Trauma...no I don't have trauma.

BY Laura Williams @ The Cypress Counseling Group

"Trauma...no I don't have trauma."

This is one of the most repeated phrases I hear in my counseling office. And after a few sessions of gently talking about life, difficulties, stress, anxiety and/or depression, the most common thing I hear is, “Oh, I guess I do have some trauma…”

You see, when people see or hear the word trauma, they think vehicle crashes, mass shootings, rape, and brain injuries. No one usually considers things like growing up with a dad with bipolar disorder or a mom who was a functioning alcoholic as trauma. Normally, they think, “Well, my dad just traveled a lot and when he was around, he was too tired to be interested in me.” Or, “Religion was super important and kept us on the straight and narrow. That’s just the way I was raised and I should just get over it.” 

In general, people think that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something that happens to people when they come back from war or when some single incident trauma happens. What they don’t realize is that the many of the symptoms that are associated with PTSD, generally show up in our lives in ways we would never guess. Anxiety, being unemotional, learning difficulties, sleep problems, aggression/anger/rage, self-medication, and lapses in memory are only a few of the ways the effects of childhood trauma can show up in adulthood. 

The reality is, very few people make it into adulthood completely whole.

We have all developed some kind of “coping” mechanism in order to get through hard things and most of the time, even if they look healthy from the outside, they are still hiding emotions and creating more wounds. There are the “typical” coping skills that trauma survivors experience, i.e. alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm, suicide attempts, gambling problems, sex addiction, etc. But then there are the more hidden ones, i.e. Netflix, Candy Crush, binge eating or restricting, affairs, being a “helicopter” parent (child has no personal space) or a “free-range” parent (child has too much personal space), over-spending, working too much, over-committing, gaming, working out too much and many others that show up.

When we spend too much time in our particular “coping” style, we end up pushing all feelings aside and instead it shows up in unhealthy ways like anxiety, depression, self-pity, resentment, shame, pride, and apathy just to name a few.

Generally, this is the point at which people realize that something is wrong and that they don’t know how to be happy. Relationships are struggling, parenting skills aren’t working anymore, and you’re just generally irritated with life. This is the point at which we know we need to get back in touch with ourselves and look at the real source of the problem. Most of the time, the answer is trauma. 

Through counseling, we look at your childhood experiences and assess how these have constructed your view of reality. We will also look at what you are believing about yourself which affects how you deal with many areas of your life. For example, if in childhood, you only got recognized when you were achieving things, the message to yourself might be “I am not enough”. Therefore, you will do things in adulthood that will constantly prove that truth wrong, i.e., over-committing, perfectionism, helicopter parenting, and other ways of seeking approval. All of these behaviors will lead to the unhealthy feelings mentioned above because they are all meant to hide what is really going on beneath all that; hurt, sadness, loneliness, shame, fear, anger and guilt. We will look at new ways of coping so that you can begin to practice allowing yourself the space to experience feelings in a healthy way, so that trauma no longer has a hold on you. 

The message will change from “I am not enough” to “I AM enough!”

Laura Williams, M.A., LPC-MHSP (Temp), NCC

www.befoundcounseling.com

Three Steps to Stop Avoiding and Start Living with Intention

By Christine Finnegan @ The Cypress Counseling Group

Social Media, TV, fast-food, and alcohol are your after work companions. They help you find comfort inside of the small moments of time you find in your week for yourself. But what you’ve found, is that you wake up the next morning with that all too familiar feeling of panic and anxiety.

I can’t do this.

You haven’t responded to any of your emails, texted that family member back, and you can’t remember the last time you shaved your legs. But here you go again- Another day of tasks and responsibility that you anxiously race through- all the while yearning to get back to the couch and watch some more “Handmaid’s Tale.”

Is it the weekend yet?

You book out vacations to try to make up for six months of self-care. But find that within the first week of returning from vacation, you fall right back into that same chaotic spiral.

How do I make this madness stop?

Life is going to continue to be messy and I’m sorry to say it, but this blog will not necessarily eliminate that to do list. But there are ways to stop avoiding the things that overwhelm you in life and start feeling a sense of order and control inside your life again.

It all boils down to how intentional you are being inside of the small moments each day- rather than allowing the big moments to pull you from one frantic task to the next.

How do you live life with intention?

Step 1: Stop trying to do everything all at once!

Often times when I am working with my women and teen-girl clients that struggle with avoidance, it is not because they are lazy or incapable of accomplishing tasks. Rather, they are shut down by the overwhelming picture of all that needs to be done. They feel paralyzed and hopeless in their ability to accomplish anything, not knowing how to even begin, and therefore find ways to comfort themselves through distracting, dissociating and avoiding life.

This avoidance is the breeding ground for panic, fear, and anxiety. By avoiding- you actually validate your brain’s reason to feel fear in the first place, thus leading to more fear and more panic- can you say Panic Attack!

So what do you do then? Most people find themselves avoiding even more- mentally checking out of conversations, playing hours upon hours of candy crush on their phone; Losing hours, days and even weeks out of the year through binge watching Netflix and Hulu series.

Grounding yourself to the moment and breaking things down into small, attainable intentions, is the first step to getting out of this toxic cycle.

Step 2: Validate yourself when you make small progress!

If you’re anything like most of my clients, you probably don’t give yourself very much credit for the small accomplishments you make each day. Instead, you probably do a great job of telling yourself what else needs to be done, what more you could be doing, and all of the different ways you are falling short in life.

The messages that you send yourself are a lot of the reason you start getting into the pattern of avoidance in the first place. No one wants those messages being broadcasted to themselves- even if you’re the one thinking it.

If you don’t give yourself credit for the small intentions that you set and follow through on, you end up feeling bad about yourself, overwhelmed, and shutdown. You lose the motivation to keep the momentum going and ultimately fall back into the avoidant behaviors.

If you suck at giving yourself credit for small things, try keeping a bullet journal by your bedside table. Every morning or night, write down three things you accomplished that day- no matter how small.

Step 3: Build intention inside of every aspect of your life.

Not all at once! If you try to do that, I need you to circle back to step 1!

Living with intention not only means being present in the moment but also present with yourself and your needs.

Everything from that food you eat, the space you create at home, the news and social media that you consume, the clothes that you wear and even the people you surround yourself with, are examples of choices you make every day.

When we move into these choices from a very intentional place- meaning we purposefully and carefully choose them- we are more likely to get our needs met.

Ever lose hours of time on social media and find yourself feeling even more depressed and anxious than you did before? Me too.

Intention in these moments looks like-purposefully using that time to ask a friend over to play board games, going to the dog park and meeting new people that share similar interests, or going for a 15 minute walk outside. Time it if you must, and then give yourself credit for doing that.

Bringing yourself back into this moment is how you reclaim your life. Avoidance doesn’t have to continue to be something you feel trapped by.

If you need help breaking free from the cycle of avoidance, I would love to help you walk through that process. Call me today and we can talk about it together.

Christine Finnegan, M.A., LPC-MHSP (Temp), NCC

ReplenishHER Counseling for Women and Teen Girls

Her Heart Project, Inc. 

 

The Why of Suicide

45,000 Americans die by suicide every year...On average, 123 Americans die by suicide everyday. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 to 34 and it is the 4th leading cause of death for those individuals between the ages of 35 to 54. There were TWICE as many suicides (45,000) than homicides (19,000) in 2016. Add in the latest data that says America's suicide rate has increased nearly 30% since 1999. Makes one wonder - why? how?

"Just today, 123 Americans will die because of suicide"

For most of my professional life, I have worked on the front lines of mental health care. I spent 5 years on a Mobile Crisis Team assessing individuals who were actively suicidal, homicidal or psychotic. I spent another 10 years in the criminal justice system as a mental health specialist and as a mental health program manager. I've also experienced the pain, hurt and bewilderment of suicide as I lost a fraternity brother just three weeks before we graduated from college.

"How do we stop it? What causes suicide to happen?"

In all of this, you could say I've been on a quest for a good portion of my adult life to find out the "why" with the hope of "how" do we stop it. What do I think is the root cause? I believe it involves the word - connection. From Day One, we are born with a desire to connect to another human being - if we don't connect at the beginning it is a guarantee that we will not survive. As we grow older, that basic human need never changes, never withers and never dies - we need "live" human connection as much as we need food and water.

When we hospitalize someone for inpatient psychiatric treatment what is the preferred mode of therapy? GROUP therapy. We understand the grounding and healing power of a shared group experience. Think about the most memorable events of your life - I'm pretty certain it is not an event where you were the lone participant. Random yet maybe a relevant thought, isn't it interesting that we wake up to talk shows either on the radio or TV (versus music and scripted TV shows)? We need re-connection at the start of everyday to ground us - to provide perspective - and to re-engage the slumber of our individual self to the realities of the outside world.

"We Need Connection Like We Need Food and Water"

In my opinion, I don't think it comes as any surprise that the suicide rate is up almost 30% since 1999 given what has happened in our world since then. Our use and reliance on technology was meant to accelerate and enhance our connectivity to the world around us, but we have all fallen into the trap (myself included) that we are more tuned out because of our utilization of technology. We are losing the art of face to face communication and our current political climate has only taken a flame thrower to the principles of healthy communication and connection. To my friends on the left and the right, us versus them doesn't work. Those conversations will always end with furrowed brows, crossed arms, angry stares and a growing determination to build an informational arsenal that will surely win the day the next time a certain topic is discussed. If you continue down this path all you will find is loneliness and isolation even though you are surrounded by people who look like you and think like you. Yes, that is relationship, but it isn't healthy relationship and it doesn't have much of an opportunity to become deep, authentic, genuine, real, intimate and loving relationship.

"Strong and Secure Human Connection Knows No Bounds and It Enhances the Experience of the World Around Us"

There's a lot of sound research out there that speaks to the power of connection especially when it comes to decreasing the rates of depression, substance abuse, violence and even suicide. My hope is that we will start to consider, practice and implement the core tenets of healthy connection which means to turn towards - to acknowledge - to respect - to listen - to explore before responding and to take the risk of vulnerability with another human being. Why should we? Because the data is beginning to tell us that the way we are doing things right now is not working...

Statistics Provided by the National Institute of Mental Health - https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention          - https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html

The Gift of Your Story

BY Grace Hallock @ The Cypress Counseling Group

In the counseling world, therapists have the privilege of hearing others’ stories--their dreams and deepest desires along with dark moments of heartache. Essentially, we hear the most sacred parts of their being.

These stories, as challenging as some chapters are, are as unique as a thumbprint and truly help define us.

Counseling is about gaining insight and understanding of our stories so we have better self awareness and self compassion. 

Clients often wonder about my personal story and why I believe in the counseling process. I must admit, when I thought about writing this piece, the task of summarizing my story seemed daunting. I certainly can’t include the nitty gritty in 500 words or less, and like I tell many of my clients, I won’t be able to tie a pretty pink bow around it either.

So although it might seem tidy and contained, my story is its own organism, constantly evolving and often elusive. I’m sure that many of you can relate. 

I characterize my childhood as somewhat broken and disjointed as my parents contributed to the staggering divorce statistics in the US. My circumstances left me feeling abandoned, neglected, and never quite good enough to deserve unconditional love. Little did I know that unconditional love can never be earned, just as God’s grace isn’t based off what we do or don’t do. 

Fast-forwarding a bit to young adulthood, I (of course) thought I had it all figured out.

I vowed to leave my past in the past—or shoved back in the cobwebs of my brain—and focus on myself and my future.

My goal was to graduate college and break out into the real world as a successful, independent woman. And let me tell you, I was a complete control freak and still have to pull back the reins on my type A personality to this day…I’m working on it!        

Then in 2010, the real world didn’t seem so rosy as I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I approached the “c” word as something to conquer, squash into oblivion, and basically check off my to do list. Surgery…check. Radiation…check. No thyroid function…not ok!! After I lost my thyroid, Pandora’s box essentially opened as I was met with a myriad of negative side effects, including severe anxiety, depression, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, digestive issues, and complete brain fog just to name a few. I had trouble functioning in daily life and would literally wake up in a panic and go to bed feeling like I just stepped out of a boxing ring.

The illusion I had created of my perfect, happy life was shattered, and when the cracks started forming in my very foundation, the junk I buried long ago came to the surface.

I heard once that it is only in the valley that the flowers grow, and I believe this to be true.

In my broken and helpless state, I sought counseling and was able to process through some of my trauma wounds. As time passed, I began to make positive changes and learned vulnerability, acceptance, and self compassion. I started to see myself as God sees me and was relieved that I could just be real, flaws and all. Though I’m still a work in progress, I look forward to a lifetime of learning and growing. I’m so grateful for the gift of counseling, and I hope to share that gift with others. 

Grace Hallock, M.A., LPC-MHSP (Temp), NCC

Humans & Trees: Two Peas in a Pod

BY Elizabeth DeVaughn @ The Cypress Counseling Group

I love hiking. And nature, and being outside. I just, love it. It’s where I find restoration and a sense of calm. When my clients and I talk about self-care, I’ll usually mention hiking as one of my main self-care tools to give some examples of what self-care can look like.

So when I found the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben while vacationing last fall, I was like, BAM. Purchased.

Now, a note about my relationship with books. I have about 18 book by my bedside that I’m reading all at once, little snipits/chapters here and there. I’m not sure what that means, but I won’t analyze that. Today.

So last night as my husband and I settled in for bedtime, I picked up this book for the first time. I was so excited to start reading. I LOVE trees, always have. From climbing trees constantly as a kid growing up in rural TN, to finding such rich symbolism in them as I’ve walked through my own healing journey, as well as with my clients through theirs; I love them. I opened the book and read the forward. And then promptly put the book down because I had started crying. Like, big tear crying.

I cried for a minute, and then started to chuckle. As I wiped my tear-soaked eyes and cheeks, I glanced over at my very-asleep husband, who was dreaming sweetly and therefore oblivious that his wife was crying because trees sometimes feel sad and lonely.

That imagery still makes me giggle.

Now, the reason for the crying. Even just the short bit I read of this book overwhelmed me with information about trees – actually, forests – and how similar we are to them. The author has spent over 20 years studying and carefully observing forest patterns. Apparently, trees, quite literally, live in community with each other. They are extremely social. They “smell” and “taste.” They care for each other and pass nutrients on to one another, even to the point of feeding tree stumps that have been cut down so as to keep them alive (that’s when the tears started). They communicate and fend off threats. They need each other in order to create a sustaining environment. They live in family groups. And when trees live in isolation, they don’t live as long or as well. When trees aren’t in community – especially when commercially farmed – they lose the ability to communicate, to be in relationship; they even become “deaf and dumb” (that’s when I had to put the book down).

All I could think was, well first, how much I want to hug and take home every tree that’s every felt lonely and isolated. I’ll plant them all in my back yard.

I’ll let you know when I accomplish that.

After THAT, all I could think about was how similar we as humans are to trees. Like trees in a forest community, we need each other, desperately. Our most basic biological design is to be in community. And like trees, we suffer when we’re without it. We become anxious. Depressed. Our health suffers.

We’re not designed to be isolated.

Among many unfortunate – and untrue – messages our Western society tells us is that we should need people less than we do. We’re told that we should be independent. That while relationships are good, what we really need is to be able to meet our own needs in the end.

Now, I hope I didn’t lose you just then. Independence is a great thing; we’re just sent the wrong message on how we attain it. We become our most independent, thriving, creative, innovative, passionate selves when we are firmly rooted in safe, secure relationships. Research abounds on this. Dr. Sue Johnson, the primary developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, tells us that we flourish in healthy independence when we are effectively dependent on others.

Quite a different idea, isn’t it?

Of course, there is also ineffective dependence on others. This is where we see unhealthy relationship patterns, from obsessiveness, disconnection, all the way to the extremes of abuse.

Basically, we absolutely flourish when we’re deeply connected in relationship. We are our brightest, most authentic, fulfilled selves. When we’re securely connected in relationship, our most basic human needs of being deeply seen, heard, and understood are met.

And from there, the sky’s the limit for us.

Humans and trees.  Two peas in a pod, indeed.
~~~
Elizabeth DeVaughn, M.A., LPC-MHSP

www.thecurlyheadedtherapist.com
www.elizabethdevaughncounseling.com

RADICAL HOPE

BY SAMANTHA STRADER @ The Cypress Counseling Group

“Trauma” was a word that was hard for me to use for a long time. It seemed very big and very heavy, something reserved for WWII vets and refugees of war torn countries. While those things definitely count as trauma, I’ve also come to understand the word in a much more intimate and nuanced way. I define “trauma” as anything that rips the carpet out from under our feet, anything that shatters our hope and belief that the world is a good and safe place. These experiences inherently make us feel isolated, ashamed, and unsafe in a dangerous world. So it makes sense that people respond with things like being hyper-vigilant and untrusting of others. These are ways that our minds and bodies try to protect us from such a wound ever happening again. But the trade-off is that a lot of time is spent being exhausted, lonely, angry, or afraid. All of these feelings and responses are normal, and valid; they are part of our authentic truth. 

And they are not our whole truth! There is also radical hope. Radical hope is not an eyes-closed denial of the truth, or even an assertion that “everything will work out for the best”. Instead, it is accepting that change is inevitable, and the way things are today is not the way they will be forever. Rebecca Solnit says in her book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, “I believe in hope as an act of defiance, or rather as the foundation for a series of ongoing acts of defiance…There is no alternative, except surrender.”

Radical hope is made of resilience in the face of loss, not innocence and naivety, or even faith. It is a deliberate choice, an act of courage.  

The truth is, there is no “going back” to before a traumatic experience. We are changed by our experiences. But, we have a way forward, and a big say in how we decide to be changed. There’s a reason there are so many metaphors and myths of heroes striding through fire, and what makes them heroes is not that they come out unscathed, but that they are transformed, stronger than before. We can be the hero, or heroine, of our own story. When we know that the future is ours to create, we shoulder the burden and the freedom of radical hope.

A life worth living is possible, one with joy and celebration, open and safe relationships with others, and peace.

That future requires us to show up, to do the work, and to choose the defiance of radical hope.

Samantha Strader, M.Ed., NCC

Running on Empty? 6 Steps Towards Finding Balance in Your Life

BY CHRISTINE FINNEGAN @ The Cypress Counseling Group

I don’t know where it first started for me. That belief that I must constantly be doing something for others in order to feel of value and worth to this world. Maybe it’s something that was subconsciously passed down to me through the generations of my family; or, maybe it was just an unspoken truth that I saw modeled from a very young age.

Whatever the origin, I operated off of this truth for a very long time. Even now, I catch myself falling back into this old pattern of behavior; like a worn in pair of sneakers- so easy, so effortless.

“Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.”

My thoughts run wild from the moment I wake to when I go to bed at night. Even then, instead of counting sheep, I find myself making to-do lists in my head. What else can I achieve? What more could I be doing? What expectations can I fulfill? How can I prove myself?

I share this very human and vulnerable side with you, because I want you to know that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Holding these expectations for yourself and the world is not all bad. If it were, many people would not operate this way. By being this way, you in fact become a very driven, successful, compassionate, and generous person.

You are the person others go to when in need.

You climb the career ladder fast, because you become known as the person that gets tasks done quickly and efficiently- always willing to go the extra mile for your coworkers.

You’re the type of mother that signs up for numerous volunteer tasks at your child’s school; they call you first because they know you care and will put your whole heart into the task.

At church, you are asked to participate in many ministry projects; because once again, you are quickly pegged among others as the type of person that won’t drop the ball on a task- but instead- go well above and beyond what the average person will do.

Your heart is a beautiful gift to the world and many people see that and are drawn to it.

The problem isn’t your ability to give so generously. It’s where this generosity is being fueled, that is the problem.

“Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.”

By choosing actions off of this type of distorted belief, we are almost guaranteed to run ourselves empty. We never set boundaries with how many things we pile onto our plate, because we constantly feel like we should be doing more; that setting limits to what we take on in some way equates to us failing or being selfish.

We stop listening to our needs.

This is what can lead you to feeling angry and resentful.

You continue to take on tasks, but internally you begin to despise those around you for the amount of work they keep putting on you.

You believe that it is others that have led you to feel so exhausted, numb, and disconnected- because somewhere along the way you stopped believing that you have a choice in how much you do for others.

You do have a choice.

You can still be a good, generous person, while also setting boundaries and limitations to the amount of energy you pour into those around you. The journey towards getting to this place of balance isn’t through isolation, or distancing yourself from the people that ask so much; It’s beginning to tap back inside yourself, and truly hearing your needs.

It’s through changing the truth you believe about what it means to sometimes put yourself first.

Your inner voice wants to be heard but it’s difficult to know what it is saying when you give so much power and importance to those around you.

Here are six steps you can start today, to start creating a healthy balance in your life:

1. Journal: I know, I know. This is such a therapist thing to say; but hear me out! When you take time to journal each day- even if it’s just for 15 minutes– you begin to see patterns emerge. My guess is that when you first start doing this, a lot of the content will be about others. Identifying this pattern is the first step; because then you can start to see how truly lost your own voice is. Give yourself permission to start writing about your own feelings and needs; only then will you start tapping back into your own voice.

2. Schedule Time for Yourself: You are excellent at juggling and managing time for others, so what would it look like if one of your responsibilities each week was an allotted time or task that is just for you. Maybe it’s a 30 minute walk in the morning; a hobby that you start for yourself; or, seeking an individual counselor you see once a week. The purpose is geared towards creating space where you are allowed to put aside others needs and concerns, and give yourself permission to attend to your own.

3. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of being present inside of this moment without judging or analyzing the moment. Generally this can be achieved through guided meditations (check out Headspace), but if you don’t connect well with meditations, this can also be achieved through simple tasks. For example, while cooking food, allow your focus and attention to be on your senses while cooking; by focusing on your senses (touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight) you are able to give those racing thoughts a reprieve and just be present. Slowing down our racing thoughts and worries through mindfulness practice, gives our brain a chance to catch up and be more aware. Why do people find the beach to be such a mental escape? Because in essence, the beach is a very sensory experience. Sitting on the beach and listening to the waves is mindfulness in action!

4. Find an Accountability Partner: Remember when I mentioned how often I catch myself reverting back to old patterns and beliefs? Our brain becomes conditioned and accustomed to the way we think, perceive, and interact in the world. In order to break old habits and routines, it’s important to have some accountability. An accountability partner is a great way to have that added support and encouragement as you work towards breaking these patterns in your life. It’s important that this person is someone that doesn’t ask things from you, but encourages and supports you along your journey towards creating healthy balance. Maybe this a friend, a spouse, or a family member; but, if these are the very people you find yourself constantly doing things for, it may be more helpful to seek an unbiased person, like a therapist, that holds you accountable and keeps you motivated.

5. Create a Rule List for Yourself: Write down the amount of tasks and responsibilities you feel expected to keep each week; then write down an ideal list of what you feel is realistic in managing- while not running yourself ragged. By having a visual, concrete list of what this balance may look like, you can begin to reference this “Rule List” when taking on more tasks and responsibilities. If something comes up that is outside of the rules, give yourself permission to say no.

6. Surround Yourself with Positive Messages: Keep in mind that a lot of the need to do for others is coming from an internal place; a script that is stuck on repeat in your head. “Do more. Be more. Give more. Not enough.” What would you like to be telling yourself instead? Write these thoughts down on flashcards and place them all over your house, car, and place of work. By having these concrete reminders of different thoughts you can be sending yourself, you are able to slowly diminish and dis-empower those old thoughts and beliefs.

Christine Finnegan, M.A., LPC-MHSP (TEMP), NCC

The New Civil War

BY PAUL BABB @ THE CYPRESS COUNSELING GROUP

When I was growing up, I had the unique opportunity to spend my summer vacation time on the shores of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. My grandparents owned a house right on the water and my mother would take me, my older sister and brother there for several weeks in the summertime while my dad worked as a branch manager at a local bank in Williamsburg.

One of the highlights of those river (pronounced Rivah if you’re from the area) vacations was that two sets of aunts and uncles and their respective three children would come and stay for most of the time as well. We learned a lot about family, relationship, and community as we were expected to work hard maintaining the river house property before we could enjoy the gorgeous scenery in front of us. 

When we did have the opportunity to relax, we played and we played hard. One of our neighbors had a tennis court which became the scene of many classic battles of boys against girls, brother versus brother, sister versus sister and cousin versus cousin and all variables in-between. Two of my female 1st cousins were star players on their high school tennis team so they ran you off the court when they played singles.

It was only natural to think about the competitive carnage they would inflict whenever they combined their might, strength, and talent to play as a team in a doubles format. Unfortunately for them, a strategy was quickly identified, developed, and implemented to perfection by any team of cousins that would dare face the Fearsome Twosome. All you had to do was to turn one sister against the other by casting doubt, fear, and distrust about the strength of their relationship to one another and as a team. As soon as they took the emotional bait, it was clear sailing for the underdog tennis amateurs to seize the day. 

I find this story very intriguing as we find ourselves in the present day arguing left versus right, good versus bad, and right versus wrong.

Family members and friends are pitted against one another in a deceptively seductive battle of who holds the moral high ground and the master key to the gates of Utopia. Thanks to technology and our evolving American society the battlefield now extends across both a real and virtual expanse of territory. The attacks, assaults, raids, and campaigns are no longer tracked by the tally of the wounded and deceased, but rather by the damage done to the human psyche and the number of rotting souls consumed by hate and rage.

This is a violent and sadistic torture of immeasurable proportion as the wounds of this battle imperil its victim to call upon the keys of survivorship – anger, fear, isolation, hurt, sadness, guilt, shame, and manufactured contentment. 

When we use our emotions and feelings as weapons we only invite our intended target to respond in the same which ends in a losing result…the loss of relationship and ultimately the loss of our only hope for healing and connection.

How powerful it can be when we hold the hurt and pain of our personal stories and reach across the aisle with charity and understanding. Nothing in this world happens in a vacuum – there is always a context and there is always a connection.

It is our own and personal responsibility to learn more about ourselves and one another. Our emotions and feelings simply don’t appear out of thin air as there is always a story just below the spiritual surface.

Did you grow up in a home where trust prevailed or was there chaos around every corner?

What did you learn about the world through the eyes AND ears of your parents?

What significant events and/or trauma may have befallen you growing up?

Our physical, emotional, and spiritual bodies do not forget the answers to these questions. It is our calling to reassess these voices from our past so we can experience personal freedom in the present. 

Be aware of the civil war that is upon us each and every day. Each one of us is being called to stand up and to rise up together in order to realize our greatness together. We can only do this when we unlock the doors of emotional understanding and reach out and connect to our fellow man with goodwill, generosity, and kindness. In order to lead this great and noble charge to the other side, we need to honor the relics of our past while we cultivate a refined civility which can only be won through the acceptance of ourselves as being broken, healed, and most importantly, human.

Paul Babb, EdS, LPC-MHSP