sexual gratification. This has nothing to
do with how a woman is dressed, for this will happen regardless of the style or
fashion. Throughout his entire life his eyes have darted straight to her body
parts, so that’s what they will continue to do, because he thinks that’s what a
I say some of this because I’m still shocked
at how secular culture can embrace pornography in all its forms, yet somehow
not see the connection between it and the sexual objectification and abuse of
women in the real world.
But I also say it to set the table for the
real men who are now caught in the trap they have built for themselves over
years of being conditioned by porn. Most of us are at a point where we aren’t
condemning the man who is looking at porn, or who has looked at it in his past,
but are extending a hand of grace and help. But now this man’s physiological
responses to women have been trained to see them as sexual objects and to
subconsciously glance at their body parts as a now-instinctive act of
consumption and gratification.
Can this conditioned response be stopped?
The good news is, it can be. But not without
some intentionality and hard work. For most men it will take more than a sermon
or a lecture to get their eyes to do what their mind and heart want.
The Problem with the Porn Mindset
The foundation of this rewiring process begins
with our approach to how and why we are avoiding pornography in the first
place. If you’ve been told to not look at pornography because it’s bad and
sinful to do it, you might be able to cut out porn from your life, but your
porn mindset is likely to remain. Porn did something to your mind, something
that has to be undone. More than just training yourself to avoid pornography,
you have to rewire your mind from the porn mindset.
The problem with the porn
mindset is it doesn’t see all of a woman (or man), it only
sees their body parts. We all know we are more than body parts.
We all know our mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are more than body
parts. We know that we are all complex beings. We know that what makes
relationships both rewarding and challenging is that we are complex beings.
Every woman, just like every man, has strengths, weaknesses, stressors,
anxieties, pain, joy, personality, values, and a long list of other attributes
that separate humans from the animals.
for sex doesn’t allow for this. His design for sex is that all of
someone is embraced in a lifetime commitment. When you deal with all of
someone, conflict is sure to come! But the bond of commitment is there to
sustain it. All requires selflessness, which is the definition
of love. Sex and body parts are only one ingredient inside of this recipe, not
something that was designed to be indulged in on their own.
When tempted to lust, the only way to get
beyond the body-part-mindset is to understand that behind every woman’s body is
a full, whole, complex woman. She is a soul. There is a depth and sacredness to
this that I can’t put into words.
If you’re married, you know what I’m saying is
true because you see it every day in your own wife. There may have been a day
when you first met that you only saw her physical attributes, but you now know
she is a much more complex equation than that (praise God). The same is true
for every woman on the planet.
Let the Rewiring Begin
Porn has taught you to
see: BODY. You have to be rewired to see: WOMAN. And to apply what this means. You
look into her eyes because that’s where she is. She is a she,
not a that. She’s not an object to be consumed.
Body parts separated from the person are only
things. God didn’t call you to consume people, taking life away from them, he
called you to bring life to people. This is the foundational
calling of all Christians.
We live on a planet full of human beings.
Full, whole, complex human beings. Porn has taught us that women aren’t fully
human and we’ve been conditioned into believing that lie whenever we consume
them for our selfish gratification.
The path of rewiring means taking the truths
of Scripture and letting them renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) away from the
lies porn has taught us.
woman is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), full of his dignity,
honor, and complexity.
woman is fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God himself
woman has a soul.
woman is God’s.
Repeat these truths to yourself daily when you
spend time praying and reading your Bible. Repeat them in prayer all throughout
The next time your eyes want to go toward a
woman’s body, remind yourself of the truth that she is a whole person and all
that means. Look her in the eyes and see her that way.
I was shocked when they announced the title of
the next book study that we would be doing. I was sitting in a room in my
church next to Zack, surrounded by other small group leaders. “This is a
conversation that we need to have more often in church,” my pastor said. “The
world is talking about sex, but the church is often silent. We need to change
He went on to share how struggles with porn
addiction, adultery, sexual promiscuity, and uncontrolled lust were shattering
church families and individuals within our own body. “That’s why it’s crucial
for all of us, as leaders, to equip ourselves within the area of biblical
sexuality so we can lean into the brokenness and pain all around us.”
He held up the book that would become our
newest study. It was titled, Finally Free:
Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. I sat there
amazed that a church pastor and leader was initiating a book study for all his
church’s small group leaders on the topic of sexuality and purity. This wasn’t
the norm in mainstream Christianity. Topics like porn, masturbation, and lust
weren’t everyday conversations within the church.
My heart silently rejoiced.
This would be a game
changer and much-needed shift in our church culture and I couldn’t wait to dig
We would finally have open and honest
conversations about one of the most crucial and personal areas of our lives.
Why We Need to Embrace Conversations About Sexuality
As modern Christian women, I think many of us
would be surprised if our pastor initiated a book study (for men and women) on
the topic of sex, sexuality, and purity. Although these conversations are
slowly becoming more common within Christian circles, they’ve been largely
ignored by many churches for far too long. This silence has created a Church
culture of embarrassment and shame when it comes to topics surrounding
sexuality. This is tragic.
God and sexuality have become opposites rather
than complimentary companions. And as a result, this is the one thing
Christian girls don’t know about sexuality.
We forget that God is the author, designer,
and creator of our sexuality. We forget that conversations about lust, secret
sins, porn, masturbation, and erotica should be happening within the Church. We
forget that we are spiritual beings as much as we are sexual beings. We forget
that the Church should be the first place we breach these topics, not the last.
We forget that our sexual struggles are something God wants us to bring to Him,
not work through on our own. We forget that our sexuality is a beautiful part
of God’s greater story.
One of the driving motivations in writing my
new book, Sex, Purity, and
the Longings of a Girl’s Heart, was to help bring these
conversations back into the church. Back into small groups. Back into Christian
circles. Back into normal conversations.
Jesus Wasn’t Shy About Sexuality
When Jesus met the woman at the well in John
4, He wasn’t shy about her sexual struggles.
He wastes no time in getting to the heart of
her sexual pain and brokenness. She tries to keep the conversation on the
surface by talking about theology and religion, but Jesus takes a deeper dive.
He goes for her heart. He asks her to call her husband, already knowing that
she had been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not
her husband (v. 16-18).
He sees straight into this woman’s inner
longings and knows she has been trying to fill a spiritual need with temporal
fixes. He offers her love, compassion, and calls her to embrace the Living
Water that will never run dry. Amazed and astonished by His insight and
willingness to meet her in her brokenness, she runs off into the city rejoicing
in God and telling everyone about the Messiah.
That same Jesus who
leaned into that woman’s sexual pain and brokenness is the same Jesus we serve
and worship today.
He is not a God who is shy or embarrassed by
our sexuality, but a God who created that aspect of our lives and wants to help
us embrace it rightly. If Jesus Himself wasn’t shy about pursuing conversations
about sexuality, then we, His Church, shouldn’t be either.
“As you think back on your personal journey,
what has shaped your beliefs about sex? Whether negative or positive, what has
been most influential in your life?
So much of the confusion surrounding our
sexuality is a result of being discipled by the world. The only way to redeem
our sexuality is to turn back to the One who created us. Instead of continuing
to listen to the world, we need to be discipled by the One who designed us. The
One who loves us and created us. The One who understands our sexuality and has
a good and beautiful plan for it.”
Conversations about sexuality belong in the
Church and amongst God’s people.
Will You Help Start the Conversation?
He holds the answers to life, health, and
freedom in this area. I pray you will join me in leading the charge by starting
these much-needed conversations within your own church. I pray that my book
would also be a helpful tool and resource for you as you begin talking about
sexual issues more amongst women.
God and sexuality go hand-in-hand. Let’s be
intentional as Christian women to disciple one another in the area of sexuality
as much as we do in everything else.
love to hear from you below!
is the climate of your church right now? Is sexuality a normal topic of
conversation or is it taboo?
do you personally wish more Churches would talk about regarding sexuality?
can you do to lead in your church by bringing these conversations to the
I’ve heard it said that the Bible doesn’t mention premarital sex
as a sin. There are major implications to this on two levels. One, there is the
simple and important question of knowing what is a sin and what isn’t. Two, and
more importantly, if it is a sin (and why) has huge ramifications on God’s
overall design for sex and how men are to view women and vice versa.
If you type “premarital sex” or “sex before marriage” into your
English Bible concordance, nothing is going to come up. If you search for
“adultery,” a married person having sex with someone who is not their spouse,
you’ll get all kinds of occurrences. So I suppose this is where some get the
idea that maybe sex is okay up until you get married, then you’re locked into
that one person from thereafter.
If you’re used to reading the King James Version, you’ll note
that it often uses the word fornication, which means sex-before-marriage. The
NIV and other translations swap this out for the term sexual immorality, which
is quite vague and does not give the surface indication that
sex-before-marriage is a sin.
The Greek word used in the original New Testament text for
fornication or sexual immorality is porneia (Matthew
5:32, 15:19, 19:9; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Acts 15:20, 15:29, 21:25; 1
Corinthians 5:1, 6:13, 6:18, 7:2; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19;
Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Revelation 2:21; 9:21;
14:8; 17:2; 17:4; 18:3; 19:2). Porneia is
a separate Greek word from adultery, so we know it doesn’t mean the exact same
thing. Hence, it makes some sense why the KJV translators would use the word
We also know that porneia brings
about children outside of wedlock (John 8:41), so it is sex. Porneia is also
the word used to describe the acts of the great prostitute in Revelation 17,
and is the root for the word prostitute itself (1 Corinthians 6:15). These uses
are a pretty open-and-shut case that porneia means
But porneia can also be done
by a married person (Matthew 5:32; 19:19). A man sleeping with his mother or
step-mother is considered a type of porneia (1 Corinthians 5:1).
So from these two examples, we see that porneia doesn’t
exclusively mean sex-before-marriage. It’s safe to say that adultery is the sin
of when a married person has sex with someone who is not their spouse. And
that porneia (KJV: fornication, NIV: sexual immorality) is the sin
of any type of sex outside of marriage, which would obviously include
sex-before-marriage, as well as prostitution and adultery.
More Than A Rulebook
anything that goes against God’s design for sex. And it’s crucial that we get
back to the point about God’s design. While there is value in analyzing the
text to determine what is a sin and what isn’t, it has the feeling of etching
out a rule book for the sake of a rule book. Like telling a teenager not to
have sex before marriage, “because it’s bad,” without giving any further
explanation. To approach any of God’s commands in this way doesn’t do justice
to why a loving God would give them to us in the first place, nor do they
provide much intrinsic motivation to follow them. We must always go back to the
design, which thankfully Scripture does with crystal clarity on the matter of
God’s design for sex is laid out in the
creation blueprint of Genesis 2:24: That is why a man leaves his father and
mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Some will say that this verse is only
referring to marriage—that when a man and woman become married, they become one
flesh. The apostle Paul disagrees. In 1 Corinthians 6:16, Paul says that anyone
who has sex with a prostitute has become one flesh with her. You become one
flesh with someone when you have sex with them.
This is why premarital sex is a sin. It’s also
why so many find their hearts so broken and battered.
What “one flesh” means is that a whole person
accepts all that makes someone else a human. It’s like taking a yellow piece of
Play-Doh and mixing it together with a piece of blue Play-Doh. What happens?
You get green Play-Doh, never able to distinguish or remove the yellow from the
blue again. One flesh is not just about body parts, it’s about one’s entire
being. It’s why we say the vows we say at a wedding…for better or worse…for
richer or poorer…in sickness and in health. No matter what comes our way, I
have accepted you and will protect you and be here for you. All of you. Not
just the good parts. But also the annoying parts. The things I’d like to
change. The weaknesses. The quirks. All of that becoming one with all of that
in me, for a lifetime. That’s the environment God designed sex to create
between two people. It coincidentally is also the perfect environment for
Sex was designed by God to be a part of the
greatest self-sacrificing relationship possible. The byproduct of
one-flesh-marital-sex was to be a strong society where children are loved and
married adults are accepted and protected by their spouses. Sin has turned sex
into an act of selfishness. The consequences on our society couldn’t be any
clearer. This of course doesn’t end with premarital sex. Once sex becomes
selfish, people are simply objects to be consumed. This objectification
provides the booming demand for pornography, a sex-addicted Hollywood, and
If you do the math, you can’t have multiple
one fleshes with people. That’s why premarital sex does such damage to our
souls, and to our society. You are sharing intimacy that can’t hold its own
weight. You are doing a trust fall with no one to catch you. Sin and our
culture have taught us sex is about us and getting our desires met. God’s word
tells us sex is about a lifelong commitment of accepting and supporting all of
someone else. No matter how unpopular it gets, God’s word will remain our guide
for finding true life and true freedom in understanding how we are to view sex,
ourselves, and the men and women we share this world with.
No sex in heaven? Many might ask what the other options are at this point!
One of the reasons this news shocks us is because we view sex and heaven selfishly. Culturally, sex has become a selfish act of consumption. And our view of heaven is typically a place of self-centered utopia. We picture beaches and paradise and all the pleasure for ourselves that we can dream of, often not with much thought about God being around at all. This me-centered paradise is a great match for lots of sex for all of eternity. In fact, several of the main world religions promise this (maybe a clue that those religions were made up by a man? But I digress…)
But thank goodness that’s not what heaven, or sex, is meant to be according to the Bible.
Sex is a one-flesh relationship that bonds a man and a woman together in every way possible. It’s why this one-flesh relationship can only function healthily within marriage. The one-flesh bond includes full acceptance and commitment to all a person is, not simply their body parts (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:15-16). You are one flesh, at all times, in all ways, which can’t be undone.
This sounds pretty amazing, and deep, and night-and-day different from what our culture calls “sex” today. But there’s more. This sex and this one flesh don’t exist for their own end. They aren’t the destination, they are simply another sign post. A sign post pointing to where?
What Sex Really Points To
After giving a treatise on marriage and sex, Ephesians 5 concludes with the following:
“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Heyo! The whole time Paul was talking about husbands and wives and marriage and sex in Ephesians 5, it says here he was actually talking about Jesus and us! Marriage and sex are metaphors for the relationship we have with Jesus.
What is a metaphor? It is a sign post. It points to the real thing. It’s something tangible we can look at in order to understand something else. It’s a symbol we can learn from in order to understand and experience the real thing.
The real thing is the one-flesh relationship Jesus desires to have with each of us. It’s the relationship he has with those who call themselves Christians. It’s a relationship of intimate love and acceptance and support and trust, where Jesus is the groom and we are the bride. Earthly marriage and sex are symbols that can help point us toward the real thing.
This is why there is no sex in heaven. You don’t need sign posts when you’ve arrived at the destination!
It’d be like driving to Disney World and parking the car at the green highway sign with the white text of “DISNEY WORLD” and the white arrow pointing to the off ramp. Imagine parking your car there, taking a selfie with the family, and then driving home, telling everyone you’d been to Disney World!
The destination is always better than the sign post.
Heaven Is Not a Perpetual Fast
Some might disagree! But the reason for the disagreement is because we’ve been worshiping the sign post for far too long and we simply don’t have the full experience of the real thing yet. In talking of the perspective that heaven would be a “perpetual fast” from sex in the minds of some, C.S. Lewis had this to say:
“…or else of a perpetual fast. As regards the fast, I think our present outlook might be like that of a small boy who, on being told that the sexual act was the highest bodily pleasure, should immediately ask whether you ate chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer no, he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don’t bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it.
We are in the same position. We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it.”
A boy can’t understand if you try to tell him sex is the highest bodily pleasure, because he is convinced chocolate is and isn’t ready to understand sex. We can’t understand that pure intimacy with God in his direct presence is what makes heaven, Heaven, not that it’s some me-centered place where we eat Bons Bons on the beach, while watching Netflix, and of course, having sex. Nor can we fully grasp that intimacy with God is better than sex, both now and for all eternity. But the truth remains, which we are exhorted to believe and live by.
This is fantastic news. We worship sex on earth, but it’s also our place of deepest longing and brokenness. A single person feels unloved because they don’t have a sexual partner. A married person goes to pornography, an affair, or fantasy, because the sexual partner they do have isn’t satisfying them.
The Answer to Our Longing for Sex
The answer to our longing for sex is not sex! It’s intimacy with Jesus. We get to experience this intimacy on earth. This unconditional love where God adopts us as his sons and daughters and is well-pleased with us and we are fully accepted into his arms because of what Jesus did on the cross for us. But imagine this experience in a fully direct, physical way. Wow! That is heaven.
This gives us reason to not worship sex and it also reminds us we don’t need sex. Whether we experience the sign post or not is somewhat irrelevant. What is relevant is that we take God at his word that the destination will be much better, attuning all of our navigational tools toward that destination, not any metaphor, imitation, or sign post along the way.
THE APOSTLE PAUL: HIS SECRET TO FIGHTING SEXUAL SIN
Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sexual sin. It is a problem that has been around since our ancestors walked east of Eden, and it will be around until the new Jerusalem descends upon us. The good news is that the Bible promises that we can experience foretastes of that coming freedom in the here and now. But how?
The Apostle Paul commands the Christians at Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But how do we do this? If we rip this verse away from the letter, we’re likely to apply it the wrong way, so we need to look closely to understand what Paul is talking about.
1. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Not About “Do More,
philosophy was circulating in the church at Colossae that was championing asceticism:
if you want to remain pure, then separate yourself from the
pleasures of the body that are so often a source of temptation. This philosophy
said if you really want the fullness of divine life within you, then insulate your
But Paul delivers a
crushing blow to this philosophy:
If with Christ you died
to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the
world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not
touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to
human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in
promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they
are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)
No value. That
is Paul’s verdict on asceticism. It simply doesn’t work. Yes, there is a grain
of truth in the philosophy—all popular philosophies contain at least some wisdom
in them. If you are tempted to sin sexually then it makes sense to get away
from sexual temptations. This will keep sin at bay—but ultimately the flesh
This false philosophy is
still circulating in the church today. When the best advice we can give
people is better Internet filters, cold showers, more hours in prayer, and
trying harder, we have given into this philosophy that Paul says is of no
This false philosophy
either totally underestimates the power of sin, or it sets the benchmark of
holiness too low. It either doesn’t get just how ingrained sexual sin is
in us, or it thinks that merely getting rid of outward, blatant sexual sin
is the goal. Neither is accurate.
2. Fighting Sexual Sin Starts with a New Identity
Paul offers his readers
another approach to fighting sin, and it starts with these core identity
“With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20)
“You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3)
“You have been raised with Christ” (3:1)
“You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12)
“You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10)
“The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27)
This is where a lot of
modern readers check out. “Don’t give me these abstract theological ideas. I
need something practical,” they think. But for Paul, there was nothing more
practical, nothing more life-changing, than these ideas.
We are united to the
risen Christ by faith. His resurrection life flows in our veins now. The Spirit
of the living Christ lives inside us, so we no longer belong to this world
and the rules it plays by—we belong to Christ and the age to come. In
order to have the power to fight lust, we first have to understand this: we no longer belong to sin. We
belong to God who has accepted us and forgiven us, not because we purified
ourselves first, but because we are united by faith to the Pure One, Jesus
In order to fight lust,
we must understand that we no longer belong to lust.
3. Fighting Sexual Sin Continues by Kindling New
Knowing we are united to
the living Christ, Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ
is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things
that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). The terms Paul
uses here mean to center one’s interests,
focus, and passions on something—to savor something. Now
that God has united us to the risen Christ, we savor that
reality, and this kindles new desires in us that displace a desire for sin.
What are these “things”
above that we should savor?
First, we are to savor Christ himself. This is one of the reasons why Paul spills a lot of ink in this letter describing who Christ is. He is the beloved Son of God (1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:15), creator and sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the one whose blood reconciles us to the Father (1:20), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), and the one seated at God’s right hand (3:1). In him all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (2:3). The fullness of deity dwells in Him (1:19; 2:9).
Second, we are to savor our new position before God. Christ is seated at God’s right hand and we are seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). To be seated at a ruler’s right hand meant to be in the position of greatest authority, honor, and delight. Because Christ is in us, we share in the favor He has with the Father.
Third, we are to savor the hope that someday we will see and experience these realities. Someday, Christ Himself will appear and we will appear with Him in glory (1:4). It is our destiny to be like the holy, pure Son of God. Someday our eyes will see the one who died for us and rose again, the one who is God in the flesh, and God will honor us as his royal children before every creature, every human soul, every angelic being in the universe.
How does this practically
help us to fight sexual sin? The reason why sexual sin can have such a
grip on us is because of its power to define us and what is most
valuable, how sexual pleasure makes us feel about ourselves. Sexual
fantasy, pornography, or pursuing illicit sex makes us feel desired; it makes
us feel valued and validated; it gives us a refuge; it gives us connection; it
can even make us feel powerful. This is why setting our affections on things
above is so important: it gives us a new center to our lives and gives us a
completely new sense of value—not based in our worthiness but based on the love
God has for Christ that overflows to us.
4. Fighting Sexual Sin Is About Fighting For Our
Finally we come to
Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in
you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness,
which is idolatry.”
Paul here is not
endorsing asceticism—something he has already refuted. Asceticism is
about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy, but
mortifying sin is about fighting for the new affections that
God is giving to us.
We can construct helpful boundaries
in our lives that keeps sexual sin out of reach, but we should do so standing
on our identity as God’s beloved children, standing satisfied in Christ and
God’s love. When sexual temptation comes knocking, we can say to it, “No, sin.
That’s not who I am anymore. You do not define what life is to me anymore. You
do not define me anymore. Christ is in me. I am a child of the king, and one
day the whole world will know it.”
5. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Sustained by Relationships that
Remind Us of Our New Identity
“Let the word of Christ
dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,
singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts
to God” (Colossians 3:16).
This is the essence of
real accountability in the body of Christ. Yes, accountability involves
confessing our temptations, sins, and the state of our heart, but it also
involves godly encouragement. Accountability is not just about someone
calling you out on your sin, but someone calling you up to
the person you already are in Christ. Accountability is about
surrounding yourself with the kind of Christian friendships that teach and
admonish you, that inspire thankfulness, and that help us unpack all the
wisdom contained in the great mystery that Paul called “Christ in us, the hope
of glory” (1:27).
Accountability is like
stoking the embers of the fire. It does not add energy to the embers. It only
exposes those embers to the air so new reactions can happen. When we engage
in the disciplines of confession, encouragement, and mutual
prayer we expose our souls again to the life-changing gospel,
and God’s power is released again and again.
HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL (WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE)
Happiness does not start with a relationship, a degree, a job, or money. It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself today.
“I had a date scheduled for last night with this guy I started talking to on a dating app. I waited outside the diner where we agreed to meet for 30 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet. He never showed up. All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my head. I thought maybe he saw me from a distance, didn’t like what he saw, and then bailed.
Just as I was about to leave, one of my old college friends, Jared, who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, walked up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘Carly! It’s great to see you! You look fantastic!’ I almost blew him off because of how I felt inside at the moment. But luckily I pulled myself together to engage in a conversation.
After we talked in that same spot for awhile, he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’ We ended up going into the diner I was supposed to eat at with the no-show date and having an amazing conversation filled with laughter. After dinner he walked me to my car, we exchanged numbers, and he asked me out on a formal date for this Friday night.”
Our Stories Make or Break Us
The story above comes from Carly, one of our recent Think Better, Live Better 2019 attendees (and of course, we’re sharing her story with permission).
Think about how her initial reaction was rooted so heavily in negativity. Her date didn’t show up and she immediately crumbled inside. Now think about the amazing opportunity she would have missed if she had let that negativity endure. And think about how often your negativity gets the best of you.
How often do let your insecurities stop you?
Or, how often do you judge others for their imperfections?
What you need to realize right now is that you have a story about yourself and others (or perhaps a series of stories) that you recite to yourself daily. This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind. Your movie is about who you are and how the world is supposed to be: your tummy is too flabby, your skin is too dark or too pale, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough. And of course, you catch yourself picking out all sorts of imperfections in others, and the world at large, too.
Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are or facing the realities of life—because it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you. It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.
Ready to rewrite the script?
Let’s start by being honest… Sometimes negativity absolutely dominates our better judgment!
So, how do we outsmart our own negative tendencies so we can feel better, behave better, and ultimately live better? There are many ways, but Angel and I often recommend two simple (but not easy) practices:
1. Practice questioning your stories.
You know what they say, don’t believe everything you hear nor everything you read. Don’t believe the gossip columns in every magazine, the doom and gloom predictions from your co-workers, or the “shocking news” that you hear on TV… until you have verified it.
Well, the same concept applies to your inside world—your thoughts.
We all have stories about ourselves and others even if we don’t think of them as stories. Case in point: How often do you pause to logically contemplate what you really think about your relationships, your habits, or your challenges? How often, on the other hand, do you just blurt out whatever fleeting emotion comes to mind—i.e., the pre-recorded movie script you’ve been holding on to—without even thinking straight?
Stories can be short, such as “I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I have intrinsic relationship problems.” And if we were to dig deeper into your own personal version of these stories, I bet you’d be happy to go on and try to explain why the stories you’ve been holding onto are real. Even though the aren’t. They’re just stories.
So the key practice here is to question your stories. For instance, let’s take the writer example. Ask yourself: Why do I think I am not a good writer? What would it look like to be a good writer? Can I describe my current writing in a way that serves me better?
You will be surprised by how often the questioning process helps you emerge with a clearer and more accurate version of your story. Give it a try!
2. Practice running your thoughts through three key filters.
Sometimes you are in a hurry, and not having a great day to boot. On days like this, there’s a mental conditioning exercise I recommend that’s super quick and can help keep your attitude in check…
I’ve been in arguments with my my wife, Angel, in the past and one of the things I certainly regretted was not filtering my words before saying them. At the time of these arguments, I did not have the right tools, except for thinking “Be nice!”, which does nothing for you when you’re feeling the opposite of nice. Some years later I found this simple tool that helped me shift my behavior. Here’s how it works:
Before you utter anything, run your thoughts through three key filters and don’t speak unless you get three resounding “YES” responses:
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it helpful?
For example, let’s say a running thought in your head says that your partner doesn’t care about you, and you are about to shout those words out because he or she didn’t do the last chore you requested. Question that thought first: Is it true that my partner doesn’t care about me? Is it kind for me to say or think this? Is it helpful for me to say or think this?
Remember you can’t take your words back. What’s more, you will never regret behaving in a true, kind and helpful way down the road. So make it a ritual in your life in the days and weeks ahead.
Now, it’s your turn…
Leverage the two practices above to gradually rewrite the script of your mental movie. Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it. Seriously! Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…” or “My spouse deserves the silent treatment…”), flip the script and replace those lines with truer, kinder and more helpful ones. This takes some practice, but it’s worth it. Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.
And keep in mind that various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script and your better judgment—comments from family, news anchors, social media posts… lots of things other people say and do. When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it. Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them difficult and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like an obnoxious little dog barking in the distance) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
So, what was your biggest takeaway from this short article?