The boy and the lion

  

I drew this picture last week as I was thinking about the fears we grow up with, and how, in the process of healing and growth, we must once again face the fears we grew up with.  This is a picture of my two year old son, holding a stuffed lion in his arms, while reaching up about to touch a real lion.  It is my prayer that he will be able to face the fears he has in his life — even some fears that will be caused by my imperfect parenting — and face them courageously.

In counseling, one of the things we help clients do is to face their fears. It’s hard to predict when the person is ready to face their deepest fears in the process of counseling, but when it happens, it is the most courageous thing we could ever witness in that person’s life. It is like stepping into the lion’s den and facing the lion they’ve been avoiding all their life.  

We all have these lion-like fears, and often times, these fears began when we were little. When a person faces their fears, it is as if they are going back to place where that fear originated to breathe grace, life, and love back into that part of their story.

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Games for Therapists and Parents: Additional thoughts on Jenga

jenga

I’ve noticed a lot of people have checked out my previous post “Jenga Anxieties and Worries.” Here are few more thoughts that I’ve came up with lately to add onto the topic.  Please take a look at the previous post, if you haven’t read it already — it will help give you a better context to what I am talking about.  Thank you for reading!  Please leave a comment, I would love to hear what you think!

1. At the end of the game, and after you’ve talked about or processed with your child or client their worries and anxieties, have them write down their anxiety and worry on one of the blocks.  Give it to them as a momento or souvenir, reminding them what worry and anxiety can do to them, if they don’t ask for help, share their burdens, or when take on too many things.  Just make sure you have plenty of extra blocks before you start giving them away.

Therapists, another idea is to do this with more of your clients, letting them write down their anxiety or worry on a piece of Jenga block, and begin a collection of Jenga blocks to use for the game.  So, whenever you pull out the game to play, other clients would be able to see and read what previous clients have wrote down on the blocks, and it would help them normalize what they are going through.  This will help them feel that they are not alone.  Of course, have your clients anonymously write down their worry and anxiety.

2.  This second idea is a demonstration of stress while playing Jenga.  It is not to be used as punishment, nor to purposely thwart or discourage your child or client.  It is to help them see how stress could affect their performance when playing this game.

After the first round, ask your child or client(s) to carry/hold one textbook (preferably those big, thick history, social studies, or math, or science text books) in one of their hands as they pull out their Jenga brick.  With each additional round, ask them to add another text book to their hand before they proceed with their turn.

After the tower falls, process with your child or client(s), ask them: how did it feel to have the extra weight when they were playing the game?  Was it harder to concentrate or focus with additional burdens while playing the game?  What can they connect these extra burdens to what is going on for them in their own life?  Ask them what they can do to unload those extra burdens in their own life to help them better manage the things they need to do?

This demonstration is also good for kids who struggle with ADHD, and teaching about concentration, coping skills, and self-care when one is balancing too many things in life.  With the kind of stress and schedules our high school kids are having in order to get into college, this activity may be good to help them realize the effects of having too many things on their plate.

Hope this is helpful!  Enjoy!

 

Games for Therapist and Parents: Jenga Anxieties and Worries

Jenga

 

When you think of the game Jenga, does your hands start to get sweaty and you feel a bit jumpy and nervous?  For me, Jenga has a way of bringing out my anxieties rather than containing them — which actually makes it a great game to play with your kids or in therapy.

Next time you play Jenga, have each player answer one of the following questions each time they pull out a block and successfully places it on the top of the stack.

–  Name one of the things you’re nervous or worried about.

–  What do you do when you’re worried?

–  Tell about a time when you were worried or nervous, and what happened?

–  Name one of your remedies or solutions for feeling nervous or worried?

–  Name one thing that happens to your body physically when you get nervous or worried. (i.e. sweating, shaking, etc)

The main purpose of playing Jenga this way is to create discussion, encourage authenticity and transparency, and to normalize feelings of worry and anxiety.  So, the point of this game is not to be “Mr or Ms. Fix-It.”  Create an open and safe environment by listening, empathizing, and walking in the person who is sharing’s shoes.

DON’T GIVE ADVICE.  Even if your child or the client asks for advice, take the opportunity to encourage their problem solving skills rather than your own.  By doing this, you are empowering them and building their self-esteem and confidence.

Parents, you’d be surprised how your children will react when you share about a time when you were nervous or worried.  Showing your kids, especially adolescents, that you don’t have it all together will actually build respect, not tear it down.  Therapists, this activity is great for building rapport — just remember to prepare in advance and consider transference or counter-transference issues.

Lastly, when the Jenga tower collapses, remind everyone that even though the tower has collapsed, we are still standing; we have survived.

Have fun! Enjoy!

Please also check out “Additional thoughts on Jenga.”

 

 

Games for Therapists and Parents: The Journey of Chutes and Ladders

chutesandladders

One of the games I loved AND hated as a kid was “Chutes and Ladders.”

Basically, “Chutes and Ladders” is a random game of chance that all depends on the spin of the spinner and where you land.  When I played the game as a kid, I rarely looked at the pictures, but the pictures actually try to teach the player that actions have consequences.  If you take a closer look at the pictures, good, productive, and helpful actions will be rewarded with good consequences and climbs up the ladder towards ‘winner’ tile, while silly, stupid, and bad actions will reap bad consequences and chutes that bring you further from the ‘winner’ tile. Overall, this is a game that’s great for teaching about consequences to younger, elementary school kids.

However, here’s a twist.  Play this game with your middle schooler, high schooler, or young adult, and call it, “The Journey of Chutes and Ladders.”

Whenever a person lands on a ladder that propels them forward, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they were climbing the ladder, getting ahead in life, or just having a good day.  Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way.  Have them talk about how that felt.

Whenever a person lands on a chute that drops them back, have the person talk about an event in their life where they felt like they fell, failed, or just having a bad day.  Have them talk about the circumstances or actions that led them to feel that way.  Have them talk about the feelings that they struggled with or if they were able to get out of it.

Allow the game to bring out the natural frustrations, disappointments, sadness, anger, or even excitement, elation, joy, and courage that this game could invoke, and allow everyone to relate or tie it to something that has happened to them in life.  Focus on these themes and keep these in mind as you play:

1.  Sometimes good or bad things happen outside of our control.  Life could be unfair.

2.  Process the feelings and celebrate the victories that were shared by each person.

3.  Process the feelings and grieve the losses, failures, crisis, mistakes, etc that were shared by each person.  Ask the person what was it that kept them going — “What strength did you lean on during that struggle?”

4.  The point of playing “Chutes and Ladders” this way is to focus on building connection, trust, safety, and rapport.  Listen, reflect, empathize, and also be willing to share.  (Therapists, this is a good time to be Rogerian.)  As I said before, if you’re a therapist, think of some things you’d be comfortable sharing that won’t disrupt your relationship with your client.  However, if you’re a parent, I would challenge you to be a bit more vulnerable, authentic, and real, especially if you’re kids are older.

In the end, our journey in life is full of “chutes and ladders,” failures and successes, disappointment and fulfillment, and struggles and victories.  We get stuck if we try to define ourselves by either one or the other.

Games for Therapists and Parents: Uno Feelings Game

Uno

This game is great for therapists and parents.  If you ever want to connect with your clients or your kids, ask them how they are doing in a non-threatening way by playing Uno with them!  My version of Uno is called, “The Uno Feelings Game.”

The rules are simple.  Basically, you play Uno, and whenever someone changes the color of the cards, the person share a feeling based on the color of the card.

If they change the deck to yellow or red, they would have to share a positive feeling (happy, confident, excited, etc) to the rest of the group.  If they change the deck to blue or green, they would have to share a negative feeling (sad, worried, angry, etc) to the rest of the group.  If they use a ‘wild’ card, they choose the color and share either a positive or negative feeling according to the color they chose.  Also, the game cannot continue until the person begins talking about a positive or negative feeling they’ve experienced.

I found this game to be really effective, even with high school kids, and because it is a game, it totally changes the mood and disarms our children.

The hard part is talking about your own feelings.  If you’re a therapist, think of some things you’d be comfortable sharing that won’t disrupt your relationship with your client.

However, if you’re a parent, I would challenge you to be a bit more vulnerable, authentic, and real, especially if you’re kids are older.  For example, parents, talk about the last time you tried and failed at something, and how you felt about it.

It will truly encourage, develop rapport, and build respect with your kids.

Myth: If you’re not _________ enough, people won’t like you…

you-are-enough-sleeping-at-last

I was listening to the song “You Are Enough” by Sleeping At Last on repeat this morning, and by the 5th time it played, Jayden was asleep in my arms and my eyes were filled with tears.  Here are the lyrics:

when we woke up
the world was figured out
beyond the beauty we’ve dreamt about.
this brilliant light is brighter than we’ve known,
without our darkness to prove it so.
still, we can’t help but to examine it,
to add our question marks to periods.
at the foot of our bed, we found an envelope…

“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
“you are enough.”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.

when we grew up,
our shadows grew up too.
but they’re just old ghosts
that we grow attached to.
the tragic flaw is that they hide the truth

that you’re enough.
i promise you’re enough.
i promise you’re enough, i promise you.

“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
“you are enough,”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.
“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
let it go, let it go, “you are enough.”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.

In a world where it is easy to be defined by your talents, looks, abilities, and usefulness to others, Ryan O’ Neal penned these words beautifully.  It’s easy to take what the world thinks and impress that onto your own image of yourself.  From there it is a slippery slope, and the next step is to find our security and self-esteem based on this criteria.  We become commodities in a utilitarian world.

Brene Brown in Daring Greatly talked about this.  We believe that if we are not ______ enough, something bad will just happen to you…

What is your “______ enough?”

If you’re not beautiful enough, if you’re not talented enough, if you’re not smart enough, if you’re not dressed nice enough, if you’re not likable enough, if you’re not useful enough, if you’re not academically superior enough, if you’re not attractive enough, if you’re not muscular enough, if you’re not unique enough, if you’re not skinny enough, if you’re not manly enough, if you’re not strong enough… if you’re not good enough?

What do you do when you find out when you’re not enough?

What we fear will happen varies with each person, but for me, I feared that people will reject and dislike me.  Whatever it is for you, there may be a strong shame element to it if you’re identity and worth is involved.

And that is when we need to hear the message that “You’re enough,” that you’re worth loving, that you’re worth sacrificing for, that you are worth it…from the one who loves you.

Who is that for you?

Check out the song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khPoCXIpLyk

Do you have the courage to redefine yourself?

What warrior poets are made out of.  Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

What warrior poets are made out of. Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

Recently, my mind has been mulling over a negative comment that was said to me.  It came from a boss I knew a while ago, and he said this to me the day I resigned from my position at the non-profit that I was working for.   He said this:

“I’ve seen a lot of people work in ministry, and I have to tell you, from my experience, you do not have what it takes to do this.”

To this day, I can still see his face and the words coming out of his mouth as he said this.  Everything is in slow motion, as if time stood still.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this before, but for me, I’ve had many wonderful and amazing slow motion moments in my life – like, the first time my wife kissed me on the beach near Balboa Pier, or when we were saying our wedding vows in a little church in Orange County that had sunlight coruscating beautifully through the stain glass windows, or the three seconds of silent awe when I first laid eyes on my newborn son, before he was placed crying and wiggling onto my wife’s chest – and then, of course, there’s this.

It is like stepping in dog crap and never being able to get rid of the smell, and no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go away.  As much as I wanted to forget this, I can’t.

It is amazing how much thought I’ve put into what that boss had said to me.  It has become the silent and deadly antagonist on my life’s journey, and the sly voice of relentless self-condemnation.  It’s widened the surging black hole that sucks all my emotional energy, because I am constantly trying to prove to myself (and to that boss, who isn’t even a part of my life anymore) that I have “what it takes.”

My thought process usually winds up sounding like this, “Why don’t I have what it takes?  I must not have tried hard enough.  Why am I not good enough?  Maybe there’s something wrong with me.  What did I do wrong? I am a mistake.  Why am I so weak?  This is what happens when people find out what a failure and loser I am.  How do I keep people from rejecting me like this?

Round and round I go.  The more I ruminate, the more anxious I get about having to be people–pleasing and picture perfect.  The more anxious I get about having to be perfect, the more depressed I get, because in my heart, I know it is impossible.

However, shame cunningly disguises itself as rational neuroticism, coming out of the woodwork camouflaged as the voice of reason, telling me that the only way I can ever avoid feeling rejected or a loser is to:

  1. Never leave myself exposed.
  2. Never leave a chink in my armor.
  3. Never show any weaknesses.
  4. Never show any vulnerability.
  5. And always live beyond everyone’s expectations.

Shame is a cruel teacher and an unrelenting taskmaster that only motivates through the fear of rejection.  What that boss said to me was very hurtful, and on my bad days, it terribly affects my identity, my self-esteem, and my hope for the future.

The other day, I was listening to Erwin McManus talking about courage on the Mosaic podcast, and he said something that really struck me to the core.  He asked the people listening if they had the courage to redefine themselves, and it made me think through what has been going on for me as I was listening to him.

Am I defined by my greatest traumas and hurts, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by facing what I fear most and entering into the painful process of healing?  Am I defined by my most awkward and embarrassing moments, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by saying, “I tried and I value the risk and courage I took in stepping out?”  Am I defined by what other people say about me, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, by letting go of my desire (my illusion actually) to control what other people think of me, and to embrace God’s Unconditional, Unending, Unceasing, Infinite and Eternal, Always and Forever Love for me?

And here’s the kicker, am I defined by my greatest successes, abilities, and talents, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, holding loosely to the momentary highs of this life, to seek the deeper realities of my identity, my manhood, from the One who had created me and knew me from the very beginning in Joy – not some boss who has only known me for just a couple years.

It’s interesting, because this boss never really worked with me on any of my projects, and never sat down to really get to know who I am, but because I obsess over criticisms like the need to pick at an itchy scab, I’ve allowed a debilitating infection to seep into my soul, never allowing the wound to properly heal.

I grew up singing hymns at church, and this last week, I was listening to the song, “Blessed Assurance,” redone by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I love the last two lines of verse three, where it says:

“…watching and waiting, looking above,

filled with His Goodness, lost in His Love.”

It takes great courage and faith to continually seek the voice of the One who love us, which redefines the very essence of who we are.  For me, it is the sound of God’s voice resonating in all corners of life, which “echoes of mercies” in the presence of trusted, true companions, and “whispers of love” in darkest nights of silent prayer and meditation.