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 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.

Myth: Talking about feelings only makes it worse — Awkwardness

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This last Saturday, when my wife, Winnie, my son, Jayden, and I were eating our overpriced bacon-wrapped, BBQ turkey leg at the LA County Fair, there was a Radio Disney stage show going on next to our eating area.  The host of the show was a black guy, jamming it up with a DJ and their assistants, pumping up a crowd of 20 vivacious elementary school kids, and 10 junior high kids that were so excited that they forgot to be overly self-conscious.  As we watched the show progress, they even got the adults so railed up on stage that everyone forgot how old they were and were just having fun.

At one point, the host and the DJ were bantering back and forth on stage about what they do when they feel awkward, and the host said this:  “The trick to feeling awkward in social situations is to talk about how awkward you feel in that moment.”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the DJ quipped, “Yeah, but then, that would be the only thing I’d be talking about all day.”

When I heard that, I thought, “Wow, that’s an interesting way to deal with awkwardness.”  With most Asian people, it is taboo to talk about how awkward you feel.

I know this, because I use to and still sometimes do this.  There are some Asians who think that talking about awkward feelings will only make the situation worse – one might run the risk of embarrassing the other person for making you feel awkward, and then, you’d feel even more awkward for even saying anything.  The whole system just gets more and more complex, and things only get more awkward and more embarrassing as time goes on.

To them, awkwardness, embarrassment, and shame are all synonymous, and there is a heavy price to pay for being vulnerably direct with others; because sometimes it results in dishonor and people losing face.  So, practically, it’s easier to avoid unnecessary conflict by not talking about awkward feelings at all.  It’s easier to pretend like nothing is happening, sweep it underneath the carpet, and hope to God that it would go away.

However, I think there are consequences to living like this.  To me, avoiding awkwardness means…

·  Always playing it safe, anticipating and predicting every 

   scenario in life – which is impossible.
  ·  Having to look perfect, even when I’m scared, anxious,
   and falling apart inside.
·  Never disclosing how I truly feel, good or bad.
·  Living in isolation, learning not to trust, or care for

   others.
·  Avoiding intimate conversations with those I love.
·  Not believing I can rise above the uncertainties I fear

   most.
·  That I allow awkwardness to defeat me.

I’m convinced that the best thing anyone can do in awkward situations is to talk about the ginormous elephant in the room, and to be authentic about what they are feeling.

It’s like what Brene Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly, about shame:  “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.  That’s why it loves perfectionists…If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.  Shame hates having words wrapped around it.  If we speak shame, it begins to wither.  Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroys it.”

I agree that if we put language to what we experience and begin to tell our stories, it sheds light into the darkness we fear so much.  For me, the darkness I’ve been trying to control, by avoiding awkwardness, is the rejection and hurt I believe that’s going to happen, if I ever allow myself to be vulnerable.  This belief had become an unyielding certainty for me, because deep down, I believed I was unlovable and unworthy.

Yet, in reality, the only certainty we have about awkwardness is that no one can ever avoid feeling awkward in life.  No one is exempt, and therefore, it levels the playing field for everyone, because awkwardness is ubiquitous.

My college professor, Jerry Root, says this to all his students:  “If you’re not feeling awkward in any area of your life, you’re simply not growing.”  I think that is awesome!  We can choose to see our awkwardness as inherent flaws and white-headed pimples that needs to be covered up, or we can see awkwardness as opportunities for growth, the birthplace of courage and transformation that will one day mold us into the people we were suppose to be.  The risk is up to us, but I believe we are braver than we think.

I invite you to share your comments, thoughts, and stories on the topic of awkwardness.  I would love to hear them!

Myth: “It is never okay to quit!”

Broken and Anew

As an Asian (Chinese) American, I know this phrase rings true in my life.  Quitting means more than just giving up.  It is one of those verbs that we fear will turn into a noun that defines us in the eyes of other people.

As a verb, the word ‘quit’ is quite useful in our day-to-day life.  Phrases like, “let’s call it quits and go home,” “let’s quit while we’re ahead,” and “let’s quit before someone seriously gets hurt,” are all fine examples of it’s practicality.

So, “to quit,” could even be a positive display of self-control and restraint, but as a noun, the word “quitter” is usually negatively associated with being lazy, weak-willed, fearful, and shame.

Recently, I resigned from my church ministry job of 3 years at a local organization.  In the end, the organization was just not a good fit, and there were many issues that we couldn’t see eye to eye on, so it was probably best that we go our separate ways.  I had hopes of being a catalyst for change in this organization, but when I quit, I realized that nothing really had changed at all!  I felt worthless, like a complete failure.

A few days later, I came across this quote by Henry Cloud that said this:  “When you know you are in the wrong place and you know deep down that it’s not going to work out, the worst thing you can do is to hope.”

That quote really hit a nerve.  I think there were many times in the last 3 years I told myself, “Things will get better,” over and over again, but my instincts (and my body) were telling me something different – I was not sleeping well, tired all the time, constantly worried about losing my job, anhedonic, depressed, overeating, and had a tick in my eye for almost a year.

After hearing that quote, I’ve wondered if I was actually afraid of failing and feeling worthless – too caught up with the shame that “quitting is never okay” – that I started hoping that things would change and get better, when, in reality, I knew in my gut, it wasn’t going to happen.

Now, I’m not saying we should all be cynics and give up on hope.  Hope is the definition of what it means to have faith, and what it means to trust and be courageous in the face of fears and difficulties.  However, I used ‘hope’ in order to avoid my fears, rather than facing them.  To put it bluntly, my hope that things would get better was an illusion; an illusion that helped me control and keep my fears of failing and feelings of worthlessness at bay.  It’s another way to say I was in denial, thinking things were going to improve.

I think it takes courage to face something ending in your life.  It feels vulnerable, because shame and fear can feel like an unexpected shot to the gut, leaving our psyches emotionally asthmatic, immobilizing us because our personal identity and self-worth is at stake.

Of course, this applies not just to quitting or losing a job.  It applies to anything that we’re invested in.   It applies to relationships, and it also applies to any situations where we feel most vulnerable.

In Ecclesiastes, it says this: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”

There is a certain inevitability to what happens with us in life, and no matter how hard I try, I’ve come to realize that I cannot keep vulnerability at bay with a myth that says, “It is never okay to quit.”  No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the hard choices and hard situations that make me face what I fear or are ashamed of most.

Despite how messed up things are, I think we were created with the strength and ability to face great adversity.  But, I also believe that we can’t do this alone.  So, since we are fellow sojourners of this journey of life, I’d be interested to know what you think and how you deal with quitting and loss?