Vulnerability Ceiling

Safety is overrated. Or, it might be over valued. I work with a lot of couples doing the hard work of counseling that are waiting until they feel safe enough to take risks in emotional vulnerability. Trouble is, both of the spouses are waiting. And waiting and waiting. Neither is taking any kind of new vulnerable emotional risk while they wait for their sense of safety to increase.

I have a theory. Couples hit a vulnerability ceiling as their relationship develops. What I mean is that we get to a point with our spouses where we have made all the vulnerable steps in relationship that we feel comfortable or safe to make and then we stop taking risks. Perhaps we stop because of hurt or unrepaired wounds in the relationship. Perhaps we stop because of boredom or blocks that come from our families of origin. But whatever the reason, when we stop taking emotional risks in our marriages, they stagnate.

  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk in a marriage where initiating sex has become a place of rejection rather than reception.
  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk to share fears around parenting teens when the two have blamed each other for dropping the ball.
  • Someone has to move beyond “if, then” clauses….example: “I’ll sit and share with him about my feelings if I know he will understand.”

Couples can unwittingly hit a vulnerability ceiling and stay stuck for years, all the while thinking that the problem is that the other person isn’t safe. While hurts in the relationship may be very, very real, if both spouses think the other isn’t safe, then it is easy to see how vulnerability ceilings can be constructed. “It’s only safe up to this point. Beyond that, no way!” And there the developmental progress of the relationship halts.

What does it take to shatter the vulnerability ceiling? A great deal of courage. It is far easier to be stuck and protective than to risk hurt, especially when we feel beat up. But how else might a breakthrough happen? Someone has to make the first move.

Next time: how can you make the first move?

The Benefits of Laughter

We all know the benefits of laughter, but I discovered a new one last week. I was sitting with my husband, two old, dear friends and one new friend chatting about the Enneagram. A particularly wry and hilarious comment was made and I threw my head back and laughed—something I realize now that I do a great deal–and I saw something that took my breath away…….the stunning tree in the picture here. We were sitting at an outdoor table nestled between two buildings and I hadn’t looked up before we sat down.

In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet says, “what a shame, for I dearly love to laugh”. In special moments like this one, I remember how dearly I do love to laugh. In times of personal and societal heaviness, laughter can come in short supply. Especially the type that causes one to throw one’s head back!

What new things do you see when you really laugh hard….both figuratively and literally? I saw a huge, beautiful tree. But, when I laugh in the company of friends, I also see how utterly unique and enjoyable each person can be! I feel lightness and release in my body. And I feel the joyousness of God.

One Thing To Help Your Mood

Research shows that happier, more content people are less caught up in their thoughts and more focused on the present moment. The bottom line? Worry increases anxiety: rumination increases depression. So how do we tackle such destructive, yet often unconscious thinking patterns?

Here’s an empowering focus I try to build in my clients. Picture an old fashioned scale. If one side of the scale is the amount of time you spend focused on your present life and the other side of the scale is the amount of time you spend caught up in your thoughts, then you can easily picture what the scale looks like on days when you are caught up in worry or rumination. It’s tipped up, out of balance in the wrong direction. Having an anxiety disorder is like having a tipped scale nearly all the time.

Ultimately, this is a game of percentages. We are trying to increase the percentage of time you spend present and attending to your actual life and decrease the percentage of time you spend distracted with your thoughts. Success then, is won in every moment we can capture and claim for the being present side of the scale. If you have a bad day, but have increased your present percentage most of the other days, then over the course of a week, you have gained ground.

This image also gives us an alternative thought action when we notice we are worrying or ruminating, because simply berating ourselves with “stop worrying!” is pretty useless. Rather, try these steps: (1) notice you are worrying (or ruminating), (2) thank your mind for the sentiment, and (3) return with all of your attention to whatever you are doing. This exercise trains your brain to stay attentive and ultimately, with time and repetition, creates a new neural pathway, the pathway of the present moment!

Go for the percentages. Success is won in each and every moment that you can actually BE in your life.

Creating Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent this morning with 7 friends creating space to reflect on 2016 and look ahead to 2017. We tapped into gratitude, grief, regret, hope, and longing.

It was beautiful because our reflections were voiced and heard and held with great tenderness and care by others. We experienced the vulnerability of being known and the weight of actually saying things we felt called to do.

I’m so grateful for people who help me hold open space for the deeper reflections that help me see God’s activity in my life and press me to grow.

Here are some questions that some of us used as a tool for our time.

REFLECTING ON 2016  

  • Take a few minutes to review the year generally.
    • What were key markers for you in your year? (both highs and lows)
  • What do you notice about your reactions to these things?
    • What are you glad to see? Grieved to see?
  • What were 2 or 3 times you sensed God’s presence/leadership/action most clearly this year?
  • When were 2 or 3 times you sensed God’s presence/leadership/action the least?
  • What scriptures were important to you this year?
  • What spiritual practices have felt life-giving? Which have been flat?
  • What do your sense about God’s work in you this year?
    • What has changed/developed in you over the past year?
    • What feels stuck or broken or incomplete?
    • What do you sense is shifting or moving?
  • What do you sense God saying to you about the year? (spend some time in quiet, listening)
  • What questions do you have for God out of this reflection?

Looking ahead to 2017

  • How are you starting this year? Emotionally? Spiritually? Relationally?
  • What feels out of balance? Out of control? Untended?
  • What feels grounded? Fruit-bearing? Solid?
  • Where have you been noticing God’s invitation to you? Consider all of the ways the Holy Spirit tends to lead you: ideas, convictions, questions, nudges, divine appointments, memorable conversations, dreams, longings……
  • What might faithfulness to God’s invitation to you look like in 2017? Be as broad and/or specific as necessary.
  • Are there particular scriptures or disciplines you feel pulled to practice or explore?
  • What are important relationships or activities that need your intentional effort this year? What shape could that effort take?

 

Relocation

I have recently moved into a different house. It isn’t far from my old one, but it has still felt like a massive and consuming project. We complicated the transition by doing some renovation on the house that continued after we moved in, so my life has been overwhelmed with dust, decisions, and displacement.

Now that we are mostly finished, I feel like the real work of relocating can begin. Leaving my home and neighborhood of 13 years has been deeply rattling. I’ve been amazed by how many things feel different and uncomfortable. We used to be at the bottom of a hill and now we are at the top of one, so my whole perspective of the street in front of the house has shifted. Having a home with more space means the walls are further from me and that makes me feel smaller than before. Everyone is finding their favorite spots and so I don’t always know where everyone is. It is easy to feel a little lost. Never mind missing the comfort of my beloved neighbors close by!

I’ve moved across the country twice, not to mention relocating from Alabama to suburban DC when I was a teenager. This recent move was only a mile away but relocation has never felt stranger to me. I think it’s because I didn’t expect it to feel so viscerally unsettling. I had no idea how much I thought of myself as a duplex/row house person, and now I live in a detached house. This change to a bigger space actually shifts a part of my identity I only unconsciously held! I’m adjusting to the space between the walls and me, but I’m also adjusting to this small shift in my idea of myself.

Relocation can mean finding yourself in a new place AND in a new idea of who you are. This process of finding yourself anew can be precipitated by a move, a break up, a job change, health crisis, or becoming a parent. Sometimes we have to get messy in grappling with parts of our identity that we had no idea gave us pride or security.

As I find myself in the process of relocating here, I need to find the rhythms, both old and new, that help me find the deeper places of security and home. So far, I’ve taken some wonderful walks, hosted some good friends for meals, played board games with the kids, gotten my morning routine sufficiently tweaked, and found my spot to pray. I’m getting there.

Are you facing some kind of relocation in your life? Either literal or metaphorical? What new patterns do you need for the shifts in your life right now?

Subscribe to my blog!